Writers Unite! Workshop: The Western (Part One)

Writers Unite! Workshop

The Western

Part One

Mention the word “western,” and images of cowboys and sheriffs, shootouts and posses, and a saloon, cattle drive, or stagecoach come to mind—nothing like the wild, wild west.

The western genre appeared during the late 19th Century when the exploits of citizens moving west into the American frontier became the subject of the ‘penny dreadfuls’ and dime novels that fictionalize tales of real people such as Billy the Kidd, Wyatt Earp, and Jessie James. Interest in western tales inspired by James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking novels and his best-known novel in the series, The Last of the Mohicans, grew to enormous popularity.

The success of the novel, The Virginian by Owen Wister, published in 1902, led to the rise of well-known authors Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour, and Larry McMurtry. Present-day western authors such as Ace Atkins, Craig Johnson, and the late Tony Hillerman, whose daughter Anne continues the sagas of Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, and Sergeant Jim Cree are best-selling authors.

Definition of Western Genre: 

Westerns are stories usually set in western North America, most often west of the Mississippi River and during the latter half of the 19th century. Common themes include honor, justice, survival, revenge, and redemption. The main characters are cowboys, scouts, Indians, traders, pioneers, and lawmen, among others.

Classic Characteristics of a Western:

  • Wide-open spaces of the western United States
  • Cowboys
  • Lawmen: sheriffs, US. Marshals
  • Bad guys such as evil land barons, robbers, gunslingers
  • Native Americans
  • Settlers
  • Wagon trains, stagecoaches, trains
  • Mining
  • Cattle ranches and cattle drives
  • Saloons, barkeeps, saloon girls
  • Gambling
  • Shootouts, train and bank robberies
  • Period set between the American Civil War and early 1900s

Western Themes:

  • Morality — Good vs. Evil
  • Revenge
  • Coming of age
  • Love
  • Survival
  • Prejudice
  • Courage

Traditional Western Subgenres:

  • Australian – This sub-genre is a rare exception to the ‘time and place’ bounds of the genre and instead settles in Australia’s vast outback.
  • Black Cowboy (buffalo soldier) – These westerns feature a protagonist of color. Historians say the actual frontier was relatively colorblind.
  • Bounty Hunter – This sub-genre centers upon these morally ambiguous characters.
  • Civil War – Some battles during the war were fought as far west as New Mexico. After the war, the Blue/Gray bitterness throughout the frontier.
  • Cowpunk – A subgenre that derives its name (and irreverent tone) from science fiction’s ‘cyberpunk.’ (Wild, Wild West, anyone???)
  • Doctor and Preacher – Two types of protagonists in this subgenre. These lead characters are committed to peace and healing in an often violent environment.
  • Gunfighter – The iconic western subgenre. Often a ‘white hat’ protagonist reluctantly agrees to go up against a cruel ‘black hat’ villain (whether an outright criminal or a corrupt VIP) on behalf of oppressed settlers. 
  • Indian wars – This is a dominant subgenre. They are usually accurate, in a historical sense, and will also reflect the worldview of the author. 
  • Land Rush – Usually focused on Oklahoma or a few similar events in which vast tracts of land opened to homesteading – whether the resident Indians liked it or not.
  • Lawmen (Texas Rangers) – This subgenre centers around the honest lawmen who brought order and justice to the wild frontier. Often the protagonist is or is based upon an actual person.
  • Outlaw – Westerns that focus on the black hats, the colorful villains of that era.
  • Railroad – Stories center upon a titanic project: the bridging of the east and west coasts by the Central Pacific and Union Pacific lines.
  • Revenge – These westerns are a relatively dark subgenre. A determined protagonist, often a young survivor of some cruel massacre, goes after the perpetrators.
  • Romance – An overlapping subgenre, which features such a relationship, but in the format of a ‘western’ novel. 
  • Sheep – Range wars between cattle and sheep ranchers.
  • Town Tamer – A lone gunman, or sometimes a group of friends, take on the corrupt leadership of an isolated town, and risk their lives to bring freedom.
  • Wagon Train – These westerns are an archetypal subgenre. The Oregon Trail was the interstate highway of its era, with lumbering Conestoga wagons and hardships that were often extreme.
  • Women – Female protagonists lead this subgenre. Some tales idealize their courage and triumphs, as with the real-life Annie Oakley. Opposite this, Dorothy Scarborough’s 1925 novel The Wind is a harsh depiction of a young woman’s life in frontier west Texas. (So harsh that Texan leaders protested.)

Non-traditional Western Subgenres:

  • Fantasy – Combining magic and magical creatures in a western is not as prevalent in westerns but do exist. The level of magic may range from everyday use by citizens to strangers with magical powers.
  • Paranormal – Ghosts, angels and demons, vampires, werewolves, and the occasional Sasquatch appear in these stories.
  • Horror – The element of fear is what sets this genre aside and often combine the paranormal genre with horror in a western setting.
  • Mystery – Think Pinkerton,stagecoach, and bank robberies, stealing mine claims, along with good old-fashioned murder. Central characters are sheriffs, deputies, US. Marshals, government investigators, and detectives from Pinkerton, including a female detective.

Revisionist Western Subgenre: 

During the 1960s, westerns took on a different tone. They became dark and sinister, with more violence than a traditional western where morals such as good and evil were clear cut. A revisionist western often portrayed the hero as more of an anti-hero, and the division of good and evil blurred. Many movies, so-called “spaghetti westerns,” dealt with deeper issues and different values.

Neo-western Subgenre:

The neo-western is set in present day and carries the themes of a traditional western—a high moral code, good and evil are clear. Characters and settings are often the same, but modern sensibilities are applied to the story. Often, the hero feels out of place as some consider the code they live by as old-fashioned. The Longmire series by Craig Johnson is an excellent example of the genre.

Next:

Characters, Setting, and The Importance of Research

Resources:

Agnew, Jeremy. December 2, 2014. The Creation of the Cowboy Hero: Fiction, Film and Fact, p. 88, McFarland. ISBN 978-0786478392
Masterclass: Western Genre    https://bit.ly/3hIwMSA http://www.cuebon.com/ewriters/Wsubgenres.htmlhttp://bestfantasybooks.com/weird-west-fantasy.html
Brophy, Philip (1987). “Rewritten Westerns: Rewired Westerns”. Stuffing. No. 1. Melbourne. Retrieved 2014-09-01.

Please note: the images used are free-use images and do not require attribution.

Announcing Writers Unite!’s sixth anthology volume.  We invite all writers of westerns or any writers interested in the western genre to submit a story to our Dimensions of The Wild West anthology.

If you are interested in submission, you must be a member of Writers Unite! on Facebook.  https://www.facebook.com/groups/145324212487752/
If you have questions, please email writersunite16@gmail.com

Link to Guidelines for the Dimensions of the Wild Westhttps://bit.ly/3fh7zgr

Write the Story: August 2020

Write the Story! August 2020

The stories from July’s  Write the Story! were amazing. Incredible what the muses stirred up at the image of a desert mountain. If you missed any of the terrific WTS! stories last month, check out the July 2020 archives.

Writers Unite! started this project to assist all of us to gain followers to our blogs, websites, and author pages and to gain experience as writers. We didn’t do this for accolades or critique but for enjoyment and to share our work with others. Now in the second year of WTS!, we thank all writers who have participated and all who have read and supported the authors. The admins appreciate the positive support you have given the authors.

August 2020 Prompt!

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Here’s the plan:

Based on the image provided, write a story of 3000 words or less (doesn’t matter, can be 50 words or a poem) and post it on the author site that you wish to promote. Please edit these stories. We will do minor editing but if the story is not written well WU! reserves the right to reject publishing it.

Send the story and link to the site via Facebook Messenger to Deborah Ratliff. Put “Write the Story” in the first line of the message. You may also email your story to writersunite16@gmail.comWU! will post your story on our blog and share across our platforms, FB, Twitter, Instagram, etc. We do ask that you share the link to your WU! Write the Story! post so that your followers can also read the works of your fellow writers. The idea is to generate increased traffic for all. It may take some time but it will happen if you participate. The other perk of this exercise is that you will also have a blog publishing credit for your work.

Periodically throughout the month, we will post the current prompt as a reminder. DO NOT post your story to this prompt. The idea is to have your STORY or poem published on your site, the WU! blog and shared to gain followers for your writing. We will not accept a one- or two-line caption. For the most part, we are fiction writers and poets…. please write a story or poem, not a caption. If you have any questions regarding this, you may ask the question in the comments. Thank you.

(Please note: all images used are free-use images that do not require attribution.)

Writers Unite! Anthologies: Dimensions of the Wild West

Welcome to Writers Unite!’s sixth anthology volume.  We invite all writers of westerns or any writers interested in the western genre to submit a story to our Dimensions of The Wild West anthology.

Ah… the western… say the word and cowboys and horses and saloons are the images you recall. The traditional western contains several expected components and themes—good vs. evil, bad guy redeeming himself, sheriff fighting off the bad guys threatening his town are among them. The tropes abound.While traditionally, the period for westerns is between the late 1800s and early 1900s, a resurgence of the western has found its way into present day.

A new sub-genre, the neo-western, has gained popularity. We will post a workshop about the western genre this week, beginning today, and we will discuss the neo-western in more detail. This sub-genre takes the characteristics of a western, its themes, characters, and locations but placed in a modern-day setting. Also remember, the sub-genres are plentiful. You can write a romance (a lot of western romance novels happen in present-day), paranormal, thriller, science fiction, or a good old train robbery. You may set your story in the old west or the modern-day west. Your character can ride a horse and wear a Stetson or drive a Cadillac and wear a Stetson (or not) and take place in the western US or the western Australian Outback, but we will require these genre components.

  • Western location
  • Western theme
  • Characters based on the standards in the genre

If you are interested in submission, you must be a member of Writers Unite! on Facebook.  https://www.facebook.com/groups/145324212487752/
If you have questions, please email writersunite16@gmail.com.

Submission information:  

  • Submissions open on August 1, 2020, at Noon EDT
  • Submissions close on November 15, 2020 at 11: 59 pm EDT
  • All stories must be emailed to the Publisher at writersunite16@gmail.com
  • Please type “Wild West Submission” plus your name and the story title in the subject line. Each story submission must be in a separate email.

Link to Guidelines for the Dimensions of the Wild West: https://bit.ly/3fh7zgr

We are providing extended time for submissions as this Is a genre that is regaining its popularity. Please note: the publisher will begin work on this anthology after January 1, 2021. Publication expected in early Spring 2021.

D. A. Ratliff: The Way Station

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.  Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

Please note: the images used are free-use images and do not require attribution.

The Way Station

D. A. Ratliff

Mason Henley rocked back and forth as the camel he was riding followed their guide. The herky-jerky motion of the enormous beast wore him out, and he never forgot to take ibuprofen before getting on one. He valued his back too much to ignore.

The caravan stretched the length of twelve camels. In addition to the guide and his two assistants, a radio astronomer and two research assistants accompanied him with five camels laden with equipment and supplies.

Three days ago, he and his team had flown into Algiers, where they met Dr. Bernedetta Clark. The next day, they flew into the L’Mekrareg Airport in Laghouat, with connections in Ghardaia, which took them to In Salah, where their guide, Sami Taleb, was waiting. After they loaded the camels, the expedition set off for their destination, Jabal Alharam—Pyramid Mountain.

