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The Night Before
The water feels strange, too thick and warm.
“What happened last night?” asks Frank as he awakes in the shade provided by a well placed rock sticking out of a slope leading to a towering stone formation that seemed to challenge the sky above.
Jed answered around a yawn. “I can’t seem to remember but I hope it was a good night. One good enough to have earned all these aches and pains I have. It feels as if my very bones are grating against one another.”
Jed attempted in vain to brush away the dust that seemed glued to his battered clothing. Glancing over at Frank he noticed that he too was covered in dust that seemed to have settled on them like it would a sticky surface.
The two friends took in the landscape before them while still protected by the overhanging rock that protruded from the hill behind them. The sun just beginning its lonely journey across the empty blue sky, hit the men full in the face as they stood up, throwing their shadows tall and thin up the overhanging rock. Two pairs of eyes took in the rocky broken landscape. Shades of red rock and brown sandy ground spread before them dusted lightly in a few small areas with patches of light grey. The trees as sparse as they were seemed to quiver in excitement as the sunlight reached their outstretched leaves. Besides the trees there were a few patches of grass and many shrubs from which red berries grew and black birds devoured with a fierceness that made them wonder how even one seed makes it to the ground to sprout a seedling. A fiery warm breeze flowed through the camp informing the men that it was going to be an infernally hot day.
“My God it even hurts to move! How much did we drink last night to deserve a complete body hangover like this?” said Frank.
“Obviously enough to not remember a damned thing and to feel like complete hell. Of course we must have spent a great deal of our hard earned cash as well,” says Jed.
To this Frank snorts, “Hard earned indeed, it seems robbing banks has gotten as easy as taking candy from a baby these days.”
“Speak for yourself Frank, you selfish bastard, I took a bullet in the arm during our last little escapade.”
“There have been a few unfortunate moments but I must say that the good outweighs the bad.”
“You would say that Frank, were you not the one who was supposed to be watching the guard so that I would not get shot.”
“I guess I messed up a lil’ bit on that job.”
“A LIL’ BIT YOU ASSHOLE! You were chasing that damn barmaid around like she was the last woman on Earth.”
“At the time she was the last woman on Earth.” replied Frank laughing and in doing so causing pains to shoot through his sore sides.
“Well, it got that poor guard dead, God rest his soul, and dead by my gun at that.” Jed said then whispers, “God forgive me.”
“There is always some risk in this business Jed, you’ve always known that.”
“This risk was avoidable Frank, but you’re right, there are enough risks in this business without you not doing your job, me getting shot and a guard getting killed. Now we have half the marshals in the territory after us and a terrible hangover.”
“The worst of it is this hangover in my opinion.”
“I’ll bet Frank, you don’t have a bullet in your arm.”
“True enough” replied Frank laughing once more and wincing with each chuckle, “But a lot of good it will do us sitting around blaming one another, like you said half the marshals in the territory are after us. Want me to round up some breakfast?”
“Not for me anyway, I feel as if I just ate a feast and had it pounded back out of me.” Jed reached into his leather coat pocket for his tobacco pouch and as soon as he had touched it let out an exasperated sigh. “DAMN IT!”
“What is it now Jed, arm aching?”
“Far worse, apparently the blood from my arm ran into my pocket, my tobacco is wet with it. Guess I’ll be bumming cigs from you until we get to the next town.”
“That’s odd; the breast pocket of your shirt isn’t even wet,”
Jed went to display his evidence when Frank threw his dusty hands up palm forward.
“That’s ok Jed I believe you, or at least believe my stomach feels odd enough without having blood soaked tobacco pushed into my face. Give me a minute and I’ll get out my pouch now that you have relieved me of my appetite.”
Not five seconds later Frank let out a disgusted sound and flung his tobacco pouch into the short shrubs that surrounded their camp.
It was Jed’s turn to laugh, “Find a spider in your pocket you big baby? You better go and pick that up, that’s the last of the blessed leaf before we get to the next town.”
“You can go pick it up, you ass, and dry the leaf out too; if that really was the last of the tobacco you picked a fine time to become a practical joker.”
