Desert Earth

Karen Rose

My breathing was short and fast. I crawled into the large pipe that led away from the vast, ugly nothingness I had recently grown accustomed to. The rough material wrapped round my face was clinging to my skin and covered in sand and dirt. Afraid to remove it before reaching the city, I simply tried not to breathe so much.

On reaching the end of the pipe, I jumped to the ground and instantly removed the cloth from my face. There was a fire in my lungs as they grabbed all the oxygen they could. I removed the long, rough, sand colored robe and, hiding the crest, I placed it, along with the material from my face, in a small gap behind the large gray Dumpster.

A claustrophobic eerie glow set around me as I turned and walked cautiously towards the noises ahead. Turning the corner I held my breath as a different, yet familiar world appeared before my eyes. Hovercars sped all around the giant buildings. Mobile restaurants and merchants selling various goods floated above me as they disturbed many people by awakening them at this unearthly hour. The city's protective cover did only so much to stop the beating rays of the sun, so each craft had its own shade.

A taxicab lowered in front of me and the rather handsome looking driver peered out of the window.

"Need a ride?" he asked grinning.

"No thanks," I said, pulling a blaster from the back of my trousers, "but I'll have the cab if you don't mind." I pressed the end against his forehead and smiled. The grin disappeared from the man's face.

"Uh, no… no problem."

The buildings sped by, one moment ahead of me, the next, disappearing from my peripheral vision one at a time. The buildings were all gray and dull, about as exiting as their residents. Day by day they lived in the delusion that their superficial existence was of some significance to the outcome of our future as a race.

Suddenly, I held my breath, cut off from all previous thought as a large blue-gray building began to grow straight ahead. Closing my eyes and praying, I rubbed the zigzags on the crest embroidered on my shirt. For luck. I knew what I had to do.

I lowered the cab back into the alley I had arrived in earlier that day and saw the driver, just where I had left him. I dragged the large chest full of treasure from the back and over to the pipe.

I froze, suddenly aware of the eerie whine in the distance that was crescendoing to the point where it began to ring in my ears. The pulsing on/off of the siren was getting closer by the second. I had little time to escape.

Hurriedly, I put my robe back on and tucked my long, curly, blond hair into the back. I then wrapped the cloth round my face leaving only my blue eyes visible. I took one last glance towards the driver, feeling only a little remorse at his unfortunate passing and that of the five others at the treasury.

I sighed and once again entered the tunnel.

The wind swirled all around me as I dragged the large box behind me. The radiant rays of the sun were causing sweat to constantly drip from my face, the only liquid anyone would find in this barren wasteland. The ground instantly swallowed up the sweat the moment it fell. The rocky terrain continued as far as the eye could see, and further. The only object visible was the city of California that lay behind me. The city that was once a state in this country. This country that was once separate from the rest of the land on globe. Now all was one.

Looking around, it was hard to imagine that this place once had houses, roads, cars with wheels, parks, trees. I long to see a tree, all green and full of leaves the rustle in a cool morning breeze, while children run past laughing and playing. But how can you touch a memory? It was all gone.

I heard a faint whisper of the past. A drift of a child's laughter blew past in the wind, so out of place here. It seemed to be laughing at me, at us.

We thought we knew it all, we were so proud of our technological advances. But then we were so stupid. We took life for granted, we created a weapon of mass destruction only to use it on ourselves. But we rose up from the ashes and created a new society, but no better than the last.

Now our newly created society was being torn apart by petty arguments, prejudice and conceit. Those who had enough credits lived in the cities, all covered up and hidden away, while others had to scrounge what they could from the cities and live in this rocky hell on earth. It made me sick to think about it. I had been rich once, as bad as those people, and that sickened me even more.

The pitiful vanity of it all now disgusted me. To think that I had once participated in the day to day conceit that we had created a respectable humane society. We had taken care of our own, leaving others to starve and had the nerve to call ourselves civilized. We left them to die, hoping they would go away. I was only a child during the war and had grown up with the delusion that all was right with the world.

Now knowing the truth and being condemned to live in it, I realized that, strangely, I was inwardly more content than I had been in a long time. The society I now lived in was not perfect, but honest. United in one goal, we strive to fulfill our quest. In a way, loosing my vast fortune was the best thing that had happened to me since the war, even if it had taken me a long time to admit it.

I paused and took a breath as I reached a small marker in the ground, visible only to those with a trained eye. I looked back and saw a few law enforcement patrol cars had left the protective cover of the city, and were now heading in my direction. Quickly I moved the sand by my feet and opened the hatch. I dropped the chest in, then dropped the few short feet. I pulled back the hatch and sighed with relief as I heard sand fall over it. I crawled along a series of dark claustrophobic tunnels and about twenty minutes later I reached the bustling underground city. My home.

"Cailagh, you have some treasure?" my friend Dallas asked as he approached me, an expectant, hopeful look on his face.

I walked to the center of the room towards the large container and smiled at the guard who had spotted the crest on my robe. He was grinning from ear to ear.

"I have treasure," I replied, "and lots of it". And into our steadily dwindling supply, I poured in the clear liquid once known as water.

"Well done Cailagh," Dallas said. "I guess it's my turn next." As he left, I felt the rough material of the crest on my robe. An outward sign of how a once small superstition had become to play a large part in our lives. Our crests were our destiny. Aquarius, the water bearers.