A man has lived his life in an oasis city, cut off from the world in the middle of a desert so impassable that no one is known to have ever crossed it and survived. He was the Prince of a country to the south and was returning from being schooled in a developed land when his ship foundered after being attacked by whales. Marooned on an empty, hostile shore, he befriends a starving lion and together they set out across the endlessly shifting sands. After an extraordinary journey, guided by natural phenomena, which only he survives, he discovers the oasis city. In this place, over the years, he finds love and success, suffers pain and failure and makes both friends and bitter enemies. But as he ages, he yearns ever more strongly to return to the life that was snatched from him.
So again and again and with growing desperation he tries to find way across the desert, but always is driven back. Swearing he will die sooner than fail again, he makes a final attempt and far out in the desolate wilderness, he comes upon the desiccated hull of a wooden ship. It was disgorged from the ground in front of his eyes by an earthquake and on examining it more closely, he realises with profound shock that it is the very same vessel on which he was shipwrecked years before.
The complete impossibility of this discovery convinces him this is a portent and a way home and to the great amusement of the city’s occupants he asserts that he is going to repair the ship and wait for the sea to return. As the work proceeds and the months pass, the people grow bored with his mad endeavour and slowly drift away. But the earthquake also blocked a distant river and a new inland sea is growing. Will he complete his journey and return at last claim his throne?
He stood, he thought with some justification, on the cusp of the apocalypse and it flitted through his mind that four horsemen calling forth this destruction would not seem out of place in the current maelstrom.
His first and most confusing thought, was that the chiaroscuro outline he saw before him now, was the carcass of some great beast, its vast skeleton rendered of flesh by time and the inevitable corruption of decay. His confusion lay in the knowledge that the only creature that might grow a rib cage of such immense size was one of the great whales, but their home, the sea, was many hundreds of miles from where he knelt, across a desert of such shifting hostility that nothing could exist there and he knew of no one who had ever survived a crossing.
It had certainly not been there a moment earlier as the earth threw him to his knees. The earthquake had, though brief, been intense and violent. He could hear boulders still tumbling, crashing down the hillside nearby and as the ground had heaved around him he had glimpsed an image of dark semi circular beams being ejected with great force from the ground. He saw them now, narrowing at the point nearest him and curving elegantly up and out in ordered rows that arched towards the sky – the weighty spine still all but buried in the sand. Before he could fully comprehend this vision though, the sight was obliterated once more by the desert wind – a tempest that was stripping him gradually of his skin.
He endured for a few more moments, peering, hoping for a further glimpse, but his eyes were streaming, useless and blind. Grit clogged his nose and sand marched ever deeper into his ear canals. Incapable of any further forward movement, he crouched in the lee of a sandstone cliff, carved into catenary curves by centuries of wind such as this, pressed himself into its glassy smoothness and wrapping his cloak around himself, pulled the sides together until they formed a seal that provided a small but welcome solace from the wind.
I've pitched the story for 'What Matters' to quite a few people now and I keep getting asked how and where I came up with such a strange and unusual story, so I thought I should answer that question.
I have just published my first post on Medium and where the idea came from is the main subject of the article. Please take a moment to have a read if you are interested.
You can link to it here…