A shirtless man paced back and forth in front of a child sitting on a bench. Two red suns in the sky hung directly above their heads, making their pale-purple skin seem orange. The child seemed to be about ten years old, but his body’s muscles had already developed well beyond his age. His bright-red eyes followed the movements of the adult ahead of him. Behind the man stood a tent that emitted a woman’s shriek every minute or so.
The man’s pacing caused the line in the sand to become more prominent with each step. The woman’s screams stopped, and the desert fell silent. The man sucked in his breath and released it again as the screaming resumed. The child frowned and said, “You’re going to faint if you keep doing that, Dad.”
The man glanced at his son and stopped mid-stride. He let out a sigh and nodded. “You’re right,” he said and clenched his hands. “Mom is a lot stronger than she looks.” Seconds later, his body shuddered, and he clutched his shoulders. He shook his head and started pacing back and forth again while gnashing his teeth.
The boy sighed and shook his head as he leaned back against the bench. “I hope I don’t inherit his cowardice when I grow up.” A gust of wind blew past, buffeting the man and child with sand. The boy gritted his teeth. “I don’t want to inherit wrath either.”
The woman’s screaming stopped. A minute passed. Two minutes passed. Sweat trickled down the man’s face as he gripped his leather belt. “Why?” he asked. “Why did the screaming stop?” He approached the tent and stretched out his hand to grasp the opening flap. A tiny hand appeared on his wrist before he touched the fabric. He looked down and saw his son staring at him.
“You can’t,” the boy said without blinking. “It’ll bring you bad luck.”
“I, I don’t care!” the man said and jerked his arm to the side, knocking the boy’s hand off. He took a step forward and touched the tent flap. His body shuddered, and his teeth started to chatter. His knees wobbled, and he fell over backwards, bringing his hands to cover his face. He wailed and kicked the ground with his feet. “Why?! Why am I cursed with cowardice?!”
The boy frowned and sat next to his crying father. He brought his knees to his chest and crossed his arms over them. He rested his chin on his forearms and stared at the tent flap, waiting. Another minute passed with the sand blowing past the two. A baby’s cry broke the silence, followed by a woman’s cursing. The tent flap fell open, and a woman walked out with blood dripping down her elbows, holding a baby by the back of its neck.
“My wife,” the man said with tears in his eyes as he stared up at the woman. “Is she…”
The woman shook her head. She dropped the baby in the stunned man’s arms. It started to wail. “That’ll be 50 stones,” the woman said and cracked her neck by turning her head towards her back. “Ah, I hate working in the morning.” She held out her palm and motioned with her fingers.
The man didn’t say anything as he stared down at the bloody baby in his arms with his mouth still open from the shock. The boy sighed and undid the leather pouch by his belt and placed it in the woman’s palm. “Leave.”
The woman snorted as she weighed the bag with her hand. After a second, she nodded and said, “I guess there’s no more money to be had from your family. A shame really. I was hoping to get at least another hundred stones from her.” She yawned and stretched her arms above her head as she walked off into the distance.
The boy took the baby from his father’s hands as the man got up and staggered towards the tent opening. The boy took out a sagging leather pouch that flopped in his hand. He applied pressure on the pouch and a trickle of whitish-yellow liquid flowed out of a corner. He nodded and looked down at the baby. The spaces not covered by blood revealed pale-purple skin, similar to his.
He walked back towards the bench and sat with the gurgling baby in his left arm and the pouch in his right hand. “Hungry?” he asked the baby, ignoring the wails coming from the tent. The baby reached its hands towards the boy’s face. He smiled, revealing two rows of pointed teeth. He reached his finger forward and tickled the baby’s palm.
“Don’t worry,” the boy said and raised his head to look towards the tent. His eyes narrowed. “Mom isn’t around to hurt you. She can’t hurt anyone anymore.” The suns burned overhead, causing a bead of sweat to roll in a zigzag down the boy’s scarred back. The boy leaned back against the bench, rocking the baby with his arms, staring at the two red suns in the sky.
The choked wails coming from the tent continued to ring throughout the desert, causing the baby in the boy’s arms to cry. He sighed and bounced the baby with the help of his knee. “You’ll get used to it soon enough,” the boy said and placed the trickling leather pouch against the baby’s mouth. “Just shut up and drink this, alright? At least you don’t have to hunt for your own food.” The baby sucked on the leather pouch and deflated it within a minute. It let out a gurgle as it burped.
The boy frowned and took out another pouch. “Well, I guess you’re going to be a glutton when you grow up,” he said and repositioned the baby in his arms. “Not too bad. There’s worse things you could be.”
The boy sighed as he stood up after the baby drank the second leather pouch. He looked towards the tent and shook his head. “Such a worthless person,” he said and carried the baby against his chest. “He’s afraid of his own shadow. Well, I guess that’s how he managed to survive for so long. Let’s go home, you little pig. Brother won’t let anyone hurt you.” He smiled at the baby and pat its back.