The desert that can sustain life or carry death.
After two hours of trudging through the sand, in the distance a silhouette of a leafless tree stood apart from the others. The haze of heat made it appear as though it was a building and then a tree again.
‘Do you think it’s a mirage?’ asked Ghost.
Davina shrugged, ‘Maybe,’ she said glancing at the ground. Faces were forming in the sand.
Ghost paused and knelt down. He studied the sand faces, they weren’t fully alive yet. Instead they were forming by sucking sand particles into a formation and gradually solidifying. ‘We haven’t got long Davina. This batch is going to rise soon. I guess they are rising from the depth and these mounds mark their exit point.’
With a sigh, Davina wiped her brow. Thousands of mounds rotated out from the tree as the central point. Davina turned full circle; they were everywhere. She took a sip of water; a small droplet fell and splattered on the ground. Where the water landed, a dent appeared. The way the drop reacted was odd because it spread out and formed a tiny rainbow. Davina didn’t have time to examine it, but from what she suspected the sand was simply a surface covering something below – something more. The question was what?
Boom! A reverberation through the sand almost knocked the group to the ground.
‘What on earth was that?’ wondered Ghost
‘I don’t know but I think we need to pick up the pace,’ said Davina.
Susie ran as close as she could behind Davina. ‘Davina they are so ugly and scary.’
‘I know. Don’t look at them, just keep walking,’ she replied.
‘But what if they rise up and catch us?’ said Susie.
Boom! Another reverberation and a number of talon-clad claws broke the surface.
‘Davina they are really close to the surface. They look like they could break through at any time,’ shouted Ghost.
‘Right we need to move,’ said Davina.
With a light jog, Davina turned her attention from the figures; they would only emerge when they were fully formed. She guessed she had no more than an hour until they were fully matured. Davina kept jogging until she stumbled onto the dry, cracked earth of a dried-up riverbed. The invasion of dunes had cut off the riverbed and the parched skeletons of fish and cows scattered the area. The bones gleamed white from the constant erosion of the sand. Davina listened to the whispering of the winds; they discussed how they intended to shift the sands to change the landscape again; the entire desert was on the move. It was all part of life and the system instilled on the planet. It was a self-righting mechanism. Since Gargantuan was out of kilter, so too were other areas. That was why the deserts were on the move and the seas would rise in an attempt to balance the planet.
The dried, cracked earth extended to the edge of the dunes. Twisted, parched trees rang with the tone of death. Each burned like charcoal tortured by the sun’s burning rays. Red dunes rose like mountains towards the sky creating a barrier. There was no possibility of seeing beyond without climbing them. Anything could be lurking on the other side. Ghost was unsettled.
A cold shiver tickled Davina’s spine. She felt peculiar, the whole area smelt of death. Yet above her, the sun was encompassed by a rainbow halo. Was her father nearby? Davina felt a flutter of hope in her heart. Maybe she could find him; maybe it would all be okay.
Walking up to the first tree Davina looked up. How could her father be imprisoned in a tree? It didn’t make sense. There were no towers or obvious prisons. Nothing. Would the Chimera keep him in a dune? She scanned the tree. There were no guards or anything to suggest a prison. Huffing loudly, she wiped the sweat from her brow. What was going on?
The group stood for a moment looking for direction. Each attempted to conceal expressions of puzzlement.
‘Davina?’ said Ghost.
Davina fiddled with the dried skin on her lip. Was she even at the right place? There was no sign saying ‘Mortvlei’ so how did she know where she was and if it was where she should be? Davina stood silently; she turned full circle searching for a sign. Where was her father being kept? How could she work it out?
In that moment, with the sun beating down there was one thing she wanted: her father to be safe. Davina crumpled and collapsed to the dried earth. In a heap, she sobbed whilst pressing her hands into the cracked earth.
The rest of the group shuffled awkwardly. Ghost’s instinct was to try and comfort her but Johnny purposely held him back. Ghost shoved his arm away and paused, something was happening.
‘What’s the point?’ cried Davina, her tears plopping onto the dried earth. There was no answer but as Davina cried, from the cracks in the ground, hundreds of small, blue Scarab beetles rose and rushed towards her. The sea of tiny beetles surrounded her tears. Davina squinted; at first they ran towards her then they split and ran past her. She frowned but watched curiously. As her tears evaporated rainbows formed, all the while the multi-coloured Scarabs massed towards the lone tree at the centre of Mortvlei. Davina quickly wiped her eye and scrambled towards the tree. The Scarab beetles massed about its roots and disappeared, was it hollow? Davina stood silently staring. In the haze of the hot desert sun Davina reached out and touched the tree. That was when she found the door.