“Seriously?” I kicked a purple and orange striped rock, watching it skitter across the dark sound. “I can’t even manage to have good dreams?”
The two blue suns beat down on me from the green sky, causing the prickly polyester of my pizza delivery uniform shirt to stick to my back.
At least the stupid visor was finally good for something.
“Other people get to have dreams about flying,” I grumbled as I stomped up another sand dune, swearing as I slipped back down half a pace for every step. “Or swimming with dolphins. That would be nice.”
Sand poured in through the holes worn into the bottoms of my sneakers, making uncomfortable lumps against the sole of my foot. “Or sexy time dreams. I’ve heard some people have those. With big, buff guys. But no, I get this.”
The dream had started with me waking up trapped in a weird box, getting out only to find myself in this horrible place.
This was even worse than those dreams where you thought you were awake, running late for work, dealing with cranky customers.
And then you woke up and realized that you got to live through the crappy day again.
So much fun.
Finally I made it to the top of the dune, glaring out into the desert that stretched out endlessly before me.
Well, endlessly probably wasn’t the right word.
In the distance I could see a pile of tall twisty rocks, looking as if Salvador Dali had decided to take over the artwork for a roadrunner and coyote cartoon.
At the far edge of the rocks I could almost make out a hazy smear of orange.
Who knew? Maybe my imagination was getting tired of building out all this stuff.
With a sigh I plopped down on my ass, covering my eyes with one hand, while with the other I pinched myself hard.
It didn’t work. It hadn’t worked the first time.
Or the tenth.
“This is why I don’t do drugs,” I shouted out to the sky. “Because it’s no fun, and you’re trapped!”
No matter what my roommate had promised.
I’d let her talk me into it once, despite my doubts.
No fun. Couldn’t wake up.
And I was still a little bit convinced that the walls of our apartment were filled with spiders, gliding under the paint, just waiting to spring out at me.
I looked at the sand warily, wondering what it covered, until a puff of dust in the distance caught my attention, coming towards me.
“Great. Now some sort of sand storm. Fantastic.”
I should have watched more survival movies. Were you supposed to dig yourself under the sand until the storm passed?
Find a convenient rock to shelter under?
Maybe it was just an animal, moving very, very quickly.
Except the sun glinted on something at the leading edge of the plume of dust.
I bit my lip, considering.
As far as I could tell I had three possible realities to choose from.
Option number one:
I was stuck in a dream. As usual, an unpleasant one.
Everyone had anxiety, I’d read somewhere.
I just didn’t know that everyone’s subconscious was trying to terrify them all the time.
Maybe I was just special.
Option number two:
Maybe I’d finished my shift delivering pizzas, practicing my smile for lousy tips, had come home and my roommate had done something to my midnight snack.
Just because she never had before, didn’t mean it was impossible.
I’d kill her when I woke up, but honestly, I’d rather that was the solution.
Because if it wasn’t options number one or two, that left the highly improbable, deeply disturbing option number three.
That this somehow was real.
That I really was stranded in a desert, somewhere with magenta and gray streaked sand. Somewhere with two blue suns burning me from a green sky.
The puff of dust came closer.
Close enough for me to see was a vehicle of some sort.
If this was option one or two, it wouldn’t matter if I stayed here until I woke up.
The rider of the strange machine could pass on by, and I could continue slogging through the sand or stretch out to broil in the heat.
No difference either way.
But if this was real…
My mind stumbled at the thought.
“Get a grip, Melli. This can’t be real.”
Fine, ignore the alien planet.
What if this was just a desert somewhere that I’d never heard of?
And maybe there weren’t two suns. Maybe it was just the heat doing something to my mind.
If this was real…
I swallowed hard.
I needed help.
“Hey!” I shouted, running and stumbling down the slope of the sand dune towards the machine.
The vehicle didn’t slow down, didn’t veer towards me, just continued in a straight line across the glistening sands.
And suddenly I was desperate, frantic for the rider to see me, help me.
“Wait!” I screamed, waving my hands over my head as I ran.
If they didn’t stop…
I didn’t have anything with me other than my stupid pizza delivery uniform and this visor.
Shoes that had holes in the soles.
No water. Nothing that would possibly help me survive in the desert.
A perfectly normal, not alien desert.
“Over here!” I shrieked as loud as I could, and then my knees buckled and I fell to the burning sands.
It was no good.
I’d better really really hope for option one or two, and that sooner or later I would wake up.
But then, so slowly I rubbed my eyes, to make sure I was seeing correctly, the line of dust curved,
The vehicle was heading my way.
“Thank you!” I struggled to my feet again and ran the best I could down the slope.
Now that the vehicle was closer, I could see it better.
I stopped, swallowing hard.
It was just the sun. That was why I couldn’t see the wheels at the ends of the four legs that came out from the sides of the vehicle’s frame.
But I could see the thin blue arms that gripped the handles.
Surely some sort of bodysuit.
I nodded to myself. Perfectly reasonable.
Some sort of high-tech protective gear to shield the rider of a perfectly normal ATV from the sun.
With a spray of sand the vehicle pivoted, coming to a complete stop at the base of the sand dune.
“Thank you so much,” I babbled. “I wasn’t sure if you heard me and I’m not sure how I got out here, but–“
My voice dried up in my throat as the rider dismounted.
Very, very tall.
He? She? Pushed the hood back from the sleeveless jumpsuit, and my mind stuttered to a halt.
A pair of huge, black pupilless eyes blinked slowly from above high cheekbones, lips so thin to be nothing more than a grey slash.
The dark blue that I could no longer pretend was just some sort of bodysuit accented by thick red marks, wriggling across the face and down the neck as if a child had played with its mother’s lipstick.
The head of my rescuer tilted from side to side, examining me closely.
“Little human.” The deep purr should’ve been soothing, and yet it sent chills down my back despite the heat. Feminine, but deadly, like a barely sheathed weapon.
“What is a little human doing here?”
“I don’t know,” I answered, stepping back slightly. “I woke up in a white box, and I was here.” I waved my arm behind me at the tracks I’d made in the sand. “Well, back there anyway.”
I took another step back, frowning as another thought pushed its way to the front of my mind. “How are you speaking English? Where are we?”
She laughed, and suddenly I wanted to do nothing more than run back over that sand dune, crawl back into the strange white box.
“I’m not, little human.” She tilted her head again, then raised her chin slightly. “Feel your neck behind your ears.”
I did, and there was something there.
“What is that?” I shrieked. “Why is there something under my skin?”
This time when she laughed I could feel a slight vibration through the device, and if I paid attention, could almost hear a gap between the movements of her lips and her words.
“Somebody’s invested in you, little human.”
She strode towards me, long legs quickly chewing the distance between us. “All the better for me.”
My feet churned the sand, stepping back as quickly as I could.
“Honestly, if you could just point me towards the nearest town, I’d really appreciate it.” The words tumbled out of my lips as I stepped away from her.
“Oh, I’d be happy to give you a ride,” she purred and I shuddered.
“All the way to your new owner.”
Excuse me, what?