Crack the Spine Issue 96 - Page 7

Michael Haskins The Philosopher A stranger to the desert, a philosopher from one of the great cities on the continent to the north heard of this oasis and undertook preparations to travel. He was an admired and respected man, and he possessed in himself all the best virtues of his people. He was systematic in his thought, receptive to new ideas, generous of spirit. But despite these attributes, the body flagged even as his mind excelled. The philosopher determined to sojourn to the oasis because he had heard of its healing waters and although he did not fear death, he still believed he had more work to do. Of course, rumors of the desert water’s healing powers ran rampant in the north; the people of the desert knew the sad inaccuracy of these tales, for they had bathed in those waters for thousands of years and still they watched their loved ones die from the failings of the body. Nevertheless, all the credible sources to the philosopher’s ear extolled their healing powers—or perhaps the philosopher merely assigned his faith where he wanted, for when days are days of exhaustion and pain, even the greatest minds seek comfort—and he sailed to the mouth of the desert, where he loaded a camel with supplies and bowed his head to the wind blowing across the sands. The pace of his journey’s beginning was no slower than anticipated, and steady. By nightfall of the tenth day however, he could no longer control his fear. He sat on a carpet in front of his camel-dung fire and, in the sand, he redrew the map of the land from memory. A five day journey for a young man in good health, the philosopher had reasonably allotted to himself ten days, had hoped for eight or nine. He had yet, in all his time in the desert, to see another wanderer, although he could find little reason for the inhabitants of this place to stray far from their city and its water. The water sprang four days south and one day east of the port on the sea. Was it possible he had turned east too early? By what arrogance had he not first followed the coast? He had supplies for twenty days. If he turned back now, he would leave the desert only as alive as he had entered it, succumbing to the body. The philosopher snatched the robes about his attenuated chest. He had been made old, not by the revolutions of the seasons, but by the deficiencies of the flesh. He cursed his wretched body, but knew that when the sun rose upon the sands, he would continue south towards