During a vacation in the desert, Martin and Leigha are mysteriously separated. Caught between fear, exhaustion, and the scheming medicine woman, the couple struggles to find each other and escape the desert before it’s too late.
Chapter 1 – Stranded
I awake with a start. My sleepy gaze drifts from the unfurled sun visor to a sand-packed windshield, and I’m reluctant to roll my head to the right. I must be in a nightmare. This can’t be my wife asleep next to me.
Leigha is stretched out on the fully reclined seat. Her head rests against the door, just below the sand-packed passenger window. I gaze at her chiseled face. I drink in her masses of salt-and-pepper curls, tangled and twisted from a night of sleep.
I look past her at the dark window, then swing my stiff neck around to scan the other windows. My new Volvo is completely buried in Sonora desert sand.
I lean forward and pull myself up to peer out a thin slit of light high on the windshield. Through my crack of a view, I see a brilliant new day.
Trying not to awaken Leigha, I pull my basketball-player legs past the steering wheel and climb into the backseat. When I roll down the left rear window, sand pours on the seat with a rattlesnake hiss, then to the floor. Leigha stirs, but doesn’t wake. I sit in silence until she settles, then I put on my leather hat, climb through the window, and scramble up a slippery trough of crystalline grains. It’s here, on a bright desert morning, where I’m forced to confront the reality of our predicament.
Last night, the wind howled, sand blew across the windshield, and my wife came unglued, showing me just how afraid she was of the desert.
“You worked every angle to get me out in your damn desert, didn’t you?” she said, while the car was buffeted by the storm. “You just had to get me out here.”
“We’re okay, Leigha,” I’d said. “We’ll get help when the winds stop blowing.”
“Why’d I listen to you?” She covered her tear-stained face with both hands.
I put a hand on her shoulder. “Because you wanted me to go to the theater with you. If I recall, the trade-off was a whole season of thespian hell, for two weeks out here.”
“It isn’t worth dying for.”
“Leigha, we’re not going to die. We’re just stuck in the sand. We’ll get out in the morning.”
“If we get out of this alive, I want to go home. I’m not staying out here another day.”
“What about yesterday, when we saw the flowers?”
“What about it?” she asked. “We’re going to die.”
My wife was facing the old ghost she’d lived with for thirty-six years; since she was nine.
“Honey, I’ve already gone to three plays. If you want me to go to the final ten of this season, you have five more days to be out here. Otherwise, I’m going back to watching basketball.”
There was a long silence before she said, “If we get out of this mess, I’ll finish the five days in this hellhole, but we’re going back across the border. I hate Mexico.”
“We’re going to find a decent hotel, Martin Vandorfor. No mice, and no bugs.”
“Something like that first place in Albuquerque?”
She dropped her hands, and her face relaxed a little. “Yes, like Albuquerque. In this last week, that was the only place that was decent.”
A sudden gust of wind buffeted the car, and Leigha tensed again. “I can’t stand this,” she screamed. “Get me out of here.” She reached for the door handle.
I yelled, “Don’t open that door.”
“I’ve got to get out of here, Martin.”
“The jumping cholla cactus is in the wind. The little tuffs will stick to your skin, then break off when you try to remove them. They itch like crazy.”
Her hand dropped from the door handle. “Oh great, another desert thing to be afraid of.”
I sighed. “Tomorrow, when the wind dies, everything will be better, and you’ll feel different, I promise.”
She scrunched up her face. “I won’t feel any different. I hate this desert. Take me back to Phoenix.”
“But Honey, going to movies and sitting next to a pool isn’t exactly being in the desert.”
“It’s as close as I want to get.”
“Out here is where you’re going to face your demon.”
“I don’t want to face any demons right now. Just get us out of here alive and back to civilization.”
She reclined the seat, reached up, and turned off the overhead light. In the dark she said, “Just get us out of here.”