Excerpts from Marooned in a Strange Land

Amanda

Amanda awoke from another tormented dream where a dark flying creature clawed at the skimmer, its fierce red eyes glaring at her through the canopy. From its massive mouth, its tongue lolled out over a double row of yellow teeth, drooling in anticipation of the kill.

As the dream disintegrated, her head still spinning, she looked through the smudged canopy. Was she still dreaming, or was someone walking towards her in the bright sunlight? Amanda blinked her gritty eyes trying to focus. Yes, a slender man was walking towards her. This must be a hallucination, she thought, because no one could be out here.

It was growing hot again in the cockpit of the skimmer. Amanda tried to swallow but her parched tongue only stuck to her palate.

***

The words seemed to come from a great distance. Jamie Chambers, yes she remembered that name, but it felt like a lifetime ago, before the night of terror.

Shaking, Amanda looked carefully through the scratched canopy, squinting into the bright sunlight. A halo of gold framed the apparition’s deeply shadowed features, making it hard to see his face. The tall figure came slowly towards her, making her want to hide once again. The shadowed face finally dissolved into human features with deep blue eyes that seemed to look right through her. She could see the ruggedness of his tanned face with wisps of a short dark beard. He looked more like a man than the youth she had known. She covered her face, sinking back into the seat, touching Symone’s node behind her left ear for the hundredth time, but no help was forthcoming. This could not be real; nobody could be alive in this horrible land!

***

Jamie couldn’t decide whether it was the starlight or the crystal, but he could see a pair of burning red eyes glaring toward him, making him feel naked. As they stared at each other, more details became clear. The large black skull with its swept back cranial and jaw fins and its interlocking shiny scales defined a square face with a gaping jaw outlined by a double row of yellow teeth. Jamie’s breath caught in his throat.

Its huge head was reaching in towards them, but soon its cranial fin caught in the low passage, blocking its progress. The cave reverberated, as it bellowed, the stench from its breath filling the space. It shook its immense head and thrust forward again, only to be stopped by the narrow passage. Three more times it tried at various angles but it was too big to cross the threshold.

One more hate-filled scream, and it drew back. As quickly as it arrived, it clambered up the hillside in a shower of stones, taking to the night sky, with thunderous strokes of its mighty wings.

***

Next to their crackling fire, Jamie was enjoying the feel of Amanda’s slender muscular body pressed against his when the first tremor hit. Not knowing why, he spun to look up at the vast wedge of rock that formed the mountain face just beyond them. The ground heaved again, making them both reach out to catch their balance.  Far above, the great cliff seemed to shift, crumbling before his eyes, accelerating at an amazing speed. Dust rose in billowing clouds hiding the cascading rock, lightning flashing within. The earth shook as the avalanche of rock careened towards them. Time stood still, but somehow Jamie scooped up his weapons and grabbed Amanda’s hand, dragging her under the rock refuge.

The great slab of rock that sheltered them quivered and dust fell from the surface as everything shook. Outside, day turned to night as the deafening roar intensified. Something heavy thudded on the lintel above while everything was filled with choking dust. The crashing and banging intensified, and suddenly ceased as a great quiet spread across the valley.

Jamie thought he heard Amanda whimpering, until he realized it was him. He could feel her quivering body held tightly against his chest. Rock dust burned his eyes as he tried to look about in the darkness. He pulled the edge of his jump-suit up trying to filter out the dust, but only managed to cough more from the dirt clinging to it.

Gathering as much strength as he could, he said, “We’re still alive.”

***

His hand groped for his weapons. Whether it was conscious or not, Jamie found his flinger in his hands. With shaking fingers he notched a glass tipped arrow. The hull of the transport ship shook as several heavy blows tore at the overlapping debris. Red eyes appeared through the last of the beams followed by a reverberating scream. The horrible stench of its breath flooded the hull.

Jamie stood with his back to the bulkhead. He sensed, as much as he saw, that the attack was from more than one Great Raptor. They were clawing away at the barrier with their teeth and talons. Suddenly, the overlapping beams shuddered allowing a giant black head to thrust forward. Its long neck thrashed from side to side, opening a space, for its bulky body to move closer. Its bellowing scream along with its horrid breath shook Jamie, making his eyes water. The attacker lunged forward, and Jamie raised his arm to meet it with his extended flinger, reflexively pulling the crude trigger!