Under searing sun and over sandy dunes, Bennet rode his horse like a man edging to eternity and off the edge of the world, and finally, with it's lungs burned and collapsed from blood and sand and air, it died, toppling over, flinging Bennet and dying with a hideous croak. It panted and wheezed, blood oozing from its nostrils and over its tongue, which hung loosely from its mouth, its dark eyes glaring up at the demon sun in a silent curse.
"God damnit," Bennet said, rubbing his back and standing. He moved over and patted the horse and its heavy ribs, admiring the poor, exhausted beast. "You done good."
He looked behind him and to the sides, examining each horizon to make sure he was alone. Pale and endless desert stretched out and away from him, pock-marked with desert shrubs and cacti, polished white animal skulls glowing in the dusk light. Night was coming soon and it would be cold. From his reckoning, Bennet was still many miles out from any civilized town and he knew roaming bands of injuns and white men were scattered about this place, pillaging for gold or women or scalps.
Not having anything else to do, Bennet walked. He walked the way he was going when his horse had died. He did not, though he had thought of doing so, carve some flesh from the dead beast to make sure he had food. It did not feel right. The jerky and left-over tortillas in his rucksack would have to do, and he still had a full canteen of water and a quart of whiskey. As far as things went, it could be worse. He thought about the scores and unimaginable numbers of other men, of whatever creeds and colours, who had travelled this place by foot or on horse whose names had been lost to history and the world and its people. Lost not because they did not matter, or were of no consequence, but because that is the way of things - you are born and exist, you make a way in this world - everychanging and volatile - and then you are taken from it, if you are lucky it is sudden and quick, with a bullet or during sleep, or if fate is crueler, which she usually is, you are taken in pain and crying in the night for a mother or lover long gone.
It was in this moment that Bennet though on his own family since past. Vera had been one of the most beautiful ladies in Blackwater, where they had both grown up, and was often being called on by one gentlemen or another, of all ages, since she was twelve. Her mother did nothing to discourage it because a marriage to a good man was mostly all a lady in those parts at that time could hope for and no one did much to alter that fate. Odd exceptions cropped up, it is certain, "But that is for other people's children," Vera's mother had said, "not for my kin."
Of course, Vera did not want to marry Walter Stark, a growing oil baron whose wealth increased with his girth, growing also in senility, proposing to Vera at the age of fifty-nine when she was merely fourteen. Nor did she accept the proposal from Alastair MacReady who ran a troupe of actors all over the souther states and was also a wealthy man with lofty ambitions for the newly introduced "moving pictures" when she was sixteen.
"You wait and see," he said to her one day over iced tea, "Muybridge fellow was on to something! And I hear Edison is perfecting an American version - a better version! - called the Kinetoscope - you just wait, missy!"
No, Vera wanted a man who was much like her, quiet and enjoyed reading and did not feel bound totally by the world as it was. That was when Bennet sauntered into her sheltered life. He was a boy looking for work on a farm from the other side of the state and Vera's parents gave him a job as a stable hand. Bennet was twenty-four and has ridden across the state on a horse that was older than he was. To Vera, he seemed like something out of an old wives' tale and within a few months, they were married secretly and to avoid her parents' wrath, they fled the town to settle in Galston, Bennet taking up the business of blacksmithing and Vera giving birth to their daughter, Mina.
With humour, Vera noted the success of MacReady's prediction on motion pictures some years later, but at also having backed the wrong man. A Frenchman had invented and patented something called the cinematographe that was much more popular and regarded than Edison's kinetoscope. Soon enough, though, it seemed that America was going to war with the Cubans and the Spanish and Bennet took it upon himeself to serve his country.
"Don't go, Bennet," Vera said. "Stay. We need you here."
"I have to go," he said, putting his boots on. "Business ain't too good and they're payin' somethin' good to get on a boat in a uniform and look menacin' at Cubans."
He smiled and kissed her forehead. "I'll be back 'fore you know it."
"You better, mister man," she said and kissed him. "I ain't gonna wait forever - I'm still a pretty lady!"
"Prettiest in town."
"Shush you! Go on, git. I expect some letters from my brave soldier man!"
"I'll write," Bennet walked out the front door. "You better write back."
Vera only smiled and waved her own little wave and Bennet marched off to return a coward nigh half a year later. When he fell in with Sanguar in his gang of thugs, Bennet held his promise and made them as much dinero as they wanted, more, but after a year he grew weary of the trips out into the desert and demanded he be set free from his obligations.
"It don't bring me in nothin'," he said. "And these trips is killin' my business and ruinin' my family. I'm tired a comin' out here and givin' you money I ain't allowed to spend!"
"Careful, cabron," Sanguar said. "We let you live. That is an expensive thing, si?"
"I need to be free, so I can be with my wife, my child!"
"Muchos problemas, eh hermano?" Sanguar laughed, a gruff sound like a train crashing. "La familia también caro."
Sanguar laughed again and turned on his horse and left. Bennet did not return to the Mexicans for the next payment and when he returned from work the next day, he found Sanguar in his home, knives to the throats of his wife and child.
"Vera!" Bennet charged forward and stopped. "Sanguar, what do you want?"
"My money," he said. "As promised."
"Bennet..." Vera could hardly speak for the fear.
"Let them go," Bennet said, though his voice betrayed his own apprehensions. "Or I swear to god above I will kill you."
Sanguar smiled his black smile, rotten teeth glaring in the setting sun. The knife moved too quickly for Bennet to even see it and Vera clutched at her throat, blood exploding out in fountains and covering Bennet's face and front in red. Though he wanted to speak, for words to express his agony, his throat would not let him and he could only emit a cracked cry. His eyes glistened with tears and he dropped to his knees. A broken man. Two of Sanguar's men, among them Xavo, came and grabbed Bennet by the arms.
"And now," Sanguar said, "you find out the price of family and disloyalty."
Though you could not tell you how long he was held there in actuality, it felt like centuries, like men were born and crumbled to dust before Sanguar left his home. He sat there, bound and impotent and furious, as Sanguar violated his only daughter, tender and young, as she screamed for her father and mother, tears streaming down her angelic face. Bennet slumped over in a coma of emptiness and loss after Sanguar finally killed the poor girl.
"Nex time," Sanguar said as he left, wiping the blade he had used for the killings on Bennet's jacket, " I want double money."
Bennet said nothing. He lay there for hours after they had left, staring into the greying eyes of his wife and child, too young for death and too kind and innocent for a death like this.
All this and more Bennet pondered as he walked the desert alone, in the cold as night darkened the world. Ahead of him he saw and fire and hoped he was walking towards kinder men.