Hey you! Yes you! You reading this right now! Do you like free stuffs? You do? Of course you do! Who doesn’t? Well here is a free short story of something I penned a while back in 2014 creative writing class. It’s not my usual fair of fantastic fiction in the sciences, urban fantasy, or fantasy…but as was mandated by the teacher, I wrote lit fic. Sort of…I’m a rebel and snuck in some fantastical elements a la Coelho!

This is my free short story Red Sands. Like it, share it, love it. Comment folks. This one is for you wonderful peeps following me here at the beginnings of my literary journey.

 

Red Sands

 

RR Virdi

 

Copyright 2014

Published 2015

The report of thunder cracked throughout the arid air. He sank to his knees; the rough sands absorbing what would’ve been a jarring impact. Nausea gripped him as grim realization dawned on him. His hand pressed tight against his abdomen, working to dull the stabbing heat and rolling pains spreading through his torso. Ears ringing, he tried discerning the muffled sounds coming from nearby, voices emanating from just above him. Curiosity and disbelief took hold as he peeled a hand away from his midsection, it came away slick with red grease.

They shot me!? His vision blurred as if coated with Vaseline as he wrapped his mind around his situation. The voices above cleared, the ringing subsiding as he struggled to hear their conversation.

With a callous swipe, the wide brimmed hat was brushed from its perch atop his head. What was an already uncomfortable heat beat down on his neck like a blowtorch, holding off from searing his skin completely.   At least I’ll get a heckuva tan, he mused in pained silence.

“See what he carries,” a voice like gravel ordered in Arabic.

Thank God I managed to pick up the language.

The muscles in his neck ground in protest as he lifted his chin to gaze upon his attackers and soon to be murderers. Light fell in pale golden streaks across his face, obscuring most of his assailant’s features. They stood garbed in blacks and grays, wraiths with rifles slung over their shoulders. One of the pair held an antiquated pistol before him, a relic of a war long since passed. The small caliber rounds it shot were roughly the size of a paperclip, one of them now lodged in his midsection. Globules of molten lava roiled within his gut as he sat there, waiting.

A sun darkened hand reached out towards him, clamping down on the meat between his shoulder and neck. It held him with a grip akin to hydraulic machinery as the desert dweller reached into the folds of his clothing. Orange light glinted off burnished steel, a wicked curved blade shone before him. The skin around his eyes tightened, gaze narrowing as the knife arced towards him with dismal implications. His eyes snapped shut and he stole a quick breath before the knife reached its mark.

A snickt filled his ears and he became aware of a sudden loss of weight upon his shoulders. Opening his eyes, he found a satchel the color of fresh marmalade, resting in the sands beside him. The strap that had held it around him had been cut through with an ease that left no frayed edges in the leather. Fingers that were digging into the tissue above his collarbone, released their grip. He swayed at the lack of support.

The two men lurched forwards in a manner reserved for vultures, tearing the satchel open, disregarding the brass buckles holding it shut. Leather gave way with a raucous rip of material, leaving his possessions vulnerable to their greed. With clawlike hands belonging to birds of prey, they dug through his bag. They never came to upending its contents but they were close as they fished through it with animalistic fervor. A myriad of mismatched currency crumpled in their grasps as they pulled it free in triumph. Their lips spread into toothy grins and their eyes, twin pairs of clay like orbs, shone with childish glee.

A groan escaped his mouth, his mind reeling from the mixture of pain and unforgiving heat bearing down on his skull. He pressed his lips into a thin smile, wondering how much bleach it would take to restore his shirt to its prior pristine state. His lips turned downwards into a frown as he realized that after days of trekking through the desert, his shirt hadn’t been quite so pristine at all.

Silver caught his eye, one of the men shook a thick disc of gleaming metal, something sloshed within it. Eyeing him, the raider flung the canteen before him. Hand moving of its own accord, his fingers scrabbled across the sand. They closed tight around the water container, coating the glimmering silver in a veneer of crimson jelly. A dull ache grew in his wrist; his weakened body and slick hands betraying him as he struggled to wrench its top clean off. Salt, iron and copper filled his mouth as his teeth formed a vice grip around the cap. The ache in his wrist found its way to his jaw as he exerted pressure and twisted. With effort, the top came free and he spat it aside, turning the canteen upwards into his mouth.

Warm water trickled down his throat, easing dryness like that of autumn leaves. Less than a third of the canteen’s water remained. Hands quaking as if they had forgotten how to function, he poured the remaining water over his wound. Every cascading drop sent jolts of horrible voltage coursing through his body and mind. The canteen’s contents did nothing to absolve his pain. It’ll clean at the very least, he assured himself. It has to, he continued convincing himself. I’m not a doctor, he grumbled within his skull.

