He shoved those calloused hands in his pockets and stared up at a mango sky. Late Summer was so unpredictable, the high clouds that glowed in the sunset could be comforting or foreboding, who knew? He pulled the worn T-shirt's tail up and used it to wipe the sweat from his burning eyes and started walking again.
There was really nowhere to go but, standing still is never an option, so even without a destination he kept moving. His legs sometimes ached and his joints would scream but he had to keep moving. He felt the dryness in his nose and mouth from breathing the dust of the roadside. He began to long for a cool drink of water but the best he could hope for was one that wouldn't make him sick.
Pacing himself, he looked for signs of a stream. Rivers were too dirty to drink from so he needed a creek, not a filthy ditch, where the poisons ran off from the fields or where the animals would die. Sometimes he could almost smell the water. The good sweet water that helped him go on.
In the old days he could maybe go up to a house and ask for a drink but, the way things stood now, he feared the dogs and shotguns more than thirst. It was getting dark and he wondered aloud to himself if he would have to wait and hope for heavy morning dew to slake the dry and burning mouth that occupied his thought so completely now.
One thing about thirst, it was good at keeping his mind off of food. When things were better he never missed a meal, now, he was lucky to find something in the garbage every other day. He rarely even noticed the angry gnawing in his belly anymore.
Another mile and he could hear it, water moving over rocks, promising a cooling, liquid refreshment of his body. The light was dimming and soon he would need to hide from view or risk jail again. Once they picked you up for vagrancy it was had as hell to get loose again. He rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand and squinted, trying to see just a little better. Enough he hoped, to find the source of the sound of water, moving clean water.
He ventured off the road and found no fence, no signs or traps. Now if there just weren't any other people he would have it made. People were not willing to share things like safe water or privacy out here. It wasn't like it was crowded with them but, he knew it would go badly if he was forced to defend himself.
That was one thing food was good for, it made a man strong enough to fight if he needed to, and often enough, he needed to. A few more yards and he saw it, it sparkled in the waning light, fresh water. He stopped dead and tried to keep absolutely silent. No point in getting himself killed by surprise.
This was when he longed for a wind up watch, like they had in the old days. He would know for sure how long he waited, barely breathing, listening to sounds as quiet as the faint slither of a snake on the dry grass. He looked around and listened, holding his breath so as to try and pick up on any noise at all. Nothing, pure silence, he crept up slowly in case of ambush and came to the edge of the tiny stream and smelled deeply, no chemicals, no death. He gingerly leaned over it and cupped his hand. he was so thirsty he began to salivate in anticipation of the cooling water. Cool it was too, he filled his palm and looked as best he could, no dirt to speak of and he touched the tip of his cracked tongue and tasted nothing but a slightly mineral taste of the spring water. He drank deeply and swiftly.
It was like wine to his mouth, the relief, the sensation of moisture that almost seemed electric to his body. In an instant his eyes stopped burning and his ragged breathing eased. He felt his joints loosen and his aching muscles relax. Another handful and he even felt as though he had eaten, the empty space in his gut replaced with the weight of the small amount of water he swallowed.
Maybe it was safe here, safe enough to sleep for a bit. He opened his bedroll and felt for the pocket knife he hid there and the chunk of flint he scavenged from the roadside. He thought of making a small fire , just for the company of some light in the dark. He then thought better of it, so many hungry and starving out in the fringes, a fire might give him away to some stronger people.
A dim half Moon showed through the dusty haze of the sky and gave a faint grey light to the world around him. He stared and listened, looking to see if there was a glow of light or from another campfire and saw nothing. He listened too, waiting for the sound of footsteps or the slight rustle of some small animal that might become a meal if he got lucky.
No light, no sound, well enough he supposed. Sleep was a possibility. he unrolled his old cloth coat to serve as pillow, blanket and bed and tried to let the tiredness wash over him for a while. His eyes slowly drooped to closed and he lost track of the world for a while.
He awoke with a jerk, seeing that the half moon was nearly gone and he knew that meant it was near morning. Time to sneak back to the endless rocky road and move on. He craved a drink and took notice of the cramping belly. He listend to the total stillness and when he was satisfied he made his way back to the waters edge.
He didn't bother with a cupped palm this time, he leaned over and drank huge gulps of the water and as he dipped again he heard it. A frog croaking not far down the stream. He sat and froze, there it was again. A frog might not be sirloin steak but it was food and that would help hime drive on.
He began to stalk his prey like it was a lion. Quietly he moved throe the brush, years of practice made him able to move with barely a sound. He was proud of that too, that he could travel in near silence. More than once it had saved him or gotten him a meal.
He could hear the frog better now, its deep breaths, it's movement in the water and he stopped cold and waited until he saw it. Motionless, not even breathing he waited and he then saw the shine of pale moonlight on the smooth skin, he slowly moved towards it, reaching out to grab it and pp the morsel in his mouth.
Now! he snatched at the shine in the water and as his tired old hand closed over the frog he felt it, a sharp piercing pain that closed his lungs and shut his mouth for good. He wondered, what happened? He wished he could breathe but no air would come. he fell face first into the water and he felt the cool fresh releif again. It was such a good feling he didn't notice the dull knife that hacked away at his calf or the growling bellies of the men who had felled him.