My father hunted the old people of this desert. The government handed him his contract, and under the terms that came with it he came back to them with scalps, tanned hides, heirlooms taken off hot corpses.

The burning smoke trailed after his tracks in long black clouds. Pushed on by the wind, the smoke never drew much higher than the stunted trees that grow in this land. It crawled like a bulbous insect, turning its roiling mandibles over and over in its cumulus mouth. It pushed on over the sand-scarred plains. My father walked with the wind. So perhaps it did not bode poorly that the channel of smoke followed him wherever he traveled. It carved noxious trails in the air. Wherever my father had been, and set fires, there after followed the smoke, and thereby the old people of this desert called him the name, the name they no longer speak, and do not translate.

The aboriginals still dwell in the dry valleys, some in caves, others nomadic like their ancestors, camping siwash. And I dwell here, too, for my father’s contract was left unfulfilled. His family had left the frontier to go West, where there was no water, and the only work was in blood, and tanned hides.

I was a boy when I saw my father heading home, the wind rushing full at my face, the slow smoke undulating behind him, as it had so many simmering afternoons before. I saw it rear up suddenly, like a great black snake. My father cried out, cried the name the old people no longer speak. And it descended, mouth open, a mouth wider than the trees, a mouth like a clap of lightning.

When the smoke dissipated into the twilight, we searched for our father on the plain, then on the ridge. But all that existed in that windless blackness was the dry sand underfoot. That and the million silent stars.

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