Short Story Exercise Week #5

Another late in the day entry. I’ve been reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, and I really enjoy the style he wrote it in. I decided I’d try something similar for this story. I had so much fun it turned out longer than I had planned. Hopefully it’s fun to read as well. The painting is by Marsden Hartley, and is called Yliaster (Paracelsus). And I have no idea what that means. 1445 words.

Tom spat dryly. It didn’t do any good. Sand was everywhere. In his mouth, his eyes, his ears. The hot wind had been blowing the stuff around since the first step of this trek. They had brought more than enough water to reach their destination and return. In fact, Janie had planned things perfectly, as always. That was her style.

Tom’s style consisted of having a general idea of the goal, then trusting his instincts and revolvers to get the job done. It had served him well so far. Two wars and countless treasure hunts, and he was still fairly intact. That is, if you don’t count the missing half of an ear, the pinkie finger that didn’t quite work right, and the absent chunk of his left foot. Then there was the scars, which he had stopped counting after one hundred.

Now, Janie’s plans, which I mentioned were perfect, were perfect except for the fact that they neglected to account for the ambush by the sand people. And really, how was Janie to know? The sand people, she had told herself, were a myth, a story conjured up to scare children who won’t go to bed on time and to shake a few extra loose coins out of the tourists. But the sand people, as Janie and Tom had discovered, were in fact very real. And quite thirsty too.

It was actually fortunate that the sand people were in such a dehydrated state, as normally they plundered and killed their victims. However, the sand people’s thirst being paramount, Tom and Janie were able to escape unnoticed as they raided their water and food, scared away their guides, and laid claim to their other possessions. I say that Tom and Janie were fortunate, but perhaps a quick death would have been more merciful.

Tom had been in worse scrapes, he told himself as he trudged along in the blazing white sand. He then spent the next several hours trying to remember a time or place in his life which would have qualified as a worse scrape. He could think of none.

Janie was holding up as well as could be expected. She was not nearly as used to this sort of ordeal as Tom was, but she was not completely out of her element. She had led expeditions to some of the most desolate and dangerous locations in the world. Because of her excellent and precise planning, those expeditions had rarely resulted in any sort of problems or predicaments. She had, however, been in a few scrapes herself. But had she been comparing them, none would have been as bad as this.

It had been three days since the sand people had attacked them. Three days of wandering in the heat-blasted, barren desert. Three days of thinking about the glistening water that had once belonged to them, but had recently slid down the throats of those wretched vagabonds.

Tom figured they were headed in the right direction, and he tried to make Janie believe that he knew it for a fact. She had a feeling he was bluffing, but had considered her options, which were none, and decided it wouldn’t have been worth it to disbelieve him. So along they trudged, hour after hour, toward a place that may or may not have been as real as the sand people.

Dusk was on its way out and night was falling quickly as they stumbled upon the small oasis. To call this spot of land, where a fetid pool of water and three sickly looking trees wanly grew, an oasis would be akin to saying a dying candle was almost as bright as the sun. But after the three days Tom and Janie had just endured, it felt like the Taj Mahal.

Tom scooped water into his mouth and swallowed loudly. It was a simple decision, really. Drink this water and possibly die from whatever impurities it may contain, or don’t drink the water and boil to death from the inside out the following day. If Janie was contemplating the purity of the water, she did so with lightning speed and was on her knees next to Tom in an instant.

Several hours later, the two of them laid side by side, staring up at the brilliant canopy of stars. The sand was still warm from the heat of the day, and they dug themselves a fair way in, covering most of their bodies for protection against the chill night. Tom decided it would not be wise to hope out loud against the occurrence of scorpions. Either they would come and crawl over their sleeping faces at night, or they would not. There was no point in mentioning it and worrying Janie.

“It’s a fair scrape we’re in, this one.” Said Tom instead. He said it with a smile, which was his patented way of driving fear from his mind. His sense of bravado had carried him through many a tight spot, and he was hoping it wouldn’t fail him now.

Janie laughed softly, no stranger to bravado herself, or, as I’ve mentioned, scrapes. “It sure is, Thomas. Who would have thought our first adventure together would be our last?”

“Now now, my lady. Don’t be getting too far ahead of yourself. I have a good feeling about tomorrow. I’d say we should reach the volcano by midday, at the latest.”

“That would be grand,” she offered, “provided the scorpions don’t get us tonight.”

Tom smiled. This was quite a woman. If they ended up getting themselves out of this whole mess, he was going to be sure to ask her out on a proper date. One where his revolvers could be left at home.

“Well, sweet dreams. Here’s to a brighter tomorrow.”

“Goodnight, Thomas.”

Tom fell asleep shortly, and had dreams of magnificent waterfalls, plates of fresh gleaming fruit, and Janie sitting next to him by the side of a swimming pool.

Janie dreamed about the angel of the volcano most of the night, about the legend she’d been following for years. Although she would never mention it to a soul, the rest of her dreams were occupied by a certain scoundrel by the name of Thomas Drake.

A cold morning breeze hit Tom full in the face. His eyes and mouth were crusted shut, and he struggled against the urge to rub them. Instead he blindly dug himself out and crawled to where he thought the water hole was. By luck or sheer determination he found it, and spent a few moments splashing the grit out of his eyes. He wiped his rough sleeve across his face, realizing for the first time that he hadn’t heard Janie yet. He glanced over to where she sat, eyes and mouth wide open, staring at something behind him.

His head whirled around, and there it was: a huge volcano sticking out of the flat desert like a lone chocolate chip on a counter top. They had made it after all.

Tom looked wildly over at Janie, who looked as though she had just woken up from the best dream ever, only to find that it had come true. Then they heard it. It started as a low rumble, like the kind you hear when horses are stampeding off in the distance. But then it grew louder, much too quickly to be horses, and in a moment it seemed as if the sand was dancing. The sun was rising directly behind the volcano, and as the rumbling grew and grew, it glinted over the lip and cast its bright rays down on Tom and Janie.

Or at least that’s what Tom thought had happened. But then he realized the light was far brighter than that of the sun. Brighter and whiter and climbing much faster into the sky than the sun ever could. He shielded his eyes with his hand, but did not look away. After what seemed like several minutes, but could have only been a matter of seconds, the light dimmed a little, and he saw the angel, towering hundreds of feet above the volcano.

He looked over to Janie, who returned his smile. Then over her shoulder he saw the first sand person. His revolvers were in his hands in a split second, hammers cocked and ready to fire. He glanced around. They were surrounded.

He backed toward Janie, who had drawn her rifle and was backing up toward him. Their shoulders met, and they studied the masked faces of their attackers.

“Some scrape, huh?” Tom said.

“I’ve been in worse.” she said with a smile.

Tom laughed as he fired off his first round.

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3 responses to “Short Story Exercise Week #5

  1. Glad you guys liked it. I like how it turned out, and I definitely want to turn it into something longer at some point.

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