The Well of the Enlightened
The four men were sitting at the table of the decadent Uighur tavern, eaten by time and dust, full of cobwebs in the ceiling, drinking museles, the Uighur wine, to clean the dust of the steppe from their throats, accompanied by kawaplar, meat roasted on skewers. The four were European, ex-servicemen that were now earning a living as mercenaries in Xinjiang, one of the poorest and most desolate Chinese provinces. Knowing the more advanced tactics of the armies in which they served, they received high pay, that was often dissipated at the local taverns. Their payment was received in banknotes, American dollars, although they would prefer to be paid in gold, British sovereigns would do just fine. They were far from everything and did not have many chances to spend their money other than drinking, but life in Urumqi, the capital, was far safer than in Europe, where the Second World War raged at full blown, although sometimes depressing for men used to live in Berlin, London or Athens.
Christian Lindner, the taller and stronger, fair hair, had deserted from the Luftwaffe, that was attacking the USSR, flying away with his Junker Ju 290, to the desertic steppes of Asia. He did not care about politics, was not a supporter of Hitler by any means. In fact, he was a materialistic man, not willing to die for nothing, a meager pay, he wanted to receive a good compensation for his talent and now he got it, flying a Douglas B-18 for Sheng Shicai, the mighty ruler of the province, carrying men and war material when necessary.
Marcus Allen was another German of the group. He was a friend of Christian and had deserted with him. His head was considerably thicker than Christian’s, but he was a faithful comrade, specially to his friend and was capable of smash some bones using his muscles without hesitation, and he did so in the brawls that arose from time to time in the taverns frequented by the mercenaries. He was not though, the archetype of a thug and had some manners and ideas, from time to time.
The third man, Nico Theodoropoulos, was a Greek in exile, he escaped the Italian invasion of his country, and his need for adventure pushed him towards Asia. He was a good comrade, but very superstitious, his life, in battle or in peace was filled with rites and prayers. His dark hair and tanned skin made him popular among women but in Xinjiang he was much more taciturn and careful, he would not like to attract a razor in the guts from a jealous husband, in a foreign land.
Peter North, the last and older element, was in Xinjiang for several years. He had a turbulent youth, with some problems with the authorities, visiting some correction facilities, and thus left England to try his luck in India, the jewel of the British Empire. His temper and his expertise in fist fighting put him in trouble once again and he had to flee India, seeking refuge up North, crossing to China, and offering his services to the best bid.
Looting and pillage were always on the minds of the four men, they were mercenaries that were in that region for the money, nothing more, but besides what they received from the warlord there was not in fact much more to seize. The people, be it peasants, shepherds or shop owners were poor, there was not much money or values around.
By that time Xinjiang was in fact almost a puppet state of the USSR that exploited the resources of the land. Russian and Mongol mercenaries also helped the governor to fight against the central government of the Republic of China, that sent several times against the province strong armies of Han and Hui Chinese.
Peter was the one that had been there longer, serving as a mercenary in the civil wars involving the Xinjiang during the 1930s, fighting in both Battles of Urumqi. The luck of the province was that it was far away from everything, so logistics was exceedingly difficult for the central government. Peter had had so many plans, to save some money and to leave elsewhere. But wherever he looked he saw war. To the East, China was fighting the Japanese Army, to the West and North the USSR faced a bloody war against the German troops and to the South, India was also at war, involved in the British effort against the Japanese Empire. He was better off in Xinjiang for the time being, far and away from the most troublesome regions of the world, although with a feeling of unexplainable solitude.
Free time was spent by the four mercenaries drinking, playing cards, and pursuing the harlots that they could find in filthy and dark taverns and basements. There were always many beggars and drifters roaming the streets of the city, some of them refugees fleeing from battles, hoping to get enough money to eat a bowl of rice or noodles. The authorities were harsh on them. Since the beggars were always covered in fleas and their hairs swarmed with lice, besides the police, merchants and shop owners were also displeased to see them nearby, they were bad for business.
