"The Redemption Of An Outlaw"
a Western Historical Romance Novel,
by Evelyn Boyett
To wake up under a merciless sun, without a soul around, feeling like you just cheated death would jolt even the most hardened man. But to have no recollection of who you are or why you’ve been beaten, branded and left for dead, well, that would be the sort of terror there are no words for.
With nothing but the memory of a beautiful woman, he doesn’t know and the seed of vengeance slowly growing from his gut for a wrong he feels has been done to him, a man sets out to find who he is and who left him out in the desert to die.
But will he discover his identity? And when he does, will he regret knowing the truth of the heinous crime he was accused of committing? Or will he discover his desire for revenge is justified?
The town of Hempstead, Texas is an unholy place where honest men stay in the shadows and the corrupt walk bravely in the sunlight. But all of that is about to change when the rumors start to tumble into town with the weeds and wind. The rumors of the ghost searching for his love and… retribution.
If you like fast-paced clean romance and action-packed stories, you won't be able to put down this addictive Novel by Evelyn Boyett.
"The Retribution Of An Honest Man" is a stand-alone Western Historical Romance Novel of approximately 400 pages.
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The shadow of the crooked mesquite tree gave me just enough shade to take in the scene in front of me. The large burl on the trunk caught my attention. It was an ugly tree. I removed my hat to wipe my brow. The need to spit was just as much from the tobacco in my cheek as it was from the sheer disgust at the body swinging from the high branch. Finally, I was through with this vermin. If I’d been alone, I’d have swiped the boots off the dead man’s feet. They were good boots, well made. Probably by those redskins if I knew the man who was hanging. And I did.
Without a second thought, I leaned over and spit at the base of the tree.
“Mr. Irving.” Sheriff Nixen cleared his throat nervously. He was a man only in the most general sense of the word, thin and wiry with a well-manicured mustache that his mama probably said made him look distinguished. When I looked at him, he couldn’t meet my eyes but shook his head, making a general motion toward the glob of tobacco at the foot of the tree.
“A man did die here today, sir.”
“No, sir!” I barked. “No man died here today. A dog died here today. A lousy, no good, cowardly dog.”
The sheriff pulled into himself as he always did when I spoke, hunching his shoulders and shifting on his feet. He wore the badge, but I was the law. Money always dictates what the law does and I had plenty of it. Looking up at the body, I couldn’t help but notice that the wind didn’t even want to touch this filth. He hung there still as a tombstone. Only the critters and bugs would make him twitch and jerk as they boiled beneath his skin after a few days. Perhaps I’d come have a picnic out here, once the word had got out among the flies and ants that there was fresh meat on the menu.
I looked off into the distance. The heat rose from the sand making it waver as it tricked the eye into thinking there was a cool pool of water out there.
This was a good day. It was just going to get better from here. I could feel it in my bones. When I looked back, I stared at the body dangling there. I wanted to burn the image in my mind. It brought me such a pleasant satisfaction deep inside, making me feel like a young man again.
Every detail was a feast for my eyes. Except for those boots. It angered me that I couldn’t swipe them right there. But how would that look? Irving Buckley, the richest man for six counties, stealing the boots off the man he had hanged. They’d think my wells were running dry. That I was falling on hard times. And nothing could be further from the truth.
As much as I was trying to enjoy myself, the steady sobs from behind me were a distraction souring my mood. I frowned.
“Quit your blubbering back there!” I shouted. “The man got what he deserved for taking what’s mine! Don’t you forget it!”
“He’s dead,” she replied. “Can’t you at least cut him down? He was a Christian. He deserves to be buried as one.”
“A Christian?” I had to laugh. I laughed so hard I nearly swallowed my tobacco. That would have been an awful sight. But I do swear women will say the most ignorant things when they aren’t thinking. When they are thinking, they know enough to keep their mouths shut. But this one, she wasn’t thinking. Not at all.
