The Soaking Desert
By Kevin P., Nyssa, OR
Author's note: This is a piece that I've been thinking about a lot recently and it has taken inspiration from... Show full author's note »
The ugly truth of a beautiful lieDrip. Plop. Sizzle.
Drip. Plop. Sizzle.
I’ve determined this sound to be the heartbeat of the entire planet. It doesn’t matter where you are, you’ll always hear the frantic noise.
Drip. Plop. Sizzle.
Right now, it even matches the rhythm of my own ticker, although, the planet’s will go on indefinitely. Mine, depending on what the next twenty-four hours yields, could give out at any moment.
Hopping across the desert on my right
Why am I hopping on one foot?
Why am I only wearing one shoe?
I used to, but I have no time to think at the moment. Even breathing time is scarce. In the back of my mind, I know that I have to keep moving. Staying put means death, but that’s not what’s scaring me into this ridiculous marathon.
What is then?
For some reason, it seems I have a lot of questions that I can’t answer.
Is that frustrating?
Yes, it is.
Yet, I keep moving. I can’t stop now, for this feeling of dread washes over me as soon as the thought enters my mind. The only thing that can put an end to my ceaseless bounds across the desert is, in my opinion, divine intervention.
Something like tripping down a sand dune that I hadn’t had the brains to see could count as divine intervention, I guess.
Let’s face the facts. I’m an idiot.
Rolling down the giant hill of sand, not unlike a dropped coconut on Ace Road, I immediately remember my reasoning behind hopping on one foot. This entire planet is, in essence, a colossal frying pan.
Drip. Plop. Sizzle.
Pain does not accurately describe the feeling of your own flesh burning away. I now know that from experience. Every time my exposed skin makes contact with the surface of this planet, I learn the same lesson over and over again, until, finally, my rolling journey comes to an end at the bottom of the dune.
I have no time to rest though. Now, the real struggle begins.
Lying in the sand, my clothes only offer a few seconds of protection. Patches begin to burn away and, once I realize this, instinct takes over. As if I’m going to let myself roast here!
I push off from the ground with my hands, them not feeling the scorch of the planet’s exterior. I barely notice that though, since I’m hardly in a position to think. I merely focus on getting back onto my right foot and avoiding any more pain.
I still have something to do with my life before it ends!
As I finally manage to stand on my one covered foot, I take in a deep breath, the first full breath I’ve taken since, well, I can’t even remember. It fills me with much needed oxygen and coherence, but most of my thoughts are still distracted by the incessant stinging I feel all over my body.
I spread my arms out, as an eagle spreads its wings, trying to smother the burning sensation all over my body, but the falling rain is of no use, for any rain that falls here is nearly as hot as the planet itself.
After all, this is the Soaking Desert.
Bits and pieces of this nightmare are starting to come back to me. I now know where I am, but I still don’t understand why.
I'm on the planet Siccus.
Siccus is a planet that is known for being a contradiction. Twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week, Siccus’ rain has a longer lifespan than any other thing before or after it. Despite this, it will remain a desert; a land completely dried up, where only the creatures that can avoid being roasted like a shish kabob over an open fire and survive drinking near boiling water on a daily basis can live on.
I personally prefer to drink water that is ice-cold, but maybe that’s just my spoiled nature acting up again. After all, it seems that particular word has been applied to me a lot more than usual lately. If the majority of fifteen people seem to think I’m a spoiled brat, there must be some truth to that, right?
I quickly realize I’m wearing gloves as I slap myself across the face, while also grasping that had been an incredibly stupid idea. Standing on only my right foot already limits my balance as it is. At least I already established the fact that I’m an idiot.
Still, the slap’s message hadn’t been lost in my dimwitted decision. I don’t have time for these pointless thoughts! I need to keep focused! If I can’t keep focused, then what was the point of their sacrifices?
As I stand here, thirsty, hungry, and losing touch with reality, I realize that my eyelids are getting heavy, as if weighed down by the responsibility of an unknown commitment.
I’m passing out.
But, I can’t lose consciousness now...
If I do, what will become of my crew that I willingly abandoned?
The answer never comes to me, for Siccus was never the planet of hope we wished it to be. Even now, as I fall upon the sand again, no longer finding the strength to continue, I hear it laughing at me and my failures.
Demons always have the last laugh.
