In The Belly Of The Desert

by 

Jack Strap didn’t bother burying the men. Buzzards’ gotta eat, he thought. Same as worms. A man makes his own funeral. You wander in the Desert, you’ll go the same way all Desert creatures do. In the belly of something else.

Buzzards weren’t gonna do a thing with the corpse’s shooting irons, so Jack took that scavenging upon himself. Turned out not to be worth the effort; damn pieces might as well be wood for the good they’d be. Cursing, Jack tossed them aside. No wonder he’d plugged them so easily. You couldn’t hit a broadside with those things, corroded as they were.

These men were amateurs. Wouldn’t have lasted long, not out here, not if they didn’t know how to protect their weapons. If they hadn’t caught up with him so quickly, the Desert would have chewed them up the same way. The Desert was eating away at him, too, Jack knew that. He was not a young man, and what skill he’d once had was now little more than luck. If it wasn’t men like these, out for the price on his head, it would be a night when the campfire that kept the spiders at bay would blow out. Or he wouldn’t treat a cut properly, and would collapse, his blood turning to powder. Or the caustic sand would get into his eyes, and he wouldn’t be a predator anymore, just prey. Or it would be one of a million other deaths the Desert had in wait, and his bones would bleach and crumble same way these fellas’ would.

That which is built on sand is destined to fall, the saying goes.

Jack wasted no time going through their pockets, tossing out the paper money that was already crumbling and pocketing the coins. But it was the bigger of the two that had what he was really after: a satellite link-up. No bounty hunter traveled without them now, not in the Desert. A GPS signal was your best hope of getting out once you were in, and even that was no guarantee. There it was, in a inside pocket, its plastic protective case already being eaten away. The small red LED on top slowly pulsing, signaling the connection was solid. Jack opened it and thumbed an orbital view. It had been months since the Desert had gotten to the last one he took. He was comforted by the little lights that represented the cities. What was left of the cities.

It had been a long time since he had seen an orbital view, but even Jack could tell there were fewer lights.

Jack Strap placed the link-up in the pouch on his belt where the old one used to stay, and was surprised at how much space was left. “Things keep getting smaller,” he said, to no one in particular, and left his would-be arrestors to the belly of the Desert.

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