A few days ago she had been sauntering on the sticky streets of Southend-on-Sea and now, she traveled in a cloud of clay dust with a group of archaeologists into the Moroccan desert. Every object in sight was saturated in yellow, lustrous saffron in the scorching sun and flaxen rust in the sparse shade.

Sonia sat adjacent to the window, brushing away the dust that had accumulated to show the sun, a dandelion that infested the sky that she was furiously attempting to keep at bay with her hand-held, paper make-shift fan. A woman with a fine carob-brown bob sat beside her, a small mole sitting beneath her almond, dark eyes that swerved as she chewed her petite, blush berry lips while reading a book. Her crimson-tipped fingers caressed the ink on the page, which stood up like goosebumps as her round clear-framed spectacles slipped down her nose. Sonia and the woman were both dressed in the wafer cream high-waisted cargo trousers and black shirts they had chosen together, although Sonia had brought a flowy white button-down blouse just in case. Sonia had twisted her hair into a bun, beads of sweat streaming from her bangs, while the woman’s hair was wrapped in a crocheted blue and brown daisy scarf over her head.

“Sonia,” The woman tapped Sonia on the shoulder. “Checklist.” Sonia nodded and swiftly took a notepad from her backpack.

“All right, Aki,” Sonia said as she cleared her throat. “Do you have your trowel, journal, string, dental equipment, camera, tape measurer, gloves, picks, and brushes?” 

“...yes...” Aki answered after she tousled through her enormous North Face backpack. “Do you have your...photography things?” Sonia blushed as she chuckled softly, leaning into her beloved camera bag, which was the color of the glazed orange scones she baked on Sundays. The bag was frayed at the edges and marred with brown cracks and stains, yet it still accommodated all of her tools and books. “Yep. Oh, I also brought some soap for laundry. I thought it might come in handy.”

“Yeah, good idea.” Aki gave her a thumbs up. Professor Karre sat from behind Aki and Sonia; she looked at least twenty years their senior, crow’s feet elegantly etched onto the corners of her dewy juniper eyes, her nose turning up as she chuckled at them.

“When I asked you to come with me on a dig, I didn’t expect you to act like a first-timer.” She joked. “However, a round of applause to you, Najem, for bringing the laundry soap. I hope you won’t mind if you let me borrow some. Sanada, I expect more from you.” Aki smiled, embarrassment prancing up her neck.

“You’ll have to speak up more if you’re going to assist me with teaching at the Imperial College,” Professor Karre leaned forward to raise her eyebrows at her. 

“Of course,” Aki replied quietly. They remained silent as Sonia withdrew a lifetime supply of sunscreen from a garden of clothing in a separate bag, her backpack adorned with ditsy pastel flowers.

“Be careful, Sadana,” Professor Karre acknowledged the selection of sunscreen. “Your friend looks more like an archaeologist than you.” The bus came to a halt, and Aki and Sonia dashed out, taking care to thank the driver. They gazed out at the desert, its body resembling ruffled Spanish needles swimming in liquid copper. The craters in the ruffles were the core of the flowers and its delicate petals the scorching, soft sand that surrounded it. Sonia stepped onto the petals, her feet blooming in its heat and shimmer. White tents, canopies, and yurts budded in the swirls of pollen from the Spanish needles as the archaeologists trudged against the wind. 

When Sonia and Aki arrived at the location, they promptly set up their tent, which imitated a line of other tents that protected the site. They removed the sheet covering their tent's entryway, revealing a bright limeade mat that provided just enough space for their sleeping bags. 

Sonia followed Aki into an excavation tent, the inside filled with ruins and bones smothered in the sand. The diggers wore similar outfits to Aki and Sonia, each dressed in a crown of sweat, brushing and digging into the ruins at their feet. Professor Karre walked into the tent, surveying the diggers as they turned to look at her. 

“Everyone, this is Sonia Najem,” Karre announced. “As you know, she is the photographer in our midst, invited by our own archaeologist, Aki Sadana. She will be submitting her work to a journal she works with, along with a story. That being said, she may ask you some questions, but please, do not let her work interfere with yours.” Karre continued to survey and then found work at her station nearby. Sonia walked up to an archaeologist near her, his black curly hair pinned back, his aloe eyes focused on a coin in his palm, a brush in the other.

“Excuse me?” Sonia implored, his eyes swerving towards her. “Hi, I’m Sonia. I just have a few questions, if that’s alright with you?”

“Yeah, of course,” the archaeologist responded with an Australian accent, shaking her hand. “I’m Wilson Grant. I know, two names that could either be first or last names. Feel free to call me either one.”

