Thirst

Written by Peter Dewilrath

Chapter 2 Part A

I wake up thirsty from a dream about water. In that dream there was a great water reservoir with people in it. And I was there, and I was laughing. But now there is no time to dive into that imaginary water, so I force myself to get up and stand. It is so dark in this place that sometimes I drive myself crazy that I’ve turned blind. But now I have more troublesome ideas in my mind, so I just maneuver to the water pitcher at the corner, doing my best not to step on my slipping brothers. I drink some water and place the pitcher back to its place. My brothers are all still sleeping, dead tired from the night march back to camp. But I can’t sleep anymore. The water dreams are always followed by burning visions of fire, so I must get out and shake them away. I walk through the narrow tunnel feeling my way with my hands. Slowly my eyes begin to see shapes and contours. The cold transform into warmth and suddenly I’m standing at the mouth of the cave attacked by deadly rays of light. It’s the middle of the day, and I struggle to stand its heat. Our cave is at the eastern side of the mountain, so it’s always painful to go outside during the day. I climb up the steep slope toward the large cave. When morning came and we’ve just reached camp the council sat for a long session. I claimed it would only be wise that I will lay my report in front of the elders, but Ezriel didn’t see it fit and had me report only to him. I told him all that has happened. Surprisingly he didn’t seem to care, not even when I told him about the empty well and the electronic map device that I hid at the top of the sand tower. He just mumbled that we did good, and thanked me for bringing all my brothers back to safety, though he didn’t placed his hand on my shoulder to show that he meant it. Then he looked to my brothers and told them that we executed the mission as real men. I looked at my brothers and saw that his words sated them. They smiled to each other and were content as if we’d brought back gallons of water. Ezriel turned back and walked to the council. I could read the signs  of weariness in his heavy footsteps and I knew that what I’d told him only lay more burden on his shoulders. I thought about the trap. He’s afraid that we would fall strait into it. The Izralys dug a great hole and we’re just standing there on the edge, waiting for the last push to fall inside. These thoughts fill me with terrible anger. The urge for vengeance strikes me at the stomach. The Izralys killed my parents, this I know and remember. The flames. The flyers. The thirst.

Before going to see Ezriel I should Purify at the ritual bath and cleans myself from what Ezriel claims to be a devilish fury, but I know it is divine and only means to show me the right way to salvation. When I reach the bath my heart almost bursts. It’s hot and I’m possessed by thoughts of hatred that only doubles the heart beat. Inside the bath cave it is a whole different atmosphere – though it is still very hot, the coolness of the inner stone sends cooling waves of air. I undress and sit close the stone. Sometimes the stone pours small drops of water, but not today. I read the prayer words that are engraved on the wall, and try to be complete with them. No thoughts, only words of prayer. My head turns empty and my mind rests. I don’t see fire and blood anymore, only the cave’s cracked wall. But then a voice sneaks into my hear. It’s “little mother” speaking from the mechanical device the fat man had inside his ear:

“Wells team five from small mother, do you hear me, over?”

That is a women’s voice. I never heard such voice but still I know it. We don’t have women in camp, living a sacred warrior’s life we are not allowed to come in touch with them. I live in the warriors camp since I was three year old, and I don’t even remember the sight of my own mother. I’ve seen a women only once when I accompanied Ezriel to the camel market. She was standing at the distance and was all covered with white fabrics that the wind attached to her body, empathizing the contour of her womanly features. Ezriel got angry about me staring at her, and on the way back he swore that he will never have me as his companion again. Of course I wasn’t the only boy who  had some sneaking peeks at a women. When we boys talked about it, it was clear that some of us even seen more than just that, but Ezriel claimed that something in my gazing eyes was undignified. Once again he Indicated that it must be the Izraly’s boold that is poisoning my soul. That led my thoughts to my parents that left Talbib in order to live in the holy shade of the sect, and paid for it with their lives. They salvaged my soul and brought me to the sons of light, but they were impure and couldn’t save themselves. Ezriel was worried about my chances for real salvation so he decided I should live with the hermit warriors. He never believed I was clean inside. Only I know that my heart and mouth are equal and that I’ll fight to the death to realize the holy Torah. There is no women or earthly temptation that could stray me from this righteous way. Talbib should fall and the land free from the fat bellies giants that hold it. Only then the water will return to quench the dry ground and soak the desolate soil.

