There'd been a dozen kegs the night they buried Hammer Pete. Good beer. The stuff no-one had anymore. There'd been half that many bottles and canteens of water at her waist when she staggered out of town into the depths of Hell to dig up his grave, and no-one had those anymore, not even her. Once, she wouldn't have had to steal water. Wouldn't have had to filch a stick to lean on. But she knew that nobody would follow her out onto the cracked surface of Hell's Anvil. They'd tried to kill her and left her strung up to the roadsign outside of town. Warning to others. They'd backed their big old rattle-trap truck three times over her hawg before somebody with a dollop of sense yelled at the driver to stop, that the old bike had been worth something as parts.
Her nails were broken and her knuckles were bloody from turning over the rocks of the caern. Easy rocks for a posse of drunken bikers to hoist into place beside a bonfire in the cool of night. Harder for a lone and parched woman under the scorching sun. When the rocks were gone, the time-packed sand wore at her hands until they were raw. The more of it she dug out of Pete's grave, the more of it seemed to slip and slide back in, driven by the wind that was closer kin to a blowtorch than to a cooling carress on her cheek.
For a time, she thought she'd remembered wrong. She stopped more than once, staring in panic around the horizon of the cracked playa. That hill there. That butte. That mound. Could the mound have moved? Wind-driven, years-shifted? Then she found his skull, tugged it out of the sand's sucking grasp, hurled it aside, out of the shallow pit she was making.
They'd buried the Hammer the Old Way. Standing in the saddle. Down in the cool sand between the shanks of his thighbones was a bike. An old bike. A true hawg born out of the Motor City's long-stilled furnaces with the old aitch-dee stamped on its tank. The kind of hawg that didn't quit, it just kept going so long as you kept feeding it hate and spite and scooping up the oil that drooled out of it to pour back into its pans. But it had been the Hammer's Harley, and here she was profaning his grave. And how did she think she was going to get it up and out of there?
She strewed yellowed, crackling ribs for a time, then took a sharp piece of broken bone and uses it to punch holes in the discolored plastic of the water bottles, tearing them open and licking at the jagged, chemical reek for any faintness of moisture. It wasn't enough. But if she could get the hawg, she wouldn't need water.
She wouldn't need anything.
Sand crackled and ground in the old bike's hubs as she leaned against it, weakly trying to shove it along with her body-weight, but she was too lean, too weak. The water had left her body, flown off to the cruel sun and she was a dried-out husk, light as a feather, barely able to shift the ancient, crusted mass of steel. Her unbooted feet sank in the shifting powder of the playa's clay tiles, feeling them crunch and give beneath her with each unsteady step.
The sun wasn't cooperating. It should've been setting. Should've been letting the cool night out. And it should've been over there, unless she'd turned, somehow, lost track of where she was going.
She cursed the sun and leaned against the bike's burning metal, embracing it. She didn't need water. She had the Hammer's hawg.
When she came to, the sun was behind her again. Had she slept all night? The unyielding embrace of the jagged metal beneath her ticked slowly as it heated up, drinking in the sun's fire. She tried to stand. Failed. Tried to pull the bike upright again. There was no sign of the playa's edge. No indication of her guiding hill.
It occurred to her in a moment of feverish clarity that she could follow the bike's wandering track back, follow the corkscrewing gouge of her deliriumed path to the hole in the ground, crawl in next to what was left of the Hammer and pull the bike in on top of her.
But she couldn't get the bike up again. She couldn't even cry. Not for Hammer Pete, struck down so young with such a fine ride. Not for herself here on the Anvil at the End of the World. All the tears were gone.
Having stolen her tears, the sun hovered in her vision, seeming close enough to reach out and touch. Bloody, it hung low ahead of her as she lay half-across the fallen hawg, unmoving.
After a time, it didn't even feel hot.