Authors: Carolyn Hennesy
And to the memory of Harriet Shapiro, Ph.D.,
who got my girls out of the water.
And much, much more.
Out of a Clear Blue Sky
“It's gaining on us!” Pandy screamed, craning her neck to look back over her shoulder.
“Don't look at it!” Homer barked. “Pull your cloak over your head!”
it!” Pandy screamed.
“Just keep going!” Homer yelled, his eyes frantically scanning the horizon ahead for something he knew he'd never find: someplaceâany placeâthat he, Pandy, and Iole could hide.
Their three camels, whipped into a frenzy, were running at a speed Pandy couldn't even comprehend. Even watching wild horses race across fields back home, she'd never seen anything move as fast. With one arm wrapped tightly around Dido as he curled, shivering, in front of her, it was all she could do to stay on top of her beast as it flew across the desert, trying to outrun what was coming up behind them.
A dark mass, deep brown and thick, was now less than five kilometers away and bearing down hard and fast with a dull roar.
Two hours earlier, the midmorning sky had been a clear, pale blueâalmost white; the sun beating down brutally on them as it had for the past eleven and a half uneventful days. The boredom of the Arabian desert had been broken by only two things. One was a melancholy followed by a testiness that had slowly crept into Homer's demeanor. For the first several days of their journey, Homer had been his usual quiet but courteous self as they traveled from Aphrodisias, across the lands of Galatia, Cilicia, and Syria, and finally into the endless expanse of desert toward Baghdad. Then, it seemed to Pandy, Homer had grown annoyed by the many people commenting and asking questions about their strange beasts. He had become sullen, almost rude, in answering, even when the question had not been put to him directly. Pandy thought she overheard him say something like, “We're riding these because of
,” and flicking a hand in her direction.
The other was the fact that two days earlier, Iole had become very, very sick. Pale, sweating, and unable to keep any food in her stomach, Iole was becoming so ill that Pandy was in great fear for her friend's life. The healing powers of the enchanted Eye of Horus weren't working, and calling on the tiny bust of Athena for advice proved useless; Pandy couldn't get even a single sound out of it. There was no priestess around to intercede on Iole's behalf with Apollo, the God of Healing, and Pandy knew that her own prayers, if they were getting through, might not make much difference. Even though Apollo had been quite taken with Iole when he'd met her in Alexandria, he had saved her life once already, when she was very little, and he might feel a bit put-upon if asked to do it again.
It was only as she turned back to check on Iole for the umpteenth time that day that Pandy had seen it: the thin brown line growing steadily into a large brown mass heading straight for them.
“Homer!” she'd yelled at that moment, pointing.
With just a quick glance behind, Homer recognized what was coming.
“Get Dido up!” he cried. Pandy called to her dog, who'd been walking along beside, and at once Dido made the tremendous leap. Instantly Homer spurred his camel forward and the others had immediately followed. Now, he knew, they were in a race for their lives. And they were probably going to lose.
Suddenly, a fleck of foam hit Pandy's right cheek. As she wiped it away, another flew into her eye, and then another caught the tip of Dido's ear. She looked at her camel, its mouth covered in creamy white spittle as the creature began to tire. She looked back at Homer's camel; its eyes were rimmed with red, evidence that its heart was beating too hard. Hermes had said that a camel was the heartiest of beasts, able to go weeks without food or water in desperate conditions, but these three had been running flat out for hours and they weren't immortal: the strain was clear.
“We can't keep going!” she screamed.
“We have to!” Homer yelled back, urging his camel onward.
Pandy's mind flashed back to the deck of the ship
as it crossed the Ionian Sea on its way to Egypt, desperately trying to outrun a whirling black funnel that ultimately destroyed the ship and her crew. Then she thought of the great mass of the heavens forming an impenetrable wall around the Atlas Mountains, which she'd had to crawl under.
“Gods,” Pandy thought angrily as another wad of spittle landed on her chin. “I am so sick of large, loud walls and masses and whatever trying to destroy us!”
Suddenly, Pandy heard a different sound: a coughing, choking gag. Glancing to her left she saw Iole, barely on her camel, her arms flopping helplessly because she was no longer strong enough to handle the reins, her head shaking violently up and down with each stride, and her tiny first meal of flatbread and dates coming up and dribbling out of her mouth. Suddenly, Iole's hands flew high in the air as she was pitched backward and hurled to the ground.
