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The Poison of Money
The clouds came fast, instantly almost, climbing out from their hiding place beyond the hills. They obscured the typical rays of sunshine, and their sweltering heat. For a time, the grey mass held, but eventually it could not withstand the pressures of the precipitation growing inside it, and opened its doors to the deluge that was the first rainfall the barren earth had seen in over a year. The dusty surface eagerly lapped up the long-awaited rainwater, but quickly became satisfied. Puddles formed, and as they rolled down the sandy dunes they gained momentum and combined with other puddles, getting faster still. The innocent droplets of water had transformed into an angry torrent.
Bent over against the forming wind, as grains of sand picked up by a large gust licked their faces, two men stood; the leader with a sack slung over his shoulder and the other with a briefcase in hand.
One of them, the one with the case, cupped his hands and yelled to the other, “You really think they’re still following us, Adam? We’ve been on the move for almost a day now.” Lightning ignited the dark sky, revealing the sea of sand that lay before them past the horizon. The other man shouted something back, but it was inaudible as a clap of thunder rumbled across the savannah; rocking the very souls of the two travelers.
He made another attempt at speaking, this one successful, saying, “Of course they are! We just robbed the biggest bank in 100 miles for all it’s worth! When you and I walked into that building yesterday morning, Sean, we were both agreeing to throw away our former lives. We both were agreeing to run away to where the sun goes down and never come back.” Sean paused, and then opened his mouth to reply, but when fistfuls of wet sand rocketed down his throat, he decided it would be in his best interest to just focus on walking.
The men continued to trudge on for several hours, and the storm soon abated as the ferocious winds caused it to blow itself out.
“We should go scramble up that,” Adam thought aloud, gesturing to the top of a nearby hill. “It’ll give us a good vantage point to plan our next move.”
“And we’re going to eat,” Sean added, making a grab for the burlap sack over Adam’s shoulder where the food was kept. “I haven’t eaten in over two days.”
Half an hour later, the men arrived at the top of the dune, drenched in sweat while the sweltering midday heat etched bright pink sunburns all over their bodies. Both men took long drinks from their water-flasks, still panting hard, and then sat down and took out a packet of beef jerky. Each had a piece and ate in silence, reflecting on the heist they had committed a little over a fortnight ago. They finished their meal almost simultaneously, and glanced down to see one piece of meat left. Sean attempted to casually reach down and snatch it, but Adam hastily slapped his hand away and took it for himself; saying only, “Mine,” in defense. Sean glared at him. It was a look that vowed for revenge. For Sean was a hardened criminal, and didn’t take revenge lightly.
They stared at each other icily, before Adam said quietly, “Let’s keep moving,” and broke his gaze. “I can see some sort of canyon a several hour’s journey west of here. We’ll aim to get there before dark. Okay?” Sean raised his eyebrows. Adam rarely ever asked for his permission before doing anything. He quickly concealed his surprise though, and they started their descent back into the valley of sand.
The canyon Adam had seen in the distance was further away than he had anticipated, and the pair was forced to make camp for the night. This time he divided the food equally, and the men spent several hours recounting their robbery, relishing every minute of it as they laughed about the near-misses they had had with the police while escaping. By the time they put their heads down to go to sleep, Adam felt he had mended the gap in their relationship from lunch and things were back to the way they once were.
The next morning Sean woke up just as the sun crested over the hills to the east. Sand became like gold; sparkling with a thin layer of morning dew upon it. He embraced the start to the new day for a moment, before rousing Adam, who was still fast asleep.
“Let’s get an early start today, so we can reach the canyon you saw before it heats up and our skin starts to peel again,” Sean declared as he shook the other man from his slumber.
“Sure,” Adam replied sleepily as a yawn escaped from his mouth. He glanced back the way they had came the night before, and his eyes snapped open in shock. Sean spun around to see what he was looking at, and knew instantly. Two sets of footprints, which started at their feet, meandered backwards, revealing their exact path up to the top of the hill where they had eaten the day before. Perched atop it were three silhouettes of men on horseback. And they were making their way towards them.
“Run!” Adam yelled. The noise echoed across the barren landscape.
“Shut up! They might not have seen us yet!” Sean hissed angrily, shoving Adam to the ground.
“Well they’ve heard me now,” He said, standing up and brushing the dirt off of him. “We’ve got to find cover in the canyon, it’s our only hope.” They hurriedly packed their belongings, and took off running. The men following them, who were most likely police, had horses, but Adam and Sean were still several hours ahead. By mid-afternoon they reached their destination, and it was far larger and more complex than either could have hoped for. Millions of years of flash-flooding had carved the reddish colored rock to be several hundred feet deep; paths that branched out from the main chasm created a complex web of ravines and gulches; all of which were too narrow for a horse (an added benefit).
