Compliments to Cormac McCarthy

    You hear that?
    Hear what.
    I don’t hear nothin’.
    Then yer deaf. There’s somethin’ out there.
    It’s just the fire. Go back to sleep.
    Doesn’t sound like no fire I ever heard.
    But the man pretended not to hear. They had been riding since sunup and the horses were tired and they made camp early for the night.
    Do you reckon they followed us this far?
    Yes, I believe they did.
    The boy rolled over to face the man in the firelight.
    So what are we gonna do?
    Probably more of what we did today. Try to put as much distance between us and them as we can get.
    I’m hungry.
    Then eat somethin’.
    I’m tired.
    Then go to sleep.

    In the morning when the sun came up the man cleaned up the camp site and policed the grounds while the boy slept. When he woke the man gave him two tortillas and they ate breakfast and loaded up the horses and took to riding again. They rode south, the sun on their right, and after a few hours when their shadows disappeared beneath them they made camp for lunch.

    You know you could help a little instead of sittin’ there.
    I’m tired.
    A little work never hurt nobody.
    But the man kept his mouth shut when the boy doubled over and sat on his hands. They ate in silence, taking long slow bites and savoring the flavor in their mouths. Once they kicked off again it would be many hours until they could stop and rest and have another meal.
    How much longer, do you think?
    I don’t know.
    As long as it takes.
    How long is that?
    Long time.
    We should go.
    Yes, we should.
    The man kicked out the fire and the boy loaded up the horses.

    They had been riding for three hours when the man spotted the stranger off to the right on the horizon. A lone scout sat on a chestnut horse about a mile away at the foot of a small mountain. He was far away but the man could tell the scout had a pair of binoculars to his eyes and was watching them. The man made a note of the scout’s location and rode on, leaving the boy’s ignorance intact. They rode past the scout, the man drawing the boy’s attention to a herd of buffalo to their left. They rode on for some time until the man looked back and saw the scout was following them, keeping his distance but keeping pace. They rode on, the three of them now, over the plains. After an hour the boy stopped.

    What’s the matter?
    The boy said nothing.
    The man stole a look back at the scout.
    We can’t stop to eat, but I can get you something and we can eat it as we go.
    The boy looked to the ground and pointed out in front of him at the bluffs. The man followed his gaze and saw a band of riders, fifteen or more, crossing over the hill and riding toward them. The man swung his canteen over his back and unscrewed the lid and took a long sip and handed it to the boy. The boy did not drink, but after a look from the man he took the canteen and slung it around his back.
    Wait here.
    The man dismounted his horse and began walking toward the group of riders. When he crossed the halfway point he put his hands up, subtly so the boy couldn’t see but clear enough that the riders could. When the man got close enough the leader of the gang or who the boy took to be the leader of the gang dismounted his horse and walked up to the man.

    The scout rode past the boy and rejoined the group of riders. The boy watched the two men talk for a long while. The men were far away but every few seconds the boy would catch sight of the sun glinting off the gang leader’s bowie knife on his waist. The leader turned and pointed to the boy and his heart skipped a beat — at this distance the leader’s features were indistinguishable, his face shrouded in darkness under his hat. The boy tried to stand his ground and stare back into the leader’s eyes but he couldn’t find them in all that black. Eventually the gang leader turned his back and gestured to his men who turned and began riding away. The man walked back and rejoined the boy and mounted his horse again.

    What did they want?
    What kind of information?
    Like if we had seen any caravans around these parts.
    What’d you tell them.
    I told them about the one we passed about two days ago by the river.
    What’d they want that information for?
    The man was silent.
    Did they have guns?
    What’d they want that information for?
    The man was silent.
    Where are they going? What are they going to do?
    They’re going to let us pass. They’re going to stop following us now.
    But the man looked out over the plains. He said nothing.


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