“No. This man weren’t no Christian. He’ll hang here until the buzzards have had their fill. And when they’ve picked his bones clean, he’ll continue to hang until he becomes nothing but dust. And that’s being kind.”
Of course, she continued her blathering, even with two of my men standing over her she rattled off her prayers, begging God to forgive this, that and calling on saints. It was a pitiful spectacle to see a grown woman believing in such nonsense.
I took a deep breath and was sure I could smell the leather of those boots. Oh, it was frustrating to me that I couldn’t just take them. But I didn’t dare have the men think I coveted anything another man had.
“Hamm. Canteen.” The sand and the dirt had parched my throat. Hamm was a loyal man. His boyish looks were deceptive. I’d seen many men live to regret assuming that he was a greenhorn. He stepped away from the woman for a second to hand me my canteen. I took a long, cool drink, watching the sheriff as he thought to do the same. But he didn’t dare move without my permission. I poured some of that clear gold in my hands and rubbed it over my face. The drops that spilled nearly evaporated before they hit the ground. Without looking I handed the canteen back to Hamm.
Both my sons were standing behind the carriage. Morris surveyed the land as if he were expecting an ambush. After what he’d been through, I expected he thought he was a real man now. His knuckles were bloody and his shirt was ripped.
Willis, my youngest, was watching me like he always done.
My horse was next to the carriage. The woman was hanging her head over the side, unable to lift it as she cried. I slipped my hand into her beautiful blonde hair and pulled her face up to the sun and the sky and the tree. Her eyes were red and her nose dripped. To me, she looked as ugly as that mesquite tree with her face all twisted and puffy. But it wouldn’t last. Neither would the tears. And she’d be the pride of the Buckleys.
“See that? You’ll forget him soon enough. Every night you’ll try to push that image out of your head. You’ll work at it,” I whispered. “You’ll want to forget him.”
Hamm hopped down off the carriage and brought me my horse. It was a good horse but, like most people, had needed breaking. I didn’t recall in recent memory a stallion so stubborn or ornery as this one. But I broke him. This horse, like the sheriff, wouldn’t dare make any sudden moves.
I slipped my hand out of her hair and her head fell forward like a rag doll’s. That annoyed me. But I took hold of the saddle horn, slipped my foot in the stirrup and pulled myself up into the saddle.
“I’ll never forgive you,” she muttered pitifully.
“What?” I shouted. “What did you say to me?”
Wouldn’t you know that the filly looked up at me from the carriage as bold and ungrateful as the day is long and repeated those words?
“For as long as I’ll live,” she added.
I leaned down until I was in her face. My horse stood stone still. “I don’t care if you never forgive me. But you will love me, eventually.”
We rode back to town. My men were quiet and that was good. I wanted the time to savor the feeling that my job had been done. Let this be a warning to all the other scoundrels out there thinking they can put their hands on what is rightfully mine.
I was proud of myself. I’d studied that body and all along the trip back, I could recall every fine detail. Especially them boots. Perhaps I’d pay one of those Mexican brats to come by and steal them for me.
I swear it was the touch of feathers from a buzzard brushing my face that brought me back into a sort of consciousness. My head was swimming and all I wanted to do was keep my eyes closed against the blazing sun. I knew it was milking me of every bit of moisture.
I could barely breathe. I was sure it was the Angel of Death with his boney hands around my throat slowly squeezing the life out of me like a woman might squeeze water from a rag. If I opened my eyes all the way, I’d see the horrific skull staring at me with eyes burning hellfire inside them.
With all the strength I could muster, I brought one hand up to my neck. Where I was sure I’d feel the bones on Death’s hands, I didn’t. Instead, my fingers felt the rough, dry threads of a rope. Furiously, I tried to dig my fingers beneath it and pull. My hand was barely strong enough to grip the tendril and I knew Death was holding the other end of. Blindly, I felt around the hard ground for something, anything that might help me free myself.
