FIFTY, 2.0

Hector still couldn’t believe the situation he’d gotten himself into. How did it ever get this far?

This was supposed to be a simple vacation, by himself, and free from anyone who could tell him what to do. Take a look at some ancient ruins, hike south four miles, and be back to the coastal hotel by nightfall. It was that simple, but for the Goddamn tour group…

Right after the visit to the ruins, the tour guide had disappeared — which at first they all thought was a practical joke. Then, Hector stumbled on his twisted body of the Tour Guide, curled up at the bottom of a hill with a broken neck and limbs, back bent over a tree stump. Hector had pointed out the body to the rest of the group, and they took what supplies they could and continued walking.

He told no one about the glisten in the man’s eyes, or the fact that they’d looked over to him before he called the group over. That would be his secret, and the man was probably suffering anyway with no  way to save him.

Watching someone die was not on Hector’s list of things to do on this, his only vacation in his 50 years of living, but frankly neither was participating in a tour group. The wasted minds of the younger generation was lost on Hector’s preferred singular existence.

As the tour group moved on, Hector fractured the group with one simple comment: “But we came from the other direction.” In the English language there are countless divisive phrases, words, and turns of phrases. But tell a tired, sweaty, hungry group of tourists they’ve been walking the wrong way for four hours, and you might as well burn yourself alive.

After explaining to the group they were walking the wrong direction, all but two decided Hector was full of shit. So he and his two new friends — with names he couldn’t even understand — headed back in the direction they came.

Or so they thought.

The cool thing about traveling to a foreign land is all the mystery that it entails. The exotic plant life. The friendly, strange animal kingdom. The foods that you might not normally think of as edible being, in fact, very edible.

But one thing you don’t really think about, don’t count on, and is most decidedly not cool: Mother Nature’s welcome parties.

First the rains came, and his group tried to drink the water that fell from the sky. Big mistake. They’d been walking under trees taller than skyscrapers, so the moment the water reached their mouths it was already slimy, covered in grime and shit and bugs that would eat you alive from the inside.

No bueno, Hector thought to himself. His new friends were not as thoughtful, and both bled from their throats within hours.

Hector, now alone, fought his way through thick underbrush and heavy moss to what he thought was an open desert. He’d read that desert surrounded the towns of this area of the country, so he believed himself to be only a half-day’s walk from the nearest location that might provide food and a bed.

A good plan, maybe, for someone who knew what the heck they were doing, would be to continue walking around the desert within an arm’s reach of the treeline.

But Hector was no such man. Or maybe he was just stupid.  Certainly both were applicable in the current scenario.

He walked through the rocky desert in any case, and the third lizard he encountered was dinner. Or breakfast. He’d stopped keeping track, and there wasn’t enough meat to call the lizard a meal let alone an appetizer.

It took a two mile hike up the hill for Hector to realize he’d probably been walking the wrong direction. He climbed up on the biggest rock he could find, sweating his balls to an uncomfortable degree of itching. He removed his shirt, wrapped it around his head under the hot sun.

The sun was never hotter in all his life, which was odd considering two days ago was overcast and barely above 65 degrees. But this was exotic, this location, so what the hell use was it to try and predict the weather?

Hector looked in all directions, but there was nothing but fog and even a little ash falling from the sky. Odd… and he couldn’t see for a mile or two in any direction. He thought his former tour group would likely be in a similar predicament, but didn’t actually wish evil upon them.

Just, maybe, dysentery would be a nice payment.

He looked up at the explosion that boomed behind him, and fainted.

When he awoke, he was more than sweating, he was literally on fire. After he’d stamped out the flames on his crisping ankle, Hector took stock of the lava swirling around the boulder he’d been laying on, and the 4 x 4 space he had remaining to survive on.

He hoped for rain that night, and sure as the sky is blue the rains came, as did the suffocation from the smoke inhalation and the lonely death of a stubborn guy who wanted to be, always and always, his own man.

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