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theresleepin still. My oh.so long. Almostdays now I been- oh! Well my, my looks whos rejoined the livin.

Welcome back. He woke drenched in sweat and stinking awfully. Bleeding too from several cuts he must have sustained from when he had been drifting in and out. His feet were blistered calloused and burned like hot coals even now off the ground as he was. But where? He expected to wake up- if waking was how this happened- in the next life if the next life would take him. He looked around. No clouds no nothing. He was in a small shack it seemed. A mudhut would be more apt. The entire thing had a painstaking quality to it. Someone had poured their heart into every handful of dirt it took to make a structure like this with its walls smooth like unweathered skin. He was on a bed presumably filled with some soft kind of desert weed. Dried out and stacked beneath sewn sheets-if you could find them-it was like paradise horizontal. His mouth watered before the smell even reached his nose. Meat. Actual real meat was only a few feet away. An wrinkled woman sat in a chair near by. She wore a garment of gray cloth around her head. No sign of any hair her head looked like an frail and swaddled newly lain egg. Where-? The woman had been staring this whole time without saying a word. Her voice had woken him but she allowed his reemergence to occur in stark silence. It was an odd gift but he was thankful all the same. Nothing quite ruins waking as too much chatter. Relax, relax, the woman said. Her voice a quivering memory of what must have once been a lovely song before that thief age had its way. I been watchin you, yes yes. You been sleeping so long I thought you mightta gone onward and up. But here yare. Asleep? I rememberdont really. Found ya in the wilds half dead. Them nasties, the black vultures circlin around ready to feast. But I swatted em away yes. Put yon the mule and brought ya here. And here yare! Where? Thiss my place, sweets. Sweetwater? Sweetwater? No no sorry, dear but this place aint Sweetwater. Wen Scrubfork. Sweetwaters still aways east. Five days by foot at least. Lissen lissen ymust be hungry. Come if you cn stand and and somma this. Yer all skin, yare. Not healthy, no no.

He had no qualms and bolted forward and grabbed the nearest piece he could. The taste filled him up whole. His jawbone moved at breakneck speed tearing through all the meat he could cram in. Canines ripped like tiny swords through once-tendons until he placed it back on the table. In his reverie he had forgotten to breathe. He decided he would better be served by his knife and he reached into his pocket. Nothing. Wheres my knife? Knife? she asked. Didnt see a knife on ya dear. Maybe ydropped in when yaNo, I didnt drop it. He rechecked his pocket and still it was gone. He thought in his still delirium he had forgotten the shape but quickly realized that was nonsense. Where had it gone? A man does not let himself be careless with his knife. A man without a knife is a man without nethers. His mother told him that. The old womans face became wrinkled more and more as a grizzly expression seized her. It took her over like a sickness. Joviality fled and was replaced by caution and a tempered fear impulse. You have it dont you? Give it! Calm now dear. Calm. I didnt wanna give it up cause- no. Nothin. She removed it from her ample and sagged bosom area in a sheepish and frightened way like an animal about to meet its fate in the path of a hunter. I oughtta kill you. I should. Oughtta kill you for this. Do and I wont tell ya bout your mark. My what? Yer hand. Saw it what was left. Saw you had the red blood. Hells even got it insida ya. But its on yer hand and that means you met the wise man in the wastes. The shaman. Yes yes. Will ya dear? Listen to this old woman fer a spell?