Ethan woke up and saw the bread and fruit lying beside him with his one open eye.  He had discovered a curious and wonderful thing: his senses had sharpened over the past few months in the desert to an amazing degree.  He could smell water long before he saw it, and heard the small scorpions and other creatures of the desert quite easily.  His eyesight had sharpened, too, and the blurs on the horizon were becoming easier to distinguish.  So, he had felt his guardian angel put the food beside him and awakened instantly. 

            Not quickly enough, apparently, because he had yet to see his unknown friend.  Whoever it was, they left food every day while he slept.  It was just enough to see to his nutritional needs.  Ethan suspected that it was Raphael or the other one, Gambiel, but wasn’t sure.  It didn’t seem Gambiel’s style, but Raphael had been helpful.  Whoever it was, he was grateful.  It was some of the best tasting food he’d ever had.

            He washed down his breakfast with water from the hide canteen he’d found at his side the first time he slept after meeting the angels, and marvelled at how sweet water could taste.  All it took was being stranded in the desert to appreciate something so commonplace as water.

            He looked west, where the sun was heading slowly towards the horizon, and started walking.  Time to roll, he thought, and miles to go before I sleep.

***

When Ethan finally did set up camp, under the shadow of a lonely boulder, he didn’t fall asleep right away.  He thought instead of Hope, whose death he had witnessed in his dreams.  He hadn’t thought about her in a long time, and he thought that it was sad that it had taken her death to remind him that he cared about her.  He wasn’t in love with her, he’d known that for a long time, but he did love her.  She had been a good friend.

            He thought back to that autumn, when he’d finally realized that he wasn’t in love, that he was obsessed instead.  It had been the first step in the difficult struggle to break that vicious cycle, but he had made it.  He remembered that it had been the dream that made him wake up to that fact, the dream of being buried in the snow and then rescued.  He had always believed that she had been his rescuer, but the dream made him suspect differently.

            In the dream, the silhouette of the girl calling to him had wings.  And that wasn’t just the strangeness of dreams at play in his subconscious, he remembered thinking that as he passed out.  He had been awake then, the dreams didn’t come until much later.  Her shape was wrong to be Hope, too.  Hope was shorter, and it had been winter.  Hope would have had her parka, and the shape was too supple and feminine to have been someone in a parka.

            The more and more he thought about it, the more sure he was that it had been someone else.  The wings had made him think of it.  They had seemed ridiculous at first, the construct of an addled, frozen boy’s overactive imagination, but now he wasn’t so sure.  He had met real angels after all, and that changed things.  Changed them significantly.

            As Ethan walked west, he would occasionally cast surreptitious glances over his shoulder, hoping to spot her.  Because he was increasingly sure that someone was following him, someone who had been taking care of him in this wasteland, and maybe even before that.

***

                                   

Time began to have no meaning.  Each day was exactly the same as the one before as he crossed the wastelands.  Sometimes he found small streams of water, but, even if he didn’t, the hide canteen was always full.  Sometimes there were rocks or hills for variety, but usually there was just sand.  Miles and miles of sand.  For a while he kept track of the days by notching one of his sticks with a sharp rock, but when the first pole had lines from bottom to top, he gave up because there seemed to be no point.  Little ever changed, and he didn’t seem to be getting anywhere.

            He stared up at the stars, tiny diamonds in the black sky, and laughed.  They were his only company these days, and they weren’t great at making conversation.

            “Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days,” he cried out to them, “and Moses walked in it for forty years.  How long have I been out here?”

            As usual, the stars made no reply.

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