He sits in this village, drinking and waiting to die. Yet, they still ask, and he answers.
| Savage Land|
The stench of death and disappointment had slithered it's way into their senses long before the decomposing reality revealed itself. Vultures, spiralling lazily in the sky, sucked the urgency out of them and replaced it with an overly hurried performance. Acting like lions while thinking like dogs. And all the while the carrion seeking crowd mocked them for it.
The moment it looked like trouble they came to him. They always did. His snarling rebuttals were always taken for his usual drunken sufferings. They always waited, badgering and appealing, until his usual acquiescence. Their pleas tugging at some perverted sense of obligation. And he hated them for it. And he hated himself even more.
Like rats they parted as he rose and strode towards the stables. The dull grey weight at his hip matched the dull grey eyes in his weathered grey face. As he angrily stomped down the street the bravest aggravator explained why, like mosquitos, they had descended on him. Another nauseatingly excited newcomer had ventured out. Alone. Into that land of dust and devoured dreams. That land that cared as much as a rat cared for a cockroach, cared as much as an eagle cared for a rat, cared as much as a bored herder practising his aim cared for the bleeding, plummeting eagle.
A horse had already been readied for him. He'd sold his long ago. It skittered and whinnied as he mounted, but his savage grasp of the reins prevented anything more. South-west, through Sawtooth, towards the river. Probably heading for the old Indian settlement, he thought, and it's fanciful tales of treasure. Like it hadn't already been gutted, just like some of the Navajo themselves. As he harshly spurred the horse forward he passed a group of filthy children throwing rocks at an armadillo, hitting it again and again, knocking it down into the dirt, its blood rapidly soaking into the dry, hard ground.
The sun was high in the sky when they saw the birds. Squinting through the glare, they could still make out the spiralling signposts of death. He took his hat off and wiped the sweat that was dripping from his wrinkled brow down into his grey beard, and took a took a sharp swig from his dull grey metal flask. One of the villagers that had accompanied him mumbled something about getting on. He quieted him with a glare. Damn scavengers were hoping for a dead mans prize anyway, he thought. But he was right. Better to get it over with. He'd seen enough dead bodies left in the heat of the desert to know what horrors awaited, but also to get it done quickly. He pushed ahead, leaving a cloud of red dust in his wake.
Face down, unmoving as a vulture casually stooped to rend a redundant ear. The dusty cadaver already becoming a part of the land, melding with the rounded, weather beaten stones. He trotted forward, the neighing horse sending the protesting plucker into the clear, inert sky. A villager jumped down and started to remove to the dead man's newer boots, tugging the corpse over. It was then that he saw the claw marks across the exposed chest, the teeth marks on the ripped throat. It was then they heard a low, menacing growl of a king in his kingdom.
The Cougar must have been in the shade of the rocks, sleeping off it's salty snack. It moved with the grace of some ancient Indian god. It's gleaming pelt catching the sun, shinning like a golden aura. It's eyes wide and intelligent, glowing green like imperious emeralds. It's fangs were the purest white, long and sharp, pure and purposeful. It's low, deep growl was a song of threat and majesty.
It's brains burst out of the back of it's skull, a mess of scarlet and white spattering on the bland boulders behind. The man impassively holding the weapon as smoke slowly swirled up into the air in front of him. Heavy silence stilled all. Heavy silence that demanded the dead and the living to obey and submit to it. The spell was broken as the man contemptuously spat on the ground, angrily disrespecting any power that sought to compel him. Angrily expelling the bitter taste his own actions had thrust into his mouth.
The Cougar was clumsily gutted by the villagers, becoming a trophy before it was even cold. It's guts thrown casually behind. It's proud head bouncing bloodily on the back of a horse. Like the animal, the dead man's body was thrown over the back of a horse, to be taken back to the village chapel and thrown into a rough grave with a rough wooden cross to mark it. And nothing else. Nobody would attend and nobody would visit. Everyone had troubles of their own. Feeding themselves, clothing themselves, surviving the savage land.
The old man sat on his porch, gun on his hip, drink in his hand. His hat low on his head, hiding his wet red eyes. Hiding his self loathing and shame, his desire to end it and cowardice in not doing so. A hurried footstep dragged his attention back to the present. Somebody was coming, somebody needed him.