Sand was originally in the now defunct anthology Last Gasp from the now defunct Noble Romance. It got reworked for standalone release (all for the better, I’d say) and came out in the summer, which is appropriate, given the title.
Lunch was taken in the tent where finds were initially sorted; there the men grabbed both food and some welcome shade. Andrew hadn’t returned—they said he was still out, probably half way down a shaft into a newly located tomb, and would be back when he could. So I sat and tried to eat, even though my appetite had gone, watching the life of the camp go on around me.
A local lad passing by with a bundle of wood had that look of intense concentration only seen on the young, absorbed in their task. He suddenly gave a shrill, terrified cry, dropping his burden and flinging something from him, something small and dark that landed near my leg. I remember coolly thinking that whatever had been thrown had been affronted at both its unexpected flight and the hard contact with flesh.
It was a scorpion, and it rapidly took its brief revenge.
Strange how time expands at a time of crisis. I also remember thinking how Mother Nature must have known how I felt about her beasts of burden and had become determined to take her vengeance on me, proving she really was red in tooth and claw. Or rather in sting and telson. I must have cried out in pain, because everyone’s attention was on me in an instant, including the attention I most craved.
“What’s happening?” Andrew had appeared almost out of nowhere, pushing his way through the small knot of onlookers which had gathered around me.
“The boy had this in his load.” One of the conservators pointed at the small, possibly deadly creature, now smashed into an almost unidentifiable heap. The curve of the tail was still recognisable, although everything was beginning to look peculiar.
“Sorry about this, Charles,” Andrew drew his knife and efficiently cut out a piece of my flesh, clearing all the area surrounding the bite. I hardly noticed the pain, too shocked to understand fully what was going on. Nothing felt real any more. “Think it’s a scorpion sting, old man. Needed to attend to the wound as soon as I could.” His usually happy face was clouded with worry.
Some part of me couldn’t help being delighted that he cared, just as another part of me thought, Poison. This is serious.
The knife had done its work when the wave of real pain hit. I felt faint, all perception of what was happening around me fading and returning as in a dream. I was vaguely aware they’d called for the resident doctor and that someone was preparing a makeshift stretcher, to take me back to the camp. The one thing I saw most clearly was Andrew’s face—full of fear and trying very hard to hide the fact.
Just how bad was this bloody sting going to turn out to be?