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Writing short stories is what I have wanted to do for quite some time. But it is a difficult genre to master, and I am not entirely persuaded it is the right genre for me and what I have to say. While the writing comes easy, I am not so sure it flows as well as some of my poems.

Here is a prose-poem kind of vignette I had done some time back. I call it “Hell Found Me” :

Hell found me. I knew it would, sooner or later, but did not know it would be quite so soon. I had become quite an artist down the years I spent here. But now I am caught.

It is here that I have to stay, chained for all time, in the middle of this mindless desert, acres of salt, and little else. The cracks left by the wind on this never-ending salty stretch are mirrored by the raw cracks on my feet. Someday the cracks on my bleached bones will mirror them. First the birds, and then of course, the sun, will have their turn. It is a long wait.

But today as I lie scorching, I am flesh and blood. I can feel the heat under my bare body and the pain from the many cuts made on it to attract vultures. For years I have traveled these lands where no man dare make his home, where there is no soil for a blade of grass. Only salt, white, grey or dirty, meets the eyes, no matter how many miles one walks.

This was my home. I was a wanderer and this entire spread belonged to me, for it was I who would guide the trader who risked his life walking into this wasteland of salt. In exchange for things that took my fancy, an amulet, a carved box, or a piece of embroidered cloth, I would offer to lead him to the best place, where the salt was pure, pristine, and so white it hurt the eye. I would guide him in and out in a day, he would not get lost in this salty desert. He would come once, twice, many times, and grow my hoard in the caves I stowed them in.

Unknown to him, it was not his possessions I was after, it was his flesh. Ah, human flesh! Salty as the air I breathe, smelling of salt as the water I drink, and warm, so warm. No animal flesh can compete, and I should know, I have tasted most I could catch. I have hunted in jungles, and I have hunted beside farms. Crippled at birth, I knew no mother and the only herd I was ever part of was a group of beggars by day and thugs by night. I have loved human blood since then, it quenched my thirst and killed the dull ache in my belly. Most nights I went hungry. There were rats to catch of course, but rats can be quick.

Besides, hunting men is far more rewarding. They are more intelligent. It needs great cunning. I earned the trust of many, and when I decided the time was ripe, my meal never knew what hit him. I hate struggles. I do not like wasting precious energy in this desert, and trust is the perfect weapon. I would always ask them, on what was to be their last trip, to bring me some good wine. I would, as always, be quiet; I do not know much of talk, and it does not amuse me. They would be merry, and drink more than I. Most of them died in their sleep, dreaming happy dreams, which ended with a quick, firm, blow to the head. It is as good a way to go as any.

But as with all good plans, mine had a flaw. News of my unseen hoard grew with each small merchant that gave me a trinket. Then, you came, the robber in the guise of a merchant. And when the robber met the hunter, the robber won. You are now a speck in the distance, carrying away all the trophies of my hunt. They do not mean much to me, and you are welcome. I am chained outside my cave, from where I can see all the bones I tore flesh from, and I am content.

As birds tear at mine, I shall think of the poison I smeared on all my treasure and how you will be writhing in agony soon. You know, I have begun to like my hell. The way I see it, it is just a few vultures having a good meal, and I do not grudge them that.

For some reason I have always wanted to turn this into a poem. Today I got an idea how. I was on Sharon Bakar‘s blog when I saw this intriguing link to Wordles, a free software that lets you create word clouds of whatever text you choose to feed in.

This is the link to the Wordle I created from the text of the vignette here. (Click it to see a bigger image). I like the way all sorts of unlikely words join up in the Wordle: “chained, hunted birds”, “years drink”, “scorching treasure”, “walking pristine”….I know random poetry generators can give you much the same kind of unlikely word combinations, but I like to see the Wordle do it so visually.

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her next literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and was published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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