Desert Rose

Summer Short Story #2

(Prompt: Write for 30 minutes about a character and his/her limit. Include “desert” per the WordPress daily prompt.)

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“John, she’s not at all what you’d led me to believe.”

“And how have I done that, love?”

Clarice Wendigo, captain of the HMA Hermes, looked past the mooring lines up to her airship—the port noisy with docking sounds– and then back down to the man walking at her side.

“I’m not your love, John.”

“Not yet, not yet.”

Tenacious, she’d give him that. For his sheer persistence, she answered, “She’s just a girl, a slip of a thing. You’d have me believe she was a creature from Hades.”

“She is! Have you seen her eyes? Too large, utterly, and sunken in. Her whole face is nothing but eyes.”

“She hasn’t been fed well for a long time, I gather.” Stopping, she seriously appraised her would-be suitor. “Truly, what’s got you in arms about the child?”

“What’s the Doctor doing with her? She’s dodgy. He hasn’t said a bloody thing about her past, just that she turned up at his door one day, and she’d be staying on. The whole business is dodgy.”

“Isn’t it just that, though, his business?”

“I thought you were his friend? Of course, it’s his business, but something’s not right?”

“What’s really got you bothered, John? Truly, you should be more concerned about what the doctor’s doing with so young a thing. I am his friend, but you men can be… well, such men! Why are you so unconcerned about her welfare?”

John, a fastidiously well-dressed man, began removing invisible hairs from his jacket sleeve. Many questionable seconds passed by before he finally answered–Clarice’s implacable eyebrow raised in earnest having something to do with it.

“She threw a lamp at me.”

“Pardon me? I didn’t quiet hear you correctly.”

“Too right you did! Don’t feign you didn’t.” When she merely raised her brow higher, he repeated, “She threw a bloody lamp at my head. There, satisfied? She’s off her rocker. Who does such a thing?”

Clarice made him explain the situation, the circumstances, and her verdict remained much the same throughout. John deserved a lamp thrown at his head. He’d scared the poor dear. How had Rosamond to know he’d felt comfortable enough to let himself into the house and that he had his own key? The Doctor, being the Doctor, had forgotten to acknowledge the fact. Expecting no one in the house except Mrs. Cooper, with the Doctor being out on house calls, the deep (and alarmingly loud at times, if she was being honest) voice of John Stockholm III would be unnerving. And so his “Hello, poppet” from the dimly lit corner of the parlor had been greeted with a toss of a lamp.

“Well, I still say she’s dodgy. The whole situation is dodgy.”

 

(Three weeks later over the deserts south of Algiers)

 

“I told you she was dodgy!” John shouted past Clarice, as he ran through a maze of crewmen.

“Stop! Get that girl! Stop her!”

He was releasing nothing more than carbon dioxide, as far as Rosamond was concerned. She wouldn’t halt, even if her life depended on it. The Doctor’s own depended on her running faster.

“She has my service revolver! Stop her!”

Mr. Stockholm kept bellowing behind, but the Hermes was a long ship, and there was so much more distance to cover. She ran harder, thanking her days on the streets of New London for her swiftness, if not her too-lean physique. Finally, she found the prow of the airship within sight, and there! The fiend stood too close.

She shrieked as she drew up her weapon, “I’ll shoot. I will! Step away from the Doctor!”

But the Beshalm spy did not. Instead, he drew a knife from his cloak and made to fulfill his intent.

“Wha-?”

Before Mr. Stockholm finished his question, she pulled the trigger—catching the assassin in the arm. Spinning about, the momentum carried him over the railing, but not before he grabbed the Doctor’s long coat—pulling the man nearly over. Very nearly, but he was wily for his years, and was more spry than most gave him credit for. The Doctor looked down upon the wretched individual holding fast upon his sleeve, as it began to tear along the seam.

“Give me your hand!”

“I’d give you my knife instead!” The other man spat out.

A Beshalm assassin, indeed. He’d nearly mistaken him for something else, but no more.

“It’s no longer in your possession. So give me your hand.”

“Your own death upon you, then.”

As he began to comply, Rosemond’s feet propelled her forward once more.

“Give me that!” Mr. Stockholm yelled, grabbing the revolver from her.

“You don’t understand! He’ll kill him,” she screamed right before biting his restraining hand.

Rosamond sobbed, “No!”

Not again, not again… never again. Retrieving the Doctor’s cane from the ground, it was a swift and violent attack. The Beshalm man plummeted to his death, as she sunk to the deck’s planks, crying.

“Why did you try to save him? Why? He’d kill you!”

They gave the wild girl a wide birth—each for his own reason.

“I’m a doctor. What would you have me do?”

“Live!”

“I would have. Rosamond, look at me.”

She refused, her tears making a mess of her stricken face, as she answered, “No. He’s killed everyone… everyone. They’re all gone because of him.”

“Who? Who’s gone?”

“Everyone, the General, my father.”

“Who was your father, Rosamond? Surely, you can tell me now?”

She didn’t for several moments.

“Can we interrogate in a cell? She should be restrained,” Mr. Stockholm spat.

“Shut up, John.”

Silent too long, Clarice gave her command. As captain of the Hermes, her voice carried most weight.

“She will remain as she is and where she is until she may stand, and then we may retire to my quarters.”

Clarice looked harder at the girl who would wield a gun in the Doctor’s defense, and a memory came. Before the girl spoke further, her own shoulders became weighted.

She realized, “Her father was that Brigadier General…”

“Davis Wadsworth was my father.”

By then, many a crewman was privy to the unfolding scene, and there were colorful invectives released.

“My dear girl. My dear, dear girl.”

The Doctor came undone and shed a stalwart tear—begrudging its post at his lash.

Mr. Stockholm had no such sentiments and spoke, “You’re Rosamond Wadsworth?”

Clarice answered, “Well, clearly. The greater question–it would seem–however, is why was an attempt made on your life Doctor?”

“I suspect it’s because Rosamond might have shared information with me, presumably something over which it was worth dying… or, perhaps, my living proved a stumbling block–one would assume was the acquisition of Rosamond. Still yet, there may be no connection at all to Rosamond, an unhappy fluke of association without causal relationship.”

Rosamond chose that moment to look up at the Doctor because something felt terribly wrong beneath her.

And Clarice boomed into the telephone on deck, delivering an all-call, “All hands at post! Engine report! Chief Officer, to me!”

All the while, John Stockholm III grumbled, “Dodgy as hell. This is a mess.”

Desert

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