Like reading crap that makes no sense? Me neither, that’s why I recommend you check out my short story instead. It’s about 2000 words (or 10 pages on Word) so don’t worry, you won’t grow too many grey hairs reading it.
The story’s more interesting than this cover. I promise
With the sun’s morning rays tickling the fine sand, the desert shuddered to the prods of its fiery friend, signaling its wakefulness by sending a series of shockwave ripples that rustled the land.
The two entities exchanged a mutual silence. They had a job to do and they would get to it.
The scorching sun, rising higher, assaulted the lone Marine stumbling across the vast white expanse. The vivid blue sky loomed overhead, stretching over the entire plane as the two vibrant colors from air and earth meshed together to create a dizzying juxtaposition.
Brennan wiped more sweat from his brow. He could taste salty perspiration around his mouth and his charred skin felt swollen and ready to peel. Still, he couldn’t stop. Gripping the gold cross on his necklace for comfort, he kept moving.
Brennan paused and squinted at a dark figure up ahead. To his horror, it began moving towards him. His M4A1 rifle came up.
Drip. Drip. Hiss. Hiss.
Drops of perspiration fizzled against the sand but he kept his gaze firm. The shadowy figure, growing closer, began to sprout arms, then legs, and then finally a head.
It was another soldier and he was now less than thirty yards away.
“Stop!” Brennan shouted, aiming.
Unwavering, the dark individual became clearer. His face was smooth, devoid of any debris or sunburn, and he walked with a swiftness that mocked the terrain.
He looked American but Brennan couldn’t be sure. “Squawk ID or I’ll shoot!”
The man continued towards him.
“I’m warnin’ you!”
Twenty yards away.
“Stop!” Brennan’s finger hovered across the trigger.
Fifteen yards away.
“STOP!” He gripped the trigger
Ten yards away.
He began to squeeze. But before a shot could go off, the man stopped abruptly, five yards short. “Doyle,” he said, before marching off to the side. “Come on.”
Doyle moved like a ghost, impervious to the desert’s machinations.
Brennan barely kept up. “Doyle,” he gasped, his throat drier than insulation. “Need to stop.”
Doyle remained phlegmatic. “Can’t.”
Brennan checked his canteen. It was less than a quarter full. He could feel the unforgiving golden rays burning the back of his scabbing neck to an unrecognizable brown crisp.
The only thing that kept him going was Nadine, his girlfriend. Thinking of her fair skin, and her beautiful orange hair complemented by her vivid green eyes, Brennan urged himself on.
“I get it,” Doyle said, breaking a lengthy silence.
“Get what?” Brennan worked hard to keep his mouth moistened by swallowing repeatedly. Every time he did, however, his tongue peeled against his gums. If only he could take a sip… He’d promised to pace himself, however.
“This is where sinners come to die.”
“What?” Brennan stopped. “The hell you talkin’ about?”
Doyle nodded. “I’ve made peace with it. Have you?” The desert fell silent.
“Shut your damn mouth and keep walkin’.” Brennan pressed ahead. “We’ll make it.” But he wasn’t so sure anymore either.
“Why you still carryin’ that weight?” Doyle regarded Brennan’s cumbersome backpack. “Punishin’ yourself?”
“It’s my only shot at stayin’ alive.”
Doyle grinned. “Just can’t let go, can you?”
“It’s not your problem. I’m the one carryin’ it.”
“Aren’t you always?”
Brennan’s eyes twitched. “You got a fuckin’ problem, Doyle?” He was in no mood for games.
Doyle kept smirking. “Trippin’ already? You said you spent way longer out in the Mojave.”
“This isn’t the Mojave, asshole. This is fuckin’ Iraq. Instead of passenger planes, we got our own Hercs rainin’ down 105’s on us and then later labellin’ it ‘friendly fire’.”
“Could be worse,” Doyle noted. “You could always bleed to death from a stab wound.”
Not sure how to respond to that, Brennan simply marched on ahead.
Wiping more beads of sweat away, Brennan stumbled before pausing. “Damn this bullshit…”
“Afternoon ain’t over, Zero-Two,” Doyle stated.
“Goddamnit…” Brennan growled, regretting having told him his call-sign. “I would’ve just shot you if I’d known you’d be such an asshole!” He spat out red saliva covered sand before coughing violently. The cough was excruciating—like millions of fire ants crawling up and down his throat.
“Why didn’t you?” Doyle asked.
