The late afternoon sun beat down over the New Mexico desert. Helen determinedly put one foot ahead of another. If she stopped this slow shuffle, she knew she would not be able to lift her feet again and she would die.
The dust half choked her when a breeze stirred but she kept going. She had a hazy idea that the upthrust of rock ahead might provide relief for the sun, maybe even an old pueblo cave.
Her thoughts flickered over the events that had gotten her here – not a coherent sequence, but flashes of speech and people and actions that glittered in her mind like the blaze of light reflected from the rock. They were disjointed, without emotion because her emotions had long since been spent.
“I’m gonna die soon,” she whispered through cracked lips. “You listenin’?” she tried to call.
The feeling that she was being watched was back. Without realizing, she paused to listen for whatever was watching her. She had a vague sense of a creature, big and powerful. Not scary. She laughed, a rasp in her dried out throat.
“Be nice if you was friendly,” she said bleakly.
“Don’t stop. There is water a little way ahead.”
It didn’t seem strange to her that the words spoke in her mind. She stared stupidly at her feet, swaying a little.
“Just a little farther…”
Somehow Helen began moving again. The voice was so kind, she wanted to reach it. Usually no one was kind to her. Even this school trip to celebrate graduation had not been kind. They gave her the piece of paper, but no friends came with it. She wondered if her great aunt would notice that she never came home. Would she even ask how the busload of seniors had left her behind?
If she hadn’t been so dried out, Helen thought with a flash of distant humor, she might have cried.
“Don’t stop, dear one…”
Obediently, Helen staggered forward. Rocks reared up, reflecting the glaring sun. But a slash of shadow beckoned her. Through a mercifully cool cleft in the rocks. Down a stony trail. Her hand trailed over ancient drawings, barely visible in the half-light.
The narrow passage opened abruptly to a ravine edged in brilliant green and dotted with bright flowers.
With a low cry, Helen stumbled toward the hidden spring. Her head spun, and before she could drink, she sank into the grass, unconscious.
The watching dragon shimmered, then an Anasazi warrior stepped into the sun and knelt beside her. He dribbled water into her mouth; his hand passed over her brow and her eyes fluttered open.
“I am Nah-chu-ru,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.”
She smiled. “I ain’t. I ain’t at all...You got the bluest eyes, I ever seen...”
Supported by his arm, she leaned back. His thoughts greeted her and at last she felt she had come home.