The sun simmered red as it slunk towards the jagged horizon. Nightfall always followed shortly after the sun set in the desert wastes. Janvers knew that if he and his companions did not pitch their camp shortly it would become too cold for them to survive. No-one without desert experience would believe that after the baking temperatures of the day the desert could become so cold at night. The tall, minaret-like pinnacles in the distance were giant outcrops of red sandstone that formed pillars stretching high into the cloudless sky. If they were lucky they would be able to shelter in the caves found at the base of these towers. If not they might provide tethering points for their single tarpaulin.
Pausing in his forced trek Janvers suddenly motioned for everyone to stop and be quiet. Turning his head from side to side he listened intently, looking round them in all directions. It was unmistakable. To the West, where the red disc of the sun was casting it’s last glow in the darkening twilight sky there was a faint sound. It was a monotone, low, moaning that was not the sound of any animal. He felt a slight lifting of the breeze and he was sure he could just make out low eddies like miniature typhoons in the sand between them and the mountains. There was no doubt in his mind, a storm was coming.
The thing that all desert dwellers and travellers dread, a sandstorm. They often came without warning and could last for days or just stop within minutes as abruptly as they started. He knew that they would have to run, to try and gain the shelter of the rocks. If it was a full storm they would stand no chance of survival if caught out in the middle of the rippled, sandy plain. Trying not to show panic but emphasising the urgency he cajoled his team to start running across the soft treacherous sand.
After only a few minutes the wind was noticeably stronger. This served as a hastener to the team of semi-exhausted men. Their feet were leaden and every step became harder as the wind pushed into their faces. By sheer bad luck that was the only direction they would gain any shelter. Janvers felt the coarse sand granules whipping his face. He wound the blanket tighter around his neck and struggled on. He could not afford to show any weakness in front of his team.
Twilight is brief in the desert and there was now no distinction between the sky and the rocks ahead. Their only guide was to try and remember the star formations that were beginning to appear overhead. The sound of the wind increased in line with it’s strength. Janvers kept up his exhortations depite his own flagging strength. The ground started to get harder beneath his feet and he knew that they were no longer trying to run on sand but stone. This could only mean that they were close to the base of the hills. Almost too dark to see more than forty paces in front the wall of stones loomed like a black, empty void ahead. To their left was a gigantic boulder which leaned at an ominous angle. It was enough to offer some shelter to the three men.
They crouched at it’s base and with heavy blankets wrapped around them prepared to sit out the storm. Their only hope was that it would be brief. Within twenty minutes they detected a lessening of the wind. The rushing sound akin to a passing express train faltered and stopped almost in an instant. Looking out they could make out the flat landscape illuminated by a rising moon. The sand flurries ceased and all was quiet once more. In silent prayer the team relaxed and smiled, each with their own thoughts. After a short time of this meditation they huddled together prepared to discuss their course of action for the remaining hours of darkness and the next day. Janvers knew that once past this range of hills there were only a few kilometres before they crossed the range of dunes known as the Sea of Sand and they would be safe on the Namibian coast.