So, there’s a man crawling through the desert.
He’d decided to try his SUV in a little bit of cross-country travel, had
great fun zooming over the badlands and through the sand, got lost, hit a
big rock, and then he couldn’t get it started again. There were no cell
phone towers anywhere near, so his cell phone was useless. He had no family,
his parents had died a few years before in an auto accident, and his few
friends had no idea he was out here.
He stayed with the car for a day or so, but his one bottle of water ran out
and he was getting thirsty. He thought maybe he knew the direction back, now
that he’d paid attention to the sun and thought he’d figured out which way
was north, so he decided to start walking. He figured he only had to go
about 30 miles or so and he’d be back to the small town he’d gotten gas in
He thinks about walking at night to avoid the heat and sun, but based upon
how dark it actually was the night before, and given that he has no
flashlight, he’s afraid that he’ll break a leg or step on a rattlesnake. So,
he puts on some sun block, puts the rest in his pocket for reapplication
later, brings an umbrella he’d had in the back of the SUV with him to give
him a little shade, pours the windshield wiper fluid into his water bottle
in case he gets that desperate, brings his pocket knife in case he finds a
cactus that looks like it might have water in it, and heads out in the
direction he thinks is right.
He walks for the entire day. By the end of the day he’s really thirsty. He’s
been sweating all day, and his lips are starting to crack. He’s reapplied
the sunblock twice, and tried to stay under the umbrella, but he still feels
sunburned. The windshield wiper fluid sloshing in the bottle in his pocket
is really getting tempting now. He knows that it’s mainly water and some
ethanol and coloring, but he also knows that they add some kind of poison to
it to keep people from drinking it. He wonders what the poison is, and
whether the poison would be worse than dying of thirst.
He pushes on, trying to get to that small town before dark.
By the end of the day he starts getting worried. He figures he’s been
walking at least 3 miles an hour, according to his watch for over 10 hours.
That means that if his estimate was right that he should be close to the
town. But he doesn’t recognize any of this. He had to cross a dry creek bed
a mile or two back, and he doesn’t remember coming through it in the SUV. He
figures that maybe he got his direction off just a little and that the dry
creek bed was just off to one side of his path. He tells himself that he’s
close, and that after dark he’ll start seeing the town lights over one of
these hills, and that’ll be all he needs.
As it gets dim enough that he starts stumbling over small rocks and things,
he finds a spot and sits down to wait for full dark and the town lights.
Full dark comes before he knows it. He must have dozed off. He stands back
up and turns all the way around. He sees nothing but stars.
He wakes up the next morning feeling absolutely lousy. His eyes are gummy
and his mouth and nose feel like they’re full of sand. He so thirsty that he
can’t even swallow. He barely got any sleep because it was so cold. He’d
forgotten how cold it got at night in the desert and hadn’t noticed it the
night before because he’d been in his car.
He knows the Rule of Threes - three minutes without air, three days without
water, three weeks without food - then you die. Some people can make it a
little longer, in the best situations. But the desert heat and having to
walk and sweat isn’t the best situation to be without water. He figures,
unless he finds water, this is his last day.
He rinses his mouth out with a little of the windshield wiper fluid. He
waits a while after spitting that little bit out, to see if his mouth goes
numb, or he feels dizzy or something. Has his mouth gone numb? Is it just in
his mind? He’s not sure. He’ll go a little farther, and if he still doesn’t
find water, he’ll try drinking some of the fluid.
Then he has to face his next, harder question - which way does he go from
here? Does he keep walking the same way he was yesterday (assuming that he
still knows which way that is), or does he try a new direction? He has no
idea what to do.
Looking at the hills and dunes around him, he thinks he knows the direction
he was heading before. Just going by a feeling, he points himself somewhat
to the left of that, and starts walking.
As he walks, the day starts heating up. The desert, too cold just a couple
of hours before, soon becomes an oven again. He sweats a little at first,
and then stops. He starts getting worried at that - when you stop sweating
he knows that means you’re in trouble - usually right before heat stroke.
He decides that it’s time to try the windshield wiper fluid. He can’t wait
any longer - if he passes out, he’s dead. He stops in the shade of a large
rock, takes the bottle out, opens it, and takes a mouthful. He slowly
swallows it, making it last as long as he can. It feels so good in his dry
and cracked throat that he doesn’t even care about the nasty taste. He takes
another mouthful, and makes it last too. Slowly, he drinks half the bottle.
He figures that since he’s drinking it, he might as well drink enough to
make some difference and keep himself from passing out.