I remembered important words: the Lord helps those who help themselves. Here I was, lying on the hard, dry ground feeling nothing but sand and pebbles and cracked earth around me, until finally, that second before conceding to Death, my fingers wrapped around an arrowhead. My heart pumped with renewed energy.
A seizure of gasps and chokes grabbed hold of me. My eyes opened wide to see the cloudless, cruel sky. But there was no Death staring down, waiting to seize my soul. Another seizure of coughs made me use the arrowhead against the rope around my neck. Within seconds it split enough for me to get my fingers beneath it and pull. A great gust of air rushed down my dry throat. I gulped at it, feeling my eyes recede back into my skull and my tongue, although dry, felt like it had reduced in size somewhat.
I rolled to my back and let the air come and go in desperate pants until my heart settled. I looked around and saw the old tree just to my left at my feet. Any greenness of life had settled on the northern part of it. The rest was dry and brittle. Next to me, still attached to the rope that had been around my neck was the branch it was tied to. My weight was too much for this piece of rotten kindling. It was near hollow on the inside where disease and infestation had eaten away at it.
I reached up and touched my neck, feeling the tender burn of the brand the rope had left. It stung like a thousand angry bees.
My head pounded as the sun mercilessly beat down on me. If I didn’t find shelter soon, that devilish skull was going to reappear and take me for sure. With grit that I didn’t know I had, I pulled myself across the ground. For a minute I was sure this was the end. My eyes watered and everything became a white and blue blur. The urge to retch consumed me, even though I was sure my gut was as hollow as the rotten tree branch lying next to me. My body trembled like I had a fever. Maybe I did. I wasn’t sure. All I did know was that the elements were slowly killing me and the longer I lay in them, the easier it was going to be to just die.
Overhead, black dots swirled in lazy circles. Off in the distance, those same dots landed and inched their way closer and closer to where I was. As my eyes focused, I was horrified to see the buzzards were closer than I first thought. I could see their shiny beaks, made to tear through flesh. Their beady eyes stared at me unafraid, eagerly waiting for me to expire so they could pick my bones clean. They hobbled toward me like crippled and deformed children with talons instead of feet, black shoulders hunched high on the sides of their heads.
I licked my lips, feeling nothing but dry, cracked skin. With the arrowhead still in my hand, I pushed myself up on wobbly legs and waited until the world stopped spinning before I took a step. The buzzards squawked and cried with anger that their next meal hadn’t given up.
As much as I tried to remember what direction I came from, there was nothing. A blackness covered everything in my head. So I let my body stagger to the north, the side of the tree that was still healthy, and hoped it was the right decision.
Behind me, I could hear the buzzards cawing to each other. It was like they were playing a game, each one calling out the number of steps I might take before I fell over dead. I didn’t dare turn around for fear I’d see them gaining on me. It was a funny thing how those winged rats knew when a creature was dead even before that creature knew. They had set their yellow eyes on me and nothing short of a miracle was going to get them to give up on this meal.
As if on cue, I squinted ahead. The rippling waves of heat could have been playing tricks on my eyes, but unlike the blue pools the heat made more than one desperate man chase, this was just a little green patch. From where I was it looked no bigger than a stamp, but I was sure it was there.
Pushing my legs in that direction, I kept moving until I realized it was real. There was a small patch of yellowish green at what looked like a drying riverbed.
With my throat closing a little more with each gasp, I tried to hurry toward it. My feet barely lifted from the ground, kicking up more dust and grime to get in my eyes and mouth.
The heat was pulling every bit of moisture from me as sweat saturated my back, making my shirt stick to me. Finally, through stinging eyes, I saw it. It wasn’t big but it was water. I fell to my knees and crawled the last few yards until the cool blades of grass soothed the palms of my hands and I made it to the clear pool of water. I looked at my reflection for a second before I took a drink. A stranger stared back at me.
