Dread growing by the minute, Kyle made his way through an inky landscape that gradually lightened to reveal brutal, ancient scars. Volcanic remnants of water-scoured rock, upraised ribs, dead branches arrayed in pulverized defiance of sun and wind.
The jagged, impossibly narrow nighttime spaces and the risk of sudden drop that made every step forward an act of faith had given way to more modulated valleys and protruding ribs. To his right a vast, empty landscape stretched out forever ahead.
Nursing bone-jarred ankles, Kyle slowed and took careful stock of each contour he passed, of every valley and rise revealed by imminent dawn. As he approached a ridge line he crouched carefully amid the tallest cluster of boulders, all too aware that his silhouette would now be visible for miles, should anyone be watching.
Kyle knew better than to enter the empty void that spread temptingly ahead, though the jumbled matrix of geology behind him held danger of a human kind. He must skirt the line between impassibility and shade-free existence, hope he was not simply going round in circles.
There was no comfort in what was, when all was said and done, his only option.Assuming he was moving in a direction away from his pursuers, would he not also be moving away from the only known source of water in this intentionally desolate place?
Or were their multiple sources––there must be roads criss-crossing the area, as in any place with a historic mining provenance. Yet a road would not necessarily lead to anything more than caved-in tunnels. lime-streaked tailings. Mines were located with sole regard to mineral wealth, not creature comfort. Water could be shipped in on mule backs, rail, for hundreds of miles if necessary.
Maybe the lack of pursuers was no accident, they were prepared to lose him, set a perimeter, so long as he had no chance of stumbling onto a highway, flagging down a ride. With each minute passing, as his throat tickled in preemption of the sun’s emergence, he grew more convinced that his blind scramble that put distance between him and his pursuers had taken him further than was safe from source of life giving––yet forward movement was something, he could not refute that in-the-bones logic
Kyle stopped and looked out for a long moment at an unbroken landscape––a sense of deja vu entering that for a time masked gnawing thirst. Vivid memories of visits to aunts, uncles, and cousins on the Outback, a small mining town far removed from life-giving rains. A place that would not have existed but for the cold imperatives of commerce. And yet which harbored ways of sustaining life, if you knew.
He had almost forgotten the rule of dry bone and dust. On the Gold Coast Kyle’s primary fears had related to watery predation. Shark attacks on the upswing in recent months as sources of food were depleted offshore––the year-in, year-out reality of scorched earth trawling having its effect. The sense of danger that hit him paddling out, a feeling of elemental heave within heavy surf, of the bottom dropping off the coast. Odd that the bone dry landscape Kyle had found so comforting in his youth, eloquent in its emptiness, would turn out to be the most hungry.
The sun crept now into easy embrace with the horizon, giving as yet faint hint of its role as cruel enforcer. Brushing the rocks with just a kiss of warmth, its rays would only intensify and lengthen, transforming myriad shades of red and orange into washed out desert. The hard surfaces becoming radiant forces of their own, trapping the sun's heat––earth turned into ovenware.
Kyle gazed out onto the flat, the sun now steady above the horizon, unblinking. The few clouds that passed just wisps and fragments. What he needed was distance from the ridge, enough to gain daytime perspective of its contours––pick out Cowachunga, or a sun-protected traverse.
Read the entire Cowachunga, a cloud novel, and others like it at DamonArvid.com. And look for blog content at Endurancewriter.com. Below, the perfect fabric song for sunny daze.