Running the tip of his thumb over its warm, smooth surface, he marvelled in its compact simplicity. In his hand he held a life – one not fully formed but the start of one, none the less. Rolling it over, it came to rest comfortably in the curve of his palm and he held it there for a moment. Such a simple object - but one which brought with it a heap of memories.
Those happy carefree days of his childhood, when collecting the eggs from the chicken coop was one of his daily chores. The time he and his best friend had caught a beating for throwing the eggs at each other in friendly combat. The sound of the shell cracking as she tapped it on the edge of the bowl, pulling it apart to let its golden contents slip out into the flour below with a soft thud, to be mixed into the smoothest batter mix, which became the lightest of pancakes.
But that was before. What he wouldn't give now for life to be that uncomplicated.
Later, when they were older, on occasion they had to sneak into a coop and take a couple of eggs. He supposed that was the start of it. They had thieved out of necessity, to feed themselves and from those small beginnings their larceny had grown.
He allowed himself a small smile as he remembered the times he had seen his partner confound a man, by balancing one on its end, to win a erstwhile bet which, on more occasions than not, had earned them a stake in a poker game, affording them, due to the talents of said partner with cards, to live more comfortably for a while. The beauty of the trick was in its simplicity but it needed a deft hand to perfect it and his partner was extremely skilful.
He chided himself for allowing his mind to drift to those memories, taking his thoughts away from their present predicament, as a soft groan drew his attention to the huddled form lying in the hay next to him. In the gloom of the morning light, which had managed to seep into the interior of the barn, he could just make out his face twist and contort in pain as he tried to move. It would be a while before he would be able to do the egg trick once more.
He was bleeding again too. The expanding dark, red stain on his shirt a tell tale sign.
It passed his mind as to whether he'd even see the next day through but he pushed such pessimism to the back of his mind. There wasn't much more he could do that he hadn't already done, apart from get him some proper medical attention but circumstance would not permit such an act. As the sky brightened he knew it meant that they would have to leave before the owners of the barn, in which they had sought shelter, discovered them. In his experience there was only one reason why two men, one with a gunshot wound, would be sleeping in a barn. He could not risk the questions their discovery would bring.
Looking once more at the smooth, oval object in his hands, he curled his fingers around its perfect form, holding it firmly. He knew what he had to do but wished with all his heart he didn't have to make the decision. The desperation of their present situation suddenly enraged him and before he knew what he was doing his grip tightened about the egg, shattering its shell, allowing the slimy contents to ooze between his fingers, sliding and dripping to the floor, puddling the last hopes of a new life at his feet.
Dropping the remnants, he grimaced as he wiped his hand on his sheepskin jacket, knowing another stain wouldn't make much difference to the condition of the garment. His life was tainted enough already.
With a resigned sigh, he put his hat firmly on his head and got to his feet. Slipping his gun from his holster he checked the chamber to make sure it was full, even though he knew it was, before returning it.
He squatted down and placed a reluctant hand on his shoulder and gave it a squeeze.
"Heyes?" His voice was husky with fatigue and emotion. "You gotta wake up now. Time we were movin' on. We can't stay here and risk bein' seen. I know you're hurtin' but there ain't a whole lot I can do for ya now but as soon as I think that posse is off our trail, I'll get ya to a doctor."
The dark haired man stirred and rolled onto his back, opened his eyes and saw the worried blue ones of his friend looking at him with concern. Too weak to talk, he nodded his understanding. With a grim determination, born of hard times and a lust for life, they left the refuge of the barn and hit the trail once more.
Mrs. Duggan regarded the broken egg in her barn and frowned. "Now how in the world did that happen?" she muttered to herself. "Elijah," she called out, "reckon we got ourselves a thief helpin' his-self to our eggs. Go get your gun and make sure that dang coyote ain't still hangin' about."