Do For Eugene
A gap underneath two boulders became Eugene’s grave. C.J. used a dried juniper branch to dig away as much dirt as he could. He worked a rock out of the way and scraped the loose dirt from the hole.
“That’s enough.” It was the first Esther May spoke since leaving the carnage.
C.J. couldn’t quit. This was the first effort he made since shooting the turkey that meant anything. The struggle of living was futile. He scraped harder and saw his tears fall in the dirt.
The Shame of Pretenders
A jolt of embarrassment tightened his stomach and heated his face. He was crying on top of everything else. Another jarring realization swept through him. In his dreams, he was the hero who saved underdogs and rescued maidens. This day made clear the shame of his incompetence.
A slaughter of fellow travelers and their livestock occurred. He hadn’t helped them. Moreover, it mortified C.J. that Esther May saw the horror that drove settlers out of the country.
No. It was more than that. She didn’t flinch.
Esther May faced it all with a pale-faced, resolute determination. When he came to it, he threw up and almost fainted. But there was still something else.
Esther May saw a naked male figure.
But that didn’t count. How could it when neither she nor Eugene had control over the situation?
C.J. clamped his teeth together. How could he be such a judgmental moralist? Death threw a quick rope. There wasn’t enough time for anyone to lay down their remains for display.
Settle Him In
“That’s deep enough.” Esther May’s voice was soft. “It’ll do.”
C.J. stopped, took a long breath and exhaled through tight lips. “I suppose if we curl him up. But there’s a rock there that’ll poke him. I should get that out.”
“It’s okay. He won’t feel it.”
C.J. looked at Esther May full-on for the first time since finding the killings.
She had tear tracks on her face.
They placed Eugene’s body in the hole so that it snuggled the protruding rock. How could a full-sized young man fold so small? Skin and bones seemed to collapse and shrink without a soul to fill them.
Then came heavy rocks on top to keep animals from digging up the remains. Esther May lay branches on Eugene’s head to pillow the weight, and they scooped in the dirt.
Esther May slapped the dust off her hands. “Do you have any words to say over him?”
Thoughts filled C.J.’s mind in a rush. His recent embarrassment proved him unworthy of helping a spirit meet its maker. “No. I reckon I couldn’t say ‘em right. You got anything to say, go ahead on.”
Esther May recited the Lord’s Prayer.
C.J. lay the juniper branch over the grave, and they left Eugene to the mountain.
C.J. insides went hollow. The experience was happening again, except they were going uphill back to their camp instead of down the mountain.
A tinge of smoke in the air, horses’ ears twitching forward, back, sideways. No sound but saddle leather creaking, hooves stepping on black dirt.
They were in danger.
The implication hit Esther May at the same time. Wordlessly they dismounted, weapons in hand.
There were differences between the raid on their camp and the one they left earlier.
The horses and mules were gone. Fire still burned in the ashes of the wagon. It was a loss, but an intact wheel tilted against a charred axle.
Harold’s body remained untouched.
Esther May fell to her knees with a hair-raising, drawn-out cry. “Noooo.”
In front of her lay the lifeless form of the loyal little three-legged dog, Hund. Two arrows made sure he would never again use his hopping run to greet them.
Will C.J. and Esther May turn around? Should they? Leave a comment now.
Here are some interesting historical accounts of Apache encounters in the Arizona Territory. They are told from a white point of view, but it’s obvious that the Apaches are the masters of the country. The personal tales start a little way down the page.
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.
Thank a veteran. The time to do so is precious.
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