The Great Salt Desert

On the fourth night they spent in the Great Salt Desert, Hoopla let the fire burn out and the stars draw close while Skiff slept. They were old friends, the stars and Hoopla, and they talked quietly, not as old and distant friends who tell familiar tales, stale with repetition, but in the cheerful gossipy way of two neighbors leaning over a fence and watching the road.

The stars told him their news, though, between jokes and quotations, idly. Births and deaths, marriages and divorces, doors opened, doors closed. Hoopla grew long in listening, and the coal in his pipe burned low and cherry-red. Skiff turned in his sleep and the conversation sank down to where he ran through the long grasses of his childhood, and became music. His sides twitched against Hoopla’s back.

Far away in the dunes the shrieking of the long haired and blood faced woman wailed, wailed for her demon lover, and echoed and rebounded, and Hoopla smoked and talked to the stars, far into the night.