Wheee, this was funnnnnn! And it requires another warning about strong language. ;)
Joanna awoke on a titanic swell of sand, coughing and spluttering and squinting in the sunlight.
Only one of her eyes could see. The other eye was half-buried in sand, along with half of the rest of her. She imagined that a great wave had washed over and around her, swirling up cubic metres of wet sand that had opted to mould to her.
She pushed herself slowly onto one elbow. It seemed to take the most monumental of efforts just to get that far up. Her sand blanket didn't want to let her go. It sucked at her as she broke away.
It was no longer a matter of spluttering. This was what Joanna would call outright gasping for air. She had exhausted herself just trying to sit up.
But finally she was sitting up, and she was looking around. And what a sight to see.
This was the biggest dune her mind could fathom. She was right at its peak, gazing out over an endless series of sand waves. Except it wasn't quite endless. She saw a strange horizon, every direction she looked. East, towards the rising sun, was a strangely glassy haze. Beyond that glassy surface she saw the blazing light of summer's sun. When she looked away, the vision was imprinted on her retina.
Behind her, to the west, was a similar sight—that same glassy haze in the distance, but with no sun blaring its fiery intent. What is this strange place? Joanna wondered, but she had only just started to learn how strange a place it really was.
Turning to the south, her jaw dropped nearly to her chest and she staggered to her feet, swaying on the spot in disbelief at what she saw.
A great huge swirling circle made up everything to the south, a circle reaching to the clouds above. But it wasn't swirling—it just looked like it should be. She kept blinking, wondering why it wasn't turning. It looked like a giant whirlpool, turned on its side. But it was transparent and shimmering, like the sky to the east and west. Except for the great shadows, which made concentric circular lines from the centre outward.
She realised she wanted to cry. Surely this was outer space, some frightening alien planet she had somehow been transported to. Surely she was dreaming. Yes, I'm dreaming, she thought with relief. Well, nightmaring… But the sun begged to differ. It glared down angrily from the sky, rising to its zenith with renewed determination and a surge of hot pride. Joanna was an ant in its path—it pulsed down on her and made her skin sizzle.
"Ahhh!" she cried out, eyes tearing at the pain, and the sun relented. For the time being, at least.
Will you trust that you are not dreaming, now? the sun asked.
"Yes, yes, I'll trust it!" Joanna cried, tears streaming down her burned cheeks. But I don't have to like it! she wanted to yell after that, but she wisely kept quiet.
And that was when she realised she was facing north.
A slow frown stole over her face as she took in what she was seeing up there.
A sand storm was in full effect, and as distant as it was, she could hear its roar even here. It wasn't moving, just staying where it was and wreaking havoc. But something told Joanna she needed to head towards it.
You're a fool!
That was not the sun talking. It was Joanna's own mind, trying to change itself. But she was determined to go with her instincts, which told her the sand storm held all the answers.
She began the long journey across the sand dunes, heading for the storm to the north.
Something strange began to happen the further she walked. The east and west horizons seemed to draw nearer, as if the world were narrowing and preparing to meet in the middle. Maybe it would meet at the sandstorm? Joanna could well imagine that turning out to be the case. She kept on walking, wishing for water but not daring to complain out loud, or even in her mind—the sun had heard her thoughts last time. It was sneaky and clever.
It didn't burn her as much as it had for that one hellish sizzling moment, but she knew now what it was capable of. She had never hated the sun, at least she didn't remember having hated it; but she might have to rethink that stance in future. When it was safe for her to rethink anything.
When she had been walking an hour, she spotted strange objects in the distance. They looked like great boulders, but they had a strange pattern on them. Half an hour more and she drew within reach of one such boulder. She frowned as she stumbled over to it and reached out a wary finger to touch it.
It was cork. As from a wine bottle.
Well, that was just stupid.
You think so?! the sun raged, and suddenly Joanna was writhing on the ground, skin blistering from way too much UV exposure. She loosed the most spine-tingling scream she'd ever head from anyone—even in the movies and TV shows she loved to watch—and was amazed she was capable of it. "Stop!!" she bellowed at last, and the sun dropped its laser raygun, tucked away its sunbeams and turned its back on her. Purple-black clouds were gathering on the distant horizon to the north-east, and then they were rumbling across the sky in her direction, rolling in at an astounding rate.
WTF? she thought, and suddenly heard a strange sound she couldn't at first credit. A sniffing sound, as of someone acting all pissed off. It was coming from the sky directly overhead. From the sun.
The sun appeared to be…sulking.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" Joanna demanded, climbing to her feet and wincing at the blisters she had on them now. "You're the damn sun! You're not meant to sulk!"
Go away, the sun pouted, and the clouds kept rolling in.
Joanna welcomed them, and she forgot all about the stupid sulky sun. "Let it rain!" she cried.
And heard the sun sniffling again.
She rolled her eyes and waited.
It rained, it poured, it rumbled, but none of it reached Joanna. She stared in confusion and finally frustration as the rain drenched the horizon but refused to come anywhere near her. "Why?" she asked miserably. Then she frowned, realising what she was seeing.
Rain, pouring down a surface.
A glassy surface.
The horizons were made of glass.
And there were cork rocks all around.
She turned to the north, and saw that the sandstorm had died. She saw a circular opening awaiting her. It was half-filled with rubble—cork rubble—from what appeared to be a giant crumbled cork. From a wine bottle.
What…the fuck, she thought dully.
"How the hell did I get into a bottle?"
But nobody answered.
The sun was sulking, the rain was preoccupied with wetting everything outside the bottle, and suddenly the world lurched under Joanna's feet, lurched and began to tilt dangerously.
Soon she had much more to contend with than just tilting. Her world was rolling, it was a sandy inferno without the flame. The sun had gone away, and there was only the storm, which loved to play but only by its own rules.
End over end, the bottle rolled down the hard-packed sand, heading for the deadly surf.