!” Pandy shrieked as Homer's camel narrowly missed trampling Iole's head where she lay on the sand. Immediately, both Pandy and Homer brought their camels around and were off their mounts in seconds. Without warning, Homer's camel knelt on the ground, closed its eyes, and whinnied to the other two. It was a sure sign that all three camels knew there was no outrunning the mass and would go no farther. But, as Pandy watched, the two other camels approached the first and knelt beside it, forming a small semicircleâand a barrier between her, Homer, and Iole and the storm. Pandy took this to mean that they were helping their human riders.
The brown mass was almost upon them.
What do we do?
” Pandy called to Homer.
“It's a sandstorm, Pan
a,” Homer yelled over the growing din, his eyes avoiding hers. “There's
we can do.”
In the middle of the desert, with a tremendous wave of sand about to hit them full force, the only thing on Pandy's mind was that Homer had used a tone with her as if she were the stupidest person in the world. As if she were someone else. For a split second, that was the entire focus of her brain.
“Get over here!” Homer yelled. Homer had carried Iole to his camel and was nestling her in a crook between its forelegs and belly, using the animal's back as a shield. “Move!”
“Dido, come!” Pandy commanded, and he was at her side in a second. Holding him close, Pandy threw herself against the camel, feeling its warmth, its chest still heaving from the hard run.
“Give me the rope!” Homer yelled, a momentary raise in the pitch and roar of the storm drowning out his words.
Pandy only saw his lips move.
“What?” Pandy cried.
Without pausing to repeat himself, Homer grabbed her leather pouch and quickly fished out the enchanted rope. He gestured wildly until Pandy understood.
“Rope,” she cried, the first grains of sand crunching against her teeth as the storm bore down. “Thicker and longer!”
At once, the rope began to change in her hand. It grew thicker, but it also became much shorter. Then without warning, it turned into a tiny string. Then the rope grew longer, but it looked as if it had been burned in a fire.
There's something wrong with it!
” Pandy screamed.
“Give it to me!” Homer yelled, and without even looking at it, he yanked the rope from her hands. In Homer's grip, it remained long enough that he was able to frantically tie one end around his waist, then loop it in a knot around Iole, another around Dido, and finally tie the other end to Pandy.
“Hold us fast!” Pandy yelled down to the rope, hoping that whatever was wrong was just a momentary glitch.
Homer was now furiously pulling at the camel's saddle blanket, trying to wrench it free from where it was pinned underneath. With a grunt, he tore it loose and tossed it over Iole and himself.
“For Ares' sake!” Homer screamed at Pandy, his voice as full of rage and fury as the sound of the storm only seconds from impact. “Pull your cloak over your head and get under!”
Pandy wrapped her cloak tightly around herself and dove under the blanket with Dido just as the thick cloud of harsh, churning sand hit them with the force of a wall being blown apart. Pandy felt as if she were being beaten on all sides, poked with pointed sticks, and stung by millions of bees. And even though the rope was binding them all together, she could feel the unbelievable push of the wind buffeting her legs, shoulders, and head. She knew that without the rope, she could easily have been driven away from the others and out into the desert. She ran her hands along the rope's surface and found tiny metal spikes poking out. The next instant, they were gone.
And then the sand began to find its way in.
Pandy's mother's cloak, even with a thick blanket covering it, was no match for the immense volume of fine sand whirling and swirling, and soon her legs, arms, neck, face, and hair were coated in layer upon layer. She covered her face with her hands but in vain. The sand was working its way through every crevice, no matter how smallâfilling her ears, pushing under her eyelids and into her mouth, and, worst of all, slowly inching up her nose.
Again, an image from the past flared in her mind: falling through the desert floor in Egypt and into the Chamber of Despair and thinking she was going to drown as the sand instantly filled her mouth, nose, and ears. But that was quickly over as she crashed through the ceiling of the chamber and went plummeting through the dark, open air to the ground below.
was going to be a slow, agonizing death for all of them â¦ lost in a foreign land, Iole sick or possibly already dead, Homer unaccountably distant, and her quest unfinished. Miserable, she envisioned their lungs filling slowly with sand.
The only bright spot, Pandy mused, desperately trying to spit out the grit, was that Alcie wasn't here to suffer through it with them.
Alcie was already gone.