He walked through the burning sands to the stake in the center of the desert, west of the village. The sand billowed from beneath his bare feet in fine, tawny clouds. The sun beat upon his sweating brow. Salt ran into his stinging eyes, forcing him to squint. Roiling heat beat upon his bare and bloody back. Sand filled his chapped mouth as the hot wind eddied in small whirls of grit and dry heat. His head was bare, in sharp contrast to the covered men who escorted him in silence. He was invisible in their eyes. While his skin, eyes, and hair were as dark as theirs, he lacked the long muzzled, highly polished rifles they carried. He lacked their clothing. Only his shredded jeans remained. He’d been trudging through the endless dunes of sand for eternity. Now he was to disappear below the shifting sands into forever. They approached the stake rising against the horizon. Its obelisk shadow fell blackly to the east. Dizziness swept him as he stood before the eight-foot piece of hard wood. Stains of brown dripped in blotchy patterns throughout the grain. Beyond Death’s Watch on the Sands he could see the homes of mud, thatch, and clay that rested on the shores of the creeping river. His home was there. His destiny was here, with the stake in the dusty desert. With six men determined in their duty. The leader, his mask in place, indicated with the barrel of his rifle that the prisoner should stand against the stake. There were no ropes to bind him, no blindfold to guard from the glare of the setting sun. He would have to watch the gaping barrel holes deliver him from this world. He stood straight against the stake, the splinters digging into his bare back. It itched. It stung. The men took positions before him, six shadow men against the backdrop of the setting sun. All were indistinct in his eyes, which watered against the blazing torch coming to its rest along the horizon. Again, and for the last time, he tasted salt. Rifles lifted to shadow shoulders. Safeties clicked off, echoing in the world of sand and sun. The wind rose, it hunted him with its stinging rain of sand. Dry. The world was dry. The silhouettes moved as one against him. Six small points of light flashed before his dazzled eyes. Six explosions roared simultaneously in the silent, sunlit world. Then sound surrendered to enshrouding silence. All vanished into the darkness.
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