When it is still black he wakes her. . .
“We must go. We can cross it.” He says and she nods.
They gather up their dwelling materials and she re-binds her feet. Still in darkness they walk out over the sand together. The air itself is parched and stings his nose. The light has not begun to show itself yet behind them. Then the forest sky reddens in a fan that reminds him of Gatherer sacrifices. They continue on.
He leads them now as the sand blows off their feet in the wind and into their mouths and eyes and the sun climbs higher over their world. They can no longer see green behind them. There is only desert. The light is hot.
The sand is now hot and Pyramie stops to prepare foot coverings for himself as well, careful to rest his feet on a pouch and not burn his tender parts. Theo stands above him drinking water as he fixes the ruddy skin coverings. She gives some to Dogo and the dog runs off and returns, loping tender footed in the sand, but won’t allow them to bind his paws.
The sun is afire. The sand is afire.
They are through half their water and cannot see the other side of the dead expanse.
“I saw it from the high place; it is here,” he assures her.
Moving downward then upward over slopes of sand they mount the top of one and she points to the far off distance. It is the river she sees flowing through the waste from the forest behind them.
“There is a river there,” she says, smiling at him, and he rises behind her with grit streaking off his body and sees the living water and is happy. Even Dogo circles and bays from their excitement.
They head to the water, moving fast through the burning sand. She is still laughing as they head downhill and her voice carries him through the heat. To their left and right the sand runs endless. Had she not seen the water from the dune they would not have found it lying in the trough. He nods to her in acknowledgment of her deed. Then they head upward over the head of another hill and down into the open flat hotness where a solitary tree stands alone where the sand becomes more firm.
There are countless trees now with dark bark and few branches that grow larger, more verdant, the closer they draw to water. Running over the alluvium and into a grove the sand entirely ends and dirt with grass takes them to the river. She gasps as she scents the water, happy, and leaving her garments behind runs down the sparse green slope and into the course, drinking the sandy water as she goes, cooling herself there while Pyramie plunges beside her, and Dogo swims to the other side and runs up and down the bank, barking and lunging in and out of the current.
The flow is mild but when Pyramie allows himself to float he is carried farther toward where they think the ocean lies. Theo is nervous and calls to him. He swims back.
“Do not worry,” he says.
“I wasn’t,” she replies. “We have to go,” and she turns to move away but he takes her by the wrist and kisses her.
“You should not be playing now.”
But he kisses her again.
“I found you and I kissed you,” he says.
At first she is quiet. Then she kisses him. “Now can we go?” she says with a serious look.
Theo has lost a binding for her foot coverings and before they begin again Pyramie must cut her a new one. They continue moving downstream on the meandering river. Keeping to the trees where the leaves block the sun. Time to time they wet their legs or disrobe and swim when they are warm. There is purple fruit that grows here and they eat it raw from the vine.
He feeds her, and she throws berries at him while they walk and pick and laugh. The dog jumps and barks at them, and she throws berries at the canine too, which he stops to eat from the dirt. Then he barks again and Pyramie tells him to quiet, which he does.
They continue moving. She is ahead and he lingers behind watching her legs walk. Then he decides that he should be the one leading and so he moves ahead again.
She smiles at him as he goes past. But then she pulls at the skins on his back to slow him, “You can walk with me,” she says.
And he slows down so that they can walk together side-by-side. After they go this way for a time she kisses him on the cheek and giggles and moves forward. Then he hangs back, feeling odd.
Strange green animals run over the red rocks low to the ground and Dogo chases them in every direction. They do not move until Pyramie and Theo are close, but then they dart away with their long red tails swinging like vines. As soon as they move and Dogo catches their motion he runs, barking and snarling, trying his best to eat them but failing. He comes back from a chase with just a tail in his mouth, but begins gagging and drops it. Pyramie laughs.
Soon they come to dry red rocks that are cracked and broken with huge separations and troughs that they walk through. The river darts in and out of these red-orange hollows and they keep to it, taking swims when they want and lying on the bank to dry. They pick whatever food is to be found – beside the river there is an abundance.
The sun falls lower, but they can smell the air. It is different here: moist and strange. They walk faster; he begins running, but she is holding her belly and makes him slow, which he does.