Near the inn in which the four mercenaries resided when they were in the city, there was usually a poor old man asking alms. It was unclear his age that was unusually advanced, and for most of the time he was Olympically ignored, when not kicked by the passers-by including many of the mercenaries and troops loyal to the authorities of the city. Peter North regularly felt sorry for the elderly man and gave him some coins. This time the man seemed so weak and despaired, so close to collapse, that Peter ordered the servants of the inn to carry him inside, to give the beggar a strong drink and try to cheer him up.
The man’s voice was barely a whisper:
— I was there for hours, lying, thinking of what would be of me on the street. In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful, you appeared! I know that you have a good heart, the money you gave me in the past allowed me to eat something and keep on living, despite everything, despite everything… You see, I have no family, and for a man like me, that means poverty, hunger, and a lonely death. I see that you are young and strong, so I am going to tell you something.
The old Uighur looked around to see if someone else was present at the room and sighed at the confirmation of solitude. His eyes were bright with the excitement of something undisclosed.
—When I was your age, I traveled across most of this territory, trading, smuggling, even robbing some cattle. From the frigid deserts to the snowy mountains, I have seen many things. In the mountains to the Southwest, across the big desert, in the Kunlun Mountains there is a temple, ancient as the world, where you can find many riches! There are diamonds, pearls, and gold! But beware of the traps that guard the temple! Act fast and do not be long! I was the sole survivor of my group and so scared that I never went there again and returned empty handed.
The old man took an ancient parchment from the interior of his filthy shirt, the vellum yellowish by time. Peter’s eyes shone at the sight of the map, his mind in a turmoil. If what the dying man said was true, he could forget that lame life and live with comfort in a capital city or perhaps in a large ranch, enjoying life and leisure. His thoughts ceased wandering and he stared again at the old tramp. The eyes of the beggar were open staring blankly at the ceiling, and he would not see another sunrise. Curiously, his face was serene, even with a touch of joy. The old Uighur had been embraced by the comforting veil of death. Peter closed the eyes of the dead and was willing to pay for the man’s funeral. In this silence, Christian’s voice trespassed the air like a sword or a whip, making Peter tremble with the surprise.
—What was this old geezer mumbling about treasures? And he gave you something, what was it? A map? I think the four of us will make a long and fruitful journey through the countryside, my dear.
Damn, if it were any other of the three comrades of arms, he could pull off something to bypass the situation, but Christian was smart as a fox and dangerous as a rattlesnake. He could not cheat him with small talk. Christian proceeded:
—Anyway, I am already getting sick and tired of this little tyrant to whom we work. Soon the war in Europe will be over, and I want to return to Germany, but rich. I reckon that some gold and diamonds can open a few doors and help clean my past, while making me a prominent member of the society of the new Germany.
The Englishman was thoughtful, caressing his pistol in the holster. He could kill Christian at the spot, but he would be in trouble with the Chinese authorities, and he would need help for sure, to reach the mountains, facing eventual dangers along the way. It would be the four of them. The natives were talkative and would spread the word about the expedition, and if so, soon hordes of curious, adventurers and soldiers of fortune like them would swarm the mountains and outrun their group, they had to go alone.
The best way to cross the Taklamakan desert would be travelling from oasis to oasis, on the backs of camels. It would be wiser to take a longer path to avoid crossing the center of the desert, totally inhospitable. This journey had to be planned with care, since a mistake could be fatal. The use of vehicles was put aside since a breakdown in the middle of the desert could most probably mean death for the four of them. Camels could survive with little food and water, storing them in their humps and their flair for water was also not to be neglected.
Peter was intimately worried. It would be a dangerous journey. He could not fully trust his companions since riches were involved in the equation. Any of the four surely would feel the temptation of getting rid of their pals and pouch what riches they could find in the mountains, heading next for the civilization, to live like a king!