“Great,” Sonia pointed towards the gold coin with worn Arabic in the center and pulled a small spiral notebook from her camera bag. “So, Wilson, what type of currency is that?”  

“This is an Almoravid dinar,” Wilson flipped over the coin. “It’s from the Almoravid dynasty, and what you’re standing in right now is a gold mine that was used to make them. A lot of their gold mines were located in the Sahara desert.”

“And why would there be a coin here if this was a gold mine? Wouldn’t there just be gold?”

“You’re right, dinars were minted at the capital. Although the people who worked the gold mines were not rich, a lot of people did pass through the desert...so, my best guess would be that a traveler dropped it nearby, as we found some bones.”

“Okay,” Sonia scribbled words rapidly into her notebook. “Do you mind showing me the bones?”

“Not at all,” Wilson led her farther down the tent. “Right this way.”

Sonia photographed the bones that breached the concrete barrier of the ground, their faces imprisoned by the sand, exhibiting identical skeletal imprints. Their distinctive dentition was the only thing binding them to their individuality.


Sonia had become a part of the desert by the end of the night, her nails brittle from sand, her hair mixed with perspiration and sand, and her teeth were afraid to bite down owing to the presence of...sand. Her toes peered through the holes at the bottom of her lilac sleeping bag, her body covered in a thick, oversized Oxford sweater her younger sister had bought her expressly for this occasion. Aki’s maroon sleeping bag quivered up and down, a journal still in her hands from moments before she had been knocked out. 

Suddenly, a blazing beam blinded Sonia. She sat up, shielding her eyes with one hand and curling the other one around a tear in the ceiling, displaying an azure canopy studded with stars sewn on like sequins. She eagerly tip-toed out of the tent, carrying her tripod and camera, the sand sticking onto the bottom of her feet like ice crystals. She set up her camera on the tripod, the lens pointed at the sequins, then sat down on a little dune.

“Sonia,” a voice from behind her muttered, making her shudder even more. “Would you like to join us around the fire?” Wilson loomed before Sonia, sparks licking his dripping curly hair.

“Oh no. Thank you,” she replied, pointing to her camera. “You can see the stars best from here.”

“Ah, so you’re stargazing,” Wilson stated to himself. “What are you thinking?”

“I-I don’t know,” Sonia sighed, pulling her legs to her chest. “The stars are just brighter here than at home, that’s all.”

“Yeah. Is this your first time seeing them in nature?” Wilson asked, his voice laced with amusement. 

“No,” Sonia chortled. “I just haven’t seen them in this much open space. All of the pollution blocks them back at home.” She paused briefly, her lips pursed as she bit the inside of her cheek. Wilson slid down the dune, hands behind his head, squinting at the sky in contemplation of Sonia’s words. Her jaw clenched as she traced the constellations with her finger. Their focus on the sky soon succumbed to silence. But soon enough, the long pause was terminated and a new conversation was scooped out like the seeds in the center of a cantaloupe.

“Aren’t you going to take some photos?” Wilson pointed to the sky. “It’s the perfect night, after all.” 

“Hey, don’t rush the creative process, alright?” Sonia shook her head as Wilson put his hands up in surrender.

“Very poetic, aren’t you?” Wilson smirked as he knocked the sand out of his hair. Sonia looked away, her visage flushed as she opened her lips to speak, but instead smiled politely. She shuddered as the gelid wind thrust itself upon her bare hands like they were metal and magnets. She angled her camera, rooting it into the sand like a tulip bulb, squeezing sections of the milky way onto her photos like pomegranate seeds, expelling its juice until it stained the skin underneath her nails like beets. The dull, monochromatic desert was different through her lens than it was through the bus window. It was a cemetery for lost memories and monuments, the souls of these stories poured into the stars, the scratches of the milky way from their longing for connection.

She thought of Esen and their daughter, Mélodie, and how the sky looked at home, making her stomach full of hydrangeas whose roots pined for the water that was thousands of miles away. 

“Well,” Sonia rubbed her hands together. “I better get going. Enjoy your night.” She waved to Wilson who lifted his hand in response saying, “see you.” 

August 13, 2021 06:57

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Cathryn V
05:25 Aug 15, 2021

Vivid descriptions! good story too. thanks


Cathryn V
05:26 Aug 15, 2021

tiramisu! Me too! also creme brûlée 😉


Ella Dodge
16:48 Aug 15, 2021

Oooh, love creme brûlée as well! Also thank you for your feedback!


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
02:49 Aug 14, 2021

Beautiful language and imagery. I really enjoyed your interpretation of this prompt!


Ella Dodge
02:51 Aug 14, 2021

Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in Reedsy Studio. 100% free.