Brennan stopped again, releasing his M4A1. It plunged into the sand with a soft swish, shuddering upon impact. Dropping to his knees, he placed his hands on top of the hot grains, taking a moment to collect himself. His silver cross glinted in the sunlight.
Doyle crouched beside him and stared off into the distance.
Brennan felt disoriented, like a flashbang had gone off. As much as his body demanded so, however, he refused to take another sip. He had to conserve his supply. He had to. He also had to get back to Nadine. She was waiting for him. She always was… “Aren’t you thirsty?”
Doyle lit up a cigarette.
Brennan couldn’t believe his eyes. “What the fuck are you doin’?”
Doyle simply chuckled and held the pack out.
He couldn’t remember. How long had he been out here exactly? Four days? Longer? His cracked lips felt as if they’d been scraped across a rough sidewalk. It was becoming ever more tempting to take that single sip but he had to refrain. There were miles to go with no foreseeable limits or boundaries in sight. Just nothingness. “You should stop smokin’.”
Doyle took another drag but didn’t exhale, his dark eyes as hollow as their surroundings. “Only if you stop drinkin’.”
“Look where it’s gotten you.”
Incensed, the weary Marine picked up his rifle and aimed. “Say that again and I will FUCKIN’ END YOU!”
Doyle took another casual drag of his cigarette before extinguishing it.
His throat peeling apart, Brennan began coughing and heaving violently. He needed a sip. His trembling fingers fumbled with the cap until, at last, the lid was removed. But before he could allow the precious liquid to soothe him, the vial was snatched away.
He glowered at Doyle. “Give it back!”
“What’re you doin’, Zero-Two?”
Brennan struggled to stay composed. “Give me the canteen, Doyle. Now…”
“And if I don’t? Will you shoot me?”
“Don’t test me!”
Doyle eyed the canteen for a moment before carelessly tossing it back.
Gasping, Brennan leapt up and snatched it in midair. “Are you crazy?! You could’ve spilt it!”
The look of indifference on Doyle’s face was unsettling. “You’re slippin’, Zero-Two.”
“You’re slippin’, Zero-Two,” Doyle repeated a second time, far more chillingly.
For the first time since the start of his journey, Brennan felt the overriding warmth engulfing his body give way to an unfamiliar coldness as it crept all along his back, wrapping its bony fingers around his spine, just begging him to scream out in pain.
Suddenly, he no longer felt thirsty.
Brennan noticed that Doyle had stopped walking. “Yeah?”
Doyle grinned. “Why do you keep runnin’?”
Brennan frowned. “What…?”
“Zero-Two.” Doyle paused again.
Brennan sighed. “What now?”
“You’re not gonna make it.”
Muttering several curses under his breath, Brennan continued ahead. “Asshole…”
“I’m serious, Zero-Two. Time to face facts.”
“Why do you keep runnin’ away from your problems?”
The words brought Brennan to a halt.
Back home, in Santa Clara, Nadine would ask the same thing whenever they argued. Nadine… Was she worrying about him right now? Worrying about whether he’d make it back again? Would she wait this time? He felt bad about their last fight—their worst yet…
He faced Doyle. “We’re gonna make it. Have faith.”
“Faith’s a last resort, given to those who have nothin’ left worth livin’ for. It can play cruel tricks on the desperate mind.”
“Damnit, just shut up! Your pessimism ain’t helpin’!”
“You think drinkin’ will?”
Brennan’s eyes temporarily swirled with fire. “Fuck off…”
Brennan couldn’t take it any longer. Sharp splinters of wood were scratching across the lining of his delicate throat. Removing the lid from the canteen, he tilted the vial, allowing the thin liquid to trickle down his throat and fill him with warmth.
It was pure bliss. Never had anything tasted better in his entire life. He wanted more, to drown himself in ecstasy, but he couldn’t. He had to pace himself. For Nadine.
Returning the canteen to his belt, he heard Doyle laughing.
Brennan frowned. “What’s wrong with you?”
Doyle’s mouth formed a wider smile. “Me?”
Unconsciously, Brennan gripped his rifle a little tighter.
Brennan no longer trusted Doyle. He was sure Doyle wanted his canteen because he didn’t carry his own. But Brennan was ready for anything. He would even kill Doyle if he had to.
No one was taking his canteen.
“Zero-Two, you gotta understand.”
“You got a serious problem.”
Brennan squinted, shielding his eyes from sand particles blowing past. “Doyle, you okay?”
