Dungeon Age short story: “Ghost”

(This is the third story in the series. Previous: “Dusteater“. Next: “Paladin“.)

Jude floated above his skull.

He always floated above his skull, unable to drift more than an arm’s length from the brown, spotted bone. Not that he had arms. Or bones. Coyotes made off with most of the big ones, and vultures took the middling ones. The small ones crumbled to dust long ago.

As the last light of day faded, Jude felt himself emerge from oblivion, fading back into reality. The rocky red desert came into view, the same as it did every night. The sentinel cacti loomed over him, bristling with pale yellow needles slowly twisting in their roots in search of water.

A clump of snaregrass stood stiff and gray nearby. A tiny red scorpion skittered across the gravel, carefully avoiding the snaregrass, and disappeared into a tiny hole between two rocks.

Jude floated above his skull.

When the moons were high, he noticed something approaching from the south. The shadow grew into the figure of a young man in long black robes covered in pale blue glyphs. His face and hands were covered in small red cuts, and he shuffled unsteadily in the pale moonlight. A cool breeze threw open the side of the man’s robe, revealing a book bound in blue leather strapped to the man’s belt.

A wizard? Here?

Jude tried to wave at the man, but he had no arms. He tried to run out to meet him, but he had no legs, and hadn’t moved from this spot in…well, a long time. So he tried to call out, though he had no mouth, Help! Hello there! Please help me, my name is Jude, and I can’t get home and I haven’t seen my family in ages and I’m worried about the harvest. Can you please help me?!

The wind rose, howling across the dusty flats.

The wizard froze in his tracks, staring wild-eyed. He cried out a strange phrase and gestured clumsily through the dusty air. Suddenly a dozen stones scattered across the ground began to glow with a pale blue light, illuminating the raised arms of the sentinel cacti, the stiff snaregrass clumps, and the brown spotted skull.

The wizard took a step back.

Jude felt a sudden wave of hot panic in his absent chest.

Please don’t be afraid, I won’t hurt you! Jude tried to call out. I just want to go home, that’s all. I don’t know how to go home. Can you please help me? Please! Just come here and help me! Please help me!

The wind screamed and cackled through the bristling cacti, and a tiny cinder of red light glowed in one empty socket of the brown spotted skull.

Pale and shaking, the wizard staggered backward and the glowing stones abruptly winked out, plunging the desert floor back into starlit shadows. Robes flapping in the breeze, the stranger turned and stumbled away somewhat faster than before, heading west toward the tiny golden lights of the city just barely visible on the edge of the night-shrouded world.

Oh no, please don’t leave me here, Jude tried to beg. Please, you’re the first person I’ve ever seen out here. Please come back, please help me!

The wind moaned and fluted mournfully through the red rocks, and the red glimmer in the skull faded to black.

The wizard hurried away, stumbling across the uneven ground, shrinking smaller and smaller by the minute.

Jude watched him go. He wanted to cry, but he had no tears to shed, no shoulders to shake, no hands to clutch, and no face to hold.

The moons traveled their paths among the stars above as the scorpions skittered across the sand and rocks below. Breezes rose and fell. Cactus needles twisted left and right, scenting the air for water, precious water.

Jude floated above his skull.

(This is the third story in the series. Previous: “Dusteater“. Next: “Paladin“.)

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