The moon rose in the west, casting its pallid glow over the desert landscape. The earth wasn’t moving; lizards, rodents, bugs, – prey – lay beneath the earth, under rocks and out of sight. Predators slept in their dens, their nests and their roosts, waiting for the morning shimmer of the sun. Waiting for another moment to feast. It was all impossibly still, almost frozen in time, only the fluttering light of the fire stirred. It threw their shadows against the rock wall behind their camp, like monsters in a child’s imagination.
He was the first to break the silence, “we’ll have to leave before daybreak, they’ll be close behind.” He poked the fire with a stick, less for stoking it and more as something to do. “We have to outpace them,” his eyes were fixated on the fire, entranced by its hypnotic dance.We have to… he repeated to himself.
A hand touched his and he turned, she sat with her knees huddled to her chest, one arm wrapped protectively around them, the other now in his. “We’ve always been one step ahead, have we not?”
“Aye, that we have.” He squeezed her hand. But when does our luck run? When does it leave us twisted in the wind? When is it proper to turn and face them with her name upon my breath and the roaring thunder of six shooters in my hands? It wasn’t so much if he would have to leave her, but when. A last ditch effort. A sacrifice.
She eased in closer and met his eyes. A smile crept up the side of her face, as if hearing some inaudible command, she kissed him on the mouth. Their eyes closed. He wanted to savor the moment, savor life, savor her smell, savor her lips, savor her. The moment made a bitter anger rise in his chest as he thought of the host no doubt less than three miles from here. Sitting at their own fire, contemplating their own plans.
“I love you.” She whispered, as if it were still a guarded secret despite being alone. But it was no secret, the moment the truth came out was the moment they were driven to this barren landscape.
We have to outpace them… Conviction grew in his heart; he clenched his fists and embraced the inevitability of his mantra. We have to outpace them. With one hand, he held her face tenderly; his other instinctively rested on the grip of his revolver. But if I must die, I shall die for thee.
He was wearing a smile. Handsome and tired and desperate and dangerous.
“Aye, and I you.”