Across The Wash

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They watched him.

A barely writhing mess of flesh in the bottom of a wash. Crawling slowly to anywhere. His leg had his own knife stuck in it, and he couldn’t pull it out. He wouldn’t pull it out. It acted as a steel cork. We all must strain to keep our juices, some more than others. He crossed the wash and propped his back up to a cadre of boulders.

They watched him.

They didn’t speak, they didn’t make a sound. They stood and squatted and looked to one another. They knew the game, the score, the pieces of it entailed to them. The bastards of this desert, the gang of benevolent violence. It was their job to be this way. God made them cruel and like him, they didn’t answer to anybody.

They watched him.

He grabbed his leg and reached for the handle. A slow burn shone from his eyes. He wrapped a finger around the rear bolster. It didn’t want to move, maybe he wasn’t moving. Maybe it wasn’t there at all. A plume of blood shot into the bitter brush and pinyon. The knife lay in the sand, glistening and raw. He swooped it up and in one motion cut off his pant leg and wrapped it tight above the wound. He looked up to them, but they weren’t there.

……

He was sleeping on top of the high rim above the wash when they approached him. Lurid and cold eyes leaving no question of intent or past trespasses. This is a violent game, a long story. They’ve been following him for days, weeks, years in some cases. They waited for this chance. They dreamed of it, savored it and lept into the moon as dreams allow you to do such things. Now they were upon him.

He knew this day would come. He’d seen their tracks and shadows throughout the desert, the prints always over his own. So he wandered. He moved, he shook in the night when there was no fire. He bathed in the glory that is a hot spring. He ate rabbits and deer and believed for awhile that he would never die. He would blend into stones and bones and the tendrils of clouds that reach out before a storm. He forgot why he even came out here, to this desert. This despicable place he’d grown to love.

He threw his name into a flash flood and felt absolved. He forgot his language, his creed. He forgot what the world was like before he was reborn here. He forgot why he came out here.

They stirred him to his feet just before dawn. He leapt from his bedroll, his bare feet on prickly pear and thistle. He reached down into his bedroll and drew the knife, but they were already upon him. He threw his weight into the first one, and drew blood out of the fur. The teeth snapped at his neck and the others were going for his ankles and throat. He stabbed one between the shoulders and it howled and quickly died. The others looked to their fallen brother and began howling. He threw himself from the rim and fell in a heap in the wash. The sharp pain in his thigh wasn’t a broken bone. It wouldn’t matter what it was, it only mattered that it was there.

……

They watched him.

They saw him draw the knife out of his leg and they knew the score.

So did he.

They were upon him. A terrible dust bath of murmurs and screams and tooth and steel.

There were screams and eyes sent into the morning light. There was fur flying and teeth snapping, entrails wobbling to the desert floor. There were fingers bitten off and ears removed. He kept slashing, he kept fighting.

He remembered why he came to this place. And he smiled.

They devoured him.

They roamed the desert once again looking for trespassers and outlaws. They were the collectors of souls. Of what god had made them in his image, they best resembled the howling. They were cruel like him. They answered to nobody.

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