One of the Arab riders pulled a band of nylon from the bag, metal tags jangling as he did. Seeing the collar galvanized him, his jaw trembled and enamel eroded as his teeth ground. He banished the pain, the agony giving way to something else. Heart beating like a trip hammer, he snarled, rocketing towards the pair.

Both men shambled backwards like they had lost proper footing. Their eyes widened as it registered with them that they were being charged. One of the pair fumbled with a strap over his shoulder as they backpedaled.

Hands outstretched, encrusted with his own blood, he swept at the nearest of the pair, coming up short. Instead, they closed tight around weighty black robes as he pulled, bringing one of the riders down with him. The other rider had finished his hasty motions and lashed out at him with a lengthy sleek object. The world flashed in stark whites as something ricocheted off his skull. Dull pain washed over his forehead and he found himself once again glaring at the sands below. Another impact, at the base of his skull this time, drove all color from the world. The rifle butt sent him crashing into the embrace of the desert; it was like falling atop fresh laundered sheets. He welcomed it.

 

***

 

Abysmal blackness gave way to columns of haziness. Something soft and sharp, a powdered glass slipped through his fingers as he pushed. The sands left him with no firm ground with which to help him rise. His abdomen beat and thrashed like he was housing a handful of epileptic snakes within. As he shifted, trying to right himself, a flurry of ants began stinging his insides. Snapping his eyes shut for a moment to work through the pain, he realized sand must’ve found its way into the wound.

“Great,” he murmured aloud, his voice as dry as the sands he lay in.

Leaning forwards, his midsection cried out in another burst of agony as he tried sitting up. Breathing in ragged gasps, he sat there for a moment, hunched and clasping to his legs. Finally he managed to find his way to his feet, awkwardly so. Surveying the desert, he grimaced. The sun no longer beat down with the intense golden light of earlier. It seemed a grim thing now. A ruby lens was held before the sun, giving the impression that he was stuck in a field of jam.

A proverb crossed his mind; blood spilt in the desert yields a red sun. Blinking away his musings, he searched for his assailants. Sighing in relief that they were nowhere in sight, he shambled towards a band of mustard sporting tags of silver. Kneeling, his fingers closed around it, plucking it from the ground. He held to it like it was a canteen of water in the desert surrounding him. It was all he had; his satchel was not in plain view.

Taken, he surmised. Sourness tinged the copper notes of blood in mouth.

The sun continued to spill its blood over the vastness of sands, and he had nothing left save a collar, nothing to do but walk. So he did, stepping through the shifting sands with a caution reserved for crossing a thin veneer of ice over water. Wounded, bleeding and without water, the last thing he needed was to take a fall over a dune.

Coolness washed over him, particulates danced around him, glinting as they caught rays of crimson light. The chilling wind brought with it the bleak realization that night was coming. Without shelter and a fire, he’d die from exposure, if the bullet didn’t kill him first.

“Dead man walkin’,” he grumbled in caustic tones. Without money, passports or water, walking till his body failed him was all he could do. Transfixed on the distant horizon, a smear of strawberries layered over an orange backdrop, he kept lurching.

At what point do all the dunes begin to look the same? He wondered as endless ground passed beneath him. When do minutes pass into hours and feet become miles? The red filter in the sky swapped out for one of midnight blues. A dusting of lights, mirroring the glow of the moon, hung throughout the sapphire sky.

“Heckuva place,” he murmured as his mind turned to recall rows of buildings that scraped the sky. A place where artificial lights obscured the stars above, where the air was thick and close together, a concrete jungle. None of that here, he smiled, regarding the desert sky. Pain still flooded his torso though the bleeding had stopped, on the outside at least.

In taking the next step, his knee bent and kept going. He found the ground rushing towards him and hoped it was for the final time. Grit shredded the insides of his mouth like had chewed on ground stone. Spitting a handful of sand from his mouth, he twisted, resolving to die facing the sky. Motes of light swam above, welcoming him to something seeming so far off and yet within his reach. Straining, he sent a hand towards the shimmering orbs, pawing at thin air.

With a resounding exhale of breath, he released all tension in his body. A smile of triumph crossed over his face. He had accomplished what he had come to the desert to do. All he had to do now was wait.

Orange hues dancing just outside the corners of his eyes, caught his attention. Letting his head fall to the side, he watched as the flickering light illuminated shapes behind it. A pair of large silhouettes, equine, camels, horses, donkeys, he couldn’t tell. Even in the dark, he could venture what the odd shapes strewn over the animals were. Tenting most likely, and other materials for weathering the desert. The shape leading the beasts was no mystery, a man, he reasoned.

