The Desert

(Author’s Note: In the last post of 2006, I mentioned possible plans to write a serialized work of fiction on this site. This new series is not that work, which still lies in the future. However, it’s something different from what I normally write here, and I thought it was an interesting opportunity to try something new. I’m curious what readers think of it, if they have any thoughts to volunteer.)

I: Prologue

It was a late-summer day at my home, and as on most summer days, I was outdoors in my Garden. The air was heavy with the warm, rich scent of growth, and sunlight filtered through the leaves above in an explosion of green and gold. Butterflies flitted above me like little splashes of vivid color. Not far off, a small rill of clear water trickled by, filling the air with its silvery laughter. I was drowsing beneath the sheltering green of a young hickory tree, looking out over the flowerbeds where wild roses and violets blossomed, misty in a haze of golden sun.

The land shimmered in afternoon’s liquid heat, but the daylight had only a short season left. Before long would come fiery sunset and evening cool, and I had a decision to make. Where would I spend the rest of the day?

I could retire to my Foyer, and spend the night talking and laughing with old friends until the fire burned down to glowing embers in the fireplace. I could go to the Observatory and spend a night among the stars and the planets, or I could retire to the Loft or the Library, to read or meditate on dreams by the light of lamps turned down low. Or I could stay in the Garden all night, lying in the soft grass and watching fireflies come out like little candles.

I could have done any of these things – but I wasn’t going to. As much as I loved it there, to stay in my home by myself would have been selfish, for I had another calling demanding my attention, and somewhere else to be. In truth, I had only been in the Garden to prepare myself for that journey, and now it was the appointed time to set out. I slung my bag over one shoulder and set out for the desert.

In one sense it was far away from my home, but in another sense, the two were not as distant as one might think. I knew the path well, for I had journeyed it many times, and soon I stood before the gateway to the desert.

It was at the end of a long, winding road of dusty, hard-beaten earth. The vegetation had been dwindling all along the way, from lush gardens and forests to tough, wiry scrubland and gray marsh, but here even that came to an end. Before me, the cracked, red earth faded out into windblown white sand, barren and lifeless. The sun beat down hot and harsh, and I could feel the approaching heat on my face.

The edge of the desert was marked by a crude fence, long since collapsed. It had been baked in ovenlike heat and scoured by blowing sand for countless years, and was now little more than sun-bleached, wind-seared driftwood tangled with rusted twists of wire. No matter. Its purpose was as a marker, as a boundary, and that it still served. Where the road led up to the edge of the sands, there stood a crumbling arch of red stone. Words might once have been carved on its surface, perhaps a proscription or a warning, but now it was too pitted and eroded to be sure. Beyond the arch lay only high, rolling dunes.

I stood there for a moment, listening, trying to steel myself for what lay ahead. There was no sound in that arid waste, no hint of water or life. The land seemed silent, as if expectant. Waiting. Then a hot, dry wind blew, shivering over the tops of the dunes, and the shifting sand moaned in a ghostly, rattling counterpoint.

It was not too late to turn back, but I wasn’t going to. I had come all this way for a reason, and I would not return until I had found what I sought, futile though the effort might prove to be in the end.

I took a deep breath. The very air in that land was stifling, and I might not get another like it for a long while.

“It’s time,” I told myself, and matching words to action, I stepped forward, through the archway, and plunged into what lay beyond.

To be continued…

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Ric

    As always, your prose is good. Of course I’d have to read further to see the narrative point, so commenting on the prose is about all I can do at this point.

  • Ric

    As always, your prose is good. Of course I’d have to read further to see the narrative point, so commenting on the prose is about all I can do at this point.

  • Petrucio

    Nice stuff. I think I can see where you are trying to go with this, and I don’t the desert will be all that bad for you at all. My desert has been kind to me. I can see the oasis getting closer and closer.

