This is the first chapter of the novel I started (but didn't finish) for NaNoWriMo. High Noon is a desert adventure featuring two treasure hunters named Charlie and Ike. Because of the theme of self-discovery in the story, I wanted the setting to be very vaguely "desert" and the time period to be vaguely "modern". It is my first attempt at novel writing, and any critique is appreciated.
*Just a warning, there is some strong language involved.*
One - Desert. Dazzling light.
Ike had just about had it. I could tell by the way he stalked around, sighing heavily and kicking at the sandy desert floor, and by the way he said, “Charlie, I've just about had it.” I suppose now you'd like me to describe Ike as a sort of introduction to our situation, right? That, however, is a bit problematic. I mean, his hair has to be some color, and he has to have some kind of a recognizable face or certain way of speaking, but I have never, in the years that we've been acquainted, been able to give any kind of account of what one should expect if one were to meet Ike. Oh, right, and there's me, I guess. I'm Charlie. I was born and raised in the city and have never been anywhere else, which is fine by me because the desert has always been more exciting for me than the stuffy, fashionable countryside towns. I'm never really at ease unless I'm out in the desert or holed up in a library and that's about all I'll say, because talking about yourself is weird.
Ike and I have been business partners for quite a while now, by which I mean about a year. We were both drawn to the desert that lies outside of our city, drawn to the adventure germ infested ooze of romance and curses and unclaimed treasure that the desert vomits forth onto the city. We're both of the type that wakes up each morning in the city and lets the angry bear demon out of it's cage and gives it a good beat-down while avoiding the poisoned spike traps that we set for ourselves, because just walking to the bathroom to wash our face would be too boring. Really, that's what happens, ask anyone. The desert fever is so infectious that even the pansiest of folks around town are always itching to get their wimpy hands on whatever chunk of the desert they can find. Those grubby, listless little hands are what keep Ike and me in business. Every morning, after Ike and I are finished socking communism in the jaw and eating a wholesome bowl of lightning, garnished with samurai war cries, we head out into the wild to pick up a crusty scroll of ancient beauty secrets here, a cracked piece of pottery depicting various methods for the decapitation of one's enemies there for the collectors and shop owners in the city. In this particular instance, we were following a series of torn and incredibly vague maps to the final resting place and, hopefully, mummified remains of some high-rolling, old-as-dirt, dynastic king named Apis the Great. We had been promised a king's ransom...wait, okay, we had been promised a metric assload of money to retrieve the mummy for the Grand Musée in the capital city, a massive collection that envelops the Council's headquarters. They tried to pull a fast one on us at first, but thanks to my jungle cat-like mental prowess and steely nerves forged in the fires of -
Okay, are you going to do this the whole time? Because if you are, I'm leaving.
Hey, who the fuck is telling this story, Ike?
Just get it right, that's all I'm saying.
All right, fine, thank you. Anyway, we were after this mummy king and by no fault of my own we ended up abandoned by our horses, very much lost, and certainly no closer to finding Apis. “Charlie, I've just about had it,” Ike said as he plopped down on a large rock and on top of the tail of a rather spiny lizard which promptly clamped its jaws around his leg flesh. “Ow, Christ!” he cried as he leaped up and whirled around to glare at the lizard, who blinked slowly at him. “Fuck you, okay?” he shouted at the lizard, and then picked it up and chucked it a few feet away. He flung his pack from his shoulders and sat on the rock as the lizard crawled back onto the rock and situated itself next to Ike. “Look, you said this would be a quick deal, a two hour trip in and a two hour trip out, five hours tops, just go in grab the thing and be done with it.”
“It should have been!” I replied.
“Well, it's been a hell of a lot longer than five hours and I don't even remember what we're looking for.”
“We are looking for an oasis. Apis is supposed to be buried in an eternal oasis. I checked, there are only two that have been around for longer than a century. I asked fifty of the crustiest old farts you could find in the city and fifty of the snootiest cartographers and several snooty crusty old fart cartographers, they all gave me the exact same two locations! Dude, I don't know.”
