I stand slowly. Although my body is willing, my mind is still stunned. The terrain looks different after the storm. There’s still only sand as far out as I can see, but somehow it’s all changed. That’s one of the amazing things about the desert. It’s constantly shifting, creating a disorienting void of sand and air. An odd balance between life and death.
If It Ain’t One Thing, by Chris Thomas King. The solid thumping reminds me of the task at hand and gets my feet moving steadily. I start slow, trying to breathe through a mouth that I can’t seem to free from sand. Every few steps I find another kernel or fifty make its way to my tongue and I sputter to remove it.
Before long, I’m moving at a good clip, stomping across the desert floor. The heat builds around me quickly and before long I’m pulling off my sweatshirt and stuffing it in my bag. A few minutes later, I pull my T-shirt off and put it on my head, hoping to keep the sun off my face.
Somehow I manage to keep plodding along, although the ground beneath me burns with the intensity of the sun itself. Ten miles at this pace means it should take about an hour and a half to get to the split. It’s possible, but painful.
My throat aches; my lips are cracked. After a half hour of running, the sweat stops flowing down my face. I have finally dried up too much for my body to give out any more of the precious water inside.
I keep running, feeling my destination getting closer; praying the feeling is true. My legs are stiffening. They need rest, they need water. I push through the pain, knowing that at any moment The Geek will give me a status report telling me the cabin is just over the next hill, living on the hope that it will happen soon.
I begin stumbling over the sandy ground, my feet not finding a solid surface. My hands burn on the heated earth each time I have to push myself back to my feet. I take my socks off and wrap them around my hands. They’re dripping with sweat. I briefly consider recycling some of that water before the smell of them hits me.
The sand invades every corner of my being. The sun never leaves my side. There’s not even a single cloud in the sky to give me a break from its burning light.
My run becomes more like an odd bounce step, every movement taking much more energy than it should, but my legs just won’t bend. Finally, I can’t run anymore and I begin crawling. My knees scream at me as the sand burns them through my jeans.
There are more and more hills now, making the trek that much more difficult. My breathing is labored. No matter how much I try, I can’t catch my breath. It’s gone. I reach the top of a dune and my body finally gives out. I collapse, incapable of moving any further. I look up just as the music stops.
“Cy, you’re almost there. It’s just at the top of the next dune, over–” The Geek gasps as he registers exactly what I see in front of me. At the top of the next hill is a raging inferno. Flames cover the hillside, eating up anything they can. Right in the center of the fire I can just barely make out what used to be a building.
Although too dry to sweat, somehow a single tear falls from my eye before instantly getting trapped in the sand covering my face. In front of me I see the last chance I had. The only thing that stood between me and certain death has been destroyed. I bury my face in the sand. The heat from the ground is nothing compared to the heat coming off the flames in front of me or the fire of anguish now raging through my soul.
My eyes bulge as they strain to tear up. I’m crying, but my body is too dry to release even one more drop of moisture. In desperation I cry out to the universe for some sort of miracle to save me from myself, from this stupid idea I had that I could actually finish this run without any help.
My thoughts begin drifting, not making any sense before finally becoming nothing more than a series of images of my life leading up to this moment. Just as I feel the darkness taking over, I hear a voice in my ear.
Go to Chapter Ten