The Englishman had not much to pack. A nice sum in dollars, his faithful double-barreled shotgun for hunting, the ubiquitous Mosin-Nagant rifle that he used in combat, the Browning Hi-Power in his hip holster and not many things more. The four did not want to raise suspicions by taking with them all their belongings. Half a dozen camels were rented in the city outskirts and the group travelled South through the Taklamakan desert, towards the Kunlun Mountains, with the excuse of a hunting trip.
Christian, regardless of his moral flaws, was an excellent organizer and knew how to lead men. They had acquired compasses, maps, food, water, and ammunition. The supplies would be carried on the back of two of the camels, and the men would ride the other four. Due to the possibility of marauders and bandits in general, Christian had discussed with the group strict rules of behavior. No smoking or bonfires were allowed after sunset, and three of the bunch were to sleep while the other one watched out. They would try to follow ancient routes across the desert, stopping in chosen settlements and oasis to feed the camels and let them drink, while themselves took some rest. They moved towards Turpan, afterwards they passed at the Bezeklik Caves and its oasis and then in the direction of Dunhuang, taking the precaution of avoiding entering the cities. In the outskirts they could find water and supplies. Passing through these poor and decrepit settlements where half-naked dirty children played with skinny and lazy dogs in the middle of the dusty paths, Peter could not help thinking that it was imperious that the four of them find the riches. The poor Uighurs would not know what to do with them. Buy more goats or sheep? Build a bigger hut? The four European knew other types of life, they could not be satisfied by a simple one. For the Uighurs happiness was a fuller bowl of rice, or another lamb chop in a holiday. They lived in their huts and shacks, in a primitive way, drinking, eating, mating, and sleeping and starting over the next morning. This routine was their happiness and they accepted it as if life was only those basic physical needs.
The Taklamakan was ferocious. Sand and more sand composed tall dunes, that changed periodically with the wind, making orientation worryingly difficult. Regular sandstorms were also dangerous. Vegetation was very sparse, and the wild beasts did not venture through the center of the desert. Even at the borderlands, vegetation was scarce, twisted, and thorny, appreciated by the herds of goats belonging to the nomads that roamed those lands, and by wild camels or the occasional herd of gazelles. Peter had shot one gazelle himself, using his rifle. From that animal nothing would go to waste. Necrophagous birds and foxes would clean its carcass quickly, letting its bones shine under the desert sun, until the sand covered them up. The bulk of the clean meat was taken by the men, which used the occasion to stop in a nearby oasis and take one full day of rest, cooking the gazelle meat over the campfire.
The pond at the center of this oasis attracted birds and mammals. During the hours that ended the day, herds of herbivores sought that source of life. At night, the four were well wrapped in warm blankets, shaking a bit due to the night’s cold, under a sky so clear that millions of stars were visible to them, a spectacle that only the desert could provide. Peter did not sleep very well during the journey. In his mind he was struggling with the idea of killing Christian before he killed him. One night he went to wake up Christian for his watch, and for some seconds his hand sought the pistol in its holster. He could kill the German on the spot, but how could he justify it before the others? Was he a soldier or a murderer? Peter gave up the idea, after this moral struggle with himself, but was worried about the outcome of the expedition. He had to sleep with one eye open, never totally relaxing his vigilance.
The next day the four proceeded, departing from the oasis. Christian was always sniffing the wind, looking around, even over his shoulder. Or using his binoculars to gaze at the far horizon. He had the ways of a predator, acting like a tiger that was stepping into another tiger’s turf. Crossing the sky, flocks of ravens passed by, filling the silence with their caw, and making Nico look at them like a sign of bad omen. Around noon when they were to stop and eat, using some sticks and blankets to provide an improvised shelter and some shade, Christian approached Peter.
—We are being followed, at least two men. I am sure they want to relieve us of our possessions. Their posse is not far, for sure. Our camels, our guns, plus our wallets are a treasure to these poor bastards. But I must say that the only thing that I am willing to give them is lead, not gold!