His counterpart grunted in amusement. “Are you?”
Brennan had no reply. He turned and marched ahead before being halted by a sharp cry.
“Brennan!” It was the first time he’d been addressed by his actual name. It gave him goose bumps but he didn’t know why. “Stop hiding!”
He realized why he’d gotten goose bumps: Nadine used to shout the same thing.
Brennan studied his dirty palms in fascination. How old was he? He couldn’t be sure anymore.
He saw Doyle observing him quietly. “What?” he shouted over the howling wind.
There was no response.
The sun continued its onslaught and the wind shrieked.
His teeth clenched, Brennan blinked profusely as sweat invaded his eyes from above. He would need another sip soon. Very soon.
“Zero-Two…” Doyle smirked cruelly. “How’s Nadine?”
Brennan’s eyes widened. “Wh—don’t ever say her name again!”
Doyle narrowed his eyes. “You’re a coward, understand? Just another lowlife degenerate who’s gonna die out here alone because it’s what you deserve. No one’ll bother searchin’ for scum like you. The sooner you accept it, the less painful it’ll be.”
Brennan decided to simply walk away.
“You’re no better than your enemies! At least they don’t run away at the first sign of trouble!”
Brennan spun on his heels. “Yeah, they just terrorize innocents without reason!”
“And you just beat defenseless women while you’re drunk out of your mind, right?”
The M4A1 came up immediately. “YOU MUST HAVE A FUCKIN’ DEATH WISH!”
Unperturbed, Doyle grinned. “You’re an unfaithful coward who beats women and who was discharged from his unit for going AWOL. Don’t you get it? Even God’s abandoned you.”
Brennan fired a shot—the thundering sound echoed across the great expanse. It ricocheted off Doyle’s holstered rifle, causing Brennan to fall to one knee and clutch his left abdomen. Grunting, he observed the dry blood on his stained uniform.
“Does it hurt?” Doyle asked.
Brennan wasn’t sure. The pain had turned numb.
The sun hung low, painting the sky a purplish orange.
Fatigued, aching, and suffering from extreme dehydration, Brennan clutched his wounded abdomen before collapsing with extended arms, causing the bronze cross along his neck to swing limply. With his legs abandoning him, he couldn’t go on.
“Doyle?” he choked out.
“Give me the canteen,” he heard someone say.
Brennan bowed his head in shame. “I’m… sorry…”
“Give it to me.”
With a quivering hand, Brennan unbuckled the canteen and held it up. But as soon as he felt a tug, he became reluctant to let it go. He just couldn’t.
“Let go, Brennan.”
Anger coursed through him. Why was he giving up his only remaining comfort? “NO!” He shot up and sprung away, only to lose his grip on the canteen.
Doyle immediately unscrewed the lid.
Doyle began emptying the beverage onto the sand below.
Seeing nothing but red, Brennan lunged ahead, his knife drawn. Doyle grinned and tossed the canteen aside. Bringing up his pistol at the last moment, he fired off an earth shattering shot.
The desert shuddered against the resonating echo of the bullet bouncing off Brennan’s glossy blade.
Doyle fired again but Brennan worked to quickly close the distance.
A final shot rang out.
The deafening silence hung over the still air as Brennan’s face hovered over Doyle’s. A look of bewilderment masked his features when he gazed into the pained green eyes staring back.
The red haired woman smiled before a trickle of blood escaped her lips and stained Brennan’s hand, the one still gripping the handle of the plunged knife. Brennan felt her hot breath on his ears as she whispered, “Do you remember now?” The wind began to pick up, howling shrilly.
He let go of the blade and fell back, clenching his eyes shut. When he opened them, they shimmered and everything went quiet, causing him to gasp, as if emerging from a body of water for much needed air.
Blinking, everything came into clarity and focus. The shroud was finally lifted.
He stared out across the now familiar barren landscape of the Mojave before touching the gunshot wound on his abdomen again—Nadine’s desperate attempt at fending him off. The image of her lifeless body, punctured and leaking blood on their apartment floor the night he’d run off, now flashed vividly.
Dropping to his knees, he clutched his temples while his tears spilled freely, exposing the earth below to the alien liquid. “No… No…”
The sun descended peacefully into its slumber, shrouding him in darkness. It exchanged a silent, unseen smile with the desert below as it made its final goodbye.
They had finally done their job: they had succeeded in waking Brennan Doyle.