Dune Cat

by Winnie Anderson

Featured Artwork: The Waterfall by Henri Rousseau 

Eons ago, during the Pleistocene Epoch, the jaguar left his home and traveled across the cold arid grassland: his resolve set. The floods were coming again. If he stayed, the land would either be covered with water or be broken into land pockets, from which there’d be no escape. The time was now. He had to go.

In him the jaguar carried echoes of history, tens of millions of years’ worth of heat spikes, ice ages, tectonic upheavals, and mega-explosions. Time swirled uniquely around him. He felt two trajectories at once—like a stone cast into the deep lake of time, sinking down to the bottom where all life may have begun, as well as the outward rippling cat’s paw upon its surface. History. Present. Future. All there, his for the grappling.

Alone he headed south: crossing over what one day would be named the Bering land bridge. Well-suited to the task, weighing close to 400 pounds, the norm then, he ran through a dense mantle of cold and silence. In the morning light his rust-colored coat appeared red, broken only by dotted circular cave-black rosettes. The travel was hard, but the jaguar came into it, growing stronger as he went—proof he’d done the right thing by giving his instinct its due.

After months of traveling, and though he was not cold, his body began to shiver. Prescience told him change was imminent seconds before a rogue wind thrust the jaguar into a zigzag shudder of time, as if the stone sinking deep into the lake had jerked off course and suddenly crabbed sideways. Calling on everything he had by stirring up wells of power contained within him, the jaguar fought against this unknown force he could not fathom.

His rage bore fruit. Like Jonah from the whale, the jaguar was coughed out onto land not all that different from the land he’d left behind. He stood, four paws firmly planted on rocky ground, legs slightly spread, torso heaving with each breath, heart racing, in twenty-first-century Ark County, Colorado, at the relatively low and nondescript 11,000-foot summit of Passby Mountain. He crept through a shroud of spruce, pine, and aspen to a promontory of land that overlooked a high 1,000-square-mile grassland basin surrounded by a ring of 14,000-foot mountains, and sat down on his haunches. The view called for more than a passing glance, demanded that the jaguar take a few moments to absorb his surroundings, insisted upon its due.

If the unexplainable were to occur, Passby Mountain, of course, was the perfect setting. It could be said that Ark County’s remoteness called out to the unusual and the strange. While ranchers made up the bulk of the sparse population, others had their reasons for living there: to hide, to escape, running to or from something, all motives out of the normal scope of things for most people. Privacy was highly valued, respected in the way of property lines. People knew enough not to ask questions.

Bald eagles flew above while elk, deer, moose, pronghorn, mountain lions, foxes, and bears roamed below. Summers were glorious but were offset by winter’s unyielding cold temperatures, often hovering between thirty and forty degrees below zero. Heavy snow, choking the land in its deathly white silence, could last for days if not weeks on end. The few who lasted over the long term had been forced to accept the land’s searing isolation. Some came to love it.

If folks were told that one day an ancient prehistoric jaguar with seven-inch canines would be belched up from some odd hiccup of time, the news likely would have been met with a raised eyebrow and a shrug of the shoulders. Ark County was a hard place. No one had time for frivolous thoughts, but underneath the locals’ toughness there might also be a glimmer of pride. For only in a place like this could something like that happen. It was enough to make one wonder if there was a design to all the madness.

The jaguar lifted his nose into the wind roiling up from the meadow below,
catching a sweet-sharp smell in it that he liked. Below there was a mound in the grass. It had an opening in it. Inside was as dark as a cave. He needed sleep.

 

Clotaire Clark woke from his nap, stretched, slid his hand to the floor over the side of his bed, and wriggled his fingers. His call to Vivian. Ah Viv, there you are. His little mouse friend nibbled his fingertips. Clotaire resisted the urge to feel smug. He didn’t think his fellow inmates in the nation’s most secure super-max in the city of Seltar, Ark County’s largest, were so relaxed upon waking. Clotaire lived in his pod as if he were living inside a crisply-wrapped box, its creased edges sharply defined. As long as he didn’t press against its sides, his equilibrium remained intact.

Viv darling. She was digging in a little harder now with her teeth, tickling him. Clotaire tapped her little mouse head with his forefinger. Up and down it bobbled. Nothing she did could anger him. If she misbehaved it was because, like any child, she was asking for more structure. Clotaire was sure of his mouse parenting skills. He’d honed them to perfection for over thirty years with his succession of little friends, all of whom had been named Vivian.