It was certain that they would be attacked, and the group would need to find some rocks or shrubs where it could hold and give the robbers a run for their money. They behaved as nothing abnormal was happening and sought refuge for the night near some large rocks.
The nocturnal battle was swift but intense. The attackers thought they would catch them by surprise, but they could not be more wrong. Peter remembered shooting several times his shotgun, useful for close range combat. Marcus used the machine-gun that was hidden in a canvas bag on the back of one of the camels, and the other two also shoot their rifles and even their pistols. Christian had two hand grenades stuck in his belt and was willing to use them if everything else failed and the robbers got too close, even at the risk of a spray of shrapnel flying all around. The air was filled with the bitter stench of gunpowder and flashes of light from the gun flares. Eventually the night went silently, lighted only by the mesmerizing glow of innumerable distant stars, shining from afar.
They did not sleep that night, staying alert and well awaken, but at dawn they could see the damage that they inflicted to the assaulting gang. Animals and men were scattered on the desert sand and if there were survivors they had run for their lives, the posse should give them no more problems, that was the main point. In the sky flocks of dark vultures gathered up, flying in circles, waiting for the men to depart before feasting with the remains of the dead.
The voyage went on. The heat and the hot wind made them sweat all the time, they felt dirty and tired, their faces unshaven and burnt by the merciless sun. In Christian’s mind similar ideas to the ones of Peter were born. The Englishman remembered of having woke up one night and Christian was just some feet away, staring at him under the pale light of the Moon, as driven by an almost irresistible force. The tension was visible in his hands and face, his muscles contracted. He seemed like a beast, ready to jump on his prey. Peter did not sleep the rest of that night.
After a few more days of riding the camels, finally they entered the foothills of the mountains following the maps and the parchment of the aged Uighur man. The Bactrian camels were tough animals, enduring the heat and the cold, drinking water, or eating snow, and chewing all kinds of plants, bitter, salty, harsh, or even thorny. The mountains replaced the sand by stones and rocks, but the landscape was still desolated. Here and there, ponds and lagoons served as the main source of water for gazelles, yaks, antelopes, and the other elusive wildlife of the region. Sometimes, small herds of goats or sheep were brought by shepherds desperate to find some fresh pastures, even if they had to face the lonely desolation of that place. It was like a landscape from a distant and barren planet, in a galaxy far away from Earth, so quiet and bare that gave men a feeling of oppression.
The temple was invisible from afar, it was in a narrow canyon, whose entrance was almost totally closed with small bushes. After the entrance of the rocky canyon, its width was larger. Camels and men ventured forward, into the unknown. Advancing through the canyon, the air was still and quiet, not even a bothering fly could be heard. Besides the sounds that the beasts produced walking, and the heavy breathing of men, the silence was complete. At the furthest wall… it was written in the map.
Christian was the first to spot the entrance of the temple, that was carved on the dark rock, maybe making use of an existent cave in that place. The four men dismounted the camels and stood side by side facing and examining the façade of the temple. Two horrendous stone statues stood by the door, one at each side, each statue represented a human, with a terrifying expression of pain and terror. The door, of smooth stone was closed, fitting the walls in a perfect manner.
—There is a silence of cemetery– complained Nico. And he stared at the statues. —Even if we have hired someone, I am pretty sure that they would never come in here!
—Damn, the door is closed and pretty tight– voiced Christian. —I should have brought dynamite! With the pickaxes we can be here all day without almost scratching the surface!
—Maybe there is some secret to open it –said Marcus.
