I first saw Dawn coming over the desert from a long way off. She was hooded, but she didn’t look armed, so I let her come on unchallenged even though my rifle was close to hand. She didn’t look like a bandit or an eater either. Just a woman unfortunate enough to be without a horse. Having no horse wasn’t strange. Horses were in short supply, as eaters would sometimes go after them too—anything with blood in the veins and meat on the bones. I did stand up from behind the pile of pinyon logs I was trying to turn into a coyote fence. I wanted her to see that she was being watched. A person who knew she was being watched would be less likely to try anything.

I don’t know how I knew she was a woman from so far away. She was wearing a brown desert cloak that swirled out around her like a big flag wrapping a pole. It wasn’t as if I could see her shape, let alone that tell-tale hair, long and dusky red as a sunset burning down to embers. I just knew it in the way you know up is up and down is down and that rain won’t come as long as you’re wishing for it. 

She probably saw me long before I saw her, but she didn’t give it away. She just walked toward me at the same, steady pace, her dark hood forward and her cloak billowing out behind her. For a second, I worried she might be Death come to carry me off, but I didn’t believe in such things. 

She stopped about twenty feet out from me and swept her cloak back over her left hip to reveal a pistol. It was a big, silver revolver with a crow black grip. She wore it holstered low on her thigh and strapped across her jeans, a real killer’s arrangement. Even a cactus farmer like me could see that, and, for a second, I wished I’d gone for the rifle after all. It wouldn’t have made a difference though, not after I’d let her get so close. 

“How do?” I said, doing my best to look relaxed and unthreatening. The first was hard, but the second certainly wasn’t. I looked exactly like what I was: a big, soft dude who’d never killed anything more dangerous than a coyote.

“Fine. Thank you,” she said from beneath her hood. “Don’t mind the gun. I’m just considering the situation.”  

Easier said than done, I thought. 

“I can offer you some water,” I said, “and I’ve got a little corn. No meat though. I’m not an eater—not in any way, shape, or form.”

She ignored this as she took in the scene. There wasn’t much to see, just me, my old rifle propped against a cholla cactus a couple feet off, and a pile of logs and rusty bailing wire. My little house was on the other side of the hill. 

“All right,” she said. “I’ll take the water and the corn. I’ve come a long way, and I’m not well supplied.”

That much was obvious, but I didn’t say this either. I was just grateful to see her cloak fall back over that wicked looking pistol. I figured I’d be happy for the rest of my life not to see that crow black grip again. 

“My house is just over the rise,” I said as easily as I could. “No power and no running water, but somebody sunk a good well out back. It’ll just take a minute to pump.”