The desert was cold at night, freezing cold. Anaxis ran for as long as he could, to stay as warm as possible, but his mangled toe eventually forced him to relent. Thankfully, the sun started to come up not long after. As the horizon turned from red to orange to yellow, the temperature started to rise, and Anaxis was able to let go some of the tension he had been holding to keep his body from shaking.
It was a cloudless day, which meant the intense heat would come on fast. The Guide Star faded from the sky as the day brighter, leaving Anaxis unsure of exactly where he was supposed to head to get back home. The river was still in view, to his left, and he knew following it upstream would at least return him to where he had fallen, even if getting up the cliffside would be another difficulty altogether.
The dry heat of the dawning morning dried out Anaxis’s clothes and hair, and then started to dry out out his skin. He got thirsty, which drew him back to the river for a drink.
At the edge of the river, which was deeper than the rapids where he had awoken, Anaxis spotted tiny, golden fish darting through the water. They scattered when he dipped his cupped hands in for a drink, but a larger, blue fish replaced them, one which took Anaxis’s hands for food and latched onto them with his mooshy gums. Anaxis lifted his hands back out of the water, with the fish attached, then flung it off and moved to where the water was more shallow. He drank until his belly was full, then spread out on the cool rocks for a rest.
There was a snapping freck across the river, which stared unblinkingly at Anaxis.
“Hey, buddy,” Anaxis said to the freck.
The animal pulled its head into its spiked shell and waddled off its rock into the water.
“Was it something I said?” Anaxis asked himself.
Though he was cool next to the water, the sun was rising swiftly, and Anaxis knew he had to find cover, as he knew people often died in the heat of the desert sun. He took another few handfuls of water into his belly, then got up again and started to search for an overhang he could spend the heat of the day under.
He came to an outcropping of tall rocks, and hoped that one of them or a combination might hold a place to hide him from the sun. As he searched about the tall columns of rocks, he became aware of them shifting in the sand. He placed his hand on one of the shorter columns out of curiosity, to see if he couldn’t push it about himself. When he tried, the ground beneath him started to shake.
All of the rock columns began to move now. The ground rose up from below Anaxis, and he fell on his back and tumbled over the sand, eventually rolling out from amidst the columns. The ground he fell onto was still. He watched as sand poured down from the ever-rising chunk of land in front of him, until it became apparent that it wasn’t land at all, but the giant shell of an unimaginably large sand freck. When the animal was free from the sand, it shook its body, loosing the rest of the sand from the course spikes on its back. It turned to see who had disturbed its slumber, eyeing Anaxis with its huge, prismatic eyes. Anaxis started back, unable to move. The animal blinked and cocked its head to get a better look at the intruder, then wheeled itself around and started to crawl off toward the dunes in the distance.
Anaxis watched the freck go, then got to his feet and remembered to breathe.
“Well, you don’t see that every day,” he said to himself. “Wish I had a shell to hide in.”
He got up and continued on along the river, eventually finding an outcropping of rocks that were so configured that a shadowy recess was beneath them. Anaxis checked to make sure it wasn’t living, then crawled as deep as he could into beneath the rocks, out of the glare of the now-scorching sun. He watched as the heat rose in radiant waves from the sand, waiting for the sun to start to go down again so that he could continue his trip, and wishing he had something to eat.