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Prompt 6 : Coming Undone | Word Count : 1200 (exactly!) | Genre : Travel Memoir

I should have listened to that little voice.

I squint into the setting sun. They’re true; those movies depicting deserts as a golden blended haze of sun and sand. My reveling evaporates with the hollow sound of my water bottle. Empty.
“Have you guys got water?”

My croaky question sends a few lizards scrambling. I stare at my two silent friends, realizing the meaning of their non-commitment. Shit!
“We have to turn around,” I say as casually as I can, “we cannot spend the night with no water.”

The rising panic is palpable. But we know. There is only one way, and that is back to the river.

*****

A few hours before, we were reminiscing under a tamarisk tree. The river was close enough to crawl to, I noticed absently as I listened to the chatter. Our grateful limbs settled into the sparse shadows as we tried to remember how we ended up there.

“Humph,” said Rene, “they said we must make sure we have proper maps.”
“And we said ‘it’s a canyon, surely one just follows the river?’”  Both Rene and Dina nodded, remembering. The concerned ‘they’ wanted to know why we were not packing tents.
“You are so exposed out there!”  they said. And we were brazen in reply.
“Why? It only rains two days a year. It IS a desert, remember?”

Regardless of our arrogant responses to the well-intended advice, we decided to play it safe and prepared.
We researched.
We trained.
We anticipated difficulties.
We provided for survival.
We repacked.

Then we shut out fear. And we turned a deaf ear to the little voice.
We were ready and the monster was coiled in silent waiting.

The descent sported chains to hang on to, while adjusting our balance with loaded backpacks – as we were warned in the many blogs we read. Slow, step-by-step downwards to protect toes – as experience taught us. Regular stops to oxygenate thighs – as demanded by failing lungs and muscles. Every stop an excuse to inhale the arid river-scape, but also to swallow the angst. Hours on our feet downhill, trembling legs and the smallest distance covered before calling it a day.

Too tired to cook, we settled down with snacks and water and a shy moon, hiding behind clouds that quickly assembled into a noisy storm. Our first night out, under a sky filled with thunder and lightning and no tents. Surrounded by storm-echoes rollerblading off fearsome cliffs we huddled together. We shimmered, in the unabating show of lightning like Christmas lights, on-and-off. Hoping to stay dry, we sat on our hastily repacked backpacks and used flimsy space blankets as partial cover. And much later for warmth. As the groans of the canyon became distant we fell into exhausted sleep, not noticing the milky way gliding along its path.

The next morning all was washed clean. Even the trail. The faint proof of human activity was not there anymore. There was a sea of boulders and mile-high walls hugging the gurgling river.
We lost the trail.
We lost the canyon.
We lost spirit.
We lost track of distance and time.
We became profoundly tired – bordering on dangerous. A previously unknown sense of hopelessness stalked us.

THAT’s how we ended up under the Tamarisk tree.

For the umpteenth time we studied our maps. And finally we agreed. There was an emergency exit, close by. We were going out. We quit. We were leaving this canyon with blind corners and dead ends and no contact or signal and we were going to phone whoever to fetch us.

“My toes are like marshmallows, rolled in honey,” Dina said.
“That sweet?” Rene tried some light-heartedness, which we all felt with the certainty that came with the abandonment agreement.
“No! That fat and sticky!” Dina moaned. “And I can do with a shower and pampering.”

We found the dirt track snaking up, over a manageable cliff. We marched on and for the first time in days, felt the return of hope. Walking with new vigor and lighter packs we checked for phone signal.

Much later, guided by a thin two-track disappearing into a flat desert, we finally register. There was no connection to the outside world; no end to the road, no rescuers awaiting us with luxuries, and no water.

*****

There is only one way, and that is back to the river. All the chirpiness is gone. The way back is further. Harder. Heavier. It has no sound.

Darkness infiltrates everywhere. And gains weight. It fabricates an unfamiliar edge. It smothers the senses.  Once again the Milky Way shows its magic, but we are too busy listening to darkness and despair, to notice.

After lifetimes of stumbling, I stop. Suddenly. Dina walks straight into me and Rene into her.
“Dominoes!” I say, but not without affection. “I think I can see the Tamarisk. Am I hallucinating? Please tell me you see it?”
Dina tries to speak, she coughs and her hoarse reply coincides with Rene’s yelp which disturbs owls on-the-hunt.
“That’s where we rested this morning!”
“The river is close, some stupid thing I remember noticing when we looked at the maps.” My relief shrill in my ears.

