CHAPTER 24

This story contains sex between minor boys and teen-agers. If such
things offend you, or you are not at least 18 years of age, then please
don't read on. This story is not true, but who knows, maybe some day it
will be.

The sleds moved slowly through the desert, up and down sand hills and
dunes.
After an hour they switched drivers and kept going. Stevie and Jim
figured it would take between three and five days to reach the mountains.
The sleds were slow. Scooter had figured out the stars each night and
found the North star for Inferno. They used it and Scooter's observations
to navigate.

The sleds bounced along. It was hard to sleep. Scooter worried about
Matthew being bounced. He was set on cushions from the shuttle's seats,
but the ride was still bouncy and hard. Sometimes Matthew groaned when a
big bump was hit.

The sun started coming up behind them. They knew it would start getting
hot in a hurry. The sleds stopped and everybody put sunscreen on their
faces, arms, and legs, since they all were wearing shorts. Then they put
up a top over the driver's part of each sled.
The sleds were started up again and they headed off over the sand.

Mike watched the rising sun and checked his watch. He wasn't looking at
the time, he was looking at the date. Today was his 16th birthday. Like
Jim before him, he didn't bother to bring it up. There would be time to
celebrate when they knew they were going to survive. And if they didn't
make it, well, his birthday didn't mean that much anyway.

Around 8 they stopped to eat. Mike set everything up quickly. It was cold
food and not a lot of it, but enough to keep them from being too hungry.
Water was all they had to drink. After they ate and Scooter had fed
Matthew, they started up again. Matthew would wake up and moan and mumble,
then he would fall back to sleep. Scooter wished he knew what to do to
help him.

As they headed in the direction of the mountains the heat kept building up.
Douglas was glad they had enough room for everyone to sit. He realized
that if they had to walk they would have to quit by ten. But he was able
to push it until noon when they all got too tired from the heat and from
traveling so long.

They found a flat area without too much sand and stopped. Tired as they
were they needed the tents up for shelter. They set up four of the four
man tents. Robert Charles saw Douglas doing the same work as everybody
else. He knew from his dad only a weak leader did that. Robert Charles
would have had a tent just for himself, and he would have made sure
somebody else put it up for him. He was mad right then because he was
asked to do the same work as the rest of them. He knew he was better than
any of them and didn't like being told what to do one bit. Well, he had
some plans for little Dougie. And if he could get rid of Alex and Mike he
figured there wasn't anybody who could stop him from taking over and
running things right.

When the four tents were up, Stevie showed his latest surprise. He had
taken fans from the climate control system, hooked them up to some motors,
and had four cooling fans for the tents. He had batteries in them which
could be recharged while they were traveling.
Douglas loved Stevie. He couldn't believe how he did all these things so
fast.

Jordan, Scooter, and Matthew shared one tent. Somehow Jordan was falling
for Matthew. Since Matthew got hurt Jordan was an almost different person.
Douglas wanted to be sure Jordan got time to be with Matthew. Plus he
didn't want Jordan to end up stuck alone with Robert Charles, which would
happen if he had used his first plan.

Alex, Stevie, Mike, and Jim shared another one. Then there was Brett and
Jeremy. Douglas, Robert Charles, Ryan, and Travis got the last tent. The
tents were hot, but Stevie's fans helped. Nobody slept very well though.

It was dark when Douglas woke up. After it cooled off they all actually
slept some. He looked at his watch and pushed the button on it. The dial
lit up. Ten o'clock. He would give them all another hour, then they
probably should go. He planned on stopping before noon this time. That
would give them around twelve hours travel time. He thought about going
only at night, but even with the lights it was slower going then. So he
kind of split it half and half.

In the tent next to him Matthew woke up. All he saw was dark. He was
frightened. Then he felt all of him hurt. He started reaching around him
and touched Scooter's face.
Whoever it was made him feel better. He wasn't alone in the dark. He
touched it again and again, which woke Scooter up.

"Matthew? You okay?"

