If you’ve read my recent blog posts, you’ll know that I’ve been keeping up with publishing one book per month. Feel free to check out the previous blog posts announcing the new releases. But now, it’s time for our quarterly “Storytime Bloghop” again. Read free flash stories from me and 9 other participants. I hope you’ll like mine even though it’s somewhat longer this time, and as always, remember to visit the other participants (list below the story).
The Guardian of the Sandsnake’s Temple
There was once a land of sand, and sand, and sand, and sand, and sand.
Gaspard stood at the entrance to the sand-goddess’ temple, the five fingers of his right hand clutched around a javelin, and his two bare feet firmly planted into the sand. Watching out for pilgrims, he was not expecting anyone. The bones of last person to make his way through the endless sea of sand were long ground to dust by the endless wind. According to the goddess, he had been a bad man, hurting his wife and nearly killing his child on his quest for gold.
As if gold held any value. Gaspard’s biggest dream was of meeting someone—anyone—at least once in his life, but chances were slim. He wondered about the guardian before him. Had she ever seen a world with more colors than brown, beige, white, and blue, and shades thereof? Had she died? Or had she fled her duties?
He imagined what it must be like to finally meet creatures like the ones from the books the goddess gave him for his education. The long-horned antelopes with their slender necks and the three long fingered hands from Quasrom fascinated him, as did the flying whales from Whattler III or the feathered dinosaurs from Permia.
The sound of the Final Klaxon ripped him from his daydreams.
A group of Praying Mules lifted their spiked front hoofs in prayer on the top of the final hill where the klaxon was magically fixed to a pillar of sand. The long ears with the soft fur fell back from their raised faces with the long snouts. Their soft furred, upright bodies radiated health.
Gaspard’s jaw dropped. Even in his books, Qumrands had only been mentioned as a rumor. The fur on their cheeks and snouts glowed nearly white in the glaring sunlight, a sign that they were high caste—if Gaspard’s books had it right.
After a few moments, four of the Praying Mules bent down and picked up something white and dome shaped they’d obviously set down before. The fifth took the lead. All of them were dressed in rags, barely covering their loins, but the many waterskins hanging around their bodies told Gaspard they’d come well prepared.
He watched with awe, as the group clomped the last few hundred yards of desert landscape toward the base of the enormous cliff of prehistoric sand that held the temple’s entrance.
The white, dome-like structure they carried turned out to be a stretcher covered with once white fabric. They were chanting the ancient songs, melodies Gaspard had never heard sung by anyone but himself.
The mules were approaching fast, and arrived just as Gaspard remembered his duty.
“Halt, in the name of the goddess!” He lowered his javelin and pointed the iron tip at the first mule’s muscular, furred chest. “State your business.”
For a few heartbeats, no one spoke, and Gaspard wondered if he could really stop five determined Praying Mules.
“We have come to bargain with the goddess”, the leading Mule said.
Before Gaspard could say anything, a Sandsnake as big as the leading Mule rose beside him. Her obsidian scales hissed gently as sand ran down her body. Gaspard had to force himself not to flinch. It had been a while since the goddess had appeared in her favorite form.
“I have been waiting for you for so long, Gardella,” she said in her warm, lilting alto. “Have you never considered what your absence must mean to him?”
The white fabric of the dome was pushed aside by a five fingered hand the color of wet sand, revealing a person with fur-free skin, a slender body, and long, black and white hair. Where the mules’ eyes looked mostly sideways, her eyes faced front, and there was a clear distinction between her nose and mouth. Gaspard saw a similar face in the mirror every morning.
He struggled not to stare at the human woman. His heart raced and for reasons unknown he was very afraid all of a sudden. He slipped closer to the Sandsnake’s warm body and the tip of her tail began to caress his back in a way that must be invisible from where the group stood. Gaspard was grateful and slightly comforted.
“I meant to come back earlier,” the woman called Gardella said. “But I fell ill. And once I’d recovered, Mission Command wouldn’t let me leave. They sent me to another quadrant altogether, claiming I’d gone mad for the loss of husband and child. And when I quit, they made it really hard for me to travel. If it hadn’t been for these wonderful people,” she pointed to the Praying Mules, “I’d never have made it back. I’m sorry, Zulussa.”
The great snake trembled. Was she crying? Gaspard’s throat went dry. What did that mean?
“He’s mine now. I raised him. I slowed time for him so he would heal and live.” The goddess’ voice shook. “I’ll fight for him.”
Gardella swung her feet from the stretcher and hobbled forward. One of her legs was twisted and gnarled like one kind of fossil in the temple’s sand. “I did not come to steal your child.” She smiled, but her gaze was sad. “My child.”
As she blinked away some tears, Gaspard’s world crumbled as if the ground under his feet had vanished.
“I have not been much of a mother to you, Gaspard. I never got the chance.” Her gaze met his, and her love washed over him just like Zulussa’s that he’d always taken for granted. “But I’ve come to give you the freedom to travel the world. The Praying Mules owe me much. They will do anything for you and show you everything.” She turned to the goddess. “And I will stay here with you, Zulussa. You will never be alone for as long as I live. Plus, I’ve got tons of new stories to tell.”
The Sandsnake shifted her form, and a rotund woman with beige hair and obsidian skin flung her arms around Gardella. “I missed you so, my love.”
And all of a sudden, all the tiny pieces of the puzzle made sense to Gaspard. The nameless man, whose bones were flying with the wind, the goddess who had been his mother, and his absent mother. His heart went out to the two women who were his family. Yes, he would travel with the Mules. He would spread the word about a forgotten temple in the sand, and upon his return, loneliness would be a thing of the past for all of them.
If you liked the story or want to comment with anything else that’s on your mind, feel free to do so. I’ll answer as soon as I can. Meanwhile read the stories of the other participants:
The Right Tracks by VS Stark
The Last One by Jemma Weir
The Pooka Plays Pool by Nic Steven
The Longest Night by Sabrina Rosen
Near Success by Bill Bush
Alexa by Barbara Lund
What They Wanted by Karen Lynn
Night at the Museum by Vanessa Wells
TRIBULATION Culled, eclipsed by COVID19 (A Poem) by Juneta Key