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Scorpion Hills

by NMott 

Posted: 14 May 2009
Word Count: 680
Summary: Inspired by Stanley Spencer's Christ in the Wilderness - a series painted for Lent. Specifically the one with Jesus cradling a scorpion.

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Joe sat on the rusted, red baked earth; an ancient earth created from ancient mountains, worn down over millennia to gently rolling hills and lapped by sun burnt soil. An easterly wind whipped the parchment dry land into dust, lifting it into the air in the form of spiralling, choking clouds which coated everything in a pinkish shroud. Even Joe looked a dusky pink, although no-one could mistake him for anything other than a native of this land.

Joe had no real measure of time passing. Day piled upon day, as he walked through the open landscape, counting time by the procession of waterholes and food stores. Witchetty grubs on the first day, tubers the next, honey ants, lizards, rodents, birds; so long as he could dig with his digging stick and throw his father’s spear, he knew he would never go hungry nor thirsty.

God will provide – his mother said
The land will provide – his father said

Now he rested awhile on the cracked and crusted ground and thought of God, as his gaze rolled over the landscape. It alighted on small patches of vegetation nestling in small dips in the surface and on the shadows at the base of a rock face: places where he might find water by the simple act of digging down a few feet into the loose packed soil. But there was no urgency in his search, for the moment he was content just to sit and look.

Presently, a six-legged creature, its shiny black coat glistening in the mid-day sun, crawled out from under a rock and stopped in front of him.
A scorpion. Small but deadly.
“Have you come to help me?” asked Joe.
The creature made no reply, but raised its claws and arched its tail.

Do not show fear – his father said
All creatures are precious unto god – his mother said

Joe feared the scorpion, a primal fear telling him to escape, or stay and fight. He considered snatching up his digging stick and crushing the vile creature at his feet. Or, he could run away, retrace his steps back to the last watering hole, half a day’s trek from here.
Or, he could remain seated, keep very still, and not provoke it into attacking him.
It was his choice, just as it had been his choice to walk into an area that god had seen fit to leave to the scorpions.

The creature crawled towards Joe’s leg and, slowly, carefully, he reached down with his spade-like hand and allowed it to scuttle onto his palm. There he cradled it, contemplating the fragile line that separates life from death.
If the scorpion should strike now, the single sting from a creature weighing little more than a few grains of sand, would kill him before he could reach any help.
Gently, he lowered his hand onto the ground, holding it flat out for the scorpion to scramble off, tickling his palm as it went.

Then, in the line between earth and sky Joe settled back and died.

The scorpion he had cradled so gently had not been the one to deliver the fatal sting. That had come from its companion, hiding in the black shadow of a crack in the ground. Joe had known the moment it struck his bare ankle that he was dead, but he’d seen no reason to kill its mate simply as a final act of revenge.
Unshackled from this earth, Joe took one last look at the body, resting as though asleep among the ancient hills of his birthright, and left it to the tender ministrations of the sun and the winds and the creatures of that land.

Eventually the sandstorms cleared, to be followed by the annual rains, turning the brick red dust to an ochre mud in which a gaudy wreath of flowers bloomed around the bleached white bones of a skeleton, the hand still resting palm upward on the ground, as a family of scorpions scuttled between the chalk-white fingers, cradled in the bosom of the Scorpion Hills.


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Comments by other Members

The Bar Stward at 14:39 on 18 May 2009  Report this post
Inspired by Stanley Spencer's Christ in the Wilderness - a series painted for Lent. Specifically the one with Jesus cradling a scorpion.

How very interesting. It read like a tale I could imagine my old school priest telling us in mass. I thought this was a very gentle tale, which told a hopeful story of the kinder side of humanity. Are we so forgiving and un-vengeful. I would like to think so, but perhaps not. However, your short story is one we should all aspire to, to being better, more forgiving people.

Cornelia at 13:12 on 04 June 2016  Report this post
I liked this very much, but think you could discard the first paragraph. It acts as a barrier before the  encounter with the scorpion, which is the part that grabs the reader's attention.  The second paragraph introduces the action as well as the  landscape, a theme that continues throughout and which is very well done. I think of this man as an aboriginal in an Australian desert. It also reminds me of the landscape in Holman Hunt's painting 'The Scapegoat. I saw a version of that in an exhibtion recently.

I think the use of remembered sayings, words of father and mother are very effective. I think there might be room for another, towards the end, or at the very end,

I was drawn to this by the mention od Spencer, having recently joined a language class which meets opposite the Metropolitan Cathedral in Liverpool. I believe that Spencer's work ppears inside so I've made a mental note to visit.

There's a special word for a work of art that's inspired by another - told me by V'Yonne when I wrote a short story based on a Turner painting . I must look it up.


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