Chapter 27 of Ama
Jason wrapped the scarf around his head as he ran, making sure to cover his nose and mouth. Then he unhitched the goggles from the screwdriver in his belt and put them on. For added protection against the razor-sharp wind, he put his hood up and pulled the drawstrings tight. Gloves, he thought. Damn! The sleeves of his top weren’t long enough to be pulled down over his hands so he ran with his hands in his pockets instead. This worked until he ascended the first dune, at which point he needed his hands for balance as he climbed. The wind seemed to know when his skin was unprotected and became tortuous out of spite, the sand slicing at his hands as it hurtled past.
When he reached the top of the dune, he looked back at his house. At any other time the sight would be comical: a house, complete with concrete drive and car, in obstinate defiance of its placement on the otherwise desolate landscape. My suburban tomb, he thought. He looked back towards the mountain and debated which direction to take.
The last time, he had set off from the back garden and arced around to the right. From that point on he had kept to a straight line across the desert. He concluded that Xavier’s castle should now be somewhere on his left. He continued to reason that if he walked to the first dune at a slight angle to the left, then straighten up again, he should find it. And if not, at least he would still be heading in the right direction for the mountain. He adjusted and tightened the scarf, checked the makeshift weapons wedged in his belt and then set off down the dune.
He kept his pace at a slow run and soon wished he had found a replacement for the blue stone button. That had taken the edge off his thirst and helped take his mind off the hunger pangs too; or had it been a placebo effect? The boots were painful to run in, but at least the sand felt hard beneath his feet in the valleys between each dune, although his feet did sink into the sand as he climbed towards the various peaks. He picked up the pace once more on the descent by moving in clumsy hops. Some dunes proved too steep and impossible to climb—each step up followed by sliding three or four back down again. He had to work his way around these until the ground became more accommodating. These diversions took him off course and messed with his sense of direction. He had to wait until he climbed to another high peak to see the mountain again and adjust his direction accordingly.
* * *
At the top of the tenth dune, he collapsed with fatigue. His breaths came in short rapid bursts and his heart was beating fast, which he found curious. If he were dead why was he breathing at all? And what was he breathing? Also, if his heart was beating, why did he not bleed? He left this futile train of thought and sat up.
The mountain lay hidden by a distant sandstorm, but he believed he was still heading in the right direction. He looked from dune to dune and valley to valley. Nothing but desert. Where the hell was Xavier’s bloody castle? It should be somewhere nearby.
For a moment he watched the shifting sand and streams of glistening grey lifting from each of the peaks. Then he looked back at the path he had trodden into the sand, tracing it as far as he could see before it became obscured by the previous dune. It appeared that, so far at least, he had maintained a straight line towards the mountain.
He stood and was about to start his descent when his foot sank and fell upon something hard beneath the sand. He lifted himself free, knelt down and reached into the hole left by his boot. A moment later he pulled a familiar object from the sand and realised the castle must be somewhere close by. He dropped his old binoculars once more and set off down the dune.