They sat in silence, passing stories with their eyes - three months on the trail and they didn't need words; the snow fell steadily and Slim was trying to drink enough to die. He looked dead. He wasn't. He wasn't alive either. He was caught in the empty space between the two; his eyes were rheumy, his skin pale, and he did not know that this would be his last ride. They would kill him, leave him bleeding - they would kill him for nothing. Boredom. Spite. Profit. Most likely the last.
The fire spit sparks into the night, sending them to dance with the stars. There was a wind that smelled of coyote - the night rang with their song. Dawn was far off, and the men had a long way to ride in the morning, but no one felt like closing their eyes. Death was in the air. It choked them; they knew the taste but could not place it.
The dogs were half dead and long past caring. They would soon run off in a cannibalistic sprint; now they sniffed for coyote and pretended they were brave.
The miners would find the body and they'd wonder. Love or gold. It always came down to love or gold. Or hate. But hate doesn't fill the belly. Hate isn't something you can wrap your frantic arms around. Nope, they would know. Love or gold.
In country like that, you can have one or the other. And neither comes cheap.