by James

The place where we huddled was dark, and that was about all you could say. Night brought a little relief. The temperature dropped from baking oven to merely stifling. Lay still, that was the key, because once you moved, back it all came, the bright spark feel of dry lips cracking, the soreness of muscles bruised by the crash and kept for too long resting on our hard rock beds.

Ben’s voice croaked in the darkness.

‘I thought of something else I’m going to do.’


‘Gonna get me a duck pond. You know the kind? Bottom of the garden. Home to newts and frogs, and those big spider things that walk on the water.’

‘I never had you down as a nature type.’

‘Hell no. Fuck that shit.’

‘So why not, oh, I dunno – something wet, like a swimming pool?’

Ben began to wheeze. A week ago and it had worried me, till I realised that the sound was him laughing as best he could with a throat was screaming dry for water. After that, I did my best to copy it.

Ben’s voice croaked again. ‘Jesus? How can I afford a swimming pool? I’m spending all my compo money on hookers and booze.’

‘And wasting the rest on a pond?’


‘I thought of something wetter than your pond,’ I said. ‘This guy in school. Ryan. The wettest thing in the world. The clammiest palms, he had, always sweating. You click your fingers he’d fall off his chair in surprise. But guess what this dude did. Took a job in a nocturnal security office, you believe that?’

‘What’s one of them?’

‘You know, watching buildings at night. Looking out for tweakers and crims.’

‘You mean a night watchman.’

‘Nocturnal security officer. Come on man, company guidelines. Gender neutral terms only.’

Ben’s laugh wheezed again. ‘You can report me when they rescue us.’

I joined him in wheezing, and then we both lay a while in silence. Ten minutes? An hour? It could have been ten.

‘Time for your morning drink,’ I said. That made Ben wheeze again. Drink? It was five drops of brackish water from the solar still I had cobbled together.

Ben’s hand on my arm was almost feather like. ‘You’re drinking too, aren’t you?’

I lied. I told him I was, and then I told him I was going to check on the still before the dawn brought the teasing hint of morning dew.

I crept from the darkness of our cave out into the near dark of the desert night. The only way to move was to flop and gently use all four limbs as paddles in the sand. It took me a quarter hour to reach the dark shape that was our shattered sand spider. How had I ever managed to drag Ben, with his two broken legs?

I fought open the cabin door and wriggled myself inside. I took a drink from the emergency ration, nothing more than a few drops, my voice had to sound the part, after all.