Soon the four men were touching and probing the door and the wall. They spent almost ten minutes in this task, scratching their skin and breaking some fingernails. Suddenly the door opened, sliding noisily into the wall that was at the right side, with a sound of stone scratching stone. The interior of the building was in the twilight. They had brought torches with them, but Peter gave the idea of waiting at least one hour before entering the temple, since the air inside was barely breathable, moisty, and low on oxygen. They ate and drink in the meanwhile, talking excitedly about what they had found and their plans, if the riches were there. Just Nico seemed a little morose. Before they entered, he was nervously playing with the crucifix he carried in a silver string around his neck. Being Greek he was viewed by the others as a little superstitious and having his own rituals, but this time it was different. The other three were in the mood, Nico was scared.
—There is something in there–he started. Christian interrupted him.
—Nico stop with your bullshit and forget all the mumbo-jumbo they have put in your mind when you were a child. I reckon you heard too many fairy tales during your childhood.
The other two laughed, Nico was kind of clumsy and upset, the short hairs on the back of his neck standing up.
—I have a bad omen, that’s it.
—Cut the crap and get inside! –ordered him Christian impatiently.
Uneasy, Nico had no other option but to enter the temple with a torch in his left hand and his pistol in the right. Peter and Christian also entered, Christian holding his Luger and a torch, and Peter just wielded his faithful side-by-side shotgun. Marcus would stay at the door, watching over the camels and for any possible undesired surprise. Christian did not like to take unnecessary risks; he was grinning feeling himself in charge of the operation. The floor of the temple was paved, maybe in the past it had much movement, but know seemed really nothing more than abandoned and with signs of decrepitude. From this entrance hall, a corridor entered the mountain. The three men started walking, their jacked boots echoing in the stone floor. The corridor made a turn, and they could see that it led to a grand room. The center of the room was like a small island, connected with the corridor they were following by a short and narrow bridge of land. The pit that seemed to surround the room, at least for the most part, was not empty. It had in the bottom hundreds of corpses, human skeletons of all sizes, from the ones of small babies to the ones of adults. Could the temple have been the center of an obscure and violent death cult?
Nico stepped forward, decided to show his friends that he was not afraid, but inside he was not calm at all. He was about halfway through the strip of land, when the pavement opened, creating a slide that led to a hole filled with sharped piles. Peter and Christian could only be spectators of the horrifying scene, whilst Nico, terrorized, landed on top of the piles that pierced through his body, giving him an instantaneous death. Both men peeked appalled into the trap. Nico was a corpse now; he had hit three of the piles and dark red blood ran copiously from his mouth. His open eyes had an expression of utter horror and surprise.
With a loud mechanism sound, Peter and Christian watched as the pavement resumed its previous condition, making the trap operational again. They crossed the strip of land walking on the edges, having in mind that other traps could await them. They had been careless, eager to find the treasures of the temple, the old Uighur had warned about the dangers. Reaching the center of this cave, they saw an exit on the opposite side, the path continued into the heart of the Kunlun Mountains. But in the center of the room, happiness of happiness, there was an altar or something like that and close to it, riches were piled! Shiny and brilliant scattered offerings!
Peter and Christian rushed in and plunged their hands in this cornucopia of wealth. Both had brought some saddlebags to fill, and they were not enough. Their hands where trembling with the nerves, but their eyes were happy and smiling like the ones of children. The two men even hugged each other. Peter was more and more convinced that Christian would not kill anyone after all. There were so many riches in the room that someone had to be really greedy to not be happy with his share. Peter and Christian started to fill the bags with handfuls of gold coins, mixed with other values as pearls, jewels and precious stones. The air was heavy and somewhat hot, they cleaned the sweat that dripped down their faces with their sleeves. Peter felt his eyes burn from sweat, had to pour some water from his canteen on them. From time-to-time Christian stopped and listened. He almost smelled the air, to see if everything were fine, if he somehow feared that someone would surprise them and steal the loot from them. He was trying to pick the precious stones and pearls from among the coins, when Peter grabbed his arm, and made him a signal to remain silent.
From the entrance a sound was approaching, a rhythmed sound of footsteps echoing in the flooring.
—What did you tell Marcus? –whispered Peter.
