The sun set long ago, yet the heat of the day lingered and radiated upwards from parched rocky soil. My bare feet were burned and blistered and open sores wept. I did not feel any of this. I did not feel anything beyond an inner emptiness and a tinge of loneliness. A harsh dusty wind moaned as it picked up sand from the desert floor, and my dry eyes burned. A dull ache throbbed in my head; I touched it with my hand, and my fingers came away wet with blood.
In front of me, the moon glowed large and looming on the horizon. A Joshua tree stood before me casting long, dark shadows.
Bats fluttered overhead, and, above them, an occasional star fell and trailed lines of color and light. The falling stars increased in number, and it seemed as if the sky itself might fall down.
I grew dizzy and faint and sat on the ground. I pulled my pistol from my holster and touched the steel barrel to my neck. It felt cool and refreshing in the hot night.
A scorpion crawled on a rock in front of me. I took aim and fired. Faster than the eye could register, the scorpion was gone. Smoke drifted up from my gun. The barrel was hot to the touch now.
Life one moment, gone the next.
It all seemed so fleeting, so meaningless. I thought about my girl. I had wanted to marry that girl. I thought about the burning farms. I thought about the flying arrows and bullets and screaming and blood – so much blood. The ground was muddy with blood once it was all done and over, and what had any of it accomplished? What was the point? After all, it was only land, and there was so much of it. Why couldn’t it be shared?
So many lives were lost in the confusion. A panicked horse trampled a toddler – she was my neighbor’s kid – but I had been helpless to stop it. Soon afterwards, that same horse bucked and kicked me to the ground. I lay unconscious and bleeding in my cotton long johns beneath some scrub. Once I awoke, the massacre was over.
I looked, but there seemed to be no survivors, just bodies and blood and acrid smoke. This morning, the sun rose, and birds sang just like any other day. By midday, the life I knew was gone forever.
In the present, a coyote howled in the distance.
I looked towards the horizon behind me. Beyond the ridge – where the land was moistened by a cool mountain stream, and the soil was fertile – thin lines of smoke snaked upwards into the empty night while vultures circled. My cheeks were suddenly hot and wet with tears.
I lay back down and looked back up to the sky and watched stars fall. They burned up before ever touching this cursed land, and I envied them.
All at once, everything grew fluid around me. The land beneath me encircled me as it became a canoe, and I felt myself float downstream. The falling stars became floating candles. They flashed by as the currents grew stronger, carrying me down into a widening and endless waterway. The mouth of the darkest ocean opened up and devoured all I ever was or would be.
Then I became aware – at the final moment before this world faded into the next – that the stars continued to fall, and I knew they would always fall, year after year, oblivious of us all.