June 28, 2008
By Lolita Safarian, Franklin, NJ

Johnny was walking next to his brother Kale, who was sitting on a camel. The other camels trailed along behind them, carrying heavy loads on their backs. The sun had fully risen by now, and the two brothers were weakening from the extreme heat.

“Can you tell me why we’re risking our lives to transport these camels to Salziar?” Johnny asked, annoyed and exhausted.

“Look, Johnny,” Kale said hoarsely, “we might get lost, but that’s the worst that can happen. We're not risking our lives.”

“I wouldn’t mind much if you got lost,” Johnny muttered. “There are mutated hyenas around here, you know. They’re bad enough normal, but mutated, they’re freaking lethal! If one of those chased us, we’d be dead!”

Kale rolled his eyes. “Shut up. There are no hyenas, only wolves, and they don’t come out until dark. We will be there by then.”

The ground felt soft but hot under Johnny’s thin shoes. Kale had said that one of them had to walk even though there were countless camels.

“I still don’t get why we’re doing this.”

Kale sighed in frustration. “I’m doing it as a favor to Dad, and you’re doing it as a favor to me. Now shut up already.”

“But if I’m doing this as a favor, shouldn’t I be allowed to sit?”

“The camels don’t like you, okay?” Kale looked away, exasperated, and pulled at his sweat-soaked shirt. “There, I said it.”

“You lie! They like me just fine!”

“Then why did the one I’m sitting on try to bite your hand off?”

Johnny snorted. “It’s evil.” He glared down at his bandaged hand and shoved it in his pocket.

“What about the one behind you?”

“That one is probably your camel’s friend.” Johnny looked over his shoulder suspiciously. “A friend of an evil camel has to be evil, too.”

Kale crossed his arms. “I’m this camel’s friend. Does that make me evil?”

“No. That just makes you a camel. An ugly camel. But you already knew that, right? I’m sure you’ve seen your reflection.”

“Okay, enough, Johnny. I’m not amused.”

“Of course not. The truth is rarely ever amusing.”

“Are you seriously going to keep talking?”

“Yes. You’re making me walk, your psycho friends practically chewed off my hand, and you’re being a jerk. The only way to get revenge is to chatter endlessly, because I know my voice annoys the hell out of you.”

“Indeed, it does. You know me well, Johnny. I wonder, though . . . do you know what happens after you get your revenge?”

“You turn into an even uglier camel?”

Kale spoke through his teeth. “No. . . .”

“You beg every female camel in the world to marry you, then commit suicide when they all refuse?”

“No. . . .”

“Then what?”

“I lose my patience, Johnny. That is what happens. Then, something else.”

Johnny grinned and widened his eyes so that he resembled some sort of demented bird. “Then what?”

“I get my revenge!” Kale lunged off the camel and crashed into Johnny, throwing him to the ground. He managed not to fall with him.

“Bad camel! Bad, bad camel!” Johnny screamed, thrashing around in the sand.

Kale stumbled back, the sand entering his nose, mouth, and ears. “You idiot!”

Johnny got up, shoved his blinded, coughing brother into one of the camels. He started to run.

He heard Kale scream. Johnny cackled loudly, and, without turning back, shouted, “Did your camel friend turn on you?”

He didn’t feel sorry for Kale. Kale had laughed when that stupid camel had tried to eat Johnny’s hand for breakfast, so why shouldn’t Johnny laugh now that one of the camels had bitten Kale?

The screams continued and abruptly transformed into shrieks of agony. Johnny slowed down, squinting, trying to listen. Kale was probably just faking, pretending he was severely injured so Johnny would run back.

But when Kale began screaming his name, Johnny stopped and finally turned around.

At first he only saw the camels. They were running. Running towards Belsa, the town they’d come from. He stood there, murmuring stupidly, “Camels can run? Those secretive jerks!”

Then he saw the dogs. It was their eyes that stood out—they were blood red. Then their teeth. Sharp, long, and pearly white. He wasn’t feeling the shock just yet, because his brain hadn’t registered that these were not dogs at all. It gradually did. They looked like a mix between a hyena and a velociraptor, except with wings. Enormous wings with claws at their ends.

“Holy jebus!” Johnny howled, taking a few steps backward.

The horrid creatures neither saw nor heard him. He sighed with relief, thinking they were walking away, and forgetting that his brother had just been yelling with horror.

But the creatures were circling someone. Someone that seemed paralyzed with shock and terror.

“No, no, no,” Johnny whispered. “No!” Johnny bolted towards them, not caring that he wouldn’t be able to fight them off, that the logical thing to do was to run in the opposite direction.

He had to save his brother.

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