The horses, bowed to sparse patches of grass raised their heads as one. From the salt plains below came again the muffled roar, an ululation of thousands hidden by foothills where, many miles off, the plain gave way and climbed to the horizon.
Rising and falling on the wind, the sound still came, long enough now to become part of the ambient world for the horses, so that again as one they bowed to the grasses. After their stoic fashion, the three travelers bowed as well to continue counting.
This was not an obsequious bow before some potentate, that infamous gesture of concession and disgrace so recently enacted to the horror of those living off the map to the right of the foothills. No. Each man was isolated in his own financial maize. But also, like their horses they formed a unity as they counted, the thin tens and twenties fluttering on each man's counting rock, small change ringing on the stone slabs like wind chimes.
By now, the distant sound had lost its power for the three. Resigned, each man had relinquished the adrenaline rush that precedes combat. Still counting they concentrated, each confident in his weapons, his kit-the debit cards and letters of credit, checks, and the Krugerrands secured around each man's waist, gold coins that would serve as a final, last resort should yet another blow to the economy come just at some crucial juncture, as some key transaction was taking place, some much coveted video game for this boy, the push-up bra and bustier needed for cheerleading practice by that teenage girl, the new tap shoes and red fedora and floor lamp for a loyal spouse left at home and, like the counters, bent no doubt to her own task, at loom, staff meeting or hydrangea bed.
The ululation grew and the men stopped counting. All their hard-won sang froid suddenly gave way, slipped from sturdy shoulders down the slope past their mounts to flow in rivulets into the pumice dust and small stones of the desert. There would be no victory this Black Friday, no triumph. After the battle with overweight women slashing through piles of men's sweaters, hacking and pounding in a ravening search for this same chartreuse-and-fuchsia tartan leotard but in a plus-size, the men saw as one their collective defeat--the money, the checks and letters of credit, even the precious Krugerrands all snatched away by clerks who handed them, grinning and awful in victory, plastic sacks heavy or light with wearable, edible, playable or readable fecal matter that, for all their efforts, would turn out to be wrong.
And so, stoic and wordless they gathered up the reins, swung creaking into worn saddles and not hesitating began the slow downward first leg of their ordeal to the salt plain, the horses knowing it all already, the terrible morning and afternoon to follow of the annual trek into Retail.