Very recently I had my last ever class at university, well probably my last grades aren’t final yet but I’m pretty sure they’ll let me graduate in April. In that last class I submitted the major prose project I’d been working on all semester, a five thousand word story about a girl who wakes up in a strange desert with no idea how she arrived.
I thought I would post the first thousand words or so of it here, hope you enjoy it.
I Don’t Know Where I am or How I Got Here
By Caitlin White
I wake to howling and fine dark sand running through my fingers. I’ve always been troubled by sand and its contrasts. Sand slipping through every crack in your grasp – almost in desperation – and then finding its way home with you anyway. Caught up in the fabric of towels and plastered against skin with waves of dried salt. The sand that surrounds me now hadn’t been stolen from any beach. Perhaps after years of inadvertent thievery the sand had stolen me.
I stare at the sand and then out to a horizon curved with great shifting hills. A dark beige desert runs out before me. I sit up in a way that says ‘this is not the place I went to sleep in’. Because it isn’t. Because I had gone to sleep in my bed at home and my home is not a beige desert nor is it near one. I look around, to my left is sand and on my right is more sand stretching out infinitely, as far as I can tell. Something on the nearest dune shifts and catches my eye. A large black wolf with bright eyes is sitting, watching. The wolf moves forward and I freeze, my eyes trapped in its gaze. A howl spreads from behind its teeth, a rattling, guttural sound that sticks to the bottom of my gut. As the wolf howls numerous eyes open across its body. They blink as separate entities, like morphing polka dots looking out in all directions. This lasts mere moments before the howling ends and each eye closes back into thick black fur. Then the wolf is gone down the other side of the dune. I’m no expert on wolves, but the normal ones probably never do shit like that. I try to ignore the bloody stampede about to tear itself clean out of my chest and smooth shaky hands over shaky legs.
I turn and look behind me, in the complete opposite direction from the wolf, and there lay hundreds of scattered rocky outcroppings. With colours ranging from light greys and warm yellows to vivid reds glowing like coals in the distant sunlight. The mismatched colours make the place seem childish but the air is torpid and unfriendly. My nose gathers the dry scent of this dry world and I feel unwelcome more than I feel afraid.
Beneath the fear and confusion and adrenalin racing through my bones there’s this – I wouldn’t call it a yearning or an attraction – but there’s something leading me towards the towering formations, towards something beyond that I cannot see. So I get up, wearing the same jellybean pattern pyjama pants and black tank top I went to bed in, and start walking.
The sun hangs in the air at what looks an awful lot like noon at home. I wait to see one of Dali’s melting clocks spring into view as I cross over a dune but there is only more sand. As I get closer to the outcroppings they seem to glisten faintly in the sunlight, and the sheer height of them becomes clear. They’re like spindly, twisting mountains or building block towers, about to reach their toppling point. The nearest to me is rather small compared to peaks I can see jutting out in the distance. Its jagged grey pillars are covered in part by veins of running silver. The spire hums like a cheap electric water fountain as the silver liquid seeps endlessly from its core. Pooling and solidifying where it can, extending the outcroppings surface area. Despite the molten nature of the silver the air around it is cool – almost inviting. I want to know what it feels like, I want to delve my hand under one of the oozing veins, I move forward and the humming from the core shifts to a deep rumble, large cracks spread out across its surface. I move back a couple steps – startled. Silver begins pouring from the new cracks and the temperature drops significantly. The rumbling grows deeper and more vicious, it causes the sand by its base to tremble and leap into the air. Higher up the rock itself is shaking. As I realise the whole thing is probably about to blow up or fall down or reveal that it is in fact a breathing conscious entity, everything stops. The rumbling. The shaking. The oozing silver streams. It is still again. I turn and look towards the other haphazard giants. That feeling is back, the not quite knowing where I have to go but knowing I have to get there all the same. It hinders my fear, I look back only to see I’d covered twice the distance I thought I had. The beige dunes warp and fold into one another in streams of hot air far behind me.
I walk on and the ground starts sloping downhill, the sand gives way to a more compact stone path. I follow this stable ground as it twists around the rocks. It lopes around one way and then doubles back, having realised it made a wrong turn, and stretches out in the opposite direction. As I follow it the towers of outcroppings group together in swirls of grey, beige, and small patches of that vibrant red which in the sunlight looks as if the stone walls are filled with pits of flame. The clumps of rock steadily grow larger and longer until I find myself at the bottom of a narrow canyon.
I must have been walking for hours by now but light flows into the canyon from the sun still sitting at high noon in the sky, as though it were taking a long lunch. I can’t see an end to the sheer rock walls behind or ahead of me. As I walk the walls stretch out, tall and straight without branching off into forks or cul de sacs. I haven’t seen a single plant, none growing in even the larger crannies of the rock face, or along the ground. At least there’s no weird silver gunk pouring out of these rocks. In fact besides me nothing here is moving, my footsteps crash down and echo back without competition. I sing out,
The call hits the canyon walls in zigzags and races ahead of me, growing fainter the further it gets. I stand still a moment listening after it before something stirs in me and I start running as fast as I can, after the sound of my own voice. It’s the only company I have in this place and loneliness is all the more bitter after you’ve had company. The thumps of my running feet plead the voice to slow down but it keeps speeding on, if it were more than just an echo I’m sure it would have started giggling. I chase it until suddenly the canyon walls end and I stumble out into the boundaries of an oasis.