“Don't call me dude,” he spat rather hurtfully, “You said the horses wouldn't even break a sweat.”
“You know I don't know a goddamned thing about horses!”
“Evidently. Since you didn't figure that they'd run off when you had a screaming fit because you thought a spider bit you.”
“Hey, those horses had it out for me. And they probably just went back to the stables, sons of bitches that they are!”
“You said that you could find these things with your eyes closed.”
“And I meant that, but it's not my fault that the whole damned desert seems to have done a one-eighty since the last time we were out here. You try reading a map that has no landmarks on it!”
“I will, Charlie, I will try it. Give it here.” I handed over the map and raised my eyebrows as he squinted from the map to the landscape to the sun. “Okay,” he said, “I've got it. So we came from the east, and we’ve been traveling towards where the sun is now, so that means…uh… the southern oasis is… erm…no, I mean the second...oh, damn. I can’t make heads or tails of it.”
“Right! Yeah, you've got it alright.”
“Where did you even get these maps?”
“Dinah gave them to me a few months ago.”
“You're kidding me. Dear Jesus, tell me you're kidding.”
“Dinah can't even find a not-retarded name, and you took maps from her?”
“Oh, piss off.”
“You said you could find it.”
“And you choose now to start listening to what I say?!”
“Beggars can't be choosers.”
“Oh, that's real creative.”
“I should have known better than to listen to you. You're never prepared for anything.”
“Well, why don't you go find the stupid thing yourself?”
“Look at that! You actually had a good idea for once!” At that he grabbed his pack, turned, and prissed away like a little bitch.
Fine! Geez. He turned and walked away in a very...uh...manly fashion, I guess. Is that better, Your Majesty? Whatever. I shuffled over to the rock, fanning myself with my hand.
Ike and I fight like this for sixty percent of the time we're together. We never can agree on whether the fights are actually serious, though. Sometimes it seems like they're just a bit too clownish for either of us to feel sincere irritation towards the other and we're both a bit embarrassed that they even happen.
It's just because we're both screw-ups and we know it.
Did I ask you?
That was rude.
So is interrupting.
I mean, I can leave -
You don't have to leave! You see what I mean? I rested my elbows on my knees and my head in my hands and blew a raspberry, looking over at the lizard, who was fixing me with a very disconcerting stare. “What do you want?” I asked it. It stared. “You going to tell me where King Apis is?”
“Ah, Apis and I used to play chess in his palace.” I whirled around to see a ghostly thin, gnarled old man laid out lazily on the ground with his arms crossed in front of his chest, leaning his head against my pack. He was dressed in a tattered vest and pants that looked like they hadn't left the old man's back in two decades. A weird air of regret and insincerity that made me want to run and do something productive as fast as I could hung about his presence. Even with his wrinkled skin he had a strong jaw and pale blue eyes that seemed as flat as glass and inhuman.
“Holy shit! Ike, are you messing with me? How'd you do that? Are you a wizard?” I shouted, peering around, certain I'd see Ike peeking out from behind a rock and giggling.
“Actually, the name's Gynt, but if you mean how'd I come to know a famous king like that, it's a fairly complicated story, you understand.”
“What are you doing?”
“Being myself. Though, I'm not sure I can say the same for you...”
“No, like, what are doing...here?
“Resting my renowned and weary head.”
“Uh, could you get your renowned head off my stuff, dude?” The old man smiled and let out a chuckle.
“Apis was a prime chess player, but I would always whip him. You want to take me on?”
“One: I don't play chess and two: well...no.”
“Too bad. If you won I could point you in the direction of Apis's burial site.”
“That's a disgustingly cliché thing to say...and it doesn't change the fact that I don't play. Where did you even come from, anyway?”
“The freezing mountains.”
“I didn't mean...never mind,” I sighed and raised an eyebrow.
“You know, I saved Apis's life when we were children.”
“I dove in a freezing river to drag him out. Eight years old.”
“A freezing river in the desert?”
