OK, petty babies, I've been absent a little as I had business in NYC, so not much blogging but plenty of reading. See my review of Anna Dressed in Blood which was *awesome*.
But it's Sunday, and I'm here, and I have my coffee which is getting cold as I sit here and type, and even my tootsies are a little cold on this beautiful, cool fall morning, and I have to get back to Haley's story. It's time.
So, Haley's dumped that dick Tuggin and went off into the desert on her own, and now she's kind of lost, kind of hungry, and kind of scared. She's starting to regret her kind of impulsive move to run away. Oh Haley, chin up! Things can't get worse...right?
The next morning, the sun washed the endless dull desert in brilliant red. The sunrise held me hypnotized until the sun rose over the horizon; then it became the usual every day yellow, and the boring desert sand became boring again.
My head buzzed as if a swarm of angry locusts were munching my brain cells. There had to be water out here somewhere…there were trees; scrubby and shriveled, but alive. Using my cup, I dug in the sand, hoping to find an underground spring. Nothing. I sat back, scraping my tongue over my cracked lips.
Could I suck my own sweat off my skin? But it looked like my body had run out of water, too, because I wasn’t even sweaty. I tapped my forehead with my cup, watching sand drift back into my hole.
Sorrel snuffed the ground, sneezing and spraying sand. I rubbed his face. Did the people on Eyidora pray to the Eyids? I’d never prayed before…Mom had never even talked about religion. What the hell…it was worth a try.
“Nala? It’s me, Haley. Look, I’m really thirsty, and I made a huge mistake, and it’ll be all my fault if Sorrel dies. Can you help me out a little? Send a little rain? I would, um, really appreciate it, okay?”
I blinked at the horizon, half-expecting to see rain clouds coming at me, but the Eyids weren’t listening. Sure, they came prancing into my dreams so that they could boss me around, but neglected to care when I needed help.
“Why are you doing this to me?” I yelled at the sky.
After a few minutes of desert silence, I tossed my cup into my pack. I shook the water sack.
“Not much left, big guy.”
I skipped eating breakfast. The last thing I wanted was to need a drink of water to wash down my dry food. After giving Sorrel a few drops, I packed camp.
I swore the day was hotter than any others so far. I rocked to Sorrel’s uneven rhythm. My head ached so much it hurt to lift it, so I just let it hang to my chest. My swollen tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. I was turning into one of those dead people, the ones I’d seen in that town with Tuggin.
I didn’t want to die.
The landscape shimmered in front of me. My chest tightened. The sun was overhead, but the moons were to my right. Had they been in front of me the day before? I couldn’t remember, and no matter where I looked, I couldn’t find those freaking hills anywhere.
“Nomer,” I whispered. “A little help would be nice. Just give me some kind of signal, show me where to go.”
I halted Sorrel and slipped down his side, landing on my knees. I shuddered violently and threw up, but there was nothing in my stomach, though I half expected to see my guts spilled across the sand.
“Stick a fork in me, Sorrel, I’m done.”
I got to my feet and, swaying, gave Sorrel a few gulps of water. It was almost gone.
“Nala, I’m begging you. I’m sorry if I was mean to you. Please, please, please give me water.”
I fell on my side and closed my eyes. My Eyidoran parents had died in this nature war. Had they felt like this just before they died? Had they withered into death, slowly and painfully? I wanted to cry, but there was no moisture in my body. Nature could be beautiful, but I was finding out nature could be mean.
“I hate you,” I told the sky.
“I sss-ustain life.” The voice lingered on the “S,” drawing it out in a hiss.
“No you don’t. I sustain life. I’m the life-blood of nature.”
“Nala?” I opened my eyes. The horizon blurred.
“It’s me dat supports life,” a different man said.
“Nomer?” I searched, but no one was there.
“I give life,” said the first man.
“I give life,” snapped another woman. “Do not for a moment think I will surrender my high place in the Web to you, Soltar. You cultivate life.”
“Of course, Sss-ylpha,” he replied.
“Are you the Eyids?” I croaked, squinting, but I was alone, except for Sorrel, who lay in the sand. The flies buzzing around his head pissed me off, but I didn’t have the energy to shoo them away.
“Without any one of us, life dies,” said the second woman. “We need your help.”
Even though I didn’t have the strength to get up, anger coiled in my chest like a snake. “Help you? Why can’t you help me? My sleipnir’s dying!”
“We should have known better.”
"Don't wallow in self-pity, child. You can, and you must."
I said, “I’m not wallowing.”
“The nerve of the rude little mortal,” Nala stated.
“Leave her alone. Git up, girlie.”
“If only her sss-pirit had the sss-ame strength as her mouth.”
The statement was followed by giggles. Nala.
I laid my arm over my eyes. “I'm too sick and tired to care. Just leave me alone.”
“Will you leave all the globes to perish, as those who have already perished in the desert?”
“You can accept that fate, or ya can git up off yer rump an’ do somethin'.”
The image of the dead people flashed through my mind. Was my face shriveling up already? Had my gums turned black and were my teeth about to fall out?
“Maybe we’re asking too much. She’s a mortal, after all, and a child at that.”
“She ain’t quittin’.”
“You don’t know everything, Nomer.”
“Child, would you have others die due to your selfishness?”
Witch. I shuddered and opened my eyes. “I’m not.”
“You planned to use the sss-tones for your own sss-elfish purpose.”
I opened my mouth to deny it, and then clapped it shut. Hot shame crept over my skin and I turned my head away.
“Nah, I believe in her. She won’t fail us.”
