The Deserters

They found themselves lying on baked ground that, upon closer inspection, turned out to be grit and sand. Their bodies throbbed with thirst and only a rasping sound escaped their throats. They were like lost children, stumbling in the light of a new horizon. Sam and Tina had no idea how they had got here. They had just…woken up.

Only a moment ago, they were asleep in their bed with the chilly wind rattling the walls. Messages flashing on their phone, gloriously ignored. Now they were here in this unimaginable space, the feverish heat clawing at their bodies. There was nothing here; only endless, yellow desert and a sky so pale it seemed to become the ground they stood on.

What’s more, Sam and Tina were naked, utterly naked, and already their skin was starting to peel from the sun’s glare.

“How the hell-?” Sam croaked, shielding his eyes.

“This is hell.” Tina kicked a stone and looked up to the sun. She was angry, that was all. She didn’t think this would happen.

They began to exist in this torrid landscape, their bodies slowly crisping, shedding flakes of skin like snakes, living off the charred bodies of lizards who had dried up in the random desert fires which occasionally flared up in the afternoon sun. They ate the lizards’ eggs too, cracking the shells with their scaly knuckles and trying not to gag as they swallowed the runny contents. They got used to it, though they could never feel at home. Everything they did felt like an intrusion, like they were stomping over holy ground. This was a place stripped pure of everything, and only the lizards and snakes and scorpions remained; the hard, scabrous creatures left upon a parched planet.

Their bodies shrank and withered and so did their brains. Soon they had no memory of who they were or what their lives had been like before this dream. All thoughts were of survival. Sometimes, Tina wondered what she had done, but the thought soon slipped away. The bare heat cleansed them of their confusion.

They walked along endless dunes under the relentless sun; they walked until they knew death would be there at last, clutching at them. For they were hungry for an ending; to death they would be hospitable.

And yet every time they thought it would happen some miracle saved them. One day they stumbled upon a clump of strange roses with spiked, shrub-like clusters underneath them. The pinkness of these flowers was almost too much for Sam and Tina: how luxurious it seemed against the acrid sand and sky that seemed to blend together. They scrabbled at the ground and soon they found a pool of water from which they could drink. It tasted of memory.

Sated, they lay back to wait for the cool relief of evening.

You might think Sam and Tina were dreaming they were Adam and Eve, atoning for some worry or other in their dreams. You might think somebody was writing about them, forcing them into a repenting situation, painting the scene of their fate. You might think this desert some symbolic landscape, a projection of psychological space. Probably, you would be wrong.

They are destined to wander forever. For they are not some relic of original Man. They were the people who stole all they could from each other, who burned and burned in their brutal desires until they were both starved, any trace of sentiment stripped from their skeletons. It is a harsh thing to wake up beside the same person every day and wish you were dying. But it is a harsher thing to wander forever with this person, to feed off what bare necessities the world will leave when your mind is gone and there is nothing but your mortal body to fill the time. To fill the final space, to spread out your life among the sweepings and leavings of the blind and forsaken. To be the selfish ones, the deserting.

Prompts: space, lizard

by Maria Rose Sledmere

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