Find Me When You’re Lost

A subservient once heard from his master, “Find me when you’re lost.” The subservient took great comfort in the phrase his benign master would often use to hearten him. The subservient always took it to infer that his master would always avail himself in times of need.

The subservient waited on his master hand and foot, being in constant reverence of such an established authority that was simultaneously charitable beyond reason. Eras went by and the master passed into old age.

Though weak and feeble, the master remained a pillar of strength and nobility in the subservient’s eyes. The master finally passed unto death but in his last breaths, he looked into the eyes of the subservient and for the first time, the subservient saw frailty, uncertainty, fear and death in his master’s gaze.

In this last breath, with the alienation of quietus in his eyes, the master said to the subservient, “Find me when you’re lost.” For the first time, the subservient heard these words, aligned them in his mind, and felt them become a harbinger of desperation. What once was a decree, in an instant, gazing into mortal fear, became a dire plea.

The subservient went from his felled master and pondered the phrase that had once quelled all variables in his mind. He experienced a sorrow that scarred him potently and profoundly.

The words of the master who was an unshakable pillar, took on a stark and ghostly form when spoken by the master who was trembling in the face of mortality – even though words were exactly the same.

In the last moments of his master’s life the subservient realized that his master was not offering an unwavering beacon, but was actually begging to be rescued from an unknowable abyss.

This realization cast the subservient into darkness and he found himself lost. It was at this point that the subservient, all too late, learned that you cannot find anyone when it is you that is lost.

A Silver Tongue

Spring, 2003

In all likelihood, this was the final straw. Deniet had flown to Toronto, spent 4 days there (one day longer than necessary or planned for), and returned to Seattle without briefing anyone from the accounts team; all without ever once meeting with the client. Jordan Deniet’s tenure at Lewis & Sedgwick had been a precarious one that his colleagues could never wrap their heads around.

In drunken moments, Jordan even confessed to some of his coworkers that he got the job in part by lying about his education. “I’ve never even set foot on the OSU campus!” then he busted out laughing. This latest scoffing of company policy was the crown jewel of his myriad transgressions, however: a huge client completely blown off and ignored.

Jordan strode into his superior’s office to discuss this latest brazen act of disregard without the slightest display of nerves.

“How is Toronto in the spring, Deniet? I’ve never had the opportunity to see it.” Hollins sarcastically inquired.

“Oh, just fine. Beautiful city. Charmingly international.” Jordan replied without skipping a beat.

“Yeah, I’m sure you had a great time. Lewis & Sedgwick footing the bill and all. I trust you stayed entertained, well-fed…drunk.”

“You know it Mr. Hollins.” Jordan said with a smirk, his right leg propped up on his left knee, fingers interlaced over his waist.

Hollins laughed and continued, “Deniet, I’m not going to ask you why you didn’t meet with Nathaniel, I don’t care. You’re gone and that’s a foregone conclusion. And I’m happy. Your book here at Lewis & Sedgwick is closed so there is, thank Christ, no need to try and figure out why you ignored a client with a 2.4 million dollar contract on his hands. Now that I can talk to you like the normal piece of shit that you are, I am curious, not as your former boss. I don’t know, think of me as someone you would talk to casually at a bar. What did you do in Toronto while you were supposed to be working? What could you have possibly been doing besides getting drunk on the company dollar?”

Jordan answered very dryly, “Toronto is a very nice city. I walked around a lot. In fact I was walking to Nathaniel’s hotel when I got sidetracked by a promising canal tour. After that, I just never bothered following up with him. Oh, and on Sunday the Sonics were scheduled to play the Raptors, so I stayed an extra day for that in case you were wondering.”

“I wasn’t.” Hollins replied. “You can leave now.”

As Deniet stood up to exit Hollins’ office, the phone rang. “There is a good chance that’s Mr. Lewis,” he said with his back turned as he left the office.

 

Fall, 2005

“I slept with another woman. In Toronto.” Jordan spoke these words to his wife’s back while she was busying herself in the kitchen. The statement was completely unprovoked. They hadn’t even been having a conversation. He simply stood up from his desk in the study, walked into the kitchen, and made his confession.

