It is a desert.

There is sand, but not the rolling waves of it seen in places like Rub' al Khali, or Erg Chebbi. It is the dry, dirty kind of desert with scrub brush and lizards skittering between the cracks in the ground. No trees, but the occasional scraggly bush drooping in the merciless sun. There are cliffs. There may be mountains. The sun, large and unforgiving, hangs high over head.

He climbs.

He travels worlds the same way others travel through state borders; largely unmolested, largely oblivious of the exact point where one place becomes another, and largely disinterested unless something is starkly different from the place he had just come from.

These last few worlds have been deserts. He doesn't know what happened to this world that it has branched off into so many unforgiving parallel worlds, and he doesn't want to. If he were wiser, he'd leave. He's been to enough dying worlds to know when one is about to go, and this one stinks like over-ripe fruit starting to rot. The atmosphere is soured in his mind, tense and strained, about to burst.

The sun above was large and unforgiving.

The sun above was far larger than the sun should be.

Up in the cliffs, there are people living in caves.

The people here are stunted and burnt from the sun and heat and the trace amounts of poison in the air. Some are wearing ragged clothes that hang off them and show their unnaturally thin frames. Some are wearing layers and layers of cloth despite the heat so that is it impossible to see any part of them except their heads-- if that. Most are wearing goggles of some sort, or have wrapped cloth around their eyes to protect them. There are piles of garbage that form walls, of sorts. People are sitting by the piles, sorting through the mess and looking for scraps to salvage. There are piles of twisted metal and wood and wire-- anything that might be turned into something useful. Small children run between the piles, carrying new material or moving sorted materials into the appropriate piles.

There's a small old woman sewing a quilt. Next to her are piles of cloth. In the piles are old clothes stained by dirt and blood and who knows what else. There are cut up sacks that once held flour or rice. There is the odd blanket whose edging has been ripped off, or pillow case that has been cut open. Things that might've once been towels but are now just rags.

The man who can travel through worlds like someone stepping from sidewalk to street, sees her and freezes.

"No," he says

She looks up. Her face, though dried from the sun, is familiar.

"No," he says softly. "Of all the better worlds out there where you're gone, you had to be alive here."

The old woman squints at him.

"Do I know you?" she says.

"Yes," he says.

She waits for an explanation. He wants to give one to her, but the words die in his throat.

A little girl scrambles out from the towering piles of trash and runs to the woman.

"Grandma," she says. "I found this!"

She hands the old woman a scarf.

"Thank you," the woman says. "Here," she turns the girl around and ties it around her neck, covering her mouth and throat. "There," the old woman says. "Now you won't breathe the poison."

The girl giggles and runs back to the trash piles.

"My granddaughter," the woman says.

The man says nothing. He doesn't recognize the girl. The old woman, in another world, one that isn't dead yet, had been his blood. The girl never existed on his world.

"Do you have any grandsons?" he says.

She gives him a confused look, and he realizes how odd the question is, even in this strange dying world.

"No," she says.

Yes you did, he thinks.

"Come with me," he tells her. "There are other worlds. Worlds that are better. Worlds that are full of life. Worlds--"

Where you're dead, comes the quiet thought.

"--that have a place for you."

The woman shakes her head. "They need me here," she says. "I have to stay for my granddaughter and her friends. They're the future."

"There is no future here," he says. "This world is going to die."

"Can you take all of us?" she says. "Not just me and her, but all of us?"

He falls silent.

"I thought so," she says. She struggles to her feet and folds the blanket over her shoulder. "I'm not going to leave them," she says. "Leaving won't help anything. But if I stay, maybe I can make it better. For her."

She smiles at him tightly and nods. "Thank you, but no thank you. Goodbye."

With that, she turned her back to him and left hobbling through the piles of salvage. He watched her go, a heavy feeling in his chest. She'd been dead for so long, it hurt to know she would die again soon.

He turns to go, back towards the cliff side. He reached the edge and casts one last look up at the sun, the over-large, swollen sun, and steps off the ledge.

The people who saw him do it ran to the side to see more. A crazy stranger had just walked off the cliff! But when they looked for the body, they found nothing.

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