Clotaire was the only local incarcerated in Strongwalls. This had advantages. He’d grown up on a ranch not far away, his now—he’d inherited it from his parents. The investigator on his case, annoyingly around more than ever these days, had gone there to check on it for him and had told him that shoots of lavender were springing up in the grass. His pod had a four-inch by a foot-long slit that opened to the sky. Sometimes he thought he smelled lavender in the wind, which meant, if the smell was coming from the direction of his ranch, that his pod faced west.

This was notable because Strongwalls had been built so that none of the inmates could ever know exactly where he was in the complex, which made orientation to anything difficult and therefore escape impossible—at least so far. Even when inmates exercised outside it was in a concrete pit that offered nothing more than a view of the sky, which impressed those from other parts of the country. A searing Colorado blue sky, especially when viewed from an altitude of 10,000 feet, was like no other.

He had always professed innocence. Apparently now, after all this time, his investigator believed him. Clotaire thought it might be that she liked working on his case because it kept her around these parts and going to the ranch, the pull of the land. When she asked him about the strange mound of grass, which had a front side of logs and a door in the middle, he knew she must have been lingering on the property. A person had to really study the land to see it.

“The first homestead,” he answered. “Built right into the ground like a sod home from the prairies. Fortified with concrete in the 1940s. Big enough for a family. Later it was probably used as a root cellar. Has a front wall of logs and a door, the only parts that can burn.”

Her eyes lost their dreamy look and swiveled back to business.

Long ago, high school bullies had implicated him—arson. Then he had been bullied again—there was a tape of it—by an officer who had taken things too far in the interrogation that had resulted in his confessing to a crime he didn’t commit. There was a movement these days, his investigator said, to revisit cases like this. His was a bit more complicated because of his infraction, infractions rather, which, taken together, accounted for his transfer to Strongwalls some thirty years ago.

It was his French name that had gotten him in trouble. At his first prison, inmates had shortened it to Clit, giving the impression that he’d be an easy fuck. Forced into the rape shed one day he’d fought back. The man died eventually. Then Clotaire escaped. Not once but twice. Getting out and staying out were two different things. And all of that had done nothing but land him in Strongwalls, where isolation and silence dulled, evaporated, and then finally deadened his urges against the injustice of it all. Still, there were moments.

He liked his investigator’s spirit, her resolve. She had a fresh-air—almost sandy—smell about her. Their conversations wandered, like when she wanted him to explain the root cellar. Or when she told him about driving past the sand dunes on the way to his ranch.

“In Colorado no less,” she had said.

Clotaire knew all about the sand dunes. Growing up he’d pass them every day on his way to school, and teachers taught about them. The sand, he told her, was trapped there, held prisoner. Wind, ice, and water eroded mountains whose chunks were carried by streams into a lake, which, over time, receded to form a desert valley. Southwesterly winds carried the grains of sand until they were tossed in Sisyphean manner (she liked his word choice) against a chain of mountains. Never blown high enough to escape their confines completely, and thus unable to break free, they collapsed in on themselves to form five-by-seven miles of 700-foot-high dunes. An impressive sight.

He was a grain of sand. All of his investigator’s efforts, while welcome, would likely prove for naught. He had adapted, a feat not many could accomplish here. While the fresh air and the occasional smell of lavender stirred him in ways that made him sometimes press his body against the walls of his pod and hold his shaking head in his hands—rip the fucking box apart—he had, mostly, been able to make friends with the quiet. And with Viv. She kept him sane.

Dinner. Meatloaf. Potatoes. Peas. A slice of apple. Cookie for dessert. A feast for you Viv. Clotaire eked out miniscule portions with his spork and arranged them on his palm, as neat and delineated as they were on his tray. Viv hopped up onto his firm finger-raft and began to eat. A clean eater this Viv. Some of the others, bless them, had been such pigs. Food at Strongwalls was delicious, a welcome change from the brown sludge-muck of his first prison. He loved to watch the up-down circular motion of her whiskers, the way they gyrated and bristled at the same time.

Exquisite. Viv’s enjoyment of her food was the very celebration of life itself.

Dinner finished, he cozy-tucked her into a nest of shredded napkin on his chest and turned on the TV. Clotaire liked the news even if all of it had been said before. Only the date on the calendar changed and that held no meaning for him whatsoever. His hourglass had shattered long ago.

In the morning his investigator would tell him that he was a free man.

He opened his eyes. Something in the news had caught his attention. Escape? From here? Delighted of course, but I don’t think so. Not possible. His heart jumped a beat. No, not from here.

