Search for the Hercules
Chapter 1 Riders on the Storm
A tingle of electricity crawled across Stephanie Richardson's arms, and the hair on her head stood on end. Above, an effervescent whirlpool of blue light swirled in the night sky. She needed to get away and quick. She hastily shoved the mysterious device that she held in her hand into her purse and began to run.
As she did a flash of light enveloped her. Stephanie came to a dead stop and all she could do was stop and slap her hands over her face as every cell charged with electricity. The thin gaps between her fingers bared an elliptical glimpse of the explosion of light. The loud boom that followed rattled her to the bones.
She squeezed her eyes shut as the unbearable pain of being ripped apart at the molecular level savaged her body. The sensation of being yanked backwards, like iron shavings being drawn to a magnet made her feel sick. She felt physically strung out until part of her came to an abrupt halt, then the rest of her caught up and slammed back into her body. Then all was quiet. Too quiet. It took a few minutes for the nausea to subside, but when it did, she opened her eyes.
A bright light sifted through the cracks between her fingers. She felt certain that a bolt of lightning had struck her dead, and this was the infamous light people talk about when they come back from the other side. Hell, I might as well get this over with. But when she let her hands slip from over her face, she began to panic.
She silenced the alarm going off in her head and looked around. To the left—sand. To the right—sand. Behind— more sand—miles of the stuff. Above—a cloudless, blue sky and a fiery ball radiating down unforgiving heat and blinding light.
Think, Stephanie, think. You've been in tough situations before. She mentally scrambled to fit the pieces of the cosmic puzzle together, but all she came up with was more questions. The hissing wind at her back and stinging sand rushing past her like a swarm of angry bees felt real. If this was reality, then how in the hell did she get here? It was impossible to go instantly from a rain-drenched night to an arid desert day. Wasn't it? Was she really dead? Maybe her assumption that she was good enough to enter the kingdom of Heaven was wrong and this was Hell. It sure was hot enough. Before Stephanie yanked her coat off she dropped her purse and some of the contents spilled in the sand.
But, if this was Hell, where was Gerald. Surely, he should be here. And, what had happened to the others? Where was the restaurant? She looked around. The only nearby structure was a huge column of slate-gray rock poking up out of the wasteland. It looked like God had plucked up a piece of Stonehenge and slung it, and it happened to land here. She'd read enough of the bible to know that He was prone to throw a temper tantrum on occasion.
She checked her Rolex. Whatever had happened to her had affected the timepiece as well. It didn't work. Her purse, and Grinder's odd device, was lying at her feet. Stephanie had a sneaking suspicion that the gizmo was the cause of her current predicament. She plucked it up and started pressing buttons, but nothing happened. "Ohhhhh!" She tossed it.
She scooped up her purse, fumbled around for her phone. Shielding the display screen from the overbearing light, she saw the NO SERVICE bar and angrily tossed it back into her bag. Panic welled up inside her, but she stopped it before it became out of control. She needed to stay levelheaded. Heat from the desert floor billowed up in her face. She had two choices; she could stand here and bake like a clam, or walk out. The unfriendly climate was already robbing her of vital moisture. She swallowed hard and it went down her throat in a dry lump. Maybe there was someplace nearby that offered A/C and a cold drink. She looked down at the coat at her feet. The thought of wearing the garment made her cringe, but she could use it for shade. She picked it up. Grinder's device was useless and would just be added weight. And who knew if she'd ever see him again? She shook her head, tossed it. Now, which direction she should go? She turned in a slow circle scanning the horizon, and with her back to the sun, she tramped across the hot sand.
With every step, gusts kicked up grit that nipped at her ankles, nested in her hair, and crawled down the open collar of her silk blouse. Finer particles embedded in the nylon weave of her hose, and it wasn't long before they were abrading the material and her skin. The two-inch heels of her shoes hindered her pace. She should take them off. Balanced on one leg, she removed a shoe and plunked her foot down on what felt like a bed of fiery, hot coals. She let out a yelp of pain and jerked her foot out of the sand. Well, that wasn't going to work. She shoved the shoe back on. She would just have to perfect her technique, that's all. Find a rhythm.
She pressed further on into no man's land staring at the endless sea of dunes with the determination she was going to conquer them one at a time. She had faith that she'd make it to her destination—wherever that was. Off and on, the old guy in the sky teased her with a convoy of small, puffy clouds that blocked the sun for a few fleeting moments.
The plodding trek left a lot of time for the nagging questions lodged in the back of her mind to break loose and surface. It was just tonight she'd met John Grinder. Or, was it last night? The insanity of the situation defied all explanation. Either way, whoever he was, she felt sure he was part of whatever this madness was and probably knew the way out of it—wherever he was. She'd met the strange man while running away from her husband.
© 2016 Marlin 55