Adam took the lead and began randomly turning down different forks in the path; left, right, right again, another left. Sean soon became hopelessly lost and knew that Adam was trying to create the same result for their potential captors. Forty-five minutes later, the two bandits came upon an immense cavern tunneling deep past the walls of the gorge. “Looks like as good of place that we’ll ever find in here,” Adam huffed, gasping for air. In response Sean walked inside, disappearing into the darkness.
The benefit of the cave was that, once inside, both men could see everything happening inside the tunnel and out. However since not a single sliver of light was emitted from its depths, no one could see into it. Adam and Sean sat down a ways back, and waited tensely for their death to arrive in the form of the three men. Time passed, and the adrenalin that had filled the men earlier in the morning slowly trickled out of them; leaving only weariness in its place. When Adam started to nod off to sleep, Sean eagerly volunteered, “Let me take watch and I’ll wake you if anything happens.” Adam gave him a suspicious look for his excitement, but was too exhausted to put up a fight.
He woke up three hours later on his own accord, to see Sean staring at his water bottle intently, with an ever-so-slight grin on his face. “What’re you doing?” he demanded. Sean started, and a noise escaped from down his throat. He clasped a hand over his mouth, and looked around, listening intently to if anyone had heard the sound. They stood still, neither moving, for almost half an hour. When he thought he was safe he looked back at Adam to address his question, but one look at his livid face and Sean was sure he had forgotten it.
“What were you thinking?” he spat. “You just told them exactly where we are!”
“They wouldn’t have a clue where we are if you hadn’t of shouted out like a blundering idiot this morning!” Sean snapped back. Then both men heard it. A dislodged rock from somewhere above them slowly skipped down the side of the canyon, and landed with a muted thud. They turned and looked at one another, hoping with their entire heart, to the point where it hurt, that some animal had displaced it, not what they thought it was. But the click of a gun confirmed their fears.
A moment of silence followed. Then the cave erupted in gunfire. Hundreds of birds took flight, fleeing from the boom. Bullets ricocheted off the walls, sending sparks scattering down on them. Adam dove for cover behind Sean, who was paralyzed with terror. His body shook violently as a round hit home in his chest. In slow-motion, it seemed, he turned around and looked at Adam, reaching his hand out for help in a plea of helplessness. Instead of protecting his friend, Adam stretched out past him and clutched onto the briefcase and burlap sack with one hand. Subsequently he did grab hold of Sean, but used him as a shield as he rushed out of the cavern and into the open. He hoisted the body above him to guard his head, and felt several dull thumps, which were bullets, enter the body, but he kept running. After about 50 feet he dropped his companion in the dirt, where he skipped to a stop. Adam began to round a corner when an explosion in his calf sent tendrils of pain up his hamstring and into his heart. He gasped out in agony, but fought through it, knowing that what would happen to him if he stopped would be much worse. He weaved through the forks in the path, always choosing the one that appeared to go uphill. After an hour of tearing through the gorge he finally made it to open daylight. He glanced behind him to make sure no one was following, and then made his way up to the top of a dune.
Adam figured that from there he could see his enemies coming before their guns were in range, and allowed himself a break to catch his breath and drink some water. As he reached for his flask, he thought back to how strangely Sean had behaved while in the cave, before the gunfire, but his thirst won out and he took a long drink. As he thought about his former friend, he felt surprised when no sense of guilt or remorse sprang up from what he had done, but his attention was drawn back to the water, which tasted revolting. He had already drank over half of it, and poured out a little to find it a sickly green color.
This isn’t water, he thought to himself. His mind, now panicking, thought back to the cave. While he was asleep, Sean must have replaced his water with some kind of poison. But why? Adam asked, as his vision started to dim and his legs became jelly. Sean must have known he was going to kill Adam before they had even committed the robbery; it was the only explanation to why he brought the toxins with him. He thought back to their lunch on top of the sand dune; how he had taken the last piece of jerky: Sean knew that all Adam cared about was himself, and in that instance Adam confirmed his suspicion. But he was too late in poisoning him. He had already sacrificed Sean for his own selfish reasons.
It’s funny, he considered as his legs gave out from underneath him and he crashed down into the earth. In the end, we both managed to kill each other. He ran his hand through the warm sand as he went to sleep for the last time.