Mya heard the words, perked her head up, and stared forward while trying to process them. They didn’t seem to make sense in the order he had said them in. She turned around to see her husband standing in the doorway of the kitchen. He was looking directly into her eyes. Her husband of 8 years liked to joke but she could always tell when he was saying something in jest. When he was serious, he had a straight as an arrow gaze and an insensate expression on his face. This was the look he wore this moment. She could tell he wasn’t joking but she asked anyway, “You’re being serious?”

“Yes,” while he nodded his head shallowly.

“You slept with a woman in Toronto…that was at least 2 years ago and you’re telling me now?” She was still clinging to an iota of disbelief.

Jordan nodded his head silently this time. One of the only times his wife had ever seen him at a loss for words.

“Why are you telling me this now?” Mya asked.

“I don’t know. The guilt is getting to me I think.” he answered.

Mya remembered the work trip on which her loving husband’s infidelity supposedly occurred. Mainly because one or two weeks after he returned from it, he was promoted to head of accounts.

That night, Jordan slept on the couch while his wife lay in bed trying to figure out what all of this meant to her. She could barely believe it was true. He had acted perfectly normal for two years and showed no sign of dissatisfaction prior to the trip. No changes and certainly no inkling of an extra-marital affair. Her thoughts kept her from sleep. The fact that he was able to play it so cool for so long scared her. She didn’t know what to make of this news but the more she thought about it, the angrier she became.

All she knew is that she would make him leave; stay somewhere else first thing in the morning for as long as it took for her to decide what to do. While she lay awake in bed, Jordan crept into the room. She allowed him to sit on the bed and they talked for almost an hour.

Jordan talked in the same tone he used with Mya almost a decade ago when he convinced her that having children, at any point in their relationship was a mistake. He emphasized the word mistake. Mya knew the tone well as she played that conversation over and over again in her mind over the next 8 years. In that conversation 8 year ago he pointed out eloquently and in great detail all that would–he assured her that this was a certainty–go wrong if they had kids. And she was convinced.

He spent the rest of the night by her side, holding her. The next morning, he was still in the house. And the morning after that, and the morning after that. She hadn’t even made him pack his bags.

 

Summer, 1981

When Jordan came to he was being pushed from behind across a driveway into a connecting garage. A pair of large, rough hands held both his arms behind his back. The hands twisted his arm up toward his shoulder blade whenever he resisted. He became conscious into a thick brain haze. He must have been drugged with something because there was an acrid, chemical smell, totally unnatural, lingering in his nostrils. He looked up and saw the moon low in the sky. There were heavy footsteps behind him. Jordan shook his head trying to dispel the fog in his mind. He craned his neck over his shoulder to see who it was that was pushing him but a sharp, hard twist of his arm by the man corralling him put a stop to all that.

The man–the fog slowly burning off from consciousness…wait, 2 sets of footfalls–the two men prodded him into the fluorescent lit garage and forced him to sit in a chair in the center of it–all the while being careful to stay behind him. They obviously didn’t want their faces to be seen. Jordan was forcefully sat and his wrists were bound by–Jordan counted–4 zip ties behind his back.

“You’ve already made a mistake.” Jordan stated before the men could leave the garage. “You can’t be professionals, if there even is such a thing. It’s only been a few hours so we can’t be far from Seattle.” Jordan scrambled to recall his last memory. He quickly remembered walking home from school with his 6th grade classmate, a struggle, then nothing until regaining consciousness on the cold driveway. “My friend, the one I was walking with, say you, at least him, who knows how many others. I know I’m not far from home.”

Somehow, Jordan Deniet was able to grasp what was happening to him very quickly and when he did, an erstwhile dormant instinct rose to the proscenium of his mind: talk or die. Just keep talking. “Your hands are rough and this is a house a few hours away.” ‘Don’t say “maybe,” don’t be passive, state facts, make statements even if they aren’t completely true!’ The thoughts flashed across Jordan’s mind like neon marquee lighting displaying a play title and actors’ names. “A house a few hours outside of Seattle. Queen Anne, Capitol Hill, Colombia City, or Georgetown maybe.”

