Author : Alicia Cerra Waters
We were lost in the desert on Omega, sitting under one of those skeleton trees, slowly drying out like everything else around us. They call Omega the first and the last; the first planet from its galaxy’s sun, and the last planet anyone would ever want to live on. The alpha and the omega. I heard that’s supposed to be a reference to some ancient culture’s religion.
We were dehydrating, my baby and I, and I was thinking about the only blue sea I’d ever seen. When I heard a man’s sigh, I wasn’t sure if I was imagining things or not. Then I saw the shape of him, thin and bedraggled, hunched over a weary horse. I began unwrapping my hair, the only part of me that was still beautiful. As he approached, I noticed a water skin bobbing at his side.
I leaned against the skeleton tree as he approached. “You look like a tall, cool drink,” I said.
He was wearing a dazed and beaten expression. “Cover your head, lady. You’ll get skin cancer.”
I spent what little energy I had to lift the baby, leave the shade of the tree, and walk at his side. “Nice of you to worry about me. Any chance you’d share some water?”
The man shook his head. “Can’t. I need it to get to the nearest ranch, and there’s no water between us and that ranch. Guaranteed.”
“I can offer you something better than water,” I said.
The man scoffed. “Out here there’s no such thing.”
“Please,” I said, peering up at him, batting my eyelashes. Anything was worth a try.
He shook his head. “My horse can’t carry us both. My water won’t stretch to me, you, the horse, and the baby.”
“Fine,” I said, “Then take my baby with you.”
“If you don’t, we’ll both die out here.” I held up my child. He was small and dull-eyed as he squirmed in the rags I had swaddled him in.
The man turned his head. “Ma’am, I’ve got to think about this.”
The man sighed. “I knew it was a mistake to take the main road.”
“Is that a yes?”
He pulled the reigns on his horse and the creature came to a halt, grateful as the man tied its reins to the base of the skeleton tree. He detached the water skin from his pack and said, “I’ll give the child some water.”
I reached for the water skin, my eyes stinging with an effort to produce tears, as I let the water drip into my baby’s mouth.
The man sat down underneath the tree and leaned against the trunk, watching me with bloodshot eyes in layers of cracking, leathery skin. I sat down next to the man and put the baby in my lap. I held my son’s little hand as he licked water droplets from his pink lips.
“I’m sorry a nice lady like you is all alone out here,” he said, laying a fatherly hand on my shoulder. He was being sincere. That made it harder.
“I’m sorry too,” I said. In a quick movement, I withdrew a dagger from the folds of my blouse and plunged it into his throat. The shock of pain filled his eyes as he collapsed like a fallen tree, his blood flowing into the sand like the only river in the desert. I stayed with him until he was empty, then I took a drink from his water skin and climbed onto his horse, bound for the nearest ranch.
It’s an old play, an old malaise, this toll on compassion.
Great narration, I loved the suspense. The ending was predictable, though.