Yet another fine writing prompt from the wonderful mind of Mr Wendig at terribleminds.
The idea is to take a title, opening line, and an ending line and make a story with them. It is due tomorrow, by noon. Yes, it’s close, but you can do it!
Here is my take on it. And thank you for stopping by and reading my words.
We Never Heard Them Coming
Three days without sleep was the least of my worries. Trekking through the wastelands took its toll, especially with Aja. She was game, at first, but trudging through rough terrain, scrambling through brambles and thickets of dense catclaw slowed our progress. So far, though, we had managed to elude them.
“Let’s stop here,” I said. Aja peered at me with relief. “We can only rest for a few minutes, though.”
She nodded and looked around and sat on a small boulder. I felt sorry for her, for dragging her skinny-ass, rail-thin teenage body across this hellish place, always on the lookout, wondering if they were getting close.
“Luke,” Aja whispered. “H…how much longer? I’m really tired.”
I didn’t have an answer. We had been on the run for over 72 hours, catching only a semblance of sleep, her more so as I had to remain vigilant, even though exhaustion crept into my weary bones. The thought of a solid eight hours of slumber in a nice, comfortable bed teasingly beckoned. But that remained a pipe dream; out here, the baleful glare of the sun provided little respite and the long frigid nights offered only a cold cruel blanket of stars.
“Can’t say,” I finally replied, reaching around for the goatskin. I shook it, to see how much water we had left, and handed it to her. “Drink. But not much. We have to be careful. Have no idea how much longer we’ll be on the run. After that we gotta keep going, all right?”
Aja looked into my face with such sadness I felt like crouching down and cradling her dust-laden face in my rough hands, to give her a little slice of comfort and hope.
“You’ve been doin’ great,” I said, trying to buck her spirits. “When we get to where we’re going, you can sleep as long as you like. Deal?”
I gave her a little smile as she drank sparingly from the bag. She wiped her mouth, leaving a clean streak across one cheek, like some primitive indecipherable tattoo. Her clothes were dirty, her long blonde hair matted and limp against her scalp. Despite her griminess, she was a pretty 15 year-old girl.
Our rest was short-lived. Beyond the fringe of shrub and mesquite, the distant sounds of hooves carried across the gorge.
‘C’mon. We have to move. Now!”
We scampered along a dirt path, through the underbrush and cover of towering cacti, moving uphill as fast as we could. It was near twilight, and if we could just reach the summit, find a niche or crevice to hole up in, we’d be safe for the night.
Clambering up the rock-strewn hill, we fled from our pursuers. The escape seemed long ago, as though we had been traveling for weeks instead of days. The desert played no favorites; it was an unforgiving place, but I was determined to get her to safety. I owed her that. I owed her parents that. Had to keep moving.
With the arrival of dusk and its legion of shadows, we crested the mountain and gazed at a ribbon of trees giving way to verdant fields, broken only by the faint glimmer of a serpentine river, dulled by the fading light. We could see salvation. Tomorrow, before the break of dawn, we would descend and seek shelter and safety in the cover of forest.
I found a niche tucked beneath a rock overhang, a good place to hole up for the night. It would protect us from the wind and rain as well as a sandstorm, if that happened to rumble by during the night.
Aja collapsed against the rough surface of the stone wall, her legs splayed out in the crumbled pebbles and sand, her whole body racked with pain and exhaustion.
I made sure she was okay and ventured past the niche, to make sure we were safe for the evening. Up here, nestled in the crotch of the mountain, I felt secure. For another night. The pursuers would not risk climbing the treacherous hill in full dark.
Peering around a boulder, I saw a small camp fire below. They were close. Closer than I thought. Maybe we should get a leg on earlier than dawn. We had to move fast and cross the river. Only then would I feel somewhat safe. There was still a lot of terrain to cover. For now, though, making my way back, I was relieved.
Aja was already asleep, her head lolling on her shoulder, her thin arms wrapped around her chest, the flimsy jean jacket providing little warmth.
I slumped next to her, leaning in to give her some body heat. Reaching into my rucksack, I pulled out an old, ratty Navajo blanket, and wrapped it around her frail form. It would have to do. It was going to be another long night.
The sound of something moving startled me. Straining into the gloom of early morning, I saw a rattlesnake slithering slowly towards us. Our body heat had given us away. Looking around, I found a good-sized stone, and heaved it at the reptile. It recoiled, hissing and writhing, and squirmed in a different direction.
It was before dawn and time to get a move on. I gently shook Aja awake, jostling her to roust her from her fitful sleep.
“Aja. Come on. We gotta go.” I carefully removed the blanket from her and that had the desired effect. The early morning chill crept along her sullied jeans, her ragged jacket, and slipped between her dusty t-shirt, giving her gooseflesh.
“Ten more minutes. Please?” she said, eyes still firmly shut.
“We can’t afford it. We have to leave before they break camp and climb after us.”
Aja opened her tired eyes. I saw defeat and utter despair in them, a hopelessness that pervaded her entire being.
“Aja. Look. We’re almost there. Once we descend the mountain and cross the fields, we’ll be there. But we gotta go.”
She got up, stretching and getting the kinks out from laying on crushed stone and red sand. She followed me to the ledge and we slowly made our escape down a slippery trail.
Within an hour we had reached the edge of the woods. From there it was less than a mile to the fields and, beyond that, the river. And freedom.
The forest provided shelter from the morning heat of a relentless sun, and the cool shadows gave us energy. Up ahead, the trees thinned and I was relieved to see a break in the canopy. A flood of sunlight streamed across prairie grass.
“Come on, Aja. Not much further. We can’t stop now. Just another mile or so.”
We waded through the tall grass, keeping an eye on the sun, making sure we were going in the right direction. The hot wind whistled over the grass and our sudden intrusion startled a few sage grouse into flight. I could smell the coolness of the riverbank ahead. Not much longer, I thought.
Cresting a small hill and tramping through the last of the tall grass, we came out onto a clearing. The shock and horror greeting our eyes was too much.
Straddling a length of the river were our pursuers, their horses lined up, all standing perfectly still, all staring at their captives.
At that moment, it was quiet; no sounds of insects hidden in the grass, no call of birds in the air. Time seemed to have stopped. A lone cumulus sailed slowly across the expanse of blue sky.
Silence blanketed the meadow.
Copyright, Paul Grignon-2017*
*except for the title, opening and closing lines.