On the screen was grainy footage of an animal loping along an isolated stretch of highway at dusk. A jaguar, the newscaster said. Really? Cattle on the Guffy ranch were being killed. This animal, apparently, was the culprit.

Clotaire recognized the Guffy name. It was the ranch that bordered his own property. The jaguar had been caught once and then had escaped. They were looking for him again. Something deep in Clotaire stirred, an urge he thought buried long ago. He dropped Viv and the food on his palm. GO! Get away. Don’t let them get you. You’ll die if they do. He prayed for the jaguar, but if they were able to get this footage, things didn’t look good for him. “RUN,” he screamed, then immediately took a deep breath to settle. Sorry Viv. Escape and getting away were two distinct things. Any inmate of any prison could tell you that.

 

Dusk camouflaged the hundreds of dust-colored pronghorn scattered like tender shadow thumbprints on the vast grassland at the bottom of Passby. Ethereal in the violet-gray light, waiflike, with narrow, delicate horns, they dipped their heads as gracefully as swans to eat the grass. Their high, wide-set eyes, almost as large as an elephant’s and good in the deepening light, offered a near panoramic vision and enabled them to scan the area for prey while they ate. Night would soon press down, sharp and hard; the chill in the air cutting sharper as the minutes wore on.

At first one, then two, then the rest of the herd became alert. Mouths filled with grass, jaws cutting from side to side stilled. Heads lifted. Ears twitched back and forth. The white hair of their rumps flared.

The jaguar, hungry, crouched behind a nearby clump of boulders. Quarter-sized gold-flecked eyes pierced the gloom. Their binocular sight gave easy focus to the pronghorn. Recognizing his prey as almost unchanged from some eleven thousand years ago, he remained still, hind feet drawn forward and alongside his belly, but for the twitching tip of his tail. He crept forward until his flat head and shoulders were exposed from behind the cover of rocks.

Hunting he did well. It felt good and natural. He leapt at the exact moment the pronghorn, sensing danger in their bones but unprepared for this ghost-predator, began to flee.

The herd flew across the ground like quick-moving thunderclouds, legs blurred in synchronized 29-foot long strides. They floated across the land as one entity, their sound as hypnotic as the ocean hitting against rock cliffs.

And as the jaguar chased them his body streamlined into that of a twenty-first- century jaguar, leaner and lighter. His canines shortened. In no time predator and prey were on equal terms, two of the fastest animals on the planet, each capable of reaching speeds upwards of 60 miles per hour, running for their lives. The jaguar, adept at such high speed in sprints only, set his sights on one whose stride had been set off from the rest.

For all their quickness and endurance, pronghorn were not jumpers. This one had no choice. The fence was too high. The barbs slit an almost straight line down its belly. Blood scent filled the jaguar’s nostrils. What proved deadly for the pronghorn was easy for the jaguar, who leapt over the stuck animal to the other side of the fence, turned around and clamped his jaws over the pronghorn’s head. There was a popping sound, then his canines punctured the skull, and the pronghorn went limp.

The jaguar feasted. And later when he was hungry he killed another. Pronghorn were his only diet. Wolves—not the jaguar—continued to kill Guffy cattle. The jaguar’s mistake had been in traveling along a road, back toward the sweet-sharp-smelling mound of grass with the cave in it, with no fear of two-leggeds, for he had never seen one before.

A loud bang spooked him. Then pain. Something had hit him. He yelped. Fog closed in around him. He fought, but unlike before when his efforts, channeled by the forces of history within, caused him to be ejected out of time’s shudder, this time his strength ebbed. He did not carry the echoes of man in him, and therefore he understood neither fear nor meanness. Something was thrown over his head. A tightening around his neck. Hard to breathe. Sharp jabs to his belly. Kicks to his head. He struggled to make sense of the senseless. He was put into a cage. Trapped. Then blackness.

He woke hungry and thirsty. There were no stars to guide him, but he had not survived this long on luck alone. Drawing on reserves of patience and calm, he endured, adapted, and licked his wounds. Waited for his chance.

It came. The door to his cage opened. He was being moved from one prison to another. A new cage was in front of him. Pointed sharp rods of steel prodded him toward it. He sprang, twisting his body so that the second cage skidded off its alignment with the first and slid across the floor. He jumped for a two-legged’s neck and then changed course when he smelled fresh air through an open door. He got away. At first they followed. There were more shots fired. More yelling. He was filmed and this brief, grainy footage was what stirred Clotaire when he saw it on television.

