You can smell the rain before it comes in the desert. The air gets thick and heavy, the wetness palpable in the normally dry air. I had felt the rain for nearly a day now, but still it waited. I hiked my hat back on my head and looked upwards, the sun shrunken behind a mask of dark grey clouds. Soon, it would have to fall soon.
I spurred my horse gently into a trot and kept riding. I felt hot and sticky, the humidity clinging to me. I was still wearing my battered duster and it was starting to feel like a second skin. Dirt had mixed with sweat and grime and I hadn't seen a bath in what felt like a month of Saturdays. I couldn't wait to get out of New Mexico and into Texas, maybe get that bath... and a drink. In the meantime, I'd just settle for some damn rain.
It was well past mid-day when I came across it. Smoke, thin and trickling, a dark grey plume against the dark clouds of the sky. Maybe three hours in front of me. It wasn't unusual to see other travelers on this trail, though fires at this time of day certainly wasn't normal. Besides there was to much smoke, to much smoke for just a trail fire. Somewhere up ahead, a lot of people were probably dead. I jiggled the empty water skin at my side and cursed. I stared up at the cloudy sky and wondered where that rain was.
I made good time towards the fire, it was generally along the way on the trail, but I kept my Colt loose on my hip and my Winchester primed across my saddle horn. I doubted what ever tribe that had attacked those people had stuck around, not on this public of a trail, but hell, it never paid to play the fool. I gave my horse Brian a reassuring pat, knowing him to be just as thirsty as me, as we crested the last bluff.
It was then that I caught it, the wind pushing the smell of burnt death up the hill. It wasn't the first time I had smelled this scent, but Brian reigned up, eyes wide with fright. I calmed down the horse and climbed down off the saddle, throwing the reigns around a small tree as I walked towards the dying fire. I kept the Winchester close as I looked at the carnage. There had to be at least twenty bodies here, scalped, burnt, tortured...raped.
The fire still flared in spots around the four wagons, and the whole affair still smoked with the flush of embers. I walked through the massacre, taking stock of the dead, noting it for the sheriff in town, or better yet one of the Cavalry troopers that frequently patrolled the area. I scanned the horizon, pulling my hat off, and let out a deep breath. My throat, already thick and parched, felt like sand as I tried to work up enough spit to wet it down. God damn rain.
I had counted eighteen bodies before I saw her. She couldn't have been more than five or six, a small tow-haired girl, clutching a corncob doll. I'm not even sure when I dropped the Winchester, or when I felt the feel of earth from my knees. The poor girl had been burnt and beaten, like the rest of the victims. She'd been scalped, like some of the others and you could see the blood mix with the dirt on her face. I touched her cold cheek, my fingers trailing the lines of smudged tears on her face.
I don't know why it was her that caught me so. Maybe it was the fact that she still clutched that doll, or the way her tiny fingers gripped it. I could still see the whiteness in her knuckles. I had seen dead bodies before, hundreds, maybe thousands, in the war and afterwards. I'd seen grown men cry, severed limbs, even the brutal slaughter of homesteads in the wake of other marauders. But here, in this moment, I only saw my own daughter. Like it was her laying there instead of this other poor girl. Like it was my own daughter that had been killed. I closed my eyes and felt my cheeks turn wet. Soft at first, then harder, till the cold wetness seeped through to my very bones.
The sounds of thunder and flashes of lightning lit the sky, but I only looked at her. I stayed there for a long time, long after the last embers had been extinguished. The rain had finally come.
End of Line.