Perched on the lookout ledge, C.J. could see most of the box canyon. He had seen Apaches at the mouth of the gulch down by the river, but they were only a man and woman engaged in a romantic game of tag.
Near the closed end of the gorge Eb was prospecting an outcropping, oblivious to a mountain lion stalking the pack-burro.
C.J. skinned his hands and knees climbing the steep canyon wall to be in a spot to detect danger. But now that he was here and needed to warn Eb, C.J. was lost for a solution.
If he fired his pistol, surely the Indians would hear and come investigate.
What else could he do? C.J. patted his pockets as if an answer were in one. If he had a mirror, he could flash it and catch Eb’s attention. His gun had shiny spots, but if he couldn’t direct the light, anyone might see the sparkle. Eb probably wouldn’t anyway.
C.J. cupped his hands around his mouth and tried to whistle. He made a small noise but was too dry to blow anything more than a high-pitched whoosh.
The big cat edged closer toward the donkey.
C.J. was going to have to shoot.
But then what?
Maybe the noise would scare off the lion, and if the Indians came, they’d miss him and go for Eb.
That wouldn’t help the prospector at all.
Moreover, if the Apaches discovered C.J.’s hidey-hole, he would be trapped.
A dust storm of confusion swirled through C.J.’s mind. One thing was sure: he had to get out of this dead-end canyon, and he needed his mare, Skewy, to do it. He would try to stay true to his word, though.
C.J. fanny-scootched off the ledge and went down the side, sliding and tumbling rocks. Gaining his feet before leaping again, he waved with feeble shouts. He hoped the prospector would hear but no one else.
Hopping and waving all the way down, he could always say he tried to help Eb.
Tell ’em We’re Here
Before C.J. reached his horse, he heard screeching. The donkey’s lung power filled the canyon, echoed off the black, stony walls, and sent a tingle down C.J.’s spine.
Skewy had her head up and ears forward. She added her whinnies to the vocal explosions that ripped the stillness where nothing had whispered but a breeze.
If Your Mother Heard You Now
C.J. spewed his full catalog of cowboy swear words. Words that a year ago, he would have been embarrassed to say aloud.
He mounted and spun his horse toward the river. “Time to get out of here before it gets crowded, girl. Let’s go.”
Before he put the spurs to the skewbald mare, he stopped and gritted his teeth. He ducked his chin to his chest and scrunched up his face in thought.
Straightening, he shook his head. “I’m an idiot, but I ain’t never run out on a man yet. I reckon we’ve got time for a quick check.”
He turned back up-canyon and kicked the mare into a lope.
A quarter-mile farther, Eb was tapping a sample with his rock pick. The prospector shoved his hat back and studied C.J. “Had a cougar up on the shelf. Why didn’t you warn us?”
C.J. fisted his scratched and raw hands as heat burned his cheeks. “If you’d get your head out of the dirt once in a while, you’d have got warned. I couldn’t make no noise because of Indians down at the river.”
“Indians, huh? Well, Damn Donkey scared off the cat, but I ’spect he’s told the Apaches we’re here.” Eb stood and slapped his hat against his leg, sending up a dust cloud. “Time to leave.”
“Look, Eb. I came back to make sure you’re all right, but we’ve gotta make tracks. You can ride double with me, but we’re gonna have to leave him.” C.J. pointed at Eb’s burro.
“I can’t leave him,” Eb said. “No need, anyway. There’s a hidden side trail we’re gonna take outa here. I’ll show you how to reach a little settlement that has tomatters, fresh milk, and soft biscuits.”
“You sure you can—”
Damn Donkey bit C.J.’s outstretched finger.
Are things looking up for C.J.? Don’t forget to leave your comment.
Called Rocky Mountain Canaries, a donkey’s overloud braying sounds like a marriage between a foghorn and squeaking drawbridge. They can be heard almost two miles distant and can detect each other from 60 miles away.
Here’s an article having fun with Rocky Mountain Canaries.
Horses have their own language. Here’s a fine compilation of their sounds.
To read the series, click here for 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.
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