My skin is uncomfortably tight and dry. Even in sleep, I feel compelled to scratch it. My fingernails are covered in my dried, peeled skin. All I can feel is the burn. Twisting from side to side, I stretch weakly and curl into myself to try to ease the pain. My eyes crack open, and I am greeted by a blinding white light. I close them again, saving my strength before attempting to use my broken and raw voice.
“W-Water,” I say, my voice cracking from the dryness.
My chapped lips split and bleed as someone ladles water into my mouth. I can’t see them, my vision too blurry from dehydration. All I can feel is the cool water dripping down my throat.
My eyes roll back, and I know nothing more.
When I wake up the second time, I’m alone. My thirst hasn’t been quenched, and my mouth is so dry that my tongue sticks to the top of my mouth. I can feel my throat closing, and every time I attempt to swallow, it feels like sandpaper.
Rolling onto my stomach, I look around. I have been placed in a colorful tent. Sunlight peeks through the holes in the canvas. The heat comes in waves, but the tent feels cooler compared to before. I welcome it.
Searching the tent, I spot a cauldron in the corner. My dry mouth pleads with me, and I roll off the cot, crawling towards it. The dented ladle on the side hints that there is some sort of liquid in it. I pray it is water, but anything will do at this point.
Each movement of my limbs feels like fire shooting along my skin. Every cell in my body is parched, and I don’t know how long I was wandering in the desert before the Bedouins found me.
I shouldn’t have wandered so far from the dig site. I knew the sands were unforgiving and that I could easily become one of the many lost to them. There are precautionary tales that are told at these sites to warn you of the dangers. I knew better, but I could have sworn I saw something or someone. It was just over the sand dune, just out of reach. By the time I realized it was likely a hallucination, I was miles away from the dig site.
My hand shakes as I finally grab the ladle, spooning the water into my mouth and trying to rehydrate my body. Each drop of the life-giving substance was as good as gold in this part of the world. I kept drinking, several precious drops and splashes landing on the ground as I try to get enough. I should be hydrated enough by now. Yet, I keep going until the massive cauldron is empty.
The sound of harsh Arabic makes me roll onto my back, my stomach aching from all the water I just drank. I look up at one of the Bedouins. He curses at me and points at the cauldron. Well, fuck.
My Arabic is rusty at best, and that’s when I am fully hydrated. Right now, I can’t even remember the word for hello.
He keeps yelling at me in Arabic, and I croak, “I don’t understand.”
He hisses at me, stepping on my distended stomach, indicating the water I drank. My stomach sloshes, and I groan, curling into a ball away from him. I should have stopped myself from drinking the entire cauldron.
How did I even drink the entire thing? I’m pretty sure a human can only drink a certain amount before dying.
Shit, how many ounces is it? Whatever the limit, I definitely surpassed it. Yet, I my throat still feels scratchy. I still feel like I need more water.
Water intoxication. Definitely. Maybe a tumor? Why can’t I quench this thirst?
The tent flap opens and closes, a harsh sandstorm howling outside. My Bedouin…friends? Saviors? Don’t even seem to notice them. They are born on the sand, live, breathe, and die on it.
Curled into a ball on the ground, I try to keep each drop of the water I sucked down inside me.
Need more water.
The bloating in my stomach is shrinking slowly, my body adjusting, hydration racing into my cells. I struggle to a sitting position, looking around the colorful tent. A hookah pipe sits discarded in the corner, and other pallets similar to the one I just rolled off of. Some of the sand is covered in fine rugs, and junk is hidden in the corner. My eyes land on another cauldron full of water, but a Bedouin steps into the tent before I can crawl to it.
The woman’s covered head to toe in a niqab, only her eyes visible. She whispers softly to me, thankfully in English instead of Arabic, “They say you were running around the dunes searching for someone.”
I nod. “I thought I saw someone.”
She shakes her head. “No, you said someone’s name. Over and over. They thought you had gone mad.”
I blink at her, my eyelids feeling like coarse paper. “I did? What was the name?”
She looks over her shoulder, leaning closer to whisper, “Nerites.”
The sound of shattering glass forces me to cover my ears.