The sun was a bright yolk yellow, missing it's usual white glow, as if something in the air tainted its color. The dusty dirt put off its own bright shine back, rocks left exposed were scorched black on the exposed side, submissive to the heat. Everything hid from the sun in the day. What plants tried to grow, wilted under the constant beating from the rays.
The Land Cruiser rocked as the tires met asphalt again from its journey off the beaten path. With the lack of operating A/C the owner conducted surgery, and had removed all the windows except for the windshield itself. The inside was stripped bare, either from the owner or from theft no one could tell. The driver, an emaciated man, skin black as oil with a bare head that formed perfect droplets of sweat to run down into his stained white wife-beater. His cooked smile was broken by both the deep chapped lips and the yellow unaligned teeth when he parted his lips, which was often, as he did not share the shame his western counterparts had for crooked teeth.
Nick sat in back seat, the buckle was broken, so he kept his arm on the back rest for both comfort and support on the bumpy roads. Under his dark hair he wore his aviators reflected every image that went speeding by, elongated, and stretched but never to be seen again. His light, white button up shirt was beginning to become wet from the few moments the vehicle slowed and the movement's breeze would stop. He had expected heat, and did not wear an undershirt. His cargo shorts, though appropriate, were beginning to feel hot as well. His socks began to collect sweat around the ankles of his low hiking boots. Even the stumble from not shaving for two days was beginning to feel too much for the heat.
The driver saw him in the rear view mirror.
"Hot, yes sir?"
"Yeah, a little."
"You are lucky," the driver said making a point with one finger, "it just passed the hottest part, sir."
"Lovely." Nick looked out the side window.
The sweats beaded off every passing face, whose bodies hide in the limited shade which is thrown by the haphazardly built buildings around them. The inhabitants, having nothing better to do, were content to remain seated waiting for the heat to subside, or the khat to kick in. The only real commerce the people actively partook in was the consumption of a narcotic in the form of a leaf called khat. The people, like those in the surroundings countries, would purchase the leaves in the early morning and spend the entire day chewing khat in mouths full so that by night, the cocaine like effects made the towns more lively. Continuing on, the only sign the people were in fact, not drones assigned to be stationary, were the occasional children that ran to the street, their hand up in front of their mouths, going back and forth like raising a bottle. The accepted sign of begging westerners for water.
The driver yelled at the a pair of boys who came too close to being hit by him.
"The children, you must be careful," he said against accenting his words with his finger, "they will beg and rob you while asking for more."
"I'm sure." He truly did believe the driver. Nick had been a few places in world, and in each armpit he went to, children were notorious thieves. His younger years spent in Afghanistan, it wasn't uncommon for kind American soldiers to give out candy without realizing one was stealing the contents of his pockets. Slovakia was by far the worse, the children would literally pack up on a westerner in the wrong place, sometimes resulting in the death of the westerner.
As they drove they passed men in fatigues, each carrying weapons that looked as brittle and worn as the fingers that held them. As they came closer and closer to the center of the city, more and more men in uniforms littered the street like the trash that littered the rest of the country. In singles and pairs they stood or walked the heated streets. Ants, ants that walked high and tall, ready to defend their little hill.
The vehicle stopped outside of a horseshoe structure. Three stories tall, the Langle Hotel was the nicest building standing and in operation. There was the abandoned Ivanovitch Trade Union building that was 6 stories, and aesthetically nicer, but vacant. The building was spotted with areas where a/c units hung out from windows, and others where windows stood open to the daily heat like open sores.
Nick handed the driver a roll of cash, American, and worth more than the actual service asked. Nick climbed out of the car as the driver counted his cash in the driver's seat. Nick dragged a small backpack carrying his only other two change of clothes. With the bag slung over one shoulder he headed into the Langle Hotel.
The lobby was divided into two dedicated sections which bled together. The hotel's reception desk on the left, and the bar on the right. It was dark, and cool inside. Large fans spun along the ceiling, the wiring exposed as if not fully installed yet. The bar was a modern Casablanca, patrons from around the world, friend and foe sat side by side. They chatted, whispered, and arranged all matter of works. A pair of reporters sat in one corner, their cameras still strung around their necks. A listless smoke cluttered the air, yet no one smoked inside.
A man rose from a side table, white, older, in a sport coat, jeans, and soft silk shirt. He waved to Nick. Paul Rayburn had 5 years on Nick, but he looked like he had a full ten. His face was lean, and long, his hair was combed back, but it naturally stuck up like he'd been shocked, and the silver that grew from the center of his head made it seem all the more comical.
Nick and Paul both smiled, and each smile came from warmth of a familiar face long not seen. They grabbed hands in a shake but pulled each other into a tight embrace.
"Have a seat with me Nick, I hope the flight wasn't too bad."
"Oh no, only a single stop in Germany, but the drive in was another story." Nick sat in the rough wooden chair, leaning back and setting one foot up upon his other knee.
"Most would just it's a third world, but in the city isn't too bad."
"Smoother, but more uniforms than I expected." Nick looked around the room. "More diversity than I expected too, that's for sure."
"Lots of trade goes through here, lots of eyes. But, that brings with it a lot of trouble, lots of trouble."
Nick had read some of the articles that Paul had sent him before coming. Last year there was a bombing and shooting. Followed in six months was a suicide bombing. Just as the western countries were beginning to shut off travel, an American contract worker sent here to help set up power lines was kidnapped, ransomed, and decapitated.
"So I've read."
"And where there's trouble there's work, well for guys like us."
"So what is the work? You said personal protection."
"It's exactly that." Paul had this habit of looking away as he took in a raspy breath before telling the hard truth. "There's a wealthy American family here, the husband is here competing for the railways. Losing might I say that too. He has his wife and daughter here. With all the..." Paul waved his hand through the air as he would to shoo away a fly "things happening, he wants his family protected. The simple fact is Nick, things are getting hostile, and being a westerner here, I wouldn't blame him. Cute wife, sweet daughter. Once he wraps up his work," he said nodding in his own agreement "they should be leaving."
"When do you think they'll leave?"
"If I were him, tomorrow. But with his business wrapped up here," he said again waving his hand through the air as in the imaginary insect had returned, "probably in the next 6 months."
Thank you for sticking with me on this long over due post. As I mentioned before I went through a rough patch. I have been gone from the United States for several long months and I am preparing to return. With that I have had to change massive parts of my life back in the U.S. and arrange for my arrival on my own, with this of course my writings slowed down.
I recently also have come to the conclusion that I will need to seek a new editor as the deadline I was given for Enigma in the Stars was missed and I refuse to delay that book any longer than absolutely necessary.
Of course I come with good news as well. Aside from my rapidly approaching return, my writings have continued. The excerpt above is from a third story idea which came to along with my travels. I thought about just writing it privately and refining later but decided it was a great chance to post here.
For those of you interested in meeting the writer or just similar interests, I will be attending the Pensacola ComicCon, August 20th.
For those more interested in the active lifestyle, I will also be attending the CrackerBox Spartan Race in December. I hope to see some of you there!
- Writer, soldier, thinker, and science fiction lover. I just can't seem to find a way to divide my adventurous self of constant outdoor activity and exercise from my nerdy self playing games and going to conventions. So why not just be both?
I am a young professional living out of Tallahassee, Florida for the past five years. I have been on a deployment with the United States Army and continue to work outside of my other occupations to better myself mentally and physically. My passion for writing is driven by my passion for everything I find entertaining in life, and of course by my friends and family.