Chapter 45 from the Ama audiobook
Jason thought he could hear the statues whispering to him, like many delicate breaths across the neck of a bottle, tangible voices but murmuring in unknown tongues. Were they watching him too? They didn’t turn their heads, but could the stones see him somehow? Could they see the scars etched into his soul, like the fine cracks upon their own stone forms? Jason tried to shake the feeling off, but paranoia continued to walk with him, a quiet friend, touching his shoulder with a cold hand, yet shying away when he turned to listen.
Up ahead, maybe twenty rows, something moved along the dusty ground, lumbering between the statues like a wounded animal, its head bobbing just above the sand as it moved. A body covered in tattered rags, arms reaching out with raw hands and digging into the sand, pulling itself along, two short white sticks trailing from beneath it. As Jason drew near, the man stopped and looked up at him.
“I’m in pain,” the man said. “You can see I can’t harm you, can’t hinder you. Will you return the favour?”
The man wore a military uniform, insignias of rank and country long since worn away or bleached by the sand. No doubt it had once been sharp in its tailoring and desired in its pomposity. Now it hung from the man as shredded cloth. The two white sticks were the man’s thigh bones, broken and jutting out from his chewed flesh. The man’s bones scraped two jagged lines in his sandy wake.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Jason replied.
“Good. Thank goodness. Then will you help me, sir? Carry… Drag me to that damn rock.”
Jason walked past the man without further regard.
“Will you not help me?” the man screamed after Jason. “Damn you, man! Damn you, I say. And damn any that come from you.”
Jason passed six more desperate and wounded people as he got closer to the mountain, all but one pleading for help. The one that didn’t ask for help, a woman wearing a simple dark green hessian gown, knelt by the feet of one statue and sobbed.
“I understand,” the young woman cried, reaching out for, but careful not to touch, the figure. “Now I see I’m nothing. Please forgive me.”
The statue exploded into a wash of sand. It formed into numerous tendrils that swirled among the surrounding statues and then came together as a cloud before it headed skyward. Jason watched as it rose thirty feet, and then, catching the wind, it moved at speed towards the mountain. He looked about and saw more statues lose their solidity and become clouds of sand before setting off on their journey towards the mountain.
“I’ve seen her,” the woman said to Jason, still on her knees.
“In the mountain. She deserves her torture, as do you all.” She scooped up a handful of sand and held it out to Jason. “Our time to come is measured with this.”
“The cave? You’ve seen the… You’ve been into the cave?”
The woman lowered her gaze to the ground. “When I think of all the diseased minds whose names are now written in the dust, and how big their mountainous kingdoms must be… There must be so many…” She put her head in her hands and then continued. “And so many seeds for our own to grow.”
“You reached the end? You won Lilith’s prize?”
She jerked her head up and glared at Jason. “It’s no prize, you fool. Lilith has no prize to give.”
“But you can leave and go back to your life?”
“I can, but you’re not listening. Life is no prize. This is our home and always will be. Our lives are a mere blink of an eye. You can’t change anything.” The woman became hysterical, tears sparkling from the edge of her quivering smile. She screamed at Jason, “We’re all nothing but the sand, you see. Do you understand? We’re nothing and she weeps for us all. Oh God, she weeps for us, when it is she who deserves our tears.”
You’re wasting time, Jason thought. It’s not far now. Leave this woman to her ravings. It doesn’t matter how bad hell is, you’ll be leaving it soon. A second chance to make things right.
“Dust to dust, do you hear? Can you understand? With eternal tears, she loves us all.”
The woman’s words faded away as Jason walked to the base of the mountain.