He shut eyes his to the torch, waiting for a light of a different nature to replace it. One of white warmth, one carrying a promise of a better place, he exhaled once again. Not long now, he told himself as he felt consciousness slip away.

 

***

 

Death is supposed to carry a sort of finality with it. There were supposed to be no sensations, simply endlessness. Yet it felt as if a hot skillet were being pressed against the flesh of his stomach. His eyes snapped open, dilating as adrenaline took over. Heart jack hammering, abdomen searing, he tried to place his surroundings.

If only the world would stop spinning.

Everything began to still, his breathing soon followed and the rush of colors settled. The textured roof mirrored the colors of expensive whiskies, so much so he found himself pining for a glass. Shifting in discomfort, he found himself seated over rugs of dark bodied wine. Rich, well made and cared for, that much was evident. Poles, dwarfing him in height, each no thicker than a bat, propped up the makeshift desert dwelling. Lanterns adored the wooden beams, housing minute animated orbs of warm orange. Stiffness left his muscles and he allowed himself to relax, reveling in the pleasant glow within the Bedouin tent.

He counted the moments as they passed before his sight cleared enough to make out the cloud like puffs of smoke. Turning to face it, he found his gaze narrowing on figure behind the smoke. A hand bronzed by life in the desert, waved through the smoke with an air of nonchalance. As it was fanned, it ensconced the man, making him appear every more an apparition.

Copper tinged acid seared his throat, prompting a series of wet coughs to rack his chest. Steeling himself, he gave into his curiosity and spoke. “Am I dreaming?”

“Most men dream, few ever wake.” The stranger answered from his place behind the plumes of smoke.

“Well I’m definitely not dead.” He coughed, sputtering thick trails of crimson.

Eyes the color of faded dollar bills peered through the smoke to address him.

He found himself swallowing under their gaze, feeling like he was being undressed.

“Not yet,” the stranger said in a voice as dry as the smoke that wafted through the tenting.

“Not yet,” he echoed, slipping a hand over his wound. Brushing his fingers over the sensitive area, a dozen fishhooks of pain lanced through him. The small muscles in his eyes quaked under the strain of which he held them shut. “Not dead,” he panted.

“What’s your name?” the Arab asked in an eloquent accent he couldn’t quite place.

“You speak English pretty well,” he responded, avoiding the question.

The stranger bowed his head through the smoke in thanks, revealing his face. A toothy grin greeted him, a flash of gold coming from his mouth. Laugh lines peppered the tissue beneath his eyes, charcoal eyebrows hung above. Calloused fingers ran over his shaved scalp, pausing to scratch the rear. He spoke again, “What is your name, or have you forgotten?”

“Marion,” he answered through clenched teeth.

His “rescuers” eyebrows knitted together as he leaned forwards, regarding him. “Marion is a woman’s name, is it not?”

Marion sniffed, turning his head as he developed a sudden interest in a pitcher to the side. “My old man was a John Wayne fan,” he grumbled.

A sharp bark of laughter filled the tent.

“Your name?”

“Is Dulsan,” he answered, brushing a pot of clay to the side. The stream of smoke wafting from the incense, swayed as it was pushed aside.

“That’s what I thought when I looked at you,” Marion quipped.

Dulsan deigned to not reply. Deciding rather to rise from the well-worn ottoman, moving closer to Marion. The skin around his eyes tightened, lips pursing as he regarded the wound.

Marion watched as his “savior” clasped his hands, hiding them deep within the slate confines of his thick robes. His eyes met Dulsan’s; the Arab’s eyes carried weight, an intensity that caused Marion to avert his gaze. A self satisfied sound drew his attention, “What?” Marion asked.

“Your wound, it’s clean.” he stated.

“That have anything to do with you pouring what felt like battery acid into my stomach?”
“Boiling wine,” corrected Dulsan.

“Oh,” Marion groaned. “That’s much better.”

“Needed it to clean the wound further.” Dulsan explained before pausing, his eyes seemed thoughtful. “Had to mask the smell.”

“The smell?”

“Camel urine,” added Dulsan.

Marion found himself sputtering through another fit of chest jarring coughs.

“It is sterile,” the Arab explained, offering a shrug in way of an apology.

“Could’ve been worse,” Marion grumbled.

“It will be,” said Dulsan, turning to regard a deep bowl of burnished metal. Something crackled spitefully and Marion could see flames licking their way up into the air. A flat piece of heavy steel lay within, the hilt wrapped in old leather. Marion couldn’t see the end but imagined it would be nursing a sinister orange glow.

He swallowed.

