Death in the Desert: Friday Flash Fiction Post



I shook my water bladder, empty. How could it be empty? It had three liters of water in it. I felt my pack. Wet. The bladder leaked, obviously. With no water to put in it I couldn’t tell where it was leaking from. A pinhole of some sort probably. That didn’t help me now. I was about eight miles out from the nearest trailhead and the sun was beating down. The tiny thermometer on the back of my pack read ninety-six degrees. Just looking at that empty bladder made me thirsty.

I put the bladder back in my pack and pulled out my map. Maybe there was a water source nearby. After careful scrutiny the answer was no. I was going to have to hike out to that nearest trailhead and hope for help. The trailhead was twenty-six miles from nowhere. I sighed, folded the map and put it back in the map pocket. I hoped people were there.

Pack back on my back, I trudge off along the trail. Thinking about all the survival shows I’ve seen I wonder if there is something I can do to increase my chances. First, people do know where I am. That’s the first positive thing. Second, I’m an experience backpacker. Another point in my favor. A point against, I’m hiking alone. If I had another person, odds would be likely that their water supply was just fine and we could share. Too bad for me. No one was free to backpack with me this week so I came alone.

I stumble on the rocky path and nearly skewer myself on an agave. Pay attention, klutz. Anyway, I get around that and continue my inventory of possible tactics. No drinking cactus water, that will kill a person. All of those old movies just made that up. This is a popular trail—someone or someones may happen along and give me a hand. Unfortunately, it’s a weekday, so less likely of any traffic.

Crossing a dry wash I remember a popular TV survival show and the host digging in a curve for water. I look around. The wash runs straight across the landscape like someone dug it on purpose. No curves for water to pool in or sink down. I climb back out and keep going.

At noon I find a lone mesquite tree and settle in its meager shade. Two miles down, six to go to the trailhead. I dig out a food bar and stare at it. Do I want to eat this dry? Isn’t there some sort of requirement that the stomach needs water to process anything I eat? I don’t know. Food is fuel but if my body needs water to process the food, am I just hurting myself? I put the bar back in the pack. I’ll die of dehydration long before I die of hunger. I could stand to lose a little weight anyway.

While I rest I try and remember other tips. Maybe I shouldn’t be walking in the sun in the daytime. Don’t the border jumpers travel at night? Stupid. I should hang out here and wait till sundown to travel. Encouraged by this thought I dig my space blanket out of my emergency bag and rig it to the tree for shade. I unroll my sleeping pad and lie down. I could use a nap anyway.

Hours later I wake. The sun is going to set soon. The thermometer reads one-hundred and three degrees. I pack everything up and start hiking, headlamp handy in a side pocket of my pack. This should work, right? Just hike on out to the trailhead. Simple.

Even with the headlamp, three hours after sunset, I stumble over the rocks. Twice I’ve run into cactus spines overhanging the trail. My pants are torn and both legs now have long, bloody scratches. Slow down, missy. Don’t make mistakes. I stop to rest, my knees sore from jolting along the trail. I find a small pebble and wipe as much dirt off of it as I can and pop it in my mouth to suck. It’ll keep the saliva flowing at any rate. I check my scratches. They’ve stopped bleeding.

Break over, I get going again. I find it hard to estimate my mileage. Still, it’s been five hours since sunset. Estimating a mile an hour in the dark, I should be close to the trailhead. At least the night is cooler, about eighty degrees. I thank my lucky stars and keep going.

After another hour, I stop to assess. Where’s the trailhead? I’m on the trail, I’ve seen the markers and cairns. A butterfly of panic begins to move in my stomach. Stop it. Take a breath. Maybe you’re going slower than you think. Keep going. The map says it’s on this trail.

Trudging on, stomach growling, I keep alert. I don’t want to miss any directional sign. I tuck the pebble into my cheek. I’m thirsty, the pebble isn’t fooling my body. It wants water. Now. The panic butterfly, I imagine it black with scarlet markings, is still stirring. I resist the urge to cry. Don’t be a baby. Keep walking.

When the sun comes up, I reassess. I’m on the trail, but there’s no sign of the trailhead. I pull out my phone. If I’m close, maybe there’s a cell signal. No bars. I swallow and put the phone away. The landscape is flat but I can see what has to be the Superstitions in the distance. Desert birds are singing the sun up but I don’t see anything to be happy about. I’m lost while on the trail. Not good.

Should I back track? Maybe I missed the sign? Go on? The map says the next trailhead is sixteen miles away. I’ll never make it.


The recovery team covered the body on the stretcher. “Too bad, really. She was just a mile from the trailhead.”




Thank You!

987 Words

Find more of the Forward Motion Flash Friday Group here: