The sun was nearing its height and I felt that there would be many hours left before twilight and the oncoming night. I carefully repacked my knapsack, placed the remainder of the fresh supplies away and drank a capful of water, careful not to waste any of my limited supply or to drink deep and long from the canteen itself as part of me wished. I knew not how long my supply would last and the thought of the green-brown stream with its covering of moss or mold that the furred creatures found so delectable made my stomach churn and put me in danger of losing all that I had eaten and drank.
I began my march down the valley, turning to the left, to the North, for no other reason than chance or fate; the facing of my head or the stance of my feet near the soft banks of the water. The sloping hills of ash-dune to either side grew flatter and lower, the stream, beyond the depredations of the furred creatures, once again had its coating of silver growth hiding the putrid color of the water beneath. As the dunes flattened the stream became wider, and, without testing its depths, more shallow. I had walked beside these sinking hills and spreading waters for several hours. The sun, a strangely scarlet hue, lovely as the curled petals of a rose, beat down heavily. I sat for awhile, drank a second capful of water, and fashioned a hood from a shirt within my pack. There was great heat, but it warmed my bones, and even beneath the strong force of that discolored sun I felt no discomfort and surprisingly little thirst.
Within a few miles the ash dunes were gone, replaced by a clinging grey mud. The stream disappeared as well, swallowed by the flat and gently rising land before me. There were a scattering of trees, mere stumps and limbless boles, but I shuddered at the thought of the forest left behind me. Cautiously I approached one and found it to be merely blackened and shattered wood. The muddy ground was rough and things shifted uncomfortably under my feet as I moved through the mire.
I came upon a wall of stone. It too was shattered and blackened, but it was the first man-made object I had seen since leaving the forest of bone trees; if those horrific constructs had been fashioned by man and not the work of some daemon's hand. In this muddy wasteland I was moved almost to tears to find something so mundane as a wall of bricks half my own height and extending no more than a dozen feet in either direction.
The ground was mercifully more solid around the ruined wall and here I decided to make my camp for the coming night. The curious sun seemed smaller and of a darker red than before. The glowing orb like that of some one-eyed and angry beast was nearing the far horizon and long rays of a slow red-tinged light made the muddy plain seem to be covered with blood and the surface undulate as if it were the back of some vast creature stripped of its skin and writing slightly as if in long-accustomed pain.
I settled down in the corner made by the two walls placing my canvas length down on the hard-packed ground. I had a square of waxed canvas as well and finding some displaced bricks secured it to the two remaining sides. With my sword, a sad use for a well-crafted blade, I cut a length of wood from one of the shattered trees and used it for a corner support of my canvas roof so it would not droop down. The weather seemed fine but I had no desire to have a stream of water run down upon me if rain should appear.
With the thought of oncoming night I returned to the nearest shattered tree and with sword and kicks and then the frenzied use of a handy brick I turned most of the remaining trunk into kindling. There were many good-sized pieces leftover to give me both the base components for a few torches as well as enough arm-length logs to keep a small fire burning through the night. One splinter of more than four-foot length I kept as a poor-man's spear. I doubted its ability to truly act in such a fashion but the needle-tip and sharp-edged sides of this tree-splinter brought a small fraction of comfort to my raw and jangled nerves.
I built my fire and settled myself in my poor shelter as darkness fell. There was no twilight. The long slow rays of the reddish sun flared briefly and then were gone and then night came upon me like the shutting of a door. My small fire seemed to struggle against the inky blackness. There were no stars. A mist or thick cloud seemed to have choked off the sky and swallowed the moon. The desolate waste around me appeared to harbor no life, but as I lay back a dreadful weariness came over me as if my life were drained from my body, and then I heard the murmur of voices from far off. I pushed myself up on one arm using all the remaining strength I could muster and listened.
At first the crackle of the fire is all I heard, but then the sound of voices crept in among the flames. I watched them as they danced amid the old fragments of tree as if they were freed from some wooden prison. The murmur rose in volume but I could find no meaning in the words. It spoke a red language which burned with golden melodies and sang cruel songs I could not understand till I awoke beneath the curious sun.
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Copyright March 2014 By Jason Zavoda