Chapter 33 from the Ama audiobook
The path cut a canyon through the mountainous dunes; enormous waves grew from each side in an almost vertical climb and reached hundreds of feet in height. The path, or road, looked deliberate, a cleared passage for travellers made by man and machine. But as a large section of one dune broke free with the shifting sand and splashed across the path and a moment later was brushed away by a gust of wind, it became evident that man and machine played no part in its construction. The wind continued its housekeeping with fastidious zeal, maintaining a mirror-smooth surface. Something that should be chaotic, was not. It almost appeared as though the wind played a joke on the damned by keeping the way clear towards distant salvation; your eyes can fall upon it, but see how far you must travel before you reach it. Was the mountain even there at all? Or was it nothing but a provocation for madness projected onto the shimmering view of hell’s boundary? A mere illusion for the desperate and weary. Hell’s grand backdrop, which there was no hope of ever touching.
He had been walking for what seemed like hours, and the tedium had become as painful as his cramped muscles, lizard-scale lips, and the furnace raging within his throat. An irresistible urge to scream into the wind welled within him, to vocalise his contempt for God’s grand plan with a barrage of pointless profanity. He cried out through gritted teeth instead. His cry became a hiss as the cracks in his lips split further.
The wind gained momentum, and within seconds an angry sandstorm buffeted him left and right. He raised his hands to protect his eyes from the rush of the wild wind, and then he moved to the left-hand side of the path, stopping when he felt the rising gradient of a dune beneath his boots. He dropped to the ground at the edge of the path and lay in a foetal position, embracing the baseball bat as a child would a comforting toy. He was sure he could keep to the path and keep moving in the right direction, regardless of the storm, as the difference between the hard ground of the path and the soft sinking sand of the surrounding desert felt obvious beneath his boots. But fatigue became an impassable wall. He adjusted the scarf so there was just a narrow slit for his eyes. I’ll rest for a while, he conceded, and let the storm pass, and then I’ll get moving again. Rest came for his body but not for his mind, as the malevolent storm had other ideas.
Spectral forms moved and stalked from the corner of Jason’s vision before melting away again into the ferocious wind when he tried to focus on them. Paranoia pushed forth ghouls with disturbed intentions, watching and plotting, waiting for him to drop his guard. The caretakers were there, too, Jason was sure of it, waiting to burn him once more and send him back to the beginning. He squeezed his eyes shut. Let it be a trick on my eyes; I need to rest. The howl of the wind wasn’t all Jason could hear, either. A rhythmic lumbering sound joined with that of the wind.
Jason gripped the bat tighter, but he didn’t move from where he lay. The memory of Lilith appearing in the hallway of his house came to mind: “One bone shall I remove for every second you remain here.” He tried to relax his painful grip on the bat. He also tried to push the thoughts of Lilith and other possible monsters from his mind. If there was anything here, he assured himself, it would have attacked me by now. It’s just the wind. But the lumbering sound persisted, and it was getting louder, coming closer.
Jason pushed and twisted himself back, burying himself in the sand. He scooped more sand over himself with one hand and then settled, waiting for whatever was causing the sound to pass on by. If it stops, he told himself, come out swinging. His grip on the bat became painful once more. He tried to form a mental image of the unseen from the sounds. There was also the sound of wood creaking, and… panting? And… the sound of metal grinding on metal… wheels?
He froze at the sound of a whip. A wave of sand hit him as something went by at a running pace. He wiped the grit from his eyes and stared at the back end of a nineteenth-century carriage. Jason rolled out from his shallow grave but remained flat to the ground. He read the words painted in red on the back of the black carriage:
The Devil’s Taxi.
The carriage dissolved into the storm.
What, who and why didn’t matter. It was heading where he wanted to go, and his exhausted body told him he needed it if he stood any chance of getting there. Gaining control of the carriage became paramount. He jumped to his feet and ran after it.