Cracked asphalt rose to plateaus, forming sheer drops to insects too malformed to see their repetition on the massive scales beyond. Humans were no different. Only their scale was. They did all the same foolish things, made all the same foolish mistakes.
Difference was, intellect had kept them alive long enough to thwart death’s equalizing grasp.
Insects didn’t have that advantage, but they were no more in control of that cascade of datum known as Time than Humans, either. Time was ever the dictator. This go-round, it dictated with age went grace.
The elderly were no longer the Olympians. It was the youth. Problem was, in a world of asphalt and suffocated atmo, even the most vibrant soul could not compete. Worst of all, the elder non-competitives were deluding themselves into believing things weren’t as bad as they’d made them.
But they were. And they were only getting worse.
An ant at the apex of one plateau peered over the edge to see another at its base. In deference to the similar scene playing out a hundred miles west, and one more elevated, the man at the base of the cliff wasn’t pumping his antennae in curiosity. He was dead.
Scale mattered, even if size didn’t.
The man that pushed him was staring into the distance, sun still beating on him from its late-noon arc as if nothing’d happened.
But it had.
He’d pushed him. That was supposed to be the end of it but the scream came. Piercing. Shrill. Echoing in the nothingness far longer than he’d have liked or expected. Then, the distant crack. Nothingness again.
Then it was over– supposed to be, anyhow. He slugged the rest of the beer, threw it into the gorge.
That was when it hit him. Later, the Sheriff guessed that was how it happened too. He explained it to a deputy, “Crime of passion.’ People don’t get what it means. Think passion’s all about fucking,” he as much as flopped down as a man with a rod in his spine could.
“What it really means is, ‘people too fuckin’ stupid to look at the bigger picture.’ History’s rife with it. Humans get caught up in the mob mentality, their momentary fury, and fuck things up. Only reason a group can do it’s ‘cause the individual’s capable. Just amplifies it from there.”
The Deputy then asked, “That why you became a Sheriff, Sheriff?”
“Nah, got tired of getting arrested,” He slugged back a shot of coffee. “The problem nowadays, everyone’s afraid to do anything for themselves. Right or wrong.”
The Deputy’s face was small, “Mind if I ask why you kept gettin’ arrested, Sheriff?”
He sparked a joint, “Possession.”
The Deputy laughed.
The night would be quiet, as with all others. Nothing happened at night in the desert. Night was for the warm-blooded, those forced to warm their own for the better of all such as the Sheriff. The next few hours would be spent processing paper-work, filling in forms.
“He ever admit why he did it?” The Deputy’s wife later asked,
Her husband sat beside him on the porch as they puffed their own reefer, “Nope.”
She passed it to him, held her breath. Fireflies floated past in the haze of heat and smoke, drifting upward together with as they puffed deep, let their thoughts drift.
She wasn’t sure how she knew, but she guessed a woman caused it. Nothing turned men against one another faster than women. Usually too, the more the woman, the worse the effect.
“Must’ve been a helluva woman.”
That ponderous introspection had caught her in line at the grocery store. Had it not, she’d never have drifted off, never seen them.
It wasn’t difficult to sniff out the small town three-lane grocer if you were a crook. It was even easier to sniff out the crooks when you used to be one. The place was small, convenient: a path of least resistance for dregs seeking ground.
Marriage to a Deputy had instilled some instincts in her, for instance the ability to spot the two, out of place men in one-oh-four-degree heat wearing flannel over-shirts, rolled caps, and leaning into themselves rather peculiarly. They were loitering. Waiting for badness, she wagered. Lucky really, if they’d been smarter, she might never have seen them.
But she did. They were waiting and by now, so was she. She angled at the cashier, leaned forward as if to set items on the belt. She spoke fast and low, “The two men over there may be about to rob the store. Press the silent alarm and alert your manager. Now. Go!”
Her body stiffened. She was instantly feeling under the register. Then, with a terrified attempt at nonchalance, she stiffly speed-walked for the manager’s office. Careful not to appear too out of place she knocked, but forced her way in. A thought to decry the intrusion was waived at the woman’s terrified stiffness.
“I think we’re being robbed!”
The shouts came then.
The alert had gone out from the store and the Deputy’s wife’s phone near enough together the threat was obvious. The Sheriff himself had been nearby, and the Deputy not far from him. They were first on-scene, caught the guys mid-draw. The guns went up. Before a minute had passed, it was over.
The confusion never had a chance to give way to chaos.
Later, after taking statements and returning to the station, Sheriff asked the Deputy the cause of the robbery attempt.
“Crime of passion, Sheriff,” the Deputy said. “Couple out-of-towners needed cash to fix the car.”
“Uh-huh. Anything else?”
“Sure. I asked ‘em, “Why not ask someone for help?”
“They say anything?”
“Yeah, sure. “Where we come from you don’t ask, ‘cause you know the answer.”
“Hmm…” The Sheriff retorted.
Later on, the Sheriff relayed the conversation to the two men in holding, adding, “I get it. You’re drifters. Prob’ly running from a past no man can begrudge. So I’m gonna’ give you a choice: leave now, never look back and never come back. Or stay on as deputies, and learn to be real, proper men. Flaws and all.”
“Catch is,” the Sheriff admitted forthrightly, “You show signs of regression, I put you down. Clean from here-on. S’all that matters.”
They eyed one another, shrugged. It was the best deal they’d find– especially given no-one else was offering. They took to it, too– even fools know change is good.