He came to at the bottom of a dry gulch. The sunlight woke him by piercing through his eyelids, reflected off the crumbled fragments of shale. He spat the dirt out of his mouth. The dust at the sloped edges of the ravine tumbled upward and east in the wind, followed by the dirt and dust beneath his chin, until it stung his eyes. He bowed his head to wait it out. When there’d been a river here the wind would have played on the water like invisible fingertips. But trapped in the gulch, it raked him over the cracked riverbed.

While the wind pounded at him, and the bright desert light still embedding sharp stars on the back of his retinas, he tugged at his wrists. They were bound into the small of his back, tied up with a hemp rope they could have used to hang him. They must have wanted him to suffer, Bucky Goldstein thought. He mulled that thought over, not ready to say whether it was in his best interest to wind up flat on his belly in a desolate gulch or dead somewhere closer to town.

The wind died down, enough for him to open his eyes. The first thing he saw was an acanthoid plumpness growing in the cracks beneath a shriveled cactus. There might be water in that, he thought. It was enough, at least, to sever the rope. He rolled himself in the dirt like a sidewinder, over to the cactus, and hooked his hands over the sharpest spine. It was long and saw-toothed, its beak protruding beyond the cactus’ sheltering coolness. When Bucky touched it, it burned him like a knife that had just been pulled out of a fire.

He’d return the favor when he pulled the razor out of his boot and found out if the little thing was potable. Then he’d see if there was any civilization over the southern ridge.

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