This short piece was inspired by, of all things, a job application. Let's just say I like to get creative with my cover letters :)
A dry wind blows sand from the nearby dunes. The heavily cloaked figure tightens the respirator on her face to keep stray silica from infiltrating her lungs, ever-conscious of protecting her health so she can deliver her goods and fulfill her mission. Her hand twitches once, twice, the mirror in her palm catching sunlight and sending a signal to the distant tower. Beyond the tower, the fabric panels of a pavilion billow and flap, veined with the faded remnants of designs painted long ago.
A return signal flashes. The woman turns to communicate with the rest of the caravan through terse hand gestures. They resume their journey, plodding onwards with their precious cargo past the carcasses of burnt-out sedans and the cracked remains of melted tarmac, relics of an era lost to memory. The only sound is the soughing of the wind rasping across the mountains of dust.
At last, the caravan arrives at the pavilion entrance. Both flesh-and-bone creatures and mechanical beasts of burden enjoy well-deserved relief as their caretakers rush to unload them. Panniers and packs, casks and crates alike are couriered into the faintly-lit depths.
A carefully choreographed dance ensues. Cooks exclaim as their work surfaces erupt in colorful explosions of fresh ingredients. Wood fires flare to life. Precious pots of water roar into furious boils. Honed knife-edges flash, flickering reflections in culinary morse code. Leathery, leafy greens rustle and tear. Crimson root vegetables bleed their juices, staining hands and cutting surfaces alike. Nut shells crunch and crack.
At the long communal tables beyond the kitchen, citizens participate in sacred ceremony, by turns solemn, joyful, chaotic. They exclaim over dish after dish, each elaborate course representing an essential part of the ritual. Unleavened breads draped with sliced meats symbolize the armoring of the heart against lack of conviction; crisp slivers of pickled vegetables call out the need for preservation of all things fleeting and fragile; and salted confections remind those present to savor the sweet things in life. The joy goes on for hours, a golden moment in time, and yet is over far too soon.
Their feast complete, and souls sated, they return to the task of eking an existence from a world gone dim, but not yet dark.