"What kinda business you gotta do so far outta town?" Jake said. He removed his hat and wiped the sweat from his forehead with his sleeve.
"Personal business," Bennet's eyes remained on the horizon, looking out for oncoming riders. He turned to Jake. "We're almost there."
Jake nodded. A small circle of buzzards floated along on the desert updrafts someways ahead of them.
"Buzzards," Jake said. "Can't mean nothin' too good."
Bennet nodded. He clicked his tongue and his horse moved on a little faster. Jake did the same to keep pace.
The world was orange in the sunlight shining off the glimmering sands, the white bones of long-dead animals sticking out like fingers from beneath the world to grab nearby sinners, the ghosts of dead men walking aimlessly forever thirsty and never drinking. Bennet thought on some of these men, some of whom he'd known in a time before this one, and rode on.
When the buzzards were in clear sight, they saw what it was they had been circling over. Some had landed and were picking at the fleshy faces of the dead, favouring the eyes first over the other parts. The eyeless sockets stared out into the world. Gaping mouths shouted in a wordless horror that was now unspoken.
"Injuns," Jake said. "Them men been scalped."
"Maybe," Bennet got off his horse and looked around. Neither side of the horizon revealed the shapeless and disappearing forms of riders, men who hunted on other men. "Could be scalp traders."
"A business alive and well."
"Ain't got nothin' to do with it. Come on."
Bennet began sifting through the bodies, looking for coins or identification.
"What're you doin'?" Jake got off his horse. It whinnied and shied away from the dead men and horses, the smell of carrion floating upwards in the heat. "Have some respect."
"These folks're dead. Ain't no need no more."
Jake looked at Bennet, disbelief in his kind hazel eyes, as Bennet relieved a man of a bag of coins strapped around his waste under his pantaloons. He jangled it, the coins clanking against one another, and pocketed it.
The search yielded little else. The names of these men and woman and children would remain unknown to the world forever, infinity continuing without their names ever being spoken again, or their faces cherished and cared for. In a few days, the animals, the sun and the sand will have taken care of all physical signs that these folks ever existed and the world will continue as if they hadn't. They, too, will join the ranks of ghosts wandering the desert, forever looking for drink to quench and undying thirst.
"Come on," Bennet said, climbing atop his horse. "Now we're gonna be late."
Jake said nothing as he mounted the horse and got it moving. Bennet didn't take his eyes off the coming horizon.