The war has ended. Months have passed and the rider, with a great sin on his back, stops his horse at the crest of a hill. It slopes down near a river and is made of mostly dirt and dried grass. He dismounts the appaloosa, and he takes his rifle out of the saddle and he puts the stock to his shoulder because he knows that he must use it and he raises the sight to affirm this.
The white sun is high over head and he puts his knee down on the dirt and takes aim with the rifle. There is a glare behind him so he is safe from snipers but they will see him when the glare turns against the sight and that is when he must run.
He has dark eyes that look like cinders and long brown hair that lays flat under his hat with a concho band. His clothes are plain and familiar. He has cautious steps. Most remember the sound of his boots, the mean craft of his hands, his smell. It reminds them of cigarillos and the pine forests and the mornings in which he often has vanished.
Today he will kill men down at the bottom of this hill. He knows they will ride this way and that the leader always rides ahead and flanked by his friends. The left is the best shot so he will shoot him first. The other is missing an eye and will die last.
He stays longer on that hill than he remembers when he sees the men and the dust cloud. They are riding hard. He jerks the rifle switch and fires. The man on the left grabs his heart and falls. The horses come to a stop and the leader draws a dragoon pistol. He shoots nothing and falls backwards, his brains scattered on the road.
The last man tries to run and is thrown into the river and the white water runs red and he is caught on the pebbles and the boulders and doesn’t stir or is unable.
The rider comes down the hill and stumbles and lands on his backside. He curses and sits there to think things over and smokes a cigarillo he has just rolled himself. None of the bodies do much more than groan before they eventually stop that all together. Two of them die face down while the leader at least looks up to the sky and sees the birds.
The sun is still white but he doesn’t close his eyes. He dies with them open and his mouth is open too. The rider believes he looks confused when he bends over to pick his pockets. Flies already taking roost, buzzing around them.
His knife is made of a deer antler and the blade is long. He makes a small fire with some gray twigs and brush and strokes it with the knife. When this is done he goes to the bodies and cuts off one ear from each and pokes holes in their lobes and makes a necklace using some knotted horsehair then over the fire he roasts them to a crisp black and wraps them in linen. He chews on the cigarillo which is just a stub and lines up the dead men and folds their arms over their chests.
Twenty-five dollars for each of them. He counts on his fingers and whistles. Then, after taking their ammunition, attempts to climb back up the hill with some effort and almost loses his boot.
The appaloosa shakes her head and he feeds her a carrot then rides her back to town. The sky is a cold blue when he returns and the stars are out and the moon is transparent through the clouds. He drinks a glass of whiskey with a whore then goes to bed alone.
Sleeping in late he forgets to see the sheriff and spends the afternoon cleaning his gun and installs himself in a rocking chair on the balcony. The deputies come to see him and ask if he has proof of contract. He offers them the ears and they give him the money.
That night he stays on the balcony and he rests his hands on the railing. He looks out into the starry night and ignores the catcalls and the gunfights and laughter. He sees himself in thirty years in a coffin or is it a house? His mind drifts and he doesn’t return to the thought. Over near a desert plant he sees a coyote and the coyote sees him. They lock eyes from far away, the coyote’s are very gold. It lasts until the end of time. Until the coyote runs away.
The next morning the rider follows. And it begins.