Mason chuckled, after ten hours in overcrowded planes, he was happy to be on a camel, back pain or not.

The trip was going to take nine hours, and they had knocked out six of those already and agreed to stop for the night. As Sami and his crew set up tents, he and his two assistants, River Monroe and Jackson Stewart, built a campfire and got dinner started.

He was tending a grill laden with strips of beef, while River was making couscous. He watched as Dr. Clark approached, her eyes on the food. He cut off a small piece and held it up to her. “Wanna taste, Doctor?”

Her nose wrinkled. “What is it? Not camel? My colleagues told me that’s all the Algerians eat.”

“Had you dined with us last night, you would have feasted on the best Tandoori chicken I have had.”

“That’s Indian food.”

“Yes, it is. Welcome to the internet and modern travel. River and Jack had pizza.” He held the bite of meat up again. “This is beef, strips of sirloin, to be exact.”

She took the morsel and tried it. “That’s good. Did you bring a spice cabinet with you?”

“No.” he held up a plastic zip bag. “Made my famous spice mix and brought it with me.”

“Quite resourceful, but as an archeologist, I guess you are used to being out in the middle of nowhere.”

Mason smiled. “Been on a few digs in my time. Spent a lot of time in some ancient place somewhere.” He flipped the beef on the grill. “Did you get your equipment set up, Dr. Clark?”

“Yes, part of it, and please call me Etta.”

“I’m Mason. Same signal?”

She nodded. “The same tones repeated over and over. Just as they have for the last two months.”

“And you guys suspect it’s a signal. For what?”

“That is for us to find out. The signal is originating from here.”

River stood. “The couscous is ready. I’m going to go get Jack and the others.”

The group ate dinner as the sun was setting. Sami and his team retired to their tents and rotating guard duty. Jack and River both had work to do and excused themselves. They had been scouring over the topographical maps of the area to become familiar with Pyramid Mountain.

Mason sat by the fire. He was tired but too restless to sleep. The desert night was turning chilly. He added more wood to the fire from the bundles Sami brought. Watching the wood ignite, he felt some satisfaction that at least he could make fire.

“Is there coffee left?”

Clark’s voice startled him. “Sorry, I didn’t hear you. Yes, there is coffee.” He reached behind him to retrieve a cup from a box of supplies and poured her a cup.

Taking it from him, she sat on a camp stool. “I am sorry that we didn’t have the opportunity to talk last night. The trip from the US exhausted me and, well, our mode of transportation made it difficult to talk. You have been to the mountain before, haven’t you?”

“Yes, I was part of a team that came here nearly twenty years ago. I’d just earned my Ph.D. at Columbia when a professor of mine heard from an old friend, a geologist he has known as an undergrad. The geologist, Dr. Hemsford from the University of Johannesburg, had traveled from South Africa to the Sahara in Algiers with a group of students to study the rock formations.”

“They found the hieroglyphics?”

“They certainly found what they thought to be hieroglyphics at the time. He contacted my prof, Dr. Riegel, and Columbia provided the grant for us to take a look.”

“They weren’t hieroglyphics?”

“No, at least not related to any previous glyphs or symbols we had ever seen. To be honest, I took another career direction and concentrated on historical indigenous archeology in the Americas. I haven’t looked at those old reports until I got a call from my department head at Columbia, who asked me to lead the expedition to the mountain.” He paused. “I wasn’t expecting to find out a radio astronomer would be part of the team.”

“I never expected to be in the middle of the Sahara Desert on a camel.” She rubbed her shoulder. “Not the most comfortable ride.”

“No, it isn’t.” He poked the fire. “What do you think we will find?”

She sat up, back straight. “I don’t know. Not even sure why they sent me to find out. I noticed the sequence first, but there are far more experienced people at the observatory.” She huffed a short breath. “I think I might have been the expendable one.”

“I read your bio and some reviews of your work. I don’t think expendable is an apt word to describe you.”

“Newest member of the team, so who knows.”

“The signals are coming from the mountain?”

“They appear to be. I have some portable equipment with me, and the signal is still cycling.”

“Well, we won’t know anything until we get there. Get some sleep. We need to start early in the morning. We were lucky today. The winds kept us a bit cooler—tomorrow, not so much. “

~oOo~

Sweat poured down Mason’s back, and he was decidedly uncomfortable. His camel lumbered along as if it was a day in the park, just not his idea of a park. Wiping sweat from his brow for the umpteenth time, he gazed around the area. The flatter terrain of yesterday had given way to mounds of hard compacted sand with deep trenches where the wind had eroded the surface. Wouldn’t be long before they would have to resort to walking to the mountain.

His eyes never strayed far from the mountain looming ahead. The cornflower blue sky was cloudless, allowing the sun to beat down relentlessly. He chuckled. The mountain reminded him of a large soft ice cream cone, twisted as if someone spun it like a top.

Lost in thought of his last visit, he nearly fell off the camel when it halted suddenly, and he grabbed the saddle horn to stay on. Sami was dismounting his camel and walked to him.

“We go no more on camels. Too dangerous.” Sami tugged on the reins to Mason’s camel, and the animal began to drop to its knees. He dismounted and went to help Etta from hers.

She looked over his shoulder toward Pyramid Mountain. “We walk from here?”

“Yep, afraid so. It should be about a thirty-minute hike to the base. Jack and I will carry your equipment, Sami and his people will carry food and water. You and River will take the rest of the tools we need.”

“Are we going to camp there?”

“Not sure. If we decide to, Sami and his guys will come back for the tents.”

“They are going to leave the camels here?”

Sami overheard her. “We leave food here. They are good camels. They know to stay.”

Mason headed toward the camels carrying their equipment. “Let’s get loaded up.”

~oOo~

An hour later, they stood at the base of the mountain that loomed over them. Etta was setting up her portable radio telescope, opening the small satellite dish. Satisfied she had everything in place, she flipped the switch on the battery pack, and static began emanating from the speaker.

Mason listened with his head cocked. “There is a pattern there.”

“Yes, and it repeats every nine seconds.”

“So, if it’s coming from here, where is it going?”

“The observatory has the entire array focused on the direction it’s beaming. Listening for incoming signals. So far, nothing.”

“Okay. Let’s hike around the base. The spot where we saw those symbols is around the east side.”

Leaving their guides with the equipment, Mason and Etta started toward the area where the symbols were located. River and Jack began a cursory review of the site, comparing it to the photos from the dig many years before. They were looking for any sign of an opening, if such a thing existed.

The footing was treacherous as they left a level area. What Mason remembered struck him as odd when he was there before. He gazed up at the mountain’s pentacle, wondering how the flat round rocks that capped the mountain formed. He had puzzled about the structure on his first visit, and it puzzled him now. A climb up the mountain might shed some light, but he was not in the mood for rock climbing.

They reached the area where Mason remembered finding the symbols carved. At least, he thought they were in the right place. A rockslide covered the place where he remembered the carving.

“I think the symbols are here. Help me move these?”

After some effort, they rolled away a couple of large rocks, revealing sand covering the slope. Mason pulled a brush from his backpack and swept away the sand. The symbols appeared.

“I had seen photos of these, but I didn’t expect they would be so precise—such sharp cuts in the rock.”

“Yeah, that’s what Dr. Riegel thought, definitely precise cuts. We’ve seen that before in the pyramids and at Puma Punku in Bolivia. I was fortunate enough to work on that site. The builders of that temple used interlocking stones so precisely cut when assembled you can’t get a razor blade between them. The skills existed, but we aren’t sure how or the tools they used to make them.”

“No idea what they mean?

He shook his head. “Nope. Again, I didn’t stay with the project long, but I followed up with Dr. Riegel after NASA contacted me. He said they found no reference points at all to these symbols.”

“They have to mean something.” Etta took a 35mm digital camera from her backpack and took several shots of the symbols and the surrounding area. She slung the camera around her neck and laughed. “Anyone tried pressing the symbols?”

Mason raised his shoulders and grinned. “No idea, but it couldn’t hurt.” He pressed the first symbol, and nothing happened. He pressed the rest just in case, then placed his palms against all nine symbols and pushed at once—nothing.

Etta sighed. “It was worth a try.”

“We’ll figure this out. If the signal is coming from within the mountain, there has to be a way inside. Let’s find River and Jack and see what they found.”

~oOo~

They decided to camp next to the mountain. Sami and his men retrieved the tents and set them up. Before returning to spend the night with the camels, Sami left a flare gun in case they needed him. Dinner was bread, cheese, and coffee brewed over a fire. River surprised them with cookies she brought.

The sky was magnificent, dusted with glittering stars from the Milky Way, its luminous and dark streams hanging above them. They dragged their sleeping bags into the open and lay on their backs, staring at the mysterious sky.

River asked Mason to recount his first trip to Pyramid Mountain. He talked about his first look at the symbols.

“I was enthralled, thinking that the symbols could be Egyptian hieroglyphics this far into the desert. Dr. Hemsford was a geologist but thought the symbols looked Egyptian. Dr. Riegel determined quickly that the symbols were not, but I will never forget the first time I saw those nine symbols. I….”

Etta bolted upright. “Nine symbols. The signal repeats every nine seconds. What if….”

Mason bolted upright as well. “What if the signal represents those symbols.”

Her voice excited, Etta responded. “Maybe the signal is the key to opening a way inside.”

“What I don’t get is why the signal just started out of the blue.” Mason shook his head. “It makes no sense.”

“I might know.” Jack jumped up and grabbed a tablet sitting on his backpack. “Not knowing what we would find, and after being in that earthquake in Mexico last year, I downloaded a file about seismic activity in the Sahara.” He pulled up the file. “Dr. Clark, when did the signals start?”

“About two months ago, on the fourteenth.”

Jack was silent for a moment as he searched. “Got it. The same day, two months ago, there was a 5.2 mag earthquake with an epicenter about ten kilometers from here and only a half mile down. What if it triggered something?”

“It had to have.” Etta rose. “We need to go check this out.”

Mason stood. “Not until the morning. We’ll break our necks trying to get to the symbols. Get some sleep. We will do this in the morning.”

~oOo~

Dawn was breaking as Mason heard Etta and Jack talking. He shook off his grogginess from waking up and joined them. River handed him a cup of coffee.

Etta smiled. “Nice to have Jack along. I was trying to figure out how to lug this equipment to the symbols, and he suggested I record the sound on my phone. Haven’t used it since I left the hotel, so I have power. Can we go now?”

“Let’s stay until the sunlight is brighter and I get some coffee. Then we will go.”

She looked disappointed but agreed. While he finished his coffee, they made plans. River and Jack were to stay where they camped. Mason had a nagging thought that the flatness of the rock there meant something—an entrance perhaps. Once they agree on how to proceed, he and Etta headed for the symbols.

“Well, no time like the present. Hit play.”

Etta turned on the recording, and after it played through twice, the symbols began to glow. Both of them uttered a gasp. “It worked, Mason. It worked.”

“Yeah, but what did it do.”

“I hope….”

A flare soared over their heads, a signal from the others. Something was happening at the camp. As quickly as they could cross the rough terrain, Mason and Etta raced back.

Pyramid Mountain had opened.

Jack ran toward them as soon as they appeared. “We heard a crack like the rock was breaking. The sides slid away, and the opening appeared.

His heart pounding, Mason walked toward the perfectly square opening. It was nearly ten feet tall, and while dark beyond a few feet, it was evident from the shiny dark blue polished floor that mother nature wasn’t responsible.