The men stood silent, hearing the words coming from this boy. “It’s cold, this garage is like all the other garages I’ve seen. Seattle! You’re from here, see!? A Seattle license plate!”

The men traced the line of sight of the boy’s head from behind. “God fucking…!” One of them exclaimed, seeing an old, loose license plate sticking out of some shelving.

“It ends in 6-4!” Jordan proclaimed. One of the men quickly yanked the plate form the shelf and then turned off the garage light.

“Shut up kid” one of the men said with an upwards inflection–a warning tone that implied that more words would result in physical assault.

“You are, you are from here, I can tell by your voice. This garage can fit 2 cars.” ‘More facts’ the thoughts flashed in Jordan’s mind. “I’m still alive. You guys aren’t killers. You’ve taken me for something that you need me alive for or else I would be dead already.”

“Don’t be so fucking sure!” One of them exclaimed. Then Jordan heard one of the men leave the garage.

“You’ve already made mistakes. This is probably the first time you’ve done this. I hear about kidnappers being caught on the news all the time. It’s common and they always get sent to prison for life or executed. You’ve already made mistakes and your bound to make more.” Jordan continued. He heard the other man return and frantically continued his rant. “The air is very cold and my parents already know I’m gone. You’ll make more mist-” He felt a rag shoved into his face from behind. The smell, the acrid chemical smell, this time 100 times stronger. He struggled under the large hand. Jordan felt a primal, screeching fear for a second and then nothingness.

When Jordan woke up, he was being shook to life by an old haggard-looking woman. He was lying, unharmed, on the bench of a bus stop. He shook his head wearily, barely hearing, and even less, comprehending the words of the old woman, who was obviously gravely concerned to see a young boy sleeping on a bus stop bench alone at the crack of dawn.

Jordan continued to ignore the words of the bewildered woman and looked up at the awning of the bus stop. It read “Powell & Hearth.” Jordan knew the streets. He was only a few miles from his home.

Stations of the Heart Chapter 17: New Perspectives

Jed stepped back and looked upon the place he had lived his entire life, the place he had existed contently before being stolen away to the eccentric forest and abandoned in the desert wasteland. This was the place Jed was trying to return to all this time. Wasn’t it? As Jed looked at the walls of his hometown he felt something he hadn’t expected to feel upon finding his home: ambivalence. He didn’t know if this was the place he had wanted to return to after all. So much had happened since he had been there last, he had changed so much. There were new desires and cravings that now dinned deep inside of him that being in his hometown could not fulfill. Jed had never looked upon his hometown from the outside, but still, there was something different about it. The pale and insufficient light from the three crescent moons was cast down on the structures of the town and gave it an atmosphere of foreboding emptiness, as though the streets and homes inside were inhabited only by ghosts.

He continued to gaze at the walls of the town while Nashper and Railnia were stoic in silence, one of the rare times the duo were not bickering. Jed turned and looked at the giant tortuous. Nashper with his big, perfect orb, black eyes. Were they his mentor? Were they his tormentor? Jed wondered. On one hand they deserted him in his times of need and danger, but on the other, they had ultimately delivered him back to where he supposedly wanted to go. Mentor or tormentor? Jed was still unsure but he supposed that it did not matter anymore, his journey was over. Likewise Jed was unsure as to whether he should thank or curse the enigmatic turtle. He decided to make one final attempt to communicate with Nashper and Railnia. He took a deep breath and opened his mouth, “Where will you go now?” but it was no use, the words came out in an incomprehensible chorus. Jed was now completely unable to say anything that wasn’t in song-speak.

“Once again my dear boy, I’m afraid you’ve lost me. But I suppose it is of no consequence anyhow, this seems like a natural point to part ways. I don’t know what this place is but you seem to have some kind of connection to it so we’ll leave you to settle accounts.” Nashper replied. The something began to happen to the tortuous’ shell. The designs on it became animated and started to flow and shift. Jed could make out faint colors on the shell blending into one another and crawling back and forth. The curved, flowing design that adorned the turtle’s shell completely rearranged itself into a new pattern but with a similar aesthetic. Then something even more surprising happened: Railnia began walking forward in the direction the three of them had come from. Railnia was now the front-facing head and Nashper the stern. They were walking the other way, back into the desert, Jed noticed.

