Esther May Wakes Up
Esther May rolled to her other side. Her blankets were nice, but the ground beneath her bedroll was uneven. She scooched her knees, hips, and shoulders until she fit the lay of the land as her daddy used to say.
Memory returned in a rush. The men she killed—the evil man in the sombrero …
By the time it took her to jerk upright in a sitting position she was soaked in sweat, her heart thumping strong enough to muffle sounds. She caught a movement in the corner of her eye and screamed.
Easterly held a tin cup with a rag. He looked as frightened as she felt. She swiveled, turning this way and that but saw no one else. She was on her knees, ready to leap up and attack or defend.
Easterly patted the air in a “sit down” motion, what was he saying?
“It’s all right, Esther May. We’re safe. Here, I made coffee.” He gathered some of the rag in the palm of a hand and grabbed the cup’s bottom. He turned the handle toward her. “Hold onto the rag. It’s hot.”
She couldn’t shake her fear. “If we’re safe, why did you look so scared just now?” She heard her voice tremble and took a breath.
He half snorted, half chuckled. “Well, you did scream like a rebel.” He shrugged. “It caught me off-guard, I guess.”
He passed her the cup. The coffee smelled delicious in the morning air. A breeze brought welcome aromas: leather harnesses and the horses that wore them, axle grease and campfire smoke. Birds were chirping and here came Hund hopping on three legs. He plopped down beside her.
A sip of coffee brought her back from the surreal world of nightmares. Another bracing swallow chased the fear away. “It all looks different this morning.”
Easterly sat on his haunches. “It should. I moved us a little way from where the Mexican had us.” He frowned and drew lines in the dirt with a stick.
“Moved us? When?”
“While you were knocked out.”
Esther May remembered. She touched her fingertips to a thick scab on the side of her head. “How long …?”
“A week. A little over.”
She surveyed the area again. “Where’s—”
“Don’t say his name!” Easterly looked away.
“Something happened. Tell me what.”
He snapped his drawing twig in two and grabbed another. He took a deep breath and looked her in the eyes. His were wet. “You were hit hard, and I’m sorry. But while he was busy with you, my partner jumped at him.” Easterly ducked his head.
She could see his throat swallowing. “Go on.”
“He didn’t make it. The Mexican shot him.”
Flies buzzed. Esther May heard the horses snap the green grass between their teeth with a jerk of their heads as they grazed. She knew why Easterly’s Adam’s apple bobbed. She had to swallow the lump in her throat as well. But they had survived somehow. They were still here in spite of the man with the pistol. “What happened to the Mexican?” She scanned the area to make sure he was indeed gone.
“I hit him with a rock.”
“Sure, and that made him run off and leave his wagon?”
Easterly wilted. “I guess I didn’t want to say it. I shot him. Three times.”
Esther May gulped. “Thank you.”
“Something weird happened, though.”
“Yeah. You were down. I really thought you were going to die.” He grinned a feeble upturn on one side of his mouth. “Everybody else was dead but me when some relatives, I guess, of my friend showed up. They had a medicine man with them, he was their leader, evidently. He doctored your head and chanted over you.”
Easterly rubbed his jaw. “I still can’t believe it. One of the men told me that the medicine man gathered them to come take … uh, my friend’s body to keep it from being befouled by white man’s burial customs.”
“How did they know he was dead?”
“That’s just it! They started out before all this happened to us.”
“Where did they come from? Not Albuquerque, surely.”
“Farther. Santa Fe. They were on the road for three days coming here.”
Esther May knew she was staring but couldn’t help it. Her mouth was probably gaping too.
Easterly swept his hand around the clearing. “That’s why we’re here. He told me to move from where the killing took place. That location lost its harmony. He also said for us to move on as soon as you were able to travel. We are still too close to the unbalanced area.”
What will the mid-teens Easterly and Esther May do? Leave a comment.
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