Time is strange. Everyone notices that some times pass faster than others, some times pass slower too. For me, after my trip to the desert, some of that is voluntary now. By concentrating, I can slow time down a little. It's not much, and it's hard and exhausting to do, but I can drag five minutes out to nearly twenty at a push. It's useful when I need to get lots of things done in a hurry, but I have to be certain I'll have a chance to rest afterwards. I don't think it's get me very far stealing things. Except for the time in the desert.
The sands were mounding all around me, and it seemed like I was walking through a beige landscape of hills, with mountains hinted at on the horizon. I knew that sand couldn't pile up into mountains, but there were shadows out there, hazed by the heat and probably dazed by the sun. I kept on walking anyway. I had plenty of water, refilled at the last oasis, and I'd been told that there was something worth seeing out this way by a rotten little mannikin that had danced and gibbered at me while I filled water-flasks. I might have imagined him though. He had black teeth and breath that stank like an abbatoir, his eyes never stopped moving around and didn't ever look in the same direction, and his hair was thin and straggly, protuding from a scabby scalp like spider's legs.
The sand darkened beneath my feet briefly, and I wondered if I was near one of the odd little rivers that seemed to run through the desert. I looked around, trying to see if there was any green growing nearby, or flowers, or trees, or anything that would confirm water, but there was nothing, just a long, thin strip of darker sand. I followed it, reasoning that something must be causing it. Then, abruptly, it turned red like the colour of old brick, and the ground itself disappeared into a heat-haze maybe only twenty feet in front of me. I stopped, of course.
For a moment there was just me, the heat-haze, and the odd-coloured sand, and then the haze shimmered a little brighter and then faded away. In front of me now was a brick-paved pathway that led into a colonnade that seemed to make its way under a cloudier sky than the rest of the desert. I hesitated, recognizing that this wasn't part of the desert and was probably therefore dangerous.
"Heeheeheehee!" The laughter was high-pitched and desperate-sounding, with a wheezy note to it that made me think of asthmatics. "Heeheeheehee!" A short man with a protuberant belly and eyes the size of his mouth skipped down the colonnade towards me, naked as an innocent. As he skipped, he laughed, and his eyes rolled around in his head like those of a madman. I braced myself, ready to turn and run.
"You're trapped! You're trappedtrappedtrappedtrapped!" He was chanting the words, and his lips smacked noisily together on every "-ed". "You're never going to leave here now you've entered! I've got you for a friend for ever now!"
"I've not stepped into anywhere," I said, pointing to my feet. I was still three or four steps away from the brick-paved path.
"Ohnonononnonono!" Hands flew to his mouth, and then to his eyes, covering them. He sank to his knees. "Please come in, there's no traptraptraptrap, no traptraptraptrap really. Really and honestly. I wouldn't lielielielielielie to you, nonononono I wouldn't!"
I stepped backwards, carefully, looking over my shoulder to be certain what I walking into. The sand behind me was losing its reddish tint and growing dark again, which I hoped was a good sign.
"Nonononono don't leave me! Don't leave me! I'm so hunhunhunhunhungry." He started blubbering, wet sobbing sounds that made my skin crawl, and glistening, silvery drool spilled from his mouth and mounded on the sand like quicksilver.
"I don't think I could stay for dinner," I said, standing still and looking at him while I spoke. When I'd finished, I turned back to looking where I was going and getting away from him.
"Nonononono!" His voice turned into some kind of rapid, high-pitched scream. "You don't understand, I'm been so hungrygrygrygry for so lonlonlonlong now."
"Gotta be going," I said, my feet finally stepping onto complete dark sand, free of the reddish tint. I looked back, and the heat haze was consuming him once more. He stood up, his face a picture of rage, and waved a fist angrily. Then he threw something at me, and I dodged to the side, only realising too late that this might have been a trick. I looked down at my feet, but the sand was still dark and it seemed that I was still safe. Then something landed beside me, breaking and splashing me with liquid as silvery and globular as his drool, and everything slowed down to a crawl.
I wiped it off, with hands that seemed to flash around uncontrollably fast, and then everything around me sped up again, the strange little man and his colonnade disappeared, and I was alone in the desert once more. With the ability to slow time down a little now and then, which couldn't have been a gift, and so I distrust it, wondering when it will reveal its poison sting.