M is for Mirage…

(Author’s Note: Sara Myers is a character from a novel I copyrighted twenty years ago, called The Shaman’s Mirror.  I am considering revising it.  Let me know if you are intrigued.)

Sara Myers never did anything like this. For fifty-six years, she had been a “good girl”, seemingly put on this Earth to do what was expected of her. Now, her children were grown. Her divorce finalized a few weeks under a year ago, and her new man had proposed. She was not ready to accept it. The Sonoran Desert surrounded her as she drove toward her best friend and a chance for a little late-in-life adventure. It was a rash decision, so unlike her. This trip punctuated the possibility that she was not firing on all cylinders.

The desert flowed past as she sped south toward Tucson on Interstate-10, a monotonous stretch of nothingness as far as she could see. Her mind dredged up memories of her latest dreams. She had always been psychic, but this last round of dreaming had upset her enough to follow Patrice’s advice to leave her life behind her, at least for a little while.

The specters from the dream would not leave her alone. What did they want? The cave was new. The dead weight of a man lying on top of her was a new twist as well, but the man himself was not. Three times, he had visited her slumber, standing before her naked and glistening, trembling in want with need no less than hers. As he approached her, awe and wonder lit his face. She wanted him, and reached out for him each time, but as she did, he disappeared; replaced by an awful, bony, and weathered old man dressed in shabby deerskins and feathers. Claws and teeth hung from cords around his neck. His hair, most likely bug infested, was long and matted. He seemed to be a mixture of races, representatives of which kaleidoscoped across his features. Interrupting luscious dreams of carnal bliss, he had approached her every time she dreamed of her beautiful lover, waking her at some god-forsaken hour. It was always the same. At the end of the dream, he shook a horrid, rattling staff in her face and croaked, “Now is the time.”

The time for what? She had no business dreaming about beautiful, younger men, that’s what time it was. It was better to keep her mind focused on Carl, and his proposal. She sighed.

Behind her, the sun sank into the Sonoran, the hills behind Tucson shimmered in the heat. She rubbed her sweaty hand on shirt but her clothes were damp with sweat. She was shaky. She took a deep breath and grabbed the wheel so tightly that she drove like an old woman barely in control of her car. Good grief, she needed a rest. A sign to the right said Denny’s – one mile. At the next exit, she pulled off the freeway.

There were only two cars parked in front of the restaurant and none in the lot on the east side where it was shady. She headed for it, turning into a small patch of cool, cast by the building.

He came from nowhere – bam – in front of her car as she pulled into it. She slammed on the brakes as he slapped her fender with both hands.

“Oh no,” she cried.

“Hey,” he yelled. “What the hell?” He slapped the hood of her car again. He flipped his middle finger at her, and then stormed away.

She was tired and shaky, but not so shaky that she would miss seeing a pedestrian in front of her car. She must have blinked or blacked out because for one second, he was there in front of her scowling, and the next he was gone. Panicked, she looked all around. The door of the restaurant was too far for him to have reached it without her seeing him go in. He wasn’t stomping toward one of the other two cars in front of Denny’s.

Maybe he fainted.

She opened the door and jumped out. The Arizona heat rammed her like a blast from a rocket. He wasn’t on the ground. He wasn’t anywhere. She needed to find him to give him contact information.

She honestly had not seen a single soul in the lot when she pulled in. She must be more exhausted than she realized. Sinking heavily back into the seat of her Sentra to grab her purse, she singed her arm on the doorframe. All decorum lost, she licked the burn on her arm and blew across the pain. The landscape around her car was crowding her, hot and sharp, just like her dream. The area was junky and spoke of decay. She couldn’t take a deep breath. Good grief. What had she done?

She grabbed her purse, rolled the windows down, and then decided this was not the side of town to leave windows open. She knew her car would be a bread oven when she got back into it, but she didn’t want to take any chances. People were obviously lurking about.

There was something familiar about the man she’d almost hit. He was tall, and had to bend down to slap her car. His jacket was soft and worn, and matched the soft cinnamon of his hair. His hair struck her as particularly beautiful, but her mind had not registered much else. It happened so fast. He was in front of her one second and gone the next. She lurched to the shelter of the restaurant looking for the man she had hit.

A waiter approached her. “Are you looking for your people,” he asked. He had a friendly smile.

“No,” she replied, then she added, “Yes. Well…he’s not mine, but I almost hit a man out there, and I want to be sure he is okay.” She looked at every seat in the restaurant. He wasn’t in any of them. “He’s about six feet tall, cinnamon colored hair, rumpled, you know?” She pulled at the hair on the top of her head. “I think he was carrying a briefcase.”

“Oh, that sounds like The Professor. No, he hasn’t come in today. Actually, you’re the first new customer we’ve had in here for about,” he looked at his watch, “thirty-six minutes.”

“Thirty-six minutes?” she said, dumbly.

“Here,” he nudged her toward a seat at the counter. “Cool off. People see all kinds of mirages and phantoms in this heat.”

“But he slapped my car. I heard it. I, I…I felt it.”

“Like I said, all kinds of mirages and phantoms. Hey, if there’s no one on the ground out there, you’re good to go. I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you.” He handed her a menu and poured her a glass of water. “I’ll be right back.”

She sat down. When he returned, she ordered her usual hamburger and fries, then changed her mind and switched to a cool chicken salad and iced tea. She shivered under the air-conditioning. It was more than just air that chilled her. She was tired, and stressed from driving, and she was seriously wondering if she’d made the right decision. Dear God, she had almost hit a man. She could turn around and take the highway back to her safety net. A voice interrupted that thought, an old voice she’d heard too many times; the old man from her dreams croaked, “Now is the time. The desert…where truth cannot shelter itself…” She could actually hear the horrid staff rattling.

Cripes. Turning around was something she absolutely could not do.

The waiter set a doily right in front of her, followed by a full cup of hot water with a slice of lemon floating in it. “You’re dehydrated. Drink up. It’ll help the shakes,” he said.  Then he winked, “It will scare away those phantoms. I’ll bring iced tea with your food.”

She took a sip. Her body was grateful, if not for the water, then for the heat of it. She took another, and then another.

The waiter smiled at her when he walked by.

She kept looking over her shoulder to watch for the cinnamon haired man, but he was definitely gone. She took another sip of the soothing hot lemon water and watched the waiter as he cradled her salad on one arm and brought her iced tea in the other. She would eat, get in her car, and drive to Patrice’s house and forget about this. He was just a phantom, a mirage dredged up by her heat-addled brain.

Somehow, somewhere deep inside, she knew he was more than that. She hoped their first encounter would be better than this one.