This week, the next instalment of The Golem. Next week, NaNoWriMo …
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Coals of Fire: Kindling
The Golem: Part III
He woke to light, and the thunder of rushing wind. He could not breathe, could not see for the light that seared his eyes. He put out his hands to raise himself up, but there was nothing beneath him, beside him, above him. His arms and legs thrashed uselessly as his mouth opened in a scream that was snatched away by the wind as soon as it left him.
A bang, and something jerking him so hard he caught his breath and snapped his head back. Ropes, or bands, dug into his chest and groin, and he was suddenly suspended in mid-air, gasping and struggling, his heart racing to a tight-chested crescendo.
Still the light blinded him, but the wind did not howl as it had a moment ago. He opened cracked lips, his heart slowing, his breaths becoming regular. Gusts buffeted him, spinning him this way and that. His hands and his head hung down. He was weary, his strength sapped by the light and the wind. He felt heat, from a single source, somewhere above him, and dry air everywhere.
He squinted, thinking his sight might be returning, but there was nothing to see except blue-white above and brown-orange below, and all diffused through the lens of exhaustion. He waited, while the blue-white became less and the brown-orange became more, until, with a sudden rush, the brown-orange swallowed him up and a sudden impact sent pain jarring up his legs and through his body, and he crumpled to a heap on the shifting ground as a silken cover settled gently over him.
He could do nothing but sleep.
Thirst woke him next, and a tongue that was swollen and dry. Every part of him was on fire with pain; muscles protested as he bullied them into motion, raising his hands, his arms, pushing on the ground, rolling himself on to his back.
He lay that way, his eyes closed, breathing in the hot air. When he opened his eyes the light was not so harsh, and he could make out the blurred folds of white silk stirring restlessly before his face. He raised a hand to touch it, ignoring the pain, and wondered at the sight of movement. He had not seen movement in such a long time. He had not seen anything.
He lay for a long time, slowly dehydrating, until thirst and a pounding headache reminded him of life, and the need to sustain it.
Getting to his feet took a long time. He struggled beneath the silk, unwilling to throw it off and stand in the full glare of the light and heat. He had an idea of where he was, now, and how he had arrived there. When he was on his feet he looked down at himself, and his thin hands scrabbled with the straps and buckles that clung to him, loosening, unclipping, until the harness fell away and he was left in a grey one-piece jumpsuit and black army boots, lightheaded and unsteady. He closed his eyes and raised his head, letting the warm silk brush his upturned face. There was no reason behind this, unless it was some new torture they had devised for him.
He was bearded, he noticed, and his hair was shaggy around his ears. That in itself was strange. Normally they groomed him while he slept, shaving him every time and trimming his hair once in a while. He felt the hair, measuring it with his thumb and finger. How fast did hair grow? He had asked himself the question many times in the endless dark, but never had he come up with a satisfactory answer. This was … two weeks’ worth? Three weeks? Four? How could that be? Had they sedated him? He would not put it past them.
A sudden blow to his shoulder sent him stumbling, pain radiating down his arm and back. He fell headlong, arms out to break his fall, feet tangled in the silk. Something in the back of his mind told him to roll away, just as the knife struck for a second time, tearing a long rent in the material and burying itself in the sand where his head had been. He grasped at the edge of the tear and pulled, rising blindly into the light of the sun, backing away from where he knew his attacker would be.
A grunt. He threw himself backwards, kicking the material away, sensing rather than feeling the thrust of the blade, listening for the sound of breathing, swinging away from it, missing his footing, landing full on his back with the wind knocked out of him.
Then pain, white-hot in his side, and he could feel metal grating on his ribs, so he rolled over, pulling the knife away from the hand that held it, bringing his leg up in a short kick that connected with something, and he scrabbled upright, squinting through the sun, grasping at the hilt protruding from his side, ignoring the searing agony of wrenching it out. He saw a shadow, not a man or a woman, just a shadow coming at him. Something spoke to him, something buried deep and dark, and he knew exactly what to do, and he did it.
The gurgling cough told him he was enough, and the way the shadow stumbled backwards and slumped on the ground, limp and lifeless.
He swayed on his feet, blood seeping from his chest and shoulder, his right hand smeared with it, grasping the knife so that his knuckles stood out. He would bleed to death soon, he knew. He looked around. The desert was vast and empty, and he, the body nearby, and the crumpled parachute spread at his feet, the only things in it.
He looked up. The sun pounded on his face. Like God’s hammer on the anvil of the earth.
Death would be a relief.
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