Friday, January 7, 2011

A Thirst Before Dying - #friday flash

Well, if you've missed me I've been having a lovely holiday. Back for a great 2011 with #fridayflash. This week I've set my story in the Australian Outback. The subject matter is all too familiar. Hope you enjoy it...

A Thirst Before Dying

You don’t want me to stay with you then?
No. I’d prefer to be alone.
I could stay until…
No, it’s best for you to leave now, see if you can find a way out of this god-forsaken place.
Look, there might be water just over that ridge. I’ll go and come back with some as soon as I find it.
Don’t worry about me mate. I’m done for. Listen to me croaking. Let’s invent our own bush lore – every man for himself, none of this laying down your life for your mate…
I’ll feel bad…
Rubbish mate. Just go and let me get on with it. You’d be a silly bugger to stay here and rot. You’ve got a chance. Take it. You know I haven’t got a snowflake’s chance in hell of surviving. And it's as hot as hell here. I can feel myself cooking from the inside out.
Go, you ugly bastard. I don’t want you here. Get on with it. At least one of us silly buggers will survive.
Look, it’s my fault. I was the one who got us lost. I really thought I knew where I was going...
Turns out you didn’t, but we aren’t the first and we won’t be the last to be tricked by the Australian bush, mate. You know that. We broke every rule in the book, then I went and broke my bloody leg to boot. That ends it for me. No chance of me getting out of here now. Think about it. I'm right...Go!

I woke to the pain throbbing through my busted leg. I rolled over, took a deep breath then looked down. The leg didn't seem to belong to me.
I was astounded to see how fat it’d gotten while I drowsed. Nothing I could do so I just lay there, trying to will myself to feel nothing even though the sun was now directly overhead frying me like an egg in a sizzling pan.
I took stock.
How does it feel to die of thirst?
I once read about an old salt who survived nearly seven days in the Arizona desert without water. Well, I’d been about three days and I knew I wasn’t about to break Mr Valencia’s record.
I ran my tongue around my mouth, felt my saliva as thick as paste. My tongue clung to my teeth and the roof of my mouth. I felt like I had a golf ball in my throat. My head and neck throbbed with pain.
At least it’s taking my mind off the pain in my leg.
My face felt like a full moon and my skin was like thin crackly parchment when I touched it with my shaking fingers. I knew before too long I’d be a raving lunatic. I’d start hallucinating. I didn’t want to be around when that happened.
It was a toss up between pain and thirst. Which would kill me?

I’d fallen to my side while I slept. I didn’t want to die lolling like some old abandoned guy in a nursing home. With a few grunts and groans I managed to heave myself up a little and prop my back against the red sandy rock.
The dry valley lay spread before me, shimmering in the heat. I could swear I saw water but I knew that was a mirage.  The reds and ochres of the steep gorges soothed me taking my mind off the possibilites of that inland sea.
I’ve always loved this country, especially the outback. Unforgiving though. Only the tough survive. Better add smart to that. Not smart to get lost, break down then run out of water, you useless clot.
I thought of old Herb. I hoped he’d been smart enough to find some water by now or he’d be propping up a rock too, or eating sand.

My eyes were just slits, but I noticed a pair of wedge-tailed eagles merge with the red rock, flying between the harsh blue sky and the ochre cliffs like children at play with the sun keeping vigil like a protective parent.
It was a sinisterly brutal world out here. I hereby name you ‘tarrangaua’, I smiled to myself, feeling like King George. I knew that meant ‘rough red hill’ in Aborigine. Smart arse!
A thick pain was pushing up against my chest. There was a whooshing in my ears. Here comes the deafness...
But I could hear a crunching sound reverberating around my head. I swear the rock I was leaning on shook, so I must have reached the hallucinating stage. Didn't even need a pill! I grinned what I knew was a terrible grin, feeling my gums and teeth protruding like some zombie's.

‘What are you doin’ sittin’ here in the sun you silly bugger? Hardly Bondi Beach, you bum.’
Looming over me looking like the Grim Reaper I could just make him out with the bright sun behind him. All I could really see was a face as black as the ace of spades and a beard as white as snow all under a black Akubra with silver studs that glinted in the sun, hurting my eyes.
Ouch! Jacky Jacky?’ I croaked.
Every Australian knows an Aboriginal tracker is called Jacky Jacky, even a city slicker like me.
‘No mate, not Jacky Jacky. I’m Mr Theodore White, but who’s askin’? Looks like you could use some help and quick before you turn into one tough piece of steak.’
‘Hey, I’m King George,’ I said only half-joking.
‘That's my line. He died long ago mate. You don’t wanna be him.’
He lowered himself close to my face, cradled my head in his great black arms and let me take a few sips from his water canteen.
I tried to touch his hat just to prove he was no hallucination but it was out of reach.
The water felt real enough. It's coolness was the most beautiful thing I'd ever tasted.
‘That’s enough King George. Only a drop at a time or it’ll kill ya.’
I tried not to cry like a baby when he took the bottle away.

