Here’s the first page of a short story I’m working on. I’ve got it all drafted and am entering the alpha-reader stage, so it will go through several serious revisions. But I hope you enjoy this opening. Suggestions welcome, as always.
Zabeth leaned forward in the rumbling bus, staring at the strange sky and wondering why the sun had stopped. She watched the layer of dusty topsoil unfold and noted how rusty the sand was, and how it barely covered the bones of the earth. Bumping along in the rickety bus, staring out the window, she marveled again at the juniper trees that drew twisted silhouettes against a pale noon. From one seat to another, from one side to the other, she shifted in her eagerness, lapping up the strange light as the bus lapped the miles, basking in the whitish glare that washed the colors from everything in view.
Sliding back to her proper seat, Zabeth was abruptly tossed against the window by a jolt in the road, and jumped as something hard prodded her shoulder blade. She turned her head—and recoiled from the muzzle of an Uzi. The gun was gripped by a kid, a solider-boy a good half-dozen years younger than herself, and he was asleep. His round baby face bobbled from side to side in time with the bus’s jostlings, but his hold on the gun was firm. She looked him over, assessing his buzz-cut hair, camouflage, and heavy boots, and debated whether to wake him up and get her picture taken with him. Getting photos with men in uniform was, after all, one of her many goals on this trip. A small side-goal, granted—more like a fringe benefit—but one of the perks of being “most likely to stand out in any crowd” meant she could generally get her photo taken with anyone she chose.
“Most photogenic,” she liked to think, as she grinned at her reflection in the bus window.
Then again, if he woke from a dazed slumber and found that in his face, the poor boy might have a heart attack. The general impression Zabeth made on a first encounter was something like shaking hands with a volcano. She was a tall, lanky beauty, with skin the color of a sunburned penny, liberally freckled, topped by an explosion of red curls: a flaming ginger afro, the surprising inheritance of a Scottish mother and a Jamaican father. If she sat with her back to the window with that strange pale light shining through her nimbus of fiery hair when the soldier awoke, it might give him a bit of a shock. Maybe he would mistake her for an ancient deity, kneeling down and worshiping her right there in the bus. As a matter of fact, that was pretty much what had happened that one time on the banks of the Amazon, when she surged up out of the river, a smoldering sunset at her back, and those warriors had….
Well, this wasn’t the jungles of South America. This was modern-day Israel, as well-developed a country as any on the planet, with a cell phone in every pot (so to speak) and most silly superstitions gone extinct along with the Roman legions. It wasn’t like they’d never seen a redhead before. Still, she wouldn’t risk waking him up and scaring him with her mushroom-cloud-in-the-sunset hairdo, she thought, not when he had a gun in his hand. And he looked so tired. He was just a kid, after all, about her baby brother’s age. She’d have to find some officers in proper regalia sometime, maybe on her day off in Jerusalem.
She chuckled when she thought of that other adventure in Jerusalem, last time, that was all tied up with men in uniform and getting cheated on a purchase of (false) antiquities and a pretty lively excursion through the tangled shops and alleys of the Suq. It had ended with a perfectly civilized conversation—in three languages—over Turkish coffee that would knock a weaker man flat, and the exchange of some trifling coins and even more trifling—“threats” is too strong a word—say, “suggestions.” She shook her head and laughed over the memory, then settled back to relish the rest of the drive through sand-colored streets set against the washed-out sky.
. . .