Kade scanned the outlying area, the hot, blazing sun causing shimmers on the desert floor that looked like pools of water. Water! He was desperate for water. He was choking on his swollen tongue. Sand and dirt filled his nostrils, and his lips were cracked and bleeding.
Why did he do it? Well, what a stupid question. He knew why he did it. He needed quick cash so he could marry his beautiful Rose. Now here he was on this god-forsaken mountain, dying of hunger, heat, and thirst.
What would his mama say if she could see him? She’d cry and quote from the Bible to show him the error of his ways. But mostly she’d cry, her heart broken. Mama was a God-fearing woman who tried to raise him right. At least she was in heaven now and wouldn’t be there when they brought his dead, bloated carcass into town. Or maybe they’d just bury him here in the desert or leave him for vultures to feast on.
He’d lost track of how many days it had been since the sheriff’s posse had chased him up the mountain. By the second day, he’d lost them – ran his faithful horse, Detes, until in careless exhaustion, the horse stumbled on rocky terrain and fell. Kade had lain there stunned, the wind knocked out of him, one leg trapped under the horse. The sound of dripping water propelled him to action. His water bag was losing its precious liquid. With one leg still under the horse, he’d grabbed the bag and sealed its opening.
Once free, Kade saw Detes had a broken leg. He extracted the saddlebag full of cash, and aimed his gun at Detes, but couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger. He wasn’t a killer, not even a horse killer. He walked away with his saddlebag full of cash and his water bag. He heard Detes snorting and whinnying, but blocked his mind. Killing Detes was the humane thing to do, but the sound of gunfire would alert the posse to his whereabouts.
By the third day, he’d drank all his water. He’d wandered up a mountain, hoping to survey his surroundings from higher ground. Nothing but desolate desert! The days reached over a hundred degrees, the nights dropped to the forties, chilling him. The wind blowing across the desert sounded like the swish of Mama’s broom on the front porch. Coyotes howled, and the threat of rattlesnakes made sleep fleeting. On the fourth day, he found the trickle in the crack of a large rock, tiny droplets falling from some reservoir deep in the mountain’s belly.
If only he could catch the precious drops with his tongue, but the opening was too small. He could barely fit his hand there. Each drop dried on his hand before he could bring it to his mouth, though.
“Why God?” he groaned. “A drip of water just to torment me?” But he knew God wasn’t responsible for his plight. Mama raised him in church, to do right, but he had to go and rob the bank. Now he’d die on this mountain. He’d give all the money in his saddlebag for water or food. Water! So thirsty!
He crawled to the other side of the rock to a patch of shade, and closed his eyes in sleep. He’d set his dirty sock where it would catch the water droplets. Maybe he could wipe his face or wring a drop into his mouth.
He dreamed then about when he was just a young’un. Papa had come in from the fields, and was washing up for supper. Water from the pump was flowing freely as he washed up, and then he’d cupped his hands, smoothing his hair back with the water. He’d flicked his fingers at Kade, sending droplets of water onto his face. They both laughed as Papa hoisted him on his shoulder, and they went inside for supper. Mama poured him a glass of cold milk.
He wasn’t sure how long he slept. Maybe it was the lizard crawling across his face that roused him, or the sound of voices off in the distance. Or maybe the voices were part of his dream. He wanted to sleep so he could dream of water, cold milk, and Mama and Papa.
The voices got louder, pulling him from death’s embrace. He raised his head, his eyes blinded by the sun’s glare. Pushing himself to his feet, he raised his arms in surrender.
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