Sunset over Agadez

Up ahead, through the setting sun’s glare, Anderson made out a darker speck.

The wreckage of his Cessna now miles back, he limped across the baked desert floor, dragging his left foot behind him. His foot had gone numb some while ago, and although Anderson knew on some level that should worry him, at present he was only glad for the small mercy that it no longer stabbed painfully at him with every step.

The speck became a rock, exactly the color of the surrounding desert floor, made visible only by the darkness of its shadow.

Anderson sat on the rock. Carefully stretched his left leg out in front of him.

Stay with the plane, they’d always said. If you’re ever in a wreck, you’re supposed to stay with the plane. But Anderson had been dazed after the crash. Not thinking straight. Hadn’t even taken the half-empty plastic bottle of coke off the passenger seat, or out of the foot-well where he realized it must have fallen during the crash.

He tried to work up a bit of spit to soothe his parched mouth, but came up dry. He had stopped sweating a while back, too. Was that before or after his foot had gone numb? He couldn’t remember. That, he thought, probably ought to worry him too.

Somewhere, probably to the southwest, lay Agadez, a little spot of nothing in the middle of Nigeria. But still, big enough to have people.

How far was it? Anderson remembered flying over it. Marking it on his chart and checking his heading. How long had he flown, after that, before the engine had cut out? Fifteen minutes? Twenty? Hell, it could have been half an hour. He’d been too dazed to note the time of the crash.

Half an hour at 140 knots. Or if he was lucky, only half of that. Best case 40 miles, give or take.

Still too far, and Anderson knew it.

His foot was throbbing again. The rock’s shadow stretched out to his right, long in the evening’s light. The African sun, powerful even as it set, stung the left side of his face.

I should save it, some part of his brain told him as he unzipped the chest pocket of his aviator jacket and took out the stale granola bar that had rested there longer than Anderson could remember.

Doesn’t matter now anyway, another part of his brain replied, as he listened to the crinkle of the Mylar wrapper.

Carefully, almost reverently, Anderson took a bite, eating his last meal under the setting sun.

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