You drive your truck, a rusty, blue F-150 that looks about fifty years old, through a desert night. It is alien, void of human life. You think that the desert abhors life. That is why only creatures too stubborn to care what nature thinks of them can dwell in the arid habitat.
Maybe the desert cares about us. Maybe it knows weak, fleshy humans cannot survive in its moistless environment.
Or perhaps the desert does not care about us, you think, just as its inhabitants care about nothing, and that thought scares you.
But regardless of what the desert you are driving through thinks of you and your old, blue truck, you continue driving. Scrubby bushes and plants with an extraterrestrial appearance pass through the zone of yellow presented by your one working headlight.
Part of you is bothered that only one headlight works. Your field of vision is now uneven, and should something happen to your right, you would be unaware of it. But part of you is too tired to care. You know you cannot replace it yourself at this moment, as you did not think to pack a spare headlight, and dwelling on the single headlight only bothers you more.
To distract yourself from the lopsided illumination, you look up. Past your bug-speckled and grime-streaked windshield, you can see the vast, vacant sky hovering above this desert that is alien, void of human life.
And while the sky is vast and vacant, it appears to be filled with a dusting of stars. But you know that it is only the vast, occupied universe behind it that holds these stars. The sky is quite empty, save, perhaps, for a feeling of… something.
You do not have a name for this feeling. You are too tired to search for one. So you drop your eyes from the vast, vacant sky and its backdrop of a vast, occupied universe to look once again at the single beam from your single headlight.
But you do not have to bear the peculiar, uneven illumination much longer. The pale asphalt before you lightens further as you approach the dim streetlamps of a singular desert town.
A faded sign proclaims the fun travel destination that is Yucca Springs, although the spray paint disfiguring a happily painted family causes you to suspect the message is no longer as truthful as it could have once been. Secretly, you wonder if Yucca Springs had ever been a fun travel destination.
You do not drive the truck past the sign. Instead, you stop and park the car, stepping on the emergency brake because you are close to a ditch. You do not know if the emergency brake could actually prevent falling into a ditch, but you see no reason why it would cause it either.
All around you is darkness. Not the blackness of an unlit desert, and especially not the pale dim of a wasteland lit only by a moon. But true darkness, the sort that hides in shafts of yellow light and creeps in the minuscule shadows of scrubby plants, and the darkness that you hear because it muffles and sharpens all the wrong noises.
There is nothing in front of you. But there is everything behind you. Every once in a while, you turn to see what is there. But suddenly, the behind-you is now the in-front-of-you, and everything has moved to the new behind you. The darkness makes the shuffle of your shoes on gritty sand piercingly loud, but the sounds of everything behind you are still maddeningly muffled.
Then, you hear a new sharp sound. It is not the sound of tires rolling over asphalt, or even through the gritty sand. It is footsteps–just footsteps–crunching through the scrubby plants towards you.
You turn to face to noise, and instead you face a face.
“Welcome,” says the face.
You do not say anything back, because you do not need to welcome them, nor do you feel very thankful for their welcome.
The face has a body between it and the source of the footsteps, and that body has hands. The hands hold out a photograph. Your hands take it.
The photograph is old. Or perhaps, it is new, and has simply been abused. It is faded in a bright sort of way that looks very dim in the darkness. But where the photograph fails to send an image to your mind, your mind imposes an image on the photograph, and to your eyes it looks just as you remember.
It is a photograph of you, in a place you once lived, with a person you once loved, with an expression you once wore often. You try to replicate the expression, but it has been too long, and you only frown.
“It’s the same one,” says the face with a body between it and the source of the footsteps.
You nod, because it wasn’t a question and therefor didn’t need an answer.
“How long have you been looking for it?”
You shrug, because you do not remember.
The face with a body between it and the source of the footsteps turns and walks away, the footsteps now sounding muffled.
Suddenly, the darkness changes the way it sounds. Even your foosteps do not sound sharp. But the sounds that once were muffled are piercing and loud. They are the sounds of things behind you that you will never see, like memories and things that hunt you.
Something feels like it is growing between your nails and the nailbeds. It makes you cringe to consider, but you cannot shake the feeling any more than you can shake the Everything behind you.
So you clutch the photograph and walk back to your truck, footsteps muffled, and step inside. You release the emergency brake and put it into drive. Then you drive through Yucca Springs. Between the street lamps, you can see that only one headlight still works.
You drive out of Yucca Springs. There is no goodbye sign. You wonder if the town could not afford a second sign. But you decide you do not care, even though you do, because you care even more about the Everything that is behind you.
You go into the desert. The desert abhors life. That is why only creatures to stubborn too care what nature thinks of them can dwell in the arid habitat.
Maybe the desert cares about you. Maybe the desert does not care about you. Maybe it wants to protect you, and maybe it does not think of you at all.
You wonder which is more alive. You, or the Everything behind you. Which one will the desert kill first?