THE STORM

by White Wolf

The sun shown down mercilessly, scorching man and beast alike. Even the sparse shade offered no relief from the relentless attack. The earth was parched and cracked, and the heat rose from it in waves, making the distance dance. It gave the appearance of having to peer through rippling water at the far horizon. There was no visible life to be found anywhere. Even the lizards, snakes and scorpions of this ghost land sought refuge in the few clumps of shriveled grass that dotted the endless flatland that stretched away to the distant red sandstone cliffs.

All was quiet--too quiet. The wind came from nowhere, skipped across the barren earth, swirled the sand, and then, was gone again. It barely made a sound. The silence was the kind that whispers to all who know its language that something is coming.

Looking across the desert, it appeared as if something in the wavering horizon was moving. The heat waves and swirling sand made it impossible to tell for sure. Maybe it was only an apparition, a joke on the eyes that strained so hard to see. Then, again, maybe there was really something out there.

The movement began as part of the wavering distance, and then gradually grew larger and more solid. It was no illusion, no mirage. It was real. As it moved closer, it became obvious there were two figures, a larger one behind the other. They moved closer. The figure in front was a man, and the one behind was...a horse. They were moving at a strong, steady pace. Closer. Ever closer.

The man and the horse both had their heads down, though it was not because of exhaustion, for they did no falter in their step. They had the air of two who have far to go and much time in which to get there. Neither were they lost. Their destination and the direction to go were sure to them. They may have traveled this way before. Closer they came. Ever closer.

Suddenly, the man and the horse halted. Neither had stopped first. It was as if they had both made the same discovery at the same instant. They both lifted their heads and looked to the West. In the distance, they could see that the horizon was blotted out by something large and black. It, too, was moving closer, only at a far faster pace. Soon it would be upon them.

The man looked around him. There was no protection from it. None whatsoever. They would be completely at its mercy, and that was one characteristic it did not possess. The only option they had was to stay where they were and prepare as best they could.

The man secured the few possessions he had firmly to the horse. He took a large red bandana from his back pocket. He tied the bandana securely around the horse's eyes and over its ears. He took a small handkerchief from his shirt pocket and tied it around the horse's nose.

He had to hurry because it was moving ominously closer.

The man made the horse lie down with its back to the approaching blackness; its head down toward its chest for maximum protection. With the reins wound tightly around his left hand, the man lay down against the horse's stomach with his head tucked between the horse's front legs. He closed his eyes and covered them with one hand while he used the other to cover his exposed ear.

The man and the horse didn't have to wait long before it reached them. Soon, they heard the roaring of the wind and the sting of the sand being driven with tremendous force against them.

The wind increased in intensity and sound. Before long, there was nothing but a furious roaring in their ears. The force of the sand was so great it felt like a giant piece of sandpaper was being scraped across them. It tore at the man's clothing and stung his skin.

The saddle and pack took the brunt of the assault, but it didn't protect them from much of the punishment they were forced to endure.

It left as suddenly as it had come.

The man got up and shook off the sand that had swept up in a drift over the horse and piled up against him. He pulled on the reins until the horse got up and shook itself. The man removed the handkerchief and the bandana from the horse's face and ears.

They both stood and looked toward the blackness as it retreated to the East. Smaller it grew until it was no longer visible in the wavering of the heat as it once more rose from the bleached earth.

The man brushed the loose sand from the pack. He got his canteen and poured some water in his hat and gave it to the horse. He drank a little himself and then, replaced the canteen on the saddle. Giving one last look toward the East, the man pulled gently on the reins, and he and the horse started off in the direction they had been headed when it came.

They moved away at the same slow, steady pace. Farther away they got, ever farther, until they were an indistinguishable part of the wavering horizon.

The sun continued to shine down mercilessly, scorching man and beast alike.