Riding his horse as he searched for stray cattle, Tomás came across tracks that led him to a cluster of large mesquite trees. A flock of vultures hovered above like a dark cloud. Tomás grimaced. It looked like wolves had already killed his wayward calves.
He rode around the thicket and saw nothing. When he looked up, his body grew cold, his heart halting in mid-stroke. Hanging from a branch was the decaying body of a young man. The bloated carcass swung eerily in the wind. His swollen tongue jutted from an engorged face. Flies crawled around his eyeballs that were like ghostly marbles bulging from the sockets.
“Ave María purísima!” he gasped, making the sign of the cross. It was his friend Paco. He gritted his teeth. Last week, armed men had raided Paco’s ranch. When he heard of the assault, Tomás had rushed over and found his friend’s home abandoned.
“Pinches gringos desgraciados!” Tomás screamed.
Paco had been strung up like a murderer. The thought of never again seeing his friend’s smiling face throbbed like venom through his veins. He goaded his horse closer to the rigid body. The horse struggled to pull away, repulsed by the stench of rotting flesh. Tomás cut the rope, trying to ease Paco down. He lost his grip and the body struck the ground with a loud thump.
The buzzards circled, shrieking, dropping lower and lower, eager for a feast. Tomás pulled his gun, aimed at the vermin, and fired. A massive black bird fluttered in midair then plunged to the earth. The flock screeched raucously, parting like the waves of a dark sea.
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