‘Found ya old mate,’ he said, as he began tending to my leg.
‘What? Who?’ I rasped. Then I remembered old Herb.
‘The other poor bugger you musta been with. He was roasting in the sand in the dry riverbed. Musta gone to sleep thinkin’ he was in the water, seein' a mirage. No savin’ him. But looks like you’ll make it.’



Mary Vaughn said...

I don't know a thing about Australia
But I 'saw' every bit of what is in this piece. Both chilling and touching.

The Golden Eagle said...

This is an amazing piece of writing.

L'Aussie said...

Mary: Well I hope you learn a little about how harsh Oz can be from this piece and there's probably some cultural assumptions you might not get but I'm glad you read and liked it!

The Golden Eagle: Wow, thanks for that! I loved writing it.

Talei said...

Nicely done L'Aussie! I could feel the dry heat and the sun, and I particularly liked the twist at the end. (though his friend probably didn't). ;)

L'Aussie said...

Talei: Yes, I'm sure his friend didn't! Thanks!

Rachel Blackbirdsong said...

It was great to feel the heat in this story, especially since I live where we get almost inches of snow every winter. Amazing writing.

L'Aussie said...

Thanks Rachel, but I'm sure you wouldn't want to be quite this hot! Thanks for comment!

Margo Benson said...

I think I've just held my breath whilst reading.....such compelling writing! You've painted a fantastic picture of the harshness of the bush coupled with its beauty.

Tony Benson said...

L'Aussie, once I started reading I couldn't stop, and not quite the ending I might have expected. You show the power of words to conjure up an experience! I'm off to get a glass of water.

Harry said...

Gripping yarn with a nice twist at the end. Nice to see you back!

Steve Green said...

Lucky guy, deserts are very unforgiving to the unwary, or foolhardy.

Good story Denise.

Lynda Young said...

This is great. I love the twist and you've really captured the essence of the Outback and its characters.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the story and the twist.All it needed was a missing baby and a dingo :)

L'Aussie said...

Margo: We have a poem about Australia - its beauty and its terror. Thank you for noticing!

Tony: I hope your water tasted good! Thanks!!

Harry: Great to be back!

Steve: In real life I'm sure he'd be dust by now.

Lynda: Thanks I really appreciate your comment!

crjames: the baby and the dingo is a sore point with me. Trial by media and travesty of justice...

G.P. Ching said...

I felt that one. Made me go get a glass of water. Fabulous piece of writing here.

N. R. Williams said...

Excellent writing. I finally had a moment to read. I wondered if the friend would make and this character did just by a chance sighting. Nice.
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

L'Aussie said...

G P Ching: Yep. Makes you thirsty!

Nancy: Thanks for taking the time!

Eric J. Krause said...

Good story. This is why city slickers shouldn't wander around the wilderness alone. Too bad for ol' Herb, but at least one of them seems to have been saved.

Stephen said...

Too bad for his mate. The bush is a merciless killer of the inexperienced. And while your lead's life may be spared, my guess is his leg probably won't. Mother Nature can be a cruel lady.

Lara Dunning said...

Well, he did say one of them should make it. The characters flowed well with the setting. It felt very realistic, as if I was there watching. The desert can be a dangerous place.

L'Aussie said...

Eric: Yep, those city slickers should not venture so far out of their comfort zone!

Stephen: Yes, I'm sure his leg would be cactus.

Lara: It sure can. Thanks Lara.

John Wiswell said...

The "Go!" works well as the kick-off from the gimmicky un-marked dialogue. I love writing those un-marked dialogue exchanges. They can be so fun. As an intro to your tale proper, they worked well.

L'Aussie said...

I enjoy reading unmarked dialogue as long as it's easy to follow and I think this is.

Jeanne-Aelia Desparmet-Hart said...

Brisbane has a deep well of talent! Hope you are safe. My son lives there now. He loves it. Merci. Great stories! Bravo.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't sure if he was imagining there was another person with him to start with but i suppose this adds to the effect that he is disoriented:he doesn't even seem sure about his friend when he is finally found. This is really evocative writing and paints a scene most of us will be unfamiliar with.
It must be my cultural upbringing, but I can't get the image of Terence Stamp in Priscilla, lost in the outback, out of my head.

L'Aussie said...

Jeanne-Aelia: Thank you for your very kind comments. I hope your son is safe from the floods. I also hope you come to visit. You are French, non? I have a love affair with France also. You may like to visit my Paris blog?

I will click on your link as soon as I finish here..:)

L'Aussie said...

flying scribbler: You cracked me up with visions of Pricilla. What a crack up! Now you've got me imagining that scene! I didn't have that in mind, honest!