Without hesitating, I plunged my head into the water. Something told me not to gulp. As badly as I wanted to, I sucked just a thin stream of water into my mouth, letting it slowly wash around my mouth until it was as hot as the rest of me, I pulled my head back and gasped. The air tasted fresh. Even though my hands were filthy, I cupped them and drank the water in great gulps. My stomach cramped for a minute and I was sure I was going to throw up everything I drank. But just as quickly it released itself as it realized it liked the water and was in desperate need of it.
I took the arrowhead and washed it clean. The sides were knife thin and just as sharp. I studied the grooves across its surface and marveled at the simplicity of such a valuable tool. I slipped it in my pocket realizing that although my thirst had been quenched, my body was still in bad shape.
Every inch of me ached. Not just my neck where the rope had been, but my shoulders, my legs, my abdomen and across my back. As I lay by the water, the soft grass against my cheek, my legs straight out behind me, and my hands in the water, I tried to remember what had brought me to this lowly state. What had I done that warranted being hung?
There was nothing but shadows. It felt like I was stretching, reaching for something I desperately needed but it was just out of my grasp. I knew it was there even if I couldn’t see it. I could sense it. I knew it was there, but that provided me nothing, helped me in no way at all.
Then, like a slap out of that darkness I heard the crying. They were the sobs of a woman broken in her spirit. She was pleading, begging for something, but I couldn’t make out the words. I tried, squeezing my eyes shut and gritting my teeth. Who was she? Why was she crying? What had I done to her? I waited for something to pop into my mind and at least give me a thread to tug on, but nothing came.
This was maddening. I opened my eyes and looked at the water. The riverbed had dried up but would surge again when it rained. It would rain so hard the water would rush like the fiercest stampede and trample anything in its way.
I knew the waters would return and bring life with them. Perhaps my memory would be the same way. Perhaps my thoughts would come back to me out of the blue and wash over me like the rushing rapids that would fill this waterbed. For now, I could only stare at the dead rocks and sand and pebbles that it left behind. But soon enough this place would bloom with green grass and flowers and animals.
Until that time, I would be haunted by the woman’s tears and her pleas for mercy. Everything else inside me was gone. I could hear her crying, then everything stopped. My heart. My breathing. The blood coursing through my veins. My vision. It all stopped and I was wrapped in darkness, while choking. That I remember and wish I didn’t. That I remember and one more thing…my name. Clinton Case.
Finally, when my headache started to subside, I realized I hadn’t checked my pockets. Slowly as I sat up, I felt over my pockets hoping to find something to help me remember what had happened. It wasn’t a surprise that I came up with nothing. Whoever aimed to hang me I’m sure had no intention of letting any money or trinkets be left to the buzzards. However, one small miracle, they didn’t check my boots.
For a few minutes, I studied my boots. There was something about them that stirred a memory, but it, too, was unable to break through the blackness. I pulled out a hidden knife. The knife was small but strong. It had a mother-of-pearl handle and the blade was sharp. In a pinch I could use it as a weapon, but I’d have to stare any enemy right square in the eyes so close as to count his nose hairs before I could do any damage with the little blade. Still, it was better than nothing.
I took a couple more gulps of water and decided that I’d best get moving. My stomach folded over on itself, grumbling with hunger. I had no idea when was the last time I’d eaten. I rubbed my stomach and could feel the sharp protrusions that were the bottom of my ribcage.
For all I knew, the boys that had strung me up on that tree were coming back to make sure the job was done right. There was no time to sit and fuss over not knowing what had happened prior to that branch breaking. I needed to get some food and somehow figure out where I was and what to do next.
When I got to my feet, I felt a might bit stronger. I couldn’t run even if chased, but I could walk. I could walk a good bit and as the sun started to leave that deadly position directly overhead and inch its way closer to the horizon, I surveyed the area. Further north I spotted what looked like an even darker mirage. But it, too, like that stamp-size patch of green I spied was not a tantalizing figment of my imagination. I took a deep breath, guzzled a few more handfuls of water and headed toward the spot off in the distance. There was more than one time, as the heat quickly took the water I had drank from my body, that I was sure I’d doomed myself to die out in here in this unknown desert. My feet began to feel as if they’d had chains added to them. Each step required more and more effort and my strides became smaller and smaller until I was walking like an old man.
