Chapter Two Part 2: Leapin' Lizards!
Clandestine had spent a large portion of their trip talking and engaging Matt in conversation. Matt respectfully obliged out of obligation, but if he was being completely honest with himself, he was exhausted by the time night fell. At least, socially.
They'd stopped for the night to make camp at a rocky clearing not far from the road, and as the sky shifted from the bright blues of day to the deep blues of night, the stars began to shine clearly as little diamonds in the sky. As Matt sparked a fire into their hand-made fire pit, he glanced up to see them, before their view was even slightly obscured by smoke and flame. That was why he liked the desert. For the open sky, and the crisp outline of the pale moon as the evening cooled.
He blew into the fire, fanning it until it caught and started to rise, warming their small camp. Clandestine, coming back from the horses, plopped down across from him and the fire.
"You think we'll get there around midday tomorrow?" She asked, sticking out her legs as she leaned against a big boulder.
"If the sheriff ain't a liar, we ought to," he said, sitting down himself.
"Yeah... I guess," Clandestine pondered as she flicked something into the fire. He couldn't tell what it was.
"You ever tell ghost stories with your cowboy friends?" she asked.
"I do more listenin' of 'em than I do the tellin'," he replied, giving a small shrug. She was already assuming a lot based on the wording of the question, but he wasn't going to correct her.
"Really? You don't know any ghost stories?" she asked with genuine incredulity. "Wow. That's a shame."
"And I don't suppose you know any?" he asked, already predicting her response.
Clandestine's lips upturned into a mischievous grin, and she leaned forward, so that the fire would cast off shadows on her face as she brushed her hands together.
"Ohohoho, that, I do," she replied with a big smile, and an attempt to lower her voice a few pitches. It... sort of worked.
"One night, I had been asked to check out a graveyard. The town had said there were some strange goings on there, but I was skeptical. What they were describing didn't really sound like monster activity, but I was just doing my job. They'd said something was... lurking in the area, but I couldn't find a single thing except for the old graves. But then - the oddest thing started happening. As I was looking at them one by one, I started to recognize the names of the people on the tombstones." She paused dramatically, giving him what he assumed was meant to be an ominous look.
"So I kept looking through them. I kept reading the names. And it was so surreal. I started to panic. The people's name on the stones weren't dead yet! They weren't supposed to be dead! Some of them I'd seen that morning! I thought I was going insane! I couldn't believe the graves were real! But then... finally, when I reached the end of the graveyard, I looked at the last tombstone... and the ground was open beside it, with an open casket in the ditch. On that tombstone, my own name was written. And in the casket... was me."
She stared into the fire with wide eyes, as if reliving the experience.
"I looked at my own lifeless face and I lost it. I tried to run, but when I looked behind me, all of the other graves had disappeared, and instead I saw a horde of people in black robes surrounding me, with their heads in their hands, weeping. But they were like shadows. Like what was left behind of the people who were there before." She mimicked their position, hiding her face for just a moment, before her head suddenly shot back up.
"After that, I blacked out and woke up back in the village that asked me to take a look. They said I came stumbling back to the village stuttering 'never come back, only the dead drift there' and then I passed out."
She let out a small sigh, shaking her head. "I left moments after I came to and I never went back." She laughed, as if to lighten the mood. "I fight monsters, but I do not mess with the dead."
Matt looked at her with eyebrows raised and a small grin on his face. He was... impressed. Not only was it a good scary story but she'd proven herself to be quite the storyteller. But before he could reply, she looked up at him, suddenly remembering something.
"Wait! I remember... I... I think I actually saw your name in there. Matt. And the day of death was... today!" Her voice raised with the last word and she wiggled her fingers, laughing. "BOO!"
Matt let out a quiet breath and smirked. "Oh yeah, and I'm sure all of this story is completely and entirely factual as well," he said facetiously.
Clandestine replied with a solemn nod of her head. "Of course! I wouldn't lie. I swear on my own grave." Then her stoic face cracked, and she smiled at her own joke. "Get it?" She giggled. "'Cause I saw my own grave!"
Matt only smiled and shook his head.
"Aw, c'mon! You gotta at least act a little spooked! Don't ruin the fun!"
Matt put on an entirely fake frown. "Oh no, I'm going to die," he replied in monotone.
