Chapter 7: Welcome to the Wild West

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Another hour passes with no sign of any terrain changing. Jolton still walks alone, now watching Viols cloud from underneath. I fly over Kelko's right shoulder, occasionally falling in and out of conversation with him.

"So..." I murmur.

Kelko looks up to me, giving me a questioning look.

"What else did you see in my mind?" I whisper.

"Well, I mainly saw why you're here. Which required me to go through the places you've been to, things you've seen and the people you love..." He stops mid sentence.

My mouth is slightly open and my eyes have grown wide. Kelko knows... well, everything about me.

"I don't know everything, but yes, I know a lot." He says nonchalantly.

"Would you stop that!" I squeal.

"What? Reading your mind?" He says, this time with a small smile on his face.

"Well, yeah."

"And if I don't?" He says coyly.

"I'll punch you." I state, Kelko laughs at the statement but I'm dead serious. A squeal comes from above us. I turn to see Viol, but not just Viol - also a large mass of sand twirling in a tornado in the distance.

"Kelko!" I yell.

The storm quickly catches up to us. The wind starts to push me back and forth in the sky, it gets hard to fly straight ahead. Grains of crimson sand jab at my skin like millions of needles, the dust surrounding me burns my eyes and is so thick I can't even see the sun anymore. I struggle against the raging winds to keep going. I can barely see the dark silhouettes of my friends running below me.

I breathe in hard, as if I'm having an asthma attack. I feel as if I can't go any longer; my wings ache and my throat burns from inhaling dusty air, but just as I'm about to collapse, I see the dark outline of a building. A burst of relief surges through my body and I find the energy to flap my wings a couple more times to burst through the saloon-like doors with Jolton, Viol and Kelko behind me.

We all lay on the ground panting, my lungs burning with every breath. I can hear the wind crashing outside as the doors swing in and out, blowing sand around our exhausted bodies. After catching our breath for a minute, Kelko is the first to get up.

"Thank Creator we got inside before the storm got worse." He says. "But we should've left earlier, I knew this was going to happen."

"Gah urgg!?" Jolton responds while sitting up.

We seem to be inside a stereotypical western saloon, like one out of a cowboy movie. A bar stands in front of shelves lined with bottles whose contents are brightly colored. There are a few windows but only red can be seen outside. The rest of the room is filled with big round wooden tables surrounded by rickety looking chairs. But what draws my attention the most is a piano without a pianist by the window playing an ominous melody. It quietly echoes throughout the saloon, making my hair stand on its ends.

The saloon doors swing violently back and forth so we turn a table on its side and barricade the doors with it, then push another table against it to keep sand from blowing inside. The wind and sand crashing down onto the building intensifies outside. The saloon shakes but holds up and we finally start to let our guards down.

Kelko, Jolton and Viol look terrible. Red dust and sand cake their bodies. Their hair is disheveled, and their eyes are tired and red from having so much dust fly into them. I decide not to look in a mirror.

"Thank the Creator we're inside now." Jolton says.

I walk warily around the saloon, my hand grazing the miscellaneous objects on the shelves. The saloon had clearly been abandoned. Just like most of the Tainted Zone: gone, old, and broken. How can the Creator be so blind? He had a whole world here, but it's gone to waste. The Tainted Zone could've been so much more. Drawings here could've had so much more. And now, the Creator is striking again, this time choosing to ruin our lives in the process. He can't just leave us in the trash where he thought we belonged in the first place.

"Yeah, thank the Creator." I say in a sardonic tone.

It's hard to thank the Creator when he's the reason that we have to make a perilous journey across the land, to save our friend, and, if possible, stop this from affecting the rest of our world.

We grab rags from around the room and work on rubbing the red off our bodies until we are back to our normal skin colors. Afterwards, I grab one of my cans of mac and cheese and start eating it behind the bar while I listen to the wind outside as it slowly dies down.

Everyone else starts doing something to help themselves: Viol brushes her hair, red sand falling to the ground by her feet, Jolton sits by the piano and plays a sweeter melody than the eerie one it was playing on its own before, and Kelko sits at the bar drinking what I hope is water. Jolton stands up and strolls over to the bar.

"Do they have anything to drink here?" He asks. I pour some apple juice looking liquid in a shot glass and slide it down the bar. Jolton catches it smoothly and without a second glance downs it in one gulp. I see his eyes go wide and his mouth opens and he silently gags.

"That was not apple juice miss." Jolton says in raspy voice, leaning heavily against the bar. I slide over the bar and pause, making eye contact with him. "I know." I jump off my stool and run to hide behind Viol. I giggle as Jolton dramatically falls out of his chair and pretends to choke.

The day continues but we can't leave the saloon because of the sand storm outside. Although it has died down, grains of sand still pelt at the windows at dangerously high speeds. But all of us are exhausted anyway so we call it a day early and curl up on the wood floor to fall asleep.

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