—I told him to stay put at the entrance, and to fire a round if anything strange happened! And you know he is not the cleverest man, but for sure he has proved that he is loyal and obedient.
—Maybe someone surprised him? And now they are going to take care of us!
—Shut up! I’ll throw the torch there, if we hide in the dark, we will have more chances.
He did it, the torch kept burning in the floor to their left, and the big room had also some residual light from quartz and other stones that shined in the ceiling and walls of the cave. The steps were almost reaching the narrow strip of land that connected the bulk of the room with the corridor, but the figure walked through the edge, avoiding the trap. Christian thought to recognize the figure of Marcus and shouted his name:
A shot echoed in the cave like a thunder and a bullet ricocheted against the altar near them.
—Shit, he is shooting at us! –whispered Peter nervously.
—So, it seems. Let us hide in this niche behind the altar. I want to confirm if it is really him.
There was something funny about Marcus if it was really him. His steps seemed uncertain and mechanic at the same time, not human, they had something of forced and unnatural. When he passed by, both men could see that his face was rigid and tense like the one of a cadaver and his eyes were empty and devoid of life, like they were staring not at the world but at the soul of Marcus. Peter could not help but to feel a colic. Maybe poor Nico was right, maybe something eerie lurked inside the temple after all. Marcus had passed and Christian left the niche behind the altar. He was at Marcus’ back and again called his name. Marcus, without a minimal change in his expression went for his pistol in the holster and only Peter’s intervention saved the German’s life. Marcus was pointing his pistol and would shoot in a fraction of second, but Peter shot a discharge of lead against his head pointblank and he felt to the floor, in horrible spasms, like an animal mortally hit by a car.
Marcus death shook both survivors. His death was slow and weird. Not human, not human at all. He did not scream as someone else would have done, nor moaned, his breaths just got shorter and more desperate, like a clock that his winding down until it stops. Even the cold Christian passed his hand on his hair in a nervous gesture. None of them was capable of speak in that moment.
They could not be much longer absorbed in their most intimate inner thoughts, because a sound of stone scratching came from the entrance of the temple. The heavy door was closing! They ran to the entrance, carrying as they could the loaded saddlebags. When they got there the door was already fully closed. Marcus belongings and the stool where he sat were scattered on the floor. They could start hitting the door with the pickaxe, but the cleverest thing to do, was trying to find a mechanism to open the door from the inside.
—Listen Christian, you search to the right and I’ll search to the left. There must be something to open this goddamned door.
Peter started probing the wall to the left of the door, eager and hopeful to find a way out of the temple. Not even a minute had passed when Christian approached him, and he asked:
—So? Did you find anything?
—Peter, what was I going to do?
—What was I going to do? I knew I went to do something, but I cannot remember what it was. It is like… my mind… is just… shutting…down…
Pearls of cold sweat rolled down the back of Peter and a painful knot hit his stomach. His mouth was suddenly dry and bitter. Christian was gone, he was standing near him, but his eyes were dead and blank. Like Marcus, he went for his pistol, and Peter had to fire at him, hitting Christian in the chest at close range. The German felt to the floor without uttering a sound. Peter was so nervous that he could barely reload the shotgun. One of the shells fell to the floor, and he had to look for it in the darkness, cursing during the process. He was breathing with deep and irregular breaths, his lungs burning. The first thing to do was to calm down, light one of the torches and look for a way out. The riches seemed to have lost its glow, and some gold coins lied on the ground like small pieces of metal junk, worthless.
Having verified the pistol and the shotgun, Peter went back to the room of the altar. The walls seemed as solid as steel. He decided to investigate the tunnel that entered deeper into the mountain. This tunnel was narrower, and the stone walls had been worked by dedicated masons to become smooth, being covered with ancient drawings and paintings. The tunnel went downwards, and it ended in another room, large and dark. This room was all decorated with a strange language, whose signs were carved on the wall, and four large paintings, corroded by time, of horrible and painful deaths of human sacrifices, but also of humans in scenes of laughter, anger, sexual rapture, and other emotions.
