The water in my canteen was completely gone and a search for a barrel cactus was fruitless. Even if I had found one, I probably wouldn’t have had the strength to cut it open. Water mirages were quite prevalent amid the sand dunes. Its comical to think that I could have fallen for such obvious illusions but in my dehydrated state, anything seemed possible. I desperately wanted to believe all of them were real. Even in the partial shade, I began to feel delirious. There was nowhere to escape until dusk as my brain cooked like a lobster in the pan.
Numerous times I was seduced away from the relative shelter of the rock formations by phantom pools. Even when I knew better, I still staggered over to them in crazed desperation. Each time, I reminded myself how pointless it was to waste my valuable energy but in that state, all logic is lost. Self-preservation takes over.
My next psychological experience in the heat wasn’t as easy to explain. I began to lose track of time. Had it not been for the sun’s basic position in the sky, I would not have had any idea what time it was. With it near the top of the horizon, I estimated it to be between noon and two PM. Keeping my senses alert was necessary to ward off more hallucinations and prevent me from wandering to my death.
Off in the distance I saw a lone rider on horseback! At first I assumed It was just another hallucination but he and his horse would disappear as they went down each hill. Then they would reappear as they rose to the top of the next dune. It was an important detail that I caused me to believe the vision was real. Hope made me cling to that optimistic perspective.
I staggered out of the shade to attract his attention. Frantically I waved in hopes of begging for some water or a ride out of the desert. I flailed my arms wildly to catch his eye but feared he was too far away. It was then when I realized he was heading straight for me!
It seemed too good to be true but I desperately wanted to believe it. For the sake of my sanity, I needed for it to be real. My soaring spirits fought off the possibility of it being just another cruel mirage. As he got closer, I was pretty sure he was real but I tried to temper my expectations. When he was close enough to distinguish his features, I felt as if I had seen his photograph before. His profile was familiar to me in a way I could not exactly determine.
As he galloped up beside me, the glare of the noonday sun prevented direct eye contact. Continuous beads of sweat poured from my forehead. My powers of observation were greatly diminished by advanced dehydration. Otherwise I might have realized who he was, much sooner. When I asked the familiar-looking stranger for help, he explained that he was out of water but could guide me out of the desert if I followed along behind him.
He sincerely apologized for his limited hospitality and explained that his horse was too loaded down to carry anyone else. I was just grateful for human company and expert guidance out of the desert. With reserves of strength I didn’t know I still possessed, I followed the oddly familiar horseman into the midday heat. A short way into the journey, the young man introduced himself as William Bonney; and then fell mysteriously silent.