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Garrett: "The Sands Of Time Are Sinking"

Alora DeVeau

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Smoke punctuated the air.  Its pungent, acrid scent infused his nostrils and filled his lungs, sent his body shuddering with explosions of hacking coughs in an attempt to clear them of the invading substance.  That was what awoke him, the choking fog that tried desperately to vacuum all the air in order to dominate and establish its dominion.  Garrett resisted, his eyes opening to a world of chaos, his brain finally cognizant enough to register the blare of alarms and to recognise the blaze of orange that had ignited and began to consume the remnants of the capsule in which he had at one point found refuge.  Now it would be his tomb if he could not spur himself to action. 


As he set his arms and legs into motion, they rebelled, complaining against the pain that flared as he tried to move.  Forcing them into submission, Garrett pounded against the clear dome that rose over him, supposedly a protector, it had now become his captor.  His fists raged at the barrier between him and freedom, the heat of the flames seeping through.  Sweat trickled over his brow, down his neck and salt stung his tongue.  Finally, it popped up, but the heat only seemed to slap him in the face as he struggled from the bowels of the capsule only to tumble down off the side and into a mound of sand.  Behind him, he could hear the groan of metal and the crackle of the fire as it continued to rage.  


The small capsule that had rescued him from the fiery hell in space was now consumed with its own raging fire.  Almost as soon as he had vacated, tongues of flames licked over the seat he had just abandoned, greedily devouring everything it could, the metal shrieking and twisting under its assault.  Stumbling back, the world blurred, then cleared, only to blur again, going in and out of focus as he ordered his legs to move, putting distance between him and the vehicle that had given its life to save his.  When the explosion finally came, it was still close enough to feel the blast of hair and heat, the sudden clash of noise in his ears drowning everything else out, then fading away only to be replaced by a high pitched ringing.  Debris flew everywhere, flung at him as the dying module raged in anger at his desertion.  Falling face first into the sand, he curled up, hands over his heads in desperate hope that none of the makeshift missiles would strike true.  


A moment later, he cautiously unfurled and attempted to bring into focus the world around him.  His breath came in gasps, his chest painfully heaving, but he pushed himself up to a sitting position, hands digging easily into the shifting ground beneath him.  His eyes found the same thing around him.  Sand.  Miles of it.  Rolling hills and dunes of pale orange that stretched out as far as he could see.  The only break was the burning rubble, a blackened scar on the landscape and the consequences of its dying fury.  The ringing faded, and in its place, the whistle of a stark, dry wind that clutched at his throat and slapped at his cheeks taunted him.  From above, the sun beat down, and even that rough breeze did little to ease its stifling heat.  


Eyes turned back to what had been his salvation only to bring him to his doom.  Klaxon alarms sounded in his head and his hands clapped at his ears, but they did no good.  Closing his eyes only brought into sight chaos.  Fear.  Shouts and screams as the ship rattled with explosions, bodies writhing as everyone clamored for the escape pods, arms outstretched, hands clutching, tugging, fear driving the mass forward.  


He had been among the last, his intent to help everyone off the ship before he himself went.  The captain...her dark eyes had set upon him.  He had insisted she go.  Instead, she had used her superior strength to physically place him in a pod and launch it before he had the chance to breathe a protest.  Then it had exploded, just like his pod had just done, the force of it sending the few capsules still nearby spinning out of control.  Another violent tremor, another scream of alarms, and then...darkness. 


Darkness and into light, but it was an unwelcome sight, and now that pod was gone. All of them should have landed in the same place.  He should be with the others, those who had managed to escape, but the ship’s destruction had only set him off course, and now he was alone.  Alone with the sand.  


His body shuddered with another deep breath, and he once more tried to clear his head.  To think. To assess.  Strangely enough, he was hardly injured.  Bruises, a few cuts, a blow to the head, but nothing terminal.  Yet.  Lifting his hands, he felt himself all over, but his uniform, torn and bedraggled, had no supplies.  All of those would have been in the pod, the one now lost to him.  


Panic gripped him and his hands began to search through the remains of his uniform, unsnapped the red and black overshirt of his uniform and jerked it open.  The sight of a small, rectangular piece of thick, glossy paper remained and immediately he breathed a sigh of relief.  A relic, one he’d been teased about, nonetheless he kept it and kept it close.  It was there.  If it was there, then all was not lost.  Leaving the overshirt unbuttoned, Garrett forced himself to his knees, then once more to his feet.  Turning around, he tried in vain to ascertain his position, to get a sense of where he was, of where he could go, where he might find others or, if nothing else, water.  All that lay before him was the silent, endless view of the dunes.  One way, then another, it didn’t matter.  It was all the same.  Finally, unable to make any accurate assessment of direction, Garrett simply set his eyes forward, his dying chariot at his back, and began to walk. 


Beneath him, the sand shifted, impeding his progress, forcing his body to exert more energy as he slipped and slid with every step, sometimes stumbling forward as the ground beneath him gave way.  The sand seemed to laugh at his fumbling efforts to make progress, opening its mouth to catch hold, tugg him downward, then repeat as he pressed onward.  Above him, the sun arched, rose and fell, then finally passed below the horizon, easing the painful heat that stung at his skin, turning it crimson within even only an hour under its purview.  What time of day was it?  He had hoped it would be toward evening, that the great orb which hovered low in the sky was on its descent into slumber, giving up its heat and allowing the wind to be cool rather than cruel . 


