(The story so far: On a trip through a dangerous desert, Alice and her caravan (Jack, Arbuck and Marie) come across a floating rock and a ladder that reaches high into the air. Eager for adventure, Jack and Arbuck climb the ladder. Alice sees no other option that to follow…)
The man on the rock
The ladder went all the way up into the sky. The higher Alice climbed, the more she clenched onto the spokes. She had never been good with heights, and this was no exception: her heart was ready to explode inside her chest.
And then, after what seemed like an eternity, the ladder stopped. Hands shivering, Alice let go of the top spoke and put her hands firmly onto the rocky surface in front of her. She lifted her left leg, put her foot onto the rock, pushed herself away from the ladder and, right leg dangling behind her, scurried onto the semi-safe floating surface. There, she turned around and slammed down on her behind, feeling that sitting was obviously the safest thing she could do in this situation.
Jack and Arbuck stood in front of her (Arbuck was sleep-standing). Jack waved excitedly at Alice. “It’s a floating rock!”
Alice grumbled silently. Luckily, Jack didn’t pursue the matter further. Instead, he took a step to the side. Behind him, a short, stubby shape slid into view. It was a man, a little under five feet in every direction. He had a large curly beard. On his head, he was rocking a big afro with a small bald patch in the middle. He was sitting on a treasure chest. “Oh, by the way”, said Jack. “This is Brock.”
Brock raised his hand. “Hi! I’m Brock. And I’m stuck on this rock!”
Alice eyed him confusedly. “What’s in the chest, Brock?”
“Nothing”, he said, and because Alice obviously didn’t believe the strange man on the rock, he added: “See for yourself.”
Brock opened the chest. Alice carefully got to her feet and wobbled over to the chest to look inside. For a second, she felt like she was back on the SS Transglobia with which had traveled across the Great Sea into the desert (pretty much the moment things had started going wrong). She had never found her sea legs on the massive ship – and this inexplicably floating thing was no different. She peered over the edge of the chest. Brock hadn’t lied. The chest was completely empty – safe for a Parcheesi game lying in the corner.
“Okay, okay. Nothing but a Parcheesi game in there. Dibs on the Parcheesi, by the way.”
Alice didn’t care for games and looked over to Jack (who tried his very best to hide that he did). “And he was up here?”
“Yep!”, Brock answered for Jack. “For three full days!”
Alice looked back to Brock. “Well, you can climb down now.”
“Actually, I can’t.” Brock’s face turned red; he stared nervously at his hands.
“Why not?”, asked Alice.
“I’ve got a fear of heights.”
Jack sighed. “Poor guy.”
Brock. “But don’t worry, I’ve got a plan! There’s a tower in the next town. It’s only three weeks by rock.”
“By rock?”, Jack asked excitedly.
“Oh right”, Brock answered. “I can steer it.” He moved all the way towards the front edge, stopped, and jumped. With a shock, the ground tilted forwards. From the corner of her eye, Alice could see the ladder topple backwards; she lunged herself towards the edge managed to grab onto it at the final moment.
Brock blushed. “Good thing you caught that. Would’ve been mighty dumb otherwise.”
“So every time you want to move the rock you have to jump like that?”
“It’s not a very efficient rock”, Brock admitted. “That’s why I take it slowly. Spare my energy, you know.” He looked at Jack. “Speaking of which. I could eat. Do you have anything to eat?”
Jack looked over to Alice, who stepped towards the backpack. “Do we?”
“We do. It’s rationed.”
“Hey guys!” Marie emerged over the rock’s edge. Still wearing nothing but her bikini, she gracefully descended from the ladder with a handstand like she was anywhere but six hundred feet up in the air.
“Marie!”, said Jack. “This is Brock.”
Brock didn’t say anything. Instead, he just stared at the new presence that had just joined the group, mouth slightly ajar like a dog that noticed a very tasty piece of junk food.
Suddenly, Alice could piece everything together. She pulled her eyes to slits and looked at the curly man. “You pervert.”
“What? Me? I’m offended”, said Brock.
“That’s a pretty serious allegation, Alice”, said Jack.
“That’s why the shadow was on top of Marie. You were following her.”
Brock looked at Alice. “I did no such thing!”
Alice got to her feet. “Yeah you did! You steered the rock over her so you could lean over the edge and stare at her- at her-“ Alice stopped and blushed.
“At her”, Jack helpfully corrected Alice’s intonation.
“You pervert!”, shrieked Marie, a delighted smile on her face as she walked over to him and playfully slapped him. “How could you?”, she added in a tone that quite clearly seemed to know how he could.
Alice leaned back into the ladder. “You can have your rock. I’m going back down.”
“Oh come on!”, Jack pleaded. “We’ve only just got here!”
