Tritti had been watching the horizon since she and Johnka climbed down from his sledge and stepped onto the desert sand. The cheap blue sky slammed harshly into the undulating orange sand as distinctly as [black frame borders a white matte]—except where Johnka now led her. There, just beyond his shoulder, a smudge marred the crisp horizon. It got wider as they approached; it did not look natural.
Less than an hour ago he’d handed her a small water bottle, apologized for a bit of a walk, and said to follow him before hiking out into the near-noon sun. He’d not stopped, slowed, nor spoken since. Johnka’s abrupt reticence and quick pace kept Tritti quiet too and many steps back from the man she’d been thinking of as an uncle until now.
By the time her water ran out, the smudge had resolved itself into a whirlwind of strange proportions. Instead of rising like a elephant’s trunk into the sky above and moving along with the prevailing wind it ringed the ground like a cloud or a fog or a fence and stayed put. Johnka had led her to the center of the anomoly rather than skirting the edge so they could go around. Tritti was angry she had walked this far only to have to walk the long way around and with no water.
She swallowed then licked her lips to speak, but her voice still came out like a desperate croak. “Jon…ga.”
He stood at the edge of the swirling sand and should not have been able to hear her, but he untucked his keffiya and looked over his shoulder to smile before he stepped into the sand storm and disappeared. His last gesture could have been beckoning her to follow him or could have been him gathering his robe against the winds.
Tritti stayed safely back from the whirlwind expecting Johnka to stumble out cursing his own folly. When after a while he didn’t, Tritti’s anger rose and mixed with trepedition. She’d have to rescue him.
Her first instinct was to gather her supplies for the effort, but she didn’t have a rope or goggles or anything else that might be helpful, just an empty water bottle. Tritti buried that in the sand with the top sticking out so she could find it later—she’d need her hand free. Next, she tucked the ends of her keffiya up over her nose and eyes and tightly into the wrap so they would not fly loose. She shimmed her finger into the crease to open it up enough to see out. Under the cloth she took two breath breaths and held the last as she struggled into the scouring sand.
The wind immediately stripped her veil free of her face. Her arm went up to shield her skin as she advanced a few more steps.
“Johnka! Johnka! I’m over here!”
Tritti thought maybe the
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