He jumped when Etta pushed past him, heading for the door, and managed to grab her arm. “Hey, no, not yet. We’ll go in, but let’s get a flashlight first.” 

Etta frowned but nodded and hurried to her backpack. “I have a flashlight, water, and an energy bar. I’m ready.” Turning to Jack, she handed him her phone. “Keep this. You can open the door again if we can’t.”

Mason grabbed his backpack and turned toward Jack and River. “If we don’t come out in one hour, try to open the door. If it doesn’t, get back to civilization and contact NASA.” He joined Etta. “I’ll go first.”

~oOo~

They were no more than ten yards into the corridor when the opening closed. They could hear Jack and River’s anxious calls behind them but couldn’t get back to the door. Etta started to say something, then stopped when a door opened farther into the mountain, dim light spilling into the passage.

“Looks like an invitation to me, Etta.”

The opening revealed a large circular room. Their flashlights revealed murals on the walls and an empty chamber except for a round dais sitting in the chamber’s center.

“What is this place?” Etta’s voice quivered.

“I don’t have a clue. Let’s walk the perimeter.”

They were feeling their way around the wall when bright light filled the room. Stunned, they gazed at the panels depicting what could only be humanoids adorned on the walls.

“My goodness, Mason, this has to be alien.”

Mason didn’t have time to answer. A fluorescent circle of red light dropped from the ceiling over each of them, scanning from head to foot then retreating into the domed ceiling. Before either could speak, a tall, slender figure dressed in a gray tunic appeared on the dais.

“Greetings, travelers. Welcome to the Orbis Way Station. May I ask your destination?”

Etta approached the figure. “Who are you?”

“I am Automated Attendant 804. What is your destination?”

This time Mason spoke. “Could you tell us where we are and how you can speak to us in our language?”

“You are on Orbis and seeking transport. My scan revealed you are natives of Tanus. I translated your language, although you do speak an obscure dialect. Do you wish to return to your homeworld?”

Mason and Etta exchanged glances. She responded to the attendant. “No, we would like to leave the station to remain on this world.”

“Entering the station activated the portal for departure. You may not exit again. Please state your destination.”

“Could you give us a minute.” Mason waited until the attendant deactivated. “Jack will open the door in one hour.”

“And if he doesn’t?”

“Then, they’ll get help.”

“And we’ll be in here for a long time.”

Mason looked at the dais, then back at her. “There is an alternative.”

“Go through the portal? You can’t be serious.”

“Etta, I get the feeling we are not going to get out of here any other way. If there is a chance we can travel somewhere and then turn around and come back here, this might be our only way home.”

“I don’t know. What if we can’t get back?”

“If we can’t leave here, and the door doesn’t open in one hour, then it’s not going to open. We will die here.”

“But our families, our friends…”

“Is there someone close to you, someone you love?”

Etta dropped her eyes. “No, no one anymore.”

“Well, me either. I’ll miss my parents, but if we don’t do this, we’ll never see anyone again. This is an ancient way station that must have been offline until the earthquake. I don’t know what we will be walking into but it’s history making. Let’s wait to see if the door opens. If not, we go through the portal.”

Etta gave him a wan smile. “The book we’ll write—bestseller, guaranteed.”

They waited an additional hour before Mason summoned the attendant.

“I am Automated Attendant 804. What is your destination?”

Mason responded. “Tanus.”

Behind the dais, the portal, a swirling kaleidoscope of blues and greens, opened. The attendant stepped aside. “Enjoy your transport.”

Mason took Etta’s hand, and they stepped through together.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is divider-2.png

Please visit D. A. on her blog, https://thecoastalquill.wordpress.com/

Kenneth Lawson : Fly Me to the Moon

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.  Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

Please note: the images used are free-use images and do not require attribution.

Fly Me to the Moon

Kenneth Lawson

The sky was clear. Blindingly clear.

The sun hid behind what few clouds there were.

Without direct sight of the sun, he couldn’t get a fix on which way he was going. The dunes had long ago started to look all the same to him. Sand dunes and mountains often changed their shape or completely disappeared over time. Using one as a landmark was a newbie trick, and he was far from a newbie.

He was down to rationing water and food. Suppose he didn’t find civilization soon. It wouldn’t matter which direction he was going. He wouldn’t be going in any direction—ever again.

He didn’t want to become one of the many sets of bones found by travelers decades later with only a few small bits of clothes or leather to identify them. Investigators referred to them as “Desert” bones and stored them in a special section of the capital city morgue, but unless he found help soon, he would become what he feared.

His compass said he was going in the right direction, but compasses can be wrong. Magnetism and other factors could cause the needle to fluctuate. Being off even by a little can be enough to put you in the wrong direction or to miss a destination. Without direct sight of the sun, he couldn’t use his watch to confirm which direction he was going.

***

The mountain of sand loomed before him. The shade that it offered was tempting. The bright glare of the sun on the brown sand brought back memories of snow in the mountains when the white glare of the sun on the packed snow blinded him. Shade would be good.

He felt compelled to head for the mountain of sand, but he knew the dangers of the dunes. If the sand were loose, one wrong step and his foot could become buried and trap him. He didn’t know what it was drawing him to the Sand Mountain. He only knew he needed to get there.

It took him some time to eke out a path to the dune. He was lucky as the wind had packed the sand around the dune, and he could walk on it. He headed for the side that had the shade. Occasionally he’d place a hand against the sand to steady himself as he picked his way over the small crevasses that the wind had dug into the base as it wound its way around the dune, which appeared to be several hundred feet high.

He was near the shade when he touched the sandy wall, and it was cold and hard. He stood still, shocked. A very slight breeze of fresh air caressed his face. But where did it originate? Cautiously, he moved his hand toward the wall again and felt the coolness reach his hand even before touching the sand. The wall should have been hot, but it wasn’t. The longer he kept his hand against the sand, the colder it became. The chill traveled up his arm, cooling his skin from the effects of the glaring sun and heat. While it was noticeably cooler in the shade, this was completely different. His arm seemed to generate the source of his drop in body temperature.

He walked a few paces until he was in full shade. Shifting his footing, he turned toward the wall and placed both hands against the surface. The sand was colder, and the cold started to work its way along his arms. Within a couple of minutes, his arms felt cool, as if the chill emanated from inside his body. He stood there for some time, not moving. The reason he found himself in the desert faded from his mind. At this point, it didn’t matter. All he knew was he was tired. Muscles and joints that he didn’t realize he had called to him. He was plain tired and had no idea exactly where he was. But at the moment he didn’t care. He was comfortable again. For that, he was grateful, but how and why?

Slowly the chill worked its way over his body. First his arms, then his shoulders and upper chest, eventually down to his feet, still wearing the leather chukka boots he had on when his adventure had started. He wanted to lie in the shade and rest. He was careful as he stepped away from the wall not to disturb the sand and cause an avalanche that would bury him. When he found a suitable spot, he lay down and quickly fell asleep.

***

It was dark when he woke up. His watch said it was almost midnight. When he originally sat down, it was only to rest his legs and enjoy the coolness of the shade and the sand. Not to fall asleep for hours. It occurred to him he wasn’t cold. The desert is known for its wide temperature swings. In the day, it can easily reach more than a hundred degrees, and at night, as low as thirty degrees. He had left without a blanket in the meager supplies he had with him. Standing up, he walked around to get his legs and arms moving again. For several minutes, he realized the farther away from the dune, the colder he got. Whatever was in the sand was keeping him warm, just as it had cooled him off earlier today.

Standing where he had been earlier in the day when he’d put his hands on the wall and felt cold radiating from the sand, he placed his hands in the same place. He immediately felt the warmth of the sand ebb through his hand’s arms, and into the rest of his body.

He tried several other places along the same wall. He got the same results. The warmth of the sand engulfed his hands when he laid them there. Looking up into the sky, he saw the dots of stars as far as his eyes could see. The moon cast a long reflection from the sun over the desert, thankfully lighting up the dark desert night. He could see dunes in the distance, their dark sides casting eerie shadows across the landscape. At least he was warm here, so he stayed put. 

***

Morning came all too quickly. As the sun worked its way up over the desert, the heat soon increased. The shadows of the dunes changed direction dramatically throughout the early morning, and he was no longer in the shade.

He knew he couldn’t stay next to the dune forever, no matter how cool and warm it kept him. He had to get back to civilization soon. But he wasn’t in any hurry to start his trek across the remainder of the desert. Especially since he had no idea how much more he had to go.

“Do not go.”

He stopped short and looked around, not seeing anyone. He scanned the terrain. No one. But he’d heard it as clear as day. The voice seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere. He spun around and looked at the wall of sand he had been preparing to leave.

“Please, do not go.” The voice spoke again.

“What? Who are you? Where are you?” He managed to get out. As he hadn’t spoken a word in several days, his mouth was having trouble remembering how to work.

“Come closer.” The voice seemed to come from the sand itself. He stepped back deeper into the shadows and touched the grainy surface.

This time, along with the coolness, he felt something hard, just under the outside layer of sand. There seemed to be something else. Something that wasn’t sand. He brushed the sand a little with his hand, expecting more sand to replace it instantly.

It didn’t.

Brushing more, he saw the sand slide down to the ground. It formed a small pile next to his feet. Over a minute or two of brushing lightly, he revealed a structure hidden just under a layer of sand. A large metal wall of some kind appeared as he continued to sweep the covering away.

He stood staring.

“What the Hell?” The only words he could muster. On the metal wall was a familiar symbol.

It took a minute, but he remembered seeing it in a museum years ago. It had been in a display of ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. He had no idea why he remembered that particular symbol only to find it in the middle of a desert some twenty years later.

He touched the surface and found it was cool. Just as the sand that had covered it had been. For lack of any ideas of what to do, he knocked on the panel. To his surprise, the panel moved.

He jumped back slightly as it slid to the side, the door burying itself into the sand that covered the rest of the object. The sand above the door dropped to cover his boots. He shook the sand loose and, taking a deep breath, stuck his head inside the doorway. There was a room, but it was hard to tell how large the room was from outside.

“Come in.” 

He stepped inside as invited to do and noted several things. A long couch strewn with many pillows sat along one wall. A counter of some sort sat beyond the couch. He found it difficult to see in the dimly lit room.

He paused, trying to take in his new surroundings. The sound of the door almost silently closing behind him barely registered in his mind as the voice spoke again, his attention drawn to the far side of the room.

“You are safe here.”

He turned toward the sound of the voice and, without thinking, approached the figure sitting in the glow of light that seemingly came from nowhere.

The human-looking man with the soft voice, and dressed in long flowing robes, stood to greet him. He extended his hand, and the man hesitated, then took it. He wondered how this person living inside a mountain of sand would know of modern protocol, but then he was unsure exactly what the protocol was either.

“I am Erron.”

“Who? Where did you come from? How?”

“Please relax. Sit, as I will explain in time.” Erron stood up and steered him toward one of the couches. As he sat down, he tried to form words and questions, but nothing came out. Erron put his long finger to his lips and shushed him, then sat next to him.

“You must be hungry.” 

He nodded. At the mention of food, he realized how hungry he was.

Erron rose and walked to the other side of the room, where an array of machines sat. Punching a code into what looked like a microwave, he returned carrying a tray with several dishes on it. A table appeared out of the floor right in front of him.

