A gathering of desperation in the hottest place under the sun. They had come from all the points of the compass, stumbling in the white heat that divided ground from sky, reeking of ash and charred meat.
In small groups they stumbled towards the cruel illusion of the clapboard structures. A facade left behind by a long dissolved movie project, it depicted an old west township down to the very last detail. The saloon with batwings and busted windows, the general store whose sign hung and swung in the cauldron wind, the brothel with its sun-bleached satin drapes. It allowed very little shelter during the hottest point of the day and the chill of night. A water pump which curled above a battered trough was beaten to the sand in a moment of frustrated rage when it was found to be non-functional.
They sat in the shadows, disparate in age and race and sex, united in their thirst. The men would venture as far as they dared in search of water as the women comforted the children. Soon they became lethargic, slumped against the rough wood walls on the salt-water stains of their dried up sweat, dead eyes glittering from the shadows.
They saw her coming from the west, her hair a halo of white swirling in the constant wind. It was a toddler in diapers, ambling with the grace of someone learning to walk. Her eyes were the same searing cerulean of the sky that they might have as well been holes in her skull. A red-haired Barbie doll dangled from her hand. A pink bow fluttered in her hair.
There was a wrongness about her. Her fair skin did not burn in the sun, and her lips were not cracked. Delirious laughter seemed poised on her lips. They were frightened and cried out as she came closer. Precious moisture trickled away in the tears of the children.
“A child of the corn!”
“An Amity bitch!”
“God help us!”
She smiled indulgently without showing her teeth, cocking her head slightly. She gripped the doll by its sun-softened legs. It drooped towards the sand and sand and sand. She stepped forward, questing. The Barbie’s hair was a swirling flame as it dipped, lifted, dipped, lifted. As if it were sniffing the scorched air.
“What’s she doing?”
The threads of the doll’s hair were growing taut one by one, extending to a point several yards ahead. The girl was yanked forward and she flew on her toes until the Barbie stopped, taut and trembling, in front of the whorehouse. The thirsty gasped, their cracked hands clawing in an involuntary warding off gesture. The girl let her hands drop to her side then she was again just a lost child holding a doll.
“Dig here,” she lisped, pointing to the ground. She smiled with feeling at them. They waited for her to disappear into the horizon before leaping to the indicated spot and tearing at the ground.
It was cool and sweet but poisoned; several weeks later a traveler wearing a calfskin hat and serape passed, warily regarding the mummified corpses arranged in a halo around a pool of sparkling water. He was thirsty but he knew a deal with the devil when he saw it.