This story is paired with “The Story of King Shahrayar and Shahrazad” from 1001 Arabian Nights. For best experience, download the LithoReader for your iPhone or iPad and get NonBinary Review for free.
It is a field of sand rolling, shimmering into the black eternity subjugated by heavy Night. Night wears her dark cloak dusted with thousands of bright stars. Stars fill up the eyes of the girl who lies there atop the dune in awe of her majesty’s robes. Robes weigh upon the girl’s body her chest heaves, the vastness fills her head to bursting. Bursting out a laugh, howling and screaming becomes the girl, becomes the sand, the echo frightens all the wolves dragging their paws through the distant sand. Sand to stars her hands reach out to grab mother night’s jewels and pluck them like apples from a tree—her apples to take. Take and rise does she. She rises up cobra-like as if falling but backwards, a trick of curling of the spine. Spine swaying and mouth moaning, sand hissing. Hissing sand snakes under her feet, the wind caresses her cheek and wraps around her body and she spins and spins and spins and spinning. Spinning elements cheer, they are pleased, the cicadas clap their wings in applause. Applause roars through the wind from some dark voice within the deep, deep earth and the story begins….
* * *
A man far below the dune paces the plain, calls out her name. The dancing girl’s thoughts are so filled with haze she cannot hear him, but the sky hears her and watches amused. The stars twinkle at the sight. Something else notices her, red eyes blinking in the distance almost like two tiny bonfires burning hot, but slow. They rise up from the sand; they have always been there since before the earth was dust. The man far below strains his voice, he becomes desperate – he wants to save his daughter from what he knows lurks about the dunes.
“Come down or I will take you down!” but he makes no move towards the top of the hill. The wind raises to meet her speed. It, whatever these red eyes are, comes crawling towards her.
“No,” she states, and keeps dancing, “I will not still my heart for you, or for anyone! I am not afraid!” She will see it, but it will stand, sate its jaws when she has finished. Those that have come to this place are found in the morning dead are disappeared forever to never be found by any tribe all across the Persian plains, yet she will still see it.
Its breath is hoarse, even if it does not need to breathe; it wants her know that it is near.
“Ah!” she stops and shine a smile, “Are you the man of my dreams?” She giggles low and guttural as a tiger. It is quiet, watches her like a cat waiting to jump. Her father hears the exchange down below and in his heart he writes her an elegy, Ode to a Beautiful Daughter, and wishes that she could hear his prayer, hear his heart. He is far below his feet twisting in the sand. He hears the talk and his fears pull him apart.
“Tell me,” she steps towards the black shape forming, her hips sway, and her eyes lilt, “Do you like my dance or are you a pervert?”
It is silent, only quietly hissing. She stands and waits, she will not dance for hissing.
“You are not afraid of me?” and the words sound as backwards words being said forwards.
“Afraid?” She throws back her head and laughs, “I do not fear the tiger hunting the field, I do not fear the great J’azar Tribe and its Ten Nations Army, nor the citadel of Ur. Bring your spears and claws and kings; I will take them all and I will bite and scratch at them until they are morsels of flesh.”
“Some might say you are foolish, little girl.”
“That is because they are sad and without purpose.”
“And you have one?”
“Why should I tell you?”
“And who has granted you this purpose? What is it the Lord of Light or his brother in the Eternal Darkness.”
“The gods will be angry.”
“Let them!” she shouts and laughs and it laughs and gnashes its teeth. They gnash their teeth together. A dust devil whirls around her sand tendrils fold her body into their hold.
The father’s eyes grow wide, his brow shudders. He starts up the hill before it is too late. The winds screech loudly battering him with sand. Is his daughter screaming or howling? How will she be transformed by this creature?
Father works his legs until they burn. He claws his way to the top of the hill in time to see his daughter being carried off into the Night, enfolded into her glorious, velvet robes. He would never see her again….
* * *
The top of the dune is empty, but he finds a small stone with a hieroglyph etched into its face, the Eternal Night—the being who is not the brother of the Lord of Light, his god. The stone, it is something bigger, more horrible, something that no mortal could encompass entirely within his mind.
He scans the sky and there is only blackness, stars and the thin line of light that will be the day. Daughter evaporated – by light. He will not stop watching.
He will not stop, he searches far and wide through every trading town, through village and traveling tribe. He hears the story of a girl who howls and the djin who follows her. Both are fierce, both inseparable, not to be crossed. They are the ones who fell lions and kings and titans. He hears and he mourns and he loves her shadow, her legend for an idea is all he has left of her. She is now only a story. His story will twist around hers.
He carries her name in his heart until he lays down in a cave and carves it in the roof of the stone, just underneath the hieroglyph of the Eternal Night. A stone that will never be seen for a thousand years.
He knows her story will continue…
Jennifer Hopkins’s work has appeared in Spindrift and NonBinary Review and has earned Honorary Mention in the Hugo House’s Quattro Spec Fiction contest for her short story “Earthbound” and in international Screenplay competition Scriptapalooza for her spec script “Supernatural: Green-eyed Monster.” She has also participated in the 2008 Potlatch Writer’s Workshop and is currently participating in the Digital Glamor anthologies.