 

His investigator had arranged a pickup for him, given him cash, and told him that the government was going to pay him for their “mistake.” So that’s what my life’s been, a thirty-year-long mistake? His cabin, she went on, “didn’t have to be so rustic anymore. Could run off solar panels, propane tanks, water wells, even have satellite, internet and a telephone if you want. You could make a go of it again.”

A go of what?

In one stroke everything had fallen away from Clotaire. Unmoored and with no compass he felt as though he were drowning. A flash of anger surged through him at his investigator. There was an abyss in front of him that he didn’t know if he could cross. His routines, habits, and the lies he told himself—and held dearly—in order to exist in Strongwalls, his lifelines, had been disrupted by a do-goody. Viv had scrabbled out of his pocket when he had fallen to his knees just outside of the prison gates. His life was nothing now.

Clotaire drove through the town of Seltar on his way to the ranch. Outlines of the old town he knew from his childhood still existed. The prison business would keep the town from disappearing, but it had taken new life as a haven for wilderness seekers and the adventurous. River rafting and Starbucks had come onto the scene.

The light was falling. Clotaire had the sudden urge to be in the midst of the town’s lights and noise. For all the years he’d spent in silence, he didn’t think he could endure one more minute of it.

He checked into a motel next to a truckstop where a handful of eighteen-
wheelers were parked. Some idled. Their purr soothed him. Across the parking lot was a fast food joint called “Convicts.”

Clotaire stood under the one light bulb hanging unadorned from the ceiling in the outside corridor in front of his room, the shock of his release slowly wearing off. He needed new habits, a rhythm to his hours. Those would take a while to assert themselves. He didn’t think life could offer anything more.

He opened and closed the door to his room. That this was now in his control would take some getting used to. The clicking bolt going in and out of the doorframe was nothing like the electronic thrum of the sliding opening of his pod at Strongwalls, controlled remotely by another’s hand. Couldn’t call that a door. Clotaire put his ear to the lock and heard the clink-tick. His eyes widened as though he were a child innocently fascinated by listening to a conch shell for the sound of the ocean.

He left the door open. Waves of fresh air blew into the room. It would rain soon. The air felt puffed, constrained, as if it needed release, as if he could take a pin to it himself and unleash the deluge. Crumpling up a packet of saltines he’d picked up from a bowl in the motel’s lobby, he opened it and then sprinkled the crushed bits on the floor. Perhaps another Viv would come along. He lay on the bed in the darkened room.

He woke up hungry and realized that meals too were now up to him. A simple enough revelation. And quickly followed by another, his plan for the rest of his life. He’d return to the ranch and live out his days there simply enough. Nothing fancy, over the top, or out of the scope of reality. Perhaps he’d try to tame the lavender growing there. He remembered his mother had loved it and had often spoken of farming it.

Whatever time he had left must be kept in perspective and not overvalued. He could have just as easily died in Strongwalls and no one would have cared. Viv? It didn’t matter that his hourglass had broken, that all of his sand was gone. He’d be able to scrabble a few particles from here and there. Reclaim time his way, as best he could.

 

The jaguar was lost, disoriented by the episode of being caged and then his escape. He was tired. It was raining now, but in it was the familiar, albeit faint, sweet-sharp scent that he had so liked, wafting up from the meadow below when he had first arrived on Passby Mountain. The same smell that drifted into the cave where he had once slept. Directly ahead on his path were noise and lights. He needed to get through those first and then to the open land beyond. He saw the way, but exhaustion overcame him. Sleep first. There was an opening ahead, inside darkness. The door reminded him of the opening to the cave. It would feel good to get out of the rain.

 

Clotaire made his way back across the parking lot with his dinner. Sheets of
needle-hard rain blew in slants under the parking lot lights. He liked the way it felt on his face.

Inside his room now, he left the door open to hear the rain and feel the swirl of the wind. No need to turn on a light. There was plenty of glow from the parking lot lights and the one bulb hanging in the corridor just outside his door. He sat on the bed and, numb to humor in the name, opened his “Just Released”— a burger with everything: onions, cheese, and mushroom—as the jaguar walked into the room.

Clotaire froze. “Magnificent,” he whispered. The jaguar’s ribs showed; his fur was dirty, but there was a sureness in the way he moved. A subtle but wild force emanated from him and this roused Clotaire. The jaguar paced a few tight circles and then poured himself into a golden ball on the floor.

Clotaire experienced a moment of uncertainty. For all his recent clarity, his thinking was now muddled. He recognized the animal at once as the one he saw on TV from his pod last night, the one authorities believed was killing Guffy cattle, the one who had been caught and then had escaped. A part of him registered that he should call the police.