In the center of the room there was a circle, like if there was a well, and in the air the curious and vague smell of bitter almonds. It was indeed a well, but something seemed abnormal, the water just seemed so dark, and the smell of almonds was stronger as he peeked inside.
He could see his reflex on the water lighted by the torch he was holding. The water was dark and still, shining like a mirror. Suddenly a small swirl formed at the surface of the water. Peter was caught by surprise, and stood there stupidly, just staring hypnotized at the surface of the liquid that seemed to gain life.
Three voices, that sounded old and annoying echoed inside his head. Peter had the notion that his immaterial inner self had left his body behind and dived into the well. He found himself in panic and surrounded by strange beings, like small spheres of light that danced and twisted around him. Three of these spheres, that seemed larger than the others, appeared and the others pulled back ceasing the chaotic dance.
He had never been so scared before. It came to his mind the occasion when he took his first exam at school before three old and austere teachers. The three voices echoed in his head like a thunderstorm, giving him a headache. They started telling him the story of the temple. The remnants of an alien species had fled to Earth and set there, when the desert was smaller and the climate gentler. Soon humans found that something special was happening there. Worshippers came from East and West, constructing paved roads, bringing with them riches, music, and human offerings. The well granted wishes and always gave something in return. Fathers sacrificed their firstborn, husbands their beloved wives, kings their subjects. Wizards and prophets, kings and emperors, philosophers, and heroes, they all crossed the arid regions to obtain the favor of the aliens, the Enlightened.
Peter was taken by the elders on a bewildering journey, across the Universe. He saw many planets, many species, and civilizations, he knew the past and the future. Suddenly, the elders withdrawn from his mind. The Enlightened fed on emotions and on the vital forces of other beings. In their home planet those beings were simpler and archaic forms of life, simple animals. On Earth they fed on human emotions and the vital energy of Homo sapiens sapiens, a much tastier food plate. The hordes of the Enlightened, led by the three elders surrounded Peter in a tourbillon of light. He was engulfed by the starved beings and felt like if his body was being bitten by a cluster of small fish. The feeling of fear overwhelmed him, and he felt like fainting.
Peter woke up in terror, sitting automatically in his bed. His body was soaked in sweat, and his heart was racing like a wild horse. He was so shaken by this vivid dream that he could barely think. The windows filtered the yellowish light of day that entered the room, and he could hear the noise of traffic and city life. He got up, feeling the tension leave gradually his body and giving thanks that all was nothing more than a nightmare. Passing at the feet of the bed, he started screaming, screaming, screaming like someone that had lost his mind. Soon strong arms knocked down the door, and he was dragged from the room and thrown into the street. Peter was sobbing and trembling. He had looked at the room’s mirror and it was the face of an old man that he had seen, wrinkled, and worn, and his hair and beard were white as the snow.
Tales spread. Some say that he is still there, roaming the streets of Urumqi, looking for the suitable people to whom to tell the story of the temple and to deliver them the map that shows the path, according to the will of his new masters, the Enlightened. Others say that he already died and that around that date a group of people riding camels left the city, moving towards the desert, and no one heard of them ever since.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
João Franco (n. 1977 em Lisboa), é licenciado em Relações Internacionais e pós-graduado em Estratégia pela Universidade Técnica de Lisboa. Publicou dois poemas na colectânea Poiesis, vol. XVI (2008), a colectânea poética Azul Profundo (2012) avançando depois para a prosa com o conto O teu semblante pálido, na Revista Lusitânia (2013). No campo da não-ficção é autor do livro Sun Tzu e Mao Zedong-Dois estrategas chineses (2012) e tem artigos publicados em periódicos como Finis Mundi, Revista Intellector, Revista de Geopolítica, Nova Águia, Boletim Meridiano 47, O Dia e Jornal de Defesa e Relações Internacionais. Tem também experiência na área da tradução.