The Rider

Reaching into the pocket inside his duster, he pulls out a pair of goggles that he always uses when he goes for a ride. He tilts his head downwards, his neck creaking with the movement, and focuses his gaze on them.

They don’t belong to him, these goggles. No, their previous owner was a man who had flown planes in a war that seemed to have happened eons ago. The last time he had seen him (wandering aimlessly through the desert, as most lost strangers do), the soldier in question had been a young man, one who still hadn’t lose either his lust for life, or the flesh on his bones.

Of course, that had been a long time ago, and being out there in the desert for such a long period of time—if he hadn’t found the safe area first, of course—would have changed the young soldier in so many ways. Of course, he doubts that the soldier would come and reclaim his precious goggles now.

He places a wide brim leather hat on his head (another souvenir, from a different stranger) and he puts on the goggles, adjusting them so they will protect him properly. In this desert, sandstorms happen quite often, perhaps even too often for comfort, so it really doesn’t hurt to be prepared. Of course, if one wants to get technical about it, he doesn’t really need them. They’re more of a formality, if anything else, something to do because it’s always been a part of a routine, and it would be ridiculous to change it after all these years.

Besides, he likes having them around. They are not only rather fashionable (to him), but they also help to keep the sand out.

He lifts his arm and starts to move it up and down, rhythmically rattling his old bones, and then he waits. For a brief moment, there is a shift in the hot, dry air, one that causes it to whirl into a small tornado just a few feet behind him. A howl rings out, one that is low and almost sorrowful, yet powerful enough to cause the dry air to reverberate so much that Bob almost feels it. Then there is a rampant padding of huge paws that only ends when the creature is finally at his side, its panting soft, and showing off rows of sharp teeth in an almost grin.

He looks up and even though he can’t see, he can still remember what it looks like—a black wolf about the size of a hut, with paws that are the size of small boulders. On its back is a leather saddle, one that he had crafted himself, and in its teeth is a bit that is connected to leather reins. It greets him with eager, almost mischievous eyes that glint a gold-reddish hue, and then it leans down towards the ground.

For a moment, he doesn’t move—then he lifts his hand up and starts to stroke the creature’s sleek fur. It isn’t necessary for him to do it, but he knows how much his dog loves to be touched, even if the hand doing it is cool, hard, and almost lifeless. Actually, if the soft cooing and snorting is anything to go by, his dog may actually find the contact a comfort, of a sort. Few dwellers out here do.

He likes to do it also. He knows that if he strokes his dog long enough, he will remember what it felt like when he’d been younger—before the harsh environment had completely ravaged his flesh and blood. These are only memories and ghosts of something akin to feeling, but they’re close enough.

Despite his current musings, he isn’t usually one to linger on past memories, not for long at least. After all, he has a job to do.

He feels around for the saddle and stirrups, then pulls himself up, his bones groaning with the strain—no longer having muscles really does suck—and he swings one leg over to the other side of his dog. He takes a moment or so to get his bearings, taking special time to adjust the two .50 Desert Eagles that are holstered on either side of his belt. They are silver and very heavy, probably not the most practical weapons for a skeleton—but the scythe just doesn’t cut it anymore. Carrying a piece or two around seems to invoke more fear these days. He likes fear.

He adjusts his goggles first, then his hat, and then he reaches out and pats his dog’s neck with affection. He then grasps the reins, kicks his heels against the hound’s sides and—with another haunting howl that shatters the overall silence of the land—they both ride off into the desolate pit that is the desert.

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