* * *
After being in a desert for so long, especially the one on Siccus, anything that would be considered a normal temperature now seems to be deathly cold. That's why I don't appreciate being woken up by a slap of near-freezing water.
Most people consider that impolite, don't they?
Spasmodically shaking now after being jolted awake, my thoughts mirror my body's reaction, speeding through memories, feelings, and events that I never should have forgotten. My memory now tells me that previously I had been dehydrated, tired, and hungry. Being so close to death forced my mind to start shutting down while I hopped across the desert before.
I'm clear now though. Still dehydrated, but I'm doing better than I was before.
Wouldn't this mean...?
“From the look on your face, I'd say you've just about got this figured out.”
The man who had spoken is giving me too much credit.
Sitting in the heart of a ship, I know we are flying over the surface of Siccus at this moment from the window that is positioned behind my captor. I can see the evaporation rising up from the ground, giving the planet a misty look, which is also unique to this desert. Siccus has a deceptively elegant look to it, but I am not that easily fooled anymore.
I now know most demons do.
I don’t know what I did to deserve this, but it seems that I’m surrounded by a lot of demons today. My captor, a towering yet diminutive figure, looks down on me from his lofty position, a sardonic look in his eyes. I know his type. He’s the kind of man that carries himself with an obvious air of authority, perhaps thinking that he actually has control over his own life. The cruel truth is, though, that he will live and die entirely on the whim of the one man that truly rules his life.
Simply put, he is a soldier.
I've, personally, never really liked the militia.
Behind this soldier - a man ranked captain - stand his posse, a group of about ten men who are doing their best to be exact replicas of their superior. The only difference is their helmets, which hold the level of prestige each soldier has reached.
Seeing them here with me, in this ship that was obviously bound for a place much worse than this one, I finally put it all together. Grinning, I laugh a fake laugh, one meant to raise my own sinking level of optimism and hopefully make me appear more confident than I actually am. The only thing this accomplishes, though, is producing a disturbed look on the soldiers’ faces, which makes me feel like a loon.
Which would I rather be, though: A loon or the cornered prey that I am?
Eventually, not finding the will to laugh any more or come up with a way to prolong confrontation, I speak while maintaining my psychopath-worthy smile.
“You got me.” The captain furls his lips into a smug smirk, apparently enjoying my conceding statement.
“Running off into the desert like that really got me worried. I was afraid our prize was going to end up killing himself before we got what we wanted.” Scanning me up and down, he continues, “You’re lucky we arrived when we did. Otherwise, you would have wound up more charbroiled than you already are.” Once he finishes talking, he motions with his head and his ten lackeys move quickly to form a circle with me as its center. A second later, their guns are out and fixated upon me.
I wince, not because of this captain's stupid display of power, but because he reminded me of my injuries, which I have been trying my hardest to ignore. They must be at least second-degree burns and those don't exactly feel good.
“Yeah, you're a god-send, Captain...” I pause for a second to search his uniform. “Pike. Although, what was up with that kind of welcome for a high-class prisoner like myself? You do know that throwing cold water on someone with my kind of burns doesn't exactly help, right?”
Captain Pike's smirk dropped.
“Let's cut the inane chit chatter. I understand now why my King can't stand you.”
My smile wavers, but I keep it up anyway. After all, I can’t let him see any weakness.
“Who and what the King can’t stand isn’t any of my business anymore.”
“You’re right. The only business you have is with me. As long as you cooperate, I can promise you an end to your pain.”
In other words, he’ll kill me.
Sounds like a wonderful deal.
“So, what is it you want?” I ask, feigning innocence. Captain Pike straightens himself, preparing to say the words I’ve dreaded since I entered into this situation.
“Lorendor Masters, second prince of Aestatis, due to your own selfish and treacherous behavior, you have been sentenced to death by my King.” His smirk returns, this time with a sadistic twist accenting it. “Yes, your own father.”
That does it.
I frown, not expecting the words to hurt as much as they do.
“Isn't this funny? A prince being killed by his own subjects?” I turn my head to get a look at the soldiers around me, chuckling pathetically while at it.
None of their stern faces return my laugh.
Apparently, we have different senses of humor.
“You're no longer a prince, Lorendor,” Captain Pike began. “Your father has already stripped you of your title and disowned you. I merely referred to you in that way as my last display of respect.”
