An Uncapped Pen

December 19, 2007

CASUAL DUTY – Prologue

Filed under: Dickens Challenge — cindylv @ 8:11 am


In the distance over the Mule Mountains, soft white clouds tumbled together to form angry towers with flat, gray bottoms promising rain. Sheets of virga streaked the sky, rain dissipating before reaching the thirsty desert floor. The late afternoon wind whipped through the canyon teasing the leaves of the creosote and sage, releasing their heavy perfume into the night air.

She sensed the vibration in the ground long before she heard their footsteps. She scuttled back further into the burrow, away from poking sticks and the dust clouds raised by their scuffling feet. Tucked around a slight bend, she waited, watching. Many feet this time, she thought. She closed her eyes and waited, her breathing slowed. Static electricity tingled in the air.

The narrow path divided her world, the burrow, the muddy wash, and the scraggly patch of lupine, goldfield, and jimson weed. At night she heard them, the voices, the shuffle of footsteps, sometimes the creak of a wagon wheel. Each night she waited, well hidden until the dust settled and the night quieted before she ventured out, creeping down the slope for a few sips of water if it had rained.

She pushed herself forward, inching her way to the edge. She heard a squeal, then loud voices and branches breaking. A slap. A muffled cry. Grunting. She froze, waiting, eyes closed, instinctively knowing that if she moved, they would see her. After a long while, the grunting stopped. Voices murmured again. A laugh. Footsteps faded away.

The dust settled. Gradually, the night sounds resumed. She opened her eyes and sniffed. Moisture in the air promised rain. She picked her way across the clearing, a few inches at a time, until she came to an unfamiliar object lying in the path. She stopped and looked. Curious, she sniffed. She didn’t recognize the scent. It felt warm, like the rocks in the early evening, but she didn’t know what it was. She backed up and turned herself around to plot a new course that would take her around the obstacle on her way to the wash.

She crawled across the rocks nearly as large as she was and down the embankment to the flat bottom of the wash. No water again.

She nibbled a few leaves of gilias and goldfield and debated venturing further away from the safety of the burrow. She waited and cocked her head, hearing nothing but the night songs of crickets and desert toads. She turned, inching her way around the length of the bundle, past the unblinking eyes, the open mouth, and crept back to settle in for the night and wait for the rain.


1 Comment »

  1. This is gorgeous writing, Cindy, just gorgeous. And a clever way to indicate what is going on here. The last sentence in particular was so effective; I couldn’t tell if the body would show up, and the way it did, juxtaposed to the peace and the beauty, was really striking. I would absolutely keep reading from this point on–and will, of course!

    I’ve never been to the desert, and I felt like I could picture what it must be like. I loved how you were so specific with the plantlife and terminology, choosing the perfect word to create a vivid picture. Can’t wait to keep reading!

    Comment by Jennifer — February 5, 2008 @ 3:24 am | Reply

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