    That is, if I understand your metafores. If not, then forget all I said… :)

  • Paul

    I’ve been reading your site for a little while now. I’ve always enjoyed your writing, and this is definately no exception. Great job, like it very much so far!

  • Paul

    I’ve been reading your site for a little while now. I’ve always enjoyed your writing, and this is definately no exception. Great job, like it very much so far!

  • Jack

    As always, your style is great. I’m not sure where you’re going with this, but I can imagine a few possibilities and am eager to read the next installment.

    Interesting things happen in deserts. Saul reputedly had his conversion in such a place. Yahweh and Allah are sometimes collectively called “the God of the desert”.

    I happen to live within a few hours drive of a desert and have been there many times. It is stark, harsh and beautiful. Some of my favorite hikes have been in the desert. One word of caution, though: If you’re going in the summer, bring LOTS of water!

  • Polly

    The scene works for me but for the wrong reason. I love the desert especially when the temp goes over 100 F and the air is dry and the land is all red-rocks and dried up scrub-brush.
    I think you mean a desert of (non)reason. Since you didn’t mention the rotunda, I wonder if that’s not your destination and if the fallen fence isn’t a political reference. That would make the desert the Church and your starting point the state. Since that doesn’t make sense, I’m probably off. Plus, I doubt you’re going to the Church side to do any kind of offensive maneuvering behind enemy lines. Reaon vs. superstition is probably the real metaphor. Or, maybe you’re just going for a hike, whaddu I know? :)

    I like the writing, eg “fiery sunset”, “liquid heat” “silvery laughter” and other sensory evocative language.

    OK, the following is my own humble, certainly non-expert, opinion. Don’t do anything rash in response. :D

    I’d replace “ovenlike.” Maybe rephrase it with something including “hearth” or “furnace” as nouns.

    Some places it seems too melodramatic. Except in poetry, “for” always feels better when limited to its funtion as a preposition. “I knew the path well, for I had journeyed it many times…” vs. “I knew the path well, having traversed its weathe-worn steps many times…”

    1st person narration is tricky because it’s hard to separate the story from the teller in current time, but that’s just me. Also, it’s hard to feel free and unbiased when you’re talking about yourself. Note: “The stranger was ruggedly handsome” vs. “I was ruggedly handsome.” That’s a broad example, but hopefully you get my drift.

    “The sun beat down hot and harsh, and I could feel the approaching heat on my face.”
    The sun beat down hot and harsh, my face bore the brunt of the heated assault.

    Anyway, hope that some of this feedback is meaningful.

  • http://blog.myspace.com/ozzyrules Chris

    The imagery reminds me of being trapped in a Dali painting. I’m curious as to what the search is for. god? truth? justice? peace? hope? It seems very interesting so far.

  • http://blog.myspace.com/ozzyrules Chris

    The imagery reminds me of being trapped in a Dali painting. I’m curious as to what the search is for. god? truth? justice? peace? hope? It seems very interesting so far.

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    Very rich prose, even by your standards. I am, naturally, intrigued, and shall not critique because I want to know where and how it goes, as is.

  • chronomitch

    I’m not sure if this is story is some kind of metaphor, but your writing has drawn me in. I’m looking forward to the next part, even if it is just a piece of prose written purely for pleasure.

  • chronomitch

    I’m not sure if this is story is some kind of metaphor, but your writing has drawn me in. I’m looking forward to the next part, even if it is just a piece of prose written purely for pleasure.

  • http://nesoo.wordpress.com/ Nes

    I think my response could best be summed up with one word: More.

  • http://nesoo.wordpress.com/ Nes

    I think my response could best be summed up with one word: More.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    I’m glad to see there’s interest so far! Thanks to everyone who took the time to comment. The next post in this series will appear tomorrow, and you can all decide for yourselves what the desert represents…

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    I’m glad to see there’s interest so far! Thanks to everyone who took the time to comment. The next post in this series will appear tomorrow, and you can all decide for yourselves what the desert represents…


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