Waves of heat blurred the horizon beyond recognition. Hopes of water vanished as quickly as the undulating mirages in the distance. The desert land was dry and rocky. Thin but deep cracks etched the landscape. Most were no more than a few inches wide.
We were promised seven days of support, it was now day eleven. On our own, hundreds of miles from base camp it was just the ten of us. Our escort was gone. The war had consumed too many resources to waste on a fool’s errand.
Heat could be felt through the bottom of our boots. As I looked down I could see one of the small fissures begin to grow. Rocks crumbled as the ground slowly gave way. Sand gushed into the crevice. I fought against its flow and was saved only by a rock. Sir Francis was not as fortunate. The ground swallowed him along with millions of sand granules.
When the dust cleared a hole was left in the middle of the desert sand. Hundreds of feet down, the bottom was unperceivable. A gust of air blew up through the opening. It was cool and fresh.
“Jin!” our guide Ya’qub Shawqi threw himself from the edge of the hole. “Jin!” he scrambled through the bags and pulled out a grenade. “We must close the hole!”
“No! We’re going down.” William grabbed the grenade and reinserted the pin. Ya’qub and his young servant ran off through the desert. He was muttering as he went.
Ropes were tide to the rock. All but one of us climbed down into the hole. What we had thought was the bottom was not the bottom at all. It was only a ledge that itself was fifty feet from the floor, but from that ledge was a sight to behold.
“This is it. The valley!”
New ropes were tied and into the lush vegitation our group descended. Filtered light from thousands of tiny cracks overhead illuminated this subterranean world. A spring flowed out of a large wall of rocks. It splashed its way through the valley and into a denser grove of trees. The ground was soft but stable. Grass grew everywhere with wildflowers clumped all along the banks of the water. Blues and purples were dotted with brilliant reds and oranges. The air was fresh and cool. It was intoxicatingly wild.
“I’m staying here.” The oldest of our crew, Dr. Brandston had removed his boots and was soaking them in the cool stream.
“There is more to see. This has to be the place.”
“I have no doubt it is. But I’m old and I will see paradise soon enough.”
Each step produced fresh fragrances. Large birds flew overhead. On a distant hill a golden animal could be seen surrounded by hundreds of smaller animals with shimmering white coats. Finally the path opened into a large plane. Before us were two towering trees that bore all manners of creatures. We could scarcely say the words.
The path through these grand trees was wide and straight. There were fruit of such abundance that our mouths watered and stomachs growled just looking at them. Young Smyth began to walk toward the entryway. He stopped just at the cusp.
“Go on!” William yelled.
“He told me not to!”
“Kid’s gone loopy from the sun.” William spoke quietly to the group then yelled. “None of us see anything, it’s your imagination.”
“Alright.” Smyth went to take a step then collapsed. Thatcher and Christopher ran to their friend’s side. We all feared the desert had overtaken him, but the two screamed and did not bend down to help.
“Smyth is dead.” We didn’t believe it possible. The closer we came to the spot the more we could see. As if visible for the first time slowly the image of a man began to materialize. He was hansom and strong. At his feet was the body.
William was enraged, “He killed Kid! Get him.” Thatcher jumped and a flame from nowhere appeared. It turned every which way and in a second Thatcher lay next to Smyth. Christopher charged as William let a grenade fly. There was smoke and noise. Flames sliced the air. When the dust cleared I was the only one on our team left standing.
I could see into Eden, I could smell its glorious fragrance, I could hear its enchanting music, but I could not enter. Though I longed to.
Every day I long to enter it.
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