With the splash of water in our bottles and our heads on our backpacks, we agree there is only one way out of this canyon. Walk to its end.
“Another three days?” Rene asks.
“Who knows.” I say.
“We take each day as it comes. Goodnight,” Dina says and a soft rumble soon plays in the back of her throat.

The next day we see the morning star for the first time. There is a lightness around. I know the canyon is conquered.

The mind-shift is astounding – it defines the rest of our hike.

We make peace with our smell.
We adapt a casualness towards sand in our ears, our beds and in the coffee.
We accept dirt and survival are companions.
We treasure the clean wash of whiskey through a sandy mouth and down a dusty throat. And we stop purifying our drinking water.
We settle at the end of each day under an expanse too majestic to grasp.
And we learn to turn our backs to the wind when it takes us by surprise in the middle of the night.
We dance (albeit with a limp) with joy when we encounter a flat hard piece of track.
We make good use of the puddles to splash salt-peter off our toning bodies.
We lick our fingers after we polish our bowls of rehydrated meals.
We sleep in shoes and clothes.

The granite walls start tapering down and the flow of the river becomes wider. Human presence is evident. We are reaching the end of this formidable natural phenomena. We walk into a subdued camp. We know where to go; exactly the same place where we were picked up a week (or more?) before.

“We did it!” Dina sobs. I turn to laugh away her silliness and then see Rene’s face. Contorted with a primal emotion, I see the deep borne force of survival powered by hope. Proud and tired I spread my arms around them.
“We did it!” I whisper into the group-hug.

And then I become undone …

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SS#5

Prompt : Going Home     Word count : 500     Genre : Drama/Memoir

“I’m going home” I say, slightly irritated with the young woman standing in my way.
“Look at the time already.”

She says something, then calls back into the house. I see the gap and slip out. I wish I knew why I fumble so much these days? Just then the padlock bolts the gate shut. There. That will sort them out. I smile.

Suddenly I feel lost. Everything looks different.
But it is time.
I have to go.
I pretend I don’t hear them calling after me.
I don’t understand them most of the time anyway.
I wonder if they are from another country?

I choose the sidewalk where the sun is not in my face.
It’s bright.
I touch my head; then nod.
Good thing I remembered to bring my hat; I forget it; often.

The trees are changing color.
Is it already that reason… um treason… er, season?
What is that word again?
I lift my head and breathe the musty leaves.
Oh, the very lightness of being.
I try to remember the line.
Was it from a book or a movie?
Whatever it was, it still is a good one.
And it doesn’t matter that I can’t recall it now.
It will come to me later, when I’m home.
It usually does.
But now I must get going.
Otherwise I will be late getting home.

I turn the next corner.
Then I see her.
The old girl is going for a swim.
My, my she is brave.
There’s a chill in the air.
I hope she has a towel close by.
If not, she can borrow mine.
Gentleman, me.
I giggle. Yes, I will wait, she can use mine.

I find a nice spot on a rock. I sit down where I can see her splashing in the waves. She doesn’t mind the cold then? There are more people gathering on the beach now; putting their towels out. What if she finds someone else with a towel? I better get to her first.

I wave at her.
She sees me.
It’s so exciting.
Here she comes towards me.
There is concern on her face.
But I smile to reassure her.
I’m here to rescue her.

She splashes through the shallow water.
She likes me.
She is with me now.
I take my towel and hold it out to her.
“I’m going home. Here, you use my towel now. Don’t be cold”.
She folds the towel around me instead.
I don’t understand.
She hug-pulls me away from the sea.

“Come,” my girlfriend says. “I will take you home, then we can
put some clothes on. Both of us. And then we won’t be cold”.

“Dad!” a young woman calls. My girlfriend walks me towards a car.
She helps me in. “Thank you again Mrs Morris and sorry, we are changing medication” says the young one. “At least yesterday he had clothes on,” my girl says.

“Am I going home?” I ask. “Is it time?”

They nod.

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Prompt :– A New Life
Word count :– 1000 words
Genre :- Futuristic (or not!)

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                                FORGIVE                                

     by Annalie Kleinloog

She blows her nose.  There is blood on the tissue and on her fingers.

She hesitates, then looks up from the basin where her stained T-shirt soaks. The familiar puffiness around her cheekbone already shines. It will soon reach her eye. But her nose looks more skew. Damn. She will have to dig up more than the usual excuses before work on Monday. The weekend is not long enough to recover from this one.  Better go finish dinner while he is absorbed in the match of the season; and his umpteenth beer. He wants food by six.

