The moment he saw her, his heart decided. She was the one.
She was dancing on the golden floor of the desert and he watched, entranced. It was the little things: The way the Sun’s rays lit upon her lithe form, the way her long supple legs weaved back and forth, smooth abdomen swaying like a bell. He felt something break in the deepest part of himself, as though an egg had cracked inside him, and now golden yolk was flooding his body. He longed to call out to her, but her family was there, toiling in the earth while she danced, and he did not feel it would be appropriate.
One of his friends saw him staring and sidled up. “You should get back to work. What distracts you?”
That place in his heart, the one he allowed no-one else to enter, he would open it for her.
He dragged his eyes from her slender form and whispered, “Her.”
His friend looked. “Yes, she’s attractive.”
“No,” His head rocked from side to side. “She is astonishing.”
His friend laughed. “You are smitten. You should talk to her.”
“Then I would have to fight her other admirers.”
This was true. Among the male clan members, competition for the females was fierce.
His friend touched his back softly, sympathetic. “Then always you will dream,” he said, and walked away.
He barely heard.
Her dance had ceased; she’d joined her family near the bushes at the foot of the Mountain, near the mouth of the communal cave. He watched as she began to forage, hunting for the berries that proliferated the thick foliage. All of a sudden, her eyes turned his way, and held him . . . A thudding deep in his chest, a joyful allegro that threatened to shake him apart. He tried to signal to her, but his limbs had locked in place.
She waved at him.
He felt weak. By the time he’d managed to raise an arm in reply she was already looking away. He fell back upon the warm sand, trying to catch his breath. The Sun’s fierce rays sprinkled his face, feeding him energy like a mother succouring her infant. Around him, the clan busied themselves with the business of survival, but for a moment he’d been granted a glimpse of a life that could mean so much more . . .
“Are you all-right?”
He looked up with a jolt. She was standing over him! . . . He pushed himself upright. “Yes, I – uh – I thought I saw a grub.” He cursed his stumbling tongue.
She studied the desert sand. “I don’t see anything.”
“No, it must have gone.”
Her eyes glittered with sunlight. She reached out and stroked his face. “Are you a warrior?”
He felt the melting sensation deep inside again and laughed. “A worker.”
She tilted her head to one side.
“I mean, usually I work!” he spluttered awkwardly, fighting to regain his composure. “Where in the cave do you dwell?”
“The northern tunnels,” she said, gesturing abstractly towards the Mountain. She turned back, subjecting his face to a playful scrutiny. “I have not seen you before, have I?”
He nodded. “Nor I you.”
“You have broad shoulders,” she said.
“Your eyes are beautiful,” he said.
She laughed. “You are direct. I like this. I like you. Perhaps we can meet, later tonight, when the stars fill the sky?”
For a second he was too overwhelmed to reply. It felt as though his mind had turned to glass. Then he managed to whisper, “I would like that.”
She stroked his face a final time then hurried away across the shining sand.
He stared after her, warmth rising in his chest like a miniature sun. How was this possible? How could he be so fortunate? And she had asked him! . . . He watched her graceful form glide swiftly away, and thought of how astonished his friends would be when he told them later, as they clustered in the Great Hall.
All at once a vast shadow carved across the sand.
He stiffened, looked up.
A gigantic black vessel was moving across the sky, far above his head. The leading edge of it eclipsed the sun, and now he could make out details: Gigantic valleys and ridges, themselves pocked by craters and scars. The object was travelling slowly, silent. It seemed to be connected to yet another vast edifice, this one a pale column, reaching up even further into an endless sky.
He tried to cry out, but fear robbed him of the ability.
The black shape started to descend. Its giant shadow grew smaller . . . She lay in its centre!
Now he did scream. He ran, legs slipping in the shifting grains. She was turning, looking for him. Other members of the clan had seen too, and were screaming, pointing up. He ran to her, but even before he was halfway he knew it would be too late.
The object closed over her and the impact shook the earth.
He fell screaming, sand whipping by his face. By the time it cleared the gigantic object was already receding.
She lay in the centre of a vast depression, her blood brightening the sand.
In a moment he was at her side. Staring after the receding shape he screamed at it, waving his arms. Then he cradled her broken body and wept.
All at once he heard a deep, booming sound, coming from some way off. The sound said, “OSCAR? GET AWAY FROM THOSE ROCKS AND PUT SOME SUNSCREEN ON!”
Another huge shape approached.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING OVER HERE ANYWAY? . . . OH, OH MY GOODNESS, AN ANTS NEST! COME AWAY FROM THERE!”
Now another edifice – narrower and paler than the last, but just as vast – appeared in the sky above him. The shadow pooled again, and started to close.
Then all was shadow.