“Child, we need you. We need harmony.”
My stomach cramped. “I need water.”
“The people of this globe need your help. The people of all globes in the planetary chain need your help. Do you understand the consequences of your inaction?”
Nala said, “I showed her, and she didn’t care. She probably doesn’t even remember.”
I did remember, but seeing death in a dream wasn’t the same as feeling how real death was. I thought I was saving Mom by taking the stones and going home…but what fate was I saving her for? Mom. Elana. Ian. I couldn’t let them suffer this torture. Groaning, I pushed myself to my knees.
“You will help u-sss?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Told ya. Hee, hee, hee! Git her some water, Nala.”
“Fine. Soltar, let me give her an oasis.”
“It’s too late,” I murmured, glancing at Sorrel. “I’ve killed him.”
“There’s an oa-ssiss already. Even the desert needs water to sss-urvive.”
“I told you.”
I lifted my head. “Where?”
“Follow the sss-un.”
I couldn’t bear to look at the sun. My willpower drained away with the last of my strength and my head splat into the sand. I was being buried in nausea. “You guys are killing me.”
When my eyes opened, I saw sand. Not just sand, but every single grain, up close and personal as I lay flat on my face in the desert. My mouth hung open, and there was even sand on my lips and tongue. I wiped my tongue with the back of my hand then crawled to Sorrel.
His side heaved, and I rested my head on his neck. It was very dry and very hot. “I’m so sorry. Please get up.”
I tugged on his bridle. Sorrel lifted his head with a snort, then struggled to his feet and shook the sand out of his hair.
I followed the path of the setting sun, and when my gaze rested on the sand I saw…a tree. My lips cracked painfully when I smiled. I wasn’t sure if I’d been in dreamstate, or hallucinating, but there was my oasis.
My body ached with fever. My feet burned inside my shoes. I tried remembering the last time I peed. Was it a day ago? Two days? Whatever, it couldn’t be good that I wasn’t going at all.
I hated to think the Eyids were right, but I had been thinking only of myself and what I wanted. Dying of thirst was painful, and I didn’t want anyone to die that way. I hauled myself to my feet. It was all connected: land, air, fire, and water. None could live without the other. There had to be harmony, or else everything would die.
“We made it.”
I sloshed through the sand, dragging Sorrel. When we reached the shade of the tree, I fell to my knees. I would have kissed the ground, but my mouth already had enough sand in it.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
I tried bracing myself against one of Sorrel’s legs, but I kept missing. Finally, I grabbed his leg and hauled myself to my feet. Unbuckling his saddle and bridle, I let them fall to the ground.
Sorrel trotted around a large rock. I crawled after him then splashed into a small pool. The water cooled my burning skin. I turned my head and gulped several large swallows. Then, taking a mouthful, I just held the water in my mouth for a long time before swallowing.
I was lazing in the pool, nibbling crackers to ease my cramping stomach, when the ground shuddered. Crap. Would the Eyids interrupt my siesta with a battle? I mean, seriously, was that necessary? Lifting my head, I saw something move in the distance.
I staggered onto the sand. Squinting, I focused on what looked like a parade. Animals, and people!
“Hey!” I croaked. “Hey! I’m over here!” I grabbed my backpack and waved it.
The people-animal line stopped.
I sank to the ground. “Sorrel, we’re saved.”
There was a faint hissing, then silence. Sand trickled out from under my butt. Paused. Shifted again. The ground trembled like quivering lips, then parted, then widened. Sand swirled into its gaping mouth, spinning like water down a drain.
“This can’t be good.”
The sand whirled faster, caving in, dragging me down. Sand pressed against my chest so I couldn’t breathe. I clawed, but I kept sinking until my arms were wedged to my sides, trapping me inside a sand-cyclone.
I drew a final breath and clamped my mouth shut. The last thing I saw before slipping below the surface was Sorrel eating leaves off the tree.
There was a loud humming in my ears, and the sand kept squeezing until I thought I’d pop like a zit. Yellow spots flared behind my closed eyelids. My chest shuddered with the strain of holding my breath…how long? One minute? Two? Three? It felt like hours…it felt like forever.
Suddenly, the pressure let go of my legs. I kicked my feet, and then wiggled my hips. With a final hiss the sand spit me loose and I crumpled to the ground, feeling like a used piece of gum. It was completely dark, warm, and smelled musty, which I could taste as I sucked in air. When I had my breathing somewhat under control, I rubbed the sand out of my eyes and spit sand out of my mouth.
I waved my hand in front of my face but couldn’t see a thing. I crawled, my hand brushing against something stiff. I pulled back, and then warily patted the ground until I felt my backpack. I looped one of the straps around my wrist.
I kept crawling then rammed my head into something hard. “Ow! Damn it!” My fingers felt around in the dark. “Stupid wall.” My words fell like bricks in the heavy air.
Panting, I leaned against the wall. I must be in an underground tunnel. My heart beat drummed in my head. I’d been buried alive.
Something feathery tickled my arm, followed by a sharp pinch. I leaped up, rapped my head, but ignored the skull-pain while I swiped at my clothes. Spiders! Ew!
Red-hot pain seared my arm just below elbow, and I rubbed it, but that only seemed to fire up the heat, traveling down my arm until it hit my hand. At the same time it spread to my shoulder. Burning, itching, blistering my skin.
Fire spread through my veins. My chest burned. I fell to the ground, pawing at my clothes. Moaning, I dimly heard a voice calling me from the dark. It was too late. No one could save me now. I gave up, and let the darkness take me.