I woke this morning and Julie was gone. The wardrobe doors were open and her clothes were gone from the hangers; the drawers spilled only my clothes from their half-open mouths, and the bathroom was blissfully free from millions of cans, tins and bottles. Downstairs was a similar tale; her DVDs were gone from the organiser, the curtains that she'd found in Morocco and had imported were gone and when I walked into the kitchen, her cup was sitting in seven pieces on a note on the table.
I'm leaving you, read the note, and I tsked to myself, that much was obvious. I've taken what's mine that I can carry, I'll be back with a van for the apothecary table and the spice collection. Please don't be here then. We'll talk much later, right now I can't even find the words to write this note.
"Not a problem," I murmured to myself under my breath and rubbed my temples. A headache was building, but it was clear that she'd drugged my coffee last night to ensure I wouldn't wake up, and that was probably the cause. I put the kettle on and wandered out through the connecting door to the garage. Near the door is my travelling trunk -- I've never taken it travelling, but I've put all the things I've brought back in it. To my surprise, there were fresh scratches near both padlocks. I checked the rest of the trunk and there were scratches by the hinges too, and a small crowbar discarded behind the trunk. So Julie had tried to get into it. There was nothing of hers in there. That explained more than her note did though.
The padlocks are just for show. I pressed in a couple of places on the trunk and a thin steel panel in the lid slid back, revealing a recessed combination lock. I entered the combination, wincing only slightly at the memories it evoked, and listened to the steel bolts clunk back. I opened it, cast an appraising glance over the contents, and picked out a soft leather bag of desert sand. The trunk locked automatically when I closed the lid.
I made coffee from the now-boiling water in the kettle and spilled the sand over the kitchen table. It shimmered and sparkled as though still under a desert sun.
I had been in the desert for eight days when I discovered an oasis of sand. There was no surface water and I was running low in the bottles I carried, but the sand here shimmered and sparkled like the sea from a distance, and trees grew around it thickly and with vibrant greenery. I stopped at the edge and looked at it, shading myself under a palm tree. It was undeniably beautiful. There was no breeze, but the sand grains rattled across one another, little currents visible in the larger sea, and the shimmer seemed to create hazy mirages above it. Without quite knowing why I did it, I knelt down and let one hand dip into the shifting, sandy sea.
The rattle of grains became louder and the mass of sand shifted rapidly, dying away to stillness just seconds later. The whole expanse of sand was still and patterned, and in the pattern I recognised myself, stood drinking water near some rocks.
I swept sand into a leather bag I'd been using to carry food when I had some so far, and backed away from the sand. So far I'd learned that there are strange things in the desert, and psychotropic sand seemed like something I should keep, but not walk into. I carried on past, and to my slight surprise, I found the rocks shown in the sand just a couple of hours later. Within the rocks was a small, cold and fresh spring at which I refilled my water, and slaked my thirst.
Sat now at the table, I laid my hand on the sand, and waited. There is only a little sand, so the images come one at a time and are sometimes harder to work out than a cryptic crossword clue. First came Julie's face, then mine looking sad and worried, and now... an ambulance....