The hot, red sand crunched underneath his shoes as he continued his march into the hellish heat of the desert. His skin screamed with protest as it slowly roasted under the intense suns. Each step was torture. Sand had breached his hiking boots; effectively turning his socks to sandpaper, slowly and systematically rubbing his ankles raw. His breathing came in ragged, uneven gasps. Dehydration clawed at the back of his throat, made worse by the inhalation of the fine desert dust kicked up by the flurries of dirt devils. His mind had gone numb. He had only one concern.
“Just keep walking, just keep walking, just keep walking. You’ve done this once, you can do it again,” echoed through his head, repeating over and over, like a broken record.
To stop moving forward meant death. To turn back, also, was a death sentence. His only option was to keep going. He patted his pant pocket. A soft tinkering chime could be heard from within. A small, hopeful smile crackled across his dry lips splitting the chapped skin. Blood trickled from the torn skin and down his face, making him look like a savage. Looking up, he took in the monotonous red-tinged landscape. Sand dunes and rock outcrops as far as he could see stared angrily back at him, daring him to continue his trek into their domain. After a moment, the intense sunrays emitting from the dual suns, reflecting off of the crystalline sand became too much for his eyes. He looked back down, pulled his sun goggles out of his backpack, placed them over his eyes, and continued to focus on putting one foot in front of the other. Further and further he journeyed, the desert slowly enveloping him into its vastness.
On and on he traveled, the miles piling up behind him as the suns fell into the western horizon. The desert, so hot and merciless, began to rapidly cool. As the minutes ticked by the man began to feel strange. A new kind of discomfort, a sharp sensation, beginning in his fingers and toes, moving inward towards his torso. His core began to tighten as the sensation moved up into his chest. He could no longer feel the tips of his fingers. Then, suddenly, he began to shake.
“What is happening to me?” he thought.
Just as he began to panic, he realized. He shook his head at his own stupidity. He was cold, that’s all. The intense variation in the temperatures, combined with dehydration and exhaustion, had clouded his thinking to the point of being unable to recognize a sensation as common as lower temperature.
“I need to find a place to rest for the night,” the man thought.
Scanning the landscape by the dim light of the falling suns, he spotted a sandstone bluff riddled with shallow caves, hollowed out by the constant erosion of the wind. It was a perfect place to hole up for the night. The suns continued their decent into the west, one falling faster than the other, as he made his way to his desert motel. By the time he had arrived, the suns were long gone. Navigating by the dim moonlights, the man spied a reasonable sized indention in the cliff; about twelve feet wide and extending a good twenty five feet deep. It was dry, warm, and protected from the chilling wind. There was only one problem. It was about thirteen feet above the man’s head. He had a decision to make. There was one other cave, smaller and low to the ground, that he could take shelter in. It was easier to get to, but, it was also less sheltered and offered a less than ideal view to watch for Hunters. He stood there, silently pondering his decision, as his exhausted body berated him with aching pain for delaying its rest.
“Okay, the cave’s about thirteen feet up, I’m in thirty eight percent E-grav, I can jump . . . shit, what’s my vertical? Forty inches? Let’s go with that. Okay, so that means I can jump . . . about twelve and a half feet. Damn, this is gonna be a close one,” he thought.
He stood there pondering his decision for a few more moments. Then, he made his decision. The man tightened his backpack, took a deep breath, and jumped with all his strength. He sailed up into the air, the wind from his sudden acceleration roaring in his ears. The edge of the cave approached him quickly. Closer and closer it rushed to him; five feet, three feet, one foot, there. Just as his upward movement came to its vertex, the man grabbed hold of the rough sandstone edge. He held on tightly, hands being torn to shreds by the abrasive rock. He hung for a moment, gathering himself. Then, he took a deep breath, pulled himself up and heaved himself into the sanctuary of the cave. He lay on his back, breathing heavily, too tired to do anything other than remove his backpack and put it under his head. The man fell asleep within seconds.