For the Daily Inkling.
The dawn breaking, slow and sluggish wakes her, and the clicking of the sand crabs. They crawl out from their sandholes at first light, hunting. She pulls up her knees and sits, hunched up small, reluctantly letting go of the oblivion of night. The crabs click, and the sand stirs as hundreds of them home in on her body heat. She raises her eyes to the hills that roll heavily skywards and squints. The light is pale, but she is sure that the highest points are green, a ragged leafy crown of trees. Up.
Beyond the scuttling crabs lies the ocean, still miles away, but creeping inexorably higher. The crabs come first. She has seen what follows. Up. There is no option.
Sun rises and the heat increases. The light is deep red gold but it sears like flame. Up there, the air is too thin. The stars are too close. She keeps her eyes on her feet and climbs. Sand shifts, slithers, and each step drains the energy of two. Up here, there is nothing but sand, smooth and glittering, and dry. She fixes the image of the trees in her head and plods on, higher.
Higher, the sun weighs down, like lead pouring onto soldiers’ heads as they storm ancient walls. She feels the burning trickle down her back, dragging on her feet. She even hears the screams. Up. There is no option.
She no longer feels anything. Her feet have melted, her back is a brazier. Her eyes are as dry as her mouth, her vision as cracked as her lips. The shadow falling softly over her shoulders goes unnoticed at first, but the fire recedes, gradually. Cool. A breeze on her face, and slowly, painfully she raises her eyes from the sand before her and the flames in her eyes cool. There is shadow and thick trunks of scented pine. Her toes scrunch pine needles.
Hope dares to seep back that perhaps the story is true. Perhaps there is safety on the hilltops. She finds new energy, walking quicker, her head high, searching for water. There must be water or there could be no trees. She zig-zags between the trunks, sniffing, peering, her toes digging into the sandy soil searching for dampness.
Ahead, the trees thin. Already? Then there are no more. She hangs onto the last tree truck, her heart falling, falling, falling. Beyond, the hills roll down, back down, inexorably down, through baked dunes to the sparkling ocean, where they are waiting.