“Forward movement!” Railnia called out with a hearty laugh.

Nashper with black, lifeless eyes still locked on Jed’s commented, “Indeed, forward movement is all that exists.” as he was now backing away from Jed. Jed watched as they slowly moved away and was yet again filled with ambivalence; sad to see them go but glad to be rid of their perplexing influence. As he watched them fade in the distance he realized that that part of his life was now over and it was time for him to go home. What else could he do? “Good luck getting over that wall.” he heard Nashper call out.

“No blue light?” he could hear Railnia ask.

“He’s not an idiot.” Nashper replied.

“That’s not what I meant at all. Once again you are confusing the…” Railnia’s voice drifted out of range and they disappeared over a dark desert dune. Jed turned back, looked at the enormous wall surrounding his hometown and realized he had no idea how he planned to get over it. He had been too caught up with finding his home that he had yet to give any thought as to how he would get into it. The surface of the wall was smoothly planed, no doubt the work of sand-laced wind, so there was nothing in the way of footholds. Climbing it was out of the question. ‘No blue light’ Jed thought, ‘What could Railnia have meant by that?’ Jed began to walk along the perimeter of his town, searching the wall for any clues as to how to get in. He walked for hours but the wall yielded nothing. It was the same the whole way around. Jed grew frustrated and impatient. ‘Have I come all this way to find my hometown only to be forever sealed outside of it?’ he wondered achingly to himself. He sat down with his back against the impenetrable wall that threatened to rob Jed of his very sanity. He hung his head downward and stared at nothing in particular but the ground. It was a course mixture of sand and soil, but soon Jed noticed something more pertinent about the inconspicuous earth beneath him. There was a faint reddish hue to it. He had seen that exact hue somewhere else before, he was sure of it. It quickly came to him. He looked up at the now emaciated moons and saw that the color of the red crescent moon was the same as the ground beneath him. Indeed, Jed realized it was the very light of the red moon that was coloring the ground. There was a red moon, a silver moon, and a blue moon. ‘Maybe…’ Jed had an intimation and immediately sprang back to his feet and began walking the perimeter of the wall again. He upped his gait into a jog, all the while observing the ground below him. Still red. He continued his trot for some time until he came to a hopeful point. He stopped. It was a point where the ground reflected not red light, but silver. Jed advanced his output to a full-on sprint but even after what seemed to be a full hour, the ground was still awash in silver moonlight. Jed’s lungs were pinching, his muscles cramping, and his aching body pleaded for him to stop but his mind was much too anxious and it overrode the desires of his body which, in that moment, Jed decided was subject and slave to the mind. Then Jed’s hopes were affirmed and his discipline was rewarded. The silvery ground gave way to a blanched, blueish hue. Jed finally stopped, bent over, resting his palms on his knees and panted furiously. His head swooned and he nearly passed out but he revived his tapped resources by gulping down the rest of the water in his canteen. It was all gone now and Jed had placed everything he had on this one bet. If it did not work, he would surely die outside the walls of his hometown without any water. After regaining his composure and reigning in his frantic breathing, Jed reached into the makeshift pouch hanging from his belt and pulled out one of the last two raising tree seeds he had inside. The blue coloring projecting onto the ground was indeed sallow but its hue was close enough to that of the raising tree seed that it gave Jed an idea. Indeed, the idea that would spell success or certain death for Jed. “No blue light?” Railnia had asked. Well Jed found blue light, ‘And it better yield some good results.’ Jed thought. He knelt down and with his hands, dug a hole in the sandy dirt where it reflected the blue light of the moon. It got to be several inches deep and Jed stopped. He sighed, held the raising tree seed over the freshly dug crater, and in a low voice he sung-spoke, “Please Iparel, take me home.” The he dropped the blue marble-like seed into the hole he dug and proceeded to cover it up with the displaced dirt. Jed stood back up and waited but nothing happened. He had hoped that a great big tree would come rising up from beneath the ground and that he would climb it clear over the wall, but several minutes passed and nothing of the sort happened. In fact, nothing was happening at all. No noise, no rumbling ground beneath Jed’s feet, and certainly no sign of an enormous life-saving tree. Jed was staring at the patch of earth that he had disturbed, imploring it with his mind to yield what he had counted on so desperately, but no matter how hard he stared or how much he psychically pleaded, the ground did nothing. Jed collapsed to his knees next to the planted seed and banged on the ground with his fist. Pummeling the ground, he became energized with desperation, trying to beat some sense out of a cold indifferent earth that would one moment, follow the laws of logic and reason, and then the very next, confound Jed’s mind to the brink of madness. Nothing made sense and just when Jed thought he had a handle on the workings of the outside world, it proved just how little he really comprehended. It did so now at such a pivotal and deciding moment.