"Who you?" Matthew whispered.

"Scooter. How are you doing?"

"It hurts." Matthew started crying. Scooter wiped up the tears and got
him some water to drink. Matthew gulped it down.

Scooter wondered if he should ask him about what he said just after they
crashed. He knew Matthew was weak, but he knew too that they had to know.

"Matthew..listen."

"It hurts, Scooter..everything hurts. My leg...everything."

Scooter held Matthew's hand. "It's all going to be okay, Matthew. Trust
me." Scooter wished Matthew could trust him. He had no idea how to help
Matthew.

Matthew groaned and squeezed Scooter's hand.

"Matthew, tell me about the green horsey."

"Green horsey? Green horsey. It was green Scooter. I saw it. I'm
thirsty."

Scooter gave Matthew more water and he drank it down fast. Scooter knew it
was more than his ration, but he knew it was his first big drink of water
in a long time and that he was hurt and needed it.

"Tell me about the horsey, Matthew." Jordan woke up and listened. He was
happy Matthew was awake.

"Horsey..horsey..," Matthew whispered. "Big horsey standing
up..horsey...saw green and horsey it was high horsey...horsey.." Matthew
was fading away. "Big green horsey...." Scooter felt his hand relax. He
was out again.

Scooter didn't learn very much, except Matthew seemed to still believe in
the green horsey.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

When Douglas woke again it was from his alarm going off. He pushed a
button on his watch and it stopped. It was eleven.

He woke up the rest of the tent. Everybody slept dressed, which to almost
all of them seemed so weird.

Robert Charles slept closest to the door. He unzipped it and woke up the
other three tents. Douglas went to one of the sleds to start it up so they
could turn on the lights to help them fold up the tents and pack up. He
pushed the start button. Nothing happened. He pushed it again. Nothing
again. That's weird, he thought. I know we put brand new power chips in
it. He got out and went to the other sled and pushed the starter button.
Nothing happened there either.

Stevie came up. "Something wrong, Douglas?"

"Yeah. The sleds won't start. Nothing."

"Hey, Dougie!" Robert Charles called out. "Where are the lights? We can't
work in the dark."

"Don't say anything yet," Douglas told Stevie quietly. "They will be right
on, RC," Douglas said. He was stalling and he knew it. But it was real
suspicious that both sleds wouldn't start at the same time.

Stevie shined his flashlight along a side panel and found where the power
chip went. He opened up the top of the holder, popped open the strap that
held the chip in and pulled out the chip. He shined his light on the
bottom. It showed red. It was out of power. He put it back in, popped
the strap closed and put the top back on. Then he went to the other sled.
It was the one with the trailer. Again he opened up the top, pulled out
the chip and checked it out. It was red too. He put it back in, closed
the strap, and put the top back on. He called Douglas over.

"Both of the chips aren't charged," Stevie told him.

"How can that be?" Douglas asked. "You put brand new chips in to make sure
we had full charges. They were totally green. They should last for days
without needing a new charge."

"I don't know," Stevie said. "Maybe I put them in backwards or something.
I don't know. They were in like any other one I did, and they all worked.
Jordan checked it and thought they were right. I don't know what to do
now. We can't charge them until the sun comes up."

"We have spares, right?"

"Yeah. I brought four spares. They should be in the toolbox in the
trailer sled. I forgot to get them out to charge during the day though. I
don't know how much they have left. I'm sorry. My bad."

"Don't worry, Stevie. You've done great."

Alex went to the sled and opened a side panel. Robert Charles came over
and joined them. Alex pulled out a tool box and opened it.

"That's weird. It's empty. I know I put four of them in here. Maybe
somebody took them out to charge."

"What do you need the spares for?" Robert Charles asked.

Douglas figured he should know. Everybody would soon anyway. "The ones
powering the sleds lost their charge," he said.

"What do you mean there is no charge in the power chips?" Robert Charles
asked. "Didn't you think about checking them first to see if they were
fully charged?"

