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The red desert stretched out for miles around her, dunes rising and falling like waves in some alien ocean. Dry clumps of grass and scrub pushed through the sand and cracked soil, and heat made the ground shimmer.

She had been here ten years ago as a child. At the time she wanted nothing more than to go home and get away from the fact that her life was falling apart. People, she now knew, were not always good. She had prayed to a god for the first time in this desert.

She could see herself: she was the portrait of a woman frozen in time, which was, she felt, the way it should be. That was what the desert did. There was something about the purity of it, the way it couldn’t be touched by humans like a forest or a prairie. If you destroyed the desert it would always remind you of what you had done. The heat would burn your skin, there wouldn’t be enough water for you to drink, so you would remember and you would have to pay.

Her bones felt solid.

Justice: this is true justice, she thought, because someplace like this wasn’t all caught up in rules and evidence and proof—if you knew something to be true it was true; no one was here to tell you any different. The indiscriminate hand of nature punished and rewarded everyone equally. There was no way to game the system. If anything bad happened, it wasn’t on purpose because nothing here was evil the same way people could be evil. Nothing here was cruel. Things just happened or didn’t happen.

Ten years ago she wanted nothing more than to leave, but since she set foot in that poisoned house again she had been consumed by a desire to return here. There was a humming in her brain. Images of the desert were burned into her eyelids.

She sat for a long time.

There were no answers here, which didn’t surprise her, because that would require some sort of thought; it just didn’t matter anymore.

It was cold now.





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