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I’m sure everyone has heard of mirages in the desert. At one point or another, I’m certain everyone has seen that old cartoon where two people are stuck in the desert and one begins to hallucinate and see an oasis which upon investigation quickly turns into a cactus or a scorpion nest. I want you to keep that concept of mirages and desert hallucinations in the back of your mind while you read this. I’m here to tell you something about mirages.
To tell you the truth, I have always been afflicted with a bit of wanderlust. I just had to see everything and experience it all. I saw the northern lights a.k.a Aurora Borealis in Greenland, the jungles of the Amazon, and explored the abandoned radioactive ruins of Pripyat. I loved to visit places that very few people have actually seen. My latest conquest was the Gobi desert. I had always wanted to boast and say that I had trekked through a desert.
I am also a bit of a crypto-zoologist. I stalked around the woods of New Jersey, hoping to see the legendary Jersey Devil. I wandered around almost every wooded area, expecting to catch a glimpse of Bigfoot. My trip to the Gobi desert held ulterior motives. I wanted to see the sights and travel through the desert, I also wanted to search for the Gobi desert death worm also known as the Mongolian death worm. The descriptions of the worm only piqued my interest. It was two to five feet long, bright red, and was capable of killing anyone that touched it.
So I spent the next couple of months working, scrimping and scraping enough money together to afford a trip to the Gobi desert. I even managed to hire a guide to take me through the desert. That cost me a little extra, but I thought it would be worth it. The day finally came when I hopped a plane to Mongolia and set about appeasing my wanderlust and hunt for the legendary cryptid.
As I was inexperienced with the area, I wanted to find my guide right away and set about touring the area and pick up a bit of the local culture, but first I had to check into the hotel. My guide promised to meet me in the hotel lobby at noon. I had a few hours so I lugged my suitcase up into my room and showered. I relaxed in the room for a bit before heading out to find my guide. I wished I had never hired him.
Well, I found my desert guide. I found him in the hotel bar. He was well into a bottle of whiskey when I showed up. He recognized me and slurred out, "Dalia Livingstone, I presume?” I now knew why he had insisted on receiving a portion of his pay upfront. His face was flushed red and he insisted that he was fine to take me out into the Gobi desert. I thought at first he might be a high functioning alcoholic and he would be able to do his job in this state, but then he tried to grope me and fell off the bar stool. I decided that I had had enough of him and I would have to explore on my own.
It was not the smartest idea I had had in my life, but I tried to counter-balance the stupidity by preparing, I had already brought clothes suitable for the desert sun and sunscreen. I stocked up on water too. I had my sat phone with me in case of emergencies as well. I bought a map and compass at a store across the street and checked to make sure the map was up to date and the compass was in working order. It took me a few hours to round up all the supplies and now I was set to begin planning the logistics of my trip.
Logically, I planned my route that would take me to lesser-traveled parts of the desert to increase my chances of seeing evidence of the cryptid. I would go on a horseshoe path that would bring me back to the city. It would be a day trip and I would be back before sundown. I was prepared for almost anything the desert could throw at me. With all my work and planning out of the way, I decided to get a good night’s sleep before attempting the five-mile hike. On the way up to my room, I passed by my desert guide being thrown out of the hotel bar. Good riddance.
Luckily I woke up the next morning feeling refreshed and free of jet-lag. I was ready for my trip. I loaded all my stuff and set out on my journey. I felt foolish walking off on my own into the desert, but my desire to see something that only a few rare, extremely privileged people have seen drove me forward. I was going to see the Mongolian Death Worm if it was the last thing I did. That boys and girls, is what you would call irony or at least dramatic foreshadowing.
Ordinarily, I would be hesitant to go out in the desert like this, but I was oddly invigorated. The first few hours of my trip were fairly uneventful. I passed by a few people heading back into the city. They gave me odd looks and I could tell that they were wondering why I wasn’t with a tour guide like they were. I’m sure my guide was passed out in an alley somewhere and I had no intention of giving him a second chance to try and cop a feel. The sun wasn’t that bad with my hat and sunscreen on. Of course I didn’t know that the Gobi desert hit its peak temperature in the early afternoon.
