The impression awakens Alfonso, what was that? A dream? The place he’s in right now 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 and informs him that thanks to the big explosion in the middle of the night they were able to find him.
- You’ve been lucky.
Exalted, Alfonso asks about the old man, Paloma says she didn’t see anyone else, that the place was very dark and repeats that he was lucky they even found him in the middle of nowhere. Hearing about an old man, she remembers meeting an old stranger some time ago, perhaps it was the same person. But Alfonso is not satisfied with this answer, he insists on the old man, explains that he may be seriously injured and that they need to go and look for him immediately. A second voice interrupts him.
- 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 with features that suggest having been 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 week.
Pedro replies and Alfonso gets up completely from the sofa.
- What happened to Amelia?
An unanswered question, the woman approaches and tries to reassure him, explaining that no one else was found in the desert, which is a very vast place, and sometimes people simply disappear. Confused, Alfonso cannot believe the words he 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 starts to irritate Alfonso.
The sands rise up and sometimes they 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 as he doesn’t respond to that one. The ground and the sky revolve around Alfonso, confusion, and dizziness lead him to run toward the exit door. The sound of the small bell on the door resonates and merges with the arches that find him outside the quick stop, the little he has in his stomach is expelled through his mouth and ends up spilled on the floor, where the sand twirls in the wind and forms circular shapes. Alfonso stares at the movement, and in his mind, the idea of illusions begins to gain strength over less plausible scenarios. At least it takes away his responsibility for the lives of two individuals.
- But, is he really considering that it was all an illusion?
Pedro 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 of strange individuals who share a special connection with the creative principles of the sands. They know about the desert and its illusions, and they can help both.
Pedro goes on to explain 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. Alfonso listens to Pedro’s words with disbelief, reality now seems so much different to him than it was when he decided to make a trip to the desert. Laws of reality seem to have shifted towards the ridiculous.
- What do you say? Are you with me?
Pedro asks once more and Alfonso accepts the offering, not even sure what the offering is about, both of them face the end of the gas station territory, the beginning of the interminable sands.
Early the next day, Alfonso and Pedro go back into the desert, for a while they walk in silence by the side of the road, but then take the path into the deep desert, leaving all traces of civilization behind, until they find themselves completely surrounded by golden mounds that reflect intense sun rays, indistinguishable from each other. The walk carries on and Alfonso gets invaded once again by that mindfulness feeling that reminds him of the moment he decided to walk away from the car, from Amelia, the starting point of his current odyssey. And then he realizes something else, somehow he has this feeling about Amelia, that no matter how illusory it all seems he will return to her and she will still be alive.
- No matter what.
Heavy steps in the sand, the tiredness reaches him faster this time around. Pedro walks away in a hurry, sure of himself, of the path. For Alfonso, things are not so easy.
- Hey, wait for me!
And then it happens, first, a light wind blow raises a soft breeze and moves the surface of the desert, then it grows as a breath that becomes more and more agitated, until raising a 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 him from everything else.
- Alfonso, let’s keep going! Pedro yells.
Forward? Where to? Alfonso doesn’t know, it all seems the same to him at this point, either up or down or left or right. Thunder rumbles on the ground around them, it rumbles from either side of the desert. Alfonso manages to get close to Pedro, he shouts to him, and asks about the origin of the thunder, does it matter? Pedro turns and smiles.
- We are close!
Close to what? 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, battling the increasing winds, both can see that it is a naked man with his arms raised and his face angry, his words, incomprehensible to Alfonso, yet he seems to be cursing the desert. The sands follow the movements of his yelling; to the left, to the right, the cries of this man provoke the wrath of the winds. Pedro indicates to Alfonso that the guy standing on the dune is his younger brother and 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 runs away, shouting louder and 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 Gustavo’s yelling, 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, into the center of Gustavo’s back.
It’s an arrow.
Gustavo falls dead in the middle of the desert storm. Pedro reaches his brother’s body a few seconds later, but it’s 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 turns around trying to track the direction of the arrow, his eyes now set on a group of silhouettes standing about fifty meters away. These people 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 urgently kneel in silence. By the expression on his face, Alfonso understands that both of them are in extreme danger. Fear leads him to stutter some incoherent answer. Pedro falls to his knees, and the tears that flow from his eyes get drawn into the sand. Alfonso follows him, trembling, manages to kneel down, and lowers his head. A group of naked men surrounds Alfonso and Pedro, they talk in incomprehensible language. One of them takes Alfonso by the hair and lifts him up to inspect him. Alfonso avoids looking this man in the eyes and manages to count five more of them in a quick glance to the side. The men tie Alfonso and Pedro’s hands and feet, while another one approaches Gustavo’s body and, wielding a knife carved in stone, slices him with great skill into several pieces. The blood flowing from Gustavo’s body stains the crimson-red sands, the men wash their bodies with this blood, and looking up into the sky, they sing until the violence of the wind stops. The path clears, and the sky appears before them again. Alfonso cannot move a muscle at this point, as he assumes with enough reasons that any suspicious movement could end up in his death. The men cover his and Pedro’s eyes with cloth cut from Gustavo’s torn skin, then take them away, dragging the prisoners through the sands.