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Homegrown: Terror Rising in the Desert, 4th of 4 Sample Chapters of a Novel by cam

Updated on November 25, 2016
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Chris has written more than 300 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.

Sandstorm Approaching in the Desert


Six rectangular stones, each the size of a large shoe box, lay in the dark along the base of the wall, and a pile of dirt stood knee high in the corner, enough to fill a bathtub.

“The guard’s coming,” said Jules who was taking her turn standing watch beside the door. Dim light invaded the room revealing five bodies in various positions on the ground, who seemed to be sleeping. Through the open door, the prisoners heard the raging of a windstorm, one of the perils of the desert. The guard, a young man with half closed eyes, stepped inside, but kept the door open. He looked from side to side, then toward the back of the room.

“This place smells like shit,” he said.

“What do you expect,” said Sarah. “You won’t take us outside to relieve ourselves.”

“I’d rather be out there in that windstorm than in here with this smell,” he said. The guard pulled the door closed and darkness returned. When the lock clicked, Blake was on his feet.

“Let’s go. This storm is the cover we need to get away.” Blake climbed into the hole with the help of Jules and Lance and began digging. In a matter of minutes, he was through. Dim sunlight and a sand laden wind struck him in the face. He turned to the others.

“Everyone get out as quickly as you can. I’ll have the direction for our escape by the time we’re back together. He crawled out of the quiet root cellar into the chaos of a Mojave Desert sandstorm.

Blake was blinded as soon as he turned back into the wind and stumbled into the side of the root cellar. Every possible landmark which might have helped him decide which way they should run was hidden by the flash flood of wind and dust. He closed his eyes and remembered the map he had used when he left the highway a couple of days before. He recalled the view of the mountains, foothills and desert as Barry led him to meet Eryk. In his mind he pictured the gravel road running northeast across the desert floor with a short mountain range on either side. He used what he knew, or thought he knew, and made his decision, a choice which might cost his own life and the lives of those he was attempting to save. One by one, the prisoners freed themselves from the root cellar until all five were huddled together.

“Which way, Blake?” mouthed Sarah. Blake pulled everyone in close so he could be heard.

Blake glanced toward the southwest where the pole barn stood cloaked in cloud of brownish-red. Was he watching? Had he seen them? Were his guards already on the way?

“Hold hands, and don’t let go.” He grabbed Sarah’s hand and Sarah, Jules’s. Then came Gary with Lance at the rear.

Blake led them into what he guessed was the northwest, making the southwesterly a virtual crosswind. The dust and wind blinded them. They stumbled over low lying bushes and rocks, staggering in as straight a line as they could manage.

Time had no meaning. Each step that carried them forward revealed nothing new, nothing by which to measure progress. They were on a treadmill of sand, running from nowhere to nowhere. Gary was the first to crumble. He fell to his knees, and the others pulled him up.

“Let’s all just lay down together and hide our faces until the wind stops,” he shouted.

“When this wind stops,” said Blake, the last place we want to be is out in the open. Now get up. We’re not leaving anyone behind.” Tears blew sideways from Gary’s eyes to his ears, creating red streaks as dust was caught in the moisture.

They ran until exhaustion forced them to stop again. Sand and grit filled their noses, ears and eyes. Blake lowered himself to the desert floor and the others crowded in, making a small shelter over him with their bodies.

“Where are we running to,” shouted Sarah.

“The town was built up against the foothills of a mountain range to the west. We should be running uphill by now,” he said.

“But it’s still flat here,” said Jules.

“The wind keeps blowing us toward the north. I think we may actually be running parallel to the foothills. We’ll adjust our course toward the left. It shouldn’t be long before we know if it was the right decision.”

“What about water,” said Jules.

“We don’t have any,” he said.

“We’re going to die out here,” said Gary.

“We were going to die anyway,” said Lance. “It’s better to die trying to escape than to be waiting for somebody to shoot each of us in the head.” They resumed their flight, but hope was dwindling, and despair was the only thing left to take her place.