Walking through the desert, I would check my compass every few minutes to make sure I was heading along the path I had set for myself. It’s easier than you think to get completely lost. As soon as you get far enough out, there are no real defining landmarks you can use to guide yourself back. By sticking southbound, I would be able to return back to the city just by going north. My path was set to keep the city within my sight just in case. I glanced back and saw the top of the buildings peaking out over the horizons.
I was in constant awareness of my surroundings. I was always looking around, hoping to catch sight of the legendary cryptid. I knew it was a foolish dream, but this was just an exploration, a foray. I had a more detailed plan for the next time I ventured out into the Gobi desert. I just wanted to acclimate myself to the desert so I could take a more daring route the next time.
So I’m still not completely sure what I saw out there. I was looking at a ridge of the desert when a minute motion caught my eye. It was hardly anything, but it looked like sand falling or at least shifting. I would have attributed it to the wind, but the way it shifted was odd. It wasn’t like sand falling in a cascade; it was more like something was displacing the sand with an undulating motion. I rubbed my eyes, but the image stayed with me. Did I see what I thought I saw? Was I seeing a large creature slithering, burrowing under the sand?
Pushed onward by my encounter, I began to run towards the motion. This was what I was looking for, what I wanted to see. My backpack banged against my lower back and the straps dug into my shoulders. The compass around my neck swung pendulously back-and-forth. I kept my eyes on the movement ahead of me; afraid that the second I moved my eyes from it that it would disappear. I ran for a couple of minutes, drawing closer with each step. Was this the legendary cryptid?
I was a little ways away when the shifting sand stopped completely. I stopped dead in my tracks. I wanted to get closer, but the mental image of walking forward and falling into a gaping sarlacc-esque maw dissuaded me. I didn’t want to disturb whatever was beneath the sands, especially something as reportedly toxic as the Gobi desert death worm. I was paralyzed with uncertainty for a few minutes. As I waited and weighed my options, a horrible realization began to dawn on me. What direction was I heading when I ran after this thing?
At this realization, I whirled around and realized that I could no longer see the buildings behind me. I had wandered off the path. I looked down at the footprints I had left behind. Lady luck was on my side. I could see them; a desert breeze hadn’t eradicated them yet. I spun around, trying to find any identifying landmarks, but the desert was barren. I could use the compass to back-track to the city. I went to look at my compass and my stomach sank.
Magnetic fields, there had to be some magnetic disruption nearby. The compass needle was spinning like I was standing on a giant magnet. I moved around, hoping that I could get out of the range of the magnetic field and orient myself. No matter how I moved, I was stuck in the magnetic field. As I spun around, growing increasingly desperate, something caught my eye. It was like a shining light. It flickered off in the distance kind of like a strobe light. Was someone signaling me?
God had given me two choices. The sun was beating down on me now. I could try and follow my footprints back to the city or I could go to whoever was flashing that light at me. I knew if I tried to re-trace my path, I would eventually lose the trail because of the desert winds. I also knew that I had no idea who was signaling to me. I could walk right into an abduction or worse. I decided to investigate whoever was calling out to me with the light. I began walking.
Once I determined that the person was using a mirror or reflective surface in the sunlight to create that effect, I felt comforted. There had to be someone there to create that lighting effect. I refilled my canteen using the built-in camel back in my backpack as I walked towards the flickering light. I looked down at my compass every now-and-then. The compass continued to mock me with its dancing needle. The sun continued its assault on the landscape and I knew that at the end, I was going to have hellacious sunburn on my exposed skin. I continued walking towards the signaling.
I was drawing closer to that signaling light. I was now about a mile away. It seemed like the closer I got to the light, the more urgent its flashing became. Whoever was shifting the mirror in the sunlight was working as hard as they could to keep the light flashing and guide me to them. I could only hope that I was about to stumble upon a tour or encampment. I needed to find someone who could take me back to the city or at least point me in the right direction.