Finally, the patch of darkness I’d gambled my life on was in focus. It was real and it was ahead of me. But I couldn’t say when I’d make it there. I was hoping before the sunset and the temperature dropped, freezing me to the bone.
In a horrifying twist of fate I didn’t realize until I was inside the copse, I found a piece of that hanging rope had affixed itself to my shirt and followed me from the dying tree to this place of living things. I yanked it from me like I was snatching up a rattler by the neck before it could strike. The idea to toss the souvenir of my hanging far from me was my first instinct. But I stopped myself. It took just seconds for me to figure out a way to use it, setting a snare for the wild creatures I could easily hear dodging through the brambles as I stood still. There were rock formations and boulders clustered together to protect me from the elements as the sun continued to set.
How I knew how to set these snares, I couldn’t say. But something in my memory had told my hands I’d done this many times before. There wasn’t any denying that. Maybe, as I busied myself with the goal of surviving, the details about my life and more importantly why I’d been hung, would come back to me.
“The Lord helps those who help themselves.” I muttered the words out loud. My voice sounded gritty like my boots scrapping over the sand and pebbles. My throat hurt and as much as I just wanted to collapse again and enjoy the coolness that was blowing through this area now that the sun was setting, I still had to push my body. It was screaming with aches and pains. But I couldn’t rest. Not yet.
Again, I found luck was on my side as another rotten tree had collapsed shattering into enough pieces for me to quickly make a lean-to on the side of one of the massive boulders resting contentedly and undisturbed in this place. There were enough prickly bushes that offered camouflage for anyone who might casually ride by. Every few minutes I stopped what I was doing and listened for the sound of horses or human footsteps.
Before it became too dark to see, I went back to where I’d set my snares. They both held the dead bodies of a rabbit in each. My stomach growled with anticipation. I had no idea what I ate prior to this, but right now I would be enjoying a feast.
With my knife I slit the fur around the back legs of the first rabbit. Then, I cut the loose skin around the neck. I grabbed hold of the fur and with one yank, I was able to remove the fur from the body in one clean piece. I snapped the thin part of the back legs and cut them off with my knife. I did the same to the front paw. Then, I removed the head. The small pelt might come in handy, so I hung it off my lean-to.
It took no time at all for the dry kindling I’d collected to erupt into a bright patch of orange, snapping and crackling and giving off that comforting smoky smell. Before I knew it, I had devoured the second rabbit like a man who hadn’t eaten in a week. The meat was tender and I kept the bones. My body felt wonderfully satisfied as I stretched out on the ground with my head near the small fire. I looked up at the clear sky just as the stars were starting to appear. I’d hoped that with a bit of food in my belly I might be able to remember something new.
The crying woman was as good a place to begin as any. I tried to think of women I might have known. Could she be my mother? That didn’t sound right as the woman’s voice was distinctly young. I didn’t know how old I was, but I was sure the woman’s voice was not that of a woman older than me. A sister perhaps? That could have been it. But nothing clicked. If it was my sister I didn’t know her, her name, or anything else. I was just shooting off in the darkness hoping to hit something.
My eyes were getting heavy. I listened to the sounds of the world around me. It wasn’t altogether unfamiliar. A lonely coyote howled off in the distance only to be answered by another. Owls hooted as they searched the ground, waiting for those unsuspecting scavengers to emerge from beneath logs and leaves and become their dinner. As hard as I tried to stay awake and solve the mystery of who was the woman I heard sobbing, I just couldn’t.
My small fire popped and flickered a little while longer before it became a hot circle of glowing embers. They melted into my dream as a lantern warmly lighting the walls of a shed or a barn. Sleep overtook me almost instantly and I dreamt of a woman.
