First, pick up the hat and put it on.
You pick up the hat. It may once have been black, or possibly brown, but time and the desert have not been kind to it, and now it is grey. There are stiff black feathers stuck in its band, some nearly as long as your forearm: Murkrow plumes. These ones are old, their shafts half naked, but they will hopefully be at least a little protection should you come under attack.
It's your hat, you think. Things are hazy right now, but you remember it, and the way it sits on your head is familiar. As you put it on, the searing blue is cut in half, and the glare becomes a little more manageable.
Second, do you have any items on your person besides the aforementioned hat and clothing?
The first thing on your mind is water: it is the first thing you search for and the first thing you find. On your right hip is a canteen, and once your fingers touch it you can't hold back; you unscrew the lid and down half of it in one long gulp. The water is unpleasantly warm and faintly bitter, but anything is cooler than the desert sun, and the feeling of liquid on your lips is like nothing you can remember. You didn't realise how badly your throat hurt until the water touched it, or how fogged your head was.
It's tempting to keep on drinking, but you force yourself to stop – you have that much control over yourself at least. You return the canteen to its loop on your belt, and the world starts to feel a little less like a dream. You could think now, if you had to; you aren't sure you could have done so before.
Setting your new-gathered wits to good use, you conduct a brief search to see if your person hides anything else of importance. On your left hip is a holster, but there's no gun in it. Close by it are three stiff leather pouches of bullets – houndtooth, needle and regular, you recall. Those would probably be pretty useful if you had anything to load them into.
You have only one more thing on you. In your pocket, you find a yellowed piece of paper, fragile from age and frequent handling; carefully, curiously, you unfold it, and see what is written on the other side.
I must remember: Joshua Stone has my gun.
You stare at it for a moment. Is that your handwriting? You don't know.
You are beginning to realise that there are a lot more things that you don't know than you previously suspected.
Thirdly, assuming you do not have any items and no other items on the agenda, start walking north towards the mountains and inspect any cacti you see along the way. They are likely to be your only source of water until you reach the mountains.
Lastly, keep an eye out on that vulture, or whatever bird it is. It doesn't sound good if the narration is hinting that it can and will eat you eventually.
At the moment, your options are limited to staying here and wondering about the paper, or walking off in search of civilisation. Since one involves certain death and the other only probable death, you decide to walk. Reasoning that if you keep the mountains ahead of you, you should be able to avoid going in circles, you set off to what you believe is the north.
The desert seems to broaden. As you walk, one unsteady foot in front of another, the land sprawls beneath you; it stretches out, makes itself comfortable. A wind picks up, tosses some dust into the air, and dies again immediately. Somewhere in the distance, something cracks.
The cacti are much further apart than they looked; you have yet to come close to a single one. They must be enormous – no, they are enormous, you remember. Enormous, and very far away, every one queen of its own great swathe of wasteland.
The bird follows you, making lazy figure-eights in the sky to shift sideways without effort. It never beats its wings; it never seems to need to.
You have to wonder how long it thinks you'll last.
As you walk, you try to think – who is Joshua Stone? Why are you not sure of your own handwriting? How did you come to be here in the first place? – but the heat sticks in your head, clogs the mechanisms of your mind. Your brain stumbles over ideas as your legs do over stones. The water level in your canteen drops – at first slowly, but then a little quicker, and a little quicker still.
Just out of sight, hidden behind the broad brim of your hat, the sun shines on gleefully.
The bird circles.
A gulp of water.
One foot in front of another.
A trickle of water.
Your feet are welded to the soles of your boots.
There is no more water.
The first time you fall you notice before you hit the ground, and make a half-decent attempt to throw up your arms in defence of your face.
The second time you are not so lucky. But at least it hurts less than you thought it would.
Your head is pounding worse even than it did when you woke. As you get up, another wave of dizziness comes over you and you are suddenly very aware that you are probably going to die.
That isn't so alarming. What's alarming is that you're not so sure that's necessarily a problem.
Then you see the bird, circling a little lower now, and something hardens inside you. You aren't giving it the satisfaction of your corpse. Not just yet, anyway. Not until you really can't go any further.
So you struggle back to your feet, and though the mountains get no closer, though the heat haze does not fade, though the sun does not dim and the bird does not falter―
Because if you don't walk, you die, and if you die, the bird wins, and the bird, you are determined, is absolutely not going to win.
So you walk, on legs that nearly buckle every time they strike the earth, through air that is fire on your skin, and you keep going towards those mountains.
You hear the jingle of harness.
You stop. Can it be―?
Apparently so. Far off in the distance, so small it looks more like a beetle than a vehicle, is a little wagon.
It looks like it's moving eastwards. You aren't sure if it will pass near you or not.
You are thirsty.