Sand. All she could see was sand. Sand in all directions. It was in her hair, on her clothes, in her eyes. It was on the ground and heavy on the dry, blistering wind that slithered across the parched, flat land like a serpent desperately searching out its next victim.
As she blinked, her dry, red-rimmed eyes almost seemed to sigh over what little moisture was offered by such a natural act.
Blinking against the noon-day sun, which beat down mercilessly upon her from high overhead, miles upon miles of dry sagebrush plants suddenly loomed all around her, silent sentinels left to stand guard of this desolate place, and the lost soul that now wandered there.
As the heat pricked at even the back of her neck and knees, she picked a direction and started walking, figuring that anywhere was better than nowhere.
As she trudged on through the semi-firm sand, only occasionally stumbling through a soft patch, her mind was strangely numb, silent.
After a time, she lifted her head, and she suddenly spotted it in the distance—a two-lane highway, running left to right as far as she could see, perhaps 100 feet ahead, maybe a bit more.
But it wasn’t so much the highway that caught her eye. It was what was on the highway. Or rather, ‘who’.
A young woman stood on the dotted line, her back to the girl in the desert. She didn’t move a muscle, just standing, perhaps staring off into the distance beyond.
A horn suddenly sounded from off to the right, drawing desert girl’s eyes.
It was a diesel, hauling three trailers behind it. From the way it was hauling, those trailers were far from empty. No sound of anything from the truck slowing down. All that weight was barreling straight for the girl standing in the middle of the highway, reminding Desert of a bowling alley with one pin left standing, facing the rolling bowling ball.
Returning her eyes to the girl on the road, Desert opened her mouth, trying to call to her, to warn her. But it was no use. Her throat was as cracked and parched as the landscape.
Feeling desperate as the truck drew closer, Desert broke into a run, saying a silent prayer as she bee-lined for the highway girl.
But it was too late.
The sound of the young woman’s body hitting the grill nearly made Desert’s heart stop, even as her legs went into automatic pilot and kept running.
The truck didn’t even slow down, disappearing quickly over the horizon as Desert finally reached the blacktop of the highway, her eyes glued on the girl, who lay face-down across its surface.
Her heartbeat pounding in her ears, Desert crossed to the girl and, kneeling carefully beside her, she reached out to curve her hand carefully under the girl’s arm.
Then, taking a deep breath, she rolled her over in one swift move.
Then she screamed.
When she opened her eyes again, the sun was setting, and as she forced herself up into a seated position, she realized that she had passed out in the sand embankment beside the highway—her back was still turned on what she desperately feared facing again.
Closing her eyes as though she faced it still, she swallowed over the lump in her throat and, turning, she looked back to the road.
It was gone. No drag marks, no blood, no hair. There was not a single sign to show that a body had lain there.
And yet it had. Or had it?
No, she reasoned, she had seen it; it had been right there. She still remembered its hair, its face, its lifeless eyes staring upward, unblinking, unseeing.
How could she ever forget them? She’d seen the same person every time she’d looked into a mirror.
But how could it have been? She had no twin. She was alive. Of both she was certain.
After all, it wasn’t her reality she was doubting as she stood there, staring down at the spot where the body should have been, but wasn’t.
It was her sanity.
She couldn’t remember how long she stood there, staring down at the asphalt as though she half-expected it to open up and swallow her.
Considering the day she’d been having, she wouldn’t have been surprised if it did, She might even willingly jump in. Headfirst.
But the asphalt never opened up, and the sky never fell, so, finally, she crossed the highway without really seeing it anymore, her bleary eyes distant, haunted still by the sight of her body lying on the dotted line as she wandered aimlessly onward through the sand, a path which led her ever closer to the mountains in the distance.