Redshift

Redshift - student project

[I've had an idea for a short story about a young guy who is stuck in a dead-end job, whose trying to break out into a new industry, and he is sent on an assignment as a rookie photographer in the middle of the Karoo, a desert area located in South Africa. On his way to the assignment location, catastrophe strikes and he is stranded in the middle of nowhere, and then all the weird things happen. This is my attempt at getting that idea out of my head in written form. It's still in an early draft form, but I think it has potential and will be revisiting it - this is Draft Two]

 

The heat of the desert sun scorched the dilapidated vehicle hugging the side of the road. A plume of acrid, black smoke poured out from the bonnet covered in dents and scratches, curtaining a cracked windshield. If there were any observers standing around, they would witness a man sitting inside the smoking vehicle fiddling with his smartphone and mumbling curse words. He wore what used to be a crisp, white collared shirt made from a fabric that could not handle the sweat patches growing rapidly under his arms.  But there were no observers, not in this browned desert. And that, thought Sam, was part of his problem.

He had only left the city a few hours ago. He knew he should have listened to his gut and moved on to another car rental dealership. But this assignment was on his dime, and time was limited. It was only this morning where he stood behind Jacqueline’s desk as she belched out new assignments for the weekend.

“Sam, right? Francois mentioned you wanted to get out of wedding photography?” she said, picking up a silver Zippo and lighting a cigarette hanging in her mouth. He was surprised by that, standing in her modern and sleek office, where the only variations in colour included egg-shell and snow white. He glanced down as she tapped her burning cigarette into a gleaming ashtray.

“Yeah. Something like that.” Keep it short and sweet, Francois said. Check.

“Look, kid. You’re new to this game. Nature magazines like ours work on a completely different level compared to weddings. You think a bride is demanding? Have you even tried landscape photography? The lighting is usually shit, you have to deal with all the nature trying to get into your equipment. You can’t hold a reflector towards a mountain face,” she said, grinning. Was she teasing him?

“It doesn’t matter," she continued. "Francois is a good guy, I have faith in his judgement. So. I’m giving you the weekend.” Jacqueline stamped her struggling cigarette in the now stained porcelain tray and fumbled in her purse, grabbing a new one from a different pack. “Menthol,’ she said, looking up at Sam’s confused face. “I’ve got a few hours of meetings after our chat, and I need to smell my best.”

Ah. She was one of those then. He nodded his head politely and said “thank you. I won’t let you down. I’ll give you an image to be proud of. What’s the gig?”

“Observatory. Outside Sutherland. In the Karoo?” she said.  “We’re getting ready to do a feature on the MeerKAT soon. Apparently those scientists have got their shit together and it should be coming online soon. Which means when the time comes, I need a photographer on hand who knows how to take a decent night shot without filling it with all that bullshit light painting the kids do these days. So. The assignment. A full landscape of the observatory, shot at night. Give me those beautiful Milky Way trails everyone loses their mind over. You give me that, I’ll consider taking you on part-time. Any questions?”

Sam wasn’t the kind of guy who asked questions. He knew what it took to get even this far into Jacqueline’s room, and he made a mental note to make up for Francois’s favour with a case of beer. After being paid of course. After getting that part-time position.

Jacqueline got out from behind her desk, dropped her handbag in the corner of the room and headed towards the office door to get to her next batch of meetings.

“You’ve got the weekend,” she said. “This is your only shot.”

 

Now he was stuck in the middle of nowhere, with the clock on the radio tick, tick, ticking down the seconds in that relentless, steady beat, as a plume of smoke billowed from the hood of his rental. And because things weren’t bad enough, there was no signal in this forsaken land, not a single bar indicating the promise of contact with the rest of the world. It was simple. He was stranded here.

He let out a hard sigh and put his head on the steering wheel. With his head resting on the cooking plastic, he looked out of his right window towards the farmland next to the road. It seems he did have a witness. A sheep’s face looked him straight in the eyes from the other side of a steel mesh fence. It had that typical stupid, uninterested look on its face sheep usually wore. It had a dried brown twig caught in its mouth, chewing it with vigour.

“Stupid bloody animals,” said Sam aloud. He did feel a bit of guilt, but he was annoyed and felt like the situation called for his anger to be directed towards something. Even if it meant a half-hearted attempt at an insult towards some livestock.

Bam! The small, broken-down car shuddered as if it got knocked by something large. Sam’s first thought was a car drove into him from behind. With adrenalin burning through his veins, he looked around in an instant, but he saw no vehicle stuck in the rear end of his rental. Instead, looking in from the cracked windshield, was some sort of creature. It was sitting on the red, dented bonnet, and it was convulsing with what looked to be an energetic giggle. “What the … ” said Sam.

The creature was covered in a pale blue wool, much like the sheep's coat who was still staring blankly at Sam. Whatever it was had wide, rounded ears and two deep black eyes. It could have easily been confused with a mouse, except for its obviously blue woollen coat and the fact that it was the size of a Pomeranian. Sam also didn’t know of any type of vermin that had laughing hiccups or fits. A second later, it jumped on the bonnet, causing it to shake violently, the kind of vibration only something large could cause. What the hell is that thing?