Jed knelt with his face to the floor like a zealot bowing in the presence of his god. But worship was not what prompted Jed into his current bodily position, it was despair and exhaustion. Without the life-sustaining water from the well just on the other side of the damnable, dooming wall, Jed would bake in merciless sun that was well on its way, dried up and dead. Jed thought of Railnia’s words, “no blue light,” ‘Just more nonsense’ he dejectedly concluded. He thought of the seed that had failed him. The seed that he planted in the ground that did not grow. The seeds that he procured for the sake of the beautiful and benign Iparel. The seeds he would never be able to give to her. In this moment he wanted to be there in that meadow with Iparel. He wanted to be there and not locked out of his own home with no hope of getting in. He remembered his brief time in the meadow with Iparel and realized it was the only time in the forest or the desert that he felt happy. He had felt happy there in the meadow with Iparel. He remembered the little tune she played on her rounded flute that caused the light-bugs to dance and a new tree spring forth from the ground. That tune was vague in his mind. The long arm of pertinent and demanding occurrences had since pulled a thin veil over the notes. But Jed focused hard, he had not recalled the tune since Iparel herself played it in the meadow but there was no way Jed could have completely forgotten it. As he lay face-down on the ground the melody was slowly coming back to him. All of his cognitive faculties were now commissioned with unearthing the structure of Iparel’s melody from the musty recesses of his memory. It was coming back. The memory traveled from his brain to his lips and he hummed the opening notes of the tune in confirmation. For the first time, the fact that Jed could only use song-speak actually became a benefit and the song came forth from his lips in perfect translation. His recollection yielded more of Iparel’s tune and his tongue and lips transcribed it into audible sounds. As he sang, jed felt the vibration he had come to know so well in the outside world. It was weak beneath his body but Jed repeated the notes of Iparel’s song over and over again with more intensity, pronunciation, and volume until the timid vibration grew to a tumultuous quaking. Jed now unleashed the full capacity of his song-speaking abilities and belted out the tune in high volume to the night sky. The walls of the town themselves shook with reverberations of the forest tune and the ground was rent by the powerful upward thrust of a mighty evergreen tree. Jed quickly grabbed hold of one of its hearty boughs and was elevated higher and higher until the height of the tree surpassed the height of the wall by several feet. The song brought the seed to fruition and yielded a, tall, straight, life saving tree for Jed. Jed, who was now perched in the upper canopy of the great tree, took a minute to admire it. It was the most beautiful tree he had ever seen. A beautiful gift from Iparel. While grasping on to the sturdy bough, Jed lowered himself and dangled his legs down toward the narrow top surface of the wall. The tips of his moccasins grazed the solid surface and Jed slid the bough slowly through his hands until he was planted firmly standing atop the great wall of his hometown. Jed Ano stood there for a while, perched on top of the wall, looking down on the town. He had never seen it from this vantage point before. It looked so small and insignificant to him now. It had seemed so encompassing and daunting before his journey. As he looked on his home, he wondered what it was he would be returning to. The town looked dead and lifeless. He heard the faint, eerie songs of the boys and their companions and felt the emptiness of the houses of the boys who were companionless. He considered his fate. Jed Ano stood tall above all of it in this moment, but his destiny lay in descent.

