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! 

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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! 

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

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/