"I checked them," Stevie said. "They not only were fully charged, they
were brand new. There's no way they should have run out."

"So now we're stuck here until the sun comes up and you can charge them.
And you didn't bring any spares on top of everything else." Robert Charles
was saying this loudly enough for everybody to hear it. "What kind of
leadership is this, Douglas? We're not even 24 hours from the "Moonduster"
and already we're sitting here stuck."

Douglas stood staring out into space. He was thinking of him standing in
front of the spa with tears coming down his cheeks because Robert Charles
had humiliated him. And that was nothing compared to this. He was being
trusted with people's lives and he wasn't measuring up. He trusted Stevie
totally. He couldn't look at everything. But he was wrong. He should
have checked the power chips too. Especially since Stevie admitted he
forgot to charge the spares during the day. But then, where were the
spares if they weren't in the tool chest. Did Stevie just forget to bring
them? Maybe Robert Charles was right. Maybe he was too weak to lead them.
He fought back tears grateful that it was dark out.

"How long will it take to recharge the power chips we have?" Robert
Charles asked.

"About six hours to get a full charge to run everything. Then they should
keep their charge for at least a couple of weeks," Stevie said. "That's
why I can't figure out why those chips are dead. They were brand new. I
know they were."

"I think you two just weren't prepared. And I think we if keep following
you like this we're all going to die somewhere out here in the desert. I
think it's time for us all to say you made a nice try and head back to the
'Moonduster'. I think everybody sees that this isn't a great idea. Let's
go back before it's too late. We can be there by sunset once we get
charged."

Douglas stood there quietly fighting tears. He was hoping Alex, or Stevie,
or Mike, or somebody would stand up for him. He knew he was close to
finished. He thought he had it all planned out and here they were at
midnight stuck in the desert because they never put in charged power chips.
He felt himself shaking. He didn't want the responsibility. Let Robert
Charles have it, at least he could make things happen, even if it was
wrong. Even if he was an asshole.

But nobody was saying a word. He felt totally alone, lost, ready to cry
and to give it all up. One day out and he couldn't make things happen.
Even his friends were abandoning him. It was turning out just like he
thought. Then then inside of his head filled up with sweet worlds. My
love, we're all behind you. But this has to be all you. All of it. I
know Mike, Stevie, and Alex would be in your head too if they could. We
love you. But we can't do it for you. Be strong.

It was like his whole brain was cleared up. He understood what was
happening here. What Scooter was telling him. Why Alex, Stevie, and Mike
were standing there saying nothing. Because right now everyone was
watching what he would do. They knew what Alex had done to Robert Charles.
And what Mike had done. And they knew that Robert Charles somehow kept
bouncing back and taking charge. And that as much as they hated Robert
Charles and liked him, they wanted somebody who was strong enough to stand
up for himself and for them, even if they hated him and didn't agree with
him. Nobody was saying anything because it was all up to Doug. If he
backed down then it was the spa all over again. If he didn't show right
here he could stand up to Robert Charles, then Robert Charles was their
leader no matter how they voted. He loved his friends too much for that to
happen. He took a deep breath.

"When the chips get charged we will be heading for the mountains," he said.

"In the heat of the day?" Robert Charles asked.

"We only have so much food. And only so much water. We can't afford to
sit around. We head for the mountains. We'll go until just before dark.
Then start again early tomorrow. Let's go back into our tents. We will
need all the sleep we can get."

Robert Charles turned to the others. "We can leave after the chips charge
and be back to the shuttle by sunset, where it's cool, where we have plenty
of food and water, where things will be run right and you won't get stuck
in the desert."

"We're behind Douglas. Totally. Without question. No way do we go back,"
Alex said. Alex was finally able to breathe again. For a moment he was
afraid Douglas wouldn't do what he had to do. Then it would all be lost.
Everything that happened the other night outside the shuttle would mean
nothing. "So stick a sock in it, RC. It's time for you to get out of the
way."