"Pshhhh," Clandestine waved a hand at him as if to push him away, were there not a fire between them. "Okay, whatever. So you don't get scared easily. At least that'll come in handy when we run into them giant sand worms and their big pointy teeth," she said, lifting up a few fingers around her mouth to pretend they were fangs. "But for now let's get some rest for tomorrow."
"I'll take first watch," Matt replied as she turned to pull her blanket off her saddle. She turned around, looking a little confused.
"You wanna sleep in shifts?"
"If there are sandworms around-"
"OH, you meant because of that. Right, right. I thought you just didn't like getting a full night's sleep," she said as she threw out her blanket, letting it flutter to the ground as she held the corners. Matt looked away and half-rolled his eyes, away from her view. Even if there weren't sand worms sleeping in shifts was a good idea when you were out in the open.
"Well, I'll have some nice, deep sleep, while you watch," she continued as she laid down by the fire, back turned to him. Then she suddenly turned around. "I mean, like, don't watch me. That'd be creepy. Just watch for things. And stuff. You know. Uh. Yeah," and she turned back around, curling up on her blanket and folding it over her.
Matt leaned up against one of the rocks beside the feet of his horse, looking up at it as it brought its head down beside him for him to pet. He began to stroke the stripe on its muzzle affectionately as his eyes slowly drifted to Clandestine, who had long since fallen fast asleep. Matt pressed his face against his horse's.
"What did I get myself into this time, Elliot?" he whispered. Elliot only flicked his tail and nudged his face with his snout before nudging his hand again to encourage petting.
"You don't have to tell me that it's my fault," he muttered, "I know it is."
Elliot let out a breath through his nostrils, essentially sniffing in Matt's face. Matt pulled away at the same time Elliot did, but Elliot did for a different reason. Matt looked up at his horse, seeing Elliot's head elevated, alert and his ears flicking slightly. He heard something. When Matt looked over to Billy he saw similar signs that they sensed the presence of something or someone drawing near.
Matt slowly got up, giving Elliot slow strokes on the neck.
"Don't go running off on me, now," he said quietly, as he reached into his jacket and began to pull out his gun. It was then he began to slowly pull away from Elliot and fell back behind a rock, in the cover of the shadows. Clandestine still laid on the other side of the fire, and Billy and Elliot stood on the other side of the rock. It took him a moment, but he heard it too. The faint shuffling in the dirt and scuffling on the rocks. It didn't sound like a person, but he could never be sure. He cocked his gun.
It was then that the intruder sped into the light.
There, illuminated in the dramatic light of the fire against the sandy stones around them, was a giant, scaly, lizard that looked to be about the size of a small adult. Starting from the crown of its head, large spikes pointed out that circled around its skull, and it's small, deep-set eyes glowed a haunting orange from out of its dusty, brown coloring. It had its mouth cracked open, revealing its yellow, razor teeth from which a small drip of drool leaked down. He had only seen lizards like this from afar, but he knew well that they were predatory - and as he saw its gaze fall on the still sleeping Clandestine, he began to inch forward.
"Clandestine!" he uttered harshly, though he was careful not to say it too loud.
Clandestine turned to the side, half asleep. "Is it time already..." she mumbled, barely understandable before her eyes shot open as she saw the lizard before her. It was at that moment that the lizard went in for the lunge.
And as for what followed, Matt wasn't really sure what he was thinking. But before the lizard could reach Clandestine, he'd grabbed its spiky tail from behind, yanking it back with a forceful tug that elicited a shrieking hiss from the lizard, and as he aimed at its head with his gun, it twisted around with frightening speed and clamped its toothy jaws on his arm. His arm with the gun, which he quickly lost his grip on.
In a panic as he slid to the ground with the lizard, he reached into his boot, pulling out a dagger. As he lifted it with his free hand he heard four words:
"Aim for its head!" And everything else was background noise as he plunged the dagger between the lizard's crown of spikes. Again. And again. And again. And again. And agai -
Clandestine had hurried over and grabbed his hand. "It's dead! It's dead! Oh my gods!"
Blood splattered his face, and his jacket, and dripped off of his dagger and he slowly drew it away from the lizard's punctured cranium. Clandestine pried it from his hands as he tried to pry the lizard's mouth off of his forearm, but its jaws were locked. Clandestine came around the other side, grabbing the top and bottom jaw with either hand.
"Okay. We're gonna pry this off of you on the count of three. One, two, three!"