The impression awakens Alfonso, what was that? A dream? The place is unfamiliar to him, the shelves with candy, the flickering light in the damp sky and the vibrant sound of the refrigerators on the side, the smell of gasoline in the air gives him a more or less convincing clue as to where he is and who has rescued him during the night. The bell rings with the opening of the door and a woman enters the store. Alfonso gets up to sit on the old red sofa, with some bites in the corners that reveal the boards that shape it. The woman introduces herself as Paloma, informs him that thanks to the big explosion in the middle of the night they have been able to find him in the desert, that he has been lucky because of that. Exalted, Alfonso asks about the old man, Paloma says she didn’t see anyone else, because the place was very dark and repeats that he was lucky they even found him. She remembers meeting an old stranger some time ago, perhaps it was the same person. But Alfonso is not satisfied with the answer, he insists on the old man, explaining that he may be seriously injured, that they need to go and look for him immediately. A second voice interrupts him and asks.
- How long do you think it’s been since we found you?
It is a man with a grey beard and a trucker’s hat, who presents himself as Pedro, a strong man but beaten by the passage of time. Alfonso has no way of answering the question correctly, he wants to say “a few hours” but the heaviness in his head tells him otherwise.
- You have been sleeping for a whole month.
Pedro replies and Alfonso gets up completely from the sofa.
- What happened to Amelia?
Unanswered question, the woman approaches and tries to reassure him, explaining that no one else has been found in the desert, which is a very vast place and sometimes people simply disappear. Confused, Alfonso cannot believe the words he has just heard. How is it possible that they have not been able to find their car?
- This desert is special.
Pedro answers once again, in that cryptic way that already begins to irritate Alfonso.
The sands rise up and sometimes form figures that seem real, but after a while the wind blows them away and they don’t exist anymore.
Words that confuse Alfonso even more.
- Are you saying that I hallucinated everything? That Amelia doesn’t exist? And the old man?
Pedro has no answers. The ground and the sky revolve around Alfonso, confusion and dizziness lead him to run towards the exit door. The sound of the small bell on the door resonates and merges with the arches that Alfonso has outside the quickstop, the little he has in his stomach is expelled through his mouth and ends up spilled on the floor, where the sand, which moves in the wind, forms circular shapes. Alfonso stares at the movement, in his mind, the idea of illusion begins to gain strength. At least it takes away his responsibility for the lives of two people. But is he really considering believing that it was all an illusion? Peter walks out the door and approaches Alfonso, offering him a napkin to wipe his mouth. Alfonso receives the napkin and wipes himself without getting up.
- You’ll be fine, I assure you.
- I’ll be fine? We are talking about the lives of two people.
Alfonso responds without hiding his irritation.
- Two people who may be an illusion.
Pedro comes back to the charge with his theory of illusions in the sand.
- I understand you, believe me. Something similar happened to me, I also lost a person.
Alfonso wakes up half relieved that someone else shares the odyssey. Amelia’s face remains in his memory, impossible to believe that it was all just a dream.
- But don’t worry, there is still something we can do.
- What do you mean?
- Well, I saved your life and you can now help me with something that will benefit us both.
Alfonso still can’t believe they couldn’t find Amelia, what about her car? What happened to it? Pedro indicates that details have never helped anyone change the reality of things, but that Alfonso does not need to despair, as there is still hope.
- It is about the inhabitants of the desert, it is a tribe that, according to the legend, has a special connection with the creative principles of this universe, they know about the desert and illusions, they can help both.
Peter explains the whole mess and then goes off to tell the sad story about the disappearance of his younger brother, also “swallowed up or imagined” by the desert. Has he hallucinated him? He doesn’t know, as time goes by he can’t even remember if he really had a brother all his life. But what he keeps in his heart is the memory and affection for him, and that is what drives him to keep looking. And Alfonso listens to Pedro’s words with disbelief, the reality now seems so different to him than it was when he started the journey that now has him completely confused outside a gas station, who knows where.
- What do you say?
Peter asks once again and Alfonso accepts, hoping to find, at some point on the confusing path that seems to hover before his feet, some answer that makes sense.
