Heat. Surely this is the devil's parlor. The baked landscape leads farther than my fading will. How long have I been governed by the law of this heartless red world? The beast that carries me labors to breathe. I dismount. Blowing sand finds its way through my keffiyeh, stinging my eyes. I am surrounded by endless dunes. I fall to my knees and lift my hands to the sky.
"My Lord, where is thy path? Has thy servant met his ruin in this forbidden habitat? Father, hear my desperate plea for life."
My cries are barely audible against the sweeping fury of the wind. The beast falls, takes in the breath that will be its last and then is still. My eyes close. Exhaustion overwhelms my soul. Then, an impossible sound. A voice. Far off at first, now closer.
"Halim! Halim!" the voice calls.
I open my eyes to a small boy standing in front of me.
"Halim! Arise. Gather your beast and follow me!" the child shouts over the noise of the storm.
My chin drops to my chest, "My camel has died. I have not water, nor food. Here will be my grave. Save yourself, my young friend, for it is my iniquity that has caught up with me."
"Your beast lives and you shall share in its fortune. Now quickly rise. Your King has heard your lament and granted you salvation."
"Salvation? You do not know what you say, my child. No salvation can be offered to a man such as me. You see, I have stolen from the King himself. I have entered into his house and taken what I did not deserve. See there in my bag? The items I speak of are inside. They convict me by their very nature. They are mercy and grace. They were offered freely, yet in my own wisdom I have stolen them, abused them for my own gain. Let me die, boy. For this is my lot."
"But master, what is mercy if it cannot forgive and what is grace if it cannot save? These gifts are offered freely as you have stated, but you must accept them freely to reap their rewards."
"Your words are like those of a much older man. I long for this salvation you speak of. Surely it is too late for me. Yet I know what you say to be true. What must I do to receive this salvation?"
"You must believe."