When Imala was out of sight with his clothes, C.J. knew he’d been played for a fool. Imala made it clear she wanted his skewbald horse, and now Skewy was loose.
What if there wasn’t only one way in or out of this hidden glen, as Imala said? She could be sneaking around to another entrance to capture his horse.
Check It Out
C.J. cussed himself as an idiot and jogged to the slot canyon, his shoulders bouncing up to his ears with each step to ease the impact on his tender feet.
He light-footed his way down the gravelly path, and at the gorge’s mouth, under an oak bush found his clothes.
A quick survey of the area confirmed he was alone—no one waited in ambush.
Washing Wouldn’t Hurt
C.J. grabbed his garments. Relief mixed with embarrassment made him grit his teeth. While he was glad to find his coverings, they smelled of body odor and dirt. Imala had to have noticed how much he stunk.
Still, he couldn’t wait to get them on as he became aware of how white his untanned skin was, and how the sun burned it.
Dressed, C.J. sat in the shade and pondered his options.
Try to find another way into the hidden valley, and catch Imala sneaking out with Skewy.
That idea held a certain appeal to him.
He could hike on to Cibecue.
Or, he could go back through the slot canyon and grab Skewy first.
The last option would have the fastest answer. Either his horse would be there or not.
C.J. walked back into the glen. He grabbed Skewy’s halter. At least Imala hadn’t hauled the horse’s gear out.
The fact that Imala had only grabbed his garb showed that she meant to slow him down while she carried out her horse-thievery.
Blind To Her Plan
C.J. cussed himself anew as he walked farther into the lush oasis. He went past the pond, pushed through tall grass, and startled a covey of quail.
When the heavy flutter of their wings died out as the birds landed and ran away, silence descended into the valley again.
He could hear his heart thumping in his ears—the almost underfoot quail taking flight had momentarily scared him. As beautiful as this place was, C.J. decided he didn’t want to be here. It was unnatural.
Lost In Thought
He started walking again when a soft nickering made him jump.
Skewy stood under a willow tree. The little mare grazed and blew dust and pollen from her nose. She had merely said, “Hi.”
C.J. rubbed the mare’s neck and pressed his face against her. Her equine odor was strengthened by the pile of horse apples a few feet away. The best smell in the world.
He slipped Skewy’s halter on the horse. “C’mon, girl. Let’s get back to settin’ the world right.”
Ride Out Or Not?
C.J. had Skewy saddled and was about to leave the glen, but he hesitated. “Let’s take a turn around this place, Skewy. I’d like to find that back door.”
Three hours later, C.J. was back at the pond. He gave slack in the reins so Skewy could lower her head to drink. “So there’s only one way in after all. Imala still didn’t have to take my duds unless she went to fetch someone to help her come claim you, old girl. Well, drink your fill, and we’ll be going.”
A Long View
Out of the slot canyon, C.J. turned south and rode up a rounded-dome hill and stopped among the junipers. From his vantage point, he saw two riders approaching.
He recognized the flowing hair on one—Imala. The size of the other indicated a male companion.
C.J. pulled his pistol from the saddlebag.
Will C.J. shoot Imala? What do you think?
See pictures of slot canyons in Arizona.
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