“The daughter of the fairy queen was after me for stealing her heart so she froze the desert.” For all the world, I couldn't figure out what this old fart was getting at.
“You stole a fairy's heart at eight years old?”
“I did. Several of them.”
“That's great. Now would you mind buggering back off to the mountains or something? You're creeping me out.” The man sat up from the ground, reached for a notched, twisted walking stick at his side, and used it to hoist himself to his feet. He stood and looked at me for a long while and I felt my skin crawl and tried my hardest not to look as scared shitless as I was.
“I'll be seeing you. You can count on it,” he remarked almost nonchalantly.
“No you won't.”
“We'll meet at the next crossroads.”
“Okay, sure,” Holding back my impulse to bolt in the opposite direction was taking an enormous toll on my composure. I watched him trundle away and didn't feel the tension begin to ease from my body until he was out of sight. Once I did calm down, I sat on the rock, my face burning with the embarrassment of letting myself get spooked by some old guy. So spooked that the lizard's dumb stare felt like a human greeting compared to his gaze. I ran the back of my hand over my mouth to foil the plot of dastardly drool that was threatening to escape it's prison and dug the heel of my other hand into my eyes to squish some moisture back into them. I knew that I needed to take action of some kind, but I couldn't quite shake the atmosphere of stagnation that the creepy mountain man left behind. I leaned down and stared at the desert floor and watched it turn paler and brighter until it looked bleached. A chill ran up my spine as the cracks in the ground blackened and the welcome oppressive embrace of the humid air turned cold. I tried to open my mouth to draw a breath, but my lips seemed cemented together. I leaned to the side as I drew shallow, freezing breaths through my nose and felt my heartbeat pick up speed.
I was yanked from my reverie by the sound of Ike's voice. I jumped to my feet and moved several steps forward, ready to let him have it for being such a bastard when I saw that he wasn't alone. Ike was being followed by three seriously buff dudes in white military-looking uniforms with jagged daggers on their belts and a small elaborately robed woman with heavily lined eyes, very wide hips, a tall cylindrical crown, and pounds of jewels dripping from every joint on her body. They drew closer and leered at Ike who threw his arms up in an “I can't even...” type gesture. The party came to a halt. Ike turned to the woman and said, “Well, here she is,” pointing back at me. All I could think was 'Oh shit, what did I do to this crazy dame and when and what's she trying to do here?' I tried to take a mental inventory of people I've miffed before, but this lady's face wasn't ringing a bell.
Partly because you don't have the guts to actually offend anyone on purpose, and therefore lack the list of enemies you think you have, perhaps?
I'll ignore that, because I don't feel like adding you to that list that actually does exist. The woman stepped forward and took a good long look at me with small, squinty eyes, drew in a deep breath, and let out a low hum of sound. Ike rolled his eyes.
“Okay, I'm going to go now,” he started away, but was grabbed by two of the buff guys and dragged over to me as he spat various protestations and put forth a futile effort at escape. They pushed him to the ground and positioned themselves on either side of us as the third joined them and stood behind us. The guy standing next to me pointed at the ground and growled:
“Sit.” I looked at him and furrowed my brow half in confusion, half in defiance. He narrowed his eyes at me and repeated his command.
“Uh...why?” I asked. He smacked me sharply on the back of the head. “God damn,” I mumbled, “I'll sit already.” I lowered myself to the ground, keeping a wary eye on my assailant. “Somebody want to tell me what's going on?” The woman strode a few paces away from us, turned, and glared.
“I am Woserit, queen of this desert,” she proclaimed in a sweltering voice. I snorted loudly.
“There's no queen of the - “
“Yes! There most certainly is. I am supreme and sovereign ruler over this domain!” Ike held up his pointer finger.
“Well, if you'll excuse me, Your Highness,” he began, making as if to rise to his feet.
“Seat yourself!” Woserit boomed. Ike sighed exasperatedly and settled back down. “My sources have in formed me that you are searching for the remains of the ancient king Apis the Great.”