“Yeah!”, Marie added, and winked at a very sweaty Brock.
“I have Parcheesi”, Brock told Marie.
She leaned into him. “I love games.”
“Yeah”, Alice answered, “especially the ones with people for pawns.” She turned to Jack. “Come on. We can’t share our supplies with a pervert. We’ve got four more days ahead of us. So let’s just go down, make this weirdo count to three hundred before he can take the ladder down-“
Alice stopped in her tracks as the ladder disappeared from underneath her. She toppled backwards and went over the edge. Her hands snatched hold of Arbuck’s surprisingly steady foot and she pulled herself back up. Back on safe ground, Alice turned around on her stomach and looked at the sands below. Jack and Marie followed suit.
Below, they could see the ladder disappear into the sand. It didn’t as much fall forwards, backwards or to the side as much as it just went limp. Just before it disappeared entirely, a huge, gaping lizardlike mouth sprang from the ground and snapped itself shut, the ladder inside it.
“Damn Ladder Lizards.”, said Brock. “Well, at least we’re in nice company, huh?”
The Ladder Lizzard scurried around the sand, turned around its axis once, lay down and went to sleep. Alice jumped up and rushed towards Brock. “You could’ve told me that ladder was actually a lizard’s tongue!”
Brock shrugged. “I thought you knew. Come on, it’s a six hundred foot tall ladder lying in the sand. What are you, daft?” He pulled his eyes to slits. “Besides, you kept interrupting me.” Then, he looked over to Jack, Arbuck and lingered on Marie. “Anyone up for Parcheesi?” He glanced back to Alice. “Anyone not rude.”
Alice sat down. She’d need to think this situation through. “Well”, she said with a sigh, “At least we’ve got our food.”
She took a step towards the backpack, but it wasn’t there anymore. The force of moving of the rock had made it roll towards the edge. The pack was dangling, half on the rock, half suspended in mid-air. Everyone shrieked in panic at the same time. Jumped towards the backpack. And watched in horror as the food went over the edge. It fell into the sand with a thud. The lizard stuck out its laddered tongue, wrapped it around the backpack and lazily swallowed it in one big gulp.
“Our food!”, Alice cried.
“This is your fault!”, yelled Marie.
“How is this my fault?”, Alice retorted.
“Who puts down a backpack on top of a floating rock?”
“Rocks don’t float! And it was your turn to carry the pack! But no, you wanted to get a tan!”
“You’re just jealous because I have better skin!”
They were interrupted by Jack stepping over the ledge. Alice and Marie could barely snatch him by the waist and keep him from jumping down. They looked at each other.
“Shake hands?”, said Alice.
They shook hands.
Alice peered over the edge. Then, she nudged Arbuck. “Hey. Time to wake up.”
Arbuck groaned and turned away from her.
Alice grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him back and forth. “Arbuck! Wake up!”
Arbuck mumbled something about making him and Alice not being his mom.
Alice slapped Arbuck in the face. Finally, he opened his bloodshot eyes. The sunlight burnt at them; he pulled them to slits and lowered the rim of his hat. “Mornin’ dudes”, he said with a wink.
“Morning Arbuck!”, said everyone but Alice.
Arbuck looked around. “What did I miss?”
“Not much”, said Jack, “But we’re stuck on top of a floating rock.”
“Anyway”, Alice said hastily, “We need your markmanship. Shoot that lizard. But don’t kill it. Anger it.”
Arbuck peered over the ledge. Then, he grabbed his revolver, coolly said “I got this” and accidently dropped it. The gun almost went over the edge, but swerved and bounced onto the rock at the last possible moment in the most miraculous bit of luck of the century.
Arbuck got to his knees and picked it up. “All part o’the plan.”
Alice groaned. The gunslinger stood up. “I’ll sock the sucker right in the eye. Won’t know what hit’em.” He carefully inched towards the edge, stretched his right arm downward, closed one eye, slowly adjusted his aim… and squeezed the trigger.
The gun let out a metallic bang. Arbuck seemed pleased with himself for a brief moment; then, he threw himself backward onto the ground as the bullet flew back up, past the rock and into the sky. Arbuck jumped up, let out a frustrated cry and fired five more shots at the creature, but it didn’t work. The bullets ricocheted off the lizard’s body like rubber.
Arbuck looked at Alice. “Gonna need a bigger bullet, chief.” He pocketed the gun, pulled a flask out of his leather coat and took a sip.
Marie rubbed her temple. “So what now?”
“Parcheesi”, said Jack.
They all agreed on that. Except for Alice. She sat down, legs dangling over the rock’s edge, and stared at the horizon. She was going to have to think about this.
Caravan is going on hiatus for a bit. To be continued in February!