Rays of the perishing sun burst in the glass of the binoculars. He couldn’t see for a moment. Their small camp immerged the last time for this day into light. One could catch a glimpse of open maps, measuring instruments and huge zoom lenses spread out all over the ground. Soon the darkness would cover everything in powerful deep colours. This was the perfect time to hunt. Mold took the rest of the canned soup and shoved it into his mouth. It tasted flat and cold. He studied the papers, again. Words like “reward” and “cash” popped into his mind. They were eliminated immediately by the bold print which said “glory”.
The tent beside him started to move impatiently. After a short time the light duty padlock snapped back and the zipper opened with a dumb noise. A young dozy man came out, stretched his hands then jumped vividly on an imaginary skipping rope. He was in his mid-20s, much younger than Mold, and looked like a limbo dancer from Barbados. His name was Joseph. Both men shared a look of rivalry and confidence. “What took you so long?” Mold asked while shifting his eyes to the endless line of the horizon. “Had a nap, just had a nap,” he replied. “What are the clouds saying, old man?” Joseph went on. “I’m not a meteorologist but I’m pretty sure there’s something cooking.” Joseph’s mouth puckered up into a toothy grin, “Can you…feel it?” “Yeah, yeah make your jokes but it’s pretty moist and humid already. Besides, it does not matter when it’s gonna come. I just know it will,” Mold answered calmly. “If you say so.” The conversation ended here, both knew that. They never spoke more than a bunch of sentences at one time.
The camp faded slowly as Mold and Joseph started to hike to their place. It was a lonely bank not far away from their haven. They spread out the instruments on the dusty ground and lay down side by side. Then they waited in the numb silence of the plains. Minutes and hours went by. The nocturnal heat this region was famous for rested heavily upon their lungs. You could pant for air just enough to stay alive. Only the surrounding sounds coming from time to time from an untraceable location insinuated that there was life in this wide solitude. A dried out voice shattered the silence, “It’s not going to happen.” Mold spat on the ground and looked into the sky like he wanted to see through the whole universe, “Cut it out, kiddo. We didn’t come here to fail. You know our job.” The old man took a long look through his camera. It stood on a small tripod covered under a blue tarp. Mold exhaled heavily, “You’re right. Tomorrow’s a new day.“ They packed together their stuff. Joseph glanced down at the valley beneath them. It was a hellmouth ready to swallow any naive intruders. Then they left.
The night covered everything under a dark-blue blanket. Mold pulled firewood like a rabbit out of his hat and started a fire. It was no real surprise to Joseph that his old companion did this using some sort of prehistoric flintstone. Mold was a traveller from a different time. From a time which was not only simpler but rougher and wilder. The job has made him resistant to anything from the present. That’s the only way he could exist. “Fire’s ready, honey.” Joseph unwrapped a big grin. “Dinner too.“ They sat down around the flickering, warm flames. Mold, cross-legged like an ancient Buddhist monk in front of an altar. Joseph stretched out his naked feet towards the fire. There was hardly any wind which guaranteed a perfect blaze. The photographers enjoyed the silence between each other while they were shovelling various sorts of canned meals into their mouths. After the lo-fi banquet it was time to rest. Mold lit a cigarette on the remains of the fire. He stood there in the back-breaking heat some steps away from the camp long after Joseph had disappeared into his tent. His thoughts were circling around the reward like the vultures round the dead. Mold needed it badly, not because it was some presidents’ heads printed on greenish paper. It was for his overwhelming ego which craved for nourishment. Mold threw the fag end to the ground and ground it under his shoe. Everything turned black.
The alarm clock rang. It was ten in the morning and both men had already been up for quite a time. Especially Mold didn’t get much sleep. He still was thinking. Today was the big day. It had to be the big day. The sun filled their camp with biting rays of light which could burn your eyes out of their sockets. It was not the time to leave the tents, Mold and Joseph knew that. Their activities were limited for hours to lying on the blankets and eating these damn cans. Out in the prairie, there was not much to do beside that. Hours went by.
