Happy Fall! The smell of chile roasting hangs in the air, the breeze blows cooler, and even though the day still burns hot, fall has arrived here in the sunny Southwest.
In honor, here is my submission for WritersWeekly.com’s 24-hour Short Story contest, Fall 2013.
I don’t think it is as strong as my submission for the summer context, but I’m happy to chalk it up to experience.
She would have opened her eyes immediately, if not for the sand caked on her face. It crusted in the corners of her eyes, her nose and mouth, collecting like flies to rotting flesh. Her hand reached out for someone who wasn’t there.
The shock of being alive energized her as she wheezed a giant breath in. She propped herself onto shaking arms as great, rattling coughs heaved through her body. Her lips were as cracked and flaking as the desert floor surrounding her. Her clothes were torn and stained brown, but she was alive. Running her hands through her matted brown curls, she pushed her malnourished body to stand.
Her sister’s absence left her half empty.
Endless miles of heat shimmered off the hard clay ground, blurring on the horizon like waves so she couldn’t tell where land ended and sky began. She turned in a circle, noticing the few cacti and bushes cast almost no shadow. She would have many hours of daylight for her journey home. Willing her legs, she took one labored step after another until her body was finally able to move like it did before. Grains of sand filled her shoes and rubbed in between her toes as she trudged.
Hunger ripped apart her belly. The exposed areas of her flesh were red and angry from the relentless sun. There was not even a wisp of white in the blue, not even a hint of a breeze. A slight smile lifted her lips, they would be so happy to see her.
She just needed to get higher.
A shuffling to her left grabbed her attention. An ink black scorpion froze when her eyes spotted it only a few feet away. Its barbed tail poised in the air, while vicious pinchers clicked loudly in the midday heat. She blinked at it, sparing no energy to be alarmed, it scurried away into the shelter of a pale green sagebrush plant.
The sun was much lower on the horizon by the time rocks and pines replaced the sand and brush. The air already warned of dropping temperatures. It would not be long until the cool relief plunged into unbearable chills. It mattered little what happened to her body, so long as she could reach the cabin. The image of her sister’s smile warmed her enough. From their petite frames and pale skin, to their deeply slanted eyes, her sister was almost identical, only two years younger. Even their birthmarks were reflections of the other when they stood cheek to cheek.
The forest grew dense and a branch reached out to snag her. As she unhooked her shirt, she noticed a small white scar on her side in the exact spot. Chills shook her body as she climbed, but she kept moving. The setting sun cast a hauntingly beautiful glow through the leaves of changing trees. Her body moved slower than expected so that too soon even the sun was gone and only faint moonlight gleamed a hint of the ground ahead of her. She could be blind-folded and still find a way back to her family.
The relief of seeing the cabin’s weak halo of light was so intense she fell to her knees. A groan must have escaped her lips, because shortly after, her sister’s sweet trill rang through the air, calling for their mother.
A moment of panic enveloped her until she saw her sister run out to her with open arms, her white gown streaked after like a flash of wings. Tiny arms wrapped around her neck and she sobbed into her sister’s hair surprised there were any tears left to cry.
A disturbing twinge of deja vu pulled at the back of her mind in warning. She had been so anxious to be home, so eager to get back to her sister, she thought of little else on that day’s journey, but now that she was here harsh memories came flooding back.
She moved to get away, but what was once a comforting embrace from her sister was now a stiff arm to hold her in place.
In the doorway her mother’s silhouette held tense, with a long, thin object in her hand.
“Back so soon?” She asked with flat sarcasm.
Unable to find her own voice she stared blankly at her mother, who’s agitation was visible even through the darkness. The woman moved out of the doorway and the blade of an ax glinted in the porch-light.
“Your father’s sin.” Her mother muttered mostly to herself. Her eyes were wide and white, rolling like a threatened horse and her once brown curls twisted wild and silver.
The girl looked up into the eyes she had longed to see, but her sister avoided her gaze.
“Maybe not this time momma? Not right away?” The younger girl’s pleas disappeared into the night.
“Hold her steady now.” Her mother stood undeterred as the blade of the ax sliced through the air.
# # #
She reached out, still half asleep, hoping she’d find her there. Her hands found only scorched earth. She stood up brushing sand off her crusted, bloodied clothes. The heat was unbearable, though comforting in an unsettling way. She glanced to the nearby mountain range with a sense of purpose.
Her heart ached with loneliness as she started her long journey home.
Current Song: "The Warmth" by incubus