Not even half a story. But I couldn't seem to find a board for random spewings of the keyboard, so I guess here seems most appropriate. Criticism would be appreciated: I'm not at all sure about it myself, so... -shrug- Here ya go.
‘Where are you?’
I bend lower in the dead branches, hunched up over my bruised knees.
‘The game’s getting boring now… Come down and we’ll play something else, eh?’
They are nearing my tree, Diego followed by his scrawny heard. He swaggers with an air of leadership, long black hair flopping casually over his dark eyes. I still feel a vague sort of attraction towards him, despite what he does to me, but it is an attraction mixed with fiery hate.
‘Come on, we’re getting bored… Come down now and you can choose what game we play.’
His eyes flash at me. I duck just in time but it is an incident too close for comfort. I will him to walk away and lead his flock somewhere else.
‘I’ll count to ten, shall I? And if you don’t come by then…’ His voice trails off into a grin, revealing white teeth behind his hard brown lips. The threat, though unfinished, makes me shudder. I know what he means.
He is the only one standing. The others crouch in the dust, panting with heat and dehydration. Their dry tongues hang out of their mouths like thirsty dogs.
The air is thick and it distorts my sight, making soft waves around me that smudge my vision like steam. The group on the ground is surrounded by a dust-cloud.
Diego’s followers glance at my tree uncomfortably, shuffling on the sunbaked earth. I wish there had been rain so it could grow back its leaves, but its roots have not found moisture underground for so long that even this tree, the oldest and strongest in what used to be a forest, but is now a desert –
- is dying. Its bark is thin and flaky, its twigs brittle and dry. Every time I shuffle on my branch an unnerving creak sounds. I try not to move.
My knees are aching with cramp and my head is throbbing from lack of drink, a feeling I have grown accustomed to. I yearn to be able to stretch and rub my head but I force myself to remain in my cramped position, still as the earth.
With the lack of foliage, I am surprised at how I have managed to avert their gazes for so long. I cower into my own body, urgently trying to conceal myself from the children's hungry eyes.
But Diego is no ordinary child. I consider giving up, revealing my position and submitting to the next game – and the next and the next – until bedtime.
I know that if I do not give myself up and stay until he has counted to ten, he will find me eventually and I will have to endure a game worse than any other. But the fact that he still hasn’t seen me leads to too great a temptation for me to pass by.
I know that the others, his flock, find a certain thrill and exhilaration in the fear and adrenalin of the games. Not me. I glance down again. My eyes close as I see his lips forming the last word, and let my last chance of escape and submittal drain away like hot sand between my fingers.
He stands for a minute, looking at the horizon grimly. His followers gaze up at him like skinny, terrified sheep, and watch in horrified rapture as he speaks, barely moving his cracked brown lips.
‘Then I’m done playing with you,’ he says in barely more than a gravelly whisper. I have to strain to hear him, still desperately trying to maintain silence. ‘I’m going to show you something that’ll make you regret this forever.’
With that, he begins to walk off slowly with his wild followers in tow. They scramble behind him, some staggering and some crawling, kicking up a cloud of dust that mists around them and veils them from me. I do not move until the sun begins to sink from its high midday throne.
The first move I take is to stretch a hand to my sore head. I massage the skin with my dry, almost scaly fingers but however much I stroke and smooth, it continues to pulse with pain. I stretch my stiff limbs and climb down from the tree. My bare feet are almost scalded by the heat of the sand underfoot. I jump up in shock and pain, and hop lopsidedly back to a tiny post-noon shadow forming under the tree. The sand is blessedly cool there and reassuringly soft compared to the acrid dust surrounding the area. As the pain subsides, I take a few testing steps out of the shadowy area again. My feet are leathery and hard-skinned from years of running barefoot but the heat still burns through the thick soles and sends me into agony. I spit desperately on the skin in the hope that saliva will cool it but my mouth is hopelessly dry. I curse myself for coming out without sandals, and then remember that it was Diego who took them from me, so that I would have to come back to him. This leaves me with a choice. I can either wait here in the shadow for blissful, cool night to come and risk being found by the others, or I can brave the scorching sand underfoot and walk… Where? I cannot go back to the den to Diego. And if I loiter any longer, he will find me and the game will begin. Instead, I must head northwards: to the cool North, where, everybody says, the sky brings rain and the earth gives shade.
So I shuffle out onto the blistering earth once again. The heat jolts up my legs and I cry out in pain – a hollow, rasping shout from the back of my parched throat. I breathe deeply and sprint northwards, in the direction of home. Each step shoots a burning arrow of fire up my legs but a foul concoction of determination and desperation provides a few ounces of energy to push me on. I have run for no more than half an hour when it runs out and I collapse to the earth, thus burning my bare navel and sides on the ground. I shriek and jump up again, only to set my feet on fire once more. I refuse to be caught in the circle and run on, thundering against the earth. Never so urgent or wretched.
My spirit drives me forwards for longer than I could have thought possible. My eyes are tightly shut against the heat rocketing upwards from the ground and downwards from the sky, and my hair hangs limply at the sides of my face. When I finally do open my eyes to gaze at my surroundings, the blood drains away from my body at the hostility of the place I have driven myself into. The grey-yellow sand is unfamiliar; the animal bones scattered around me are unfamiliar; the distant horizons are unfamiliar. I am still running and I know I cannot stop or I will risk ever being able to get up again. My body is convulsing in pain; my muscles tremble with exhaustion and stitches clamp at my side as if spears or shards of flint were embedded there. I am depending on reserves of energy I never knew existed and I have run without drinking for longer than I thought possible. But my spirit is not endless, and now I can feel the end nearing. To collapse is to die, and my body is threatening to collapse at any moment. I force my leaden legs onwards just to bring the end nearer. Just to stop the heat.
When I finally do give way, I know that I have reached my limit. There are simply no more energy reserves, no more hidden supplies of will or conviction. I fall to the ground, and feel the unbearable heat seep into my body, filling it with pain. I melt into it. I am losing consciousness steadily. I can feel the sweet lull of death underlying all my thoughts like a smooth, streaming lullaby – as sweet as nectar and as cool as the night’s shade. It tugs at me with caressing fingers and calm, soothing tunes. I fall into its arms, and it embraces me like a mother, while silently and vampyrically sucking out my soul.