They climb over more rocks that are red. Then before them are silver boulders flecked white, and they come down past the boulders into the sand and enter a sparse wood where the river winds. The current pushes in the other direction now. Pyramie observes this and enters to swim and comes back to tell Theo how it tastes. The water dries on his skin, leaving a white dust all over his body.
“The ocean,” she says, and rushes down to the water and scoops it into her mouth and spits it in a stream. In the distance they hear a rumbling like sky fire makes, but this continues without cease and there is no flash.
“What is it?” he asks.
They walk in that direction. The river is wider and wider here. The trees turn into dry grasses with sand in between that drops at a ledge onto a desert that goes to where the water is endless. There, the sea falls in rolls and draws back out.
Theo runs toward the infinite water, laughing. He passes by her, dropping everything on the sand and surges into the surf where it breaks over him. Then he is pulled out in the foam and swims with the endless current that draws to the side and out to the oblivion.
She screams for him. But the sound that the water makes is loud and he cannot hear her. He only sees her lips move and feels the waters taking him away as she seems to cry. The dog is barking. The sound comes in chops. He is rolling with the ocean up and down, going farther and farther from the shore. Now struggling in the current, he pants to catch his breath but it is too strong. He is out farther now and then drops low between masses of water like the dunes in the desert.
He does not know in which direction he needs to go. The water stands so high above him at times he can only see the sky. But then he is up again and can see her standing there in the sand waiving. He begins swimming toward her and the water pushes him in her direction. And then the ocean churns and sucks him up and breaks him into the bottom sand where he drinks in water and chokes, but the wave churns him to the surface and rolls him onto the shore in a tangle.
He wriggles on the ground and spits the sand from his mouth, coughing. When he rolls over to his knees he sees how Theo is upset. She is crying. “Why did you do that?” she says.
“It did it to me.”
“Don’t play around.” And she walks off, carrying what they have through the grass to the trees. There she puts the animal skins down and calls to him. He lies with her and rubs her belly.
“You love me,” she says. “I am the only person you kissed.”
He nods. She stays with her head on his chest until she sees the stone pieces that he wears from the old man.
“Where did you get these?” she asks, pointing.
“You know them?”
“They are from the other tribe. Where did you get them?”
“I took them from the wild man when he died.”
“He was one of them?” she asks.
“I do not know what he was, but he is dead. I took the stones from him because Acka wore the same ones around her neck. I found her under the precipice where Terreo threw her. But she was not one of them.”
Theo tilts her head to look up at him. She waits a moment and says, “She was a Gatherer. They were all from the other ones. Ashirah willed it and Terreo’s father captured their village.”
Pyramie pauses. “You are one of the other ones too?”
“My mother was and her mother before her. That is why I am a gift for them; my family was special. Now they are making the Gatherers all of one flesh with the Astarte. That is why the Warriors and Hunters breed them. Any of them that show promise are brought in as Hunters; the rest gather. I was to bring a special child for the Leader and the Mother, but I did not want it.”
He looks at her belly. “No, it is not a Warrior baby in you. It is my baby.” He says.
She does not respond to him at first, but looks away. Then she says. “No, it is not a Warrior’s baby. It is a Gatherer baby.”
He wants to ask her, but he is afraid and then she tells him. “It is Nahane’s.”
He remembers the boy as one who used to be kind. “It will be my baby, then.”
“Yes,” she answers, happy now, and puts her head to his chest while he rubs the belly. They remain there awake for some time, watching the sun fall without saying a word to each other. All the while he thinks of what it means that she said. But he falls asleep. Both of them sleep in that way while it is still light. Dogo comes and squirms between them. But Pyramie drags the dog away and goes back to her.
Soon they take out the last of their food and water and eat and drink. They give food to the dog and he sleeps in the grass. Then they watch the sun fall in the sky and shine off the flat ocean surface. The night fires burn just behind the red of the sun, but wait until it is gone before they light the dark. The white moon with a face is visible in back of the red, but it also waits. Then the red fades and the purple dark over the ocean fills with the fires. Beneath that light, they sleep amongst dry leaves wrapped together in the skins.