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Oasis in The Desert

Chapter 1: Theatre Curtains

By Laurel DreyersPublished 2 years ago 7 min read
Oasis in The Desert
Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. The issue with that assertion is that space isn’t a vacuum; at least, not all the way through. It’s got pockets, places that refuse to abide by Einstein and Newton’s laws, oases that shield travelers from time, radiation, and all sorts of unpleasant anomalies. Space is like a desert, really.

* * * *

This was Luther’s impression as he accumulated information from his clients. Every few days, someone new showed up to Varos with stories and adventures to share. Some came in with strange cargo and precious metals to sell, others came in bare and broke with nothing more than their clothes and passport, if that. You never knew what you were going to get when the gate opened.

Luther stared at it every day as the sky parted and the stars became visible just for a moment. It never got dark in Varos. They had no sun that set when they were let off work. The ‘sky’ was always a rich blue that many visitors said very much resembled that of Earth-56, if a little darker.

It never rained. The temperature was always 76.85 degrees Fahrenheit. The only change that Varos ever saw was the opening of the curtain to let in the newcomers, and if you were in the wrong part of the city or even looked at it at the wrong angle, you would miss it.

That was what had happened yesterday when Mary had snuck up behind Luther and scared him, making him turn his head slightly and miss the moment. He had bitten his tongue to the bleeding point to keep from swearing when she ran off, giggling.

Today, he had locked his door and positioned himself so as to avoid missing the moment. A scrape of the chair, a slight turn of the head, and a glance at the Japanese ivy leaves overhanging his window to make sure they were aligned with the gate. They were yellow, though Mary said they were supposed to be red. Something about Varos messed with their anthocyanins. They had been here for centuries and had been a reference point for getting the view of the gate just right. It would sooner rain hellfire before any one of those leaves fell or withered.

Luther settled into his seat, slouching slightly, and let his spine collapse like that of an old man. He wasn’t tired. He never was. It was just his own form of rebellion against Mary, who insisted that good posture was important, even though it never did anyone good here. If anything, his crooked spine gave him a rush. If he stayed in that position long enough, he could straighten up and hear four or five vertebrae cracking. The momentary relief of pressure made his head buzz before he sank back into listless content.

Upon a knock at the door, though, Luther snapped up so fast that only one spot popped loud enough for him to hear it. It wasn’t nearly as satisfying.

“Lu!” a high pitched voice pealed beyond the door. “Let me in!”

Luther kept his gaze fixated on the gate. It would be opening soon, but he had time. He found himself on his feet and opening the door, despite the fact he had locked it to keep her out.

Mary grinned at him like a child, her arms behind her back and her body swinging back and forth. “You locked me out.” She said it with suppressed glee, her smile widening to reveal dimples.

“I wanted to see the gate open. You made me miss it yesterday.”

“Yesterday?” Mary let out a derisive snort. “You might as well keep a calendar with the way you talk.” She giggled as she took an unnecessarily long step into the room, purposefully permeating his space. She took a long look around the area, as if she were seeing it for the first time.

“I don’t know why you still keep that thing here,” she gestured loosely towards the corner of the room, where a small mattress lay nestled against the wall, a rumpled sheet tucked against a shabby looking pillow. “You never use it.”

“As a matter of fact,” Luther said, dryly, “I do use it. Quite frequently.”

“Really? When?” She sounded genuinely surprised.

“Two days ago, right when they let me off duty.”

“What did you do? Take a nap?”

“Yes.” It wasn’t entirely false. He had lay down on the bed and closed his eyes. He had thought about stuff, mainly work, but he had done it for a while and seen his office vividly enough to the point where he got up feeling like he had just woken up from a boring dream.

Mary let out a chirp of surprise, her eyebrows flicking upward, before she spun on the ball of her foot and bent to look out the window, her strong, soft hands planted on the windowsill. “You’re on call for a forty-eight hour shift.”

“I know,” Luther said.

“Have you been using those stress balls that I gave you?” She glanced back over her shoulder, taunting.


“You should.”

“I don’t get carpel tunnel syndrome,” he said, “and neither do you.”

She shrugged. “You say yesterday and tomorrow. I believe in keeping your wrists mobile. We all have our quirks.”

She reached over and took hold of his hand, tugging him towards her. “Sit down. Watch the gate, if you must.” She sat him in the chair, letting him position himself before planting her palms face down either side of his lumbar cord. She forced him to sit up straight before her hands slid up his back in steady circles.

“You’re good at this,” he commented, fighting against her pushing hands as they made him jostle in his seat.

“Better than you,” she said, her breath a whisper in his ear. It was a few seconds before her teeth latched onto his earlobe and sent a shiver down his spine, not at all satisfying like the popping of vertebrae.

He tried to ignore her probing hands, straining his eyes towards the monotonous blue sky. He needed to see the stars, to know they were still there before he went back to the clinic for two days. The travelers were the only access to the outside he had in the office. He could ask them questions, but their answers were short, heavy with relief as he loosened the knots in their back. He never got more than a few sentences out of them before they fell into silence, leaving him to work as his eyes watered from the fumes of lavender candles.

“What do you think is out there?” He asked.

Mary let go of his ear, her breath still hovering by his face. “Out where?”

“Outside. Beyond the gate.”

She chuckled. “Who knows? Why should you care?”

“Don’t your clients tell you stories?”

She scoffed. “You know I’m too good for them to have any strength left to talk.”

Luther’s lip curled at her tone, and he stopped talking, his eyes fixated on the atmosphere.

A vast desert. That’s what was outside. A wasteland of void and warped time and toxic gas. People died in space. But people never died in Varos. Never got sick. Never got old. Never lived to feel anything.

Varos: an oasis in the desert.

A ripple cascaded across the sky. Luther shrugged Mary’s hands off and peeled his eyes, freezing in his seat. A bright line fell like a raindrop at the edge of the city, peeling back layers of blue like a theatrical curtain. A black void pressed against Varos. Luther squinted through the curtain. There were no stars.

* * * *

A strange thing about deserts; they aren’t really dead. Creatures live in the wasteland, unfazed by the scorching stars and radiation. They’re hard to find because the void is so massive. But they are massive, mighty, ancient. They have to be. Space is bent on destroying anything that it can consume.

The thing is, Luther had lived on Varos paused in time much longer than he had expected. Two million years, in fact. He had worked over five hundred million days and seen over twenty-two billion massage clients. Never once had any of them mentioned seeing one of these creatures. In fact, no one had seen one since before Varos had been settled.

Imagine Luther’s surprise, then, when he discovered the thing blocking the stars beyond the curtain was one of these creatures, or rather, part of one. It was difficult to tell which part, though; the blue sky had gone dark.

Sci Fi

About the Creator

Laurel Dreyers

I write Sci-fi, fiction, poetry, and horror. Some of my favorite books are the Lunar Chronicles, Agatha Christie mysteries, and the Sherlock Holmes memoirs.

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Comments (2)

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  • Jim Stevens2 years ago

    This is a very unique story-line. Definitely a great chapter 1.

  • Jori T. Sheppard2 years ago

    Ooh I’d like to see this as a book someday. Hopefully you have the drive to write it. A lot of effort was put into your work and it shines. Best of luck to you in the challenge

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