“You’re not going to….” Marion trailed off as Dulsan answered him with a knowing look. “’Course you are,” he mumbled. Marion allowed his eyelids to flutter, the tent to wane out of sight and a moments breath in the dark. Something jangled like an old out of tune bell, Dulsan no doubt bumping into something as he shuffled. A snickt as metal grated against metal, filled his ears. Opening his eyes, he found the Arab looming over him.

“Here,” Dulsan urged, pressing a glass towards his lips. It looked and smelled like old motor oil mixed with turpentine.

Marion eyed him, “No thanks.”

“It’ll numb the pain.”

“From the bullet, or that?” Marion nodded towards the heated blade Dulsan held.

“Both,” he answered.

“Both,” Marion repeated like a curse. “No,” he said, his voice stone. Dulsan arched a curious eyebrow and Marion answered the silent question. “Look, I wouldn’t mind not feeling the hurt, but if that stuff puts me to sleep…” He paused before continuing. “I’m afraid I won’t wake back up.”

Dulsan’s eyes widened and glimmered with amusement. “Isn’t that what you came to the desert for? To sleep and never awake, to pass over?”

“Presumptuous, aren’t you?”

“It’s only presumption if I’m wrong, am I?” Dulsan countered.

“No,” Marion answered in a gravelly voice.

Dulsan released a Neolithic grunt of affirmation that would’ve made any Neanderthal proud. “You will tell me the why, later. First,” he said, hoisting the glass again, giving it a shake.

“I said no,” Marion repeated, trying to put as much steel in his voice as he could.

“It’ll hurt.”

“I’ll scream,” he told Dulsan.

“It’ll hurt a great deal.”

“I’ll scream loudly then” he grated.

Dulsan nodded, lowering the blade towards Marion’s abdomen. The heat pricked at him with rows of needlepoints well before reaching his skin. The blade made contact and Marion made good on his promise. Whatever moisture was left in his throat, fled as blood flecked spittle. The lining in his throat felt clawed at, strained, and raw. His body shook like he was under the influence of high voltage shock. Dulsan’s free hand pressed to his chest, holding him in place. Marion’s scream continued until the air had left his lungs, and the effort to remain awake, went with it.

A familiar world of black crept over him, pulling him in with gentle ease. The pain seemed a distant thing.

 

***

 

Jasmine clung to his nose, refusing to let go until it overpowered him. Eyes watering, he pressed the heels of his palms to them. With a pained groan, he rose, opening his eyes as he did. He struggled to discern whether it was him, or the room that was seesawing. After a moment, he decided it must’ve been both. Nothing spins that much, he reasoned.

“Awake?” Prompted a familiar and dry voice.

“Wish I wasn’t,” Marion groaned as the tent swam back into clarity. Dulsan was seated besides him on a thick layering of several doormat-sized carpets. His arms were hidden within the deep folds of his gray robes, fortunately the blade was nowhere in sight. Marion wasn’t keen on another cauterization session.

Something clinked like glass touching an object as equally fine and fragile. A china kettle, the color of a baby boy’s blanket washed too many times, being tipped by a measured hand. Marion became reminded of his thirst as a liquid bearing resemblances to rum, sloshed into a crystalline glass. The alcoholic similarities ended in appearance however, nobody boiled booze. Menthol wafted into his nose, accompanied by the usual twinge of coolness. Mint.

Dulsan affirmed his suspicions later by placing a glass near Marion. “Mint tea,” he said.

The smell alone was enough to animate him, at least to the point of rising to a more comfortable position. A jolting reminder went off in his midsection; he heeded it, easing his posture. “Thanks,” he managed to say.

The Arab lowered is head in a deep bow.

Marion tapped the glass with his index finger, gauging the heat. Bearable. Just. Picking it up was like holding onto a dying coal. With several pointed breaths, he worked to cool the tea as best he could. The first sip was like touching his tongue to a nine-volt battery, a sharp acidic sting. What followed made up for it. The chilling notes of mint contrasted the beverage’s heat as it made its way down his throat. Desert parchment had taken its toll, Marion swallowed as much of the tea as he could.

“Careful,” Dulsan urged. “Don’t want to choke.”

Marion released a heavy and pleasurable sigh as he put the half drained glass to rest beside himself.

Metal clanked, a band of bright nylon hung in Dulsan’s grip, small dog tags shaking. “There is a story in this,” he said, accentuating the collar with a shake. “In why you came to the desert.”

“Yes,” Marion said, finding his voice dry despite the tea.

“I would hear it.” Dulsan said.

“Why?”

“That is one of the few pleasures I find in walking the deserts, hearing stories. Perhaps I collect them,” he shrugged.