As she fumbles for a clean tissue in her apron pocket, she finds the business card. Her heart skips a beat. She put it there, but forgot to throw it away. The letters and numbers on it swim into recall. It was a chance meeting this morning.  She escapes from her immediate abuse with a sigh and a dreamy smile. The smile hurts the closing eye and she winces.

When they had both stopped in recognition, eons between now and then vanished. She flicked her long blonde fringe expertly over old bruises when she greeted Tim. He looked excited to see her.

“Where have you been all these years?”

Her forced cheerful explanations couldn’t hide emotional and physical pain. She caught a flash of something in Tim’s eyes as he gave her his card.

“I’m in the area for a week, let’s catch up some time, if you can.”

She did not miss the quick glance to her covered eye. Embarrassed she hastened away with a feeble excuse; intent on never bumping into him again.

Halfway down the stairs now, aching in unseen places, she reconsiders that invitation. But quickly changes her mind as she hears her husband’s snort in disgruntlement. No, she cannot aggravate the situation.

The TV madness is suddenly interrupted with an important announcement. His drunken cursing overlaps what sounds like a global warning. She stops at the landing and leans over the balustrade to get a better view, but quickly pulls back as he gets up to fetch another beer. She hears the fridge door open and leans over again to see the full screen president of the USA.

Stern. Serious. More terrorist attacks?  She holds her breath, hoping the beer will take a while. Straining to hear beyond the kitchen clutter.

“… an asteroid the size of Hawaii is approaching Earth. Its impact is computed to be in the Atlantic Ocean and is estimated to happen in 90 minutes from this announcement. It will destroy all life on earth …”

The message fades away as she absorbs and analyses at the speed of light. Little more than an hour left of life?  In the time it takes him to settle back on the couch, the news flash is done.  She’s made up her mind. She slips out the back door as she hears him flicking through channels to find his match and calling for his supper.

She dials the number on the card as she runs towards the place of their chance meeting.

“It’s me” she says, “I need to see you immediately.”

She can hear in the casualness of Tim’s reply he doesn’t know yet.

“Sure, where?”

“Can you pick me up at the Supermarket from this morning?”

“Convenient. I am just across the road, The Royal, room 503; why don’t you come up?”

Her legs move on their own accord. Five minutes wash away all inhibitions. Years of restraint now seem senseless. She knows who she wants to spend the last minutes of her life with. She always knew.

The foyer is deserted; she won’t have to wait for the elevator. She stumbles out on the fifth floor as others rush in. His bedroom door opens almost immediately. She falls forward into his arms. The way he holds her tells a million tales.

He knows.

He knows about the asteroid.

He knows she always knew, because he did too.

He knows she always wanted to confess, but she feared to acknowledge it.

They don’t speak. They hardly breathe. A lifetime of missed opportunities and wasted emotions spill over them in silence.   She glances at her watch. By now her husband must be breaking down their flat in his search for his usual victim. How dare she ignore his calls for supper? It is five minutes past dinner time.  She pulls away from the embrace.

“Did you hear….?” Tim puts his finger to her lips.

“No time for senseless questions. Let’s just remember and share.”

He walks over to the minibar. Opens a bottle. Hands her a glass.

“I want to know you, before I lose you – again”

“This time, we will be together, forever. An end to this, but a chance on a new life. Riding an asteroid into a new world?” she manages to smile.

She doesn’t try to hide the bruises.   He sits and listens.  She sits and talks.  Time stands still. As he touches her swollen cheek, a slight shudder runs through the building.

Is this it?

Tim pulls her up into a long awaited embrace. His warm breath close to her ear.

“Now it is time to forgive,” he says. “I can’t have you while he still possesses you. Albeit through hatred or resentment. Forgive him and let him go.”

She sobs.   How can she?   So much wasted time? So much hurt? So much pain? So much fear?  How is it possible?

He kisses her tears away gently. And opens the curtains – the sun is setting red above a city filled with chaos and noise. Everyone and everything in a rush to somewhere or someone. Or nowhere.

“Look,” Tim says. “We are lucky. We are together. We have each other.”

The horizon turns dark and the pandemonium continues in the streets below.

“You are right”, she lifts her face to be kissed, “I forgive”.

As Tim bends over her the last thing she sees is a wall of blackness rolling towards them…

THE END

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