Caspian Hope – Written By Stephen Fahey. Part 12

“Sir.”

“I’m up.”

Heat, darkness and grit in my teeth and my ears.

“Sir. Storm passed, Sir. Damn hot too.”

“Wait here. I’ll be back in a minute.”

And so I stuck my head out of a gap between a camel and the silk, hot sand and scorching heat poured in in spades. As my eyes adjusted I saw nothing but sand, endless miles of sand. There were no signs of life so I ordered the men up. Climbing up over one of the camels and out of the circle I brushed myself down. Watching the others climb out was like seeing something from a movie. Covered head to toe in sand they seemed to rise up out of the desert itself. Groaning and crooked from sleeping huddled together, they had the appearance of monsters.

As we cleaned ourselves up a sad realisation hit us. The camels had asphyxiated during the storm. Their bodies had shielded us as they gave us their lives. Toddy in particular was struck by this. He’d taken it upon himself to tend them and with all the extra time we’d had he grown uncharacteristically close to them.

Fucking storm!” he fumed. “Killed the fucking camels, Sir!”

Damn it! And we’ll be on foot from here” I consoled.

“Sir. Can we at least bury them, Sir? They’re half buried in that circle already.”

“Take half the men and strip everything we can carry off those camels first, Toddy. The rest of us will construct some shelter. Poor creatures, they served us well, there’s no denying it.”

Sir!

Stood around the circle, each of us bowed our heads, more so for Toddy than the camels, and shared a minute’s silence before covering over the great lumbering beasts with sand by using our boots like shovels. There were no words and no drama, just respect.

“Right gents, I want all of you with your heads down for the day. I’ll take first watch with Toddy and Longshot. I wanted to be in the lake myself and I know this storm couldn’t have come at a worse time, but it is what it is. We all just have to wait one more day.”

And so my boys turned in for their longest day since we began. We could have walked to the lake in a couple of hours, but daytime marches were far too risky, even more so being so close to water. As the land was relatively flat, myself and Toddy walked out some fifty yards and perched ourselves at the cusp of a dune while Longshot headed off in the opposite direction humming the national anthem to himself.

“Fucking awful that storm killing them camels, Toddy. You were doing a proper job with them too. Have you worked with livestock before or something?

“Cows, Sir.”

“You’re not a farm boy, how’d you end up in a field?”

“My grandparents, Sir. They had a dairy farm I used to stay at during the summer holidays. It was beautiful in every way this place isn’t. Green fields, trees, rivers. I’ve always felt a longing for that farm; like I left a piece of myself there or something.”

“I know the feeling.”

“Sir?”

“When I was a kid I had this tree I used to love to climb. It probably wasn’t that big but to me back then it felt huge. I didn’t have any siblings so I used to always play by myself in the fields near where I grew up. This tree was like a home away from home. I knew every leaf on every branch and I built a shelf with chicken wire to make a “base” out of it for myself. So many times people would walk past and not know I was there, even in the winter when I wasn’t hidden amongst the leaves. So one day after dinner I went out to my tree and it was gone. Not just chopped down, but carted off. Builders were bulldozing the fields to build houses, but that meant removing my tree. It was so unexpected that it really effected me. I was only a kid but I’ve never forgotten that moment when I turned the corner onto the field and my home away for home had vanished.”

“Jesus.”

“I’ve never told anyone that. Not even my wife.”

“Fucking march of progress, ay Sir?”

“March of fuckin progress is right. Bastards!

“Ughh,” Toddy grunted back at me, then he fell silent and lay there on the sand next to me peering out across the vast nothingness of the desert through his binoculars.

To be continued…

© Stephen Fahey

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