Walking through the desert, my feet dry and blistered, we spent days -- two, I think -- hoping someone would find us. My friend, who I found lying in the yellow sand just a day and sometime ago, was marching behind confidently. “I’ve never asked you: how’d you end up here?” I inquired to my mysterious companion.

“I’m not sure, the last thing I remember is your face, waking me from the sand.”

“How… how do you do so well without water?”

“I guess -- I don’t know -- I just have a high dehydration tolerance.”

“And your” -- 

“I used to always walk around barefoot.” It was like he knew what I was asking before I said it -- even though we met just 30 hours ago. 

As we walked on, I slowed, but my nameless friend showed no signs of fatigue. “Are you sure you shouldn’t be leading?”

“You’re doing a fine job.”

“But you.”

Again he interrupted. “Sh. Keep leading.”

As he strolled, I pushed to walk faster; how could a weak man lead? Now, he no longer strolled; instead, he walked with a purpose. With a commanding pace and exhausted body, our silence lasted for hours. Suddenly, as the sun set, I collapsed. Immediately, he came to my aid, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, I think it’s just from walking a lot.  Can we just sleep here tonight?”

“That’s good with me.”

The next morning, we marched on, just a little slower, a little dryer, a little more tired and parched. Hours past and silence pressed on us like our journey, until, my companion struck through the silence with a story: “Do you know the tale of the seven boys?”

“No, no,” I said quietly, so as to minimize the energy it took to talk.

“Well, there were seven boys who loved to hike in the woods. All together, they would hike once or twice a month for days or occasionally weeks. They would take turns leading; the leader would decide where to hike, when to rest, and when to turn back. So, each of the boys took turns leading. Eventually a boy named Matthew was chosen to lead. Even though he had gone on every trip, he was always the slowest and had trouble with the weather. But he was chosen to lead, so he led.”

“He made the decision to hike for three days, fifteen miles a day. ‘We’ll pass the river, then hike to the ruins, then, finally, pass the river again and return home,’ he announced to the group.”

“The other six boys were happy with the plan; it would be challenging, but what an experience. So, the next morning, they left home and headed towards the ruins. Matthew led the whole way, past the river and to the ruin, leading without question. On the way back, he grew tired and started to doubt himself. ‘Are you sure I should lead?’”

“All the boys reassured him; in their eyes, he was doing great. However, Matthew, for some reason, thought they were lying, so his doubt festered. Eventually the group reached the river, and again he questioned -- himself and the path -- ‘does this look good?’”

“‘Looks great, Matthew,’ some boy said.’” 

“So Matthew led and waded through the river. Halfway across, he looked back and found the boys had left him. In defeat, he floated down the river, never to return home.”

Focusing on my steps, I barely listened. When it appeared he had stopped jabbering, I said quietly, again to save energy, “What a wonderful story.” I don’t think that was the right response because he didn’t seem to know what to say back.

The silence resumed, and we marched on until the dryness became unbearable, the thirst unquenchable, and the exhaustion unconquerable; I collapsed. “I give in, I accede! I can’t do this. No, I can’t, can’t, can’t,” I screamed with a sudden stir of emotion. 

“You’re truly done?”

“Truly,” I admitted, utterly out of breath. 

“Let’s rest for an hour, then spend another walking, until we find someone or something.”

“No, no, it’s, too much, too much. I’d rather just sit here and die,” I said sobbing. I now knew the truth of the situation: I was to die here, in the Sahara sand.  

“Fine. We’ll rest,” he gave in, just as I did. 

I closed my eyes and fell deep into an uncomfortable sleep. An hour later, it abruptly ended: “Get up,” he screamed in my face, “We’re goin.”

“I’d rather just sit and wait.”

“You said you’d come,” his voice was an amalgam of hope and demand. 

“No, I didn’t, I didn’t,” I said barely able to understand myself.

“Give me another hour, then I’ll leave you, while I go find help,” he said sternly.

“One more hour?” I questioned like an emotional boy in school. 

