The sun glows red as it touches the horizon.
Bill Parson lowers his binoculars, steps back from the cliff edge, and puts his hat back on.
He removes a dark length of pressed tobacco from the front pocket of his jeans, takes a chaw and puts it back.
He passes his eyes around the dead end.
Smooth vertical rock on one side, cliffs on two others, and, finally, the thin lip of flat ground leading back. He looks down at Hendricks, lying in the mud of his own blood. "They'll be comin' before long, but I expect you know that."
"I ain't stupid. We went the wrong damn way." The voice is unsteady.
Parson chews a bit, then turns away to spit.
Hendricks glares up from the mud. His face is pale. "You know it’s long odds either of us coming down off this mountain."
"I don't know nothin' like it."
A moment passes, Hendricks leaks some more blood into the dry dust. "Have it your way,” he says.
Parson spits, takes one of his two shortened 12 gauge shotguns from his belt holster and hands it down to Hendricks.
“What the hell is this for?”
“Company.” Parson begins walking back down the trail.
"Where you think you're goin'"
“I’ll be back.”
"Gonna be dark soon"
Parson waves back over his shoulder. "I'll be back."
The long shadows of approaching night paint the trail with strips of dark. Parson picks his way carefully, the soles of his boots sliding on the loose stone.
A couple hundred yards on he reaches the remains of their dune buggy.
It's on it's side, roll cage twisted, it’s front hanging over the cliff edge, one wheel missing. He looks up the mountain, tracing the path the buggy carved into the ground as it tumbled from the road above.
With a little light and a little luck, an uninjured man might just make it back up to the road.
He walks around to the back of the buggy.
The trunk box is mangled and stuck shut.
He finds a stone, pounds the lid open, and removes everything, placing it on the ground for inspection.
He puts aside two boxes of Double Ought buckshot, two cans of beans, a box of matches, a small first aid kit, and two 1-liter bottles of water.
He takes a long look at the hole in the side of the crushed jerrycan still attached to the back of the buggy. He bangs the can’s side a couple of times then unlatches it and carefully lays it on the ground.
He empties one of the water bottles and mostly fills it up again from the thin stream of diesel left in the bottom of the jerrycan. He sets the bottle aside.
He stops to spit, stare at the dune buggy. and rub his whiskers.
Finally, he creeps slowly along the cliff edge to the front cab of the dune buggy. He stretches his arm through the roll cage and pops the glove box.
A 45 Long Colt revolver comes tumbling out. He grabs it, rolls the cylinder to make sure of loads, and tucks it into the back of his jeans.
Everything else, he wraps up in his jacket and ties it off by the sleeves.
He takes one last look around, checks the height of the sun in the sky, and heads back up the trail.
“Hendricks, if you’re still alive, don’t shoot. I’m coming up on you.”
A weak voice calls back from the shadows. “Well come on then.”
Parson lays his bundled jacket next to Hendricks and moves back into the shadows crouching here and there to pull up scrub and gather pieces of powder dry wood.
He drops his load of tinder and wood between the cliff edge and Hendricks, then sets about making a fire.
“A fire’s gonna draw em like flies.”
“Hell, they probably been smellin’ your blood for an hour. A fire don’t make no difference to them. If they find a way up, they’re coming. Nothing can stop that.”
“Still nothin. I ain’t dying in the dark with a stomach full of cold beans.”
Hendricks is quite while parson builds the fire. Once it is burning, Parson uses a small pocket knife to poke holes in the two cans of beans and places them at the edge of the fire to warm, and picks up the first aid kit.
He then looks down at Hendrick’s mangled leg and the thin stream of blood trickling from the corner of his mouth, and begins looking through the first aid kit. “You been puking much blood?”
Hendricks watches him for a bit, each breath bubbling in his chest. “You coulda just kept goin.”
Parson asks again, “Well have you?”.
“When you went down to the buggy. You coulda just kept a walking. I might of if I were you.”
Parson pulls two pre-filled hypodermics out of the kit. “Yeah, well, you might not of neither. Don’t matter know.”
Hendricks’ living eyes shine out of the darkness. His breathing is ragged with pain, but his voice is calm. “What are you plannin on doin’ with those needles?”
“I can give you something for the pain, and the other one is for keeping you sharp. Might kill you to mix em, but there’s plenty to kill you already.”
“Hell, I know I’m dead already, the rest of me just hasn’t caught on yet. ”
Parson leans over and quickly injects him with both hypodermics. “If we can get you back to Junction, the Meds can fix you up.”
“That’s some long odds.”
Parson doesn’t say anything.
“And you, not even a scratch. Lucky sum-bitch, Parson.” Hendricks starts to laugh. It turns into a cough that brings dark blood to his lips and down his chin. He catches his breath. “Lucky as anybody who’s going to die out here tonight.”
They watch the sun dip out of sight behind the distant dunes.
Before the glow fades, Parson scans the desert with his binoculars. He watches Long shadows appear from beneath rocks and stands of bush. He watches the shadow ambling slowly towards them across the desert miles. He watches them getting closer until the dark finally comes complete.
Parson faces down the trail with his back to the fire, and checks the loads in his double-barreled sawed offs. He fills his pockets with extra shells, and finally hands the 45 Colt to Hendricks.
“What am I supposed to do with this pop-gun? Might as well just cuss at em.”
Parson remains silent.
“Well ain’t this morbid.” Hendricks coughs wet, spits, and checks the loads.
They stare into the dark, waiting.
The moon is still hanging low in the sky when they hear the first shuffling steps above them.
Parson quickly adds some more wood to the fire, rubs his eyes and tries to see deeper into the dark.
Low moans and mad, almost human, babblings drift out of the night.
“Hey Parson,” Hendricks wheezes, “looks like we finally getting some company.”
“Quiet yourself. I’m gonna be dead soon and all I got is you for conversation till then. I don’t even mind. What was it you put in me?”
“Morphine prolly... mighta been heroin. And you ain’t dead yet.”
“Hell I ain’t.”
Parson says nothing.
“Well, I’d think I was dead already, except ain’t no angel as ugly as you.”
“Unless this is hell. Wouldn’t surprise me. I’ve done plenty of bad. So’ve you. Must be why you’re here.”
“Everybody still alive has done plenty of bad.”
“Guess that means all the good people had sense enough to die.”
“Dying ain’t sensible.”
“Living on this shit hole of a world ain’t sensible.” A wet cough spasms through Hendricks body. The blood runs black from his lips in the firelight. “You think this is hell?”
“I bet it’s damn close.”
“Remember them squatters out by the dune hills?”
“I bet you do. I do. I dream about it.”
Parson takes a chaw of tobacco and says nothing.
“Oldest of them kids musta been 10 or 11.”
Parson spits, says nothing.
“Damn you, we’re gonna die here. What do you say for yourself?”
Parson chews for a bit, then spits. “I say all the good people is dead, and dyin’ ain’t sensible for the rest of us.”
Hendricks chuckles. “Parson, you do make a point.”
Parson chews and spits and watches and listens.
Hendricks is mumbling softly to himself, his face so pale it glows in the dying firelight. Parson gave him the last of the Morphine an hour before when he began screaming from the pain.
The shuffling sounds and moans have grown louder as the crowd above them has grown.
Parson is wondering whether to risk the dark and gather more firewood when, further down the trail, he hears the sound of a body thudding against rock and finally landing in gravel.
He stands up and unholsters his shotguns. Beyond the firelight comes the sound of something dragging across the gravel.
“Here they come Hendricks.”
Hendricks gives a giggle that turns into a wet gurgle, “s’the devil a comin for us...”
“Well let ‘em come then.”
Parson walks a step forward into the dark, his guns ahead.
A shadow detaches itself from the dark, sliding forward close to the ground.
A skeletal hand reaches into the firelight, grasping at the hard ground. The flesh is gone from the fingertips leaving bone and tendon exposed. What little skin is left on the rest is gray and peeling. A gold ring flashes on one finger.
The first hand is followed by a second. Together they pull a deaths head into the light. Mostly bare skull and broken teeth from where the thing had ripped off it’s own scalp and chewed off it’s own lips and cheeks, only the eyes look alive, glowing red with more light than comes from the small campfire.
It struggles towards Parson, it’s teeth grinding and clicking in a chewing motion. The rest of it’s decayed body is pulled into the light, more exposed bone and tendon, ending in a crushed lower body. Splintered bone and a foot hanging from one strip of dark ligament.
Parson spits and waits until the creature is at his feet. He then steps on it’s head with one heavy foot, finds the dark fist-sized lump at the base of it’s skull, and unload one barrel of his shotgun into it. The blast echos into the night, and Parson is blinded momentarily by the muzzle flash.
The broken skull collapses under his foot, and the rest of the skeletal body shudders and is finally still.
From above a collective moan answers the echoing shotgun blast.
Parson cracks his shotgun open, replaces the spent shell with one from his pocket, and closes it again. “Well Hendricks, if that’s as bad as it gets, we might just make it.”
Hendricks mumbles to himself.
From the darkness beyond, Parson hears the sound of a body thudding against rock and finally landing in gravel. And again. And again. And again...
The moon is sliding down now, but there are hours left till morning.
Parson squints against the greasy smoke and tries to spot movement in the shadows.
He sees nothing
Either they’ve decided to stop hurling themselves down the cliff above or the dead and burning bodies are giving them pause.
He counts the shells he has left. Two in each gun, 5 more in his pockets.
The small bottle of diesel ran empty hours ago.
He backs up next to Hendricks and makes sure he is still alive.
He takes his last chaw of tobacco, and looks past the burning, smoking corpses into the dark.
He spits. “Aw hell”
He gives Hendricks the last stimulant injection from the kit and shakes him awake.
Hendricks groans. His eyes open wide and look around in confusion, then close halfway. “hur too ba ta be de.d yeh..”
“No Hendricks, you aren't dead, but we’re in a fix.”
“heh... no... shi...”
Parson puts the heavy 45 Colt in Hendricks’ hand. “For company”
“Buggy for more supplies.”
“I’ll be back.”
“You’ll be fine.”
Parson turns into the dark and begins running. "I'll be back!"
“I hear..d... it... fall,” Hendricks whispers and tries to lift the heavy gun.
His weak fingers drop it.
The moon is almost gone now.
Parson runs through the dark, dodging shuffling shapes and grasping fingers.
He passes the place where the dune buggy had been before the creatures knocked it further into the darkness.
He unloads his guns on masses of creatures trying to block him with numbers.
He fights his way through.
He is running blind now. Moon gone and the sun not yet risen.
He is running blind when he reaches the end.
As he tumbles over the cliff and into the dark, before he loses consciousness, he feels his bones shattering.