Mirror in the Desert
This is a little something I wrote some time ago, about a man with no memories who wakes up in a desert.
It was so hot. All he knew was that he had to keep walking, slogging through the sultry wind and buffeting sands. His bare feet were burned and raw, the hot sand tearing into him with each step. His khaki shorts provided little protection; each gust of wind threw daggers of sand into his shins and ankles. He didnít care, all he knew was that he had to keep going. He didnít know why. He didnít even know his destination, and he couldnít remember where he had started. How long had he been walking? He could see the heat radiating off the red desert sands, humid and suffocating.
He looked ahead, weary from the long trek, and cringed seeing the massive sand dune standing between him and where he knew his destination must be. He didnít know where that certainty came from, or how he knew where to go but not where he was going. He had the fleeting thought that perhaps the colossal dune was a mirage, a trick of his exhausted eyes. No, it was indeed there. Could he go around it? He sighed despairingly, knowing he couldnít. He shut his eyes tightly, seeking to moisten them by a measure. They were so dehydrated, his eyes burned with the small bit of moisture he afforded them.
There was nothing more for him to do but climb. He started his way up, each step sending pins and needles up his spine. He forged his way up the massive dune, often slipping in the quicksilver sands, very quickly tearing the skin from his knees. He was nearly at the top when a particularly powerful gust of wind hit his back, forcing him to flatten against the duneís flank. He tried to continue, but found he couldnít muster the strength to stand back up, the blistering sand sucking the energy from his body.
I will die here, he thought. I will die and no one will be the wiser. A horrifying image flashed through his mind of his carcass left in the desert sands, being picked clean by carrion and buried in the shifting sands. The revulsion of that thought pulled him back from dis desperation. Not like that. I will not die without ever laying my eyes upon my prize. I will not be forgotten. Still unable to stand himself up, he began to crawl.
He all but collapsed when he reached the peak. He couldnít make himself look down yet, for fear of not catching sight of his destination. His hands and feet now bled, and his knees were completely numb, the sand having torn away more skin than he had thought possible. I will die before I ever make it down if I donít stop the bleeding. He took his shirt from his back, though it was inundated with sweat and he was unsure if that could cause infection, and tore it into strips to use as bandages.
After stopping the more excessive bleeding and resting until he caught his breath, he finally allowed himself to look down the dune he had just climbed. Elation coursed through him as he spotted it. There, at the bottom of the valley was a stone temple somehow sitting above the sand. Shaded by a roof held up by Ionian pillars, it was not only where he would find his prize, he was sure, but a sanctuary from the blaze of the sun. How long has it been there? It certainly looked old thanks in part to the architecture, but more likely due to the wornness of it. With missing roof slats, chipped and missing pillars, and crumbled edges worn away by the tenacious wind.
His treasure was there. It must be his. He had trekked a long way forÖ For what? He knew there was something. He knew it was his. Newfound strength welled up from within him, forcing him forward. He began his treacherous decent, all thoughts on his prize. He found thanks to the steepness of this side of the dune, he often had to slow his pace, sometimes resorting to a slow scuttle on his behind. It was taking far longer to get back down than it had coming up. Strange how coming back down is so much harder than climbing up, he thought. His hands were being roasted every time he had to resort to his crawl, the particles of sand leaving them pockmarked and red.
As he got closer to the bottom his confidence grew with his excitement. He was so close. So intent on his goal he lost the attention on the ground below him, and one misstep sent him tumbling. His only thought was to protect his neck as he plummeted down the side of the massive dune, sacrificing one of his arms, a wrist and his ankle to do so. He felt each of them break as they hit the hard, unyielding sand. He blacked out before reaching the bottom, spared the pain of the rest of the fall.
His awoke at the bottom of the dune, his spill having carried him all the way down. His neck was unbroken, he was alive. He didnít know how long he had been out, but the blinding pain ringing through his body told him it hadnít been long enough. The sun was still high in the sky, he noticed, momentarily wondering if it had moved at all since he could remember walking. But it had to have moved, he thought, I have been walking for hours. He couldnít keep his thoughts straight enough to wonder any further about the sun; instead he closed his eyes to the harsh glare of its immobile bulk. Its penetrating rays gave him no peace, and the rods and cones in his eyes continued to fire, creating a light show beneath his eyelids.
Breathing hurt. Each heartbeat seemed to wrack his body with pain, that small movement too much for his bruised and damaged frame. His destination was so close, but he couldnít even turn his head to look at it. By the time he gathered enough strength to move, he would be dead. The image of his own rotten body being picked clean by crows flashed again through his mind. He would be forgotten, eaten by the sands that had already torn his body to pieces.
