“I don’t feel a heartbeat. Why don’t I feel my heart beating?”
The old man looked at him puzzled. “Maybe it’s at home!” The old man laughed, a deep guttural bellow that the young man though was undeserved and inappropriate. It also went on for five minutes longer than it should have, even if the statement had been funny, as far as the young man was concerned.
Frustrated and dejected the young man began to walk away. Maybe the old man would continue to stand there and laugh himself to death. The young man would be perfectly fine with that. As he walked, he caught a faint whiff of decaying and rotting flesh. Did the old man already bite it? he thought knowing it to be untrue. Then he saw the sparrow again.
The little bird’s feathers had fallen off and rested around its corpse. Its body looked as though it had lain there for weeks undisturbed. Its skin had gone from pink to black and blue and was peeling back to reveal the organs within.
The young man felt a light breeze and the feathers were carried with it. They were carried on the wind up the rock wall and dispersed out of view. He turned his attention back to the body of the sparrow and watched as, from tail to beak and claw to wing, it dissolved into sand, no different from the sand that surrounded it.
A hand came down on his shoulder and the young man jumped. “Wha-“
“Angels or demons guard this pit. They either show mercy to its residents or mess with the heads of its denizens. Best not think about it too much, George, it’ll drive you insane.”
“Is that what…” he started to say, but then he looked at the face of the older man. He looked different than he had previously. The white beard still hung down his chest from his face, but now the face it hung from had less wrinkles and more understanding. It was as if he had grown younger by a few years. “You look different.”
“Do I?” the old man asked. “Have I changed, or did the way you look at me change?”
The young man looked at him for a minute, but he was tired of rhetorical questions and mysteries. He resolved to ignore the riddles and continue to find his way out of the crater. With that thought in mind he just walked away.