Bubbles rise from Dawn’s mouth as she clings to Kara and tries to see in the darkness of the ocean. Stinging salt forces her to blink and the sensation of water around her body abruptly disappears. It is replaced by cold sand that continues to move like an undersea current and gradually carry her to the surface. Stretching an arm through the coarse grains, she desperately tries to get her fingers into the open air while her sore legs propel her with what little strength she has left. Feeling a breeze on her knuckles, Dawn gives one more kick and she bursts out of the earth with a gasp. She is barely aware of being in the middle of a vast desert as she scrambles to free herself and Kara. The sun quickly rises and batters the pair with a heat that forces the woman to crawl towards a nearby rocky outcropping. Bloated bodies gradually appear in the sand and bob in place as if they are still in the ocean. A few quivering hands punch through the desert, but they never make it further than the elbow before they fall limp. Focused on getting into the shade, Dawn pushes herself to stand and mindlessly walks over the corpses that are in her way. The squish of flesh is combined with the snap of brittle bones and the shards pierce her bare feet. The shocks of pain give her enough of a jolt to help her avoid passing out and succumbing to the heat.
The moment Dawn gets to the outcropping, she collapses to her knees and stares at a thin stream that is coming down the wall. Caring more about Kara than herself, she turns the girl around and tries to put her head close to the water. She freezes when she sees that her friend has been replaced by a wooden doll that is cracked down the middle of the face. Struggling to her knees, she holds the toy out and shakes it in the hopes of it coming to life like the marionettes at the store. Instead, the head falls of and rolls out of the shadows where it bursts into flames. The body crumbles to dust, which is taken away by a breeze that feels like sharp claws against Dawn’s skin. Flopping onto her side, she sticks out her tongue to drink from the stream and shudders at the eggy taste. Refusing to die, she ignores the flavor and continues lapping at the wet stones until she no longer feels thirsty. Still too weak to sit up, she stays on her back and stares at the fat moths that are flying around the ceiling.
“Give her back,” Dawn mutters, her voice cracking with every word. A violent coughing fit gets a clump of sand caught in her throat, so she rolls over to throw up. “I never wanted to be involved in your fight. All I did for years was stay in my forest. Now, there’s someone I swore to protect. Both of you could have given me that and left me alone. Instead, you make me suffer and treat me like a threat. I have no power, so you never had anything to fear from me. One of you say something!”
“Do you think they are listening?” asks a nearby corpse. The dead woman’s head twists until it is backwards and a tiny octopus waves from her empty eye socket. “You can yell all you want, but you’re in a time out. Neither of them are sure what to do about you or the girl. She’s in a time out too. Why don’t you go for a walk, Dawn?”
“I’m not talking to a corpse,” she answers before turning her back on the woman. Driven by an intense hunger, she swings her arm to catch a moth and pops the insect into her mouth. “This place is definitely set up for me to regain my strength. So, what are you planning, Ian? I know you enjoy killing and destroying, but this was extreme. Don’t keep me in suspense because I’m not in the mood.”
Minutes pass and she continues munching on the moths, the wriggling in her throat nearly setting off her gag reflex. After taking a long drink, she forces herself to stand and grips the stone wall to avoid falling back down. The solid rock feels sharp against her palm, but the tiny points never break her flesh. Loosening her hold, Dawn’s eyes fall on a strap of fabric that is sticking out of the sand. She takes a deep breath before putting her back against the wall and sliding down to her knees. Her shirt catches on jagged edges and tears along with her skin, but she is too focused on reaching for the buried object to react. Gripping the coarse strap, Dawn pulls a familiar satchel into the air and lets it dangle in front of her eyes. Hearing laughter, she looks out to the desert and watches the corpses become fully exposed to the sun. The stench of rotting meat fills the air and makes her head swim until she tears off a sleeve to use as a mask.
Patchy shadows appear in every direction and Dawn waits to see what is coming instead of walking into the open. Knowing that she will have to run soon, she adjusts the satchel until it is comfortable against her hip. Taking a flask out of the pocket, she blindly fills it from the stream while the sound of wings is carried on the wind. The noise grows to a deafening symphony as the enormous flock of ravens descends from the clouds and feasts on the bloated corpses. They divide themselves into smaller groups to avoid fighting over the ample food and their crimson eyes reflecting the sun. Dawn walks to the edge of the shade and sticks a finger into the light, which gains the attention of the nearest gathering of birds. They go back to eating as soon as she pulls back, but she can tell that they are waiting for her to emerge. Taking a loose rock out of the wall, she throws it at the ravens and frowns when one catches it in its beak. With a small caw, the animal tosses the projectile away and goes back to digging into an open wound on its meal’s side.
“Guess I don’t have a choice,” Dawn says with a sigh.
Looking around for a weapon, she considers rushing out to claim a discarded leg and strip it down to the bone. The first step she makes is met with a chorus of excited caws and the birds watch for her to be in the open. Knowing that she could never make it to the limb and clean it before getting attacked, Dawn searches for another idea. Seeing a pile of rocks, she takes the satchel off and fills it until it feels heavy enough to work as a flail. Gripping the strap in both hands, she licks her lips and plans her route through the vast flock. With a smirk, she moves to the side of the shade and stretches her legs, which are still stiff from running along the bridge and escaping the sand. After taking a slow breath, she rushes into the sun and darts around the rocky outcropping.
Struggling to get up the dune, Dawn refuses to turn around at the sound of the ravens taking flight. The land is plunged into darkness by the time she reaches the crest and slides down the other side. As soon as she hits the bottom, the woman whirls around to swing the satchel and knocks several birds out of the air. More come at her from the sides and peck at her body, but she manages to keep her head down to avoid getting blinded. Spinning her weapon over her head, she charges across the sand and feels her shoulders get jarred every time she hits the shrieking animals. A chill runs up her spine as their voices become oddly human and seem to chant her name. For a terrifying moment, Dawn feels like standing still and letting the flock wash over her, but a sharp beak to the leg snaps her out of the mild trance. Barely able to see ahead, she trips over a bulbous cactus and curses at the feeling of needles stabbing into her shin. She rolls down another dune with the ravens diving at her and repeatedly coming away with blood on their tiny talons. Injured and dazed, the woman refuses to give up and screams loud enough to send the entire flock soaring towards the clouds. They remain far out of reach for a few seconds before going back on the attack with a renewed aggression.
“I’ve had it with these games!” Dawn shouts as she swings and takes out six of the birds. A primal roar rips from her throat and she stomps on the injured animals to make sure they are out of the fight. “I’m not running and I’m not playing. Let’s see which of us breaks first. Try and eat me to the bone! I fucking dare you!”