You can see forever across a desert. The heat shimmers up from the ground in unending tan waves, broken by the occasional outcropping of rock or straight spear of a cactus.
The sun hurts your eyes as you gaze upon the scrub and the sand. It’s too bright, with no clouds to break it’s assault on your body and it reflects off the unrelenting sameness. You find yourself looking towards the distant mountains to give your eyes some relief. There, at least, there are greens, blues and ice-cold white.
It looks cool and refreshing and I resist the urge to lick my lips.
No moisture in the air makes your mouth dry and it’s possible to talk yourself to death before you know it. I’m glad there’s no one here to tempt me.
I’ve taken shelter under a lonely tree. It’s been twisted by the wind and heat but it provides sparse cover from the sun. It’s not much but I call it home.
Once home meant companionship, non-searing sunshine and a nice house; but no more. The shadow of the tree is my castle, even if my castle does have to shift as the sun crosses the sky.
I take frequent but small sips from my water bottle as I lie in my shady spot. I’d found a small spit of water not far from my new abode which is one of the reasons I’d chosen the tree as my new residence.
If I’d had any moisture in my body when I’d found the tiny flow I’d have cried with relief, but had had to settle for making horrid dry crying sounds that still scared me when I thought about them. That had been the closest call of many.
I’m not sure how long I can survive here. I don’t call it living because I know I’m barely hanging on but it beats the alternative. Besides I don’t think there’s anywhere livable anymore. The best I can hope for is survival.
Sometimes I wonder what’s the point of even that. Surviving, I mean. If there’s no one or nothing to go back to, why do I bother trying to stay alive.
But even here, in this desolate place, with my throat feeling like gravel and skin slowly turning to bad leather I find reasons to keep going. Today I found 3 eggs, not sure from what but I didn’t care. I fried them on a sun-heated rock and thought them the most delicious things I’d ever eaten. I’d thought cooking things with the sun was just an urban legend until I got here. It’s an imperfect way of cooking but for items like the eggs it works just fine.
I do have a fire. I try to avoid it during the day but am glad to have it at night. The sands cannot hold the heat of the day and with the sun gone it becomes bitterly cold. At night I relocate my fire and curl up heated sand. With my blankets and my coat I almost stay warm until morning. Almost.
When the chill finally forces me to move again, and before the sun arises to make the day unbearable, I emerge from my bedding to check my traps and gather the days water supply.
I’ve tried to avoid making a trail but today I see that I’ve left traces that I come this way often. I’ll move my traps to different locations. I’m pretty sure I’ve played out the areas they’re in anyway. This might be a lean day for eating.
I take my time on my rounds, a misstep here means death and it most likely wouldn’t be a quick and painless one. Even something as minor as a sprained ankle can be fatal, there are other dangers in the desert besides heat. Dangers I need to be able-bodied to avoid or fight off.
I try to avoid kicking up dust or making too much noise as I make my way to the rivulet. Attracting attention is a bad way to start the day. I’ve been here 6 weeks now and have gotten good at sneaking, so I made it without any issues.
I refilled my bottles and took a long drink. I should be boiling the water but had so few containers I couldn’t risk ruining any and had been taking my chances. I’d had a day or so of diarrhea at first, losing fluid I really couldn’t afford, but that had passed and I’d been fine since then. I hoped that was as bad as I got from drinking the water straight but had no way to tell. So I drank and prayed and pushed on.
The closest trap to the water hole wasn’t far, but wasn’t nut-to-butt with the water either. I didn’t want some animal looking for water grabbing a snack at my expense as well. I step over the spit of water and climb a short hill, watching where I place my hands and feet. A scorpion sting would be bad enough, but there were also rattlesnakes about. They’d still be sluggish from the cold night but that wouldn’t save me if I put my hand on one.
As I had suspected, the trap was empty. Even the bait, a bit of the egg, is untouched. I dismantle the trap, gather up the materials and start scouting around for a new location. The sun had risen turning the sky red. Yeah, this wasn’t going to be a good day. Red sky in morning, sailors take warning. There would be a storm later. Desert storms are infrequent but torrential when they do occur.
A noise I hadn’t heard in weeks drew my attention. It was an engine. A truck or maybe sand buggy from the sound. Did I dare flag them down and find out what was happening in the world or did I stay isolated and safe?
Still unsure I followed the noise, but kept to the shadows and avoided silhouetting myself against the now blue sky. I’d lost time taking apart my trap and was getting farther behind tracking down the motor. The sun would be scorching soon and here I was moving away from my shelter.
Fool! I called myself. A storm coming, the sun rising and I’m checking out someone I may or may not want to talk to.
But still I keep moving. I can see the dust cloud now, it’s coming my direction. I squat down, watching the truck get closer and closer. Flag them down or no?
I hadn’t realized how lonely I was until I’d seen the truck, but now all I wanted to do was wave the driver down and have a conversation with someone other than myself.
I took a deep breath, removed my shirt, stood up and raised the shirt about my head, signaling the driver to stop. For better or worse, my isolation was at an end.