A boy walked in in the morning. He looked to be about ten. He was wearing a
red and white clown costume. He held the clowns nose down at his side. His face had
been painted
and black. His nose was trickling blood, slowly, agonizingly. He
stood facing the cliffs just off the road, dusty and full of bumps and holes for snakes just
before desert sand, just before a small group of struggling cacti that won
t share water, just
before the sweet smell of sage and the heavy smell of
rock flesh. The thin layer of
near white hair on his arms was slick with sweat. The black and yellow paint was hot to
the touch and starting to drip. He did not notice. He only stared the sky just above the
cliffs where he could see his mothers eyes. He put his first step forward. There was a light
cloud of dust as he raised his foot, with about the same consistency of a heat wave. He
paused foot in mid air and looked back at the comfort of the road. The other children
waved and evaporated. They were to be rained back into town several hours later. The
boy looked back at the harsh black eyes of his mother, watching him from atop the cliff
his foot down making the first imprint of many more to come. The sage brushed his
hairless but clown cloth covered calf and he wondered about the snakes. He wondered if
the was a snake under the bush he had just stroked, a snake under the next bush and the
next. He watched with
calmness as every stick from him to the cliff turned into
a snake and back. HIs heated mind whirred as it attempted vainly to make distinctions.
It though it could see a trail leading
to the cliffs, to the caves, and to the
painted men
songs he heard in his dreams. HE wondered if he could pass
snakes. Part of him could easily bite the snakes back. The venom of a boy child is so much
more potent than that of an adult. He had no control over it and would have released it
all at once had he been forced to strike. Then he would be left a naked clown for the rest
of the snakes. He had to trust the snakes. HE had to trust them as puppets of the
painted men who he imitates and nothing more. As these thoughts raced through his
mind his footsteps grew further apart. He was nearly halfway. He could see the lack of
sleep in mothers eyes. Mothers cold black bloodshot eyes. The never moved from him
during his weaving
toward the cliffs. The sun was on him, hot, Please roll your eyesalong with me here.raping him of moisture,
but if he had looked back he would have had a near full view of the valley. A flat sandy
picture rimmed with red sentinels and one rain cloud in the middle of it all (
children back into town) all but one. One
villager hunched over precious food plants,
shaded slightly with a floppy canvas hat noticed the rain.

s not over
the children come home.
, the old man thought suddenly. He
dropped his rusted trowel into the thirsty dirt, looked at the sky, his hat falling next to the
, noticing that the boy was missing, and in a far off corner of the garden plot a mid
sized purple lupin silently hung its head in shame. The man cried because he did not trust
the painted men. When the time came, he did not let them put the paint on his boyish
face. The two puncture
on his left forearm had nearly faded. He
passed his fingers over them. A motion
to genuflecting. There was nothing he
could do. The boy was less than twenty feet from the
of the cliff. He felt cold
because mother
s eyes were blocked by an outcropping someway up. He scanned the
base of the cliff, exploring every pore of the rock, for some sign of the painted men. He
was afraid that in his haste, he had painted himself improperly and the painted men had
gone, or worse. He reached the fire pit in the lowest overhang and
it cold, but full
of ashes. Broken glass blanketed the ground. A half melted
bottle stuck out of the
ashes. The boy picked it up, coating his hand with soot that would later be transferred to
hi right thigh. The boy looked up the cliff at the late afternoon sky and set his feet to the
task of climbing. The rock faces are crumbly and he often sunk to his knees. He was
surprised because it seemed that the snakes had gone with the painted men. He was
both sad and relieved.

would never see snakes like those of t
men. A long slender s
er black from, every muscle rippling, every black scale glinting, and
searching red tongue, flitting through t
still air. T
boy felt lonely and afraid.

had not seen mot
s eyes for over an hour and t
re was still no sign of t