Mike, Scooter, and Stevie all said about the same thing as Alex. Then they
started getting everyone back onto the tents. Douglas and his "cabinet"
stayed outside. Robert Charles hung with them.

"This doesn't concern you, RC," Douglas said.

"As former leader I say it does."

"As the leader right now, I say it doesn't."

"What are you going to do if I don't go? You look a bit too small to make
me."

Douglas said nothing. But this time the nothing meant something way
different from before. Alex and Mike moved toward Robert Charles. He saw
them come out of the dark.

"You know, Dougie, your time will come. This won't be your show forever."
Robert Charles turned and went back into his tent.

"Thanks guys."

"Anything for you, Douglas," Mike said. "I'm always here for you."

"I was worried for a moment though. But I understand what was happening.
Thanks for the thoughts, Scooter. They saved me."

"I worked so hard to send them, my sweetness. I was so nervous. I could
feel what you were thinking," Scooter said. "I knew you needed a nudge and
you would be fine."

"Douglas," Alex said. "Standing there saying nothing was one of the
hardest things I ever did. I'm so sorry. I was shaking."

"I understand now, Alex. I thought for a while I lost you. But I
understand. You and Mike had stood up to him. Hell, Alex pissed on him.
But he is like a monster you can't keep down. He keeps bouncing up. It
had to be me standing up to him there. Nobody else could do it for me.
Lead, follow, or get out of the way. You guys got out of the way so I
could lead. I didn't understand at first. Scooter nudged me. Now I do
understand. And I understand that I love you guys. We won this round, but
RC isn't finished yet. I think we had some guys wavering tonight."

"We did," Mike said. "But you won them back. That's what they needed to
see. You telling RC what was going to happen."

"Well, let's get some sleep," Douglas said.

"Wait!" Stevie said.

"What?"

"I've been thinking. When I opened up the holder for the chip on the
second sled the strap wasn't fastened."

"So? It came loose."

"No. I remember fastening it. It gave me trouble, so I replaced with the
strap in the sled we're using as a trailer. It snapped shut perfectly.
You have to work hard to pop one of those open. Plus, I know I put the
spares in that tool chest."

"What are you saying, Stevie?" Scooter asked.

"What I'm saying is, somebody tried sabotaging the sleds. I think somebody
switched the uncharged spares for the charged ones."

"And that somebody is named Robert Charles," Mike said. "Let's go kick the
shit out of him now!"

"No. Not yet," Douglas said. "Let's find some evidence first. In the
morning we're going to ask to see his back pack. Let's see what he says."

The five boys headed for their tents. Douglas lay on his back staring up
in the dark. He couldn't sleep. One more time he hoped he wouldn't let
his friends down.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The sun was up hot again. The chips were put into chargers and placed in
the sun as soon as it rose. Now they would have to sit back and wait.

Douglas, Alex, and Mike called Robert Charles over. "We'd like to see
what's in your backpack," Douglas said.

"Why?"

"Just get it and open it up. And your sleeping bag."

"Why?"

"Because we would like to see what's in it. We seem to be missing some
power chips."

"Sure you are, because your precious helper never brought them."

"Mike, take Robert Charles to get his pack and his sleeping bag. I want to
see what's in them." Mike led Robert Charles away.

"How do you know he didn't just throw them into a sand dune?" Alex asked.

"I don't. But as crazy as he is, I don't think he's ready to commit
suicide. And throwing away our spare chips is pretty close to that."

Mike and Robert Charles came back. "Why pick on me?" Robert Charles
asked.
"Just because you don't like me? Because you think you're so fucking
tough? You won't find anything. Why don't you check the big guy? I seem
to remember him sucker punching a couple of guys not so long ago."

"Come on, RC," Douglas said. "That's over. We all know who was doing the
hitting."

"Are you accusing me of something? Because if you are, you better have
proof."

"I'm just saying what we all know. Now let's look in your pack."

