‘Desert Walk’

23:29 Sat 30 Jun 2007. Updated: 11:29 01 Jul 2007
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Stretched out ahead of her, the land was red and orange, scattered with yellow grass and rocks. Hard country, hot and dusty and lean, but she had plenty of water.

She didn’t look behind her. She knew what was back there.

Her gait was measured and steady. She was pacing herself, and knew not to expend too much energy too early in the journey. She also knew to ignore the discomfort from the heat, to keep the sun off her face and body.

Not much moved around her as she walked. Lizards occasionally flicked their tongues, one or two skittering away.

After a few hours she saw a large rock along her path, large enough to shelter behind. Coming closer she saw first that grass gathered around it, and second that someone was indeed sheltering there. An aged man was setting up for some cooking.
He started and whirled around, giving her a wary stare. “Well, howdy, ma’am, you done startled ol’ Charlie Groat. What brings you out here?”
“Just passing through.”
He grinned, and said, “Well, I was settin’ t’ cook, wouldn’t mind sharin’.”
“All right. I can give you some water to make up for the food.”
“No need, no need, I got all the water me an’ my mule can carry. I already fed the mule, so you sit down there an’ I’ll scare us up some food.”
She nodded, and sat across from the ministove he had set up. He took cans out of his pack, beginning the process of opening them and dumping their contents into his pan.
“You’re in luck, ma’am, this’n's a favorite o’ mine, I know how to do it perfect. He reached into his pack and took out a smaller can, adding its contents to the rest. “I’ve made this many a time, make it whenever I got the beans, lucky they ain’t in such supply.” After a moment’s pause, he reached into his pack again to take out salt and pepper. “These never hurt, course. But there’s one special seasoning I find makes it just right,” he said, reaching into his coat.

But before he could get the knife even halfway out of its sheath, the barrel of her gun was touching his forehead. “Well now, Charlie Groat, you should just concentrate on the cooking, as I’m always a little sad when I have to eat alone.” He stared back at her, unsure of what to do.
“You toss that over there,” she said, “and your gun belt after.” She left her gun between his eyes, and he did as he was told. She moved back to where she’d been sitting, put her gun back in its holster, and motioned that he could go back to the food.

He did the rest of the cooking in silence, until it was done, when he said, “I reckon that’s it about perfect,” and took out plates for each of them from his pack. “I’ll just serve mysel’ up here, and you can have at it when you’re ready.” When he had taken his share, he moved away, and she took the rest. She waited for him to take a good few swallows before she started, but when she did it was clear she’d been hungry.

When they were done, she said, “Years back a woman lived near the town of Star Upside—you know it?”
“Heard of it, no more.”
“Well, she lived there with her man, and they struggled to get by the same as everyone else, but had a place not too close to people, and scraped and scratched enough so they didn’t rely on others. They liked being out there just the pair of them, not bothering folk, and not being bothered by folk. It was hard, but they took pride in it, just being able to survive on their own, even though they couldn’t do much past survive.
“Then one day raiders came to Star Upside, and past it, to their place. They didn’t have much, of course, nothing worth taking at all except their guns. And the raiders hardly needed more of those. The woman and her man said they had nothing to give, the raiders said they’d take it anyway—they were spoiling for blood, these ones.
“Blood they got, for they killed her man and chased her through the valley and around the rocks. Blood they got, too, for she killed a few of those that chased her, and they never quite got her, as she led them around a ways and made it to Star Upside, where they didn’t care to go a second time that day.
“After that night she went back to her home, to bury her man, and found his body among ashes. The raiders burnt her home, and everything else they could. So she buried him behind the shell of their house, and watched the wind move the ash.”

After a pause, Charlie Groat said, “What’d she do then?”

“What could she do? She moved on, and she asked if there wasn’t already enough evil in the world. That’s the question that occupied her mind, after.” She looked up and said, “What do you think, Charlie Groat?”

He looked at her, uncertain. “I don’t know, ma’am, don’t know if anybody does, evil’s one o’ them things people see as they like.”

In one smooth action, she drew and shot him through the left eye, and he slumped back onto the ground and was still.

“The answer, Charlie Groat, is ‘yes’. Yes there is enough evil in the world already, and a man who can’t see that after he’s been given a second chance already that day, that man doesn’t deserve to live. Just like those other bastards didn’t deserve it either.”

She gathered up his things, put out the fire, and quieted his mule before loading it up again. Then she looked at the sun still high in the sky and set out once more, leading the mule across the dust.

(1000 words)

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4 Responses to “‘Desert Walk’”

  1. Lev Says:

    You are really on a microfiction kick these days. Have you seen the film “El Topo?”

  2. Tadhg Says:

    Well, I don’t think I can apply the “microfiction” label once it hits 1000 words… it’s probably not microfiction after a much lower threshold, but it’s definitely not once it’s quadruple-digits. But I’m definitely on a fiction kick right now, and liking it.

    I haven’t seen El Topo, but a quick Wikipedia scan makes it seem as if I should—was there something about this story that was reminiscent of it?

  3. Lev Says:

    Yes… your mysterious gunslinging woman is a character like El Topo. See it and we can discuss.

  4. Tadhg Says:

    I’ll have to get ahold of a copy, then—it does look rather interesting.

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