Sarah was leading the way so Blake could take a mental break. She abruptly disappeared, followed by a scream that was carried away on the roaring wind. Blake threw out his arms to keep the others back. He knelt down and crawled forward until his hands felt the edge of a drop off.

“Stay here. I’ll go down and find her.” Blake slipped over the edge, leaving Jules, Gary and Lance holding onto each other at the top.

Blake immediately began to slide. He grabbed at bushes and rocks, but went over another drop off without slowing. He fell ten feet onto a ledge that sloped gently to his right and was wide enough for him to sit with his legs outstretched, the exact position he had landed in. Sarah lay a few feet to his left where she struggled to lift her head from the gravel. The wind continued to blow unabated above, but here it was much less severe.

“Were you looking for a ravine to hide in?” she said, wincing with pain.

“Yes,” said Blake.

“Well, I think I found one.”

“We’re going to have to find a better way down,” said Blake. “Your way is faster, but it’s going to get somebody killed.”

“Is there room for three more here?” Lance was standing with Jules and Gary on the higher side of the ledge that was appearing to look more like a path. “This ledge climbs to the top. When we saw you go over, we knew we had to find another way down.”

Blake and Sarah got to their feet, bruised, but nothing broken. Lance led the way, and they explored the bottom of the ravine.

Desert Ravine


“What exactly are we looking for?” said Lance. “I mean, luxury accommodations seem to be scarce here.”

“Right now, we just need a place to hide while the storm passes,” said Blake. “Then we can look for something farther in. We can’t risk staying in the first ravine of the foothills because it’s the first place that will be searched when Eryc discovers we’re missing.”

“Speaking of the storm passing, look.” Jules was looking up, pointing. They all followed her gaze and saw blue sky above.

“They’ll begin searching for us the second they discover we're gone,” said Blake. “Let’s find a temporary place to get out of sight.”

The five runaways followed the length of the bottom of the ravine in single file. Ahead and to the left was a slab of rock protruding from the wall of the ravine with space beneath for all of them. At that same moment, a distant, low hum drifted across the desert and grew louder by the second.

“Helicopter,” said Blake.

Lance led the way to the only hiding place at hand, and they huddled under two and a half feet of overhanging rock. The chopper came in low and the five pulled their legs in tight to their chests to avoid being seen. They could see the skids of the helicopter dropping below the edge of the rock over their heads.

“If he comes down any further, he’ll be able to see us,” said Blake, loud enough to be heard above the whining of the chopper’s engine and the wind from the whipping blades. “If he does, then we’ll have to run. Just stay with me.”

But the helicopter began to rise and then flew away from the ravine to search elsewhere. The five crawled out from under the overhang and listened. The hum of the chopper’s engines was distant and fading.

“He’s probably heading toward the highway to see if we’re trying to hike out. We need to take advantage of the time and find a better place to hide for a while.”

“And water. We’ve got to find water,” said Sarah.


Blake led the way this time, and they slowly made their way up the side of the ravine opposite the side they had come down. They wanted to go farther into the foothills in order to escape detection.

Back on top, Blake led them up a small hill where they could look out in every direction. The sun was getting low in the sky, and they had not yet found shelter.

“Look north,” said Blake. “You can see ravine after ravine and they aren’t far apart. Lets get going.” After only another hundred feet, they were descending into the second ravine which they quickly searched and went on to the third and fourth ravines. The fifth ravine was deeper and broader at the bottom. At the downhill end of the ravine, where it was deepest, wild plants added green to the monotony of red sandstone.

“That looks hopeful,” said Sarah. “Green plants must mean water, right?”

“Let’s go find out,” said Blake.

They descended the side of the ravine and hiked down to where the vegetation began. One of the first things they noticed were paths leading into the grasses and wiry bushes. They followed one of these and came to a small pool of water.

“This meets one of our needs,” said Blake. “We need shelter as well. Let’s branch out and scour the area. They all drank from the pool and then began scouting for shelter. After about fifteen minutes, Jules and Sarah shouted from up the ravine.