"Mike's too," Robert Charles said. "I know what's going on here. I make
some hard decisions. I piss you off. You think you can walk over me. But
you don't realize how tough I am. Meanwhile, Mike sweet talks you into how
nice and sweet he is. Well, I know better. He's been fooling you since we
left Earth. If he's so great and honest he won't mind opening up his stuff
too."

"Okay, I will," Mike said.

"You don't have to," Douglas said.

"I know. But I have nothing to hide, so why not?"

Robert Charles opened up his pack and emptied it out. It had his three
bottles and the energy bars he was given. Also the jacket he got from the
supplies. His sleeping bag had nothing hidden in it.

Mike emptied out his next. Three water bottles. Energy bars. Then the
jacket came out with a clunk. Stevie opened it up. Inside it were four
power chips. He looked at the bottoms. Two of them were green. The other
two were red.

"Well, well, looks like I owe you guys an apology," Robert Charles said.
"I see you were prepared. And it looks like somebody is being just as
sneaky as he was on the 'Starkeeper'."

"Guys, I swear I don't know how those got in there. It couldn't be me.
You know what I'm like around machines."

"Don't worry about it, Mike," Douglas said. "We know what's going on." He
walked up to Robert Charles and stared right into his eyes.

"I'm telling you, Dougie. He's a sneak. He's been fooling you guys
since....."

"Robert Charles! SHUT UP!!!! The only sneak is you. You'd fuck over all
of us just so you can make me look bad and get your way and take us back to
die on the 'Moonduster'. Just because you had power there."

"I swear I didn't..."

Douglas pushed Robert Charles and knocked him into the sand. He stood over
him and looked down. Every boy but Matthew was watching. "RC, I don't
understand you. Not one bit..." Robert Charles jumped up, grabbed Douglas
and got him on the ground. He got on top of Douglas, raised his fist, and
sent it flying for Douglas's nose. Mike grabbed it, and he and Alex pulled
him off of Douglas.

"Yeah, it takes two of you to save his ass, doesn't it? His fucking
Mafia."

While Alex and Mike held him, Douglas stood up close to him. In his quiet
voice he said, "Robert Charles, I can't prove it, but I know, you know, and
everybody knows what you did. You fucked with us big time. I just want
you to know, that if I ever do get proof you switched those chips, or if
you fuck with us or anybody in this group, I'll kick your fucking ass into
the desert. You got that?"

Robert Charles glared back. "I never switched them. Watch your back,
Dougie. Watch out who you trust." He spit on the ground. "You can let me
go now. I'm not going to hurt your precious leader. He's mine too, even
when he is wrong and fucked up."

They let him go and he walked away.

"Okay, guys," Douglas said. "We have two charged power chips. As soon as
Stevie gets them installed we leave. So let's get the tents down and
packed up. It's time to continue our journey." The group let out a sudden
cheer. He looked at them grinning at him. He grinned back. For the first
time since they left the "Moonduster" he was feeling like maybe he could do
this. Maybe he could get them to safety.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The sleds rode slowly across the desert in the terrible heat. Each boy was
lost in his own thoughts and thirsty. They had water in their packs, but
knew they couldn't drink it all right away. It was all they had for the
day. Most of them waited until Douglas took a drink of his and then
followed.

They let him set the pace. Only Robert Charles took any extra drinks, and
they figured he would pay for it later. Douglas had told them all how
important it was to not use water too fast.

Each boy had his own thoughts. Brett was worried about getting sick
without his meds. He was glad they didn't have to walk. But the heat and
dust were awful. So far he could breathe okay, but how long would it last?
He kept feeling so weak. He felt so useless. Everybody had helped since
they ended up on the "Moonduster" except him. He was just a burden to
everybody. He put his head between his legs. He was so hot and so
thirsty. He wanted his dad so badly.

Jeremy was worried about his little lover. He hadn't said two words since
they started on their trek. He was so skinny and pale. He hoped he didn't
get sick without his meds. He wanted to protect him and make him well. He
wondered about Mike. Every time he started trusting him something weird
happened. He kept wanting to believe Mike was innocent because he was so
nice and helpful. But this was the third time. It was hard to believe in
him.

