Up The Canyon Wall
The lookout position was an indentation high in the cliff face. A six-foot ledge meant C.J. could stretch out if he wanted.
How did Eb, the prospector, find this place? For C.J., it had been a strenuous, finger and toe climb, and he had dislodged rocks that left scuffed marks easily seen by a casual glance. Yet, C.J. saw no tracks or disturbances that anyone had been here.
Even bird signs were scarce.
He took a swig from a canteen and settled in to catch his breath. The canyon lay quiet below him, a south-to-north gorge sloping down to the mouth near the westward-running creek—a stream Eb called the Salt River.
C.J. chuckled at the thought. At least there was running water in the stream, but westerners didn’t know what a river looked like. They still called some of the dry scars of ancient waterways rivers.
In the other direction, C.J. picked out Eb and his donkey. In his tattered clothes, beat up slouch hat, and wearing a beard, Eb passed for an old man.
It had been a shock that morning when C.J. realized that he and Eb were close to the same age.
Are We Old?
C.J. brushed fingertips against his growing mustache. He couldn’t look that old, could he? What was he now, fifteen, sixteen? He was sure he wasn’t seventeen yet, but it seemed like 5 years since he left home.
C.J. was a grown man now. And he was watching out for Indians—like those two down by the creek almost a half-mile away.
C.J. perked up and gave them his full attention.
A graceful woman in a white blouse and blue skirt ran in and out of the trees. Her light steps floated, more than propelled her. She rounded a seep willow shrub, turned, and danced side-to-side, keeping the bush between her and her grinning pursuer.
Definitely Not Hostile
If the flirting couple had been white, C.J. was sure he’d hear their laughter.
These two had to be giggling, but they weren’t loud.
The woman feinted left. Her suitor didn’t fall for it and leaped over the right side of the bush to grasp her waist. He lifted her and spun, twirling her like a dandelion. She spread her arms and flew, her shiny, black hair an unfolded raven’s wing.
Following a close embrace, they disappeared deeper under the sycamores.
The lovers’ meeting left C.J. with an ache at the bottom of his throat. He should have had a relationship with Imala like that. He’d tried to make it plain; that’s what he wanted.
She wanted something else.
C.J. rubbed his eyes. He’d told Esther May that he loved her.
She wanted something else, too.
Both women he loved had treated him like a calf raised on sour milk—runty—to be culled from the herd. The next time, by golly, he’d get what he wanted.
Back To Here And Now
At least those particular Apaches weren’t a threat. C.J. turned to search for Eb.
The prospector had moved to an outcropping of rocks with a white trace running down them.
C.J. suspected the showing was quartz, and he’d heard that gold was sometimes found in and around quartz. He’d thought it was another story that locals tell greenhorns, but Eb was there poking around.
Either the tale was true, or Eb had swallowed it too.
C.J. spent time alternating his attention on the river—the couple never came back—and Eb. The prospector was definitely working his way up and down the white streak.
Maybe A Heatwave?
As C.J. turned his head away from Eb, a movement caught his eye.
A blur higher up the side of the canyon wall.
C.J. scanned the area above and to the sides of Eb.
Nothing. It must have been a loose eyelash.
There it was again, and C.J. picked it out. A mountain lion slunk along the wall on the smallest of footholds. It wasn’t even a ledge, more like a crease in the layers of rock.
The cat was at least 8 feet long from nose to tail tip, and he was angling to reach Eb’s donkey.
How does C.J. warn Eb without alerting the Apaches? Don’t forget to leave your comment now.
Here’s a video of mountain lions in Arizona (bonus – if you want a thrill, rattlesnakes follow)
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