“I hope this is to your liking. I am unsure what people eat as it has been eons since I have had a guest.”

As he ate, he found the food was excellent, although he wasn’t sure what some of it was. He knew better than to ask. Sometimes you were better off not knowing what it was. A lesson he learned years before. The drink served was a coffee-like beverage that seemed to satisfy the need that coffee would fill back at home. Home—he hadn’t thought of that in several days.

As he finished the last of the food and sipped the drink, he leaned back on the couch, more comfortable than he’d been in many days, perhaps even weeks. It dawned on him that he was too comfortable, but at the moment he didn’t care. His belly was full, and he was neither too hot nor too cold. And for the moment, he didn’t feel like he was in immediate danger of death from any number of venues, including mother nature or other forces. He relaxed.

“Okay, Erron, tell me what’s going on?”

Erron cleared the tray and returned with a cup in his hand. He sat back down across from him and appeared lost in thought for a moment.

“You never told me your name.”

“You didn’t ask. It’s Robert, Robert Manning.” He didn’t feel like explaining how he had wound up in the middle of a desert. He only had a vague memory of people wanting something from him and that he had fled. Instead, he changed the subject.

“Better question is who are you, and what are you doing here?” Now that he was full, he felt the brain fog lift and was able to think.

Erron appeared perplexed as if he were trying to form an answer to a complicated question.

“I was exiled to Earth several eons ago. I expected to die here before I served my sentence. Sometimes I wished I had. However, in a cruel stroke of fate, I survived and learned to adapt to this planet. He waved a hand around in front of him, gesturing toward the room as a whole. “This is all I have left. I have lived here for the last several hundred years, alone. I have had an occasional visitor to the dune. Some managed to uncover the door, and I watched them trace the symbol. I have monitored your communications, but no one seemed to give this place a second thought.” Erron rose and walked to the far side of the room. Robert followed him.

“I saw that symbol in an exhibition years ago. For some reason, I remembered it.” Robert paused then asked the question he wasn’t sure he wanted Erron to answer. “Uh, why were you exiled?” 

“Because I stood up for what was right, and the powers did not like it.”

“Powers?”

“Yes, the Council of Planets did not like that I wanted to run my homeworld fairly and honestly. They were only interested in what goods and profit they could get from my world. They didn’t care what happened to the inhabitants, and that is when I stood up to them.” He lowered his head. “They drove me from my world, and I have been here ever since.”

“Can you go back?”

“I do not know. I have never tried it.”

“Maybe it’s time you went back and reclaimed your world, your life.” Robert couldn’t believe the words that just came out of his mouth. A day ago, he had wandered in a desert close to dying. Now he was telling an alien being he’d barely met an hour ago at most, to go home again.

“You are right. I should go back. I have outlived the length of my sentence.” The change in his voice was startling as he no longer sounded dejected or forlorn.

“I’ve been here on earth studying it for longer than I can remember. I know more about how to govern than I did before. I am going back, and you are coming with me.”

“Me? I can’t go planet-hopping with you. I have a life here.”

“No, I am sorry. I should have told you this, but as soon as you stepped inside, your time on earth ceased. This capsule is not only a space vessel but also a time chamber. Time does not exist here. I can see what happens in the world, but I cannot affect it. However, once home, I can implement the things I learned here. Do not despair. To your world, you are just another missing desert walker, lost and buried in the sands like the others I’ve watched die here over the eons.”

Robert turned away. Overcome at the idea that he no longer existed in his world, he considered how his life had been up until today. His marriage was over, his kids never spoke to him, and it occurred to him there wasn’t much to like about his life. Besides, he remembered why he was in the desert. He owed gambling debts, and the goons dropped him in the desert with little food and water and told him if he survived, they’d forget his debts, then laughed. Last laugh was on them. He was dead, and he’d survived. How about those odds. He sighed. In short, he had no reason to stay. He turned back to face Erron, the song “Fly Me to the Moon” playing in his head.

Robert stuck his hand out. Erron took it.

“Okay. When do we leave?” 

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Please visit Kenneth on his blog: http://kennethlawson.weebly.com/

Calliope Njo: The Treasure Hunter

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.  Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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The Treasure Hunter

Calliope Njo

There it spread before me, Dead Man’s Crossing. Sure it was miles of sand without any lurking predators. Rumor had it, a lot of people tried crossing the desert landscape, leaving a lot of people missing. According to the instructions given, it was an obstacle to get to the other side without a way around it.

I turned around and went back to my jeep to find Juan Carlos. He was the expert in this desert landscape, and if I wanted to stay alive, the man to see before I dared to cross. Miles of cacti and sand later, Tur Foraminis came into view. The name meant watering hole, and it was small enough to have that name. Three stools at the bar and no tables. I couldn’t worry about that because my only goal was to get proof the Precious Treasure Tunnels existed.

Straw hat with the top missing, messy hair and beard, loud enough to be heard across the road, and drunk. It had to be him. Either that or the description my backer gave me turned out to be a practical joke.

“Juan Carlos.” I walked to him, and although I didn’t want to touch him, I poked his shoulder. “Are you Juan Carlos?”

He turned around toward me, stood from the stool, and dropped to the floor. When he didn’t sit up, I got the bartender’s attention to get a pitcher of water. I glanced at the pitcher before I poured it, glad I had no plans to drink anything.

Pitcher of water later and no movement. He could’ve dropped dead, but he picked up his head and shook it, which got me wet. Nothing I could do about that. He sat up and looked up at me. “You… you’re ear… early.”

Uh-huh. This would be a long hunt. Why couldn’t he be a clean man who didn’t drink endless barrels of whatever? Because they wouldn’t be my contacts, that’s why.

Afraid to take in a deep breath, I smiled instead. “You must be Juan Carlos who’s supposed to lead me across the desert.”

“To… Tomorrow. First thing.” He smiled and dropped to the floor again.

First appearances were everything, which made me question his validity, but there was always tomorrow. I hoped.

The rest of the day I spent in a dollar-a-day hotel room and studied the story. It seems a civilization hid their treasure in a secret location to hide from invaders seeking to expand not only their income but their land. Hence the existence of the Precious Treasure Tunnels. Nobody has ever come back with proof of its existence. Several theories existed as to its whereabouts, but none has returned with said proof.

I’ve been to every theorized location, and then some, to search for it but have come up with nothing. This was my last shot.

Out of money, out of motivation, and out of sponsors, I had to make this work or be forever labeled as the wannabe treasure hunter. I refused to be snickered at as the little lady who couldn’t.

The next morning somebody knocked on my door. I opened it a crack and Juan Carlos stood smiling at my door. “Morning.”

No hat, beard, or drunken speech, and his clothes were clean. “Yes, it is. First, call me JC. Nobody calls me Juan Carlos. Second, nothing on you except what you’re wearing and a light pair of shoes. Third, you will do as I say when I say it. Fourth, the legend is true. Those that attempted to cross never made it. All of them got eaten alive. If you follow my directions, we will make it. Deal?”

I wasn’t into taking orders, but under the circumstances, I didn’t have a choice but to nod.

“Good. I took care of your room, so don’t worry about it. We need to get going.”

He didn’t have the Mexican accent that I expected. Whatever made him drink like that yesterday made me curious. Not enough to ask about it.

We rode in his jeep until we arrived at the same location that I stood in front of yesterday. He jumped out. “This is it. Dead Man’s Crossing. Now you’re thinking why the name. What’s the big deal? It’s just a bunch of drunken rumors. Let me show you something.”

He reached into the jeep and pulled out a dead rat. He threw said dead rat into the sand and it went from a desert to a landscape filled with something that made the carcass disappear in a matter of seconds. “Holy hell.”

“Yup. When I say go, you run as fast as you can. When you fall, get up as fast as you can and keep running to the top of that dune. Nobody knows what’s inside. Nobody wants to know what’s inside. On and off as fast as you can. Got it?”

“Yeah. Keep running and don’t look back. Got it. Just so that I know we are not running endlessly?”

“You see that trail up ahead?” He handed me a pair of binoculars.

I looked through them. “Yeah.”

He took them from me and threw them in the jeep. “That is our destination. We will talk about part two after we make it over there.”

Something flew over our heads. When I looked up, four drones in the sky carried two large carcasses. Dead cattle maybe, but I didn’t look at them too long, ready to run the mile in ten seconds flat.

The bodies fell, and the landscape changed again. I followed the path to the top. That bright sun over me didn’t make it so easy, but I made it. About ready to run again, he held me back.

Two more dropped, and we crossed the distance. About three more steps and I tripped over my own two feet. I got up and kept running. We got halfway when he held my arm.

Panting and wishing for anything wet, I bent over in pain. My sides hurt and my legs refused to move. I didn’t know if I could make it to our destination.

He took in a deep breath. “We did good. We follow this trail to Paradise City. You’ll find out why they call it that. When we get there, let me do the talking.”

When and if, he meant, but I gathered whatever energy I could and moved my feet. We got to the end of the trail and entered a tented city with animals of every species around including trees and water holes. Clinking and clanking of something was all around us.

He put his hands on my shoulders. “Stay. I’ll be back.”

“Ruff.”

He shook his head and walked away. No idea how long I stood there and waited. When he came back, he pulled me behind him and we walked over to a small tent.

“For the telling of a story or two, and the promise of cooking something for them, I could negotiate a three-day and two-night stay. Complete with bath and enough supplies to last for seven days. They will go with us until the edge of their land, and then we are on our own. One of their elders will explain the story of the Precious Treasure Tunnels.”

“Anything. Does it come with an enormous glass of something wet?”

“Of course.” He smiled. A piece of cloth hung on the wall. He pulled it as far as it would go. “This is the only tent they had available. This cloth is meant as a divider.”

“Right. OK.” I looked around and noticed two piles of pillows. Somebody threw in pieces of cloth to my side. I held it up and discovered they were clothes.

“Done?”

“Why? What now?”

“I sleep. You bathe. Wake me when you get back. You reek.”

I laughed. “You weren’t exactly, shall I say, smelling like Old Spice yesterday.”

“Eh.”

I put the clothes on and left the tent. A woman bowed in front of me and motioned me to walk ahead. No way to know where to go, I followed the yellow brick road so to speak.

We stopped in an area that smelled like sulfur. I took a few more steps and noticed the natural hot water springs. I took steps toward it but the lady shook her head and pointed me to the left. She stood behind me and nudged me over to an empty bench. She took off my clothes and gave them to another woman.

The woman brought my head back and got it wet before putting something on it. I had no idea what it was but it had an herbal and floral scent to die for. After that, she scrubbed my back while I scrubbed the front.

It didn’t feel awkward because all I did was take a bath before having a soak.

Assuming that we finished, I stood up from the bench. She wrapped a cloth around me from behind and nudged me again to go ahead. This time I could lounge in the hot springs. She came to get me a little while after that.

The clothes came back with a brighter look to them. I dressed and returned to the tent. JC stood and left.

That was when I had a chance to look at my surroundings. It reminded me of the fabled tents of the nomads I heard so much about growing up. Tents large enough to fit a semi, made from a durable material that kept the harsh sun away, and supplied with rich colored silks and soft cushions. A pitcher and two goblets sat on a table in the corner.

I didn’t care what it was. I poured the contents of the pitcher into my mouth before I put it down. Maybe I should’ve left some for JC. Too late to think about that.

