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Lost in the Desert
It was dry, so bitterly dry. But at least it wasn’t scorchingly hot anymore; that had been mid-afternoon. Nadine turned glazed eyes to the west, where the pulsating ball of white-hot flame was about to set. It would soon be night time, followed by inky darkness and frigid cold.
Nadine’s scarred, bare foot sank into the sand for the thousandth time, marking yet another step in her endless journey. All around her stretched waves and waves of golden dunes, a lifeless world. She had been wandering for three days, separated from her tourist group by a freak sandstorm.
The water bottle had long been depleted. A day ago Nadine had suffered terribly from thirst, with every swallow as painful as ingesting a knife, but the only feeling she had now was in her legs, which autonomously put one foot in front of the other.
No more, no more! every fiber of her body protested. Sooner or later, she knew she would need to oblige, but not quite yet. Just a few more steps… and then… then what? After all, what were the chances of getting rescued?
Nadine’s legs collapsed underneath her. She was left lying face down on the warm sand, inhaling wisps of air through chapped, bleeding lips. This wasn’t too bad, she reasoned. Soon it would be night, and she would die in peace. Her eyelids fluttered closed, waiting for the inevitable. A small section of her mind wondered what happened after death, before she fell unconscious.
* * *
Chak chak chak. Nadine frowned at the noise, her eyes still closed. Surely she wasn’t dead yet? With the greatest effort of her life, she raised her head.
There, not ten centimeters from her face, was a little sand-colored humanoid, only a fingers-length tall.
Nadine smiled sleepily. As a last gift before death, her brain was entertaining her with hallucinations. She was even more delighted with her imagination when it spoke.
“Chak chak chak,” it sighed, shaking its head. Evidently, it chittered to show its disapproval. “You looked like a nice human.”
Nadine said nothing. What would her mind conjure up next?
“I can save your life, if you want it.”
Her sand-streaked eyebrow rose up.
“I know, I know, you think I’m a hallucination. That’s what all those poor, dying devils think when sand nymphs run into them. But they’re usually gone before we can strike a deal.”
Nadine frowned; this was getting strange, even for her.
“You see, sand nymphs are only allowed out of the desert when they save a human. In return, however, I stay with you for the rest of your life. Are you willing to do that?”
It couldn’t hurt. Nadine grunted, which felt like coughing up a shard of glass.
The nymph was delighted. “Brilliant!” he trilled. “Wait till I tell all my friends that I’ve seen the outside world!”
* * *
Nadine awoke in one momentous burst of energy. She leapt out of the bed, gasping like a drowning victim.
But reality kicked in quickly. After a few wild minutes collecting her senses, thirst compelled Nadine to the bathroom.
The faucet streamed with that precious liquid crystal. Nadine cupped handfuls of water and drank until she could hold no more. She looked at her crazed, drenched face in the mirror. “Just a dream,” she repeated, again and again like a mantra. She was at home, safe and alive. Just a dream.
Until a tinny voice from her bathtub edge said, “Well, here we are; I saved your life. Where are we going first?”