It was cold, so cold. His fingers shook slightly as he lit the thin wisp of tobacco that rested inside the curl of paper. Lighting it and drawing deeply of what was mainly dust. There was little of anything left, nothing to drink, a few shreds of tobacco and Christ knew where the next meal would be coming from. There had been some few scrawny rabbits, but there had been little meat on those bones, the creatures being almost as lean as the lads. There was little to do but wait, looking out for the signs of someone riding out, hoping that it would be friends, someone to bring them food, news, some connection with what had once been their lives.
Joe rubbed a hand over his face, his beard had grown, no time or inclination to keep it trimmed like he once had, it was thicker. Truth was he needed to shave but he had naught but a knife and whilst sharp it was not honed enough to be putting to his face. He would just have to let it be, growing longer so that he could see unruly shadows from the corner of his eye. Nothing like the forest that grew on Ned’s cheeks, but still more than the wispy fluff that had once tickled the lips of the girls that he kissed. Those girls seemed so long ago, as if he was so much older now than then. But little time had passed in the way that time was measured, but if experience counted for years then he was old, older than time it seemed, as if this short life was as much as he would be allotted or allowed. If the coppers had their way it would.
He shook his head, stamping down on the shadows in his head. They had done nothing, nothing of what they had been accused of, innocent until they had shot those men up at Stringybark. Though some might say different it would have been them, him and Ned and the younger lads, Dan and Steve, that would have been resting in some cold grave if they had not fired first. Though he wished sometimes that they had not, the weight of killing a man was heavy and the heavy dreamy haze of the black smoke only dulled, it did not cleanse. His hands shook, there was none of that sticky black resin either, Aaron had promised that he would bring more, and that had been weeks now. He knew that the lack made him sick, that it kept the others walking wide of him, unable to bear his dark moods, each lost in blackness of their own. He wanted it, he knew that it had some hold on him but each morning that he woke feeling sick to the bottom of his guts he had to force himself to think, to not be taking one of the horses and riding to see the Chinamen. He did that and he may as well be the one holding the gun to the others heads.
He cursed under his breath, he was sick of being dirty, tired of being trapped up in the hills just waiting for something, anything. They had been talking, him and Ned, that they could not just wait for the coppers to hunt them down like dogs gone bad. There had been talk of slipping away, of taking some great boat and sailing across the ocean to a new life. But they owed to others, so they would stay to try and make some difference. Truly they had been talking and writing and then talking some more. Page upon page that now rested in the pocket above Joe’s heart. He knew the words were powerful, he could feel the magic in them as Ned spoke, flowing through from his mates emphatic voice into the ink and out onto the pages. One hand tapped his chest, feeling those words
He was restless, wanting to move, needing to walk. Pushing himself to his feet, he reached down for the pistol that had rested on the ground, tucking it into the waistband of his creased and worn trousers. He would see if he could find some dinner. Anything would be better than this waiting.