Tami Parker Other Duties as Assigned

Finish the Story: The Desert


Join in for a lighthearted, no-pressure writing prompt. Leave your perfectionist at the door and follow a dangling story thread to see where it leads you.

I always post my story doodle in the comments, and I’d absolutely love to see yours as well if you feel comfortable sharing it!

The desert is an unforgiving place. This one is called Death Valley for a reason. Every living thing there has to fight for survival. And we would have to fight, too, or else …

1 comment

  • The desert is an unforgiving place. This one is called Death Valley for a reason. Every living thing there has to fight for survival. And we would have to fight, too, or else we’d die just like the rest of them.

    Not physical death. No, no one was allowed to die if modern medicine could help them.

    We were prisoners, after all. Sentenced to LIFE, every one of us. No getting out of that early on account of starvation, thirst, or the gentle bathroom shiv to the left of the spine.

    Death of the soul, though? That was another thing entirely. The state pledged to keep us alive but they never cared about the state of anything other than our flesh.

    Death Valley is where hopes and dreams came to die. Where innocent men become hard as the murderers they were bunked with, and even some of the hardest men just stopped caring.

    Me and Geoff, though, we weren’t going to stay.

    See, they gave us injections during processing. Inter-cranial restraints, the brochures called them. We called ‘em zappers.

    Get too far away from the rest of your assigned cell block, get a blast of god knows what directly to your tender brain meats. I didn’t know what it felt like, but I’d seen it. A few months back, someone fell asleep out in the yard and didn’t come back in time for dinner.

    … And by “fell asleep” I could mean any number of things that would render a man unconscious. Sounds less horrible if you call the man bleeding out on the grass “lazy” instead of “victim”, doesn’t it?

    Anyway, the rest of his blockies walked back to Cafeteria B. They were on early lunch, and not a one of them said a blessed thing about their missing companion, and none of the guards gives two handfuls of shit about taking an accurate head count.

    I imagine the last of them was just getting his state-mandated mashed potatoes scooped onto that ugly melamine lunch tray when it happened.

    No explosion, no fire, no screams.

    The napping inmate just started to shake, like he was having a seizure, only he wasn’t conscious to begin with so nobody noticed at first.

    I was the first one who saw him, and my instincts kicked in before my good sense could. I ran over, grabbed his legs, and started hauling him back toward the compound. Once a medic, always a medic.

    It wasn’t easy. He was thrashing up real good, and had maybe a hundred pounds of solid muscle on me. Kicked me right in the chin and sent me sailing one time. I lost a tooth but got back up to him as soon as a could.

    Ten feet. That’s all I needed to move him and suddenly the thrashing stopped. The path of smeared red along the yard’s ugly yellow gravel shone wet in the sunlight and I remembered that his face was covered in foamy spittle and his eyes were rolled up and showing only whites before I felt a guard’s baton across the back of my head and then didn’t feel much else at all for a little while.

    That was how I met Geoff.

    When I woke, he was in the infirmary bed next to mine. His eyes were bloodshot and he looked like seven shades of hell, but he must’ve known what I did because he nodded at me.

    Some inmates might have killed me for that. For saving them when they were so close to freedom.

    Geoff remembered. He couldn’t talk so good after that, though. Stuttered and got words all mixed up, but his brain worked okay otherwise.

    There was a low silver table next to my bed filled with medical implements and the fat round white-clad bottom of a nurse bent over checking his blood pressure.

    My hand reached over, grabbed a particularly memorable tool from the bench, and slipped it into my pants.

    Geoff watched me with hungry eyes and said nothing.

    We’re meeting at exactly 2:47 today. Nobody expects anything at odd times. The guards all perk up around the key times — breakfast, lunch, bed — but get lazy between. After all, who’s going to make a run for it here? You run, you’re lucky to die before you even reach the desert.

    That tool was the same one I used to use to remove implants from tech junkies getting a fix. The same one they’d used to put this damned zapper in my skull. The same one I was going to use to get Geoff and I free of this damned place.

    He worked light kitchen duty. Still recovering from his wounds, after all.

    It allowed him to build up a tidy stockpile of water and food for us.

    Today was the day. If removing the zapper didn’t kill us, maybe the desert would, but in the meantime?

    It was nice to be with someone who hadn’t died yet. Who didn’t plan on dying. Who wanted to live.

Tami Parker Other Duties as Assigned