This is a story about thirst. It is entirely designed to make you feel as if you are trudging through the desert, thirsty to the point of desperation, seeing the sails of a windmill in the distance and praying you can remain standing for long enough to reach it.
Oh, there’s a plot too, and characters. But they’re all in service to the sense of thirst, enhancing it and magnifying it. The windmill turns out to belong to someone with a silo of water who’s managed to grow an oasis of trees. The newcomer has fled across the desert for good reason, and even after he’s reached the windmill his thoughts are always turned to how he must soon enter the desert again.
It’s the sort of story you’ll want to read with a glass of water nearby.
Wine on the Desert by Max Brand
Availability: print only
Word count: 2,800
First published: This Week, June 7 1936
Where to find it: A Century of Great Western Stories, edited by John Jakes, 2001, Forge Books
The American West in Fiction, edited by Jon Tuska, 1982, Mentor Books
Cowboy Stories, edited by Barry Moser and Peter Glassman, 2007, Chronicle Books