He was disappointed.  Rather than lose sky, it gained, driving its way upward.  Had there been a place to seek shade, to take rest, whether under the long armed, stoic sentinel of the giant cacti that could be found in certain areas of his home or in the sheltering shadows of cliffs that jutted up from the earth.  With either of them, water might have been found.  Those spiked arms Held life-giving water within, salvation to a man dying of thirst.  Cliffs often had vegetation, and while it was no substitute for water itself, it could help stave off the worst of dehydration, even if only for a little while.  Neither were present, however, just the endless sweep of sand, of dunes rising to bask in the unrelenting hammer of heat from the sun.  


His mouth was almost as dry as that which stretched before him, the constant rise and fall of hills, dune after dune, wave after wave, never changing, constant and stark, devoid of life save for his own as he struggled onward.  The heat burned at his body and he had already removed his overshirt, removing the treasure from within, sweat staining the paper and stretching across one of the faces it contained.  That shirt became something of a shield, for all the good it did.  The fiery laugh of the sun was no match for his puny attempts at finding some sort of shade.  Little was gained, the barest hint of shelter in a shelterless world.  Over the crest of one and down the slope he turned his eyes back to the horizon, seeking, searching, hoping.  


A shimmer of golden silver glimmered across his sight and he paused, startled by its appearance.   A flatness and sparkle indicated something more than just the miles of mindless grains that formed in heaps and piles of a wasteland.  His tongue ran over his lips, but after the hours beneath that burning sphere, there was no moisture left.  His mouth and throat constricted, desperate to retain moisture, finding none.  A gasp of breath escaped and energy surged through him, spurring him forward.  Sweat had ceased by that point.  How long had it been?  He’d forgotten?  The fathomless distance he’d crossed, the stretch of hours where the circle of light seemed to barely crawl across the sky held no true sense of time, no indication of how long he’d truly been - only that hours had passed, though he could not gain any more concrete of an answer.  Hours beneath the burning hands, under the torment of that laughing, parched wind that only seemed to make things worse rather than provide any sort of relief.  


It pushed back against him, pressing him away from that shimmer, from the gloriousness of that oasis that surely lay ahead, that surely waited for him if he could just press onward, persevere through, force himself to pass the last distance between himself and its edge.  Still it laughs, that shifting breeze.  It whipped his face and cackled in his ears, tormenting, slapping grains of sand that stung his skin and drew streaks across them, welts rising in their wake.  Still, he pushed on, ducking his head in an effort to cut through the worst of that assault, glancing up to ascertain his direction, striving onward, striving forward.  


Yet it never drew closer, that distance never grew smaller.  The sheen of distant moisture remained just that - distant.  Time passed, the heat of the day sweltered and the man dwelt beneath, his steps slowing, his pace unsteady.  The wind had changed course, shifting to press from behind, whispering promises into his ears, promises that remained far ahead, enticing, calling, but unreachable.  The whistling laughter echoed as he sank to his knees, hovering a moment before another push from that incessant companion set him toppling.  


He didn't know when, but at some point, he had taken his treasure in hand.  His grasp had remained constant, clutching it without any hint of easing, desperate to hold on to  that which had spurred him forward, helping him dare to try to cross the vast space that lay ahead.  It was a thing of times passed, an item rarely used, but one he had been determined to acquire. Stiff lines and sharp corners of the digital variety were ill suited for carrying upon his person, and he longed to keep it with him, pinned over his heart, until he’d set out on that terrible journey that inspired him to keep it there, clasped in his hand, its presence the only reminder that he was not alone, that he was loved, that he had a reason to live, a reason to hope. 


That hoped dwindled, and where it once dwelt, sorrow replaced it.  Pain had long ago ceased to plague him.  Now he was merely numb, the lashing of the sand by that ineradicable gale.  All that remained were the dying embers of a man, cooked beneath an uncaring sun.  Slowly, he drew his hands upward, trembling fingers attempting to smooth out the glossy paper.  The sweat had dried, leaving only the stains behind, crossing over the face of a woman, her dark hair tumbling over her shoulders in a cascade of undulating waves.  Darker eyes sparkled with the smile that lit her face, and in her arms she cradled a child, the bundle of cloth only parting enough to reveal the round, wide-eyed gaze with similar dark eyes, and a soft, downy head covered in wispy curls.  One sand crusted finger traces the lines of that smile, then of the sweet innocence of the other.  The pain that ravaged him then was not of the tormented body that had suffered under the abuse of the elements, but that of a heart, clenching and writhing within, twisting and finally bursting in grief as he could bear no more.  The hand that held the picture dropped as his body went slack.  The desert wasted no time, utilizing the rush of the gusts, closing in over him.  For a few moments, the photographs remained, pinched between his fingertips, but in the end, the wind took hold and wrenched it free, the piece of paper fluttering helplessly away as the sands consumed their victim.  

Edited by Alora DeVeau
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