“One more hour,” he said with pride; he had finally won. 

Slowly, I got up and hobbled along. For a minute, then another, repeating the same mantra in my head: “Only an hour, only an hour.” I fought to walk like my life depended on it. My breath struggled like a car stuck in mud. And my mind was only kept working from the hint of hope from my companion. 

My body and mind went from good to bad like a roller coaster; one minute, I thought it better to die and the next, rescue seemed imminent.  “Look there!”

“What is that?”

“People and water!”

“Wow. Look at that pool! And those people, here of all places!”  I yelled with tears of joy, no longer caring to conserve my voice. “A sight to behold, truly a sight to behold!” 

“We are saved, our journey has finally approached its end!” my friend said. 

Walking on a well-beaten path which suddenly appeared, as if no one would travel more than a thousand feet from the pool, I was elated. “Unbelieveable,” I said in ebullient disbelief, “nothing for as far as the eye can see, yet these people here. They’re all here -- from all places! Unbelievable.”

“And look over there!” my companion said, “They’re jumping off that dune into the pool!”

“Let us go to the nearest pool to drink and swim -- find out where this all came from!”

“Yes, the far one,” my companion forcefully suggested, slightly shifting the mood. 

Now walking towards the farther pool, I noticed the strange feeling of the path: it looked worn and wet, yet felt dry and stable -- as if the path itself were meant to feel like the rest of the desert. “Let’s go jump off the dune,” my friend directed, “for the entrance into the water will be twice as exciting!”

“Yes, and then we can swim in the other pool,” I paused waiting for him to interject, “It will be so much fun, the cool water, the interesting people; we can slide and jump and talk, and we can go home.”

“We can go home.”

Walking faster, for at that moment, there was nothing I wanted to do more than jump off the giant dune into the cool, deep, dark-blue pool. I waved to a boy on my right, who, at the smaller pool, was sliding down the dune. He gave me a pleasant wave back. 

Walking further, the full immensity of the second pool came into view.  “Wow,” I said in awe as my excitement showed in my face and chest.  “Do you think we can drink some water here?”

“Of course! Once we jump in, we can grab some pool water -- these people must drink something. Plus, the pools look plenty clean.”

“Okay, I’ve never heard of that before, but okay. And you’re right, the pools do look clean.”

As we walked on, the oasis looked more and more appealing. Like a perfect dream, all of its inhabitants were clean, no sand on their skin; all the pools were a deep blue; and everyone was smiling -- even sibling were getting along. Approaching the second pool -- the one with the dune-jump -- I went over to feel the water before I dove in. “No. Let’s go to the top, then feel the water,” he said commandingly, once again shifting the mood. 

“Why not just feel it now?” I asked, still moving to touch the water.

“Come on, it’ll make the first jump so much more satisfying.”

“Okay, if you say so,” I said finally giving in.

As we marched towards the top, my excitement and nervousness grew. “You’re sure the pool is deep, right?”

“Yeah. Look at it.”

“You’re right, you’re right.”

Reaching the peak, I took three deep breaths. “You should jump first.”

“No, you should go.”

“No, you. Come on.”

“Alright,” he said, taking a deep breath. Then, he jumped. A quarter of a second later he splashed. “It feels great.”

“I’ll be down in a second!” My skin dry and cracked, my mouth parched and body burnt, I yearned for the cool water. Taking a deep breath, I fought to ignore the feeling in my stomach and leaped. Flying through the air, I felt my first wind in days. With my thirst at its peak, I prepared to hit the water, which was just inches underneath me. “Woooooo,” I yelled, racing down. As my foot hit the surface, I screamed in pain.

My body slammed against the water like it was concrete. Dry and bleeding and in the most awful pain of my life, I screamed in agony. The water turned into sand and the people disappeared. My friend was the only one left. As my vision slowly narrowed, obscured by an ever increasing black ring, he said, “Go in peace, Matthew,” and faded from my vision.  

Owen, Age 16