I”ve been debating about doing this and finally decided “why not?” The first chapter is about 4,000 words, a pretty long read, so I’ll break it up, and if anyone shows interest, I’ll post it all, over a few days.
Chapter one, part 1
Casey staggered, flailing his arms wildly in an attempt to stay upright as the ground shook beneath him. A voice where no voice should be protested, “Ow! Damn it, Casey, that hurt. C’mon, wake up, buddy. That’s gotta be one hell of a nightmare. Looks like we’re here, wherever the hell here is, so get your ass back in the real world.”
Bleary-eyed, he pulled himself up straight in the hard seat and looked around in confusion. The ground wasn’t shaking, but his heart still pounded even as the terror began to fade, leaving behind the smell of something vaguely familiar. Then it was gone, along with the rest of the dream. Jake was staring at him with a concerned frown.
“What?” he rasped from a throat choked with dust. He reached for the bottle lying between them, then remembered he’d drunk the last of his water hours ago. He tossed the bottle on the floor, not caring that Marshall had warned them not to litter. “The hell with Marshall. The SOB can pick the damned thing up himself.”
“C’mon, get yourself together. Unless we’re gonna be overnight guests, this looks like it could be the end of the line. At least we’re gettin’ off this damn rattletrap for a while.”
The end of the line? The phrase struck an ominous chord. Stupid! It was just a leftover from the nightmare that had already faded away. But something else was trying to get his attention. Someone had hurt Jake!
“Wait a minute. Someone hit you? Who’s the asshole?”
For the moment, his concern for Jake outweighed any curiosity about where they were. A quick look had told him there wasn’t much to see, anyway. Just like the whole miserable trip. The view through the dust-covered side windows was a brown blur. The two half-circles the bus’s windshield’s wipers managed to keep clear hadn’t offered much more: road, road, and more road, endlessly, and flat, featureless desert to either side. Now the bus idled in front of a tall wire fence.
He’d spent as much of the trip as he could dozing, usually managing to sleep through the noise of 30 men joking, arguing, yelling. Usually. He’d wake up with a start whenever the bus hit a pothole, then fall asleep again, knowing that the short stretches of interrupted sleep were going to take their toll later. But it was better than letting himself soak in the fear and hostility that hung in the barely breathable air right from the first. No one knew why they’d been rousted out of the transit camp or where they were going. Rumors were their only amusement and the source of constant arguments. Casey had listened in now and then, out of sheer boredom, but he’d mostly given up even that attempt at making the time pass. Sleep was far preferable.
“You’re the asshole, you dumb lunk.” But Jake sounded amused, even grinning as if it were a big joke. “You were thrashin’ around like the devil was after you, and your elbow got me. Hey, it’s okay! You didn’t do any damage, but I thought for a few seconds there, you decided we weren’t friends anymore. A pretty bad dream, huh?”
“I guess.” Casey tried to remember what it had been about, but it was gone without a trace. Probably just as well if it had made him strike out in his sleep. “Something about water. And the ground shaking. I guess that part was the bus getting into it. It’s a wonder the damned thing didn’t shake itself to pieces by now and leave us all sitting by the side of the road.”
Jake laughed. “It ain’t too surprisin’ you dreamed about water. I’m sure as hell dreamin’ about it, and I’m wide awake. Heck, I’m too dry to even work up a good spit. Gonna be hackin’ up a nasty lump when they let us off this heap.”
“It was salt water,” Casey said, more to himself than to Jake. The shadowy memory teased him. “Why salt water? A cool mountain stream would make more sense.”
“Well, maybe you’ll remember it later, and you can tell me all about it. Hey! The gate’s openin’. I sure as hell hope this is the last stop. I’m gettin’ downright tired of wanderin’ from pillar to post and back again. Just wanna settle down somewhere for a while and get comfortable.”
“Don’t count on it, old man.” One camp was exactly like another in Casey’s experience, and he didn’t expect this one to be any different. But like Jake, he’d had enough of moving from place to place with no goals, and no hope for the future. Settling down for a while didn’t sound like a bad idea. Whether this was the place to do it? Hell, they might be piling back on the bus first thing in the morning.