The sound was unnerving before it was anything else. It sounded far away and round the nearest corner all at once. It was coming from the east.
The sun was creeping below the horizon as he checked his watch and walked slowly towards the sound. A low-frequency hum that kept him walking ever nearer and yet more fearful with every step. He thought it was electricity. No good could come from following it.
He slapped his arm then slapped his face and clutched his hand against his mouth as the putrid stench of death attacked his throat. The corpse cast an elongated shadow beneath a tree. A pair of rats ran in opposite directions.
A body unmistakable beneath the cloud of feasting flies lay all at once in peace and frozen terror. Though certainly not human with it's matted mane and stringy tail a friend of man it clearly once had been. The shoes upon it's hooves suggested love and friendship - ownership - had been and passed.
The belly of the horse had long been opened by the desert beasts and if only they'd have stopped after opening him up. He could not tell for how many hours the mare had laid in agony and said a silent prayer that death had been upon him before the feast begun.
And how they must have feasted.
An empty cage of ribs displayed the open torso of the once beloved horse, and showed to all (the man) what lay inside. Nothing. Only bone and skin remained from what would once have rode the plains. And flies and maggots now where lungs had breathed.
The man turned once away and then turned slowly back again and took a deep and painful breath of the deathly stench. He opened up his jacket, took a cigarette from his packet and placed it still unlit between his lips. He reached between his legs and chose the second branch on which his fingers fell. The first had felt too thick. He couldn't lift it comfortably.
With the branch grasped in his left hand he searched his pocket with his right and gripped his lighter with the ease of one who knows. He toyed a moment with the flame and watched the sunlight slip away and held the fire beneath his cig until it smoked.
With 3 long pulls the smoke was finished and he tossed the fag to the ground where it would smolder 'till the task was done. In two long strides he was astride the corpse, the head between his ankles and the torso stretched out before him towards the dying sun.
The wood crashed down, not on, but into the ribs, splintering them into dust and making a mockery of their former job of organ-defence. The skin was turned to powder. A third, previously-concealed rat made a dash for freedom. The man let out a scream of anguish. A tear formed in his eye.
He flogged until he could flog no more.
The body of what once had been a horse was now as flat as a polar bear rug in a cheesy movie. The legs were as they'd always been, strong of muscle and sinew, and protruded like tragic candles from a long-destroyed wedding cake.
He lit another cigarette. He fell to his knees beneath the tree.
He sat and smoked and regarded the head. He gave the horse a name.
The horse blinked.
Not a blink as we'd know it to be one, as the eyes of the brute had long been closed and remained as such. But there was certainly no denying that the lashes that had overlapped with such grace had flickered beneath the last of the evening's light. A breath escaped the lips of the former stallion.
The man began to weep.
He crushed the cig beneath his boot and reached his hand inside his coat to feel the reassuring cool of stainless steel.
He looked to the sky and prayed again to a God he knows cannot exist.
He looked down once more as the horse's eyelashes parted. Behind the curtain lay a sphere of piercing blue.
He placed the muzzle of the gun against the matted temple of the suffering animal.
And he cried.