This week’s Tuesday Tale:
Clark tugged the bandana higher on the bridge of his nose. The dust storm was generated from the thousand horse hooves galloping over the desert sands. They had been riding since sundown. Clark spurred his Arabian away from the sand spray to the edge of the pack. His horse was fluid and Clark was pleased with his choice. The dish faced animal did not portray the endurance it could withstand.
Clark rolled his shoulder back. The continuous strain of holding pressure to the bridle bit wore on him. The horse was powerful and Clark had still to develop his horsemanship to the necessary standard. During his first month of running the desert floor, he could barely walk. The muscles in his thighs had lost their elasticity after a night’s ride, but now his legs were strong as pillars and his body fit for a horse’s back.
They had two hours left before the sun grew too hot to proceed. Clark smiled behind his mask. Tonight he had plans. Good plans, plans worth the relinquishment of a few hours of sleep. Tonight he would see her. Their meetings were infrequent and often thwarted, but their last two were postponed so he expected this one to stick.
He thought of her now as he did often to fill the mindless hours of running. Their relationship or any other’s among the group was prohibited and severely punished. There was no intermingling among them. Clark pretended as though he agreed with the leaders because a breach of the group’s law was dealt with in the severest way. Clark distinctly remembered the first time they had decided to break the law. He remember how timid they both were, afraid the other would betray them. Her risk was greater than his and by that standard he knew she was braver — her punishment was death, while his was only disfigurement.
They rode the barren lands. The drought had all but deprived the place of substance and what nature had not done, the military had finished. Soldiers guarded and rationed the remaining resources to prevent chaos, but chaos had come and gone, leaving a bleak and depressed people to cough out their dying days.
This group, their numbers reaching to a hundred now, had slowly banded together over the last decade, adding one or two at a time. Most people mocked their purpose, scoffed at their mission as though it were an illusion. When they rode through Clark’s town, he had stood next to his brother who disbelieved the hope that this group clung to. No one had hope. No one dared to speak the word, except these mounted fools. Rumor had it that when the band of lost searchers came through your town there would be some amongst you that could not resist their silent call and would be taken from among the masses. Unknowingly, Clark was one of the select. When the band rode through, he took charge of a riderless pony at the back of the pack, of which their were many, and left his hopeless brother standing. The ponies that trailed the pack, he later learned, were the mounts of lost searchers who had abandoned the party or died in the pursuit. The horses could not be dragged from the pack as the heart of Arabian beasts are but made of hope alone.
He discovered the woman of whom his thoughts now captivated only a month ago. She had long been in their ranks. So long had she ridden that her body was more fit to a saddle than for walking and her thoughts no longer concerned the ways of the hopeless. She questioned nothing the leaders of the lost searchers decided, though there was not much to decide. Clark put his questions to rest in the depth of her eyes. And it was she who led him away, away from the law that first time.
“You know the law?” Alisa had asked. They had stopped for the daily rest, a rest that lasted only the hottest hours of the day. They were hidden in an old storeroom that now stored nothing at all.
“It is simple enough.” He had said.
He thought about the law. It was one line and the rest was understood. Keep the hope, find the desert’s end and abandon all else.
“Then you know we should not be speaking.” Alisa had said it daringly as though she accepted her crime.
“I did not know speaking was forbidden among us.”
“Not among us, but between you, a man, and me, a woman.”
Again, Clark thought her words were not meant as a warning, but temptation. He considered she was sent by the leaders to test him, but the leaders did not test, they merely punished at the least suspicion.
That had been their beginning. Alisa was cautious and coy. She trained Clark well in the ways of deceit and love, and on two occasions had he known her intimately — today would make three. Clark was glad for the bandana to cover his anticipation.
When the leader called the halt, Clark did not think his dismount too quick or his unsaddling the Arabian too hasty. He remembered what Alisa had taught him. He was careful and patient. Clark set his tent as customary. Most of the riders shared tents, but those who acquired their own along the road preferred to sleep alone. Clark had been so fortunate. He waited for her to come. It was dangerous. Every time he feared she would be caught and once he insisted the risk should be his, but they both knew she was better skilled.
Alisa entered. Clark smiled. One time with her and he did not mind the thought of punishment for his sins. She knelt before him and he reached to touch her hair, but her words stopped him.
“Clark, have you ever considered leaving?”
Clark blinked. Alisa was sincere.
“I am leaving.”
“You? But you are the most devout among us.”
“I? Devout? I broke an unpardonable law when I extended my hand to you.”
Clark drew back from her. To leave meant the absence of hope. His heart failed within his soul. Life without Alisa was a pain beyond death; life without her confidence was a burden he could not bear.
“Do not be alarmed, my love. I am not without hope, but nor do I believe that these riders are the only ones who possess it.”
Her words were blasphemous.
“There is no other hope than to find the desert’s end.”
“Agreed, but what says it will be found by the riders?”
Clark stared at her black eyes; eyes that had once absorbed his uncertainties now brought them to light.
“We are the only ones looking.”
“We’ve been running the desert for decades, don’t you think if it was to be found we would have found it?”
Clark reached for her, but he could not yet bare to embrace a traitor. As he had been called to the band of riders by an unnatural force so he could not hear any other reasoning. But the thought of her desertion broke him.
“Why, Alisa? You must tell me why. Do you not love me?”
“Because I have loved you.” She choked the words out through stifled tears.
“Because of me?”
Clark followed her gaze to her stomach and then he understood. The law was a protection against such distractions. Alisa would be punished the moment her condition was discovered and Clark by her side. Clark took her to himself.
When the alarm was sounded for the start of the ride, no one noticed when they were not amongst the riders. It happened many times; a rider would lose hope and not respond to the call. That was the reason for the mountless ponies. Clark clung to Alisa and Alisa to him. Their hope could not be bound to the band of the riders. They listened to the only sound of hope they had know, the sound of a thousand horse hooves pounding the desert floor. The sound grew softer and with the silence Clark found that his hope did not diminish.
Thank you for reading! Let me know if you liked this one in the comment section, or you can always just email me. Happy Tuesday! – Abby