Forgotten, but by whom, he wondered. Who would remember me when I donít even know who I am? He tried to remember something about himself, beyond having to reach that altar. He knew he was a ďheĒ, but had no name to remember. Where was he from? What was he good at, other than getting lost and dying in deserts? How did he get to the desert in the first place? It felt like a surreal dream, but he knew it wasnít. This was real. It had to be. He had felt the sand burn him, felt his bones break, felt the bruises forming as he lay in the sand. Did he even have a God to pray to, now that he was dying?
Perhaps that was what the treasure was for! His mind turned excitedly to that possibility. It could tell him everything, who he was, why he was there, every question that had plagued him since his trek began. He would survive this.
He opened his eyes, forcing himself to ignore the pain as he began trying to sit up. It took him a long time and many pain-wracked cries, but he soon discovered his left arm was broken at both the arm and wrist. It was useless. His other arm was miraculously free of any breaks, although bruised very deeply at the shoulder. His pelvis was bruised as well, but thankfully unbroken. His right leg was the leg he had felt break, and it looked like that ankle was broken too. He must have fallen crooked, breaking his opposite arm and leg. He looked back at the dune, imagining himself bouncing down its side like a tumbleweed.
He turned away from that image looking instead to his destination. It was right there, he knew. It? What was it he had traveled here for? Why were his memories so clouded? Was there magic involved? There would have to be magic involved, he thought, to explain this strange situation I have found myself in. There was no other option. Plus, he knew his treasure was magic. He knew not what it was, what it looked like, or what it did, but he knew it was magic. He had to get it. He needed it. If he could only get up.
Careful not to move any of his broken limbs too much, he pushed himself up slowly with his right arm. He was going to have to stand. Sitting upright was terribly painful, even in the slouched and leaning upright position he was in now. Getting up took him many tries and tears, each failure threatening to destroy his determination. There was no stick coincidentally near him to use as a cane; he had to stand on his feet. He couldnít crawl; his arm, he discovered, was broken in more than the two places he had thought causing him a great deal more pain than his broken leg.
Finally, burned, bloody, and broken, he managed to stand. Supporting nearly all his weight on his left leg he began the arduous task of getting to the altar. Limping forward, every thought focused on getting to the end, every working muscle pushing him onward. He kept himself steady, refusing to let himself fall again. He knew if he did, he would not be able to stand again. It would be his end. He had neither the strength nor the energy to return from another fall.
The agonizing minutes continued their parade as the first of the altar steps drew closer. The building reminded him of the Ancient Greek temples, only in much smaller scale. He reached the closest broken column letting himself lean against it to rest his painful leg. He stayed there, surveying the small, open room, his eyes skimming over the pedestal in its center, before looking out into the desert. Now free of the blazing sun and inflammatory sands, he was able to look at the wasteland he had trekked through to get here. How had he found this place, nestled between the dunes as it was? He glanced up, thanking his unknown God for that miracle.
Turning his eyes back to the pedestal, he noted the gold and silver woven pattern spiraling up it. Streams of both precious metals worked their way up through the dark stone like twisting ivy does a tree. He limped himself forward, wanting a better look at was stood atop it. It came up to his shoulders, and its prize was a mirror set with dark red stones. They glittered as he lifted it in his good hand, somewhat less excited to see how ragged and bloody he looked. He held it up, looking into its reflective surface, his eyebrows furrowing. Where was he? The pillar behind him was reflected, the sand dune and the celling; only he was missing. He turned its surface about, hoping to catch his countenance, but there was no trace of his echoed in its glassy surface. He could see himself outside it, his blood covered hand clutching the mirror, his legs, struggling to keep him standing, his once-sandaled feet which barely resembled feet anymore. So where was he?
Panic began to set in, as he realized he had no idea what he ought to do now that he had the mirror. It was supposed to fix everything, tell him what to do, take him home or restore his memories. Instead he was left hurting and confused, barely able to walk. Alone, in pain, and angry that there was no quick fix, no easy way out of the situation he was in. He cursed, throwing the mirror to the ground and shattering it. Before the broken shards even finished clattering against the stone floor the earth began to shake. He thought it was the earth, but it may have just been the small building he was in and he couldnít tell because the rest of the world was just sand. Either way, it wasnít long before the stonework under his feet fell away, taking him along with them.
"No one gets out alive, every day is do or die
The one thing you leave behind is how did you love, how did you love?"
- How Did You Love; Shinedown