Once Upon A Time: The Desert

English: Sahara desert from space. Русский: Пу...
English: Sahara desert from space. Русский: Пустыня Сахара из космоса. Українська: Пустеля Сахара з космосу. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Utah desert Mist
Utah desert Mist (Photo credit: Loco Steve)

Once upon a time there was a desert. It wasn’t just an expanse of sand, like some deserts. This desert was dotted with cactus plants, and had quite a few rocks still amongst all the sand. There were even some stubs of trees here and there.
But the desert had little water, which is all that mattered to Sidney Carmichael of Fresno as he walked through the desert. Sidney’s car had overheated just south of nowhere and at least a hundred miles from anywhere but here. His cell phone couldn’t pick up any towers out here, and then the battery had died. Sidney had wasted a few hours trying to get the car battery to recharge his cell phone. He’d thought about staying with the car but thought it through and realized that no one would be looking for him for a few days.
The problem wasn’t that Sidney drove used cars between states to make a little cash. It was that Sidney liked to party, and would often be a few days late to the next dealer. They’d learned to use him only when a car could take a little time getting from one place to another. So no one would come looking for Sidney for at least a week. And all they would be looking for is Sidney’s car, not him.
People cared about Sidney. His on-again off-again girlfriend cared about him, but she knew he was off working. His mother cared about him, and would start to worry when he didn’t call on Sunday. But even then he’d been known to not call for weeks. So no one would be looking for him in the sort of time frame he needed to get water to save his life.
Sidney had liquid in the car. Three beers and a zero-nothing-fake-sugar cola that he’d grabbed by accident at the last gas station. The beers he’d drunk while waiting for his cell phone to charge. He brought the cola with him, looking like a deranged sightseer wandering the desert with his beverage of choice.
The desert went on to the horizon. As Sidney trudged along, he thought about dying. Maybe the most disturbing thing was that he wasn’t too terribly upset about the whole death part. He wasn’t looking forward to the being really thirsty part. But a perverse part of him was sort of looking forward to the delusions and seeing hallucinations part.
Sidney saw a gas station up ahead. He was almost certain it hadn’t been there before. But he broke into a trot even as he thought to himself that he was hallucinating.
In Sidney’s pocket, his cell phone rang. Even as he thought that his battery was dead, Sidney answered it: “hello?”
“Don’t go into the gas station, Sidney.” Said the voice at the other end.
“Who is this?” asked Sidney. “Can you send help? Do you have my GPS location?” The line went dead.
Sidney slowed down to a walk. A strange warning. Maybe this was one of those B-horror film gas stations with some sort of killer in the back. And maybe the caller would send someone to get him. “And maybe,” said a small voice in the back of his mind, “I’m just hallucinating like crazy while I’m walking down a deserted desert road.”
There didn’t seem to be anything to do but go into the gas station. Sidney approached it with caution, but it looked like a very normal gas station. It wasn’t decayed or full of tumbleweeds. The attached minimart had lights on inside, and there was even cleaning fluid and new squeegees in a bucket next to the pumps.
Sidney pushed open the door cautiously. The man behind the counter seemed about middle aged, with glasses and slightly balding. He looked up at Sidney. “If you keep going this way, you’re going to die.” Sidney backed toward the door hastily. “Now,” said the man, “if you went back to your car you’d die too. So I understand why you made the choices you did so far.”
Sidney stopped, his hand on the door. The possibly crazy gas station guy stayed seated behind the counter. “Now,” he said to Sidney, “if you head out that door now you’ll likely run into some giant scorpion or something. The hallucinating brain tends to play up the melodramatic. What I’d recommend is getting yourself a shovel over there in the corner, then going out and whacking at some of that cactus. There’s moisture inside, and you can eat the red bits if you peel off the outside. It will be hard, but I’d do that and stay with your car. You know they’ll be along for you eventually.”
Sidney walked over to the corner and pulled out a shovel. When he looked back at the counter, there was no counter. It was just desert. Looking down at his hand, Sidney saw that the shovel was still there, just as new as the day it was made.
They found Sidney sleeping in his car a week later. He was crazy from thirst and full of cactus bristles, but he was alive. His friends wondered at his foresight, bringing along a new shovel like that. Sidney never told anyone about the gas station. It had just been an hallucination, after all.

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