He struggled through the drifting waves of coarse white sand. The desert was anonymous- the rocks and sand and scrub and occasional twisted naked tree had taken on the look and feel of everything else… distance fooled his eye, and before long he realized that he was back where he’d first lost his bearings. He was walking over his own footprints.

But then he realized there was something new, as well… he looked again. Another set of prints. Small ones, walking just to the left of his own tracks… always a few feet to the left.

Get up, his inner self told him. Follow them. Hurry. There’s someone else here. Maybe someone who knows which way leads out of this godforsaken featureless hell. So he followed them, racing the setting Sun until:

They ended. Suddenly, they just stopped. Impossible.

And then he knew whose prints they were.

The great ball of fire burned the air as it sank below the sand to the west, and he found himself on his knees, exhausted. Unable to move. More tired than he’d ever been in fifty-odd years. Slowly, blissful oblivion found him. He could feel it seducing him as it came, and he didn’t care. He knew if he lay down he would never get up, and he didn’t care.

He could hear her calling to him out of the blackness. Her image danced in the periphery of his mind. She was tiny, her hair all in ponytails and the rhinestones on her sundress sparkling in the Sunlight. She was smiling, waving. Happy to see her dad’s buddy Ray.

She was happy to see him.

Then the blackness washed over him again. Just flashes now: The truck. Janie’s sweet smile as he drove her home. Highway signs flashing by. Janie’s face, all gone pale now, not happy anymore. The desert road stretching on and on. The flat tire. Janie running. She was fast for such a little thing, but his legs were still longer. One more look on her tiny face, a scared look, and then blackness again. Always blackness in the end.

He’d thought he’d woken up, but he could see Janie leaning over him as he lay there, so he knew he was still asleep, because Janie was dead. She was smiling again, but it was a different smile now. A dark smile.

Her laughter tickled his ears, fading away as he woke up for real this time. Nothing. Not a sound. The desert should have sounds, even at night. He looked around. Little footprints. All around him.

He called her name. He screamed her name. He pleaded with her, lied to her. Anything. He needed her. She came and went as she pleased here. This was her place now, this wasteland. He stood in the dark and listened to her bone china laughter echo over the moonlit dunes, and he knew then in his heart that they would find his bleached bones here one day, half-buried in the sand, but they would never find hers, because she was part of all this now. He’d made her part of it, and now she was going to do the same for him.

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