Where We Were

I can’t remember what the prompt was exactly (if one of you guys could recall, that would be awesome) but our criteria for our Creative Writing Final was something along the lines of:

  1. A character must die
  2. A machine must break
  3. There needs to be an exotic bird
  4. Someone must suffer a non-fatal, allergic reaction
  5. It must have a title

Or something like that…

But, without further ado, I give you my writing final:

Where We Were

It was quite hotter than the oriental springs we had visited on our last expedition.

“How do the natives live in this sweltering land?” Tanner Johnson, our leader, exclaimed with a typical English emphasis on the ‘do.’

As we stepped out of the safety of our rail-car, we saw a portly man dressed in striped engineer’s blues running (jogging really) toward us.

“Mr. Johnson!” he cried. “Oh, Mr. Johnson! Mr. Teemer has died, sir. Teemer has died!”

Both Johnson and I groaned as the man finally arrived at our side. He babbled on about the heat, some gauges, there being too much coal, and then cut his sentences shorter and shorter when Johnson’s scowl caught his attention. At long last, he got to his point.

“The steam engine is completely broken, Mr. Johnson,” he shuddered as Johnson’s scowl only grew bigger. “We’ll have to continue on foot, sir. Unless Mr. Teemer – or I should say Mr. Teemer’s engine – comes back to us.”

Johnson was clearly displeased with the news, but he knew as well as I that little could be done. So, rather than lash out in anger at the poor man, Johnson simply turned towards the jungle, in which we found ourselves surrounded, shooing the frightened man with his hand.

He stood there for a considerable amount of time. Thinking, calculating, staring towards the shrouded horizon where the sun was surely setting. It was almost as if he were challenging it to rest before he wanted it to. But he sighed a sigh of defeat – one of a very few I ever heard escape his lips.

“Come on,” he began, returning to the carriage. “Best inform the others that we’ll be setting up camp here.”

In all my years of traveling with Tanner Johnson, we never explored places unknown. He was, at some point in his mysterious youth, caught under the firm belief that he could find more history, more adventure than the explorers of old in their own venues than he could on his own. That was why we were where we were. Tanner Johnson was a treasure hunter.

Out of his unpublished youth, Johnson rose as bright as the mythical, flaming alerion and flew straight into the covers of newspapers as one of the most successful treasure hunters in the world. His first, most precious find was the lost horde of valuables of Suleiman, a smashing discovery for a boy hardly in the beginnings of his twenties. It launched him hard into the world of international exploration, and even here, to the heat and humidity of the recently railed Amazon.

Never one to reveal secrets, his crew huddled around a small fire and kettle as the tangerine sky faded to black, each one sharing his thought on what treasure Johnson sought.

“I ‘ear,” started one man, leaning over his bug-bitten, allergy swollen, tree stump of a leg. “He found a map to Atlantis. It says it’s buried ‘ere, in one of the lakes the ole Amazon feeds.”

“What rubbish!” cried another. “He’s here to find Amerigo Vespucci’s valuables. Everyone knows he brought them here before his death.”

“No, he’s here for Cortez’s–”

“It is clearly Egyptian–”

“El Dorado, you fools!”

Soon, the camp was in an uproar as Johnson’s crew fought over theories. As I stood to withdraw from tent, the only sound I heard came from the jungle beside us, placing an immediate dam on the flow of conspiracies. Everyone paled at the sound of a fellow crewman’s shriek.

“That’s Toby!” the bug-legged man shouted. “Quickly now. Someone ‘elp me up.”

Within seconds, revolvers and rifles were drawn and we rushed into the overgrown foliage. We rushed forward, not more than the moon to eerily light the jungle with a pale glow as Toby broke through the branches and into a rifle-bearer. Tumbling to the ground, the weapon discharged as the rifleman’s arms pinwheeled around in the air.

Not missing a beat, I lifted Toby up.

“What is it, man?” the men behind me hushly whispered.

Taking a moment to breathe, he pointed upwards and ahead. “Look!” Toby said hoarsely, frightened.

There, dangling in the moonlight, was the skeleton of a dog, a noose of vines around its flesh-less neck. This began the string of events that could only be explained by where we were.

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