Her blonde hair practically melted into the bales of hay she was lying on. It spread out behind her head like a halo as she looked up and past me. Over our head was a hole in the barn ceiling. Her pretty mouth was moving, but I wasn’t sure what she was saying. Whatever it was I knew I liked it. She was smiling. Her eyes were the oddest blue. Like the tone the sky takes when clouds settle in just as the sun is going down. I stared into those blue eyes as they danced over the little bit of sky peeking down at us.
“That’s Polaris,” she said, pointing to the brightest star in the sky. “It’s not on my face.” She joked. “It’s up there. Look.”
I looked up through the hole in the roof. “That is not Polaris. That there is called the North Star,” I corrected her. She laughed out loud and shook her head.
“They are the same thing,” she said, smiling at me. Her lips looked soft like velvet and I knew I had kissed them before. But not now. Not at this moment. “My students know it as the North Star, as Polaris and as the Pole Star.”
“Well, I was never much for book learning.” I brushed aside a few strands of her hair from her face. Her skin was as soft as a newborn lamb.
“You can come down to the school house. I’d be happy to teach you.” She stretched one arm over her head and let the other fall over her belly. She had on a simple white blouse with pretty little flowers stitched on either side of the buttons. I tenderly touched just one, feeling the texture of the thread and her chest rising and falling as she breathed.
“I’d look mighty foolish sitting there at those tables with a bunch of children, don’t you think?” I smirked. “Plus, what do I do when you find out those little urchins are smarter than me?”
“Well, we could easily remedy that. You’ll just sit quietly the entire time and listen. Then, when the children have left to go home, you can ask me any questions you might have.” She smirked back.
“And have all those little children think they are smarter than me? Oh no,” I replied, shaking my head.
She tilted her head back and laughed. It was as beautiful as the song of a cardinal on a spring morning. I slipped my arm across her waist. Her delicate little hand slid over it. Her eyes sparkled. I leaned down to kiss her. She didn’t stop me. When our lips touched, I felt her breath hitch in her chest.
There was nothing I wanted more than to stay there locked in that kiss, holding her in my arms. When I finally pulled back and looked at her face, her eyes were sparkling.
“I love you,” she whispered.
My eyes popped open to the cold darkness of the night sky. There it was. The North Star. Polaris.
“I love you too…Allison.”
Now that I had a name, I couldn’t shake it. Allison. Allison. As I packed up some small rations to help me find my way, I repeated the name over and over again. Allison was the woman I dreamt about. I could see her face and the name fit. I knew it was this woman’s name, same as I knew my name was Clinton Case. But where she came from, what happened and how she knew me was a blank.
I continued heading north. Travelling alone must have been something I did often because my gut told me I was being watched. There wasn’t much to see as I surveyed the landscape. It was flat and white with patches of brush here and there. So it was easy for me to spot the animal watching me. It wasn’t the same shape as a coyote. A little skinny from what I could gather but not sickly. I was surprised my instincts were so sharp and picked up on the critter. Just a mangy creature that I assumed was a dog that had picked up my trail and was carefully bringing up the rear as I crossed several miles.
When I finally stopped to set up camp for the night by a small watering hole, the dog mustered up enough courage to come to me. It was the smell of the rabbit that was too much for him to stay away. It’s amazing how brave a thing might become when it’s hungry.
“You’re kind of far from home, ain’t you, boy?” I asked the dog as he stood just outside my campfire light. As soon as I tossed the dry leg of the rabbit on the ground in front of him, he carefully crept up to it and grabbed it in his mouth just in case I had any inclination to change my mind.
“Come on, boy. You can come by the fire. Even with that coat it gets cold at night.” I tossed another piece of meat on the ground a little closer this time. As the dog came closer, I could see he’d had a tryst with a porcupine. A few quills were sticking out from his front paw and caused him to limp a little.
It tugged at my heart to see the poor boy with that wound. If the dog didn’t get his paw tended to, it might get infected and that would be the end for him. But he was skittish. I didn’t want to scare him off. So, I held the last piece of rabbit out for him in my hand.