“Here, up here. We found something.”

Blake, Lance and Gary arrived at where the two women were stooping in front of a five foot wide, vertical crevice in the rock. Farther in, they could see a square hole with small timbers scattered around the opening.

“A mine of some kind?” said Lance.

“Gold mining was what this area was all about for a couple of years,” said Blake. “Let’s see what’s inside.”

Blake led the way, crawling along a short tunnel that opened up into a room tall enough for them to stand. The room was about ten feet across and the floor was littered with rocks.

“Let’s clean this place up.” Blake lifted one of the stones and tossed it to the side, against the wall. The others followed suit and soon the floor was bare. Gary hauled the last stone to the side and dropped it. A rattling sound came from the pile of stones.

“Don’t move.” Blake crossed to where Gary was frozen with his hands still in the position of dropping the rock. Blake waited until he saw movement. “There it is. Some kind of rattlesnake. Two of them together.”

“What do we do now,” said Jules. “We can’t stay in here with rattlesnakes.”

“We can eat them,” said Lance. “We just have to kill them first.”

After half an hour throwing rocks at the two rattlers, some of them direct strikes to the head, the hungry runaways killed the snakes. Lance took the five foot bodies outside to skin them.

“And how do you plan on cooking the snakes,” said Sarah. “I’m not eating raw rattlesnake.”

“We’ll make a very small fire and bring it inside the mine to cook the meat. We don’t want to send up smoke signals for Eryk to see.” Gary, are your glasses for nearsightedness or farsightedness?”

“I’m nearsighted, why?”

“Can I borrow your glasses for a few minutes. This is something I learned while survival camping in the Kwazulu-Natal Province in South Africa.” Blake took the glasses outside and rubbed dried grass between his palms until it formed a fuzzy ball. He went to the pool and placed a drop of water on the concave surface of the lens. The sun was low on the horizon, so he set the ball of grass on top of a five foot stone and held the glasses up between the tinder ball and the sun. In less than half a minute, the dried grass began to smoke. He blew on it and the ball burst into flame. He placed it on the ground and added more grass, and pieces of dried plant. Gary and the women scavenged for larger pieces of fuel for the fire and took them into the mine. Blake followed, holding the fire on a flat stone.

“Well, rattlesnake does not make the list of my top ten favorite foods, but I’m glad we were able to eat,” said Sarah as she wiped her greasy fingers on her shirt. “So we have water. We’ve proven we can get food. What’s next?”

“What’s next?” said Gary. “We hike the hell out of here, that’s what’s next. Right, Blake?”

“We’re at least twenty miles from the nearest highway,” said Blake. Eryk’s helicopter pilot will undoubtedly be keeping an eye out for us. Then there is the issue of the daytime temperatures being around 105 to 110 degrees. We have no way of carrying water and no guarantee we would find any hiking across the desert floor.”

“So we go at night when the heat ain’t so bad and the helicopter can’t see us,” said Gary.

“We wouldn’t have fifteen hours of darkness to make that trek.” Blake scooped a handful of gravel and dirt and dropped it on the smoldering embers of the fire. “And there’s still the issue of carrying water.”

“What are you suggesting? That we stay here in this place indefinitely? No way, I won’t do it. I’ll hike out of here alone if I have to.”

“Everything we need to survive and escape from here is back where we just came from,” said Blake. “I’m suggesting we make some nighttime trips into the town and steal the things we need. We can make a list…after we steal a pencil and some paper.”

“We might be able to steal a vehicle,” said Sarah.

“That is a possibility,” said Blake. “We might also consider trying to find out what Eryk intends to do with all the people he kidnapped.”

The sun set over the western mountains, and darkness crept into the ravine and the little mine in which the runaways lay on the floor, attempting to sleep.

Later, Blake was vaguely aware of someone moving around the room. They're going out to relieve themselves, he thought. Watch out for the snakes. Then he slipped back behind the curtain of consciousness until morning.


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