Even Anaxis’s hiding place from the glaring sun couldn’t protect him from the desert heat. It grew hotter as the day wore on, until Anaxis grew so thirsty that he had to return to the river for more water.
It wasn’t until he left the shade that he realized just how hot the day had actually become. The sunlight on his skin hurt, like he was standing too close to a fire. He skipped over the sand to the river and drank all he could before he couldn’t stand the heat any longer, then jumped in to wet his clothes, and ran back toward his shelter in the rocks.
His clothes were almost dry by the time he crossed the short distance back to hiding, and dried completely within minutes of returning.
“This is awful,” he said to himself. “I can’t believe I did this to myself. To everyone. I’m going to get such crap for my stupid lens idea. What was I thinking, trying to change things. I can’t do anything right.”
A tiny desert sarax crawled out from a crack in the rocks and skittered along the recess.
“Hey, little guy,” said Anaxis.
The insect stopped and turned, as if it had heard Anaxis.
“What’s going on?” Anaxis asked, happy to have something to distract him.
The sarax turned back around and started walking again. Anaxis reached for it.
“Why do you have to leave so soon?” he asked the sarax as he cupped the creature and picked it up.
Anaxis brought the insect up to eye level in the palm of his hand and examined its little head. The sarax’s pincers scissored wildly as Anaxis stared.
“You’re a pretty little guy,” said Anaxis. “And feisty. I’m sorry, am I scaring you? You were probably doing just fine before I came and cramped up your cave and picked you up. I’m sorry.”
He put the insect back down, and watched it scurry quickly back into another recess in the rock.
“I mess everything up, don’t I?” Anaxis asked himself with a sigh. “It’s so hot. So. Hot! What can you do about heat? Nothing. Can’t escape it. Just wait it out. I suppose you can talk to yourself like a loony. Like me. I’m halfway to meeting with Mills for steep. Might as well accept my loony fate.”
Hours wore on and Anaxis thought over the stampede he had caused over and again, and imagined what the reactions of the other villagers would be when they saw him. At some point after high noon, the sarax reappeared.
“Maybe I shouldn’t even go home,” he said to the insect. “Maybe I should turn around and see where the river would take me in the other direction. Go live with the Gnirean. What do you think about that, buggy?”
The sarax chittered.
“No? Well, then can I live here with you?” Anaxis asked.
The insect disappeared once more.
“I’ll take that as a no,” said Anaxis. “I’m going to have to redeem myself, somehow, to my parents and everyone else. But what could I do?”
No answer came to Anaxis, despite his thinking on it all day until the shadows had stretched their furthest and the sun began to dip back down below the horizon in the east.
“Thank goodness,” Anaxis said, crawling out of the recess to find a sky in a beautiful gradient of yellow to purple. “I was beginning to fear I might hear answers to my questions if I stayed in there much longer. I hope I make it home tonight.”
He drank more water, and was happy to find some shelled biora, which he cracked open and ate raw, before continuing on under the burgeoning starlight along the edge of the river toward what he desperately hoped was home.
Some time later, Anaxis came upon a long, purple lizard snaking through the desert in the opposite direction.
“Hello, lizard!” he called.
The lizard stopped, lifted up on its hind legs, and answered, “Hello, Anaxis.”
Anaxis laughed and smiled, then realized that the lizard had just spoken back.
“Did… Did you just… How did you know my name?” Anaxis asked.
“You told me,” the lizard said.
“When?” Anaxis asked. “And how can you talk?”
“You told me in a dream. It’s you who’s talking, Anaxis.”
Anaxis started to panic. “What’s going on?”
“It was probably the biora you ate, Anaxis. Remember? You know that they can be psychoactive. Don’t you?” the lizard asked.
“Oh, right,” Anaxis said. “So you’re a hallucination?”
“I’m not. I’m a lizard. But I’m not talking. Though, you’re telling yourself all this, aren’t you?” the lizard asked.
“I guess so,” Anaxis said. “So what do I do now?”
“You should probably have a seat. And drink more water, to flush out the intoxicant. Right?”
“Right. Thanks, lizard.”
“Think nothing of it. And remember, I’m only you, anyways. Thank yourself!”
“Right,” Anaxis said.
He waved goodbye to the lizard, who waved goodbye back, before starting off in a strange zig-zag through the sand, leaving a trail of liquid sunlight in its wake. Anaxis went back to the river and drank as much as he could, despite the sensation being very strange, and then looked up at the stars.
As he was staring, the points of light in the sky began to contort, and pressed down in the three-dimensional form of a face.
“Go home, Anaxis,” the face said.
“I’m trying,” Anaxis answered the star-face.
“Go home and tell the others you’re travelling to Gnirean,” said the vision.
“But… I’m scared to travel to Gnirean,” Anaxis said.
“You have to, for your village. To make things right,” said the face.
“But no one ever has. How could I? I can’t do anything right.”
“Travel to Gnirean, Anaxis,” the face repeated, before the stars pulled back into the sky and Anaxis was suddenly sober.
He pinched his arms to make sure, and then drank until he couldn’t drink any more. When he was sure he was fully returned, he shook his head to clear it, and continued along the river again, wondering what his strange vision could possibly have meant.