His fur was sandy brown. There might have been part wolf in him because his coat lay in those soft layers like wolves’ coats do. But his snout was a little squarer and his legs were not as long. He sort of looked like he was several kinds of canine thrown together. With his head bowed, he crept up to me and as dainty as you please took that scrap of bone from my hand. When we’d both finished eating, I held my hand out to him and he sniffed around, giving a lick here and there before backing up and spying me carefully. I didn’t think I was going to get close enough to him to remove those quills, but when I woke up as the sun was just climbing over the horizon, I found my furry friend snuggled up next to me.
His eyes were open. I petted him gently, then eased my hand toward his paw.
“Don’t you fret, boy. I’m not going to hurt you.” The dog curled its lip back a little. I heard a slight grumble, but he didn’t move as I pulled one of the quills from his paw. Like a man having a bullet removed, the mutt growled and grinded his teeth but never once snapped at me. I removed seventeen quills. I thought that was enough for now. If there were any more, I’d search them out later. “Now, don’t you feel better?”
The dog looked up at me with the most serious look on its face, as if to say it’s about time you tended my wound. In return I got one juicy, sloppy lick across the face.
I felt bad that I didn’t have much to share with the animal. He looked like he was in as bad a shape as I was. Who knows what the poor beast had been through, but when it was time to start moving again, this time he stayed at my side.
“I don’t exactly know where I’m headed,” I said to the dog. “I don’t really know much. Something’s got a hold of me, keeping my memories from coming forward. I only hope that it isn’t because they are too horrible to face. Something deep inside is telling me I’ve got to keep going. But, I don’t know if I’m going in the right direction.”
The dog wagged his tail as he walked with me.
“I like you. You don’t talk back,” I said, smirking at the animal.
The terrain had changed since the hanging tree. There were more spots of green. The ground wasn’t nearly so flat. Plenty of places to take cover from the elements or anyone who might be a threat. I hadn’t seen traces of a single soul since I started this journey. Not even the injuns in the hills setting off smoke signals.
“I wish I had a rifle instead of this tiny knife and my lucky arrowhead. You know why this is my lucky arrowhead?” I asked the dog. He made no reply so I took that as a no. I went through the whole story of waking up, thinking the Grim Reaper had his hands on me.
“I can’t remember my life, so I don’t know if I’d be heading to heaven or Hades. That’s no way to die.” I took a deep breath. “You don’t have to worry about that. Eternal damnation ain’t designed for the beasts on the earth. Just man. A different kind of beast.”
“I’m not sure but I must have had a lot of people around me in my previous life because, although I’m enjoying your company, I sure would like to get an answer back every once in a while.”
We continued heading north in silence. Dark clouds were on the horizon. I didn’t see any flashes of lightning, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t turn ugly quick. The thought of hunkering down for another night was what I decided to do, but the dog had a different plan in mind.
“Where you going?” I said to the animals as he veered to the left. “You know something I don’t? If we don’t find some shelter soon we might be frozen to the bone before nightfall. See those clouds? We will be in for a cold one” I pointed off in the distance as if the dog would look. He didn’t. Stubborn animal.
“You think you know where you’re going, do you?” I looked in the direction the mutt was heading. “Well, I’ll be darned.”
That crazy dog was heading to a town. I could just see it off in the distance just on the edge of the horizon. It weren’t no mirage, either. That I knew. This area was warm but not a furnace like I’d come from. However, it was going to get cold and if it rained with the shape both of us were in, pneumonia would be waiting. I couldn’t bear the thought of dying out here without knowing what I’d done or how to make amends.
“All right, boy. You’re just like my arrowhead. A bit of good luck when I needed it. If we keep moving and stay ahead of those clouds, we might make it to that little town by nightfall.”
But as the small town started to get near, I was getting some unsettling feelings in my gut. First of all, there was a strange structure off on a hill that made me shudder. I’d have never noticed it except my travelling companion was eyeballing it then trotted in its general direction, his nose whiffing the air. It was nothing more than a little shack, maybe a lookout post or lean-to that the townsfolk had put up to survey the comings and goings of strangers. It didn’t take much to convince me there were eyes peeping from it, watching me.
