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There is something special about desert at night: A dark-grey sea of emptiness stretched before us, with nothing but sand dunes and tall, sharp rocks for miles around. If we watched closely, we’d see it was crawling with life, with snakes, scorpions, and other little nightmares, but I kept my eyes on the road, and the hitchhiker – Joey – stared at the sky.
“So why exactly you wanna hunt for UFOs here again?” I asked him.
“I heard stuff,” he answered, reluctantly emerging from his alien dreams. “Weird sightings here… Weird people coming out of the desert – or going in, and never seen again. So I thought I might as well get out here and check the place out. And there’s no better high ground than that tower.”
“Guess so,” I said. “Cool telescope. Looks very… Professional.”
“Thanks,” he said and fell silent, watching the stars.
After about an hour’s drive, we made it to the tower – an old stone structure standing alone on top of a rock in the middle of the desert, on the very edge of a cliff that looked a bit like an embankment.
“Didn’t think there would be people here,” Joey said, looking at the light in the windows.
“I think it’s UNESCO heritage. Someone gotta look after it, right?”
“I dunno, I thought it was just an old watchtower. Wonder if they’ll let me get up there…”
“Well, it could be a no-go for tourists, I guess. Doesn’t it look a bit like a lighthouse? There’s even, like, a searchlight there, on the second floor.”
“Maybe, just a bit.”
I turned right, driving off the main road onto a side-way climbing up to the tower. Gravel and sand rustled under the wheels.
“You goin’ there too?” he asked with surprise when I left the car with him.
“Yup. Got a ship to catch.”
He laughed, then squinted at the tower.
“Man this is weird,” he said. “I really thought the place would be empty… Do you think they could let me get up there? Such an awesome vantage point.”
“Never hurts to ask.”
Joey smiled and walked to the doors with me. From here, we could hear the music inside – some old jazz. The hitchhiker knocked, and a man, seemingly as old as the tower itself, opened.
“What do you want?” he growled.
“Hi, ugh… I’m Joey Wilbour, I do ufology. I was hoping to set up a watchpoint on the tower, um… I wanna shoot the sky. Got a telescope here, a camera… Didn’t expect anyone to be here, honestly. Is there any chance I could, like, spend a few hours there, at the top?”
The old man looked at me, as if asking for my approval. I shrugged, then nodded at the car.
“I was just hoping to get some rest before travel.”
The old man grunted and stepped away from the door, letting us in.
“Go to the roof and don’t bother me,” he told Joey, then looked at me. “Tea, coffee?”
“Thanks, I’m good.”
He nodded and headed up to see Joey off to the rooftop. I settled down in a comfy armchair, listening to the soft jazz playing up above, and took a magazine from the coffee table – an old issue of National Geographic.
In half an hour, the old man came down to check up on me again and ask if I needed something. I asked for a coffee, and he made me a strong espresso, as dark as the night.
“How was it?” he asked, passing me the cup.
“Fine. All fine. Just a regular surveillance run. It’s an interesting place, I gotta tell you. And an interesting time to be here, you know.”
“I don’t,” he grinned. “Don’t even got no radio here.”
“Do you want one? I could ask someone to…”
“No, thanks, missy. I’m done with all the outside stuff. Got my old gramophone and don’t need no nothing, thank you.”
It was well before dawn when it started to get bright outside, and the old man checked up on me again, carrying a sandwich wrapped in oily papers.
“It’s time, miss,” he said. “You hungry? It’s too big for me alone.”
“No, thanks. Offer some to the stargazer.”
He laughed and took a hefty bite.
“Some folks just don’ know where to look, huh?”
We went outside, to the edge of the cliff. From here, I could see the silvery lights on the horizon – the glimmering waves rolling down the sands in the distance, a sea from beyond time and space streaming into this reality in a ghostly tide.
“Beautiful, huh?” the old man said quietly. “I will switch on the lights… Your ship should be in shortly.”
He left me alone, one on one with the phantom sea drawing closer and closer. I watched the ephemeral tide crush into the rocks, the spearheads rising from the sand below. It was indeed a beautiful sight, its beauty underlined by the solemn silence of the dusty wasteland – the ghost of a sea made not a sound as it approached.
Soon, a beam of a searchlight swept through the desert, outlining the safest path through the rocks, and new lights emerged on the horizon – the vessel that came to pick me up had arrived.
As a small boat carried me away from the lighthouse towards the light-woven galleon that anchored nearby, I saw a small silhouette on top of the tower: Joey had already set up his telescope and was now watching the sky, hoping to catch a glimpse of the alien life. I waved at him goodbye, but he did not notice, too preoccupied with the stargazing to look around.
He was still there while the tide carried my ship away out of this moment, leaving nothing but sand and dust in its wake – a tiny man in his warm anorak, glued to his telescope as he stared into the endless star-ridden abyss up above.