A thoroughly confused Jed walked over to the discarded pouch and stared at it with disbelief.
“How could this happen?” demanded Jed.
“I was hoping that you could answer that, being the only one bleeding and all. Who else could have gotten both pouches soaked in blood?”
“I tell you it wasn’t me!” proclaimed Jed.
“Well if it wasn’t you then there is some strange goings on here. Either way it’s high time that we should be moving on.”
The men left the shelter of their overhanging rock and began walking in a westwardly direction. Within a mile of their camp the men crossed a small stream. Before either of them could even bend down to gather a cupped hand full to their mouths a horrific smell hit their noses. The water smelled of a mixture of rotting meat and bad eggs. With stomachs turning they hurried over the cursed water and continued on their unmarked path.
Walking in silence both men pondered what could have happened to both pouches of tobacco and how far the next town was. If someone would have seen them from a distance, one would have thought them lost and weary travelers, heads bowed, backs bent, dust caked strangely to their chaps, shirts and jackets. If these travelers had hats at one time they had apparently lost them. Both had heads of full unkempt and also strangely dust caked hair. The dust appeared on them as dust that sticks to a surface that has had a drink spilled on to it and left to congeal.
The men walked for hours speaking rarely, with Frank laughing to himself more than talking even though there was nothing to laugh about. At what the men guessed to be around two in the afternoon both began to be curious as to why they were not hungry but quickly gave the credit to the still present whole body hangover. While they did not feel hungry the afternoon began to be filled with the talk of people who will not be eating for a while, so therefore everything sounds wonderfully tasty. “A whole roasted chicken with potatoes and carrots” one would say, “A side of beef spitted and seared over an open flame,” this lasted until even the vultures that circled miles above began to salivate.
It wasn’t until the sun began to sink beneath the fiery horizon that things took a turn for the worse. A great chasm opened up in the land not a mile in front of them and with it the roar of a fast moving river. But at the very same moment the river could be faintly heard, a slightly louder neighing was heard behind.
“Did you hear that Frank?” asked Jed.
“I’m afraid so, sounded like horses to me.”
“I thought so too, and unless our horses have found their way back to us, which I am positive we rode our poor beasts to death to get away from those damn marshals, those horses must be mounted by the very marshals that have been haunting our steps.”
“Perhaps we can hide before they get close enough to see us?” suggested Frank.
“Perhaps, why we might make it if we can slip down into that chasm before they see us.” responded Jed.
Just as the two men began to run towards the gap twelve horsemen appeared behind. Far enough behind that they saw the dust fly up from the ground before they even heard the booming report of the shot. The riders were too far away to shoot with any accuracy but did succeed in sending the men running as if the horsemen were the very hand of God coming to punish them for their crimes. Despite how hard the men ran they knew that they could never outrun their mounted pursuers.
Desperate as men can be they reached the edge of chasm, a great river rushed below at least fifty feet down it seemed and choked with rocks. The men, being terrified of the sure death waiting for them behind and the sure death waiting for them below, stood upon the brink.
“Well” said Jed “Damned if we do and double damned if we don’t.”
“It seems that way, but if we can jump to the water and not hit the rocks we might make it.”
They seemed to not notice the ricochets flying off the dusty ground around them. They each gave a quick nod to the other. Just a nod but a significant one, the nod that a friend gives a friend right before the both of you does something really stupid. In their case it was an identical nod to the one they gave each other before they robbed their first bank.
“I hope I never have to do this again, no matter how it turns out Frank, this is hell.”
Frank nodded his agreement and said, “Yes it is.”
With that they jumped, and with what seemed to be a lifetime in their minds but in reality was only seconds later they landed.
Jed thought, “The water feels strange, too thick and warm.
The marshals arrived at the edge of the chasm and looked down, seeing two red smears that landed just short of the river on the bank, the dust falling, disturbed by the horses’ shod feet on the cliff above, stuck sickly to the bloody bodies below. The marshals turned their horses away and galloped into the sunset a job well done.
The next morning
“What happened last night?” asks Frank as he awakes in the shade of a well placed rock.
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