Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Mentor's Exercise

Some time ago my writing class Mentor gave us an exerciseon Senses. As part of it, she said, "Using the words, flight, ferment, scorpion, brimming, and shrink write a scene no more than 1500 words using all of the senses." I wrote a short story from that, edited it, played with it, and finally was through with it. And here it is for you. Warning: There are some nasty words in it! It has no title, but i suppose I can call it, "Desert Scene".

Desert Scene

The scorpion skittered up his leg, dry carapace gleaming brightly in the late afternoon sun, venomous tail curled tight to its back. Yasha flicked it away with his knife; a soft tink, and the creature went end-over-end into the sand. It righted itself, waving its tail with an insolent threat, and scurried away. Yasha rested his head on the trunk of the palm tree he was stretched under and breathed in the dry cinnamon tang of the desert. His eyes gazed at the pool of water before him.

"Poison" he thought again, seeing Reuben's death-dance in his mind's eye.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Their headlong flight from the battle at Tell El Yehudi had brought them here. The Nazis giving up the short chase for their defeated enemies days before, Yasha and Reuben had made their weary way to this oasis, parched throats and salt encrusted eyes unbelieving at the sight of the watery pool hidden here. Reuben had scrambled to the edge and drank deeply, splashing the water over his head, urging his comrade to join him. But Yasha had stopped, seeing the body of an Arab lying in the grassy sands a few paces away from the pool. Bloated, blackened, body swollen in the gassy ferment of decay, the body was evidence of danger here. Yasha scrambled near to it and looked closely. His eyes brimming with tears from the stench, Yasha could see no wounds at all. The body looked to be of a fairly young man. So what had killed him?

Reuben sloshed over to him and sank wearily to the ground.

"Water, Yasha" he panted, hair dripping, "come drink."

Yasha looked closely at Reuben and said in a near whisper, "I think it may be poisoned, Reuben."

Reuben seemed to shrink away from him, disbelief on his face. "But it tastes fine,
Yasha!"

"Then what of him?" Yasha replied, nodding at the dead Arab. "What killed this man?"

"Ach!" Reuben shook his head. "Old age. Starvation. Boredom!" He got to his feet and
staggered toward the small copse of palms that shaded the northern edge of the oasis. "So don't drink!"

Yasha looked around. Their oasis sat in the midst of miles of empty ochre sand, dunes marching away in all directions.

A retching sound made him look at Reuben, now on hands and knees, vomiting into the
sand. His body trembled, sweat pouring off his face. A low moan escaped his lips along with strings of white glistening drool. Yasha got to his feet and stumbled toward him, legs quivering with fatigue.

Reuben got to his own feet, a look of confusion on his face, his hands trembling, head nodding with a rapid staccato beat. His eyes moved in Yasha’s direction, but slid past him, travelling around the oasis, his head and shaking body following. Yasha reached his side and tried to grab his shoulders; to lay him on the ground, but the shaking grew fiercer still and Reuben seemed to dance away.

“Reuben!” Yasha followed him trying to stop him. “Stop!”

Reuben’s spastic frenzy reached a crescendo, and he cried out. Yasha grasped his
shoulders at last and turned him around, looking into Reuben’s face with alarm. Reuben seemed to see him for a second. “Yasha?” Eyes turning up in his head, Reuben collapsed to the sand, face to the pale, uncaring sky, and died.

Yasha knelt at his side, placing his ear to Reuben’s chest. He heard only the bubbling exhalation of his final breath. Yasha shook Reuben’s shoulders. “Come on, Reuben,” he shouted, coughing at the dryness in his throat, “come on!”

But Reuben didn’t answer. Yasha knew he’d never answer him. He sank back on his
haunches and regarded his comrade. He and Reuben had survived Rommel’s tanks, miles of blinding hot sands, and found this oasis. And here Reuben had died. Yasha shook his head in rage. “Why didn’t you wait?” He screamed at the dead man. “Why?” He staggered to his feet, staring down at the lifeless man. “Leave me here? Alone? What’ll I do now?” He raged across the sand and grasses until he collapsed , drained of energy, at the base of a palm. He turned on his back, resting.

“Fucking bastard!” He thought. “Fucking, stupid bastard.”

The desert breeze hissed, quiet and unceasing as he dozed; he was completely spent. Idly he heard a soft scratching sound and glanced at his booted feet. A scorpion, curious, was investigating this intruder. It reached a dusty boot heel and crawled up.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Metallic sounds. A distant clanking. Yasha chewed the bitter blades of grass and rose weary and tired to his feet. Coming from the east, he could hear engines as well as the clanking.

“Tanks,” he thought, “Rommel’s here.” Then he shook his head. “No, Rommel’s west of here.”

This was rather confusing to Yasha. He swallowed the moist blades and wished for water.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Through the binoculars, the officer could see the palm fronds swaying gently just
beyond the crest of the dune. He gestured to his forces, signaling them to spread wide to the right and left. He banged on the top of the tank and the driver gunned the motor, the tank lurching ahead.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Yasha crawled to the top of the dune beyond the eastern edge of the oasis, and peered over the lip. Tanks and armored cars were headed this way, some moving off to the north and south as they approached. “Oh, fuck me, I’m dead,” he thought, and lowered his head in resignation. The clanking grew louder as the tanks neared, and then seemed to come no closer.

He raised his head and saw soldiers, shimmering wildly in the heat, approaching, guns at the ready. His aching, tired eyes moved beyond them to the line of vehicles waiting there. Something flapped madly above one of them, and Yasha squinted to make it out. Red. He could see red on the small flag. “Fucking Nazis,” he grumbled, and was surprised to feel no more fear.

But as he looked longer he also saw blue, then white on the flapping standard. A diagonal cross.

Yasha giggled and raised a weary arm. He waved until his arm grew too heavy to lift.
“Fucking British,” he sighed with relief. “Fucking British.”

7 comments:

WomanHonorThyself said...

wowza...well well..stunning as always..but I didnt realize you swore when u wrote!....great excercise Benning!

benning said...

I try not to, Angel. But the moment seemed to call for it, more than once!

;)

Brooke said...

Wow, very realistic!

I feel like I'm hangin'! When do we get the sequel?

Anna said...

Geez, Benning! I'm exhausted, hot and very thirsty and it's all your fault! (LOL)

Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

I don't know what to say other than thanks for sharing that.

camojack said...

FYI, your book is next in line in the queue...if this is a taste of what's to come, I'm eager to begin.

I'm most of the way through a Stephen Coonts novel now...

Truth-Pain said...

You know you read a good story when you ponder over coffee what plot twist one could conjur to make it even more twisted....
Nicely done, ... as I've stated, if I had 1/5th your talent I'd be 9/10th's better :)