The meeting-place beckoned up ahead, the setting sun embracing the giant tree in the coming twilight.
Small eddies of dust and cottonwood puffs danced in the rays.
The ground and the grass smelled lush, full of memory. The scent invaded him, goaded him, kissed him.
His blood continued to drip onto the dirt as his boots scuffed along the road.
In front of the word ‘dead’ is a decent place to put the word ‘almost’, he thought.
The lacerations would heal in time. The defeat, at the very least, could be learned from.
His vision blurred as the tree got closer.
He slowed his pace, slowed his breath. Vision returned. Mostly.
The tree waved its arms in worship of the sinking sun.
His breath caught.
There was a note tacked to the tree.
He steadied himself against the trunk and pulled the note off, wiping the sweat from his eyes with his forearm.
He looked around, and saw the desolate peace of nature staring back. Nothing else.
He read the note.
>Take care of yourself.
>You need to heal.
He looked up, nodding at nothing in particular.
She hadn’t bothered to sign it. No need.
He spat into the dust with force, and almost crumpled the note before creasing it delicately and sliding it into the only pocket that wasn’t spattered with a mixture of bloods.
He slept there until sunrise, bandaged himself as best he could, and continued on the western road.
Having the rug pulled out from under your feet is one thing.
Waiting in a place such as this, he reckoned, amounted to suicide, which is another thing entirely. If the bandits didn’t blow your face off, the echoes and whispers from the path behind would surely drown you.
The cottonwood waved in the wind, and bid him farewell.