© 2013, 2014
"You're on the right road, if it goes where you want to go. Don't give up." Those were the words scrawled across the bottom of the hand-drawn map that Michael left for Clare at the reception desk at the hotel in La Paz, Bolivia.
She pulled the Range Rover to the side of the dirt track. This map can't be right. It doesn't make sense. There's no lake on the left and no mountain on the right. She shook the paper clutched in her hand. I don't know what you mean, Michael!
"The right road? Damn it! I'm on the only road, and I don't even know where it is that I want to go."
As far as her eye could see lay brown fields. There wasn't even a stream that he could have mistaken for a lake. There was nothing. She had followed all his instructions and had now found herself nowhere, lost on a plateau in Bolivia. What were you doing when you drew this, Michael? Drinking?
"Just freaking great," she yelled, slamming her hand against the steering wheel. "I'm freaking lost and you're probably in some bar, laughing at my gullibility. It would be just like you. Well, that's it. I can't believe I fell for your prank." She thrust her head back on the headrest. "Goddamn you! Damn me!"
She closed her eyes and stretched out her rigid shoulders, only then did she realise how exhausted she was. It had been a long, strange week. The peculiar note she had received by courier from Michael, the dash from her parents' summer cottage in Canada. Then constantly rushing through airports to make her connecting flights, and finally reaching La Paz only to deal with arduous bus rides to nowhere and the impossible job of finding a rental car in a small village.
All of that just so she could be with Michael when he proved his theories were right. It's no wonder I'm so tired. She couldn't remember the last time she had actually slept not just dozed between planes and buses but actually lay down and dreamt.
She noted then it was dusk and judged by the condensation on the windshield from her warm breath that the temperature outside had dropped. She'd lost track of time and couldn't recall how long it had been since she passed through the last village. One or two hours maybe, and she had no idea how much farther it was to the next one.
Clare cringed at the thought of having to spend another uncomfortable night sleeping upright. Longingly she looked at the back seat of the old Range Rover but decided she was too tired to make the climb over to lie down. The idea of getting out in the chilly air to get into the back didn't appeal to her either. She sighed and pulled her fleece jacket up to cover the tip of her icy nose. Michael and his pranks will have to wait until tomorrow.
Sleep came quickly, but it wasn't the peaceful rest that she sorely needed. Fractured and distorted visions filled her dream world. Images of indistinguishable human shapes followed her through a series of dark caves where lights flashed above her like bolts of lightning. The shadowy figures danced around her, coming closer. She was certain one of them was Michael.
With arms out-stretched, she pleaded for him to come to her. He stepped forward. Hands reached toward hers. She felt the warmth of his fingertips as they grazed past hers. But then he stumbled and began to spiral downward into darkness. He fell too quickly for her to catch hold. God, no, Michael. She screamed. Don't go. I love you.
Clare woke with a jerk. He's gone. Why couldn't I catch him? Icy hands gripped her heart, sending rushes up through her neck and head. All of her senses told her there was something very wrong. This wasn't a prank. She couldn't give up. She had to find him.