Hilary’s Short Challenge #1 – Vice/Desert/Mystery
I wanted to share with you a short story I wrote. It is part of a series I would like to try and continue moving forward. Sometimes when I am finding it slower to write or I am between projects I like to do short stories just to play around with new ideas.
So one of the things I started with my partner Hilary is for her to provide me with a Theme/Location/Genre and I give myself 24 hours to write and edit it. They are by no means perfect, but I think they are fun. This is the first one in the series I guess. Some of you might have already read this if you are on my email list. If you’re not on the email list and you want access to some more stories early on or would like to keep up to date with different projects I’m working on then please sign up!
I hope you enjoy it.
George Weatherspoon III brooded on the top of a sandhill just 500 feet away from his 1.4 million dollar pit he’d had dug beneath the desert floor. He’d never intended to let the project go this far, though intent, rarely mattered when it came to discovering what he’d hoped would be the lost Cave of Enlightenment, though now be best described as a tomb he’d be better off burying himself in.
George thrust his hand into the sand and its billions of rounded golden granules of quartz, pulling it out only to watch as tiny rivers of gold slipped through his fingers as quickly as his dreams had. A truck engine fired up in the distance and George didn’t even bother to turn back to look, he knew it was the last of the workers, unhappy with being sent home early though nowhere near as angry as they were sure to become when news spread that George couldn’t pay them for their last week of work.
Another problem for another day. George thought bitterly as he threw his head back, letting the last rays of sunshine warm his face. It was almost pleasant had it not been for the persistent torment and constant re-enactment of his personal failures.
He would have screamed into the darkening void had it not been for his tailored upbringing to never show any signs of emotions save for the pleasant smile offered to distinguished members of his family and the occasional guest. The Weatherspoon name was rooted deep in high noses, silent judgment, and deep pockets. Not nearly as deep as I needed.
The sun sank low towards the horizon setting the world before him into an explosion of fiery reds, incandescent yellows and opulent purples as the setting sun clashed against the birthing night sky. No stars were visible yet though it was only a matter of time before darkness shrouded George’s world and speckled his vision with countless stars depicting tiny visions of universal history.
George pushed himself to his feet and watched the miniature avalanche of sand cascade down the hill in front of him, suddenly aware he was too proud to take that first step towards the distant sun and endless horizon, to end his current misery. With a heavy sigh, he turned around and trudged along the sandy hills back towards his empty hole ignoring the shadowy creatures rosing from their homes beneath the sand.
He’d nearly covered the distance to camp when he noticed a flickering pale green hue illuminating from inside his pit. Now in the near complete darkness, George could only just make out enough to know that not a single soul had stayed behind, save maybe for someone naïvely searching for justice with George Weatherspoon, third of his name. A welcomed idea?
Shaking the weakened thought from his mind, George understood to his core he was not ready to end it all, that surely a man of his stature and prowess could always find a way to recoup his losses and perhaps turn this around. All he needed to do was insist he’d not been wrong and spin his failure into a narrative better suited for a man of his stature. He would, could never hang his head in shame. I’m a bloody Weatherspoon for Christ’s sake!
Possessed with a new vigour George approached the hole ready to stand his ground, but before his bravado had a chance to carry his intent over the side towards whomever was prodding around his hole, he halted, marking the figure below him.
They appeared short or hunched perhaps and from George’s positioning and distance, there was no way to tell the sex of the intruder nor make out their body, face, legs or any real recognizable features at all. What George could see was a thick archway protruding out of the sandstone in every green light. Enclosing the archway, embedded into its surface were glowing green runes which appeared slowly as the hooded figure spoke and pressed a narrow gaunt hand against an inverted double-lined triangle.
“I know what it is you seek.” Said a voice, though George was unsure if the voice was heard aloud or in his head, given its clarity in his mind.
“What are you doing in my pit?” George called out, very much aloud as he heard his words echo off the far wall where the stranger stood.
“You will not find it.” The Stanger said, its voice was clear despite its raspy and thin quality, like some aged voice whispering on a foggy night.
George leaned in to take a better look at the runes around the edge of the archway and though he couldn’t make them all out there was a familiar quality about them and enough he could decipher from his position the word Enlightenment, which was enough to perk him up if only a little.
“Perhaps you can show me, how to find it?” George said taking a tiny step towards the rim of the pit, peering ever closer though careful not to step over the edge.
