Please welcome T. H. Gerety author of Valley of the Shadow
EXCERPT: Valley of the Shadow
The light grew dimmer and drifted away. He concentrated, forcing the light to become stationary as he moved toward it. Suddenly, he was face down on the hot sand. He could feel the grit of it in his teeth His throat and mouth were dry, and his back felt as if it was on fire.
He rolled onto his left side, trying to see his back. All he could see was his right shoulder, and the part that was visible was badly burned. He looked up at the sun and it appeared to be larger and brighter, the heat intense. His shirt was scorched across the top of his shoulder and was missing from his back. Unconsciously, he licked his lips. His tongue swollen and dry rasped across his lips and gave him no relief. Working onto his knees, he looked around. He was kneeling on top of a sand hill. The sun was slightly behind him, appearing to have passed its zenith. He decided the direction he was facing was east. Looking in that direction, there was nothing but rolling sand hills. North and south, more of the same. He struggled to his feet and looked west. This was slightly better. The dessert continued but in the distance, gradually changing with broken ridges and on the horizon a rugged mountain range. The ridges appeared to have some vegetation.
Standing in the desert sand lonely and confused he could see very little to feel good about. There was no sign to show how he had come to be there. He had landed in this deserted spot with nothing but the clothes he was wearing and some of his hunting gear. His shirt was burned backless, long pants, boots, a belt knife and an old timer's pocketknife. His binoculars were still hanging around his neck. His bow, a quiver with ten arrows and a canteen had been thrown by the explosion and lay undamaged below in a shallow depression. He was hoping for a full canteen. In one pocket he also found a small plastic bottle filled with matches. Slipping and sliding he moved into the hollow. He picked up the canteen first and discovered that it was slightly over half full. He tipped it up and took a mouthful, swished it around in his mouth and swallowed. It was difficult to resist draining it dry. Gathering the rest of his equipment, he climbed out of the hollow, took one more look around, decided he hadn't missed anything and began his walk toward the mountains.
He estimated the distance to the ridges to be about twelve miles. Normal walking, he could easily manage one mile in twenty minutes. He discovered that this would not be the case. The sand was loose and his feet sank into it, restricting his stride and increasing the effort. Looking at the position of the sun, he realized that he would be lucky to make it to those ridges before sunset. He wasn't too lucid, and he was afraid that he might lose his bow or his quiver of ten arrows so he attached them to his belt, along with his canteen. The quiver had a pocket that contained extra arrowheads and blades. He kept his binoculars around his neck.
When he stopped, he guessed he had traveled four, maybe five miles, but the distance to the ridges seemed the same. The sun had passed the apex and was now ahead of him slightly above the mountains. He had put his shirt on backwards, hoping to protect his back from the sun. He had also left the sleeves rolled down, cuffs unbuttoned and shirttail loose. The terrain was essentially the same, but the sand was packed and easier to walk on. There was, however, nothing that provided shade.
Later he realized that he could see something in the distance; a tall slender silhouette that appeared to be of a dark green color. It was in the direction he was moving, so he concentrated on moving toward it. When he finally arrived, it appeared to be some form of cactus. It was better than six feet tall, spineless with two arms extending out and up, the arms approximately four to five inches in diameter. He recalled that cactus had the ability to store water and decided it would definitely be worth his time to test this theory. Circumscribing the lower limb with his belt knife, he managed to break it off. He laid his shirt on the ground and scraped the inside pulp from the cactus arm onto his shirt. At the bottom of the arm, some liquid had collected. Raising the gourd up, he drank it. The taste was bitter and it had a numbing effect in his mouth. He squeezed the pulp, caught the liquid in the gourd and spread the residue on his shirt and pressed it down tightly. When he put the shirt back on, there was stinging sensation then his back felt cooler and slightly numb. He cut a hole in the gourd near the rim and noticed more liquid at the bottom, and he spread this onto his face and hands. After securing the gourd to his belt with his handkerchief and checking his other gear, he resumed his walk toward the ridges, feeling a sense of urgency and hoping to find some shelter before dark.