by Maggie D Brace
Leah covered her nose and mouth, then opened the tent flap just a few inches to peek outside. At once, a swirling mass of sand shot in, and I gagged as it swept into my mouth and pelted my eyes. She quickly closed the flap, smiled, and shrugged, “Looks like we’re stuck here for a while longer.”
I could barely hear her over the din of the sand storm. Our first few days in the desert had been almost tolerable. Traveling in the early morning and late evening hadn’t proven too hellish but this circling mass had placed our travels on hold indefinitely. We’d hoped to make it to Leah’s hometown in a week’s time. Who knew when we’d get there now? To while away the hours, we took turns regaling each other with tall tales and ghost stories we remembered from our youth. Needless to say, most of my stories centered on phantoms, most of hers on the Djinn.
The absolute creepiest, considering our current situation, was the vampiric foot licker: the Palis. Leah’s story had raised goosebumps on my arms and set my hair standing up on end as she related details about the desert dwelling Djinn that drained the blood out of unsuspecting sleepers by licking the unprotected soles of their feet. The only good thing I learned about them was that they weren’t very bright and could be easily outwitted.
As you can imagine, after that little tidbit, I wasn’t too keen on falling asleep, whether inside a tent or not. The first night, Leah suggested the age old trick of us sleeping end to end, with the soles of our feet touching. She assured me this would easily confuse the spirit, and we could sleep soundly. We barely fit in the tent as we assumed a fetal pose to take up less space. I lay quietly for what seemed like hours, trying to fend off sleep, my sweaty feet plastered against Leah’s.
Finally, I must have dozed off, for I awoke with a start as a prickling sensation worked its way from my right foot, up my ankle and calf, and into my knee. Since I was lying on my right side, I assumed the sensation was caused by the pressure of my body on the shifting ground beneath our tent. My eyes were almost sealed shut with sand particles, and as I rubbed them clean, I uneasily remembered the horrible tale Leah had conveyed to me. I groped down and felt for our feet, feeling a sense of relief as I realized Leah’s feet were still pushing against mine. I dozed off and on but couldn’t go back to sleep.
In the morning, I felt unusually groggy and weak. I attributed it to the lack of sleep. We spent our next tent-bound day telling each other more scary stories and relating childhood memories. I hadn’t realized our upbringings had been so different. Leah told me strange stories of her youth in the desert. I grew up in a city, she near any oasis they could find. I attended regular school, she was tutored by a fellow nomad who travelled with her clan. I had an idyllic life of ease, she had worked to survive and had fought the elements her whole life. It’s funny that as much as I loved her and hoped to spend my future with her, there was so much I didn’t know about her. Meeting her family should prove very interesting, if we ever got there!
The next night, I could barely keep my eyes open all evening but was still uneasy about the Palis attacking our feet. When it was time to turn in, Leah tried to assuage my apprehension by assuring me we could try another method. It involved us sleeping on each other’s feet. I laid my head on her feet, and she on mine. I was so tired, I fell asleep straightaway. Similar to the night before, I woke sometime during the night with an odd sensation, this time in my left leg. I reached down and felt for my left foot but withdrew my hand when I felt Leah’s hair draped across it. The odd sensations in my leg subsided, and once again, I laid still, just dozing until dawn. The next morning, I was particularly woozy and confused when I awoke.
Leah was incredulous that her stories would have scared me so much. She apologized, and we refrained from swapping scary stories that day. We sang songs and told jokes instead. Despite the upbeat vibes we were trying to send out, bedtime found me downright paranoid about going to sleep. I felt weak and confused, barely able to sit up, but was resistant to lying down and sleeping. Leah told me of one last sure-fire method she knew to keep the Palis at bay. It never occurred to me that I seemed to be the only one having my feet tampered with each night. I was just grateful for her vast Djinn knowledge. Following her instructions, I inserted both my big toes into Leah’s open mouth, and then immediately fell asleep.
Well, the sandstorm stopped that night but I never made it to Leah’s village. The loss of blood was just too much, and I succumbed to the elements. Guess who had just been outwitted by a witless Palis?
Maggie D Brace, a long-time denizen of Maryland, teacher, gardener, basketball player, and author, attended St. Mary’s College and Loyola University, Maryland. She has written ‘Tis Himself: The Tale of Finn MacCool and Grammy’s Glasses, and has multiple short works in various anthologies. She remains a humble scrivener and avid reader.