Jim and Stevie were next to each other. They were happy Douglas had stood
up to Robert Charles. They knew how close the whole group was to breaking
up this morning. They both agreed they believed in Mike. They'd seen Mike
try to help fix things. They knew there was no way he would know how to
handle the power chips. They knew that Robert Charles had set him up.

Scooter was riding next to Douglas who was driving a sled. He was proud of
Douglas. As much as he sometimes didn't want to, Douglas was leading them
like nobody else could. What happened this morning could only help them
all.

Douglas had his hands on the wheel of the sled, steering it over and around
dunes. Pretty soon it would be Jeremy's turn. He was thinking how
something would have to be done with Robert Charles soon. He just didn't
know what. But he did know that Robert Charles had gotten mean and
desperate enough to threaten their whole survival for his own power. He was
like the monsters in the movies he watched. They would get bombed and
poisoned and atom bombed and after you thought they were dead they would
rise back up and destroy another city. Robert Charles was just like that.

Mike was driving the other sled, the one with the trailer. The trailer made
it slow, but it beat walking. He looked at Alex and who was sitting near
him and asked him why Robert Charles kept using him for his stupid mind
games. Alex kept looking at the boy he loved so much. It was very simple,
he told him. He was the biggest and the oldest and Robert Charles had to
make him look bad. That was the biggest reason for the first two
times. This time he just needed everybody to suspect somebody else. The
thing is, he was too mean and too stupid to realize that nobody believed
it. Plus, yesterday had been his birthday. He had turned 16. But nobody
knew. And right now, birthdays just didn't seem like that big a deal. So he
didn't mention it. But still, it made him kind of sad to have his birthday
go by unnoticed. His first one ever without a cake.

Travis and Ryan both wanted to believe in Mike. Robert Charles had been
knocked down too many times for them to follow him. But maybe it wasn't all
his fault. Mike and Alex were tight, and it was Alex who took out Mike
outside the shuttle. And Mike who jumped Robert Charles for giving his
opinion. And nobody ever proved he cheated on the election. Or that he was
the one who attacked Ryan and Matthew. But Ryan kept remembering how
sincere Mike always seemed. Could he be a bigger liar than Robert Charles,
but easier to believe because he was so nice to everybody while Robert
Charles seemed like an asshole? Finally they got too thirsty and hot and
tired to talk. They decided they were still behind Mike, but maybe Robert
Charles was being looked at unfairly.

Robert Charles knew exactly what was needed for himself. Douglas, Alex, and
Mike had to be eliminated. Nobody else could or would stand up to
him. They had to all be shown to be fools. He knew what happened to him
that night with Alex hurt him badly. The Mike thing wasn't so bad, it was
just a fight. But the Alex thing did. He would slowly have to repair the
damage. He thought he was doing a good job of that. It might be too late to
return to the "Moonduster," but it wasn't too late for him to take over.

Jordan was angry because he was being ignored. He was trying hard to do
things right, but everybody treated him like he was a nobody. At least on
the "Starkeeper' he was a somebody no matter what. And until Matthew got
hurt he didn't realize how much he liked him. Now all he could think of was
Matthew getting well. He did everything he could to help him and it was
like nobody noticed. Robert Charles got noticed for setting the radio
up. He didn't get noticed for helping keep Matthew fed and cleaned. But who
cared. The great Douglas sure never said anything. It was like suddenly he
was the lowest person in the group. He looked over at Brett. Well,
almost, he thought. Maybe it was time for him to push somebody else around.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The heat was unreal when they stopped around four o'clock to eat. Nobody
was really hungry for hot food. They all wanted more water. Douglas said
all they got were their three bottles. Scooter went to try giving Matthew
some water. When he got there he saw that Matthew had two empty bottles
already. He figured Matthew must have woken up and Jordan gave him a little
too much water too fast. He would have to talk to Jordan about that later.

