by Jakob Angerer

He woke up on the ground, coughing. The dust had clogged up his nose and irritated his lungs. He choked and spluttered until a gob of bloody phlegm mixed with purple-tinged dust dislodged itself from his insides and landed in a puddle before him. He stumbled to his feet and wiped the dried blood and vomit from his chin.

Looking around the barren landscape of purple dust and rock, he realised they’d finally caught up with him. This was it, this was exile. Not quite a million lightyears from home but as good as.

He wondered what could be worse than being alone on an empty rock. Then again, it’s what he deserved. At least, what they thought he deserved. He disagreed. He thought he deserved admiration for his dedication to the cause, for his defiance in the face of opposition and for his heroism at the dawn of rebellion.

He looked down at his tattered uniform. His many medals had been stripped from his breast. His epaulettes torn from his shoulders. There were bloodstains spattered all over the dark fabric, surely from more than just one person. He couldn’t recall what had happened in the moments before he was incapacitated, but he was convinced that he hadn’t gone down without a fight.

A rock tumbled from a pile nearby, shattering his thoughts. He looked in the direction of the sound and saw nothing but a small cloud of dust where one of the rocks must have come loose and fallen. Despite the loss of one, the pile remained standing.

He brushed his jacket in a futile attempt to remove the excess dust. There was another sound, this time from the tall formation behind him. He gazed at the high stones and called out to whoever was responsible for the noise making.

“What are you doing?” He asked with an authority he forgot he didn’t have anymore. He didn’t dare venture the question as to who was there, fearing he would give the unseen entity an advantage he didn’t have.

He wandered closer to the formation, running his hands through his now severely unkempt hair. A bead of sweat rolled past his eyebrow and he wiped it away with his wrist. He kept his arm raised, noticing a button hanging by a single thread on the remains of the torn sleeve. He seized it in his bloodied hand and tugged it away with more force than was necessary.

There came another sound from the formation, like someone sliding down the rocks. He threw the metal button over and heard it clink against the rocks before landing on the other side.

He called out again but received no response. He began climbing instead, desperate to identify the shy presence he was apparently sharing the rock with. Then again, he wondered if he wasn’t just succumbing to premature insanity.

Upon reaching the top of the reasonably short formation, he was puzzled to find no one in any direction. Five metres above the ground wasn’t the best vantage point, but it should have afforded a view of some description. If anyone was there, they were either long gone or hiding.

Looking down over the other side, a tiny golden object glinted in the dust on the ground and he squinted, initially believing it to be something of interest. He grunted his disapproval upon realising it was his recently disposed-of button. His interest was piqued again when he noticed a thin, scaly tail like appendage slide out from under the rocks nearest the ground.

The thing inched closer to the object, investigating its smooth surface before recoiling back to its housing.

He knelt down on the edge of the rocks, curious and amused. He grinned when the thing re-appeared to touch the button again. He leaned down, trying to see what the appendage was attached to, but one of the rocks jutted out below and blocked his view.

The thing was crimson and beautiful in a sense. It slid through the dust like a lonely snake, until suddenly accompanied by another. The feelers grasped the shiny button like a pair of thin red fingers and lifted it carefully as though it were a precious jewel.

He watched as the appendages disappeared back into the rocks with their prize and he fancied he might have offered his rings to them, had they not already been wrenched from his fingers.

He made to stand up again, when the rock suddenly gave way beneath his feet. He tumbled down, legs first, as his already bruised body was dragged violently against the jagged stone on the way. He landed in a cloud of dust, shielding his face from the loose pebbles that had followed him down.

He coughed as the dust cleared and revealed an unspoiled view of the sky. He hadn’t given it much thought until he was on the ground with the world above him. The vast darkness floated soundlessly overhead and he realised how exposed he was to it. He resented the feeling of smallness it gave him, how it reminded him of his own insignificance.

He propped himself up painfully on his elbows and looked down to survey the damage done to his body- immediately wishing he hadn’t. His shin bone was protruding from the newest tear in his trousers, and for a moment he was fascinated by how much whiter it appeared than he’d imagined bone would. His fascination did not last long before it was replaced with fear and the reality of the searing agony set in.

The fear only intensified when he realised the presence of the creature, partially obscured by the formation but clearly observing him from a safe distance. Peering around the rocks, the unblinking eye appeared like a huge black moon framed in iridescent red scales. In a panic, he grabbed a sizeable rock from the fallen pile and hurled it at the eye, but the throw was awful, and the creature didn’t even flinch.

Rather than being discouraged by the potential fight left in him, the creature sent a small army of red feelers creeping toward him and he tried swatting them away. In his state of shock and feverishness, however, his attempts to defend himself had no effect- leaving him looking more like a drunk trying to bat away a determined mosquito.

He screamed as the long tendrils made contact and probed the wound, apparently beginning to feed on the exposed bone. He felt himself falling backward, admitting defeat and submitting to a will to live stronger than his own.

As he slipped back into unconsciousness, he realised that there were worse things than being alone on an empty rock.


© 2021 Jakob Angerer

Bio: Jakob Angerer is a writer from the Wirral, UK.