I pulled the divider to one side because it wasn’t necessary anymore. They needed me to get dressed before I returned so they had to make him do the same thing. The comfy looking fluffy pillows in the back looked perfect to catch a nap. A brief inspection told me they were clean.

Someone shook my shoulder. I opened my eyes and saw a little girl standing next to me with a note in her hand. I took it and they were ready for the night’s feast. To be honest, I forgot about it.

I was led to what I assumed was the cooking area with pots and fires and food all around. After coming up with a plan, I fulfilled my end of the bargain. Complete with a funny adventure story.

They told me their part of the story. The Precious Treasure Tunnels was nothing but a myth that was created to help with the tourism business. The more people came, the more business they had. I had a problem with that story, because of the constant exchange of glances and that story took so many turns it was easy to get lost.

I remembered returning to the tent and crashing on my pillows. My arms screamed at me when I tried to roll over. That same little girl stood over me with a smile on her face. She had trouble waking up JC, so that would be my duty.

She left and I threw everything at him that would wake most people. I even borrowed the goat. Well, I did what I used to do with Gramps and that was wave a cup of coffee under his nose.

He opened his eyes. “What?”

“It’s about damn time. They came to wake us which means it’s time for us to get moving.”

He stood from his spot. “You’re going. I’m staying.”

He what? “Uhm. OK. Why?”

“I was paid to bring you here and I’ve got another client.”

“JC—”

“I gotta go.” He gathered up a backpack and slung it on his shoulder. “Nice knowing you.” He left.

Great. That left me to figure out how to get out of here and what did he mean he was paid. He wasn’t supposed to have been paid until all of this was done and over with. So what did he mean he was paid?

Before I had a chance to think about all of this, a woman showed up and motioned for me to follow her. So I did.

She brought me over to their animals. A camel had packs on its back with a tether line around its neck. Another one had a saddle on its back with camel fitted reins on it. That was transportation. Somewhere in the story they told me were instructions on how to get there. Gramps always told me to bring along a paper and a pencil. I thought he was kidding until that point.

After talking to the lady, it seems the camels knew where to go. I didn’t but they did. So I hopped on and enjoyed the ride. Such as it was. It gave me an opportunity to figure out what to do.

I couldn’t take pictures because they were too easy to be doctored. That didn’t leave much else other than samples of the environment. That wouldn’t be easy because of beliefs and culture.

That was when the problem came up. If I couldn’t take anything, how was I supposed to prove its existence? After all, that was the reason for this entire adventure.

I continued my trek through passageways and caverns. I came upon an underground lake with a single stalagmite pillar in the middle that looked like it held up the ceiling. About as perfect in shape as anything man-made.

I stopped before another cave. Water dripped and wind blew in from somewhere as if it didn’t encourage me to go. I saw the lost civilization.

I had no idea where the light came from but it illuminated the area. Jars and jugs on different sized pillars. The carvings told they were grain. The area ahead had drawings of everyday life. The area next to that held baskets of something. The carvings told they were supposed to be fruits. There was no big treasure chest worth an extraordinary amount of money. That was it.

Of course, the paint was faded and the carvings weren’t as clear as they should be but it didn’t take much to put the dots together. That wasn’t it though.

It couldn’t be. If there was one rule that Gramps taught me, never take things at face value. There is always a story. There will always be something more. It’s our job to find it.

There was nothing else though. Pictures and carvings and jugs and bones so nothing else. The more I looked at the pictures, the more I realized it wouldn’t take much to create these. Without sophisticated equipment, I had to take things at face value.

So something had to be out of place. If something were that precious wouldn’t they tag along to be sure everything would be all right? Nothing made sense anymore.

I picked up every jug, bone, rock, and sand that I could see. I even tap-danced my way around the room. What if there was another room that nobody had seen yet?

I poked my head outside and looked around. Nobody there, I left that room and sidestepped my way down the path a bit. I found a crack and went inside. No light inside and no way to create a light. I felt my way around the room and my hand hit something.

I always loved the Indiana Jones movies. It gave me a picture of what Gramps did. He always laughed at those movies and called them comedies. I only mentioned that because it felt like an Indiana Jones movie. Misled adventures and all.

I landed on my butt. Thank God it wasn’t a rock. I stood up and felt my way around. Something on the ground made me trip; without something to hold onto, I tried to grip the wall and that was when the lights turned on.

“Holy Mother of All Creation.” Clear blue crystals covered the walls. A light above gave them a holistic feel. A narrow path by a pond led past them. I followed it to another room. Rugs, pictures, material, and bound parchment filled the room.

I took the time to examine the find. If my guess was right, this was an entire civilization of women. Maybe I should’ve studied history like Gramps suggested because I couldn’t think of any civilizations that were made of women. The existence of the Amazons was always a hot debate so they didn’t count.

This was the Precious Treasure Tunnels. Not the crystals but this room. This find had the power to turn everybody’s head with the possibility that history was wrong. I had to grab something unique to verify my findings. I grabbed a parchment and held it close to me. This would be an adventure I would never forget. Proof existed and I had it.

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Please check out Calliope’s blog for more great stories: https://calliopenjosstories.home.blog/

Anita Wu: The Quarz Soldier

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.  Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

Please note: the images used are free-use images and do not require attribution.

The Quarz Soldier

Anita Wu

“Hidden in the Quarz Desert lies not an oasis of water but a lie that gives hope to life only to take it away soon after.”

Jess took the last sip of water from her canteen, then pulled up her cloth to cover her face and protect against the dust. She walked towards an older woman who was travelling in the same group and who, like Jess, was slacking a bit behind the rest of the party.

“Excuse me, hi,” Jess said with a still parched voice, tapping the woman on the shoulder, “would you have some water you could share, by chance?”

“Of course,” the woman gracefully handed Jess her canteen. She took in Jess’s loose tunic and black pants, the thin cloth wrapped around her face to protect against the dust, and commented, “By the way, loose, airy, bright colored clothing would have been more suitable for the sunny trek.”

“Lila, we don’t have water to hand out like that,” a man wrapped in white, walking a bit ahead of the woman, shouted back, clearly annoyed. Another man in brown grunted.

Lila rolled her eyes. “I see you two finally have something you agree on,” she replied before turning back to Jess, “Don’t mind them, youngin’. But what are you doing on the way to Quarz? You don’t seem to be from around here.”

“You’ve got keen eyes, Lila — is it?” Jess started, friendly. “I’m Jess, a journalist looking to write something about the Quarz Soldier. I live in Yeren, which is a lot more forest than sand and a better match for a tunic and pants. I guess I didn’t do enough preparation before coming here.”

“Oh, what a coincidence! We’re actually looking for the Quarz Soldier ourselves.”

The man grunted again. Jess surveyed him from the corner of her eyes. He seemed to keep his distance from everyone else, walking with purpose, not looking back but surely, keenly, listening in to the conversation.

“Don’t mind Simon. He likes his space and maybe grunts a bit too much around new people.”

“Did you say you’re a journalist?” the man in white walked back towards Jess this time.

“Mik! Your manners!” Lila scolded him, slapping his arm, almost like a mother would a child.

“That’s quite alright,” Jess said, giving a small laugh. “Yes, I write for the National Query.”

His eyes seemed to sparkle. The National Query was distributed at all the major cities in the country. News articles were deemed credible, no questions asked, conspiracy theories had slightly more standing, and people they wrote about were deemed celebrities. She could tell: Mik knew.

“Have you heard of the Treasure hunter Michael Lorrez?”

Jess frowned. “I’m sorry — first time. Would that be you?”

Mik cursed. “That lying piece of… He said he would write an article about me.” He offered Jess a pitch. “How does this sound: an article about the treasure hunter who discovered the Quarz Soldier’s gem.”

Jess smiled. “If I can see it with my own eyes, I would be honored. Especially given that the Quarz Soldier is still much unfound. It would rise to quite the fame.”

“Actually, youngin’,” Mik imitated Lila, “it’s just kept under wraps.”

Simon grunted a third time, again not looking back at the chatty party. Jess knew she would have to keep an eye on him. He may become troublesome.

The group proved to be more useful than she originally anticipated. Mik knew the way through the desert as if it were his personal backyard. Before long, they fell so behind the crowd that no one noticed four travellers’ disappearance. Soon the wispy sand behaved, hills became stable, dust no longer flew into her eyes, and grass began to sparsely appear. Grass — yes — but its green lived but a moment. Only short, yellow, dried stalks peeked from the ground.

It was exactly as the stories said. The sand would lose its freedom, and life would lose its glow. And within the blighted area lay the Quarz Soldier’s gem if you dared to seek it.

Some people believed that the gem was magic, that if they held the artifact, they held the power. It took life; therefore, it could give. Some believed that the gem was cursed, that it drew life to it as people were drawn to the mystery. It took but would never give. Others simply wanted riches. Many would pay a hefty price to own it.

And Mik had led them to the front door of the gem’s den. Yet he didn’t stop there. He continued navigating the barren land, Lila close behind him, reminding him to slow down and not exert too much energy in the heat, offering food and water to keep him refreshed.

Jess had thought that Lila was his mother.

“No, no,” she laughed, “my children would never turn out like these mischiefs. Mik there would cut down anyone who gets in his way. If he were my son, I’d cut him down first — make him a better man. He won’t listen though, but he knows how to appreciate someone’s effort. He doesn’t take care of himself enough, and I miss taking care of my own son, so I guess we two puzzle pieces just match.”

“What is your son doing?”

Lila smiled sadly. “He’s in the skies, probably watching over me since my husband left after beating him to death — accidentally!” she reassured Jess. Jess knew that accidents like that do not happen, but she did not pry. The information would not aid her anyways.

“May the gods help him,” Jess offered customary condolences. She eyed Simon taking up the rear. His brown cloak covered him entirely but seemed to fall flat on his left side. Simon returned her gaze, focused and ready to pounce at any second.

Lila patted her back, urging Jess back to the front. “Don’t mind Simon. He means well.”

“You say that a lot.”

Lila laughed. “Perhaps to others, I do. He’s kept us safe throughout the years, so I will always vouch for him. He was a war veteran, you know — lost an arm when he decided to throw back an enemy grenade. Then they kicked him out because he wasn’t 100%.”

He would know how to fight. Jess filed that information away. Staying away from him would likely be a smart choice.

“And there we have it, boys and girls, the Quarz Soldier,” Mik announced. The sand piled up into a small hill, some parts seemed stable enough to hold a climber while other parts looked like it would collapse with the wind. At the top of the hill lay a platform of rocks, perhaps a basic statue.

“That’s not a soldier,” Lila pointed out.

“Idiot,” Mik chided. “You think the soldier would be holding the gem as he died? He kept it hidden here, on this little mountain.”

“Alright.” Lila brought up her hands in defense. “Do you know exactly where this soldier kept his valuables? Or where do you want to start looking? The top seems like a good idea.”

“Journalist with me. We’ll scale to the top. You two check the perimeter to see if there are any hidden entrances and passageways.”

Simon grunted in disapproval.

“Got something to say, mate?”

“Hey now,” Lila stopped Mik, “we’ll do it. Meet back down here in two hours.”

Mik smiled and turned to begin the ascent, Jess close behind. She turned back once to see where Lila and Simon were headed, and she saw Simon was still looking at her from below.

Mik did not disappoint. He knew exactly where the gem was hidden and how to get there. The easiest route to the top platform was through a winding path, past a seemingly “dead-end” that just required the traveller to climb a short distance to the higher ledge. The top platform had various chests made of stone to hide valuables, but the gem lay under a random slab of stone by the northern corner.

