Dark Man Laughed
By Aimee DuPré
©July 2, 2004
Under a hazy sky so yellowed and gloomy, a brown dust cloud followed a red-yellow ribbon of road. The man peered from behind a large granite-like boulder, black hair dusted unearthly orange with the fine powder of the roadway. His dark eyes took in the dullness all around him. No bright colors anywhere, and even those eyes were so deep brown as to appear black at first glance. Yet a passion blazed in them, defiant and fiery.
He cocked his head to catch the sound of the solid grumble of a motor
from inside the cloud of dust. His
features in profile were chiseled perfection as his eyes narrowed, fixed upon
the vehicle headed his way. He
hoped it was a tanker. He’d
waited a day long than he’d expected, and he knew his people were anxious
The woman drove along the bumpy gravel road, windows up to avoid being suffocated by the dust stirred by the eighteen-wheeler. The air conditioning was barely working, a slow leak leaching its freon into the atmosphere. Her mind wandered as she drove.
She glanced at the other woman at her side. She hadn’t worked with her before, and she wondered if she’d be any good with her sidearm if it came down to needing it. Then she thought about all the ones depending on them to make this run. All the responsibility.
Hell! Who was she trying to kid? She was too old to be of use back in the town. That’s why she was relegated to driving the tanker. Not because of . . .
She nearly ran straight into the granite boulder sitting in the middle of the curve ahead. It must have slipped off the slanting hillside, and she plowed on the air brakes and hit the jake brake, too, swerving the rig to the right to avoid the rock. The sidewall of her left front wheel caught the edge of the sharp rock, and the already worn-out tire blew, loud as an explosion. She fought the wheel as she skidded out of control, finally sliding to a stop in a cloud of dust.
The guard was thrown into the windshield and as the rig stopped, she was thrown back into the seat, her face a bloody mess.
Before the driver could even tell if her partner was still alive, the passenger-side door opened, and the guard was swiftly pulled out of the truck. The driver saw the butt of a rifle thrust down and heard it hit bone, hard enough to leave no doubt of the women’s demise.
As she gazed wide-eyed at the open door, the dark orange-covered man appeared, and the two exchanged somber looks. In his eyes was bloodlust from the passion of the battle; in her eyes was stubborn refusal to show her fear of death, for it was not death she feared but the dying.
He held up a handgun pointed at her chest.
“Get out,” he growled. “This side,” he added as he backed out of the opening.
She reluctantly obeyed, resigned to the fact that she could do nothing right now. He guarded her with the gun, and when she reached the orange dust of the ground, she realized just how large a man he was. She was tall and a bit hefty herself, but he made her feel like on of those petite, frail little things that her last lover had thrown her over for.
She felt cold hatred pouring out from the man as he ordered, “Fix the damn tire.”
It took her a while, and as she was busied, he rummaged through the cab and found the two canteens. He drank greedily at first, then slower, finally sipping at the warm water as she sweated in the heat of the afternoon. Thank God the gray clouds obscured the sun or she’d have passed out.
He could tell she wanted a drink, needed the water, but he withheld it from her until she finished. Then he tossed one canteen to her, over half the water already consumed, and she drank the rest nearly too fast although she knew better.
He used the gun as one would use his finger, gesturing to the tanker.
“Drive,” was all he said, and he slid in beside her, agile and alert.
“Which way?” she asked.
He glared at her stupid question, and she just smiled dumbly back at him, waiting for his answer.
“North,” he finally said. He stared at her the entire way.
Half a day later, he made her pull off to the side of the road. He leaned over and blew the horn three times short, three times long. Soon, people came out from openings in the hills. One got up in the cab and pushed her to the center of the seat as he drove.
Now she was crushed between two enemies. The huge dark man took her hands in his. His large hands completely covered hers as he fastened a plastic tie around her wrists, pulling it tight.
When they reached the town, the tanker stopped to let the man and his prisoner out, then continued on, its precious cargo of drinking water to be securely guarded even from their own people, divvied out to the most valuable in their society – the favored ones.
He half-dragged her through the streets as people curiously stared. He knocked on a blue door, and a teenage girl opened it.
“Father!” she cried happily, until she saw the woman, and her eyes darkened. Her eyes were just like her father’s, and she was as pretty as he was handsome.
“Only this night,” he told his daughter. “Then we’ll leave again.”
This seemed to ease the girl’s mind.
After the three silently ate of a meager meal, the girl cleaned up, wiping the plates with a rag. Water so precious was never used for this purpose. The big man stood up and drew the woman close to him, turned her around so her back as against his chest, and pushed her towards a full-length mirror on the wall. He drew his knife faster than the eye could see, and he held the wide sharp blade to her ivory throat. His hands were suntanned brown and made her skin appear even paler. She must have been a favored one, he thought, for she’d been inside out of the sun.
Her eyes were side, the whites showing around the deep blue, but that was the only indicated of her fear. He could feel her body pressed close to his, and she did not tremble. She was taut as a bowstring drawn back to fire, and her posture was straight as an arrow.
“Why should I let you live?” he asked her.
She looked in the mirror, into his dark eyes behind her, but she did not see the bloodlust in them any longer.
“I do not know,” she said, her voice hoarse and chocked, giving away her terror.
His knife hand moved and swiftly cut through the plastic binding her hands.
“I will tell you why.”
He threw the knife into the wall beside the mirror and grabbed her shoulders, turning her to face him.
“You are going to show me where the water is.”
She smiled and almost laughed. “What makes you think that?”
“You will show me, or they will die.”
He pushed her to the door, and he opened it.
Inside the room, six children from the ages of about twelve through two or three, slept in one large bed, their little faces serene in the glow from a nightlight in the corner. Upon closer inspection, she could see the dark circles under their eyes, and the pasty look of their skin.
“And,” the man continued. “I will not allow my children to die.”
She had agreed to his request more out of a sense of personal survival than concern for his offspring. But on the weeklong journey in the tanker, as they shared evening campfires, food, and precious water, they also shared their life stories. Each gained a certain respect for the other, and they shared their bodies with each other in a passion each one had believed had vanished with their last lovers.
When they finally reached the reservoir, it was deserted. Fearing a trap, afraid that somehow the woman had warned the others, he cautiously approached on foot, the woman in the lead. Seeing no guards, they climbed the stairway to the top of the gray concrete reservoir and looked down into filth and mud at the bottom of the round circle.
“Empty,” he said in disgust. Then, in desperation, “It’s empty!”
He grabbed her shoulders and shook her hard enough to make her neck snap.
“You knew!” he screamed as he shoved her limp body into the hole.
He did not watch her fall. He turned back to the rig, drove the long journey home, and, totally hopeless, he took the lives of his seven children, so they would not know the agony of dehydration and starvation.
As he blindly left his former home, the blue door slamming forever behind him, a man grabbed him in the street, shouting something. The dark man’s eyes focused briefly on the other’s dusty face, streaked with tears. No, not tears.
“It’s raining!” the man screamed in joy. A huge grin was on his face. “It’s raining! The first time in ten years!”
As he jumped and shouted on down the thoroughfare, the sprinkle turned into a white deluge of water.
And as the dark man was drenched in the soaking rain, he began laughing.
He laughed and laughed as he held his face up into the downpour.
He laughed and laughed and he
This page was updated Tuesday, April 11, 2006 03:34 PM