Stations of the Heart Chapter 15: The Consistently Unstable Ground

Jed knew this feeling all too well. He had felt the earth tremble beneath his feet many times since entering the forest, and now, in the desert, he was feeling it again. Without hesitation, Jed darted up the basin, climbing upward on all fours. The sand flew out from under his feet and palms but Jed raced like a rabid animal to get out. Jed stumbled over the rim of the basin and recovered himself. Wild-eyed, Jed looked down into the basin he had just escaped and saw still another piece of vegetation push its way up from underground, but this time it wasn’t an old, regal tree. It was a wicked-looking giant cactus. It pushed itself up, violently quaking the earth as it did, until it was about thirty feet tall off the ground. It had leveled the ground inside the circle of flag staffs, and the basin was no more. What stood in front of Jed now was a crooked, giant cactus with needle-point thorns as long as Jed’s body but a thousand times thinner. They were packed together incredibly tightly so they numbered well into the millions. At the top of the cactus, unblemished by thorns, was a beautiful flower colored the same majestic blue color of the raising tree seeds, of which Jed was still carrying a couple in his pouch. It was an insane looking plant, with eight arms that bent like elbows in all directions; one down, up, forward, backward, and every direction in between. Jed was backing away from it, but kept his eyes affixed to the deranged cactus that was still cascading sand from its twisted form. He wanted no part of the malevolent-looking cactus and he began to try to decipher the direction the flag staffs were leading him in before they dead-ended at this enigmatic cactus. His hand still stung from being pricked by the thorn of the cactus; a smear of damp blood was congealing in his palm. The cactus stood quiet, towering over the desert like a gnarled sentinel. After Jed decided on a direction, he walked on cautiously, keeping an eye on the cactus and making sure to walk well around it. After a while of uneventful walking Jed became more assured that the cactus posed no threat to him, but it still lingered in his thoughts. He couldn’t shake a feeling of strange pity for the odd plant. Its contorted form almost gave it a demeanor of resentment. It stood completely alone in the desert. Jed imagined that it was once a straight, normal-looking cactus and over time, it wrenched itself in defiance of the desert it so resented for making it live an existence of solitude. Now it was an ugly mutation of what it use to be. These thoughts provided Jed with a transitory distraction from the reality that he still did not know where he was going. He continued to imagine what the cactus may have looked like before it became warped and crooked. Then Jed grew cynical of his own thoughts and figured that he was giving too much life to an object that was not even alive. Jed checked himself, ‘Of course it’s alive’ he thought, ‘ it pushed itself up from the ground, and even if its body is dead, that beautiful flower on top of it was definitely still alive.’ The flower. The flower that was the same color of the raising tree seeds he kept in his pouch. Jed stopped his aimless trek. The cactus was now well behind him but Jed turned around and looked at it. He was far enough that it looked to be only half of its actual size, but still close enough that he could see its crooked profile in the distance clearly. He took a few steps forward to get a better look. He was curious. Just how similar were the colors of the flower and the raising tree seeds? When he got close enough to see the color of the flower, he pulled out a seed and held it out in front of him so that in Jed’s view, it was juxtaposed to the flower, still well off in the distance. He closed one eye and compared the two closely. There was no mistaking it; they were exactly the same color. At the very moment Jed came to his conclusion, he detected some movement in the cactus. Subtle at first but as Jed squinted his eyes and studied the giant plant he could see that it was…writhing. It’s giant stock was swaying and its bent limbs were reaching in all directions for some invisible prize. It was almost as if the cactus was squirming in pain, or reaching for something. But what? Jed held out the seed further toward the cactus and when he did, the plant twisted and roiled more intensely. It sensed the seed, it wanted it. Then the squirming stopped and the great cactus fell over and crashed down on the sand. The impact sent a veil of sand over the downed cactus and sent a shock-wave that Jed felt under his feet, even at the safe distance he stood away from the desert plant. When the cloud of sand settled, Jed could see that the cactus lay completely felled on the ground. Jed’s pity for the cactus evolved into full-fledged sympathy. He no longer feared the now defunct cactus off in the distance. Instead, he felt an inexplicable kinship with the solitary vegetation, like they were the same on the inside. Against all the logic that plead for Jed to stay put in that moment, Jed began walking back toward the cactus. As Jed got closer, he noticed the flower, which was now level with the ground, was still writhing as though pained, and its blue color was radiating and becoming intensely deep. Now Jed was standing only a dozen feet away from it. It struggled more fervently as Jed got closer. He stopped. The flower was alive with movement. Its abysmal blue pedals were flowing so languidly that it became impossible to tell where one ended and another began. They undulated like the fluid swells of the deep sea. Then the flower began to unfurl. Jed was put on guard again. Something was happening. Slowly, the flower was spreading itself open. A translucent ooze began to seep out at first. Jed stepped back. The flower now heaved in pained, sequenced, pushes. Then something began to emerge from its center. It was some kind of tail. It was spiked and covered with the natural, gooey sap from the flower. A pair of rough, scaly hind legs pushed free out of the flower now, then a long torso, and finally, with one last great heave from the flower, the creature was completely emerged. It was covered in the sticky slime of the flowers innards. The flower itself now lay emaciated, pale blue, and dead. There was no movement for a while and Jed began backing away in fear. Then the creature that emerged from the flower began to move tepidly. It shakily rose to its feet and turned to face Jed. It was a giant lizard four times the size of Jed. It was covered with horns and spikes so that it resembled the cactus itself. Spikes ran the length of its spine down to the tip of its tail. Four great spikes stuck out of the crooks of each of its elbows. Its body was covered in thick scales like plates of armor. Rows of spikes ran down its back. There were horned-plates protruding from its face and spikes lining the ridges of its jaw. Its chest was furrowed with thousands of sharp-pointed plates. The eyes were rimmed with spikes and its brow was jagged and hardened. Atop its massive head were six huge, curved horns. It looked like touching the softest part of this creatures body would cut your hand wide open.

