I didn't want to go too long without posting something, and since I'm still working on two films and a book review I thought I'd try something a little different. It started with two visuals: the first sentence and the last. They kept replaying in my head: shots from a dream inside the head of Sergio Leone by way of David Lynch. Out of that "Oasis" came to be.
I gave myself one rule: it had to be less than 1,000 words. In that place where fiction lives Frank's history stretches - back to a painful and messy birth, in a small cabin in the middle of a plot of land still struggling to understand the sensation of being settled. But I could never decide if Frank's time ended there in the desert, or if this was just another chapter in a life that would go on. Reading it again I still don't know, and there's strange comfort in that.
Frank's hand trembled again, a bead of sweat tracing the path of a blue, gnarled vein that disappeared into the cracked landscape of a knuckle. His fingers twitched in fitful rhythms against the parched leather of his holster, which in turn rested against the dusty, cracked leather of his chaps. His thumb intermittently flicked the hammer of his Colt, catching the sun in a Morse code of pinpricks. He doubted it would obey him now; he had stopped counting the days, and only knew it had been too long since he properly cleaned and oiled the revolver, let alone been in a place where the wind didn’t fill every crevice with the grains that were even now tearing at his exposed flesh. Every step forward was another step further away from recollection, and closer to forgetfulness.
And now even that had stopped. For how long he didn’t know – long enough that the tips of his boots were partially buried, the exposed tops looking for all the world like black pools of tar, rippling in the heat and giving the illusion of water where there was none. His last taste must have been a day or two before the horse gave in, eyes rolling up and collapsing with a human sigh into the dune he had been using as a shield. Frank kneeled next to the beast, the rise and fall of her ribcage diminishing with each labored breath.
There was no sound but the roar of the wind.
The skies were beginning to darken, so while he could still see he unslung the empty water bag from his shoulder and unsheathed his hunting knife. Holding the bag open as best he could and using his legs to prop the horse’s head in position, he cut the beast’s throat, catching what he could into the water bag. It was messy, and imprecise; less than a quarter filled. His hands were failing him. He stood up, took a deep breath, and brought the bag to his lips. He choked on the first gulp, almost vomiting, but his body’s demand for liquid, any liquid, was too great, and he kept it down.
But that was a day, maybe two days ago, lost in the endless horizon line. Now there was nothing but the sick sweat, beading on his fevered head at night, his body revolting on him, refusing to hold onto even that diseased moisture. In the blindness of the day there was nothing, not even a drop to sting as it traveled down his burned and blistered face.
He craned his head as far to the left as he could and, hands shielding his eyes, slowly panned to the right, taking in the world.
Not even a mirage to buoy his hopes, beguile his mind into false respite. His end would come in the middle of a limitless sea, drowned in heat and sand. Frank dropped to his knees, his torso upright and swaying in a sort of penitent slouch. His hat traced tiny counter-clockwise circles as his fingers fumbled with the strap on his holster. The steel of the barrel scraped against the leather as the revolver came free, a slow-motion draw that ended with a thump as gravity pulled hand and gun to the earth. For a minute, two minutes, he didn’t move, his head bowed, his body sliding into the environment. The wind cried, began its ritual rising, but the old familiar stillness had overtaken him. Hand and fingers shifting, the Colt began to rise. Slowly at first, the actions so long ago built into muscle memory there was no hint of trembling now. In a fluid motion his forearm swiveled, tracing an arc with the barrel until it came to rest lightly against his right temple, the metallic click of the hammer being pulled back lost in the wind.
The contact between barrel and head was brief: a second, no more. Frank brought the gun around. He stared into the small circle of black, the period that had sentenced death to those that deserved it, and those that didn’t. For the first time since the robbery, since San Verde and Mara, since the crack in the window that cast a rainbow on the wall, a rainbow that witnessed a promise, and a lie, Frank smiled. He lowered the gun back to his holster, drew a long, slow breath, and rose.
In a blink the machine he trained his arm to be whipped up, the Colt an extension, and accusing finger. Pointing at nothing but half-remembered ghosts he pulled the trigger.
A dry click, then nothing.
The smile remained. His arm, satisfied one final time, dropped as he did, kneeling once more on the ground. The barrel of the Colt pitched in the sand, angled as his hand held the grip, then fell as he let go. The winds immediately began their work of concealment. Frank reached into the desert in front of him, those hands pushing away the grains. The winds and lack of moisture made it hard, but he was used to hard, didn't know an other way, and after a few minutes he managed a small but noticeable indentation. It was enough. Cool, beautiful, he thrust his hands deep into his oasis.
He pulled his hands out and brought them, cupped, to his mouth.
Arching back, his hat falling, left to dangle by the cord tied around his neck he drank, long and deep.
If the vultures, flying overhead, could speak, they would have remarked on the man in the middle of the desert, grinning like a fiend as he swallowed mouthful after mouthful of the ever shifting sands.