Vulture Dust, Josh Sippie
CW: mentions of gore
There is another. He sits alone around a smoldering campfire, more smoke than flame. It blocks out the moons benevolent white as you approach. You smell it before you see it, you taste it before you can process it. Torched wood, the grains look like blackened and blistered skin. He doesn’t move much. Shifts occasionally to keep the blood flowing, but doesn’t need much blood for what he’s doing.
He stands, dusting off his baggy sloth trousers, sodden with ash and ember, white spots where the flames found root. There is a hunger in his eyes when he looks up at the moon. He longs for something, calls for something, but makes no sound. Just the crackling fire, the wood peeling, peeling.
It’s not the camp you come to for company, but there’s nothing else out here, so you do, making a slow approach, never flinching. You consider calling out to announce yourself, but feel that silence owns this man more than noise. You work your way into his line of vision and he sees you, his head angling to the side in curiosity. If there is menace in his eyes, you don’t see it, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
He doesn’t wave. He smiles, his teeth individually sharpened to points. And that’s when you see his eyes—sharp, not round. Angles, not curves. It is too late to run, he looks the kind of hunter that revels in a fleeing subject. To give him that satisfaction lessens the chances of leaving this camp alive.
There’s something else on the fire, something that smells better than billowing black smoke. Beans, maybe.
“Join me,” his mouth forms the words, but they are so quiet you aren’t sure you hear it at all, but rather knew it. The words linger. They remind you. They sound so perfect as your stomach rumbles and your tongue moistens.
He sits back down, no longer looking at you. There’s another seat across from him as if he was expecting you, but you have no recollection of it being there before. Maybe someone else used to be there, someone he knew.
“Hello?” Even as the words leave your mouth, it’s clear they don’t belong here. The man’s shoulders arch up to his ears and his eyes find yours again, seeing deeper than you’ve ever been seen before. There is more to you than you know, but he knows.
In the little alcove of the rocky desert night, you take a seat across from him, looking sheepishly into the pot on the fire. What appetite you have curdles. Two eyes look back at you. And fingers and teeth and hair. Pieces of a person that look too familiar to ignore. So you stare more. And as your vision goes, and pain sears through your fingertips, and the cool desert air braises your barren scalp, you see something else. You see the view from across the fire. You see yourself collapse and turn to dust. And your appetite returns as you smell the pot bubbling.
But then your vision fades again as you’re forced out, and your voice becomes one of a multitude asking questions, begging for answers, cast into a void where everyone else is.
There is another, and it is you.
Josh Sippie lives in New York City, where he's the Director of Publishing Guidance at Gotham Writers. His writing can be found or is forthcoming at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Writer Magazine, Brevity, Sledgehammer Lit, Wretched Creations, Ghost Orchid Press, and more. He has ongoing columns at Hobart, Points in Case, and Daily Drunk Mag. More at joshsippie.com or @sippenator101.