“Why should I help you?” The face turned back to peer back at George though he saw nothing more than a glint from their eyes beneath their hood.
“I can make it worth your while.” George lied, knowing full well he had nothing left to give, apparently not even his word was worth much.
“Only one can enter.” The voice rasped just as George felt something crawl across the top of his foot and he glanced down spotting a dozen or scorpions scurrying out from the depths of the pit and over his feet. Shocked, George kicked the arachnid off his foot, losing his balance in the process as he slipped sending both sand and the venomous creatures soaring through the air as his body plummeted down the fifteen feet towards the hard sandstone floor.
With an agonizing crunch, George Weatherspoon III felt his ankle snap before his tailbone smashed against the hardened surface sending a surge of pain rushing up his spine and into the back of his neck before spreading tiny tendrils of pain throughout his body. He lurched side to side in agony his brain unable to process the spasms of hurt coursing through his body. He might have lived in this misery a moment longer had it not been for the touch of a cold hand against his forehead and when he opened his eyes to examine the fresh soothing sensation, he caught, for the first time, the sight of the withered and frail face before him. They appeared to be a walking mummified corps with thin dry lips and cracked flat nose. Had their beady black eye not been staring at him, George might have assumed they were dead. Perhaps they are?
“I need help,” George whispered holding his leg. The corps stared at him for a long moment before moving away slowly and George glanced back at the door fading away in the distance since the stranger’s hand was no longer pressed against its walls. “The Door!” George screamed watching as all his dreams vanished with its pale emerald glow.
“Only one may enter. Only one can see what lies beyond the doorway.”
“I need to know,” George said wincing as he struggled to his feet. The stranger put out a hand for him to take, and he eyed the stranger warily wondering how this frail creature might support him in any way.
“The choice is yours.” They said quietly and once again George wondered if they’d moved their lips at all. Feeling the pain not just from his fall but from losing all he’d been working towards. To be so close to the Cave of Enlightenment only to give up now. Should I be so weak as to let fear take me now? What more do I have to lose?
Wincing as he took a step closer George clasped the withered hand of the stranger feeling an immediate warmth wash over his body as his pain subsided and was replaced with something akin to hope.
With easy stripes now, George walked alongside the stranger towards the fading door desperately trying to peer into the dark void beyond but seeing nothing but absolute darkness.
“If you wish to see the truth, willingly be the key and let the truth set you free.” The stranger said taking a step back and waiting patiently for George to decide.
“It’s the only way to see inside?” He asked his hand hovering over the double-lined triangle now fading into the night.
“Yes.” The stranger nodded.
George clenched his hand repeatedly feeling the tightness firm up and fade away with each repetition. He could feel his heart throbbing against his chest and pumping away within his ears until the steady beat threatened to deafen him. Stealing a deep breath George pressed his palm against the surface stone face and its symbol.
The rock was still warmed from the daylight, though that was not what he’d been expecting. He wasn’t sure what, if anything, would happen but surely there must be more than… nothing. He waited, annoyed, for a moment looking into the void darkness feeling a surge of uneasiness rising within him.
But just as he was prepared to chide the stranger for their lies a faint glimmer of light shone out from the void, at first he thought maybe it was a trick of his eyes, But then it was quickly followed by another, then another before a cravenness space appeared before him filled with uncountable books, treasures stacked up into tiny dunes of gold, glimmering diamonds and gemstones larger than Georges fists. He tried to speak but all that came out was choked laughter feeling satisfied in his knowledge he’d been right and no longer would his name be dragged through the mud. He made to say as much, turning back to speak to the stranger. But they were no longer there. The withered mummified corpse shrouded in a black cloak was no longer present but replaced by a woman not much younger than himself her dark hair and eyes sparkled with golden threads and he smile shone brightly with the moonlight as she turned and walked away.
“Where are you going?”
“I told you. Only one may see what’s inside the cave of enlightenment.” She smiled thinly, and although he looked for it, he found no hint of malice in her stare. Just the wariness of someone freed from confinement after so many years exiled.
George pulled his hand away and chased after the woman who was already up her first flight of stairs and as George made his way up the stairs, he felt the pull of some invisible force dragging him back towards the door.
“You tricked me!” George shouted as anger boiled within him.
“No. I did not.” The woman said calmly. “Only one may see within the cave.” And without another word, she stepped over the edge leaving George Weatherspoon III staring up at the night sky in his tomb beneath the stars.