Northwords Now Issue 39

The FREE literary magazine of the North

Taklamakan – Prologue

by Ian Tallach

A human figure emerges from the morning half-light. Less than a kilometre away, it struggles up a dune. White linen billows. Some of the brightest stars can still be seen, but the sky has begun to shimmer with the anticipation of day. To the east, an orange glow on the horizon. Above it, a swathe of indigo.

In an instant, sand is ablaze. A scimitar of light is followed by a wedge of sun. The camels look west.

The figure re-appears on the next ridge, then descends again from view. After another fifteen minutes, it can be seen again, but its edges are blurred, lost in haze.

On the third dune’s crest it stops. A gold flash from a nose-ring – female. Her outline flickers, then becomes clearer, more substantial. But reaching for her seems to snuff her out.

A flutter in the chest, the taste of sweat, the urge to follow. This is no place to just sit.


A space between places. They say this desert’s name translates as ‘you can enter, but there is no way out’.

Of course, there is an infinity of ways out. But who can bear an infinity?

The thought you must remember to forget is that your chosen route might lead you further in – the thought that can terrify.

The desert can break out, engulf and bury. Whole villages obliterated overnight. Yes, a perfectly sane person might be unfortunate enough to find themselves adrift. But the most compelling reason for venturing in of one’s own accord is not rational. For some, looking out over that ocean of dunes there is the Pull. And for a few others, the lure of nothingness.


Higher up is steeper. With the determination to press on, a ridiculous notion takes hold: climbing this dune is pursuing destiny. At the top, the view is breathtaking. But straight ahead, there is another, higher dune.

It’s a wonderful feeling, running, sliding, tumbling down the concave side. The next one is easy to begin with. Silence, but for the lisping of feet. Before long, though, it becomes a struggle. This would be a good place to turn back. But turning back doesn’t feel right: one could almost be persuaded that the promised land lies over the ridge.

Cruelly, the experience soon changes – from having lost oneself, to a realisation of lostness. Abandon to abandonment. Fine sand falls from an angry fist. To think that poetic words are used for such a sky. Ha! For this extremity of blue indifference, there should be other words.


Who can live with their own insignificance? When the lights are off and all distractions are removed, it can be hard to bear. The desert offers no relief. It is a wasteland and it speaks of waste.

Still, there is a paradox.  From the earliest times, those fortunate enough to stumble out again have told of facing their insignificance and finding it wanting. They claim to have found God.