Armadillo burrows in the rusty sand off Highway 66, lifts its miniscule claws towards the barren sky, not in any act of deference or shock, but as if it is imploring whatever gods might lie behind the ether, beyond Ship Rock. Armadillo recalls the deep past. Each layer it excavates revealing new memories, unearthing silences, fragmenting monolithic voices. It is the archaeologist of the animal realm, replacing Badger when they could no longer bear witness, when they split open from the wounds of history. Armadillo rises from its test-pit, scuttling toward the backdrop of orange dunes laced with crimson, towers of aching tangerine and screeching arches of sedimented sherbert providing lessons in geology. All that lies before Armadillo is Desert’s palette of blood, swathes of paint symbolizing each temporal juncture and structure, every war and every rupture.
In the distance, High Wind howls; Human parks their car to stop and admire Armadillo’s excavation. Human does not understand what lies before them, just as they will never understand what lies beyond them. Armadillo peers from its tunnel at the foot of its favorite hungry mountain. They unleashed the halcyon knowledge of destiny and doom, but no other being sees it, let alone feels it. Digging achieves no prophecy, and Armadillo sighs, arrested by Fate. At the corner of the desert stands a thin, towering figure, draped in midnight linens and headless. A severed fleshy skull hangs from a chain of glistening vertebrae wrapped around its left shoulder, the weight of it heavy like the burden of a sinful past. This figure normally rides a horse of fury, but this was lost when Dullahan crossed the ocean to settle here with the Scots-Irish who took the land. The Scots-Irish escaped the curse of Ulster yet brought the demon with them.
Armadillo wants to exorcise Dullahan from this landscape, Dullahan wants ancestral revenge. Armadillo calls out to Dullahan, who can only say one phrase: “I will haunt you.” And with that the ancient Irish threat persists. Desert’s Spirits begin to wail, yet Armadillo’s test-pit on the side of Highway 66 bespeaks a bottomless silence. Dullahan approaches Armadillo’s test-pit while Armadillo morphs into a plaited metal sphere. Calling upon High Wind, Armadillo evaporates, only to appear before Dullahan. Scattered around Armadillo’s site are the matter of facts and the facts of the matter. High Wind elevates Armadillo, they float above Dullahan whose severed head grimaces at the refuse of history before them, the fossils, skeletons, and artifacts of centuries. Dullahan motions to reject the residue, but High Wind rips away the linens disguising Dullahan.
Everything is naked here, unhidden from the eye, the ear, the heart. Armadillo raises its miniscule claws before Dullahan, not in any act of deference or shock, but as if it is imploring whatever gods might lie behind the ether, beyond Ship Rock. No one can distinguish between what once was, what is, and what might be. No one can tell what is legend, or what is history. Armadillo resurrects the past for the future, Desert’s wounds await a suture.
Starring (in order of appearance): Dasypus novemcinctus (armored mammals); Highway 66; prayer and invocation; Ship Rock, a geological formation and sacred site belonging to the Diné (Navajo Nation); archaeology; Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Haitian anthropologist (1949-2012); Meles meles; deserts of the American Southwest; hoodoos and fairy chimneys; ice cream; Jacques Derrida; bystanders, admirers; Manifest Destiny; settler colonialism and dispossession; Dúlachán, Irish headless demon and collector of the dead; the Ulster Plantations, Britain’s first colonial experiment in Ireland; Death; W. B. Yeats’s ghost; Trouillot’s tour-de-force, Silencing the Past (1995); the Angel of History; the linen industry; haunting; an intervention.
Morgan L. Ventura is a Sicilian-Irish American writer and ex-archaeologist living between Oaxaca, Mexico and Vancouver. Ventura’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Strange Horizons, Augur Magazine, Geist, Phantom Drift, and Ghost City Review, among others. They have been nominated for the Rhysling Award, and currently serve as editor for South Broadway Press. Find Ventura on Twitter: @hmorganvl.