A voice cries out in the wilderness, moaning like a doleful ghost up the hilltop from down the slope. My eyes get blocked by clouds of dust, curtains of earth glinting. Bright, white. Heat. There is no smell here but dry earth.
About a hundred yards down the slope, I can see it. A purple cloth tied around the bole, flapping low and rapid, forlorn. The curtains go back and forth. It shows between the curtains, sheeting across the slope. Like an upside down smile, showing and not showing, shuttered between bands of it.
The voice cries out again. The ghost, the ghost. I start walking down the slope toward it. For a little while there is no sound and no feeling but the specks of dust gathering between my back and shirt.
When I’m about halfway down, I see clouds start to mass up gray and primordial. Then the ground starts turning dark in little spots, slow at first and spreading like a Fibonacci. The sky flashes. I run down the slope, getting nearer and nearer to it. The ground plashes under me.
When I get to the tree, I can hear it again. Rain slants against the tree, biting into it. It’s broken up, glinting at intervals, like spider silk. Then it picks up and smooths out into a bluish sizzle. It sputters and crackles against the dead wood, electric. The sky flashes. The profile of the tree jumps out against the flash, black.
I hear it again. I don’t want to but I get down in the pit. He’s there, huddled over and whimpering, head topped with thorns. There is nobody here to watch him die.
The sky flashes. Shalom, he says to me. And he shuts his eyes.