C.J. awoke to the grit of hard dirt against his face. Pressure on his skull made him think someone had their foot on his head, pushing him down. He tried moving, but jolts of pain ricocheted from behind his eyes, around his skull, and left his mouth in a groan.
He got to his hands and knees. Dizziness made him dig his fingers into the sloping ground so he wouldn’t tip over.
He threw up. The tension in his stomach with each heave made his head pound worse. C.J. crawled away from his little pool of vomit and sat down.
Touching the back of his head confirmed the source of his discomfort. Mostly dried blood, some still sticky-wet, covered an egg-sized lump under his hair.
For a while, C.J. was content to sit and breathe. It was too much effort to think. He was hot, thirsty, and sick with a mountain-sized headache.
Where is Everyone?
Awareness seeped in as his eyes gained a more distant focus.
Imala was gone. At least he couldn’t see her, but she could be out of sight for several good reasons.
Great Hawk wasn’t around. That was good news. Also, the memory of speckling the warrior’s face with gunpowder and burning off half his hair with a near-miss gunshot made C.J. forget his pain for a fleeting second.
Something else was poking C.J.’s discomfort. He checked himself to make sure ants weren’t crawling over his skin.
Wasn’t ants. Taklishim was chanting from his wickiup.
C.J. felt the lump on the back of his head again. The only person who could have clubbed him from behind was Taklishim, the medicine man.
C.J.’s gun lay nearby. Why didn’t Great Hawk take it and finish C.J. off? The warrior certainly had time. Taklishim had returned to his chore of singing to the canyon spirit before C.J. recovered.
Imala must have made an impassioned plea that saved her white lover. C.J. lingered on that thought.
C.J. crawled to his gun and brushed off the dirt. The weapon was still in good shape. He got to his knees and sat back on his heels, carefully pointed rearward to avoid the spurs.
He half-cocked the hammer, flipped open the cylinder and replaced the expended round. A wave of strength, like a fresh breeze, flowed over him when he shoved the Colt back into its holster. The familiar weight on his hip completed him.
Not Quite Complete
His head exploding with the effort, C.J. stood and wobbled to the shade of a tall juniper. He sat and closed his eyes until the spinning stopped.
When he opened them, he expected to see Imala coming to bandage his head.
Her unfinished wickiup stood as he last saw it.
The medicine man’s bony-hipped horse was tethered nearby, swishing his tail in a half-hearted swing, his nose in a chaparral shrub.
Slowly turning his head and squinting first one eye, then the other, C.J. took stock of the camp.
Skewy wasn’t where C.J. left him.
His little skewbald mare wouldn’t go with anyone else. She was a one-person horse. Others had tried to ride her, and only C.J. had succeeded.
Of course, Imala had been riding with him all this time. Skewy must have taken a liking to the Apache maiden. That must have been Imala’s plan all along. She made no secret of her plan to ride into Cibecue on Skewy – the Spirit Horse.
C..J. staggered to the medicine man’s wickiup and stooped inside. Taklishim sat cross-legged behind a smoking log. He held a pottery cup of red powder in his hands. His eyes were closed, his chin held high while he chanted and swayed.
“Hey, old man! Is Imala coming back with my horse?”
Not Welcome Here
Taklishim twitched as if startled. He scowled and spoke rapid Apache while making a shooing motion toward the entrance.
“I reckon I know what you’re sayin’,” C.J. said. “You don’t care a hoot ner holler that you caved in my skull and let my horse get took.”
The medicine man’s voice grew louder, his gestures wilder.
“I’ve had it,” C.J. said. “You wanna howl about something, I’ll give it to you.”
C.J. pulled his gun and shot Taklishim through his left knee, shattering the joint.
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Here is a true tale highlighting both sides of humanity during a clash with Apaches in Arizona in 1872.
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