Hekaib Bess walked along the familiar lane that led from his house. As he turned the corner onto Widecarriage Street, he saw a vaguely familiar man approach wearing a surprised look.
The surprised man called his name, “Hekaib Bess?”
Hekaib was about to answer, “Do I know you?” when he was overwhelmed with apprehension. He knew this man from somewhere, but from where? Did they have unfinished business? Had Hekaib bought something and forgotten to pay? Perhaps, an unpaid debt to an old schoolmate? Then he remembered where he’d seen the man before. It was in a book, a favorite from childhood. While most of its illustrations were pleasant, one was terrifying. It was an illustration portraying Death. Hekaib had to escape. Immediately. He began to run.
He ran east and did not slow down until he reached the harbor. There were always ships, but today none were anchored at the piers. He paused a moment to catch his breath, then he sought out the harbormaster. “What ships leave port today?” Hekaib asked.
“None I know of,” the man replied.
Hekaib pondered his next move. Had he overreacted? No. Something wasn’t right. There should have been ships. There weren’t. His feet decided. He ran.
To the south, the massive caravanserai walls marked the edge of the town. He entered the caravanserai courtyard and found the innkeeper drawing water from the well. “What caravans are in town today?”
“None I have seen,” replied the innkeeper.
“Can you spare some water?” The innkeeper held out a pail. Hekaib took a long drink and then rested in the shade of the courtyard wall. There’s always a caravan or two stopped here. Why not today? What’s different about today? Maybe I should go home and back to bed … To await Death? No, it’s better to get as far from here as possible. He got to his feet and started walking. He passed several farms until finally reaching open prairie. It seemed to go on forever like an ocean of tall grass. What an awful place to die. With that thought, he began running once more.
He ran until his breath gave out. Then he slowed to a walk and continued through grass so high he could only see a few feet ahead. Then his feet fell away and he slid into a gully on his back. Water from the stream filled his boots before he regained his footing and climbed up the gully’s other side. He was on flat land again, but it looked the same—still more prairie to cross.
Moving through tall grass tired him. And it terrified him to know that he wouldn’t see a predator until it was too late to escape. Finally, he reached the prairie’s edge and entered the forest. The cool of the trees refreshed him and his fear began to lift. At last he broke through the trees and crossed several fields of grain before he found a dirt track leading to high-
It was late afternoon when he arrived at the outskirts of Thonis and decided to book a room at the caravanserai. He crossed the courtyard and looked for the innkeeper in the common room. But the common room was nearly empty. Only in the room’s darkest corner was one table occupied, and only by one guest. The guest sat semi-
“You know, you really surprised me. I never expected to see you on Widecarriage Street this morning. Our meeting wasn’t until now. Not in Meir at all, but here in Thonis. Strange world, isn’t it?”