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After The Knife Work

Picture of a horse's head and neck with the sun's rays streaming from behind.

Last One Standing

Esther May balled her fists, sticky blood on her fingers. At least it wasn’t her’s this time. Likely it was the Apache’s she cut.

Or C.J.’s from when she pulled the arrow out of him.

What were men that they could find one another in such a small area of the imposing Mimbres Mountains, and having met, kill their likeness? Two warriors and a white scalp hunter now lay on the ground, dirt absorbing their lifeblood.

C.J.’s eyes had turned up and his lids closed. Esther May let him sag as he sat until he tilted to one side. She studied the pale, drawn face of the young man who had declared his love for her and trembled.

Shaking hard enough to make her teeth chatter, Esther May took in the scene: three dead men, another one passed out, and two horses standing patiently, swatting flies.

Breakpoint?

Her tears spilled. As they did, Esther May filled the air with swearing. She never uttered such language before. She concocted new words, some that would make a mule-skinner blush. As the venom spewed, a tiny part of her gentleness prayed that God would shut His ears and eyes to her actions. She didn’t want to be a foul-mouthed butcher.

All she wanted was the Arizona ranch. That was the dream that set her and Daddy on the trail.

She let C.J. talk her into chasing a war party and all this happened. Then, he wet his pants at the first fighting Apache he saw.

Esther May pointed a sticky red finger at the unconscious C.J. “You didn’t think I noticed that, did you?” She looked at her hands, picked up some dirt for scouring and dry-washed them.

Talking aloud calmed her. Inhaling a shuddering breath, she took stock of her situation. “What now?” Take control or let circumstances dictate her response? She made a decision. Whoever had the most weapons lived. “No more stumbling along hoping for the best. I’m gonna fight.”

Gotta Have Weapons

Esther May gagged as she took the rawhide strip with the scabbard on it from the warrior she fought. She put his knife in the pouch and strapped the loop around her waist.

The first Apache they trailed was similarly armed. This Indian was face-up, one eyelid almost entirely closed, the other open. His filmy dead eye looked straight at her.

Esther May vomited, then took his belt and strapped on his knife too.

She went to her gelding and rinsed her mouth with canteen water. Her hands shook and she wanted to cry. Instead, she hugged her horse’s neck, pushing her face into the coarse mane.

Esther May drew comfort from his living warmth, the equine smell and the ordinary sound of his teeth as he gnawed the bit in his mouth. She felt better by noticing the pile of road apples behind him. The world was still normal.

She patted the animal and moved to check the scalp hunter, Clyde Stinger, for what she could use. Without looking at his face or scalped head, she went through his pockets.

Clyde was a walking bank. She found twenty dollars in silver in his pockets and over three hundred in folding money in a wallet. Pay was good for Apache scalps.

She took Clyde’s belt. With it, and the two rawhide strips, she now had three knives strapped around her.

She remembered something else. Where was Clyde’s rifle: a durable Henry model? Didn’t he leave it against a tree?

“There you are.” Esther May laid it down beside C.J.

She checked to make sure he still breathed then took his gun belt.

“This is getting a little ridiculous.” Esther May readjusted the knives and strapped on the pistol. She slid two knives, Clyde’s and an Indian’s, to one side, and put the gun and another Indian knife on her right hip.

There was a picture in Las Cruces of a Confederate soldier with crossed bandoliers. Now, wearing four belts, two were rawhide loops and two leather, Esther May understood the confidence the reb projected. She was armed and deadly.

Her gaze fell on the soft quiver that came off the Apache’s belt when she took it for the knife.

With a short, “Don’t leave anything!” Esther May picked up the pouch of arrows. She found and retrieved his bow. “Now, I’m ready.”

She stood in front of the unconscious C.J. “I’m so mad at you that I’m tempted to leave you here. But since you finally got enough gumption to get in the fight, I’ll take you down the mountain.”

Are Esther May’s actions normal? Did C.J. behave realistically? Leave a comment now.

Here is an article on how people can be expected to react to trauma.

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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