Early the next day, Alfonso and Pedro go into the desert, both of them cross the sand in silence, walking until they find themselves completely surrounded by golden mounds that reflect intense sun rays, indistinguishable from each other. The walk continues and Alfonso returns to that feeling of fullness that reminds him of the moment when he decided to start walking on the road, the starting point of his current odyssey. The first steps he took, moving away from the car and the woman who, while asleep, he hopes, he will still be able to see again, no matter how illusory it seems to return to her and with it still keeping the hope that she is still alive. Heavy steps in the sand, the tiredness reaches him faster this time. Pedro advances in a hurry, sure of himself, of the path, which for Alfonso is as diffuse as the sand itself. And then it occurs, first a light blow that raises a soft breeze that moves the surface of the desert, then it grows as a breath that becomes more and more agitated, until raising a whole wall of sand that moves quickly and wraps Pedro and Alfonso, making impossible to distinguish heaven from earth.
- Is it all sand?
Alfonso tries to follow in Pedro’s footsteps, but the wall of sand that stands between them barely allows him to distinguish it from everything else.
- Alfonso, let’s keep going!
Forward, where to? Alfonso doesn’t know. Thunder rumbles on the ground around them both, frightening the raised sands and taking over the sides of all horizons, invisible among so much sand. Alfonso shouts to Pedro, asks him about the origin of the thunder, does it matter? Pedro turns and smiles.
- We are close!
Close to what? Alfonso has lost all confidence in the journey. A new roar is now revealed as a high-pitched scream and, a little further on, a figure stands on the highest dune on the nearby horizon, almost indistinguishable among so much sand. As they approach, both can see that it is a naked man, with his arms raised and his face angry, his words, incomprehensible to Alfonso, seem to curse the desert. The sands follow his movement, to the left, to the right, his cries provoke the wrath of the winds. Pedro indicates to Alfonso that the guy standing on the dune is his younger brother, that it is time to capture him, to stop him before the desert prevents them from doing so. Alfonso follows Pedro to the dune, but the brother sees them approaching and starts running, shouting louder, raising new storms that make it impossible to follow his trail. Pedro shouts his brother’s name over and over again.
Alfonso orientates himself by following the sound of Peter’s voice, his eyes can no longer see anything but sand fluttering aggressively between the columns of wind that push him in all directions. Then, a sharp sound and an aggressive blow pass furiously through Alfonso’s left side, grazing his bare ear. A fast line that forms a tube between the sands, an opening that points the way of the object, embedded with violence, in the center of the back of Gustavo, brother of Pedro, who falls dead in the middle of the desert storm. Pedro reaches his brother’s body a few seconds later, too late. He takes him in his arms and sobs, trying, without success, to separate him from the arrow that has taken his life. Alfonso spins around tracking the direction of the arrow, his eyes set on a group of individuals standing about fifty meters away. People who look at him with inexpressive faces and naked bodies, except for the colors they wear on their skin, red some, blue others.
- They are the people of the desert.
Pedro points to Alfonso and urges him to kneel in silence. By the expression on the man’s face, Alfonso understands that both are in extreme danger. Fear leads him to stutter some incoherent answer. Pedro falls to his knees, the tears that flow from his eyes are lost in the sand, it is his brother’s turn to mourn in silence. Alfonso follows him, trembling, manages to kneel down and lowers his head. A group of naked men surround Alfonso and Pedro, and between them they talk in a language that Alfonso cannot understand. One of them takes Alfonso by the hair and lifts him up to inspect him. Alfonso avoids looking at him in the eyes, and manages to count five of them in a quick glance to the sides. The men tie Alfonso and Pedro’s hands and feet, while another one approaches Gustavo’s body and, wielding a knife carved in stone, starts slicing him into several pieces. The blood flowing from Gustavo’s body stains the crimson red sands, the men wash the body with the blood of the dead man, looking up, they sing until the violence of the wind stops. The road clears, the sky appears again. Alfonso, obsessed with the events, cannot move his muscles, which are numb, and assumes with enough reasons that any suspicious movement could end up in his death. The men cover Alfonso’s and Pedro’s eyes with cloths cut from Gustavo’s torn skin, then leave for their village, dragging the prisoners through the boiling sand of the afternoon, both tied to ropes that two of them carry on their backs.