LIFE FORCE • by Mark Allen.

Not only was it cooler under the tree it also offered some respite from the sun’s blistering heat. But water; there should have been some water. How else was a damn tree supposed to grow in a desert without some water?

Jackson looked down at his hands; they were cut and red raw from the holes he had dug close to the tree’s roots in search of its elusive life force. When he had no luck there he’d tried digging a few feet away from the tree, back out in the hot sun, but all he found was an endless depth of fine sand that fell back into the hole as soon as he stopped his frantic scrabbling. And so he returned to the tree, pulled bark away from the trunk in the hope that it might contain some moisture, but it had been as dry as the skin on the dead horse he found laying half-buried in a sand dune. It was one of many dunes he had crossed since the plane crash.

The plane crash, how long ago was it? A day, maybe two.

The sun had risen and set, of this much he was sure, and one other thing. The crew, Hopkins, Ash and Taylor had all been killed when the plane, its engines clogged with sand from the storm which engulfed them, crashed in the heart of the desert. Their smashed and bloodied bodies lay as testament to this. Yet he survived, a miracle was the thought that passed through his mind as he gazed upon their shattered remains. But the thought of miracles soon faded as he left the wrecked plane and went in search of… what, what had he sought in this forgotten realm where shifting sand left no trace of his path?

Jackson eased himself back against the tree and felt a tremor. The tree was almost as dead as he would soon be, its rotten timbers had done no more than stress under his weight. It groaned again, the sound like hunger pangs, he knew them well.

He saw his shadow laid long against the sand and looked to the sky. The sun, a large, all seeing red eye set in a furnace sky, was headed for the horizon. Soon the night would be upon him and with it the cold. And if mercy abandoned him, he feared she might have, this end of days seemed no more than a cruel trick, a vision of hell, then the wind would rise and his flesh would feel a thousand iced stings as the sand whipped against it.

Jackson pulled his knees up close to his chest; wrapped his arms around them and wished.

He wished that the plane had never crashed, that they’d skirted the storm or rose high above its swirling sands. He wished for a companion, one of his crew mates, so that he would know that he was more than a spectre wandering trapped upon the earth with no clue as to home or heaven, for the horse to have been alive and carried him far from this barren, lifeless place, for the tree to have fulfilled its distant promise of hope and not let it fade into the dry sand that it stood rooted in.

All things need to drink, to take in that which preserves them. He wished for the rain that must surely fall even is this desolate place, for the crash to have claimed him, and as his thoughts became more entwined with the dark edges of sleep he wished for no more than a rest from these days.      

He never saw the sunset nor the sky darken and the first bright stars appear. He was unaware that mercy was good to her name and kept the wind at bay. Or that the scorpions with their stingers raised, they scurried out from under the rocks as soon as the sun had set, came no closer than to the edge of the branch’s furthest reach. For even they, despite their want, were not of a kind to challenge.  

A slight, soft brush against his arm roused him from slumber. As he rose from the depths of the dream world he saw night’s dark cloak all around him, it was full of pinprick holes that allowed piercing white light to shine through. He felt as if he were ascending, rising into these heavens, then, as the boughs which carried him aloft began to wrap around him he felt his arms break; his spine snap, and finally, as the pinprick points of light fell to black, his skull crack and collapse.

The tree drank of his blood and the life force that it offered. And the scorpions waited in a sentinel line, for they knew, that soon, the tree would once again bear its fruit.  

Mark Allen. writes in Essex, England.

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