How Peacefully the Desert Sleeps
by Brad Beaulieu
The first time I woke, blood fell upon the desert floor.
At the time, I didn't know whether it was good news or ill.
Kallie's coughing fit started, as it often did, when the alabaster sun brought the
rising heat of the desert with it. When the fit had passed and the pain had subsided,
she cleared her throat and spit blood-tainted phlegm onto the cracked desert floor.
Then she stood tall on the driver's bench of her two-wheeled cart, hoping to see
any sign of the Ohokwa village, but all that greeted her was a sea of adiwa cacti
running clear to the horizon.
Kallie's heart sank as she dropped back into her creaking seat and took a long pull
off her waterskin; it appeared she would need to rein in her pack bird and spend
another scorching day under the direct sun before reaching Ohokwa Gorge. But
she whipped her kuko into motion anyway, not willing to give up as long as she
was able to withstand the heat.
Only minutes later, movement caught her eye. A few hundred yards up, two
Ohokwa warriors bearing tall spears filed out from the cacti and onto the trail.
With a whip of the reins and a cluck of her tongue, her kuko released a ragged caw
and trudged faster.
With each passing second Kallie's anxiety rose. She was about to take the first real
step toward healing the consumption that had struck over a year ago. She'd
managed to enter tribal lands and elude the Shaukauna, the settler's fiercest
opponent in their unquenchable thirst for westward land, but now it came down to
talking, a skill Kallie hadn't been blessed with, and it soured her gut that her
future depended on this one conversation.
Kallie was close enough now to see the details in their jet-black hair, which was
braided behind their ears into two long strands. White folds of cloth hung loose
around their shoulders, ready to cover their dark-skinned faces against the midday
sun. They wore white shirts and pale leggings of the softest buckskin, embroidered
with the angular designs of their people.
Kallie pulled her cart up short when the taller of the two warriors -- the one with a
half-dozen tiny bones piercing the crown of each ear -- laid his spear across her
kuko's path. Kallie let out a slow breath, trying dearly to fend off another
coughing fit, and pushed up the brim of her wide, leather hat.
"How do?" Kallie said.
Rather than reply, the shorter Ohokwa whistled, his tongue fluttering to create a
rhythmic warble. She'd never heard the call in person, but she knew good and well
what was about to happen.
A buzzing, like a child blowing a blade of grass between his thumbs, cut through
the desert air. Kallie swallowed hard as two red beetles the size of her hand
crawled over the top of the nearest adiwa cactus. One of the dejda beetles raised its
iridescent wing case and rattled. The second followed suit a moment later, then
another, and another, and soon, the entire area was abuzz with their bone chilling