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A Journey With no Map

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There was a small, inexorable movement as the hand moved onto the hour. Mortimer's own hand gently held the pocket watch, as his thumb moved a fraction to caress the carved inlay of the top. Each moment piled atop the other, marking out the day. As the sun passed overhead, shadows shortened, then lengthened again, stretching far behind him.

He'd moved on, by horse and train from the shadow of his encounter, from the darkness of his past. The encroaching night would swallow up the shadows and he would recede into the darkness, to disappear from the world.

He could close a door on the past as easily as shutting the pocket watch, to silence the melody, so beautiful and melancholy. Part of him was at peace, but another was restless.

Each mile, each hour, he existed until the blackness of sleep overtook him, filled with strange dreams, then his eyes opened to the red-tinged skies of a new day.

The train timetable set out an exact time for each stop, the tracks allowed for no deviation, every passenger went to the same place, no detours, no unscheduled stops, not unless some damn fool pulled the emergency handle, that is.

Mortimer looked at his map. He could go south of the border, east back towards the genteel cities, north to the plains and deserts, or west to more desert and then the coast. Every option held exactly the same outcome, for he had no desire to be anywhere at all now. 

For all his intricate planning during his hunting of Indio, of examining the options, weighing the odds, his mind was now blank, his heart unfeeling. He still breathed, his heart still beat, yet he felt dead to the world, a walking corpse.

Mortimer looked up at the stars and then down to the ground. A small sigh escaped his lips as he admitted to himself that he simply hadn't planned to be still alive now.

Life is precious, he'd said. Yet, now he was a ghost, never staying long enough in a place, flowing on like a fast-running river crashing down the mountains. Let's see what the morning brings, he thought to himself.

 ~$$$~

Manco sank to the chair outside his back door, coffee mug in one hand, his long legs stretching out in front of him. The canvas awning hung overhead, providing some relief from the heat, shading him from the glare and sparing him from deeper squint lines around his eyes.

The desert flowers were blooming around the water as his cattle slowly grazed along it. Manco sipped his coffee as he watched them, a smile creeping over his face as he thought of what his past self would think of him now.

His home was sturdy and comfortable, and his ranch was small enough to handle by himself. He occasionally enjoyed some company in town, but mostly let his evenings drift by like the bright and blazing stars overhead. The thought occurred to him that he was actually mostly content. Mostly.

Let's see what the new day brings, Manco said to himself.

  ~$$$~

Mortimer hadn't chosen a direction, he'd just started riding. Now, in the shade of some trees and beside a babbling stream, he sat before a pot of stew simmering on a fire. His horse languidly walked along as it grazed by the stream.

Mortimer watched the purple and red flowers as they swayed in the breeze, the petals of the smaller white ones just rippling, as though in time to a melody. He swallowed a sudden note of pain and grief and his hand moved to his pocket watch. She'd never smile at a flower in bloom again, never trace a finger along the soft petals, never inhale its fragrance.

He rose, and taking a few paces, placed a hand upon his horse as he bent to pick a flower. The horse nuzzled against him as he placed the flower in a button-hole.

“You approve, I take it?” Mortimer asked it, finding his own voice a little strange to hear after being alone for who knows how long.

The horse answered with a toss of its head and a snort and returned to eating.

“I value your opinion, my friend,” Mortimer found himself half-smiling.

After lunch, he lit his pipe and watched the shadows slowly move across the ground, deeming it was time to move on. Fire doused, he gathered up his pots and mounted his horse.

Riding along in silence, the low moos of cattle came to him as he crested a ridge. Pausing, he watched the lone figure below as he rode around the herd. Squinting, Mortimer blinked in surprise and the shock of recognition. “Well, I'll be damned.”

 

Manco slammed a hammer against a post and shook it. Satisfied, he remounted and rode to the next one, a couple of curious cows trotting along with him. As he wiped his brow, he noticed the man riding down the hill. Even at this distance, there was no mistaking it.

“Mortimer, you son of a devil,” Manco muttered to no-one in particular. 

 

There were more than a few times during his ride down the hill, that Mortimer felt a stab of something, not quite fear, not quite panic, and wanted to turn back, ride on far away. But he knew that Manco had seen him, would wonder why he'd turned away, so he rode on.

They drew closer, and stopped. Manco thought he saw a look of sadness in Mortimer's eyes as he nodded his greeting, but put it aside as they watched each other in silence for a moment.

“Like some coffee, old man?” Manco finally asked.

A familiar small smile was his answer. “Sure.”

 

The coffee was good, much better than he'd had recently, and Mortimer savoured it in silence.

Manco watched him from the corner of his eye, then asked, “You look beat, been riding long?”

“Not long, I guess,” Mortimer replied simply.

“I gotta be honest, you look like you've been riding through hell since we parted ways,” Manco said bluntly as he set down his mug. “Stay a while, okay?”

Mortimer clutched his mug a little tighter, but nodded. “Coffee's pretty lousy in hell. I like yours better.”

 

They shared a companionable silence through dinner. Mortimer gave a few grunts of satisfaction as he ate and Manco held back a grin as he watched Mortimer devour the small feast. He topped up Mortimer's whiskey frequently, more than his own, as he sipped.

Mortimer cleaned his plate with a crust of bread. “Something tells me you're trying to get me drunk. Think you can loosen my tongue that easily?”

“Maybe I'm trying to seduce you?” Manco said, face impassive.

Mortimer watched him like a hawk. “Either way, you think you can loosen my tongue.”

“Was that a statement or a question? I'm beginning to think you might be trying to seduce me.” Manco stared at Mortimer.

“You're not drunk enough. Keep up.” Mortimer clinked their glasses together.

 

The empty bottle rolled along the table, coming to a stop against a plate. Manco couldn't remember how, but he was now sitting slumped against Mortimer, their heads pressed together, breathing ragged and heavy. Their lips found each other's and they fell into a kiss, rough, but passionate.

He pressed his hand just inside Mortimer's still-buttoned shirt, yearning for more as Mortimer kissed him harder.

They fell into each other's arms all a-tangle as they slumped to the floor, the cold stone now warmed by the fire.

 

“I thought I was dead. I was walking nowhere. Tell me I'm not dead.” Mortimer breathed his words into Manco's bare chest, lips hovering above his skin.

Manco felt the old wounds on Mortimer's body, the other hand brushing along his neck, trying to find the right words. “You ain't dead yet. Not by a long stretch, not when you've been pounding down all my booze. Not when your cock's grinding into me like that.”

Manco watched the firelight reflected in Mortimer's narrow, haunted eyes. There was a brightness now, like the fierceness of old.

“Maybe that's just rigor mortis, I can't tell any more,” Mortimer wryly said, a wicked grin growing.

Manco stared at the erection, then grasped it firmly, “Well then, why don't we find out?”