He moved the stone and plucked the gem out of the dusty crevice meant just for the gem. He laughed, showing it to Jess.

“See here: the Quarz Soldier’s gem — now mine.” His smile widened as he showed her. He likely thought of his lavish future, believing he now had both money and fame once she wrote an article about him. His eyes were so focused on the gem and its vibrant red and green colors that Jess was easily able to hit the pressure point on his neck. His eyes widened before closing, his body fell to the ground with a thump, and the gem slipped from his grip.

“Gods, he’s an idiot.” Jess shook her head as she picked up the gem and inspected it. She didn’t believe in the rumors that said the gem was magic. She was much uninterested in the item and its rumored abilities, but she did accept a job, and that job paid handsomely.

She turned the gem in her fingers and saw that the colors remained unmoving. She held it against the sun and did not see a gleam, so she threw it to the ground.

The man was not entirely wrong. All her sources led to a hill with a stone platform atop it, the gem hidden within the hill. Perhaps there were secret tunnels below her. It would not be a surprise since this hill was able to support a stone platform at the top.

“You can have your gem,” she told Mik as she found another path to descend the hill. Jess saw no possible entry points on their way up with Mik’s path. She needed to check if there were any on other routes. If none, perhaps Lila and Simon would have been lucky and found an entrance from the bottom perimeter.

Jess did not find anything on her way down, but she saw the other two travellers waiting for her at the bottom.

“Jess!” Lila exclaimed when she saw her, happiness visible in her eyes until she noticed a party was missing. “Where’s Mik?”

Jess frowned. “A stone collapsed on his leg while we were searching. We couldn’t get it off, so he told me to come down and fetch Simon to help.”

“Of course he’s careless.” Lila shook her head.

“He also asked if you two found the gem.”

“And of course that is what he cares about the most.” Lila sighed, patting the bag along her side. “Well, let’s go tell him we did.”

Jess hoped it was the real gem, but she would have to check. “Oh, can I have a look? I’d love to see.”

Simon grunted again, but Lila shushed him, digging the gem out of her bag to give Jess. She gave an excited gasp as she thought they would expect it from her. As she turned the stone in her fingers, the reds and greens moved with the motion. She held it to the light, and the colors gleamed brighter. Satisfied, she handed the gem to Lila. She couldn’t take it now. They were more familiar with and equipped for the desert.

Jess commented, “I’m actually a bit tired from the climb up and down. I’d like to wait down here. Could you keep me company, Lila?”

She smiled. “Sure, just give the gem to Simon though. Mik would want to see it once Simon goes up.”

Jess turned to Simon with the gem outstretched. As he reached to grab it, Jess attacked his neck with her free hand. But Simon knew how to react. His arm blocked her first blow, his leg her follow-up kick.

“Jess!” Lila screamed.

Jess tucked the gem into her shirt as she moved to make space between her and Simon. She could not simply run. Simon would catch her. She had the advantage of two arms though, she hoped. She ran towards him, striking with her palms, aiming for the nose, the jaw, the soft tissues of the face, kneeing his stomach, kicking his sides and his ankles, sending him off-balance by aiming at his lower body.

But Simon had experience. He pivoted, blocked her strikes deftly with one hand, dodging other attacks, stepping back and jumping so her knees wouldn’t reach. He pushed back for the offensive, attacking with one arm, bringing his whole body to slam her. It took Jess by surprise, and she slumped to the ground, her opponent atop her.

A few of his punches connected until Jess managed to grab his arm and return the blows. She head-butted his jaw and used the sudden shock to roll them around. She kept him to the ground as she kicked his sides. She brought a fist with the weight of her body down on his head to knock him out.

Simon spasmed momentarily until he lay motionless. Jess let go of his limp arm and watched it fall to make sure he was not acting. Once satisfied, she turned to Lila who was watching, wide eyed in horror. She didn’t know how to fight. Her body told as much.

Jess walked to her as Lila stepped backwards, uncertain, shaking.

“Why?” she uttered.

“Sorry. I just had a job to do. They’ll wake up, don’t worry.”

“Are you going to knock me out too?”

Jess stopped in her tracks at the question, thoughtful. Normally she took out everyone involved, usually they were guards on duty to protect. But something about this generous, helpless woman made her think for a second.

“No,” she decided, smiling, “just tell them not to follow me. I won’t be holding this for long anyways.”

Jess turned away from Lila, planning her way back to the city — she just had to retrace their steps. She remembered the general direction.

“Is your name even Jess?” Lila asked out of the blue. Jess had adopted many names and pretended to be many people in her life, so much so that she no longer had a name she considered hers. Perhaps she could take an adopted name this time.

“Yes.”

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Kirkman Ullman: Desert Mountain Trial

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.  Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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Desert Mountain Trial 

Kirkman Ullman

Sharice’s muscles strained as she ran kicking up sand behind her. She felt the sweat running down her back as the rays from the sun scorched her like an ant under a magnifying lens. She couldn’t stop now though. The desert mountain had gotten in view right before night hit the day before. 

“I’m so close. I just have to keep going,” she thought out loud.

That was when she heard the sound of a vehicle. What came next was a cry that made chalk on a chalkboard sound pleasant. She knew the yell meant they had spotted her. She attempted to run faster even though her muscles already were pushing their limits. The faster she ran, the closer the sound seemed to get. She knew she had to come up with an idea. She reached for her thigh where she kept a sharp knife and brought it close to her. A large rock was nearby that Sharice decided to duck behind. 

“I only have one chance at this.” She clutched the knife to her chest.

As the vehicle rounded the corner, she took them off guard. She ran at them with the speed of a leopard as if she was going for them, but she quickly stabbed two of the tires. Sharice attempted to run away towards the mountain. The attempt was cut short when her pursuers recovered quicker than she thought they would. One of the bigger guys threw a bola that caught Sharice around the feet. All three guys raced to keep her from going anywhere. Sharice attempted to kick, scratch, and bite her assailants but was only met with a hard slap to the face. 

“Hee hee. The redhead’s got some fight in her,” the big one said. 

“You know what they say,” started the stocky yet short guy, “them redheads got a fire in ’em.”

The third only grinned and nodded his head. The guys tied her up and took her back to the vehicle.

“Well thanks to her, I guess we will be walking back,” said the short one. 

The big guy put her over his shoulder. They started the walk back to where they had their camp. Sharice looked at the mountain as they walked away from it.

“So close yet so far,” she thought as they started their journey. 

It took nearly two days to walk back to their camp. She tried three times to escape. One time, she almost managed to cut the bigger guy’s throat while he slept. Another time, she kicked the short one in the face and attempted to choke him while her hands were bound. The third time, she tried hiding, but they found her.

She had finally stopped when they got close to the camp. It was a big hole in the ground that looked like a giant meteor could have caused it. When she looked down the hole, it looked like a work camp. She saw people standing over others with whips and sticks while they dug and broke rocks. At one point, she saw one of the people stumble and the person standing over them quickly hit them with the whip he was holding.

“There are only men here,” she made a mental note as they started walking down the trail into the hole. 

“Let’s take her to her new room, guys,” the short one commanded.

They took her to an opening that was in one corner of the work camp. The corridor led to multiple different rooms and at the end were cells with metal bars. They took her to one of the cells that had all women. When they opened the door, one woman with bright red hair came to the door on her knees. 

“Please, please can I have more to eat? I’m sorry I misbehaved. I promise it won’t happen again.” 

The big guy backhanded her. ”Maybe if you had that enthusiasm on your knees before, you would get more food.” They threw Sharice in there and locked the cell. Sharice looked around at the women. There were ten women and all looked weak and frail.

“How long have they had you guys in here,” Sharice asked. 

A short brunette woman answered, “It’s hard to really tell time in here, but some have been here maybe a month. Others have been three or so. They keep us here until they get bored with us.” 

Sharice gave a confused look. ”What do you mean bored?” 

The woman’s eyes went to the floor, “Well… they use us to make sure they… get pleased. If we get boring and don’t do enough for them, they… they….” The girl stopped talking and turned away. 

Sharice was going to ask more questions when the gate opened and a blond woman got thrown in the cell. “Hey, Phoenix head. You come here!” the guy said aggressively. The redhead she saw before came up to him. “It seems you really displeased one of the boys so much that he said I should off you.” 

The redhead got down on her knees and pleaded for him to forgive her. “I’ll do anything you want just please don’t kill me!” the redhead said frantically.

“Oh anything? Good. You’re already on your knees.” He unzipped his pants. Without hesitation, she took his cock in her mouth and began pleasing him in front of everyone until he was satisfied. “Ahhh that was good. Now back to business.” He proceeded to drag her out of the cell by her hair while she kicked and screamed. He then drew his machete and took her head off for everyone to see. He looked at the short brunette girl and said, “You’re up next, girl. Remember, don’t disappoint. She glanced at Sharice as she went out of the cell. “Someone will be by for you, redhead,” he said to Sharice as he was leaving. Sharice turned back towards the other women trying to ask questions about the place, but no one would talk to her. 

She waited until the short guy from earlier came to the cell door. “Come with me, redhead.” 

Sharice followed him until he got to a room. After pushing her in the room, he slammed the door behind them. Before she could even do anything, he attempted to bend her over a table. Sharice tried resisting and he began aggressively trying to pull her shorts down. “I knew you would be a fighter,” he said as he spread her legs. She threw one of her legs back and kicked his knee. “Ow, you fucking bitch!” he yelled. He drew his hand back to slap her, but before he could, she knocked him to the ground and bit him hard. He tried wrestling with her, but she had gained the advantage by getting on top of him. She punched him in the eye. 

“Don’t you dare try touching me that way. I will kill you!” she yelled. She wrapped her hands around his neck as she attempted to choke him until she heard the door bust open. She quickly grabbed the keys at his waist and rolled off of him to try and get away, but the guys were quickly on her. She managed to stick the key in her bra before they got her. 

The short guy got up holding his eye. “Oh, so you want to be a little fucking bitch and hit me in my damn eye! We have something in store for you.” His fist reared back and he hit her so hard she blacked out.

She was awoken by an unfamiliar voice. “Get up! Time to go to work.”

She looked around while rubbing her head. The cell wasn’t the same one she had been in before with the women. She then quickly felt around her bra.

“The key I snagged from him is still there,” she thought to herself. Sharice let out a sigh of relief. 

“Hurry up!” the guy yelled at her. 

She got up and followed him out of the cell she had been in. He was leading her to the place she saw all the men working when she first got here. “Take this and don’t get any bright ideas,” he said as he gave her a pick axe. “Go over there with those men and keep working until we tell you to stop. If you find something, let us know.” She went over to where he directed and started hitting the rock.

“A woman!” a random guy said. This was followed by other murmurs of astonishment until the original one who talked got whipped in the back by a stick. 

“Shut your fucking mouths,” the guard yelled. Sharice started focusing more on hitting the rock until she heard a voice next to her.

”Keep looking forward and act like we are not talking.” She listened to the voice. “Did you go to where they keep the rest of the women?” the man asked. 

“Yes,” Sharice responded. 

“Did… did you see a redheaded woman there?”

 “Yes, at first I did.”

“At first?” he said in a puzzled tone. 

“Soon after I arrived, a guy entered…” she started but was cut off. 

“Quiet,” he said in a quick and hushed manner. They acted normally as a guard passed by them. 

