At the bottom of a lake long dried up, my hazy gaze rested hopefully on a cloud building in the distance. Dust rose up around my plodding feet, settling on my cracked tongue. The size of this lakebed desert must have grown since the last estimation. I didn’t have enough water to get back; I could only move forward and hope I reached the edge before I ran out.
I tried not the think about how dehydration could have me just walking in circles.
A ridge of reddish rock stretched across my path, a veritable fortress wall. In the distance, it culminated at a former island, towering upward. I had tried to scale the wall only to slide back down on slopes of shale. When I had rolled to a stop at the base, dust in my hair, I picked myself up and followed the wall instead, looking for a break. Better to save my energy.
The cloud inched closer, pure white edges blurring with the horizon.
A break in the wall appeared all at once to my left. In the moment I registered freedom to continue forward, I stumbled on a hard object in the sand, going down to my knees. Tiny rocks skittered away from my hand as I scraped the object free. At first, I frowned, not understanding what I found.
A railroad tie. Attached to a railroad rail. The line passed through the break leading straight to… the oncoming cloud.
I got to my feet as the rippling heat revealed a dark train running toward me from the distance. The cloud of steam puffed upward, better than any raincloud I could imagine.
As the train neared, I stuck out my thumb to hitch a ride. The brakes squealed as the train started to slow.
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