“Yeah, so what if we are?” I said, pissed that I was being subjected to this weirdness. The guard at my side reached down and whacked the back of my head again. I gave him an open mouthed scowl and an “Ow geez!”
“Apis is an ancestor of mine,” Woserit continued, “An ancestor whose presence in my collection I require immediately.”
“You collect your ancestors?” I scoffed.
“Bakari!” Woserit called to the guard who delivered another smack to the back of my poor head, which I decided to ignore completely. “Silence! You two vagabonds may count yourselves lucky. I, in my abundant benevolence and ceaseless grace have decided to charge you with the task of retrieving my ancestor. A task for which you could not ask for more noble motivation.” I was in no mood for dealing with two prima donnas; Ike was quite enough for me.
Charlie, you're a bitch.
Cool. Anyway, moving back to the relevant information...I looked Woserit in the eye to let her know that I wasn't screwing around and said, “Yeah, well, we've already received a pretty handsome offer from the Grand Musée to find the sack of bones,” and was promptly rewarded with yet another smack from my dear new friend at my side. I, admittedly rather shrilly, cried, “Jesus! Would you cut that out!” to which his response was to sneer warmly at me.
Woserit sniffed disdainfully. “I will pay you double any other amount offered. If you are foolish enough to-”
“Wait a minute,” Ike interjected, “if you're the queen of the desert, or of anything really, why can't you just send your man candy here to go get what you want?” The man beside Ike reached out and took a swung at Ike, which he swiftly ducked...agile bastard.
“My whims are not to be questioned! When Woserit issues a command, it is obeyed without inquiry of any kind. You will bask in my glory and kindness or you will perish.”
“Oh come on. That is the hokiest thing I've heard in a long time.” Ike said. His guard reached out to deliver a blow, which Ike avoided once again, pitched forward, and smashed his open palm right into the side of my face. I scrambled to my feet, fully prepared to take his trifling ass down. I struck a devastating blow to his gut and as he went down I gave him a nice kick to the face for good measure. I ran over to Woserit and knocked the stupid crown right off of her head and then ran off to become the richest, most respected citizen in the entire city.
Which means that she jumped at the soldier like a punk, but hesitated when she noticed that his arms were the size of tree trunks. After which he stared at her, pointed at the ground, and she sat her ass down.
You know what? This is why this story never gets told...all of your hatefulness.
Yeah, okay. It's my fault.
Yeah, it is...
“You have three days to complete my task.” The reflections from Woserit's jewelry burned funny shapes into my eyes. “If you fail me, you will never be able to run far enough. I have spies all across the city and desert alike.”
“Then why the hell do you need us?” I shouted. I took a deep breath and patted the back of my head. “Go ahead, Bakari.” He moved a step away from me.
“I do not appreciate being disappointed,” Woserit seethed, “I would absolutely hate to have to cancel the grand banquet I have planned to celebrate the addition to my collection.”
“That was not a good idea.” I looked up at Bakari and flashed my sweetest smile. “Well?” I asked him. He moved another step away.
“My men will be waiting for you where the desert meets the city in three days,” Woserit declared. She motioned for her guards who marched toward her.
“Bye Bakari! See you soon!” I called. He looked at me like I was sprouting daisies, turned dramatically, and sashayed up a hill and out of sight. Ike and I sat in reflective silence for a few moments until I sprang up and dusted myself off.
“Well, buddy, let's get going,” I said, extending my hand and pulling Ike to his feet.
“Thanks bud,” Ike said. He paused a moment and then grinned. “Say, was I mad at you for something?”
“Hell if I know.”
“I mean, we are talking about you here, so it wouldn't be that hard to believe.”
“What's that supposed to mean?”
“Chill. It was just a joke.”
“I know you didn't just tell me to chill! You know, you know about that!”
“Yeah, I did. What're you going to do about it?”
“You son of a bitch!”
And then she tried to assault me multiple times through the course of the next hour.
Last edited by RoseTHuman; 01-29-2012 at 09:01 PM..