He filled the ice bucket with water from the tub faucet and put it next to the jaguar. He put his burger on the floor next to the water. The jaguar’s nose twitched. His whiskers bristled and then he ate the meat in one gulp while his amber-colored eyes bore into Clotaire’s and held him.

Clotaire blinked as if to answer. The exchange settled things for Clotaire. He would not call the police. He’d leave the door open. No more closed boxes for any living creature. The jaguar was free to go.

He went to get more food. On the way back he saw a Coke machine in a lit
alcove a few doors down from his. A Coke. It was still raining but not as hard as before. The light bulbs in the outside corridor flickered on and off.

A man came up behind him when he was putting coins into the machine.
When Clotaire turned and saw the cop he dropped his Coke. The cop bent
down, picked it up, and handed it back to Clotaire.

Except the man wasn’t a cop. He wore a similar uniform but with a “Colorado Parks Wildlife” patch sewn onto the top of his left sleeve.

“Gonna hold off the beer tonight,” the man said. “Gotta be up early. Been lookin’ for the leopard all day.”

“Leopard?”

“Some zoo animal’s been killin’ livestock. Only no zoo’s missin’ a leopard. Shit is we had ’em. Crafty fella got away. Brushed up against all of them cops and still got away. Police don know shit bout how to keep animals penned. That’s why I’s called in. Want him dead now. Called me to do the job.”

Clotaire didn’t know what to say. He had zero capacity for small-talk. Could count the number of conversations he’d had with people, excepting his investigator, over the last few decades on one hand. His mouth opened. Nothing came out.

“Night then,” the man said after he had retrieved his soda.

“Night,” Clotaire managed to force out. He watched him walk down the line of doors, past his, still open. Fuck, don’t look in. Just three doors past Clotaire’s open one, the man stopped and fiddled with his room key before, eons later it seemed to Clotaire, finally getting the door open and going inside.

The exchange solidified things a bit deeper in Clotaire’s mind. He threw his burger in the back of the truck. He didn’t know if the jaguar would follow him, but he had to try. Just leaving the door open wasn’t enough. Doing more involved risk. Clotaire’s heart raced. I’m alive.

The jaguar was standing when Clotaire came to the doorway, looked hard into the amber-colored eyes, and tried to absorb some of the animal’s uncertainty.

“You stay, they’ll find you. Come.”

It was up to the jaguar now. It wasn’t anything he could force.

Then Clotaire turned and got into the cab of the truck.

 

The jaguar sensed the bigness of the moment. He had survived for so long in part on his ability to adapt to new circumstances. Before him was a two-legged who was not mean or frightened, who, like him, knew loneliness and pain. Saw the world’s never-ending sadness as he did. He felt the offer. Knew he had a choice. On his own he hadn’t fared well in this time and place. And he had been alone for so, so very long.

 

Clotaire’s foot hit the gas when, in the rearview mirror, he saw the jaguar jump into the bed of the pickup, which slid on the wet pavement and made a screech as it roared out of the parking lot. There was a gunshot. A yelp and then a thud. Clotaire couldn’t check on the jaguar now. He had to drive and drive hard. He bent to the task, exhilarated with purpose. They had a good chance of getting away. It was dark. It had been a while but at one point he knew all the spidery back roads of Ark County like the top of Viv’s little mouse head.

He drove right up to the open door of the root cellar. Clotaire checked the jaguar and saw that the bullet had only grazed him. Jumping out of the truck, the jaguar twitched his tail and walked into the root cellar, leaving Clotaire with the impression that he’d been here before and that this was his home now, and he, Clotaire, was his guest.

That night, for the first time in a long time, Clotaire looked up at the wide swath of sky from the porch of his cabin. There was so much more of it to see because he wasn’t viewing it from a slit in the wall. Lavender scented the wind. His eyes wandered over the stars, gleaming and low in the sky. The jaguar, his ever-fixed, unshakable Polaris, had given him a gift, as the star had given ancient mariners—a point of reference. From now on his life would be in relation to the jaguar. With him, Clotaire might just be able to navigate across the abyss. He felt his heart begin to lighten.

 

A year later new habits and routines had asserted themselves. During the day Clotaire gardened. He had planted rows of lavender, collected bunches of it, and then hung it on beams in the root cellar to dry. He could sell it but there was no need. The government was paying him for their mistake. Selling his lavender would have brought people around, and he didn’t want that.

