Moses walks past his brother into the desert.
Get in the car, he says as he passes.
Where you goin?
I’ll be back.
He walks towards the two slugs ambling towards them. He seems as though he would greet them, except in his outstretched hand is the blade. He topples one of them with a kick and drives the blade deep into the eye socket of the other. He twists the blade in the eye and shoves it as deep as he can with no leverage. A clear jelly runs down the cheek like congealed tears, and the slug falls backwards.
They are weak, these. They might have been wandering the desert together for years, brothers too, bonded in twitchy recognition of the barest humanity.
With one down he toys with the other, kicking it in its stomach and chest. He can feel the fragile bones breaking with each blow.
Without knowing what he means, he says under his breath: You ain’t one of me. You ain’t one of me. Then: I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
He is soon out of breath, and the slug barely moves, opening and shutting its jaw with the hope that some meaty part of Moses Todd himself will find its way between those teeth.
Finally, Moses kicks the slug to turn it over on its belly, puts the point of the blade at the base of the skull and drives it upwards into the brain.
Then everything is still. And Moses can feel his own heart. And everything is still – as with waiting.
Later in the afternoon, driving slow along the desert road, just about at the crest of a faint hill, Moses pulls the car over again and gets out.
What are we doin now? Abraham asks. You gonna whip my ass again?
But Moses just stands by the side of the car, his hand shading his eyes, looking down on over the road behind them.
We’re bein followed, he says.
Abraham gets out and follows his brother’s gaze.
I don’t see anything.
Your vision is of a different sort. Get in.
So what are we gonna do?
They drive further, making headway through the cactus-lands, passing quiet and slow through the rusted-out ghost towns, looking for aught of interest.
That night, they set up camp out in the open where they will be able to see trouble coming from a distance. They will sleep in shifts, so one can hold vigil while the other rests. But not long after dark, they see the headlights of a car approaching from the direction they came.
The car slows and stops on the road near their campfire. A lone figure emerges and walks towards them.
You best announce yourself, Abraham says and reaches for a pistol.
I’m not carrying any weapons, the man says. He gets closer, and his face resolves itself in the firelight. He is a tall man, gaunt but still strong, the fortitude of a steamroller succumbing to rust and waste. A fortitude that will succumb but has not yet succumbed.
Evenin, Moses says.
Which one of you defiled that girl? the man says.
You’re from them? Abraham asks. It was bought and paid for.
The tall man looks at Abraham. He has his answer. Moses can see his jaw clamp down, as though all his muscle were behind those teeth and he would gnaw his way through the world. Then the man reaches into his pocket and pulls something out – a small brown cylinder. Moses can see it by the firelight, a prescription-medication bottle.
You did us a service, the man says, and you have the right to compensation.
He tosses the bottle to Moses, who catches it. It is full to the top with pills.
Amoxicillin, the man goes on. It’s the one thing we have more of than we need. It should be of some value wherever you’re going.
Who are you, Abraham asks, her daddy?
I’m a concerned citizen, he says to Abraham. They shouldn’t have offered her in the first place. You took her, that’s on us. But you didn’t have to defile her.
Abraham looks at his brother and chuckles, as though to share in the quaint pedantry of this character before them. Moses says nothing and keeps his eyes on the man.
That’s to pay you, the man says and points to the bottle in Moses’ hand.
We already been paid, Moses says.
No, the man says. It’s to compensate you for the renege of our deal.
What renege? Abraham says. What’s he talkin about?
This renege, the man says and strikes suddenly, punching Abraham hard on the jaw. Abraham goes down with an expression of stunned disbelief that quickly turns to animal fury. Then he’s back up and flailing his arms at the man. The two clobber at each other, and Moses watches. He watches while the tall man beats his brother to the ground and then kicks him twice in the stomach. That’s when he steps in, pushing the man back.
That’s enough, Moses says.
The man puts up his hands and begins to back away.
Like I said, that’s payment I’ve given you.
Like I said, Moses counters and tosses the bottle back to the man, we already been paid.
When the man has driven away, Moses carries his brother to a spot away from the fire where the cool desert breezes can succour his wounds. One eye is bruised shut, and his upper lip is busted open. Bruises cover his torso, but Moses can feel that no ribs are broken. Abraham will mend.
He coughs once, painfully, and takes deep breaths, his one good eye cast up at the sprent of stars overhead.
Hey, brother, Abraham says. Is that the divine justice you were lookin for?
That was it, Moses nods.
Was it enough?
Moses uses his fingers to brush away the dirt from his brother’s cheek. It is a light touch, delicate and studied. Then he says:
Get some sleep.
The Airport in Tucson " A Meditation " Terminal " A Guessing of Names " A Massacre " Harlequin, Tinkerer " A Discussion of Philosophy " Gifts " A Mission
The next day they come across a massive derelict airport.
Where are we? Abraham asks.
Tucson, says Moses. The international airport.
Let’s hop us a jetliner to g*y Paree.
Moses wanders the runways and the hangars, admiring the monolithic machines. The fences are mostly intact so there are almost no slugs to interrupt his constitutional, and he wonders at what a vast museum the world has become.
The paint on most of the planes has been bleached to dull fade by the desert sun. Many are docked at their gates, long hollow gantries connecting them to the body of the terminal itself. Others are abandoned at random places on the tarmac, their doors gaped wide, some with their deflated yellow emergency slides spilled flaccidly on the ground. Moses raises his palms and feels the long, smooth underbellies of the aircraft.
When he was young, and the world was not as it is today, there was a great deal he took for granted. He was a young man when things went sour, only two decades old – and for all the seeing he did, he might as well have been blind. He does not allow himself to think frequently of those times – and not out of fear or cheap lament, but rather because that gone world exists for him in faint outline like a childhood storybook that remains in memory as patches of colour, or deceptive fragments of images that are shuffled so by time you can’t seem to reassemble them into any coherent picture.