Once they saw the guard get out of earshot, she continued. “A guy came in after I got there and said she had upset some other guy. She pleaded for her life on her knees and even tried… convincing him while on her knees.” The guy shuddered, so Sharice went over that part. “The man then dragged her out and cut her head off.” 

The guy seemed to gulp and hesitate before working as if he didn’t hear any of that. “Thank you for letting me know. I just had to find out because,” he paused as his voice cracked and his body shook a little, “because she was my wife. I just wish I could’ve been able to see her. To save her.” She listened as his voice became more strained.

“I’m sorry you found out this way, but what if I told you there was a way to avenge her?” 

The guy got very serious. “I would gladly give my last breath to be able to watch her murderer pay for what he did, but many have attempted to get out of here. None have managed. I doubt you could either.” 

”Others probably didn’t already have a key.”

The guy looked at her astonished. “Really?” 

Sharice quickly flashed the set of keys before hiding them again. “I could leave tonight and just leave you to suffer here, or I could make a stop by where you guys stay and open the door on my way out. Which do you prefer?” 

The guy’s tone got even more serious. “If you are serious about this, I will gladly put my life on the line as long as you give me one thing. Point out the guy to me when the time comes so I can avenge my wife.” 

She smiled to herself. “I can do that. Be ready tonight. It will be soon after they put us in our cells. Rally all the men and prepare them as well.” She went back to work knowing now she would have a distraction to get out of there. Sharice spent the rest of the day working and trying her best to not slow down so she wouldn’t end up whipped. At the end of the day, she was taken back to her cell. 

She wasn’t there too long before she noticed the short guard come by the cell. “How did you enjoy your day out there, you little bitch,” he said in a mocking tone. 

The point of her nails dug into the palm of her hands as she braced herself for what she was about to do. Her head tilted slightly, and she brushed her hair behind her ear. “I think I’ve had some time to rethink how I acted,” she said in a sultry voice.

The short man’s eyebrows raised. “Had a feeling you would come around.” 

A smile that she used to seduce many men before spread across her face. “How about we go back to that room and give it another shot?” The man looked a little in thought. Sharice decided he needed more convincing. She walked up to the cells moving her hips more than usual. “I can do some very amazing things with my tongue.”

He quickly replied, “Alright, but if you try anything this time, I’ll make sure you pay for it with your life.” He let her out of the cell and led her into the room. She immediately went for his belt and took it off then placed it on the table. 

“Oh didn’t know such a short man would be so big.” She gave him a teasing smile. The words seemed to hurt his ego a little because he decided to turn her around on the table instead. He began to pull her shorts down, but before he could finish, she kicked him right in his crotch. “I told you I would kill you if you touched me like that,” she said as she grabbed the belt and wrapped it around his neck before he could call for anyone. The belt tightened even more as she took him down to the ground. Her knee was placed in the middle of his back, and she pulled with all her strength. He kicked and flailed as much as he could. His nails dug into her thighs as he reached back in a way that reminded her of a wild animal in intense agony. After pulling for what seemed like minutes, the flailing got weaker and weaker until his body went limp. She kept applying pressure for a while longer until she was sure he couldn’t be faking it, then she let him go. After searching his body for anything that might help her, she came across a knife that she put at her side just in case. 

As she exited the room, she looked both ways down the corridor to make sure nobody was near to hear the struggle. The corridor stayed silent and free from life, so she started her way out. Men yelling started to ring throughout the corridor as she was leaving. One voice stood out above the rest though on account of its obnoxious manner. 

“You fucking cheat. There’s no way you won three times in a row, you damn lying bastard,” the voice boomed. It was a voice Sharice recognized as the man who cut off the woman’s head when she first arrived. “Ahh so that’s where you are,” she thought to herself right before sneaking past the door during their commotion. As she came out into the opening where they made the men work, she looked around in the night to find where she saw them take the men. 

She found the entrance but then thought, “What good will these men be as a distraction without having some type of weapons?” Sharice looked around trying to think of something to do when she saw the area piled with pick axes. “That should work,” she thought as she went to release the men. When she got to their cells, the men were all awake and ready to go. 

“See, men,” the man she made the plan with before said, “I told you guys she would be here.” 

She opened the cell and handed him the keys. “The guy who killed your wife is in a room near where the women are kept. He’s the loud and obnoxious one. Make sure you get the pick axes if you are going to stand a chance against these guys.”

The man questioned, “What will you do now?” 

“I will make my way for a vehicle and get out of here.”

He gave her his thanks before rushing away with the other men. She left the area and started making her way to the top of the hole. Once she got out, she saw the vehicles guarded by one person. Sharice tried to quickly sneak up on him, but he turned around when she got close. He pulled out his machete and started hacking at her. Sharice dodged the attacks then swiped at his feet. The guy tried recovering, but Sharice was faster. She had managed to get on top of him, but her advantage was short lived when he grabbed her by the hair and snatched her off. He tossed her off of him and picked up the machete. He ran at Sharice looking intent on killing her. She reached for the knife she got before and tackled him. Before he could do anything, she buried the knife in his throat. She grabbed the keys he had and left in the direction of the mountain. 

The trip took her less than a day this time. Once she got there, she waited until a helicopter finally showed up. They hovered over the mountain as a ladder was lowered for her. 

When she got in the helicopter, Phillip, a man working for the agency that dropped her off in the desert, asked her, “Did you enjoy your time there?”

“Like a day at the spa.” The sarcasm stuck out in her tone like a horse amongst donkeys. Phillip ignored it though. 

“Well, you passed the trial. Are you ready for the real mission now?” 

Sharice looked over the desert sand as it seemed to roll over itself in a never-ending fashion. She thought about the man who lost his wife and both men whose lives she had taken. If she wasn’t ready now, she never would be. 

“Let me hear it.”

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Paula Shablo: The Last Stop on the Line

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.  Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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Author’s note: This is a continuation of June’s story, “The Last Train”.

The Last Stop on the Line

Paula Shablo 

Rebecca’s jaw was clenched in determined resolve. She moved among the others in the security team as they made their way to the subway platform.

Mark walked beside her, crestfallen, but resigned. “I wish you’d change your mind,” he told her quietly. He knew she wasn’t going to; she no longer had a compelling reason to stay. Her husband and children had been on the surface when the explosions started; images from the city’s surveillance cameras had shown total devastation. Rebecca held no hope that they’d survived it.

Besides, the decision to bar the subway entrances made their possible survival a moot point; they weren’t ever getting back in.

Rebecca briefly considered turning back; she hadn’t brought a thing with her. She had a few dollars in cash and her bank card in her phone case, which was currently riding along in the back pocket of her jeans. Any of those things either would or would not do her some good at the end of the line; she decided she didn’t care much one way or the other.

Mark, Tony and Damien each hugged her long and fiercely before she boarded the train. They all voiced their concerns and assured her she’d be well taken care of if she’d agree to stay, but she couldn’t bear the thought of going back to an empty apartment, knowing her family was never going to return. She gave them one last shaky smile, turned her back, and stepped through the door.

There were plenty of people aboard, but it wasn’t so full that she couldn’t find a seat by herself. She was in no mood to talk to anyone, and thought she might have a good cry once the train got moving. She looked around at the other passengers and realized she wouldn’t be the only one succumbing to tears.

Finally, she was unable to resist the urge to look out the window. The security team was still on the platform, waiting. Her eyes met Mark’s through the window, and she smiled shakily, even as tears rolled down her cheeks. He looked like he wanted to say something; his mouth worked, but didn’t seem to be forming words. Then, he smiled back and nodded encouragingly, but there was no way to miss the tears standing in his eyes.

Damien had his face turned away from her, talking into his radio. He’d continue finding something to do until the train pulled away, Rebecca knew. He and her husband, Jeff, had been great friends for years, and he wasn’t doing well.

Tony gave her a thumbs-up sign as the train started to pull away. She returned the gesture, more to perk him up than to express any optimism.

As the train began its departure, the team on the platform started walking away. Rebecca sighed, knowing she would never see her friends again.

Things had happened so fast and had been so odd that Rebecca knew the motorman had to have serious concerns about the state of the tracks. But Megan and Ruben had seen no damage anywhere along the lines, at least where surveillance cameras were in place.

She had deliberately taken a backward facing seat, as the train would be moving in reverse, back to its destination stop. She wanted to see where they were going. No one was next to her or across from her, which suited her just fine.

Across the aisle, a lone man sat, his face buried in a thick hardcover book. Rebecca sighed. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d gone anywhere without something to read. She strained to get a glimpse of the cover—reader’s curiosity overwhelmed her—but he was sitting at an odd angle and she couldn’t see it.

This would be a long trip. With nothing to distract her, all she could do was think about Jeff and Holly and Joe. She’d seen the destruction of the Broadway stop; she could only pray that they’d been far from it when things went so drastically wrong; she could only pray that they had somehow escaped.

Surely there were survivors on the surface.

The train picked up speed, and Rebecca leaned against her window, trying to see ahead to the next platform. Would there be more passengers to board? Would they stop?

As she stared out, there was a sudden flash of light unrelated to the periodically placed fluorescents along the track. It was almost as if they’d passed directly into a storm cloud as lightning strobed through the atmosphere.

The passengers gasped and squeezed their eyes shut. Rebecca waited, in vain, for the screams to start. It seemed, however, that these people were all screamed out. There were sounds of quiet sobbing, a few mumbled questions, and that was all.

Flash.

Flash.

It wasn’t like a strobe light, and yet that was as close to a comparison that Rebecca could reach. The reader across the aisle lowered his book to his lap, and looked at her, eyebrows raised. She shrugged.

When the flashing stopped, Rebecca resumed her attempts to see where they were going. That’s when she noticed that the tunnel and tracks now looked nothing like the ones she had been monitoring for the last five years.

The walls were dark grey, and the fluorescent lighting had been replaced by bulbs in wire baskets hanging from the ceiling. The walkway on her side of the car was mostly dark; metal handrails ran the course, with the occasional candle-like light placed for a minimal visual aide.

A woman’s voice from behind her: “What is this place?”

Another voice, ahead of her, this one male: “Where are we?”

The train slowed down. Rebecca held her breath, anticipating an overhead announcement from the motorman. None came.

The conductor, a grizzled Hispanic who looked to be well past retirement age, made his way up the aisle toward her. He looked bewildered and frightened; he wasn’t bothering to check for tickets. He stopped walking a few feet away, flopped into an empty seat and triggered his radio. “Okay up there, Joe?”

“Yeah.” The reply was staticky, but clear enough. “Weird shit goin’ on here, Juanito.”

“Si.” The old man paused. “Did we take a wrong turn?”

“There is no turn.” Joe’s voice sounded as bewildered as Juan looked. “I don’t… I guess we’ll just keep going.”

“Si, mi amigo. Track goes somewhere. Seguro.”

“For sure.” Joe agreed. “It’s clear. Looks stable. I’m just taking it a little slow, that’s all.”

The passengers in Rebecca’s car had no trouble hearing this exchange, but there were other cars and other passengers to consider, so Motorman Joe finally elected to make an announcement on the overhead speakers.

“Attention, ladies and gentlemen. It appears we have taken a detour of some sort. I’m as surprised as you probably are. I’m sure you noticed the different scenery out your windows. I have slowed the train to be certain that we don’t encounter any surprises on the track ahead.”

