Dog lying in sleep with mountain background.

Two More Graves

Esther May insisted on two graves: one for Harold and one for Hund.

It was another source of shame for C.J. that he ached more over the loss of the dog than the human. But the little dog had saved his life at the Rio Grande and was wounded for the effort. Why had Hund followed C.J.? He never knew. The dog adopted him, that was the only fact that mattered. Now, he had hopped up the mountain as far as mortal breath would take him.

Goodbye, Hund.

C.J. didn’t trust his emotions to voice a prayer. Evidently, Esther May didn’t either. They stood in silence at the graves beneath the exposed roots of juniper trees.

Where Does Esther May Stand?

Esther May drew a sleeve across her brow. She slapped the western-style hat against her leg to shed the dust before placing it on her short-cropped hair. Without a word, she went to a spot where she could sit on a rock and overlook the disaster scene.

Would she stay withdrawn? Was she in denial? C.J. didn’t know. She still looked like a young man the way she dressed in breeches, work shirt, and hat. She held up her end of the labor along the way, and she faced the recent trials with more self-control than he did. Why did C.J. ever see Esther May as a helpless maiden that needed rescuing?

Enough maudlin reminiscing. C.J. untied Skewy’s reins.

Esther May took note. “Where are you going?”

How About C.J.?

“I’ve still got the yellow boy and cartridges in the saddlebags.”

“You can’t be thinking of going after the war party? That’s crazy.”

“Can’t be sittin’ here.”

“Look. Maybe we ought to turn around like Miriam and Silas said.”

“It was your idea to go to Arizona. This road is the way to get there.” Why did he say that? It sounded like he blamed her for the state of distress in which they found themselves.

If Esther May took the blame, she didn’t dwell on it. “We can be well away back to the river by the end of the day, C.J. It’s just us on horseback, no wagon to creep along. We can travel as fast as the Indians now.”

C.J. mounted his horse. “That’s what I’m counting on.” He got an unidentifiable twinge, almost like homesickness, as he stared at Esther May. Perhaps it was panic at the realization that he was saying goodbye. “There’s nothing back in New Mexico for me.”

“There’s life. Don’t do this, C.J. You’re not a fighter. You don’t know the country or how many Indians are out there. Nothing!”

“I know I’m going to try for the ranch you told me about.”

Esther May’s lips tightened until they were white. “Don’t do that! Don’t you dare blame me for getting you killed. I’m telling you now, turn around and live. If you don’t, it’s your decision. Not because I lured you into going.”

He sighed. She was right. He wanted to blame someone else for his misfortune. He supposed he’d always done that.

Skewy shifted under him. It was time to ride, one direction or the other.
His introspection deepened and C.J.’s inner voice—his soul—screamed as he faced the truth of his pretending character.

It was time to grow up.

How He Feels

“I’m sorry, Esther May. I think you’ll make it back to Albuquerque or Las Cruces okay.” The lump grew in his throat. “I reckon I love you, but they killed my dog.”

C.J. rode away. He wiped the tears out of his eyes and searched for the war party trail.

With his blurry concentration on the tracks and scanning ahead, it took him a moment to realize that Esther May rode beside him.

The decision is made. Will either or both survive? Leave a comment now.

Have you ever wanted revenge? Check out this article. It’s long but interesting.

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.

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