Abe staggered along the old road, a shadow of what he had been. His hair was disheveled, his eyes were dull, and his gait suggested one much older than his thirty years. No signs existed to tell him if he was going the right direction, but according to the copy of the handmade map that he’d been given, he was heading toward Geddon, California. He couldn’t reach it soon enough. It was hot. It was dry. He had run out of the meager provisions of water that the Ra had given him. He was miserable.
Still, he was thankful. The Ra had left him alone on the road and he preferred it that way, regardless of how poorly they’d provisioned him. It was as if they didn’t care one way or the other if he survived his mission.
His mission: he shook every time he thought of it. He was to infiltrate the enemy where they were strong, in Geddon, and when the time was ripe, assassinate their leader. He disdained it. He was not a murderer. Sure, it had all been explained to him. This was war. He was a soldier following orders.
The description of the leader made his job even more distasteful. Their leader was a woman, a hundred-year-old woman. He would know her by her unusual brown eyes.
He hadn’t received the mark of the Ra, so he didn’t see how he could be in the army. He would receive it after his mission was complete. It was a mark he no longer wanted, yet one he saw no way of avoiding.
He wondered how he would be received at Geddon. He felt dirty, as if the stench of the Ra was upon him. Would the enemy notice the stench? Would they see him for who he was? A snake in the grass waiting to bite? But he was being fanciful. Of course they couldn’t smell the stench of the Ra. It was a stink only he could smell. It leached to him from within.
As he walked the desert road, he had time to plan. I’ll claim to be a defector, he decided. If they can tell I come from the Ra, I’ll claim to be a defector. He thought about it as he trudged along. He needed to make sure there were no holes in his strategy. He couldn’t think of any, but then, dehydration was hardly conducive to brain activity.
He stared ahead as far as he could see. He strained his eyes until they stung. As he gazed into the distance, the road seemed to take on a life all its own, shimmering and wiggling as if electrified. It was a result of the heat, he told himself; still in his dehydrated state, he wondered.
He wore denim jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. Despite the heat, he refused to remove his clothes. They were the only thing protecting him from the sun. Perhaps it was because the Ra were foreigners to Earth, or maybe they didn’t care about their human charges, but they also hadn’t provided him with a cover for his head. That, along with the lack of water, played havoc on his body.
He walked on. No, he trudged, his legs barely picking themselves up for the next step, and when they came down, landed haphazardly, chaotically.
With every yard, it became increasingly difficult to keep his path straight. He was unsure if he was unsteady or if the road itself wobbled and veered. Several times, he stumbled into the culvert that hugged either side of the deserted two-lane highway.
The highway itself was hard to follow. Sand dunes covered entire sections and it was clear no one had driven down it for years, maybe even decades. It made sense. Only an abandoned road would lead to a secret city like Geddon.
Something flickered above him. He glanced up, just for a moment. The sun above was too bright for staring. He could only see that something, some things, circled above him. Their shadows contrasted darkly against the bright sky. He couldn’t tell what they were. He kept walking.
A breeze blew, an unpleasant dry breeze. It blew away what remnants of moisture remained within him. He stumbled. He fell. He rolled into the bone-dry culvert and got a mouthful of sand. He spit out the wad, but a grainy coating stuck to his tongue and refused to leave.
Even when his body settled to a stop, his head continued to spin. His perception danced and wavered, as if he were drunk. He knew dehydration was the mastermind behind his state of being. However, basic thinking was now being trumped by the more primitive attributes indicative of a dying man.
He rolled onto his back, telling himself he would only rest a moment. He looked up into the sky and felt the desert rays bake him.
That strange flickering persisted. He stared hard, no longer caring if the sun burned out his retinas and realized what those strange dark bodies were. They were buzzards. The scavengers circled above him, effortlessly riding the hot-air currents that pushed up from the desert floor. He knew these creatures to be skittish. They would descend to him eventually, when they thought it safe, after he was dead. Lucky buzzards, he thought. They won’t be waiting long.
He would have shed tears at the thought of his impending death, but had no moisture for their creation. Still, he lamented his future which now appeared quite short. He heard a noise. He turned. He saw. Crap!
The reptilian face before him appeared larger than life. It flicked a forked tongue. Its eyes were like pearls with elliptical pupils. The image of it shimmered in the desert heat. It took a second for Abe’s dehydrated brain to register what he was looking at. At first, he thought it was Lucifer, but then he noticed the eyes were not as powerful. He was face to face with a rattlesnake. Its tail was vibrating, its rattle sounding.
In his delirium, he wondered if the snake really existed, or if it was just a byproduct of his altered state of thinking. He watched the pit viper levitate away from him arching into strike mode. It seemed real. A snakebite was the last thing he needed. Sure it would bring his death quicker, which was the only thing he had to look forward to, but it might make the process that much more painful, which he was not looking forward to at all.
The snake was poised, but did not strike. Again, Abe questioned the reality of what he was seeing. If it was real, what was it waiting for?
He couldn’t stand it any longer. He had to know if his predicament was real. Slowly, he reached out his hand knowing he would grasp empty air or get pierced by venom-dripping fangs.
As he reached out, the rattling intensified. The head of the snake retracted back almost to its tail. Abe stopped mid-reach. His tension was maxed. Everything froze. His hand, the snake; even the air around him felt still as if he existed within a hiccup of time. He didn’t know what to do. His moisture-deprived brain was unable to make a decision.