With nothing more than my bare hands, the small knife in my boot and my lucky arrowhead, I headed toward the shanty. From my vantage point as I got closer, it looked like a little adobe hut, but once I was upon the little building, I saw it was nothing more than the shell of a hut. The entire western wall had crumbled to the ground. Weeds had tumbled inside and collected in the corners. There weren’t no glass in the tiny windows. Weren’t no door either. It was barely enough to keep the wind out. But I ventured inside to take a look around. No tracks or footprints either, except from the dog that had quickly inspected the place for food or vermin. Satisfied there were neither, he stood by my side.
“I don’t know if I got the nerve to go to that town, boy.” I scratched the dog behind his ear. He let me then looked around, his nose bobbing in the air, but not picking up on anything unusual.
“Maybe we should just hunker down here for a spell. Just to get some rest and think things through.” I got no answer, of course, so I took that to be an affirmative reply. After picking the deepest, darkest corner left standing, I sat down.
I knew I should not have stopped to avoid the inevitable. I had to go to that town if I was ever going to get any answers. Even if, by God’s mercy, they were to tell me they had no idea who I was, at least I’d have a chance to get something to eat or work for a few pennies. A man just ain’t a man if he’s drifting. And I surely didn’t feel like no man. I felt like a ghost. No recollection of what happened before and no idea where to go from here. It was like I was suspended over a big hole and my fingertips were just a hair’s length from grasping the sides.
Regardless of my anxiety, I dozed off for a spell. I was weak from hunger and the hours in the sun. This time, I had no comforting dream of Allison to urge me on. Just a blackness that made me more tired when I woke up.
The sun was setting and now the temperature was really dropping. If it weren’t for the dog next to me, I’d have had no protection or warmth at all. I didn’t dare start a fire this close to town. May as well get a marching band to announce my coming, if that were the case. I got to my feet and peeked out one of the tiny windows. Nothing had changed except the shadows. The clouds I’d seen in the distance were almost overhead.
“You ready to face the firing squad, boy?” The dog stood, stretched his front paws with his back end up in the air while a big yawn pulled his mouth wide open.
“Heck, if you ain’t scared, maybe I shouldn’t be scared either.”
We left the run-down building and headed toward the town. At the pace I was going, it felt like it would take until sunrise for me to reach it. The other thing that bothered me was that this town didn’t look familiar to me. Of course, when I’d seen my own reflection in that small pool of water, my own face didn’t look familiar to me. But all I could think was what if the fellers who put that rope around my neck were in this town?
My shoulders started to ache like I were bridled with an ox yoke and my legs started getting heavier and heavier. I was starting to think there were men behind me. That there had been men behind me the entire time and they were just waiting for me to try and get help before they pounced, lassoed a rope around my neck and dragged me to the nearest tree to finish the job for a crime I couldn’t remember.
“I don’t know about this, boy,” I said to the dog. He looked up at me with calm eyes.
I stopped and listened, thinking I heard footsteps behind me. I looked everywhere but my vision was blurring. Perhaps the consumption had already settled in and I was going to die before I even got to the town.
Considering I’d only had a few gulps of water after lying in the desert sun all day and two rabbits to eat, it was a miracle that I’d made it this far. But my body was quickly rebelling. I’d pushed too hard.
Finally, I decided to take my chances in the town. I was starting to realize that with every step, my ability to remain standing was being severely depleted. The dog and I had finished the small bit of food I had left. I’d scrounged a few berries along the way, but that was just enough to keep my stomach from folding over on itself.
Thick clouds had covered the sky. I thought I might have smelled rain, but I couldn’t be sure. Nothing about me was feeling right. The only thing I knew for certain was that there might be something I could put in my stomach in that small town. Starvation is a heck of a motivator.
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