He’s quit worrying about the denaturing of the wiper fluid. If it kills him,
it kills him - if he didn’t drink it, he’d die anyway. Besides, he’s pretty
sure that whatever substance they denature the fluid with is just designed
to make you sick - their way of keeping winos from buying cheap wiper fluid
for the ethanol content. He can handle throwing up, if it comes to that.
He walks. He walks in the hot, dry, windless desert. Sand, rocks, hills,
dunes, the occasional scrawny cactus or dried bush. No sign of water.
Sometimes he’ll see a little movement to one side or the other, but whatever
moved is usually gone before he can focus his eyes on it. Probably birds,
lizards, or mice. Maybe snakes, though they usually move more at night. He’s
careful to stay away from the movements.
After a while, he begins to stagger. He’s not sure if it’s fatigue, heat
stroke finally catching him, or maybe he was wrong and the denaturing of the
wiper fluid was worse than he thought. He tries to steady himself, and keep
After more walking, he comes to a large stretch of sand. This is good! He
knows he passed over a stretch of sand in the SUV - he remembers doing
donuts in it. Or at least he thinks he remembers it - he’s getting woozy
enough and tired enough that he’s not sure what he remembers any more or if
he’s hallucinating. But he thinks he remembers it. So he heads off into it,
trying to get to the other side, hoping that it gets him closer to the town.
He was heading for a town, wasn’t he? He thinks he was. He isn’t sure any
more. He’s not even sure how long he’s been walking any more. Is it still
morning? Or has it moved into afternoon and the sun is going down again? It
must be afternoon - it seems like it’s been too long since he started out.
He walks through the sand.
After a while, he comes to a big dune in the sand. This is bad. He doesn’t
remember any dunes when driving over the sand in his SUV. Or at least he
doesn’t think he remembers any. This is bad.
But, he has no other direction to go. Too late to turn back now. He figures
that he’ll get to the top of the dune and see if he can see anything from
there that helps him find the town. He keeps going up the dune.
Halfway up, he slips in the bad footing of the sand for the second or third
time, and falls to his knees. He doesn’t feel like getting back up - he’ll
just fall down again. So, he keeps going up the dune on his hand and knees.
While crawling, if his throat weren’t so dry, he’d laugh. He’s finally
gotten to the hackneyed image of a man lost in the desert - crawling through
the sand on his hands and knees. If would be the perfect image, he imagines,
if only his clothes were more ragged. The people crawling through the desert
in the cartoons always had ragged clothes. But his have lasted without any
rips so far. Somebody will probably find his dessicated corpse half buried
in the sand years from now, and his clothes will still be in fine shape -
shake the sand out, and a good wash, and they’d be wearable again. He wishes
his throat were wet enough to laugh. He coughs a little instead, and it
He finally makes it to the top of the sand dune. Now that he’s at the top,
he struggles a little, but manages to stand up and look around. All he sees
is sand. Sand, and more sand. Behind him, about a mile away, he thinks he
sees the rocky ground he left to head into this sand. Ahead of him, more
dunes, more sand. This isn’t where he drove his SUV. This is Hell. Or close
Again, he doesn’t know what to do. He decides to drink the rest of the wiper
fluid while figuring it out. He takes out the bottle, and is removing the
cap, when he glances to the side and sees something. Something in the sand.
At the bottom of the dune, off to the side, he sees something strange. It’s
a flat area, in the sand. He stops taking the cap of the bottle off, and
tries to look closer. The area seems to be circular. And it’s dark - darker
than the sand. And, there seems to be something in the middle of it, but he
can’t tell what it is. He looks as hard as he can, and still can tell from
here. He’s going to have to go down there and look.
He puts the bottle back in his pocket, and starts to stumble down the dune.
After a few steps, he realizes that he’s in trouble - he’s not going to be
able to keep his balance. After a couple of more sliding, tottering steps,
he falls and starts to roll down the dune. The sand it so hot when his body
hits it that for a minute he thinks he’s caught fire on the way down - like
a movie car wreck flashing into flames as it goes over the cliff, before it
ever even hits the ground. He closes his eyes and mouth, covers his face
with his hands, and waits to stop rolling.
He stops, at the bottom of the dune. After a minute or two, he finds enough
energy to try to sit up and get the sand out of his face and clothes. When
he clears his eyes enough, he looks around to make sure that the dark spot
in the sand it still there and he hadn’t just imagined it.
