Arid

Chapter 1

Joshua opened his eyes wide, jarred awake by shrill screams and cold clammy hands shackled

around his throat. Edgar was wild-eyed with matted hair, kneeling over him and trying to

choke the life from him. “Where is it? Where are you hiding it?” Edgar shouted. “What did

you do with the water?”

“Edgar, get the fuck off of me!” Joshua grabbed the older man’s bony shoulders and tossed

him on the floor like a rag doll. “What’s gotten into you?” he gasped, rubbing his neck.

“I know you took all of the water! You stole it!” Edgar yelled.

Joshua rested his hand on Edgar’s back and drew himself close to the sunken creature that had

once been his trusted friend. “Listen to me. I didn’t take anyone’s water. There’s no water to

steal. Now go home and get some sleep.”

Joshua pulled Edgar to his feet and shoved him out of his filthy, run-down shack in the barren

desert wasteland. Edgar stumbled and fell face-first in the dirt. He groaned but made no

attempt to get up. Julio having heard the commotion, ran toward Joshua. A short, attractive

Latino woman named Maria and her eight-year-old daughter Paola were close behind him.

“What’s going on?” Julio said. “Are you okay, Edgar?” His Hispanic accent seemed thicker

when he was excited or confused.

“I woke up to him choking me. He thinks I’m keeping water from everyone,” Joshua replied.

“You’re crazy, old man. What the hell is wrong with you?!” Julio barked.

“He’s severely dehydrated and overheated. He’s not in his right mind. His hands are cold so

he’s probably hypothermic at this point. His body’s shutting down,” Joshua said.

“Can’t we do anything for him?” asked Maria.

“I put several more cans in the ground and laid the plastic tarp over them, but I got very little

water. I even tried draining a few cacti and all that came out was a gooey substance. There’s

no water source for miles and even if there was, you can’t walk far in this heat without fluids.

You wouldn’t last more than a couple of hours,” Joshua replied.

“Do you think anyone could spare some of their water rations?” Maria said.

Julio snorted. “We don’t even have enough water for ourselves. If you share water with

anybody, you risk your own life. They left us in this shithole to die, and it’s working.”

“Stop talking like that. You’re going to scare Paola!” Maria hissed.

“She should be scared and so should you. Why do you think they dumped us in the middle of

nowhere? They’ve taken everything from us–our cars, our houses, our money. They gave us

no way to survive. They’ve got no use for us anymore. The Purifiers haven’t even been here

in weeks,” Julio retorted.

“They need Josh’s help because he knows more than any of them about the wind turbines,”

Maria countered.

“Then why the hell aren’t they here asking for his help anymore?” Julio replied.

“Enough already!” Joshua said. “Maria, please take Edgar to Xiomara’s place and see if she

can help him.”

Maria pulled Edgar to his feet and she and Paola helped him to Xiomara’s. “It’ll be okay,

Edgar. Xiomara will make you better.” Paola patted his arm. Edgar glanced at her and stared

off into space. “Just pretend you’re somewhere else, someplace better. That’s what I do when

I feel sick or depressed.” She put her arm around him.

“What do you think Xiomara’s going to be able to do for him?” Julio wanted to know.

“She used to be a nurse,” Josh replied.

“That doesn’t do much good out here.”

“Julio, do you have to make every situation worse?” Josh snapped. He didn’t mind Julio’s

pessimism most of the time, but today it was grating on him.

“I’m sorry, man. I just don’t think the Purifiers are coming back again, and I’m not sure how

we’ll survive” Julio sighed.

“I know. I’ll try to think of a plan, but for now everyone needs to stay indoors. If we’re

sweating in the sun all day, we’ll end up like Edgar.” Joshua rested his hand on Julio’s

shoulder.

“All right, bro.” Julio nodded.

Joshua went back to his shack and drank the last of his water ration for the day. It was

sweltering, stuffy, and miserable inside. The little battery -powered fans didn’t help much. He

glanced at the tall, skinny, unkempt man in the mirror and didn’t recognize himself. His

chiseled, dirt-smudged cheeks looked hollow. His filthy, tattered clothes hung on him. At

twenty-eight years old, he never could’ve imagined that this would be his life.