Jed was stunned. The lizard was obviously disoriented and as Jed looked into its wild, searching eyes, he could see that it was incredibly weary. The lizard caught sight of Jed and Jed turned to run for his life. The massive lizard shook off what he could of the gunk from the flower but it was still dripping with it. It staggered maladroitly after Jed who was running at top speed. Its eyes were half-open and tired even though they were well protected from the flying sand with narrow eyelets and rough scales. It desperately chased after Jed who was able to keep a distance of about ten feet between he and the creature as he ran. Then the creature spewed forth from its mouth a long gluey tongue and whipped it toward Jed. Jed felt air rush by his face and caught only a glimpse of a fast moving object that struck the ground next to him and flung up granules of sand before flashing out of sight. Jed stopped to turn and face the lizard, he knew he could not outrun it for long. The lizard stopped running as well as Jed examined it to see what kind of weapon it had used to try and strike him, but Jed saw nothing but the lizard. They squared off for a few seconds then the lizard lunged at Jed but Jed rolled under it as it jumped so that they ended up facing each other again but now on opposite ends. The lizard was done sizing Jed up and this time there was no squaring off. Instead, the lizard immediately shit its viscid tongue out at Jed so that Jed could now see what had nearly struck him when his back was turned. Jed could not react in time. The tongue was whipped out quicker than Jed could blink his eye, but luckily the weary lizard’s aim was off and the syrupy tongue struck the sand at Jed’s feet. Another lightning-quick strike hit nothing but air above Jed’s head as he ducked just in time. Jed could not dodge the tongue, he knew that. Each strike had been closer than the last and the lizard, with half-open eyes, was correcting his aim with each attempt. Jed knew the only way to avoid the lizard’s lingual weapon was to anticipate when it was going to be deployed. Jed strafed slowly to his left studying the lizard carefully. The lizard was aiming. Jed focused on the monstrous reptile’s eyes- there was a slight twitch. Jed leaped to his right and sure enough the lizard’s tongue darted toward where Jed was standing. He had found its tell: a subtle spasm of the lizard’s bulging ocular muscles. Jed had bought himself some time, but how could he escape this situation? Jed thought rapidly as he kept his own eyes on those of his reptilian menace. Another twitch, another lunge, another near miss. The lizard roared a raspy, high-pitched squeal in frustration. Jed knew he couldn’t keep this up for much longer, but then an idea hit him. Jed slowly but steadily backed up, back toward the giant felled cactus. The lizard pursued its prey with single-mindedness and determination. The cactus was close now. Jed backed up close to it, waiting for the moment. The ocular twinge, Jed jumped forward and the sticky tongue darted above his head and struck the cactus, only this time it did not recoil back to the lizard’s gaping mouth. The tongue was impaled in at least a dozen places by the tightly packed spikes of the now lifeless cactus. It was stuck.The lizard wheezed and wailed shrilly in pain. It’s mouth was still agape and its long, pink, soft adhesive tongue stretched out straight between it and the cactus to which it was now stuck. Jed had to act quickly, he knew the spikes that stabbed the lizard’s tongue in place would not hold for long. Then Jed carefully approached the cactus and cautiously put both hands on an individual spike. He braced himself, dug his heels into the sand and began pulling hard. The spike, its host now dead, was brittle and did not offer much resistance. It broke off after a moderate use of force on Jed’s part, and he now held in his hand what may as well have been a rapier. He gripped the base of the long, narrow, but still incredibly sharp spike with both hands. Jed knew the long needle would have no effect on the reptiles skin, but Jed was eying its open mouth. He walked close to the incapacitated reptiles head. It was struggling mightily. Jed raised the spike, intending to thrust it into the lizard’s open mouth and down its throat. The spikes would not hold the creature’s tongue for much longer so Jed had to act quickly. He primed himself but he was hesitant. The beast thrashed and Jed heard the creaking of the spikes that were stabbed through its tongue. It was now or never. “I don’t want to do this!” Jed spoke to the lizard. “I shouldn’t be made to do this, it’s not right.” Jed looked into the eyes of the lizard. They were filled with fear. It looked so desperate, so weary. Jed held the spike to the lizards mouth, raised it above his head, and thrust it down harmlessly into the sand near the lizard’s long, cloven forelegs. Jed couldn’t do it/ He was sympathetic toward the creature. In it’s eyes he saw the same fear and desperation that Jed himself had felt so many times in this place. But Jed knew the creature would not be bound for long so he began to run. He hoped the lizard would be stuck long enough so that he could run over the horizon and out of sight. He did not get far. Jed failed to mind the lizard’s vicious tail and before Jed was out of its reach, it whipped Jed across the head in a final desperate attempt to subdue its prey. It worked. The impact sent Jed flying and he hit the ground just a few lengths away from the momentarily downed reptile. He had been hit so hard, he could not get up. he felt a haze creep over his mind. He was losing consciousness. The spiked tail had not only blunted Jed but also opened up a gash across Jed’s forehead and down to his left temple. The slashed flesh was bleeding bountifully and flowing into Jed’s eyes. He struggled to keep them open but unconsciousness was overtaking him rapidly. He couldn’t move. He felt a sensation of slipping calmly away from himself. Jed summoned all his strength to fight the sensation when he heard a sound that jolted his very core and ignited a deathly fear inside his mind. It was the sound of spikes snapping off of the dead cactus. Through a milky, crimson veil provided by Jed’s own blood, Jed saw the giant lizard break free and slowly lumber towards him. He saw the bloodied beast get closer and closer through a filter of blood-red until it was standing directly over him. Jed felt the hot breath of the creature as it belted out a triumphant, droning roar. Jed was terrified. It was over, Jed knew, and as the last bit of awareness seeped out of Jed’s mind he felt the all too familiar sensation. The sensation that seemed to define all of Jed’s experiences in this place. Jed felt the earth shake beneath his body. then he slipped into unconsciousness.