Bill glanced behind him as he walked away. The mangled Cessna glared back at him. How had he survived such carnage? It was no wonder he alone survived.
Even as the thought crossed his mind, a piece of metal shifted, waves of desert heat shifting right along with it. A nondescript man crawled out, his brown hair matted with drying blood. He immediately turned back and reached for something in the wreckage. Bill watched him pull a woman out, her features obscured with blood and hair. Bill's feet were moving back to the plane before he'd made the decision to help.
“Hey! Is she OK? Let me help.”
The man moved aside so Bill could take the woman's other hand. Bill peeked back into the wreck, asking, “Any other survivors?”
“No, just us. The other three are dead.”
“What about the pilot?”
Bill already knew that. He stepped away, confused. When he'd pulled himself free, he'd seen the other bodies, all the mutilated parts looking like a disturbing Halloween display. How had anyone survived?
“What do we do now?” asked the man.
“We'll need water.”
It was the first time the woman had spoken. The rings on her left hand indicated she was married, but Bill didn't know if it was to the man who held her or someone who lay dead and mangled in the plane.
They needed water and the logical place to look first was the wreckage itself. An hour later (or so it seemed) Bill emerged moderately triumphant, holding up three water bottles, empty but undamaged.
“So now we have to search for water.”
Defeat crawled over every word that left the woman's mouth but Bill had to remain positive. They'd survived a crash that should have killed them; they could survive this too. His eyes swept the area surrounding the plane. Sand, nothing but sand as far as one could see.
No one moved. The woman leaned heavily on the man, her features still hidden behind a veil of tangled dark hair. She favored her right leg but it didn't appear broken. The man seemed unhurt except for a small cut on his cheek that still seeped bright red blood. They watched him, eyes unusually bright.
It took a second for Bill to understand that they were looking to him to lead, to decide where they should go, what they should do.
He rubbed his temple. His fingers came away wet with blood. He hadn't even realized he was hurt.
“C'mon, then,” he muttered, head suddenly throbbing as if the knowledge of the injury caused the pain rather than the injury itself.
He picked a direction and moved his feet. What else could he do?
How long since the crash?
Bill had no idea but suspected mere hours had passed. He couldn't tell how many; his watch had stopped with the plane.
His companions still followed but he couldn't say why. Their voices floated over him, vague complaints from the woman about taking a trip she didn't want and protestations from the man. Their argument meant nothing to him so he ignored them.
It was so hot. Sweat ran from his pores, mixing with the blood to form macabre red rivers down his cheeks. With the fresh blood from his head, he knew it couldn't have been very long since they'd started walking.
And blood now flowed from both sides of his head. How had he missed that?
The whispers stopped. From behind, the man shouted, “Is that water?”
Bill's eyes followed the other man's pointing finger. Sure enough, in the distance, an oasis shimmered in the late afternoon sun. His heart lifted at the sight even as his mind insisted it had to be a mirage.
But what if it wasn't? They had nothing better to do than check so he walked towards the sparkling blue body.
As they neared their goal, his body trembling with fatigue and thirst, Bill rubbed a hand over his cracked lips. The oasis was real. He stepped closer, relief threatening to render him unconscious. His knees buckled at the water's edge.
Cool, slick water drenched his hands as he dipped them in the small pool. He felt faint, the urge to stick his entire head in the pool overwhelming. He settled for dunking his bottle in, watching the water flow into the receptacle the way a hungry cat watches a fish.
The bottle full, Bill capped it and set it aside. He cupped his hands and dipped them in the pool.
As he lifted the clear liquid, he realized his companions were silent and not filling their own bottles. The strangeness of this struck him in the same moment the water slid down his parched throat.
Glass raked the inside of his mouth, tumbling down his throat and into his stomach. He coughed, spitting, hacking, choking, and finally clawing the pain from his tongue.
He stared at his hands. Sand. The oasis was gone, his bottle filled with shiny tan granules.
“He's nearly broken.”
They watched Bill through the monitor, thoughtful expressions on their faces. The dark-haired woman nodded to the nondescript man. Not a trace of blood could be found on either one of them. There were no rings on the woman's finger.
She stood behind the man's chair, watching the same monitor he watched, watching Bill as he slumped in the sand, defeat in every line of his body.
A slow smile curved her lips as she crossed her arms over her chest. She radiated confidence, power. “He's ready. He'll make a fine addition. Retrieve him and begin the training.”