BODIES IN THE DESERT
The distant purple mountains lurked at the edge of the empty desert like a giant prehistoric beast, a behemoth of a dragon, their namesake, and menacing. Snow capped peaks over 16,000 feet high barred their way but both men hoped their little adventure into the waste lands would be worth the effort.
"Looks like a hell of a long way to go, eh Flytrap?" Cholly said, matter-of-factly, kneeling on the top of Flytrap's huge shoulders, their usual mode of traveling any long distance.
The naked Chinaman was three times the size of other men and grunted slightly, now and then, but said not a word as he trotted at an easy gait over the hot desert sands, moving with as much ease as a man jogging down a paper-strewn, glass-littered street in Center City, one of the few metropolises on the distant world.
Out here in the desert, both adventurers felt comfortable and most at home. Cholly breathed in the warm clean air through his yellow and black checkered mask that covered most of his lower face, feeling alive, anticipating the adventure, and keeping a close watch all around for unwelcome company.
Too often in this age of want and corruption, the all too common violence made a man quite cautious in his day to day existence as life lay balanced between a sharp eye, a quick hand, and a good partner to watch your back. Cholly recalled how the journey had all began as he continually scanned the horizon with binoculars for anything suspicious.
It was in a bar, three days before, that Cholly and Flytrap, nearly passed out from too much drinking, had first heard of the truck going off the road near the summit pass of those distant lurking mountains.
That wasn't such and unusual occurrence. The road was a trail, at best, and covered with loose shale most of the way. Supposedly, the guy speaking at the next table had been one of the drivers. But he was talking loud enough to be overheard by Cholly and his buddy Flytrap.
"The truck's in pieces at the bottom of the gorge, but I saw the ammo crates and they're pretty much intact. We packed 'em extra good in four-by-four timbers. There's a whole lotta wealth in those crates friends -- if only you could get to them. You'd need some kind of a pulley system to get 'em back up, though, and one hell of a lot of cable. I mean this is a real deep gorge."
As the driver began to speak of bullets, Cholly had elbowed Flytrap and motioned for him to remain silent. The more the driver drank, the more details he gave and after an hour Cholly and Flytrap blew that dive of a bar to get some supplies, then headed into the deep desert.
Bullets were like money and hard to come by on this world where years ago a huge emigration ship had crash landed. Life here was similar to living someplace back on earth but with everything in short supply, except violence and the means to cause it, these commodities, especially, were in high demand, even though there were small factories here and there. But if they could get their hands on those newly manufactured bullets and crates, they could live easy for some time and have a good cache of ammo besides.
"Down, Flytrap," Cholly whispered quickly. The big man stopped suddenly and leaned forward, extricating Cholly who hopped to the sand and trotted over a few bits of rock, then motioned to get to the ground just as quick.
They instantly fell to one knee and then lay flat, Cholly pulling his big revolver, Lucille. Reaching into his pack, he took out a big semi-auto magnum that shot rifle slugs, and handed it to Flytrap.
"Bodies," Cholly said, half whispering and casting a serious look at his partner through his colored military goggles. The ultra bright light bothered his damaged eyes.
They crept forward on their bellies, now, making what little use they could of the fairly flat terrain for cover. Peeping over a small cactus-covered rise they saw three bodies lying strewn in the sand.
Seeing that all three appeared dead, Cholly and Flytrap stood up cautiously. They approached warily for tricks but soon concluded that these corpses in the sand were not faking their deaths in order to surprise and kill them. Someone had already done that to the threesome.
"Looks like we're not the only ones to have heard these guys talkin' Flytrap."
The Chinaman nodded, recognizing the driver from the bar, and two others that had been with him that evening. Now they were dead. The two of 'um had to be careful.
"They had a sand buggy of some kind," Cholly observed, scratching at his Armadillo hat that protected his bald, scarred head, studying the tire impressions. "The tracks lead straight to the pass. Must've had the same idea we did 'bout salvaging the ammo."
"Tortured," said the big Chinaman, pointing.
"Yeah! I noticed that, Fly. My guess is they got bushwhacked and this one was still alive to spill the beans about the goods from the truck. Looks like whoever did this had some fun finishing him off before they left though. Poor bastard."
They went through the dead men's clothes, found a few extra rounds of ammunition, and some food stuffs. Cholly pocketed the bullets and tossed the munchies to Flytrap. One canteen of water lay in the sand and Cholly drank his fill then gave the rest to Flytrap who swallowed the remainder. Mounting up and heading east for the mountains, again, they left the bodies where they had fallen, to their open graves and the circling vultures.
BULLETS, TROUT, AND PATIENCE
They followed the tracks of the sand buggy eastward into the foothills.
Cholly dismounted Flytrap's shoulders again as they reached the purple mountain's flanks where the tracks started to rise sharply. He unslung a 30-6 rifle from his shoulder. They'd found it in the tracks of the buggy where it had fallen in the dirt unnoticed, probably. There were sixteen rounds of High-Express hollow points in the clip and one in the chamber of the long-barreled auto-action rifle, and Cholly was glad for its company. It might come in handy later on.
Without a word, they began to climb the steep trail-like road up the side of the mountain. Its black and gray stones radiated the heat of the low desert sun back into their faces. It headed straight up the grade and only switched-backed when absolutely necessary.
Hours later and half way to the summit, they stumbled on to a stream and drank heavily from a sizeable pond of ice-melt off the distant snow covered peaks. Scrub brush and a few scattered pines littered the steep terrain, mingling with a few cactus from the desert floor far below. Overhead they heard the distant cry of a hawk and Cholly felt a warning from it, something menacing, almost as if someone were watching them. He had come to trust those feelings.
Reaching for the rifle and another handful of the cooling liquid, Cholly heard Flytrap's feet dig in as he yelled, "Gun!"
Trusting his instincts as well, they both dove for the deep water and the protection of a large boulder near a small five-foot falls. The cold mountain runoff would have taken their breath away if they're lives hadn't depended on how long they'd have to stay under water.
They kicked hard and resurfaced behind the big stone, next to the falls, gasping for much needed oxygen. All around them bullets were spitting into the water and ricocheting off nearby gray rocks. Someone knew they were being followed and apparently didn't like it.
However, the pool of water they had dove into was filled with fish and one wiggled, caught inside Cholly's tattered flight jacket. He reached into it and pulled out the trout.
"Sushi, Flytrap?" he asked with a grin, chuckling as he stuffed it back in his jacket.
Flytrap's eyes went wide and he began grabbing the slippery suicidal fish with his bare hands, stuffing several dozen into Cholly's jacket.
When the rain of bullets had stopped, the two waited a while then left the water but stayed under cover of the boulders as they moved back from the road and away from gun sights. They gathered dry wood and made a smokeless fire, cooked their huge cache of fish on sticks and ate till they were stuffed.
"Pretty good fish stickers, wouldn't ya say there, Flytrap? Yuk! Yuk!" Cholly laughed, patting his rounded belly. Flytrap kept eating the last six or so trout.
Later, burping their fill, Flytrap and Cholly began to cautiously moved up the mountainside, again, staying under cover of the irregular terrain. Whoever it was that shot at them had probably moved on, but death was a permanent condition and he and Flytrap were survivors. No use being stupid and rushing into another ambush.
Just before nightfall they reached the top of the mountain and crept along the jagged summit spires to where the road should be. Rounding the shoulder of a rocky mass, the two friends spotted the bushwhackers.
Fifty yards down the north slope, the sand buggy was parked against the far shoulder of the road. Two men sat around a small fire, drinking and laughing at their days accomplishments.