From out of the desert, was a woman swathed in black. Slowly she advanced, destitute, hobbling; who knows for how long in the swelter. I had come to, and found not a mirage, but a lass near death.
Alert, I jumped up to tend to the distressed damsel, who in turn fell into my arms. I lowered her to the ground and rested her head in the sand, before bringing my canteen to her parched lips. Like a feral creature, she drank, guzzling the liquid sustenance.
Her blue eyes were tired, icy, and hungry, her skin was scorched by sun, and savaged by sand, and her lips were more than dried and cracked, they were bloodied; bitten harshly. Either they were wounds of a jealous lover, or they were self inflicted, and her thirst had driven her to it. But there was more to her carnage.
Her bare feet were blistered from walking through rocks and glass of desert, and under her robe, the rest of her skin was scratched and bruised. Her palms… looked like they had been torn to shreds. As I looked her over, I called for help.
Five of us-- Dr. Townes, Mr. Dawson, Mr. Jong, Mr. Emerson, and myself-- were gathered around the bed, and the sleeping woman laying there, who was now bandaged, and blanketed, and wore a new set of clothes.
“... But she’ll live,” finished the doctor.
“Who is she?” asked Jong.
Emerson shook his head, “A better question is where’d she come from?”
“She came from the desert, Emerson,” Jong answered.
“Obviously, but what I meant was: why was she out there? A woman? On her own in the desert?” Emerson added, temper flaring.
“Please! Let’s discuss this outside? She’s had a trauma, she needs to rest!” The doctor declared, preventing another outburst from Emerson. We all filed out of the tent, while the newcomer slept. I looked out to the dunes, and saw them move. The winds were gathering; soon there would be a storm.
“She didn’t say a thing, and she’s alive. That’s all we know,” I announced to the group.
“You’ve been quiet Dawson. You haven’t said a word since our guest arrived,” said the volatile Emerson, “What do you know about her?”
“Shut up, Emerson!” Jong cried in Dawson’s defence.
“Was I talking to you, Terry?”
“Terry, I can answer for myself,” Dawson replied.
“Go on then, Dawson, what’d you see?” said I, imploring him to divulge.
“She had rope.”
“A rope?” I inquired.
“She came from the other side of the rise,” described Dawson who pointed to the dune due south, “and she was holding a rope in her hands. When she saw the camp, she dropped it.”
“What do you think Klein?” Jong asked me, “towing rope? D’ya think there may be someone else over there who needs our help?”
I thought about the woman and her eyes; her cold eyes, her hungry eyes, when Emerson had something else to say, and rightly so this time, “No! Whatever you’re thinking, we can’t go up there! Are you deaf? Can’t you hear that wind?”
“Klein?” Jong urged again.
“How long was she out there Doc?” I asked.
“It’s hard to say, but I’d guess… three or four days,” responded the doctor.
“Could she have come this far without water alone?”
“Okay, Emerson and I are going to take a couple camels to see if anyone else is out there. We won’t let anyone die. Dawson, how long before we need to take shelter?”
Dawson looked at the weather, and the shifting sands before answering, “I’d give you a half hour, tops. Best hurry.”
“Why me, boss? Jong’s the one who’s so anxious to risk his life,” Emerson moaned.
“Because you’re annoying, Emerson,” I joked, and Jong chortled, though I didn’t even smile. So many doubts were running through my mind, about riding into a desert before a storm, as well as the woman’s eyes. Her hungry eyes.
“Jong, you’re in change.”
“No problem, boss.”
Saddled, Emerson and I took off into the desert, a pair of camels each, as we were uncertain as to how many people might be dying, and waiting for rescue. We were a minute from the top of the big dune Dawson had pointed out, barely discerning the woman’s footprints, which had all but disappeared.
I had dismounted when I saw a line in the sand and lifted it up for the both of us to see, and Emerson looked shocked.
“This is towing rope alright,” I confirmed.
“Jesus, is that… blood?” The amount was curious.
I nodded, “Looks like. She must have been bound with it.”
“But that doesn’t make sense,” Emerson said, voicing his concerns. “Her palms were mangled, not her wrists.”
We continued, first seeing a pair of gaunt camels grazing. Looking closer, Emerson and I became sick to our stomachs, and we knew why she was in the state she was in, and I knew why her eyes looked so cold. Why they looked so hungry.
“Dear god!” exclaimed Emerson, averting his eyes.
The scene before us was one of horror. The most gruesome sight I have ever beheld. Limbs lay scattered, and entrails were torn out of a dismembered corpse, and strewn across the valley which was bathed in blood. Then we heard the screaming come from behind us.