Now I was so close to the person with the signaling mirror that I began to run. I was desperate to find someone else who could help me. They were just on the sand ridge above me. I was worried that it would evaporate like the undulating sand had if I didn’t reach it in time. It didn’t go anywhere. It was strobing the light across the desert. I finally reached the source of the flashing and I fell to my knees. I cried out in frustration and despair. The small pocket mirror continued to bounce sunlight off and signal to no one in particular.
Good God! I was now even further off the trail. The compass was still spinning madly and I realized that I had left my sat phone in the hotel. My hope of following my footprints home was thoroughly dashed. By now the wind had probably completely obliterated my footprints. They would be buffeted over by the blowing winds and shifting sands. It would be as if I had never left them. Like I never existed. I could wander through the desert and hope to find someone, but that would only use up valuable energy. It was better to wait and survey the land. There was no one up on the ridge. It was just the mirror and I. I had never felt so alone in my life. I was in the desert with no one for miles around.
To be honest, I wasn’t completely alone. I stood on the ridge and scanned the horizon, hoping to see the outline of buildings or at least a road. It was getting cooler and the sun is beginning to set. It was when I sat down hard on the surrounding sand, in an expression of defeat, that I noticed it. It was peaking out from beneath the sand like an opal egg. I brushed at the dust and revealed the skull that the sand had concealed. The blowing sand had polished the skull into a smooth surface and buried it deep within its sandy bowels.
Ordinary people might have shrieked, but I was desensitized to skeletons after my trip to the Sedlac Ossuary. The fact that I didn’t scream like a little girl didn’t mean I wasn’t horrified. Here lied the remains of someone who may have been in the very same position as me. The dark realization insinuated itself into my mind. I was going to join this skeleton if I didn’t get help. The compass was no use and the sunscreen was now completely useless. The hat would help me retain some heat, but not enough to keep me on this mortal coil, to use poetic phrasing.
Death is such an odd concept, especially to the young. We think of death like it were a concept, an intangible thing. Death is something that happens to other people. Death comes to the old, to the infirmed, to the unfortunate, but not to us. Confronting it is surreal. I am faced with it now. I have water and enough rations to last a couple of days here, but the sun is setting and it’s starting to get cold. It is going to get so cold that my body just shuts down. I kept looking out over the land, like I was going to see someone patrolling the desert at night.
I don’t know if what I am seeing is a mirage or not. It’s out on the edge of the horizon. It is that same shifting sands pattern that I had seen earlier. My eyes have adjusted to the dark, but my body is not adjusting to the cold. It won’t and can’t acclimate. I focus on anything to keep the thoughts of freezing out here at bay. To keep my mind away from my shivering body and foggy breath. I focus on that mirage, At least what I hope is a mirage. The sands seem to be shifting in my direction. It seems like it’s moving towards me.
Everything feels so odd now. It’s an odd feeling to realize you’re going to freeze to death in a desert. It feels, counter-intuitive. I think I’m writing this just so people know what I went through in my final moments. I don’t want them imagining me as some weeping panicky girl. I don’t want people who find this to use it as an excuse to stay away from experiencing new things. The world can be a beautiful place. I will face this with a stiff upper lip. I am being brave even though I don’t want to be brave right now. I hope that if this gets back to my family and friends that they will know that I was brave to the very end. The undulating sand mirage is getting closer and I can swear I see something crimson slithering around beneath the sand.
H.M. Stanley stood on the ridge and shielded his eyes from the sand. The skeletal form was splayed out on the sand before him. Its open jaw looked like something between a scream and a laugh. The bones had been stripped of meat by animals. He nudged the corroded compass with the toe of his boot. He was on a drive when a flashing light called his attention to one of the many surrounding ridges. A few sheets of paper were inside a raggedy looking backpack. He picked them up and looked over them. As he read, something off in the distance shifted beneath the sands. He muttered, "Dalia Livingstone, huh?” He would try to find a way to get her final words home. Unbeknownst to H.M. Stanley, the thing in the distance began to move towards him.
Written by EmpyrealInvective