“You trade stories with what, the other Bedouins out here?”

Dulsan remained silent.

Marion sighed, “You want to know why I came out here?”

“To die,” Dulsan answered as if it were obvious. “I know that. What brought you here?”

“It’s a long story,” Marion began.

“In the desert, we have nothing but time.”

With another forceful exhale; he relayed his tale to Dulsan. “My girlfriend left me. Heckuva girl, sun kissed skin and hair. Girl had eyes like opals, blues and greens, could’ve sworn there were bits of orange and yellows in them too. Somewhere, they all started to get lost into each other, a beautiful blur.” He sighed. “She was built like the kind they put on posters that give teenage boys all manner of ideas.”

Dulsan listened in patient silence as Marion continued.

“Two weeks later I find out my best friend, a guy I’ve known for two decades, died. His car was found in a ditch, died on impact…there was someone with him.” He inhaled, shutting his eyes tight for a moment. “She had the kind of body they put on posters that give teenage boys all manner of ideas,” he repeated.

Dulsan remained silent.

“Month after that and God knows how many bottles of liquor, my real best friend…” he said trailing off as his gaze turned to the collar. Choking as another fit of coughs seized him, he finished his story. “My real best friend, my dog, died. After that, found myself sent here on a business trip, got a call a day after landing.” He paused, wetting his lips. “Found out I’d been fired,” he snorted. “Can you believe it? Didn’t know what to do, lost it all. Someone mentioned the ‘breathtaking views,’ of the deserts,” he droned, rolling his eyes. “Figured it’d be a good a place as any for end it, you know? And guess what?” He laughed. “I got mugged by a couple of raiders, left me with this.” He said, nodding towards the cauterized wound. Marion let out another dark laugh.

“So,” Dulsan said, speaking for the first time since Marion began his story. “You came to the desert to die, because of that?” There was nothing abrasive in his tone when he asked it, simply inquisitiveness.

“I’ve got nothing left,” he said, his voice hollow. Three bits of pressure formed across his forehead, each the size of a dime. Dulsan placed the tips of three fingers across his head, pushing gently.

“Close your eyes, rest.” He urged.

“Why?”

“I will show what’s left of your life,” Dulsan explained.

Marion obliged, letting himself fall, body and lids.

Dulsan spoke. “Many men, at the end of their lives realize there is more for them. Many things left undone, words left unsaid. Tell me, what would you do, what would you say if you could?”

Marion lay there, letting his mind wander, drifting away from the dark thoughts of before. Eyes shut, he answered the man. “I want to walk the streets of La Rambla in day and the night. I want to drink and dance like I did in my twenties, careless. I want to feel the warmth of a woman beneath cool sheets in a Mediterranean palace. I want to wake to marble floors, an ocean before me, feeling satisfied. I want to wander across the sands, search for Iram of the Pillars. To get lost in Bhutan.” He paused, drawing in breath before continuing. “I want to visit their graves, tell them I’m not mad. Tell her it’s okay she cheated. Tell him, it doesn’t matter. I want start living again.” He finished.

A gentle hand placed itself over him, cupping his eyes, nose and mouth. “Then sleep, dream, wake and live.” Dulsan prompted.

Marion’s head felt like he was nursing a terrible cold. Weights tugged at the base and front of his skull, urging him to sleep. He did.

 

***

 

Warm gold traced itself over his body, waking him. For the first time in days, his groans weren’t of pain and fatigue. There was no sign of the living room sized tent, nor the man Dulsan. He was left on his back on the morning sands. Marion pushed himself to his feet, scanning for the Arab but found none. Grunting, he turned to the pack near his feet. The pack was the sort an avid hiker would trek with. A grin slid over his face as he peeled the bag open, endless packets of biscuits and a pair of canteens sat there. Reaching in, he passed over the supplies, grabbing the piece of parchment. Eloquent handwriting covered it.

A day’s hard walk west, you shall be out of the desert. Go, walk your streets in the night and day. Drink, dance, remember your youth, forget your cares and worries. Find your warmth; find your ocean side palace. Search for Iram of the Pillars. Lose yourself in Bhutan. Visit their graves; tell them what you told me. When it is all said and done, return to the desert. Tell me your stories.

No signature ended the flowing script and none was needed. Marion smiled, folding the letter with care and placing back within the sack. Hauling the pack, he slung it over his shoulders and regarded the sun.

“The sun rises in the east,” he murmured. Turning away, Marion walked towards the west.

And if you liked this, remember to click on the book tabs folks and check out my urban fantasy detective novel: Grave Beginnings. Book One of The Grave Report. My paranormal investigator series set in the great state of New York.

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