Chapter 1 Part B

I’m running as fast as I can, gaining distance from the dry well. My hands are smeared with the blood of the fat man I left behind. It is dripping from my finger tips and burning my palms. Here they come – the flyers! The terrible noise creeps into my head and poison my mind with visions of deadly fire. I desperately climb another dune and roll down the crumbling sand. Suddenly my brothers appear before me, standing there like frozen statues.

“What happened? What are you waiting for?” My throat is dry and I’m almost chocking while throwing the words at them.

“There are no flyers. The sky are clear” Amos announces.

I climb back on the dune and watch toward the abandoned dome. From the distance it looks like a face of a man sinking in the sand, the open gate is a gaping mouth that cries for another drop of water.

“It’s a trap”, I tell them. “Let’s hurry”.

We retreat slowly, trailing into the depth of the desert and the unbearable heat. With no water to fill our barrels it is shelter we must find, and quick. We can’t turn back to the east so we head south toward the sand towers. It is usually unsettled, but bandits might be using it as their outpost. It is said they could drink a man blood for the water in it, and eat his meat to survive another day. We walk the hot sand, stream down the canyons, our feet sink low under the soft surface. The movement is slow and we are exhausted. The quicksand pulls us down and we make the outmost effort just to keep a steady move. The heat is so severe that it draws all the liquid out of our bodies. The thirst begins at the mouth and throat but soon enough it takes over the whole body and occupy the mind. I’m used to it, and so I try everything that is in my training to shake it out of myself. I get rid of all the thoughts and focus on the target that lays before me. When we get closer to the towers I send Amos to the top of a dune to survey the land with the long lens device. After a long while he signals that the area is clear and that we may go further. I sense that something is wrong. The flyers didn’t come after us, and here are the sand towers with no movement seen at their numerous holes. Could it be that there is an ambush waiting for us at the end of the road?

“We should hurry to find cover” my brothers urge me with growing impatient of my indecision.

They are right – by now death holds both ends of the rope. I pull the rifle and signal my brothers to advance with cautious. The sand towers are old and crumbling. They are rooted deep in the sand, only half of their bodies exposed to the sun. Though it seems there are many layers going upward, sometimes there are even more layers buried underground in total darkness. As we approach the towers I give another signal so my brothers will watch the tower’s upper layers, that could serve as a stand for a bandit harmed with a long distance lens placed on a rifle. Amos and Abner race fast to the nearest tower and cling to the wall. We will have to cleanse all the layers and rooms of the tower before going to rest. This tower raises twenty layers above the sand, and there is no way to know what or who is nesting its rooms. Most of the Araav tribes tend to occupy only the sand layers and avoid climbing up to the sky. The bandits do it differently, they nest the upmost layers, watching through the opening that overlook the desolate desert, waiting for a sand storm to shove nomads or lost migrants into their death trap. We are no nomads and this is no sandstorm that brought us upon the sand towers. It could be that the bandits heard the shooting sound rolling down the desert, and now they hide at the upper layers, waiting for darkness to come, and then they’ll sneak from the top and eat us alive. We assemble at the large hall which stands at the heart of the sand layer. I divide the force and assign them to the their tasks: Amos and Abner will stay down at the sand layer and watch to desert. Aaron and Itamar, the young ones, will watch the sand towers that surround us, to make sure there is no dangerous company nearby. Shmaryau, Yoav and myself will climb up the tower’s twenty layers and make sure they’re all clear. This tower has two wide peers that cross the layers from top to bottom. One peer has stairs that enable slow and cautious climbing up the layers, and the other is hallow and good for a quick retreat, if you dare jump between the gaping openings at the walls. We find the hallow peer and stand by it’s opening for some time, listening to the rustling wind that blows down its throat as if playing a strange tune with an old cracked flute. If this tower has people in it, sooner or later we will hear their sound. I count the layers again and once again. A wing-clap is heard. That brings smiles to our faces – the desert buzzards have their nests here, which means we might find fresh eggs for our supper. Yoav is getting impatient:

“We have waited enough. Let’s climb”, he says. I hold him down.