They sat on the shady side of the sleds, but even there it was hot. None of
them even wanted to move. They could stay here all night as far as they
were concerned. They were out of gas. But after an hour, Douglas said it
was time to keep going for at least another three hours.

"Come on, Dougie. Give everybody a break," Robert Charles said. "It's been
a long day. You need to ease up. We'll get to wherever you think we're
going just fine. Maybe better if we rest."

"Let's get going," Douglas said. "We need to make up for the time we
lost. Three more hours in the evening will help."

While they were talking, Brett got up and accidentally stepped on Jordan's
foot. Jordan jumped up, turned on Brett, and punched him hard in the
stomach. Right away Jeremy was on top of Jordan, knocking him to the ground
and pounding on him. The first person there was Mike, who pulled Jeremy off
of Jordan.

Jordan got up ready to kick Brett and pound on Jeremy. Mike pushed Jeremy
behind him and grabbed Jordan before he could to more to Brett.

When everything settled down Douglas walked over to them. He and his
cabinet had already agreed that if some muscle was needed it would be
Mike. He had Mike or Alex to do his dirty work for him.

"We can't have this. We need all our energy to survive. All of it. Every
minute."

"He sucker punched Brett," Jeremy said. "Nobody is gonna do that."

Douglas looked at Jeremy. "Well, for right how it's gotta be over. I need
that promise from you. We can't have fights and crap going on. Surviving
has to be our only goal."

"I promise that for now I won't do anything." Jeremy looked at Jordan. "But
I'm not gonna forget this either."

Douglas then looked at Jordan. "Jordan. The same with you. It's over for
now."

Jordan looked down at the ground and mumbled.

"What did you say?"

"I said it's over. For now."

Jeremy was kneeling next to Brett who was crying. Brett was hurt and scared
and feeling sick.

"I just want to lie down," he said quietly. A space was made for him next
to Matthew. Brett closed his eyes, hoping he could just fall asleep until
it was all over.

At eight o'clock they stopped. The wind had started up about a half hour
before. They were heading into it. It wasn't blowing hard, but it kicked up
some sand at times. They quickly got out the tents and set them up. Douglas
was hoping there would only be a light wind. He remembered the sand storm a
couple of days ago. They had the "Moonduster" for shelter then. Now all
they had were tents that were barely fastened into the ground.

The tents were Matthew, Brett, Scooter, Douglas. Jeremy, Robert Charles,
Ryan, and Travis. Alex, Stevie, and Jim. Jordan and Mike. Mike was playing
baby-sitter for a night, making sure Jordan was calmed down.

Douglas planned on getting everybody up around three o'clock so they could
do a few hours while it was still cool out. He was staring up at the top of
the tent unable to sleep again. He could hear the wind pick up. The tent
walls started flapping some. His biggest fear was starting to come true - a
sand storm. The wind kept getting stronger and the tent flapped harder.
Suddenly a corner stake pulled on his tent and the side flapped like
crazy. He could hear sand blowing against the tent. Doug felt for his
flashlight and opened the tent door and flap. The wind and sand hit him
hard and he ducked back in. He grabbed his jacket and wrapped it around his
face. He tried crawling out again when another corner stake pulled
out. Scooter saw Douglas trying to get out. He crawled over Matthew to
help. Like Douglas he had to cover his face. Douglas never saw Scooter
come out of the tent.

They both crawled out of the tent. Even with the flashlight on they could
barely see the sand was blowing so hard. Douglas had tied all the stakes to
the tents so they wouldn't get lost. So he didn't have to find the stake,
he just had to pound it back in. But the ground was so soft and sandy it
probably wouldn't hold in the wind. He shined the flashlight on the other
three tents. He could barely see them. Two of them had loose stakes. Pretty
soon everybody was awake and out of the tents trying to stake them
down. The wind was getting louder and the sand worse. It was hard to hear
and see.

