There is a heat that conjures, when the long road shimmers and every patch of shade becomes for a place of respite from the cruel eye of an uncaring god. In that long afternoon, Pacella found her shade on a stack of boxes, overlooking a pair of old men playing draughts.
They were very old, with that wiry thinness that comes when the skin thins and sags, and they wore old, well-kept white suits and straw hats. One had a wisp of a beard, and the other a long thin mustache...and that was all Pacella could say about them. From any angle not staring them straight in the face, they might have been the same or two different men. They did no harm to anyone and murmured and nodded only to a few of the passers-by. They were intent on their game.
It was an odd game. They spent long times contemplating each move, and those moves were not the draughts that she knew, but some odd rule of their own, where pieces could go sideways or backwards...and sometimes, she swore, they moved on their own.
Pacella watched intently, for there was little else to do in the heat, where even the dogs whined and panted in whatever scrap of shadow they could find, and cats like tattered pieces of night had fled away, and all those who could were inside, perhaps having a siesta. She wondered, then, how many might be dreaming, just at that moment...and she saw it.
The old man with the wispy beard had his finger on a piece...and it was no longer the smooth, circular wooden chit. There was a man there, a little figure of a woman, no taller than a toy soldier. There was a knife in her hand.
The finger moved, just a nudge, and the little figure moved off and to the left, the knife now tucked in along her left arm...and as it came to rest, it was a wooden circle again. And the bloody footprints she had left were even now fading from view. The two men stared at the new configuration of the board, their minds working through the new possibilities this presented.
Pacella stepped down from the crate, even though it put her half in the blazing sun. She stood in front of the old men and their game.
"Why?" She asked out loud, and in the quiet street it was almost worse than a shout. The one man stroked his thin mustache, and looked up from the game at her, stars in the deep depths of his eyes.
"It is good practice, for greater things." He said, not unkindly.