As if he ever felt that for me.
“If you really wanted to pay any last respects to me, then you should have killed me instead of waking me up.” The Captain's gun finally comes out of its holster.
“Don't worry. We'll get to that.” Now, it's pointed at me. “But, remember what I said before? We still have some unfinished business.”
I remember. I also know exactly what he's talking about, but, the fact of the matter is, I have to play this right. I can't die here. Not now.
I have to live, for their sakes.
Even if that means bearing this pain, I'll willing do it. When I accepted their sacrifices, I knew my life no longer belonged to me. I carry their wishes with me now, until I finally catch up with them in the grave. Hopefully, when that moment comes, I can know their sacrifices weren't in vain.
“I understand that, but I can't exactly help you if I don't know what you're talking about.” A bit of confidence returns to my voice for a simple reason. It's comforting to know Captain Pike can't kill me yet.
“Lorendor,” Pike says, a condescending tone in his voice. I don't like it. He's reminding me of my father. “Don't play dumb with me. You know exactly what I'm talking about. It's the very reason you came to Siccus!” He takes a second to calm down before asking the question. “Where is the map?”
“Oh. That.” I realize that I can't play dumb anymore. Not when I have such an obvious bargaining chip. “I don't have that map.”
“You can't fool me, stupid,” the Captain says, allowing a laugh to accompany his words. “There's no way you would have left that temple without the map. Plus, we've just received word that the corpses of your team, which you abandoned, have been searched thoroughly. And you know what? They didn't have it.”
I clench my fist, but, still, I endure that comment.
Another place, another time.
“You misunderstood me, Captain. When I said that I didn't have it, I didn't mean that I left it with them.” Pike cocks his head to the side.
“What did you mean then?”
With a defiant smirk on my face and no hesitation, I speak.
“I destroyed it.” The Captain lunges like a viper, striking my face and sending me tumbling onto my back.
This violent response isn't good. Slowly bringing myself back up into a sitting position, I realize that he purposefully hit one of my burns. Pike's more unstable than I thought if this set him off.
“Don't mess with me, Lorendor!” His gun is back up and pointing at me again. He's tense and ready to fire at me given the slightest provocation. “There's no way you destroyed that map! Tell me where you concealed it! Now!”
“I told you the truth,” I say. “I destroyed it. The only way you're getting any of the information that was on it, is if you allow me to live. I am the map now.” I begin to tap my forehead, so as to emphasize the point.
“Shut up! You're not the type.”
“Even if that's so, you have no choice but to believe me.”
“I'll kill you.”
“Then how will you find Arden?”
I can only hear the purr of the ship's engines and the heavy breathing of Captain Pike as he calms down. I've made a gamble here, as I'm not exactly telling the whole truth, because Pike is right. I'm not the type to memorize anything.
“I can't allow you to live,” Pike finally says. “Your death warrant is absolute.” My heart sinks as those words enter my ears. “I know you didn't destroy that map. We'll find it. You must have hidden it somewhere on the planet.”
“But,” The Captain continues, ignoring my plight. “I'll give you thirty seconds to tell me where you hid it. If you do, we'll give you a ceremonial death. A death that lets you at least leave this world with some dignity.” I notice his finger tighten on the trigger. “But if you don't...” He intentionally leaves that sentence to the imagination, although, his implications are clear.
I'm in shock. My mind goes blank and I can't even think of anything to say to save myself. Would it really end this way? It can't, but there doesn't seem to be anything I can do to stop it. Is my determination really worth nothing? Why can't I do anything right?
“Your thirty seconds begin now.”
I begin to experience true panic and helplessness. My heart races as fast as I wish I could, away from here. Before I even know, the first ten seconds have already passed.
Suddenly, the strangest thing happens.
I'm calm. Time seems to slow down, as if accommodating itself to my interests. I have all the time in the world to think now, but I know that's not what will save me. The answer becomes clear to me.
A ceremonial death? What a two-faced liar...
The only thing he'll do when he gets what he wants is kill me right off the bat.
Diplomacy is no longer my policy. I'm not a prince anymore, after all.
In this case, violence is the solution.
Ten seconds remain, but I'm sure that I can manage.
What I did to deserve this, I don't know, but it seems that I'm surrounded by a lot of demons at the moment. That's fine though. These demons are about to find out what happens when you corner a devil.