“We’ll do it slowly and only by my signals”.

He nods his head in agreement but his eyes are already climbing up. I think it might be better to replace him with Amos, who is more relaxed and level-headed, but I fear Yoav’s reaction. He is very close to r’Ezriel and could have influence on the way he thinks. This is my first mission as a leader of the youth squad. R’Ezriel had many doubts about letting me have the head of the force. I did everything that is in my power to make him believe in me, and letting him know that though I wasn’t born as one of them, I’m still the best choice to be in command. He watched me with his heavy eyelids and told me that if I want to be the leader of the youth squad I should get rid of the pride and be as one of them. I promised him that I’ll do just that, but I don’t think he ever believed me.

We climb above the sand layers, pushing our way up. Each and every layer has a breached corridor that leads into four different compounds of rooms. Many years past the Izraly’s used to live here. Now there is nothing left but bare concrete and rusting metal bars to tell the story of their way of life. I peek through the broken opening in the walls and scour the empty rooms. The floor is cracked and full with sand, but other than that the place has nothing to tell us. Ten layers into the sky we find buzzard’s nests. I notice Yoav has yellow yolk’s stains at the corner of his mouth, but I say nothing. We collect the eggs carefully and place them at the peer’s threshold. Finally we reach the sky layer. The wind whistles around and beat at our tunics. I watch the horizon, searching for the great towers of the west, that stand as a wall between the desert and the sea. It is the worst time of the day now. The deadly rays of sun are dangerous, radiating with such ferocity that the skin peels off the face and the flesh boil. I signal Yoav and Shmariyau that the clearing is over and that they may descent back to the sand layer. I feel a slight disappointment that the tower in empty of bloodthirsty enemy. Though the heat is unbearable I keep standing there for a little longer, watching the far north – toward the city – T’albib – with its glass turrets, shining even deeper when the sun is at its peak. The flyers didn’t follow the soldiers. Could the city desert them? Or maybe the fact that the well was found empty didn’t make their rescue important enough? I turn my back to the desert and let the inner darkness of the sand tower swallow me whole. Something is beeping in the pocket of my tunic. I pull the electronic map device and watch its lights flicker in distress. Some words emerge on the screen, and they blink once and again:

“New location… New location…”

I put my fingers to the screen the sees a growing photo of the yellow desert. And then I see it clearly – the sand towers, and here I am, standing on top of the tower. My heart beat starts racing and suddenly I understand that this small device is the trap, sending location signals to this women called “Little mother”. Maybe she’s just waiting for the right moment to send the flyers for a total destruction attack. This is the trap! I want to throw the treacherous device and run away, but something deep in my mind prevents me from this course of rational action. The map is too important to be lost. Our task force will get back to camp failing to bring precious water and with a few radiation injuries, but this instrument might be a great advantage in the upcoming war. I can’t take it with me back to camp. The fat man tempted me to have it so it will lead the enemy to our hidden fortress. I walk toward the very edge of the layer, fighting the strong urge to throw the delicate device to its destruction. I look around until I find the right hiding place. I lay on my stomach and shove my hand into a rusted metal pipe sticking above the abyss. The over-heated metal burns my arm, but I don’t pull it back until I find the right place. My whole body aches with burning pains, but still I stand there for another moment to memories the hiding location.  I hope that I may live to see the electronic device again and use it to fulfill our righteous taking of the land. This map will lead us to redemption, god’s willing.

