The next day they moved camps. It was a lot of work, and when they finally got moving it was already getting dark. Driving down a long dirt road between the dunes a shadow came walking into the road like a blind man. Barry pulled the wheel over. The Jeep flew out of the driveway.
Rachel found herself lying on the ground. Her head hurt. Her back and her leg. Bones broken. She saw the truck. It was turned over, wrecked. Johnny was lying a bit further away. Something was moving in the dark. It looked like a man, but he was walking on his hands. His feet were hanging down over his head.
She passed out.
Something was grabbing her. She tried to fight it, but she was too weak. She was pulled down under the sand.
She came too herself in a hall. Though it was dark as a tomb, she could feel the room somehow, hear it tingling in her mind. The piles of sand, the walls, the ceiling above.
-Hello? She tried. – Is there anybody there?
A sound broke the silence. Something moved in the sand.
She heard a sound she’d heard once before. The strange, metallic sound going down from unhearable frequencies. It was him. The creature she’d met under the moon.
The creature swam closer. It poured sand over her broken leg. It felt good. Alleviating.
-My… My friends… Are they…?
The painful answer came to her mind.
They are all dead.
The memories of the accident were coming back. The strange man walking on his hands. Johnny’s horrible screams.
She realized she had to be under the sand somewhere, under the desert. She started worrying about the air, but in the same moment she knew.
It has all been taken care of.
She heard other creatures arrive, creatures like the one she knew. One was a bit smaller, more delicate. They creatures poured sand over her, covered her body. Soon the pain was gone.
-Who… What are you?
Images started filling her head. It felt like her own thoughts, memories, telling her things she didn’t know from before.
Once our wild ancestors were living on the surface, just like yours, but we came here from the sea, millions of years ago.
Our species learned to hide in the sand, dig ourselves down on the bottom of the sea in the sandy cost of this continent, but we couldn’t breathe under water. We needed to get up every once in a while, putting ourselves in danger. Slowly, through millions of years, we slid up on the shore, into the dry sand of the desert.
Rachel could feel the presence of hundreds, thousand of creatures swimming in the sand outside the room. She could see a big city. A city older than any other known.
Humans came along. Several species came and went, until yours settled down here for good. Tens of thousands of years ago a civilization rose, big cities were built, and new techniques made them capable of growing enough food and resources for everyone. But wealth has its price. The ecosystem broke down. Wars, unknown for centuries, broke out. Famine. Starvation.
You started hunting us.
We pulled back into the desert, but the desert is stronger than man. It ate your cities, your fertile land. Now the cities of the past are ours. They’ve been our home ever since.
Rachel lay back. She was worn and tired.
Relax, now. You need to heal.
She had no idea how much time past. Most of the time she was in a strange trance, floating in the minds of the creatures swimming in the sand.
-I can walk now, she said one day. -I need to get back to my world.
The sand swimmer looked at her, said nothing. His sadness mixed with hers.
Take a deep breath and close your eyes.
As they went up she felt the other swimmers saying goodbye, watching her ascend up over their city. They reached the surface, and she gasped for air. Once again the moon was full, once again the desert bathed in silver.
They moved on. Several times they went up for air on the way. Then they stopped. She could see the lights from a city in a distance..
You have to go on from here. The ground is too hard.
It was a moment of silent goodbyes, hugs and kisses. A moment of understanding across species, of love and friendship.
-Goodby, Rachel said with tears in her eyes. -I will never forget.
The creature sunk down in the sand. Rachel stood there for a while, looking into the the beautiful landscape. On the top of a dune the sand swimmer jumped in a last goodbye and disappeared into the depths of the desert.