“Yew sure about this?” says the pilot, swivelling in his seat, and I wake with a start from an uneasy doze. Dream-images linger in my mind, tribal paintings mingling with the sight of the clouds as the 747 that brought me across the ocean began its descent. And there was a voice...but the words fade from memory.
“Quite sure,” I say, peering through the window as the light plane skims across the desert, boulders and sagebrush passing beneath it.
“Ain’t landin’ for more’n a minute,” he says, daring me to argue. “Prob’ly breakin’ the law as it is. Yew know where you’re goin’, boy?”
“I’ll know it when I get there,” I say, reaching for my bag and then realising I didn’t bring it. There wasn’t time to pack. There wasn't time to do anything.
“Ain’t no towns for nigh on thirty miles,” he goes on. “Long walk from here to anywheres.”
“I know,” I say. “Shouldn’t you be sort of landing the plane some time soon?”
He glares at me and turns back to his controls. The wheels touch, bounce and settle, and the plane begins to shake itself to pieces on the rough ground.
“Shoulda charged y’extra,” the pilot grumbles as he brings the plane to a halt.
”You did,” I say, reaching for the door. “Thanks.”
He says nothing. I open the door and jump down, into a world of heat. The door slams shut behind me and the engine coughs into life again, but I only have eyes for the sight in front of me.
This means something. This...is important.
The caldera of an extinct volcano rises out of the landscape. Around it, almost invisible in the heat haze, is a wire fence, and the land around it is also fenced off. I have no idea why I am here, or what I will find, but right at this moment I don’t care. I am filled with wild exultation, as if I had achieved a lifelong ambition. I begin to run towards the gate in the outer fence, headlong, heedless, desperate to achieve my goal, the feeling within me building to a climax...
Somehow the gate passes beneath me, and in that moment, like the bursting of a bubble, the compulsion that has driven me halfway across the world is gone. I land on my feet, just inside the gate, thousands of miles from my life, my work, my friends, my cellphone, and with no clue what to do next.
I look back at the illimitable desert behind me. I look forward. Something resolves from the haze, something nestled in the lee of the volcano, the size of a small bus or maybe a caravan.
I start walking towards it.