Chapter 1 Part A

I’m totally covered with hot sand. I let it crawl into my long sleeves and into my collar. Some of it find way into my shoes and it tingles my feet. After a while the sand settles around me and helps my body lay still. It is the sea of sand and I’m hidden under it. The soldiers arrive and are walking around us. They wouldn’t even notice if they’ll lay their heavy shoes on top of me. They march toward the dome that sticks out of the soft line of sand and fall into protective structure around it. They can’t see me, but I can feel the tens in their muscles and the stink of fear leaking out of their heavy clothes. They are not the god’s soldiers like myself, so they suffer from fear of pain and death. I exercise counting the pulse of my own heart as I fallow the movement of the soldiers. One of them is different. He is large and heavy and doesn’t wear the yellow-brown uniform of the soldiers. He moves with great difficulty toward the dome’s tight mouth. He uses his hand and voice to open the metal gate of the dome and then he disappears inside the dark tunnel that lays behind it. The soldiers freeze in place to save their energy, but their heads keep moving from side to side like some frightened buzzards, pointing the beaks of their guns here and there. They can’t see me or my brothers. We are invisibles to them not only because we are hidden well under the sand, but because they don’t want to believe the enemy is already upon them, waiting for the right moment to steal their precious lives. Now I let them burn slowly under the sun. Their heads are covered with silver plates that supposed to help them with the heat, but their weapons are coal black making it impossible to hold for a long time. I can see small drops of shining sweat, dripping from their white faces, and I know for sure that in a short time they’ll begin to melt into the ground. The sun is heavy and this late morning heat is pushing them down, like a giant finger squashing a bug into the hard stone. I close my eyes and wait with eternal patient. We have arrived to this place just before dawn, after a long night walk, and now we are still and relaxed, knowing that this burning sun is on our side. I close my fingers around the handle of my rifle, just to feel it’s present. It is an old and warn instrument, but I know it well and has a perfect knowledge of handling it fast and with great accuracy. I believe the time has arrived and it is now. I rattle my tongue softly to let my brothers know it is time to attack. I start moving slowly. In the corner of my eyes I can see the sands are moving all around me – we approach our targets. The enemy soldiers are tired. Their eyes are blind. The reflecting light coming from the sand plays as our shield and mask. And even if they do see something, they won’t be able to understand what is forming in front of them. The heat is boiling them from within, killing them with a cloud of tiredness. We move on. By now they should have seen us already, I can almost hear their heavy breathing, and still they do not see us. My heart leaps with joy – we won them! They are no longer a threat to us. Now I can see them clearly – they are exhausted, their heads are bent and their stare is aimed to the empty ground, where the shadows of the dead are marking the place where the body will fall. I can hear heavy footsteps on concrete, and when I shift my gaze I see the large man making his way toward the exit of the tunnel. Just before he’s out of the dome he stands and blinks his eyes in response to the light, and then he sees! The horror jumps on his red face and withholds for a slight moment the scream he wishes to sound. I pull the trigger and the sound of the fire shock everything into fast movement. Now all my brothers are shooting their rifles and the soldiers fall down to their shadows on the sand. The large man turns around and pushes the door behind him, but I’m in at the last second, grabbing him at his belt. He falls to the concrete, his face and mouth fill with blood. He turns toward me and starts bubbling in this language of theirs that has nothing but narrow words.

“Let me go! Please… Don’t kill me”.

I draw my knife and stick it to his watery belly.

“Don’t move. Lay still”, I warn him. I whistle. The water carriers enter the tunnel and disappear inside the darkness of the well. It’s cool here. I try to concentrate for a moment, wishing to hear the water sound that should be carried from wall to wall in the tunnel, but the man’s heavy breathing makes it impossible to hear. A metallic sound is coming from a small device in the man’s hear. I pull it out and listen to the voice that erupts from it. It’s a women voice that I hear, I’m sure of it…

“Wells team five from small mother, do you hear me, over?”

I can hear the urgency in her voice. She knows something has happened. I smash the small device on the concrete floor, and call to my brothers:

“The flyers will be here soon! Hurry up!”

And here are my brothers, already climbing back to the light, and I know that something is wrong – the well must be empty… All our efforts were for nothing, and if we wouldn’t be quick about it we’ll definitely find our death soon, and it will be for nothing.

“Leave me. Please…” The man starts to cry.

“What can you give me in return?”

The man searches his pockets with trembling hands, as if he wants to be sure that his body is still intact. Finally he pulls from one of his many pockets a shiny silvery electronic device. I snatch it from his hand. The bright screen illuminates the tunnel’s wall behind me. I can see a photo of complex structures with drawn lines in lively colors.

“What are these?” I ask him, not letting myself forget that the time is short.

“Answer me, fast!” I stab the man in the stomach and my knife draws blood. The man coughs and begin to cry. Nevertheless he answers my question:

“This is the map of the city. Talbib”.

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