A brutal passage through the desert. Merciless sun glowering, baking the earth’s withered heart. Punishing glare and scouring sands push every shade and shadow down into narrow fissures where the scuttling, hard-scrabble creatures clatter and crawl.
Not a drop to drink in weeks.
This was his experience of sobriety.
Miserable. Harrowing. Unending.
He had been walking for hours. Wandering the serpentine dunes in concentric circles away from the wreckage that should have claimed his life.
He had fallen from the sky, wrapped inside a screaming husk of metal. The flaming engines howling their death sirens as the airplane fell and fell and fell. Screams. Pleading. Prayers. But surprising how orderly, how calm they all remained as the plane plummeted from air to ground.
And the hammer punch of contact as the world erupted in flame and darkness swept over even as flame licked his face and claimed the bodies of those around him.
He woke up, battered and badly bruised but amazingly unbroken. For one terrible moment he thought he could not feel his arms or legs because there was no sensation when his hands reached out and then realizing the reason he could feel neither of these was that he was holding the charred and severed limbs of the passenger seated beside him. And then the recognition of what had happened and the realization that he had woken in a mound of burnt and broken bodies. He climbed through the molten crush of plastic, steel and flesh, found an opening nearly big enough to push himself through and emerged screaming and bloody like a howling infant from a catastrophic womb.
Emergence was hard fought. The narrow gash in the plane’s steel frame scraping his skin bloody and raw as he wriggled through. He wriggled through and, once outside, lost consciousness.
Thirty seven days. That was his first thought as he regained consciousness and struggled to this feet.
Thirty seven days. He touched the heavy brass token in his pocket, turned it over between his fingers, comforted only a little by the fact of it. Still there.
Which meant he was still there. Everyone else on the plane had died. He was still alive. It made no sense. He tried to comprehend the improbability of it. He looked up to the sky, expecting to see God. The sky was empty and very far away.
Everyone was dead. This was no time for philosophy.
It had been thirty seven days since his last drink. Thirty seven days of gut-wrenching sobriety.
His first coherent thought followed by the overwhelming desire for the kind, always forgiving oblivion of his next last drink.
He started to walk. Wandering without direction. There was no orientation. There was no direction. He did what the program had taught him. Get moving. Keep moving.
There had to be a drink for him out there somewhere.