Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Excerpt from Entrekin by Will Entrekin

Imperfect Thirst

Jesus of Nazareth did not know temptation until she found him in the desert.

It was night, then, cool and dark save for the lonely silver light of the moon, dry sand wind‑rippled in places like it had once known water. A breeze shivered his paper‑dry skin, and his breath rattled in his lungs. His coarse hair hung like a shadow over his face, and he passed in and out of sleep like a freefall through clouds; what dreams came were thirsty.

His head down, eyes closed, he didn't see or hear the woman approach, only felt her shadow on his body. His mouth surprised him by watering and he swallowed by reflex, the first moisture his body had known in a long, long time. He'd known she would come, of course. She always did.

"You're thirsty," she told him. Her voice lilted like smoke, oozed in his head like oil.

He didn't answer. He didn't need to. Even if everything in his body hadn't been pleading for moisture, that voice would have persuaded him.

"I don't understand why you do these things," she said. Her dark, familiar voice slid through his soul to find the empty parts, the thirsty parts, where it gave them a taste of what they could have if they so wished. Her tongue found sibilants even where none existed and stretched them mesmerizingly.

The muscles in his neck screamed when he looked up. He could make out none of her features; she was dark against the darker night, with a silver silhouette like a moonlight halo.

He didn't answer. Tried to swallow, had to do it twice to make it work.

She looked around at the lonely, deserted night and clutched her arms around herself as if cold. "It's so lonely out here," she said, almost to herself, "So dry," her voice straining, and then she turned back, her eyes starred, her smile like quicksilver in the dark. "I'm wet." A breeze carried the invitation to him on the musky, oh-so-wet scent of her sex and arousal.

His abs clenched, and his body forced an exhalation. One taste. Just enough to wet his cracked lips, shrink his swollen tongue, soothe his leather throat. And why not? Why not immerse himself in it, lose himself in all her dark and sex, feel her wet skin against his lips and lose all the other sensation in his body? What change in the world could possibly be brought about by one man's imperfect thirst?

He would have shaken his head but he didn't have the energy. He exhaled like wind eroding the desert, and then everything he had was gone. He slid into blackness like sinking into a pool, calm and easy only because his body had long before given out.


He returned to the world gently as he'd left it, and the first thing he was aware of was the hard surface beneath him. Cold, porous; when it didn't give out under him like fine, loose sand, he realized just how exhausted his body truly was. His legs trembled as he rose, knees shook, and he worried they wouldn't hold him.

He was on a roof, high above a city in the middle of its night. The sky was deeply, eternally blue, lit by a full moon bright as a million human hopes pinned on a single, bloated star, and his heart trembled in his chest because it knew how they all felt. All those human hearts in that huge and lovely city, living through their days, dreaming through their sleep, laughing through their tears with all the courage and fear a universe can know.

"They'll never believe you," came the woman's voice from behind him. It ran all the way up his back, prickling the hair on his neck on its way, and it aroused him. He turned more quickly than he realized he could.

She was nearly as tall as he was, and her pale skin seemed to glow, contrasting the night-dark garment she wore. It fit her well. Her long hair rustled, as likely in the breeze as in the night, and her eyes burned into Jesus' soul like cold, pale fire.

"They don't have the faith," she whispered in her sonorous, warming voice.

Jesus said nothing. He couldn't. His body trembled, muscles like bands stretched tense and quivering, and his heart cringed because it knew the woman was right. They wouldn't believe the message he carried, or would corrupt it.

A single tear escaped his eye, full of more than that harsh, dry land was used to.

"You can change that," the woman told him. She nodded toward the edge of the roof. "Just a single step, and they would hang upon your every word, believe every last thing you said to them."

Jesus looked toward the ledge, the city beyond it. His legs trembled beneath him, and his faith shuddered in his soul. He took a deep breath, though, and in it was everything he needed to say, "There is no room for proof in faith."

The woman looked at Jesus, and those ancient blue eyes pitied him. Her chuckle was the timeless wind against the sand, comforting against the heat but also a little empty, a little eroding. "Can you really be so idealistic?"

