I knew deserts existed, but my experience began and ended with adventure novels and occasionally flying over them on cross-continent flights.
In hindsight, that was probably a mistake. In my defense, I never intended to be stranded in the middle of one. In the heat - ha! - of the moment, I desperately wanted to be anywhere else.
I mean, you hear about people vanishing, being abducted, never to be seen again, but no one ever expects it to happen to them.
I certainly didn't expect to walk through what I thought was a bathroom door, and wind up in the middle of Sand-Ridden Hell, like some over-done insurance advertisement!
(Why couldn't it have been a Budget Direct ad, which are at least entertaining, and fix everything with a snap of their fingers? Why this, why in the middle of the day, without even star-signs to tell me which hemisphere I'm in?)
I knew I was dead.
Hauling myself to the top of the nearest dune without passing out was hard enough, but when I reached it, I knew I was doomed. No road in sight, no sound of distant traffic. No hint of human occupation anywhere in sight. Not even stone formations to offer the possibility of shelter or caves.
Deserts aren't all bare sand dunes, of course I knew that. Some have scrub bushes, or oases, or settlements. But there are patches of vast emptiness, where a lack of supplies means a dramatically reduced lifespan.
Not only did I have no supplies worth mentioning, I was dressed for a day in the office, not a trek through the desert! I might not be wearing heels, thank goodness, but my shoes weren't designed for long distance walking beyond the ten minutes it took to get from the office to the nearest public transport hub.
No water, no sunscreen... I did keep both in my bag, but that was back in my office, along with any hope of communication-capable technology. No food beyond an emergency musli bar in my pocket for those days I overslept and didn't have time for breakfast. No hat, and while I was reasonably well-covered in lightweight fabric, that wouldn't help me once the sun went down and the temperature plummeted.
I was dead, and I didn't even have any way to say goodbye to the people I loved.
Out of nowhere, came a haunting sound.
At first, I thought that it was just the wind. The sand at the bottom of the dune was rippling, as if moved by a strong gust, and how was I to know what the wind sounded like through sand dunes?
Even if I had known what was coming, where could I have run to? How far would I have reasonably expected to get from the encroaching danger? It certainly wasn't as though there was anywhere for me to try to hide.
The rippling sand erupted into a giant fountain, cascading down to reveal... something. It was constantly shifting in form, much like the desert itself, composed of millions, trillions, of grains of sand. "Ah, my newest sacrifice."
In different circumstances, I might have protested, but my mouth was drier than the desert, from both dehydration and fear. I couldn't have mouthed off even if I wanted you.
I held up my hands in a futile gesture to stop, wait, stay back, anything... and watched as soft, freckled skin turned dry and brittle, like a sand sculpture.
Another breeze, soft and gentle, began to blow me away as the change spread down my arms to the rest of my body. It felt like a lifetime, but it couldn't have been more than a minute.
Engulfed in the desert's parched silence, I was nothing but another grain of sand in the wind.