So, seeing the large, flat, dark spot on the sand is still there, he begins
to crawl towards it. He’d get up and walk towards it, but he doesn’t seem to
have the energy to get up and walk right now. He must be in the final stages
of dehydration he figures, as he crawls. If this place in the sand doesn’t
have water, he’ll likely never make it anywhere else. This is his last
He gets closer and closer, but still can’t see what’s in the middle of the
dark area. His eyes won’t quite focus any more for some reason. And lifting
his head up to look takes so much effort that he gives up trying. He just
Finally, he reaches the area he’d seen from the dune. It takes him a minute
of crawling on it before he realizes that he’s no longer on sand - he’s now
crawling on some kind of dark stone. Stone with some kind of marking on it -
a pattern cut into the stone. He’s too tired to stand up and try to see what
the pattern is - so he just keeps crawling. He crawls towards the center,
where his blurry eyes still see something in the middle of the dark stone
His mind, detached in a strange way, notes that either his hands and knees
are so burnt by the sand that they no longer feel pain, or that this dark
stone, in the middle of a burning desert with a pounding, punishing sun
overhead, doesn’t seem to be hot. It almost feels cool. He considers lying
down on the nice cool surface.
Cool, dark stone. Not a good sign. He must be hallucinating this. He’s
probably in the middle of a patch of sand, already lying face down and
dying, and just imagining this whole thing. A desert mirage. Soon the
beautiful women carrying pitchers of water will come up and start giving him
a drink. Then he’ll know he’s gone.
He decides against laying down on the cool stone. If he’s going to die here
in the middle of this hallucination, he at least wants to see what’s in the
center before he goes. He keeps crawling.
It’s the third time that he hears the voice before he realizes what he’s
hearing. He would swear that someone just said, “Greetings, traveler. You do
not look well. Do you hear me?”
He stops crawling. He tries to look up from where he is on his hands and
knees, but it’s too much effort to lift his head. So he tries something
different - he leans back and tries to sit up on the stone. After a few
seconds, he catches his balance, avoids falling on his face, sits up, and
tries to focus his eyes. Blurry. He rubs his eyes with the back of his hands
and tries again. Better this time.
Yep. He can see. He’s sitting in the middle of a large, flat, dark expanse
of stone. Directly next to him, about three feet away, is a white post or
pole about two inches in diameter and sticking up about four or five feet
out of the stone, at an angle.
And wrapped around this white rod, tail with rattle on it hovering and
seeming to be ready to start rattling, is what must be a fifteen foot long
desert diamondback rattlesnake, looking directly at him.
He stares at the snake in shock. He doesn’t have the energy to get up and
run away. He doesn’t even have the energy to crawl away. This is it, his
final resting place. No matter what happens, he’s not going to be able to
move from this spot.
Well, at least dying of a bite from this monster should be quicker than
dying of thirst. He’ll face his end like a man. He struggles to sit up a
little straighter. The snake keeps watching him. He lifts one hand and waves
it in the snake’s direction, feebly. The snake watches the hand for a
moment, then goes back to watching the man, looking into his eyes.
Hmmm. Maybe the snake had no interest in biting him? It hadn’t rattled yet -
that was a good sign. Maybe he wasn’t going to die of snake bite after all.
He then remembers that he’d looked up when he’d reached the center here
because he thought he’d heard a voice. He was still very woozy - he was
likely to pass out soon, the sun still beat down on him even though he was
now on cool stone. He still didn’t have anything to drink. But maybe he had
actually heard a voice. This stone didn’t look natural. Nor did that white
post sticking up out of the stone. Someone had to have built this. Maybe
they were still nearby. Maybe that was who talked to him. Maybe this snake
was even their pet, and that’s why it wasn’t biting.
He tries to clear his throat to say, “Hello,” but his throat is too dry. All
that comes out is a coughing or wheezing sound. There is no way he’s going
to be able to talk without something to drink. He feels his pocket, and the
bottle with the wiper fluid is still there. He shakily pulls the bottle out,
almost losing his balance and falling on his back in the process. This isn’t
good. He doesn’t have much time left, by his reckoning, before he passes
He gets the lid off of the bottle, manages to get the bottle to his lips,
and pours some of the fluid into his mouth. He sloshes it around, and then
swallows it. He coughs a little. His throat feels better. Maybe he can talk
He tries again. Ignoring the snake, he turns to look around him, hoping to
spot the owner of this place, and croaks out, “Hello? Is there anyone here?”
He hears, from his side, “Greetings. What is it that you want?”
He turns his head, back towards the snake. That’s where the sound had seemed
to come from. The only thing he can think of is that there must be a
speaker, hidden under the snake, or maybe built into that post. He decides
to try asking for help.
“Please,” he croaks again, suddenly feeling dizzy, “I’d love to not be
thirsty any more. I’ve been a long time without water. Can you help me?”
Looking in the direction of the snake, hoping to see where the voice was
coming from this time, he is shocked to see the snake rear back, open its
mouth, and speak. He hears it say, as the dizziness overtakes him and he
falls forward, face first on the stone, “Very well. Coming up.”