Death March. Short Story.

Greg looked out across the land, shading his eyes against the sun. He looked back down. There was nothing ahead of him, nothing but the dry, cracked earth that lay in every direction. He let out a sigh, then sat on the ground, he had been walking for a while now, he wasn’t sure how long, the sun seemed to inch its way across the sky and there were no landmarks to pass the distance. The ground was a light brown with hundreds of thousands of black cracks winding their way through. He had drank about a quarter of his water supply, despite drinking it as sparingly as possible, mostly using it to wet his lips and mouth. The sky was a bright blue and was as endless as the ground that stretched before him. He squinted up at the sky, hoping to spot a wisp of cloud or the dark outline of a bird but there was nothing. He couldn’t believe they actually did it. To him of all people, sure he owed them a lot of money but they had to know he was good for it. He didn’t remember exactly how he got here, but that wasn’t a great surprise considering when he woke his head was pounding steadily. They had slipped what ever it was into his drink, his memories of the night before were heading out and then things got a little fuzzy. At least they had the decency to set him up underneath some shade, a tarp held off the ground by 4 metal poles. Beside him was a backpack, inside which was some water, a small amount of food some sunscreen and a note promising him a clean slate and a hundred grand if he made it out alive.

Greg had heard the stories before, though he never really believed in the Death March. People who were in over their heads were driven out to the middle of nowhere and dumped off, if they hadn’t made it back in three days they weren’t going to make it back. A select few were invited to make wagers on how far he’d get, where he’d die and how. A few people would most likely go for the long shot of him escaping, but few people ever had. He only had two choices, walk and hope that he escaped, or sit down and die.

Greg stopped, he was breathing heavily though the land seemed pretty flat, he was down to half his water and the first day wasn’t over yet. A few drops of sweat fell from his forehead and hit the ground, disappearing almost immediately. In the distance he thought he could see mountains, vague humps in the landscape. If they were he might have a chance of survival, mountains could mean shade and water. He angled himself towards them but they seemed to get no bigger. The sun had started to dip, sending his shadow out far behind him.

Greg sat down again, the sun had set long ago and a wind had picked up, at first it was soothing against the heat but now it stole his warmth. His legs were aching steadily, he took a sip of his water and a few bites from one of the energy bars. He could see the mountains a bit more clearly now, and though he was sure they were mountains, they didn’t look as though there was anything growing on them, they were the same pale brown colour of the ground. He rested for a short while, dozing off occasionally, before he stood and began to walk again. He had made his choice, he had travelled too far to turn around. Despite his frequent use of the sunscreen in the bag he knew he had been burned, though he wasn’t sure how badly. He didn’t have any blisters nor did he feel nauseas, but another day in the blistering heat would probably tip him over the edge. He had to keep going, if he could make it to the mountains at least there would be some shade.

Time seemed to stand still, there was nothing but the constant need to put one foot in front of the other, Greg couldn’t remember the last time he had a break, he knew if he stopped now he wouldn’t get back up, he’d just fall asleep until the sun rose and burned him alive. The mountains were steadily getting bigger, but he could not tell how far away they were. Sometimes it seemed as though he was only a half an hours walk away at most, other times it seemed like the land stretched out and they appeared as though they were hours away. Still he kept going.

The sky behind him was brightening, dawn was approaching, he didn’t know how long he would have and the mountains were tantalisingly close.

Greg collapsed into a small crevice, the air was cool and refreshing outside of the blistering heat, his legs burned, he felt as though he couldn’t walk another step, a few seconds later sleep over took him. He didn’t know how long he slept, the sun was up but he was still in shade. His legs were stiff and in agony, cramping steadily. He slowly sat up and gently tried to massage them, moving them carefully to try and loosen the muscles. He felt a bit better after sleeping, he took a sip of his water, which was almost gone now, and put it back into his pack. He knew now that there was no water here, no roads, no sign of life at all, he knew that he would die out here.

The water was gone, as was the food. The sun shone down, bright and maddeningly hot. There was no miracle, no saving grace. Nothing but the heat and the burning dryness in his throat. He had tried to explore the mountain, climbing up steep rocky slopes, but the rock was loose and difficult to climb, mostly he found himself at dead ends or falling backwards. Greg sat in the hollow he had first found, breathing heavily, he knew he had to get up and try again, try anything, but he couldn’t, he didn’t have the strength to move. He lay back and closed his eyes, trying to convince himself to get up, to do anything, but he couldn’t. Everything hurt, everything felt too heavy. His head pounded steadily a deep thudding rhythm that matched his heartbeat. He opened his eyes slowly, the brightness sending a spike of pain through his head. Maybe someone would find him, a hiker, a family on vacation, there was still time.

Night fell and with it came the cold, he had shivered at first but now even that had stopped, his breathing had become shallow and faint, he fell in and out of consciousness, sometimes he groaned, but mostly he was silent. As the sun rose he took one final breath, then he lay still.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 24 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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