Is He Alone
C.J. held his breath and listened. The only sound was insects along the stream as they chirped and buzzed their evening songs as the last gleam of sunlight faded. He was sure he had seen a flash of light up a side canyon moments before.
Darkness hid any telltale signs in or out.
C.J. pressed his lips together and wished he was a savvy tracker, all he could do was identify horse, cattle, and deer tracks. He could, of course, tell which way they were going. That was the extent of his skills.
He patted his horse’s neck, and with a creak of leather, dismounted. He held the cheek piece of the bridle and brought the mare’s face close to his.
“What do you think, Skewy? Do you have another ten miles in you tonight?” C.J. rubbed her velvety-soft nose. “Yeah, you’d do it if I asked you to, but I know you’re tired. I am, too.”
C.J. drew in a long breath and slowly let it out. “This is a good place to rest. Water and grazing for you, but I took off with an empty poke.” He shook his head. “If there’re Indians up that draw, how many do you suppose—two, three?”
He realized he whispered the one-sided conversation and took a quick glance around as if he could have been overheard.
“Okay, here we go, old girl. I can’t believe I’m doing this, but I don’t want Apaches behind me.” He gave a snort. “And they may have grub they want to share.”
He tied Skewy’s reins to chaparral. If he didn’t make it back, she’d be able to pull free when she needed to.
He drew his pistol and, crouching low, started up the canyon.
A Long Sneak
About a furlong in, ten chains, he saw a flickering glimmer on rocks against the left canyon side. A landslide on the right provided a slope from top to bottom.
Creeping closer, he climbed the natural ramp and peered over.
A man hunched over a tiny fire was heating something in a cup. A burro looked directly at C.J. The animal coughed a rasping noise nowhere near as appealing as Skewy’s soft nickering.
It was enough. The man stood and sighted C.J.
“What in the world are you doing up there? Come on down for coffee.”
C.J. worked his way down to the fire and studied the man. He was obviously a prospector and near C.J.’s age. “Thanks. I sure could use a cup.”
The stranger had the donkey’s pack on the ground, and he rummaged through it until he found a spare tin cup. “This’ll be easier to hold if you put that gun away.”
“Sorry,” C.J. said. “I was expecting Apaches.
“Seems reasonable. You’re smack dab in the middle of their country.”
He poured the coffee, which made C.J.’s cup too hot to hold. He set it down and took off his kerchief to wrap around the handle. Finally, he took a sip that burned his tongue and left grounds in his mouth.
It was wonderfully refreshing.
C.J. dragged a sleeve across his mouth. “So, you out here all by yourself?
“Me too. I’m C.J., by the way.”
“A two-letter name. That’s cutting it short. I’m Eb.”
“That’s a pretty short one, too.”
“Well, that’s what I go by, and we’ll let it go at that,” the prospector said. “Besides, now I think on it, I ain’t alone. I got this damn donkey with me all the time. What’re you doing afoot?”
C.J. finished the coffee with a healthy slug of grounds filling his mouth. After spitting and wiping his tongue, he said, “I got a skewbald mare tied up back there. If you’re inviting me to your fire, I’ll go get her.”
To C.J.’s surprise, Eb chewed his lip in concentration. C.J. expected a, “Sure, come on in.”
“That’ll leave tracks right up here,” Eb said. “And this gully shows color, too.”
Eb slapped his fist in his other hand. “What the hell. Damage has already been done.”
What does finding a possible companion mean for C.J.? Leave your thoughts here.
Prospecting in the Arizona Territory could pay off—if the prospector could survive. This is an interesting article with pictures.
C.J. is near points 43 and 44 on the Arizona map. Look for Payson. Esther May is near 45 and 46. Look for Globe.
To read the series, here’s the first post. This will be Tales Old Roy Told. Tap the down arrow in the Archive box to open the list. After Tales Old Roy Told, work upward.
Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays.
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