The woman crouched behind some sagebrush on the hill overlooking the town.  Dust puffed up in lazy spirals from the dry valley floor.  The dry air barely moved, brought no welcome relief from the devastating heat.  Carefully setting her pack on the ground beside her, she studied the empty streets.  A dust devil swirled into the center, bringing dancing tumbleweeds and bits of paper.  Nothing seemed to move, to be alive, but experience had taught her well.  You couldn’t believe everything your eyes told you.

She shifted her weight slightly, getting into a more comfortable position, then dug into her pack.  Her eyes never left the town, as she found what she was searching for with a practiced touch.  Pulling out a water bottle wrapped with cloth, she glanced down long enough to make sure the sun wouldn’t find anything to reflect off of.  Taking a small sip, she swished the water around inside her mouth before swallowing.  She resisted the temptation to drink more and recapped the bottle tightly.

Movement caught her eye on the edge of town, a dog trotted across a street, stopping to sniff the air suspiciously.  Her eyes narrowed, watching intently.  He looked like a hound of some kind and even from a distance she could see the shadow of ribs.  A flash appeared in a window, catching her eye and the dog’s too.  He broke into a desperate run, his belly low to the ground.  He streaked out of town, just as a gunshot sounded.  A puff of dirt appeared in the dogs wake and he made it to the safely of the sagebrush and disappeared.

Releasing the breath she hadn’t even realized she held, she relaxed suddenly tense muscles.  So there was life in the town after all, life hidden from prying eyes and the baking sun.  But was the life friendly, or had the horror of reality driven them mad like so many others.