Arching gracefully from one side of the canyon to the other, lined with spiky balustrades, was a bridge. Sandy shrieked and flung her arms around Mel, squeezing the breath out of her. Mel hugged her back, not caring about still being half-naked or even — much — noticing the slim, warm body in her arms as she stared up at the bridge. "People!" said Sandy.
The cliffs were just higher than they could jump carrying the bundles of bed parts, so they had to backtrack for half a mile to find someplace with a ledge that let them do it it in two jumps, but the sun was still above the mountains when they stepped onto the square blocks of rock candy that made up the road. On their side of the bridge, it ran straight away until it vanished into the golden haze, but on the other side it paralleled the canyon in the direction they had been heading. In both directions, it was deserted as the rest of the desert.
"I guess it was too much to hope that a caravan would be crossing right when we got here," said Sandy. "But a road still means people!" Mel decided to not mention the Roman roads she'd seen in Europe, still usable after two thousand years. Anyway, even a ruined town would have to be near a water source, she hoped.
Sandy bounced in place, floofy top billowing around her. "Let's go! The sooner we find people, the sooner we can get a drink! And some food!"
They still hadn't found any people or any water by the time the sun touched the horizon, and they'd lost the canyon. Mel's feet hurt from walking, her shoulders hurt from carrying the bundle of bed parts, her throat hurt from thirst, her stomach hurt from hunger, and her chest hurt from the sharp-edged sugar crystals that had crawled into her bra, and she would have been happy to curl up right there in the middle of the road and never move again. It was starting to get cold, but they had blankets and even a mattress, and if worse came to worst they could suck up the embarrassment and snuggle up for warmth. She didn't want to be the one to call it quits for the day, but even Sandy's energy was drying up and it didn't seem like they'd make it much further.
"Hey, what's that?" Sandy pointed to a knee-high cluster of light brown stalks sticking out of the sugar-sand next to a sharp-edged boulder. Suddenly revived, she bounced over to them. "They look like those cookie straws from Starbucks, only longer!" She broke off the end of one and sniffed it.
Mel's heart skipped a beat, but no lurking sand-monster burst up to eat Sandy.
"Smells lemon instead of chocolate, though." She licked the tube, and made a face. "Sour! I hope that doesn't mean it's poisonous. Because I'm really hungry."
Mel inspected the broken end. It looked and smelled like lemon cookie, and the sand seemed to be real sugar, so maybe it was food. "Cookie plants growing from sugar ground. Does that mean there's flour underground? Is there a butter table instead of a water table? Plants have roots!" She was babbling, but maybe this was going somewhere. "Stand back, in case this summons the gummi worms." Under the surface, the roots were more like strands of stiff taffy. She dug as much free as she could in the soft sugar, and pulled carefully. The root shifted a little, stretched, and then snapped, leaving her with two feet of sour taffy and who knew how much more root below. There wasn't any sign of moisture on what she had, but at least there weren't any sandworms.
"I already licked it, so I'm going to try eating it," said Sandy.
Mel tried to object, but her own stomach rumbled. "Just a bit, okay? And then wait for a while before eating any more."
"Okay, but I'm bringing the rest of this in case it doesn't kill me!"
Half an hour later, Sandy seemed fine, and Mel couldn't stand it any more, so they split the cookie reeds and gathered more as they walked. That was one problem solved, it looked like, but the sour pastry made them even thirstier, so all the other problems looked worse.
Then the stars came out, so bright they had colors, and not just the tinges of real stars, but every color of the rainbow spread across the whole cloudless sky like tiny Christmas lights. "O. M. G," said Sandy, staring up awestruck. "That is the most amazing thing I've ever seen." She turned to Mel with a smile brighter than the stars and a little bounce. "If we'd known what to pack, this would be totally worth it!"
Mel couldn't help smiling back. "If we can get out of here, maybe we can come back with a telescope."
"Oh no, you're a geek!"
Mel's ears heated. "Hey! What would you have packed for this sky, then?"
Sandy grinned wide. "A blanket — well, we have that — and one of those boys you were perving at. Peter Booker, maybe."
"I was not perving at anyone!" But she remembered Peter: he was the one with the cheekbones, and the shoulders in the blue dress shirt, second- or third-cutest of the boys she'd had a chance to notice. Now her cheeks were burning too. "Anyway, he has a girlfriend. Talia, the curvy one with the flowery dress, right?" In Talia's case, curvy did mean plump, but she rocked the flowing print dress in a way that made having a big chest seem actually awesome instead of just embarrassing.
Sandy started walking again. "But can she take him to another dimension?"
"That's cheating! Literally, I guess." But she could picture Peter's wavy dark hair gleaming under the rainbow stars. "You're one of those bad influences my parents warned me about!"
Sandy giggled so much she could hardly walk.
After another half hour or so — her phone was safely in her purse in another dimension so she had no idea what time it actually was — Mel's spirits were starting to sink again, or maybe she'd just left them at the bottom of the slight but interminable slope they were slogging up. She had to at least make it to the top, but if they stopped there, then they could start off going downhill in the morning. Sandy would have to agree that was a good idea.
Half an hour after that, she didn't care if Sandy would think it was a good idea. She could see the crest silhouetted against the stars, so she was pretty sure she could make it that far, and after that Sandy could keep going without her for all she cared.
Finally, the road levelled out and Mel let herself stop walking. "Sandy, I think we should stop." But Sandy wasn't listening. She had gotten twenty or thirty yards ahead, and was stopped where the ground started to slope back down. With a groan, Mel shifted her load to the other shoulder and stumbled up beside her. "Sandy—" she started again.
A broad crater spread out before them, and at the bottom, a mile or so away, was a flickery yellow light.
|<-- 2: Lost in the Dessert 2||Contents||4: Lost in the Dessert 4 -->|
This file was last modified by email@example.com.