There was a pause. Then he added, “This has been an interesting day. If you believe in the power of prayer, you all might lend a voice to mine and ask for a good end to this ride.”

Things had gotten interesting, all right, Rebecca thought. So much so, she had forgotten to have her cry. She wondered what Megan and Ruben were seeing on the monitors back in the security room. This wasn’t something she’d ever seen, and she’d monitored miles of track in all directions.

“Toto,” she whispered. “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

The gentleman across from her heard this, and replied, “I’m not sure we’re in Oz, either.”

As the train slowed down, they began to hear a locomotive-like clatter as it moved over the tracks, very unlike the hum of an electronic. Clack-clack, clack-clack. Uneasiness filled the car, and the passengers began to move from their separate seats to sit closer together.

Rebecca was disinclined to do this, at least for now. She was still reeling with the pain of losing her family and felt that if anyone sat too close to her, she might fly into a real case of hysterics. The way things were beginning to look, she might be with these people for a while. She didn’t care to embarrass herself right off the bat.

The reading-man across the aisle made no move toward her; it seemed he understood her state of mind. He did smile kindly, though. “It looks like we’re on a bit of an adventure,” he said.

“One I could have done without,” Rebecca replied dryly.

“Indeed.” The man nodded. He drummed long fingers on the cover of his book. “My plan was brunch with my wife.” He looked out his window, pensively watching as those periodic candle-shaped lights flashed by. His voice was low and soft as he added, “I hope she was somewhere safe.”

Rebecca swallowed hard before she offered, “My husband and children were out for the day. Work. School. I hope the same for them.” Then she added, “For everyone.”

An older woman made her way up the aisle, and after some hesitation, sat across from Rebecca. “I saw you with Security at the station,” she said.

Rebecca nodded.

“Were you with them? I mean…” The woman looked flustered, but pressed on. “Do you work there?”

“I did,” Rebecca admitted.

“What did you see?”

Rebecca looked around the car, mostly to acknowledge her suspicion that all eyes were on her now. She sighed. Did she really want to describe the images they were able to pull up on the cameras around the city? It was bad enough that the footage was now permanently seared into her brain.

Then again, what was the point in lying? There were valid reasons Megan and Ruben had elected to lock down the underground. Letting people return to the surface would be like sending them to their deaths. Letting outsiders come down below would reduce the limited resources of those who made their homes in the underground.

There was no win/win situation to be found, no easy compromise, no information to sift through, and no time to debate.

“We saw chaos,” Rebecca replied. “We saw destruction and death. Massive levels, all over the city.”

“Where are we going, then?” The woman bit her lip hard enough to draw blood.

Rebecca had no answer; the train had had a destination, but it appeared to have gone drastically off course. Nothing she could see out the windows was familiar; these were not the tracks and tunnels she had monitored. If they were to stop and look around, Rebecca suspected there would be no cameras to be found.

“Miss?”

“I don’t know,” Rebecca admitted. “I have no idea where we are now.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know? Isn’t it your job to know?” This, from a young man with a purple mohawk and an eyebrow ring that looked like a pitchfork.

Rebecca was beginning to regret her decision to leave the underground.

“Look,” she began, “I—”

She was interrupted by the overhead speakers. “We are nearing the end of the tunnel and will return to the surface in approximately two minutes.” The motorman’s voice was shaky. “I can see the light ahead of me. I’m not sure now where we’re going to come out of this…”

“How can you people not know?” Mohawk was agitated, but didn’t seem to be contemplating any crazy moves.

Rebecca sighed. “There was a plan, to get as far out of the city as possible. The track we’re on should have led straight there. But…”

“Things have changed,” the reader across the aisle acknowledged, after a long pause.

“It was the lightning,” Mohawk suggested.

“I just do not know,” Rebecca admitted. “I have never seen tunnels like this. I don’t know how we could have changed tracks. There are no other tracks…”

Farther down the car, a child turned to her mother and said, “I’m scared, Mommy.”

Her mother replied, “I guess we all are.”

Clack-clack, clack-clack.

The train was moving backward; that hadn’t changed. The motorman wasn’t able to see ahead of him through his window. What he saw was what they were leaving behind. Still, he had monitors that showed him clearly what was ahead, and when the back of the train emerged from the tunnel, all the passengers heard his gasp from the overhead speakers.

All eyes turned toward the windows, and faces pressed against the glass, trying to see what was coming.

As they emerged from the tunnel, they all gasped and murmured amongst themselves. “Where are we? What is this place?”

It was a full desert landscape, low shrubs and sand dunes. The train slowed, then slowed even more as they approached a low structure that looked to be made of a combination of board planks and logs. As they came alongside it, they could read a sign: “Welcome to Outback Station. End of the Line.”

Clack….clack…clack…clack…

The train came to a stop.

Silence on the train.

Finally, Rebecca directed a question to the Conductor. “Is he going to open the doors?”

Juanito thumbed the button on his radio, and flinched when it uttered a squawk. “Joe? Doors?”

“Yeah, yeah.” The doors slid open.

No one moved. All eyes were on Rebecca.

Jesus, why me? She felt a sudden intense irritation with the woman who had exposed her as a security employee.

Whatever. She stood abruptly, causing the others to jump a little in their seats. She found this reaction appeased her irritation a little. She stepped to the door.

There was a wooden boardwalk just beyond the threshold, and she stepped out. It was wide enough for at least four grown people to walk side by side. She walked toward the station, unsure of herself but unwilling to let her trepidation show.

Mohawk had followed her out. “Do you know where we are?” he asked.

“Nope.”

She looked beyond the station, and saw a huge, teepee shaped rock, deeply fissured, standing alone in the midst of low rock formation and sand. Besides the station building, there didn’t seem to be anything else around besides sand and rocks and the occasional scrub bush.

“God, I hope there’s someone inside that building.”

“Me, too.”

People began creeping out of the open doors of the train. They slowly made their way to the doors of the station—there were four, all closed. The building was long, nearly the length of the train they’d arrived in.

Rebecca took a deep breath before grasping the handle of the door in front of her. Mohawk put a comforting hand on her shoulder. She pressed the latch, and it clicked audibly, making them both jump.

Not locked…

If it were possible to exchange looks with so many people at once, they all did so now. Every face was resolute. They were going in.

Whatever else happened, this really was the last stop on the line.

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Please visit Paula’s blog for more of her work: https://paulashablo.com/

Marian Wood: Strangers in the Sahara Desert

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Strangers in the Sahara Desert

Marian Wood

Sahara Desert

I’d always wanted to explore the Sahara Desert. For some reason, never-ending sand and dry heat had always appealed to me. I had agonised and planned for this trip for years. Meeting Frank had never been part of my agenda.

After my hectic planning, I then got myself lost in London Gatwick. I’ve never had the best sense of direction, so finding the right gate for the flight to Morocco proved beyond me. On my final confused circuit of the airport, the tall man with the long dark ponytail struck me as unusual. I’m sure the streaks of eyeliner made me look a bit crazy, but it meant that he was concerned enough to stop and offer help.

Finally, we found the gate, and on boarding the plane., I learnt that he had dreamt about the Sahara too.

So, having set out on a one-person expedition, we were now on a two-man mission. This was my trip of a lifetime and now I had company, and he wasn’t bad looking either. However, was sightseeing in the desert with a stranger really a wise idea?

Camels and sand

Arriving to camels, sand, and heat, yellow stretched out in front of me for miles. Ensuring we had enough water was a task. Trying to make sure that we had enough to stay hydrated was essential.

Excitement ran through me, this was it, I was about to ride a camel across the desert and explore. A dream fulfilled but this was not how I had expected it. Listening to Frank singing about ‘riding across the desert on a horse with no name,’ I was sure that meeting him had been a mistake.

His face and body were attractive, but why did he insist on singing?

Approaching the sand pyramids, we heard a scream. Glancing over at Frank, he had stopped and was looking at me. What now? In the middle of the Sahara with two camels and a stranger, this sounded like a disaster.

Lorna

Lorna Williams had been looking forward to her Moroccan holiday. The man she met in the hotel bar was attractive and appeared genuine. After a few drinks and agreeing to go to his room, she had woken to sand. Screaming, she knew no one could hear her, and through the yellow fog she could see bodies.

Bodies in the middle of the Sahara Desert was not a good sign. Screaming now turning into persistent shouting in desperation. Scared of dying like the others, she tried to stand up. Seeing the knots around her legs, Lorna could see her life flashing past her. Struggling to scream, she couldn’t give up.

Sand pyramid

Kicking the camels towards the pyramid, I felt sick. Was I about to be screaming too?

“Jane, stay here.”

“No way, I’m coming.”

“This could be dangerous.”

“Yes, but I’m not waiting here.”

Ignoring Frank, I nudged my camel towards the sand pyramid. As Frank followed, I wondered what we were about to find. With the heat burning down like a raging fire, my throat was dry. I was desperate for water, but I could hear the screaming, clearer now as the pyramid got closer.

Lorna

With the surrounding bodies like statues, she was desperate to make noise. Any water Lorna had, was finished hours ago. This was it, she was going to die. Finally, exhausted and thirsty, she closed her eyes to the world and lay down, fully drained.

Jane

Jumping off the camels, everything was quiet. Looking at Frank, I was shaking. What were we doing? We weren’t Bonnie and Clyde, and certainly not heroes.

Walking into the pyramid, shock swept over me like a tidal wave. Frank ran back to his camel for a flare and to find help. Checking for life, there were ten here in total. Someone had been busy. Hearing a faint sound, I listened. Someone had been screaming, they had to still be here.

Seeing movement, I realised that the blonde in the corner was alive. Rushing over, I found my water in my backpack and offered it to her. Relieved when she drank, I willed Frank to hurry up. Feeling uncomfortable, what could I say? ‘Are you okay?’ was an obviously stupid question.

Rescue

A while later I heard the rumbling of engines, help on its way. Feeling someone’s arms around my shoulders, I was numb. Watching two sheiks with medical supplies as they sat her up, I heard the word “stranger.”

I could have ended up here too. Frank was also a stranger, but I was glad that he was with me. Watching him deal with the sheiks and now the police taping off the area, he was in control, whereas I was feeling awkward and my head was hurting with crazy thoughts.

When you have dreams of exploring the Sahara Desert, the last thing you expect is to find a pyramid full of dead people. You also don’t plan on meeting a handsome stranger at the airport, who can then deal with an emergency situation.

Later at the hotel, we learnt about the serial killer. These people had all been dumped one by one and abandoned in the heat to die. Frank and I had saved the woman’s life. We were heroes, and now the police had a good description of the killer.

Resolutions

A back-packing holiday with a difference. A single woman picked up by a stranger and then left for dead. The stuff of horror novels, Lorna knew that her life had nearly become a sad tragedy. She was saved by another woman who had also been picked up by a stranger. Lorna hoped that Frank was really as nice as he seemed and not like Stuart, or as she knew now, Peter, the serial killer maniac.

Jane

Meeting Frank had changed the course of my Sahara break. Had I not met him at the airport, we wouldn’t have found Lorna. We also wouldn’t be sitting here months later, cuddling, watching Netflix. Our holiday and meeting will be something that keeps being retold. I’m sure a more exciting story than most, and thankfully ending with the serial killer in prison for many years, and Lorna happily safe and well.

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Please visit Marian’s blog for more of her writing: https://justmuddlingthroughlife.co.uk/ 

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