He was once a consultant for a large clean energy firm, a proud husband, expectant father, and

the owner of a beautiful three-bedroom house in Scottsdale. Now he lived in a tiny, two-room 

hut that couldn’t even keep the debris out in a dust storm. His lumpy straw mattress made him

yearn for his old Serta bed.

He tried to remember a time when people wouldn’t have killed one another for something as

basic as water. Memories of being on the high school swim team and fishing trips with friends

now seemed like a myth. It was as if nothing else existed but arid, uninhabitable land.

Only cacti, dirt, rocks, shrubbery, saguaro, and other plants surrounded them. Mountains

stood tall and proud off in the distance. They seemed much closer than they really were.

Houses and paved roads were vague memories. Their closest neighbors were corpses in a

cluster of shacks several miles away. It felt like he’d been wiped off the face of the earth,

never to see civilization again. It was a lonely, helpless feeling. How the hell did it come

down to this? he wondered.

It all started with a nuclear war in 2040. A surprise enemy attack destroyed parts of the

southwest and scourged thousands of miles of land. The lack of rainfall made it even more

difficult to rebuild and recover. Most of the country hadn’t seen a drop for months. Some

billionaire moguls started draining lakes and selling the water to cities experiencing droughts.

Multi-million-dollar companies and politicians saw a chance to make money and ran with the

idea. They purchased the rights to all bodies of water across the country and made them

inaccessible to the public. Lakes and rivers were surrounded by razor-sharp barbed wire

fences. They depleted the country’s water supply to sell it back to the public at ridiculous

prices. Laws were passed that banned citizens from collecting rain water. Water exportation to

the public was blocked and ocean shorelines were patrolled by armed guards. Joshua shook

his head.

The lower and middle classes went bankrupt and their lives were consumed with poverty,

sickness, and death. When the national crime rate reached an all-time high, the water barons

formed the army of brutes they called Purifiers. Joshua clenched his fist at the thought of

them. The poverty stricken, including himself, were forced out of their homes by Purifiers and

sent to live in shacks outside of town. If Shackville residents were deemed useful in any way,

Purifiers were ordered to bring them food, water, and other basic amenities.

They usually visited Joshua’s group every few weeks because of his expertise on wind

turbines. His advice was needed so the banks could build more turbines to pump water. On

several occasions he was taken to the construction sites to assist them. His assistance was well

rewarded then, but now their food and water supply was running low. There was no way to

know when or if the Purifiers would show up again.

He sat on his wicker stool and ran his fingers through his coarse brown hair. He had to think

of a way to get some food and water. He got up and paced the floor, but only the same tired

ideas came to mind. He was never one to give up, but Edgar’s predicament made everything

seem much grimmer. His head began to throb. He sat on his dirty floor and leaned against the

wooden bedframe. He couldn’t bring himself to tell anyone that there wasn’t a plan. The

group looked to him for guidance and he hated the thought of letting them down.

He couldn’t believe there were only eight of them left out of twenty-five. They were like

family now. Julio was by far the strongest and possibly the reason they were still alive. He

taught them how to live off the land and catch food. It was obvious he’d spent most of his life

fending for himself. Joshua couldn’t have asked for a more loyal friend. Julio seemed to think

of him as the big brother he’d always wanted. Joshua thought Julio seemed lost and searching

for a place to belong.

Xiomara was the caretaker and surrogate mother of the family. She put others before herself,

sometimes at her own peril. Her kindness and compassion knew no bounds. She respected

every living creature around her. She was a vegetarian before her exile and made it clear that

she only ate meat for survival. In the beginning she’d been determined to keep everyone alive,

but the harsh climate soon foiled her plan. Joshua knew it hurt her soul to watch their group

dwindle. She became more withdrawn and introverted with each person they lost.

Joshua didn’t think Blane and Skylar would survive the wastelands, but they proved him

wrong. Their angelic appearances and gentle demeanors were deceiving. They were much

stronger and more capable than they looked. Blane was accustomed to hard work and did

more than his fair share. Skylar tried to stay positive and offer encouragement, even in the

darkest of times.