“A heavy thunderstorm in summer is always an impressive experience. You should try to catch a lightning on picture.” Mold put away the old magazine. He bagged his equipment and stepped outside. A scent of fresh, new air reached his nostrils and took over his lungs. He looked up to the sky. His lips formed something they hardly were used to do, a smile. Above the camp an enormous cumulonimbus cloud appeared. It was moving to their lookout. Joseph was sitting at the extinguished camp fire. “Do you see what I see?“ “I know. Isn’t she beautiful? What did I tell you, kiddo? You just have to believe.“ “Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s catch this bastard.“
Two small dots were moving towards the dried out bank. The sun had been replaced by dark, stormy clouds which would explode at any time. Mold and Joseph installed their cameras. These huge instruments looked like astronomical telescopes ready to observe, to filter, to catch. A raindrop hit Mold’s trench coat, then another one and then heaven broke loose. Both had never seen rain in their lives before. A phantasmagorial wave of viridity poured forth onto them. Mold took off his clothes. He could not believe that he was actually touching real water. The child in him remembered the stories from the old books. “Breathe, old man, breathe,” he thought. Joseph pointed at the sky, “It’s coming.” The tensions in the clouds were almost visible. Thick conglomerates of energy gathered over the photographers’ heads. Sounds of the unveiled power of nature stroke their ears. The sky opened. It seemed to Mold that he could see a hand which was holding something silver, shiny. A web of plasmatic roots ripped through the darkness. A flash of lightning, brighter than the sun, stroke down to the drenched ground.
Through this spectacle you could not hear the permanent clicking of the release. Mold and Joseph were reeling in a delusional frenzy. Their mimic was those of mad men. They forgot foolishly about everything around them, the open field, the metallic tripods. Another bolt stroke into the flurry of flashbulbs. It went right through Mold’s tripod, through the camera, through his heart. Joseph awakened from his daze. He stared at the outlines of the body lying on the ground. They went over every tiny bit of the project, the territory, the weather, the equipment. Everything was so easy on paper. It was not one of those usual jobs they used to do but still they were professionals. Mold did not move. The smell of burnt flesh reached Joseph. Time stood still. A tear separated itself from his right eye, climbed up the mountain, his cheek, then nestled up against his lips and disappeared in the darkness.
Joseph had never felt sentimental about Mold. He was more a convenient rival than a good friend, always good for wise advice, always an expert in his field and a man of natural authority. Still he felt an aching, sharp pain in his chest when he was looking at the silhouette of his fellow wayfarer. The rain started inexorably to penetrate the dead body. This is when Joseph came back from his trance. He grabbed a blanket and wrapped the body in it. Afterwards he collected every bit of the equipment and left the fateful place. The next morning it was the first intention of Joseph to bury Mold. He didn’t know exactly where he should pay his last respects to his companion but he knew he had to do it. The camp looked the same when they left it. Two cheap tents, some basic kitchen utensils and a lot of cans. When Joseph started to dismantle it, it didn’t feel right. “We should have both made it,” he thought. As he went through Mold’s stuff he discovered an old shovel. Joseph didn’t remember why they took it with them though he gratefully accepted this gift. Everything was prepared.
It was only a small stroll to the spot where they had left their horses; however, Joseph needed hours to transport the equipment and the dead man. He had to make breaks after each kilometre to remain conscious under the burning sun. The time he could see the tree to which the animals were tied to Joseph was completely dehydrated. His lips absorbed the last drops of water from the drinking trough Mold and he had installed for the horses. With a rope he attached the blue body bag to one horse and mounted the other. Then he rode off.
It was way more complicated than he had thought. The wind was blowing decades of old sand into his eyes. The blurry solitude seemed to extend into the next century. Suddenly something brown and scaly ruptured his sight. When the rider approached, it turned out to be an abandoned settlement, half destroyed through adamant nature. This was the right spot. Joseph took the shovel and piled it into the ground just besides a forgotten ledge. After the hole was deep enough to bury the dead body, Joseph put all the blankets he had inside it. Then he hauled up the blue one and carried it to the grave. He thought he should say some words but then dropped this plan. After the body had disappeared under the red, glowing sand, Joseph placed a wooden cross on the grave. He stood there in the middle of the ruins, waiting for something to happen, a sign, something which would explain or legitimise this nightmare. Nothing happened. The night gorged his hopes.
He made a small fire, some steps away from the burial place. The photographs were ready by then. Joseph opened his camera. He had not seen anything more beautiful in his whole life before. The raging power of nature banned on film. White majestic hands which reached out from the sky to terrify the observers. He went through them, almost cutting himself on the edges. Every picture was at least worth 1000 dollars and they had shot hundreds and thousands of them. Joseph looked over at the grave, then at the sky which had given them these precious gifts. The photographer took a last sip of water, closed his eyes and fell asleep.