Travis suggested starting up one of the sleds and parking it so that a
couple of tents could be tied between them with the sleds acting as
shelters against the wind. Mike worked move the sled while the two closest
tents were taken down. Brett had crawled out of Doug's tent and hid under
the parked sled. The wind was blowing harder. They had a hard time
controlling the flapping tents. They didn't even bother to take anything
out of them. Sand was blowing everywhere, getting inside the tents and
inside the sleds. They took the ropes and tied two tents tightly to the
sleds. A dune had formed against one of the sleds, keeping the sand from
blowing in between them.

After and hour of struggling against the wind and sand they had shelter
made. Robert Charles was so tired he didn't even mention that maybe Douglas
could have made the shelter like this to start with. Finally they were all
packed into one tent. It was close quarters. They were crunched in. Douglas
was hoping they wouldn't lose the other tents, but they did have two
spares. Now they needed to get Matthew

"Careful of Matthew's leg," Scooter said.

"Who brought Matthew in?" Douglas asked. He thought he had left Scooter
with Matthew. Nobody said anything. All he could hear was the wind howling
and the sand hitting everything. It was getting inside the door flap of the
tent they were in. "Where is Matthew?" he yelled over the wind.

No answer. Scooter had left Brett in the tent with Matthew. He thought
Brett had gotten help getting Matthew moved. In the confusion Matthew had
never made it into the sheltered tent.

"Shit! Come on. We gotta get to that tent!" Douglas screamed. He, Alex,
Mike, Jeremy, Scooter, and Travis crawled out of the crowded tent. The wind
whipped at them. Their flashlights showed nothing but sand.

Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Douglas thought. How could this happen? How
could we leave Matthew in that tent? What was I thinking? I just didn't
want to move him until we were ready. I thought Scooter was with him. I
thought he was getting him moved. I'm the fucking leader and I can't even
keep track of who I have. Oh shit I hope we get him out of that tent.
Douglas had all of them hold hands and told them not to let go. He wasn't
going to lose anybody else.

They shined the flashlights all around where the other tents should
be. They didn't see anything but sand. They walked all around the area,
trying to keep the wind from blowing them down.

Nothing. No tent. No Matthew. Just sand, sand, and more sand. The sand was
blowing so hard they could barely breathe. They couldn't see a thing.
Douglas realized they were so exhausted that if they didn't get back into
the sheltered tent they might not make it.

He led them all back to the tent, and they crawled in exhausted. Robert
Charles could tell they had failed. This was the beginning of the end for
Douglas the leader. He took a long swig of water. He was fresh and ready
when the time came.

When morning came and the wind died down they all crawled out of the sand
covered tent. The sleds were half buried. The sky was brown with
dust. They looked around. There was no sign of the two loose tents. All of
them, even Robert Charles walked through the new sand dunes looking for
some sign of a tent. They found nothing.

Suddenly Jim saw something in the other direction. "Look!" he shouted.

They turned. The dust was settling. Off in the distance they could see the
mountains rising. They could see the twin peaks they had been heading
for. Scooter and Jim had navigated perfectly. They were almost out of the
desert.

Douglas turned and looked back in the other direction. He saw nothing but
sand. No sign of even part of a tent. Mike was standing next to Douglas.

"He's gone, isn't he?" Mike asked.

Douglas fought back tears and said quietly, "I'm afraid so."

Mike didn't bother fighting the tears. They rolled down his dirty, dusty
cheeks. "I love you little brother," he whispered. Douglas couldn't stop
his tears any longer. They dripped down his face, making a dusty track on
his cheeks. Mike grabbed Douglas, held him tightly to him, and let him
shake and cry. He knew Douglas needed to get the tears out before he told
the group that they had one less member, that little brave Matthew, the
little brother he just barely gotten to know, was buried under the sand of
Inferno forever.

NEXT: Chapter 25. Mountains of the Sun

Constructive comments are welcome. E-mail me at TheHakaanen@Hotmail.com.
Douglas DD

 

 

 

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