They were pleasant, down to earth, and easy to get along with. They made an adorable, doting

couple; sometimes it was a little nauseating. They seldom argued, but their fights were

passionate, as well as was their make-up sex. Having the hut closest to them meant Joshua

was stuck listening to it. Joshua could tell that Skylar wanted children. She volunteered to

look after Paola any time Maria was busy.

Joshua thought the world of Maria. He considered her the ideal woman–tough, pretty, smart,

and caring. She was also refined, eloquent, and educated. She always behaved like a lady. She

instilled the same values in her daughter. Paola was the center of her universe and Maria

sought to raise her right. Even when things seemed hopeless, Maria managed to be brave for

her. No one ever saw her cry.

Paola took after her in many ways. She was very intelligent for a child who never had the

chance to go to school. She possessed the grace and charm of a little princess. She stayed

happy and upbeat most of the time and Maria tried to shelter her from the reality of their

situation as best she could.

Edgar tested Joshua and Julio’s patience, but he gave a lot of sound advice, despite being

stubborn, ornery, and set in his ways. He liked to give orders, which didn’t sit well with

anyone. He clashed the most with Julio, who did not like authority.

 I don’t know why they think I’m full of great ideas. I couldn’t help the other seventeen.

Joshua crawled into bed, closed his eyes, and drifted to sleep. “No!” He sat up in his bed

panting and sweating. His heart pounded like a drum. He looked around the room but

everything was dark and quiet. “Must have been another bad dream.” He wiped the sweat

from his brow. He grabbed his flashlight and headed for the outhouse.

“Sleeping beauty’s finally awake.” Paola grinned. She stood over a small patch of plants,

plucking them from the ground and tossing them into a basket. Maria shined a flashlight for

her.

“What are you doing out so late?” asked Joshua.

“Xiomara said certain plants retain a lot of moisture. It could help Edgar,” Paola replied.

“It hasn’t rained for a while, though.”

“Some of these plants have extensive roots that can hold moisture for a long time. There may

not be much left, but it’s worth a shot. We’ve got to do something,” Maria said.

“You’re right. How’s he doing?”

“He’s barely hanging on. Xiomara gave him half of her daily water ration, but it didn’t help

much,” Maria replied.

“Dammit! I warned her about doing that!” Joshua muttered.

“You know she’s not going to listen. She was a nurse for twenty years and she volunteered at

the Humane Society. The woman’s spent her life trying to save everyone and everything.

That’s just who she is,” Maria replied.

“Mama, is this going to be enough?” Paola held up a basket half full of greenery.

“I think so. Take it to Xiomara and see what she says.” Paola ran to Xiomara’s hut.

“You sure are sweaty. Maybe you should eat a plant. I think there’s a couple left.” Maria

shined the flashlight on him.

“No way, they upset my stomach. It was just another dream, I guess.” Joshua sat on the

ground and stared at the night sky. Stars shone like jewels. The moon was full and yellow.

“You don’t remember your dream?” Maria sat beside him.

“No and I’m glad. They’re never the kind I want to recall.”

“How long do you think we’ll last after the water rations are gone?” She stared at him.

Her question caught him off-guard. He shifted in his spot and looked away. “I just need to

form a plan,” he muttered.

“You don’t have the vaguest idea what to do. I can see it in your eyes.”

He leaned back and rested his head on a rock. A deep sigh escaped him. 

“It’s not your fault.” She lay beside him. “We’ve tapped this area of its resources. What else

can we do?”

“Every day is an uphill battle just to make it to the next. There’s got to be more to life than

this.”

“Maybe we’ll be rewarded in the afterlife for all of our struggles.”

“That might be so, but right now I’m worried about this one.”

“If there’s a way to make it through this drought, we’ll figure it out. It’s not all up to you.

We’ll have a meeting about it tomorrow if Edgar’s health improves.” She patted his leg.

“That’s a good idea.”

“Don’t stay up all night thinking about it.” She got up, kissed his cheek, and walked to

Xiomara’s hut.