Jesus never answered. His body gave out under him, and the night wavered around him before it closed him off.


He next awoke under a sledgehammer sun blazing a suffocating white sky. His breath burned in his chest, and the air seemed to push down as he struggled to his feet. He didn't trust his body; it shivered as if cold and threatened to give out on him like everything else in the world had.

He was on the edge of a cliff, and that whole world spread out before him. He could see towns and villages immediately and, farther out, the shocking blue of the cobalt sea.

"It could be ours," the woman's voice whispered into his ear, sent a thrill like water through his whole body. She gestured at the world. "You can see where they're heading, and it's nowhere worth going."

Jesus' heart trembled, but he said nothing.

"We could change that," the woman said, stepped forward, turned to face him. "You and I. Think about it. We could have the world," she told him, standing just beyond the cliff's edge, "And we could change it."

The woman smiled when she said it. He gasped before he could stop himself, because he found everything he'd never known he was searching for, right there, in that beautiful woman's beguiling secret smile.

"Ramses? Tutankhamen? I knew them. They had their chances, and what did they build but glorious empires that crumbled into dust? But you're better than they were. You know things they never did. You are like no other I've ever known, and together we could succeed where there's only been war and loss. Join me. Be my king, and I will be your queen, and together we will rule this world and beyond."

Jesus looked out at that civilization on the sea, all those proud buildings built of dust and tears, all those people, too, and he breathed out. "I am not here to lead the way, only show it," he said.

The woman sighed, ancient wind in glaciers from before the world knew words, and in it was the knowledge that time was to be long. "I'm sorry it has to be this way."

"It cannot be otherwise," Jesus said.

"It could be if only you–."

"It cannot be."

The woman breathed out, weary and expectant. She stepped to the sand again, put her hand on Jesus' shoulder.

They stood, then, looking out on an uncertain world, and two hearts weighed heavy because both, at some level neither understood, knew what was to follow. They looked out at that world, that bright, sun‑bleached land full of dreams and lives, and they hoped.

"This is where we part, then." There was regret in the voice.

"It is," the woman agreed, and she wiped her cheek.

Jesus looked at her a moment, and then he took her hand, held it. A tear glittered on her index finger like a single drop of rain full of golden stars, and he brought it to his lips, kissed it from her skin. It was salty, and it filled his body with all the moisture it could hold.

She smiled at him, so full the sun seethed in jealousy, and then his legs buckled. Her ever‑so‑secret smile was the last he saw before darkness.


Jesus would have fallen down that cliff, but the woman was there, and upon her hands she bore him up lest he dash his foot against the stone. She carried him from the cliff and, when they were a safe distance, she set him down, caressed his cheek, and walked away.

Jesus lay there in the sun, only finally woke when it was dark again and the world had cooled. A breeze came from the night and felt like a lover's breath on his body, filled him with energy. He stretched his tired, near‑defeated body, and it loosened where he only remembered there being dry.

The moon shone down, less harshly than the sun. It cast a colder light on the world, but there was something comforting in it. The whole city bathed in it and looked more refreshed for it. He rose, his body awkward, trembling, testing before committing to posture and even then doing so carefully.

There were footprints there, he saw, in the light of the moon; they started at the edge of the cliff and traced off into the desert. He looked at them a long moment, feeling like there was something he was forgetting, but nothing came.

He looked into the distance of the desert, following those footprints with his eyes as far as he could, and then he looked down at the city and started toward it. He didn't consider for a moment the footprints been left by someone else, and even had he, he wouldn't have followed them. Which was fine, because they didn't lead anywhere; they traced off back, started to fade, and eventually vanished as if the wind had blown over them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say thanks for running this (I missed it between the post on Bransford and the one on Gladwell). I'm really pleased that my stories seem to have struck a chord.

Also thought I'd mention the newest development re: Entrekin. Today, it became the first e-book to be seen on the iPhone.

You can see the pictures in my blog. They're gorgeous.

Thanks again,

Will Entrekin