Contagion

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Dianne stood at the summit of a broad stone outcrop, jutting out at a sharp angle from the desolate land of the Mojave desert. She drank it all in, the jagged outlines of sparsely spaced Joshua trees, the humongous brown and gray rocks, the limitless expanse of baked dirt and dried shrubs.

It was mesmerizing.

She would drive out into the desert alone as often as she could with nothing but food, water, a sleeping bag and a tent. She would hike during the day, and during the night she would sleep beneath the stars, trying to puzzle out the transcendental mysteries of the cosmos.

A wind gusted, sudden and fierce, sending ripples through her clothes. A cloud of dust kicked into the air, and she snapped her eyes shut a fraction too late.

“Ow,” she hissed, eyes stinging. She waited, expecting the pain to subside after a few moments. But her eyes kept tearing throughout the day.

That night, as the sun set beneath the peaks of distant mountains, her body began to ache, and by the time she lay in her sleeping bag inside the tent, she was feverish, racked by chills that nearly sent her into convulsions. She fell asleep wondering if she would wake.

She dreamed of a man, or was it a woman? Every time she caught sight of the creature it would change. The amorphous entity seemed to manifest from the desert itself, raw, wild and powerful.

It chased her beneath the baking heat of the sun, until she fell to the ground on all fours and could not run any longer. Then it knelt beside her and whispered in her ear.

Come, it said in a voice that carried across the dry convection-oven breeze. Be one with me.

Dianne felt it brush against her lips — it’s own mouth was dry, parched and cracked like the dirt and the rocks — and then thought and sensation fused, recombined. She was no longer Dianne, nor was she this entity of the desert. She was a new creation, a synthesis of sand and flesh and blood.

The hybrid that was no longer Dianne woke the following morning, its fever broken. It rolled up its sleeping bag, packed up its tent. It got into its four-wheel drive pickup and drove back to the city, to civilization.

Humanity had spent thousands of years taming the desert, pushing it back to the peripheries of the world. Now, she would bring the desert back to them.

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Author: Jeff Coleman

Jeff Coleman is a writer who finds himself drawn to the dark and the mysterious, and to all the extraordinary things that regularly hide in the shadow of ordinary life.

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