The jaguar slept in the root cellar, cool in summer, warm in winter. Clotaire
believed he also loved the smell of lavender. Sometimes Clotaire slept in there too. So far the jaguar had killed only pronghorn for food, but the matter of Guffy concerned Clotaire. More than once a stray Guffy calf had wandered onto his property. Guffy fences were not being maintained.

He saw on the news one night that the cattle killing had started again. The hunt for the culprit resumed. Clotaire knew his jaguar was not the one doing it. He had heard the wolves howling. He also knew how things worked in Ark County.

At dusk they were always together. They climbed the slope of Passby Mountain and sat on a boulder near the top and looked down over the valley. Other times, on clear nights bright with moonlight, they ran through rows of lavender. Clotaire liked to run with his hands extended above his head, convinced that at such a high altitude he’d be able to catch a low hanging star in his fist.

When the clouds scudded low and fast they ran in those too, playing tag, losing and then finding each other in the rags of mist. The jaguar loved snow. The vastness of the land and their time together on it was saving them.

The news continued about the Guffy cattle. Clotaire recognized the man on the TV screen from the encounter at the Coke machine at the motel. “It’s a leopard. Maybe someone’s pet by now for all I know.” A reference to me?

Clotaire’s world tightened. He stopped watching the news.

 

On the rare warm night, the jaguar liked to swim in the reservoir not far down the road from the property. Shortly after Clotaire stopped watching the news, he went swimming too. Ice-cold. A stabbing pain shuddered through his shoulder and then lit his chest on fire. Wouldn’t be so bad dying here. Maybe the jaguar would be better off without me. Have I really saved him from anything? Kept him free? Or have I just postponed the inevitable.

Even from under water the stars sparkled. Dead stars. No point in reaching for what doesn’t exist.

The jaguar was next to him. Clotaire wrapped his arms around his middle. Then he was on the shore. They sat through the night and let the sun warm them in the morning. Later the jaguar stayed with him while he worked the lavender rows. After the swimming incident, they were together all the time. The jaguar refused to leave his side.

In the fall the aspens began to pale. A few weeks later, brushstrokes of gold and yellow streaked across the slopes. Dusk came earlier. One night, while Clotaire and the jaguar were walking, Clotaire saw two stabbing probes of light veer into view from around the curve in the road. The van, headlights on high beam, with a bighorn sheep painted on its side and “Colorado Parks Wildlife” written in bold letters above it, turned onto his property. Long yellow shafts of light pinned Clotaire and the jaguar in their glare.

There hadn’t been any time to prepare for this. What the fuck could I have done otherwise?

They ran. Clotaire had no trouble keeping up with the jaguar. He felt as light as a feather, as fast as light. In communication that defied logic Clotaire understood now that the jaguar—all along—had been leading him toward a world where time and boundaries didn’t matter. And he had become whole again. The abyss was behind him.

The jaguar’s power included him, was propelling them forward together. They ran on and on, Clotaire going where the jaguar led.

A shot rang out but the sound was too far off in the distance to have any meaning. They climbed up the sand dunes, toppled down the other side, and scrambled up the next one. For the first time in thirty years Clotaire laughed. Here was all the sand in the world and yet time’s claw still ravaged. He had misunderstood. His life wasn’t about taking back time owed him. It could never be reclaimed. The future, he realized, was nothing more than a realigning and shaping around scars already rendered.

Which, despite all the sadness in the world, or because of it, was still beautiful. The windswept dunes at night. Low-hanging stars and the full moon. The scent of lavender in the wind. His beloved jaguar. A mere glimpse of it all was enough.

They were on the highest dune now. Clotaire reached down, grabbed a handful of sand, and threw the grains up in the air to where the wind picked them up and carried them over the mountains. At last. Free. He laughed again.

He’d never seen stars so bright. He reached for one and felt warmth in his hand. A live one. So not all of them are dead. The jaguar was carrying him now. Clotaire bent low, wrapped his arms round his friend’s middle, and absorbed the wildness of the creature beneath him. He pressed the star up into the jaguar’s chest. When Clotaire lowered his own chest to the jaguar’s back, he felt the star’s heat come into him. And like that, all night long, as one now, the jaguar made his way up and down the dunes and into the mountains beyond, his four paw prints remaining in the sand only a short while before the winds came, and erased

 


Originally appeared in NOR 21

Winnie Anderson earned a Master of Arts in Writing from Johns Hopkins University. Her published works include a middle grade historical novel, Phoebe’s Heron (Crispin, 2018).

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