Easterly’s Headache

Easterly's Morning2

A New Day

The cool freshness of pre-dawn, the best time of day as far as Atá Halné was concerned. Critters prone to nocturnal activities were settled down and Father Sky hadn’t washed the stars away. Dark, quiet, and still. The birth of a new day was always a promise that wishes could be granted. He slipped out of his bedroll, plenty of time to water the horses before facing east for ritual sun-rising prayers.

A soft whisper spun him around. “Arthur?”

“Here. What are you doing, Esther May?”

“I can’t sleep. This is a bad place.”

The fire had died. There wasn’t enough light to see details, only silhouettes. She was on one elbow watching him.

“Not so. This is where a wrong was righted. You should be proud.”

“Well, I’m not. And I don’t like it here.” Her bed was a blanket on the ground with another one folded under her head. She pulled her pistol from under the makeshift pillow and holstered it. “How long ‘til daylight?”

Atá Halné studied the location of the Big Dipper. It pained him to realize he was not thinking of Náhookos Bika’ii, his native tongue for the Northern Male. He had truly been anglicized all those years in Indian School.

“Two hours. No more.”

Esther May rose, shook out her blanket and folded it. “Where are you going? I’ll go with you.”

“Give me a chance to visit the brush first, will you?”

“Uh—well, yes, sure. I’ll go in this direction.”

He hoped his teeth weren’t shining in the dim starlight, but he couldn’t keep from grinning. If embarrassment glowed, Esther May would have lit up the camp.

Wake Up and Suffer

Misery gripped Easterly, squeezing his body, pressing him hard to the ground. Licking his dry lips was hampered by evil-tasting grass in his mouth. A headache pounded and reverberated between his temples. What happened? No memory. Trying to look around wasn’t working. His eyes wouldn’t open. The effort resulted in the confirmation that his face was in the dirt. The only sound was the thud of each heartbeat.

Someone was shouting. Who? Atá Halné? Yes.

Easterly inched one hand to his face and pulled down a lower eyelid. Nothing. He pushed on the upper lid and there was his companion. Standing on a sideways world. Easterly’s senses spun. He heaved.

“Great,” Atá Halné said. “You’re in fine shape to introduce yourself.”

Easterly felt a hand grab the back of his belt and drag him. He threw up all the way to the river.

What Went On?

The world had stopped spinning after his friend dumped him in the stream. Easterly’s hair still dripped and smelled of riverbank mud, but the vomit was gone. He couldn’t look at greasy bacon but managed to chew up half a biscuit.

Easterly sat against a wagon wheel and carefully nursed a hot tin cup of coffee. He burned his lip trying for too big a sip. “Oh, that’s not fair. I already ache.” He sat the cup in the grass to cool.

Atá Halné finished a breakfast of biscuits and bacon. He gathered his plate and spoon in one hand and held a cup of coffee in the other. “Would it make you feel worse to know that you owe your life to Esther May, here?” He raised the cup in the direction of a young woman.

“How?” Easterly slurred. “I don’t remember you. There were two men here. Men, no women.”

“I got here later,” Esther May said. “Your dog put up a vicious battle for you until then.”

Easterly sat up higher and studied the surroundings. “Where’s Hund?”

“Recovering,” the Navajo said. “Also thanks to Esther May.”

Do you think Hund is really recovering? Leave a comment.

To read the series, click on September 2017, in the Archive list and start with Tales Old Roy Told.

Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays.

Thank a veteran. The time to do so is precious.

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