A Cowboy Tale

Dust floated through the desert air. Horse hooves clipped and clopped onto dry ground, jostling a lone rider. Sweat poured down his body. A holstered rifle swung gently at his right side. The weather was fine, thought the man on horseback, but would be finer if only there was a breeze. Weather had never been among his greatest friends.

A war whoop rang out from behind. He directed his horse sharply left, just barely swinging out of harm’s way. A mounted Indian, glistening tomahawk raised over his head, sped past at a gallop. He whooped again. The cowboy unsheathed his rifle just as the Indian began to turn around for a second pass. Raising the implement to his shoulder, he fired. Miss. He felt his hand work the weapon’s lever. Again! Another miss. “Confound it,” grumbled the man. Once more the action cycled, once more his rifle bucked. Hit! The whooping brave slumped out of his saddle and crashed onto the dirt. The dead man’s mount scurried away. “Jesus Christ almighty,” complained the cowboy. He sighed and sipped some water as his horse cantered towards the downed Indian, rifle across his lap.

Then there was another whoop. No, a collection of whoops. It almost sounded to him like he’d just entered a hen house. He worked the lever on his rifle again and turned to meet the Indian gang. There were four of them, and this time some carried firearms. Bullets whizzed past the cowboy. His horse danced from left to right, anxious. “Woah there, woah.” His assailants remained about seventy yards away, but they were coming fast. He fired till the rifle clicked empty, downing one of the oncoming Indians.

He had just begun to reach for his sixgun when a bullet burrowed into his horse, sending the creature tumbling towards the ground. Their journey down to earth didn’t take long. The cowboy’s leg was pinned. He couldn’t move. The woops grew louder. Shots continued to come in. They were thirty yards, twenty-five, twenty yards away. His Colt cracked. Two Indians fell. The third’s horse crumpled. This warrior’s fall was much more graceful than the cowboy’s had been. He drew a knife and started towards the crippled pioneer.

The pistol, still warm, clicked. The fear of God was in him now. The Indian pounced on him. A ground-crawling melee ensued. The Indian was trying to outmaneuver the cowboy, twisting in such a way as to put pressure on his entrapped leg. The Indian landed a glancing blow on the pioneer’s face. He grimaced in pain, gritting his teeth as he tried to wrest the knife from his attacker. The Indian dropped the knife, compelled to do so by a solid punch to the side of his head. The cowboy grasped for it, took hold of its handle and with all his might stabbed at the Indian. Steel met flesh time and time again in an epic clash of tool and man. The Indian finally lay still.

The cowboy exhaled in relief. There were no more war whoops, only the groans of one wounded Indian. Of course there was his leg, which still lay under his fallen mount, but that could be taken care of. With a series of shoves that sapped his remaining strength the cowboy released himself from under the beast. He tried to stand, struggling at first to stay upright. Over to the wounded Indian he limped, bloodied knife in hand. His boots kicked up dust as he came to stand over the wounded man. The Indian clutched at his stomach, blood running out his mouth and down his cheek. Eyes filled with a sorry kind of fury looked up at the cowboy. The Indian removed one hand from his wound. He made a slitting motion across his neck with a shaking hand, then nodded and gulped.

The cowboy stood silently for a moment. “You want me to put you out of your misery, huh? Not today, Injun.” He started off in the direction he’d been heading before, the Indian watching after him with helplessness in his eyes.

Evening was approaching and the sky was beginning to fill with twinkling stars. Along a Western town’s wooden sidewalk a lone man loped, hoping to find refuge from the sand. Catching sight of a seedy-looking establishment, he slanted his path towards it. The cowboy staggered through the saloon’s swinging doors and took a seat at the bar. A pair of men at his left, the only other people in the bar, recognized the newcomer as trouble and left. They figured he was trouble by the Colt he carried openly in his left hand and by the powder stains on his face. A nasty gash below his left eye also spoke volumes.

“Pshaw! You’re scarin’ away all my customers!” Roared the barmaid. “And ya looks like hell, mister,” she said softly, “What’ll it be?” Her words sounded almost accusatory, reminding him of a wife who’d told her husband not to do something only to find out he’d gone and done it anyway. He hated it when people talked to him like that. He asked for whiskey.

“I may look like hell, ma’am,” he drawled as the sixgun in his hand slid back into leather, “But I feel like heaven.” A glass came up to his lips and Irish rotgut cascaded down his throat. Fire in the stomach, an iron on the hip, and nothing in the heart. The way it ought to be, thought the cowboy, The only way it could ever be.