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Join date : 2013-08-25
Age : 45
|Subject: Crossing Sun Aug 10, 2014 8:10 pm|| |
CrossingHannibal Heyes and Kid Curry rode west into a hazy sun late on a hot Kansas afternoon. Letting their mounts set the pace, they squinted at the ribbon of hard-packed and cracked trail stretching into the distance, coursing through expanses of undulating grassland and occasional parched coulee. Still with nary a breeze, the air hung almost as thick as last night's impromptu campfire stew.
Cotton-mouthed themselves and with triple canteens each almost out, they searched for a good place to make camp. Mindful of water and grazing for the horses, each tried to ignore the sensation of hunger in his throat. Forage and water had been easy to come by last night in the greener, slightly higher elevation, but the golden blanket before them now was only occasionally interrupted by a verdant patch.
The stillness broken only by the tedious rhythm of the horses' hooves on hard ground, both men pulled the brims of their hats further down to shield their eyes from the relentless sun. Steady rocking lulled more than babes to sleep; at least grown men could fight the urge.
"HEYES, DO YA SEE THAT!"
"Wh-what, see what?" Heyes stuttered, jarred from his half slumber in the saddle.
His enthusiasm undeterred by free-flowing sweat, Curry wiped his eyes with a bare forearm, and then again with the blue sleeve rolled up to his elbow. "There's something in the road, up ahead."
Heyes adjusted his hat yet again from the rays now only two hours shy of setting and peered down the trail. "I don't see anything."
Kid looked again. "I'm tellin' ya, I ain't crazy. I see somethin' movin'."
"Not saying you're crazy. What is it?"
"Movement." Kid stopped and sat upright in the saddle. Wrapping the reins loosely around the pommel horn, he removed the brown hat, mowing his tendrilled hair back under the head covering. How he wished he could do the same with the curls matted on the back of his neck.
Heyes checked his horse as well, mirroring his partner's actions. Grabbing his last half-filled canteen, he allowed himself only a brief swallow. The liquid was warm, but at least it was wet. "Lots of mirages out here, Kid, and I think you're seeing one."
"It's not a mirage. There's somethin' movin' in the road up yonder."
"Any idea what it could be?"
"Whether something's out there or not, we have to keep moving if we're gonna find some place to camp before sundown." Heyes gently reined his bay to the same slow pace, all that the heat allowed.
Following suit with his gelding, Kid observed, "Full moon tonight. We'll have more time."
"Maybe ..." Heyes' own interest lay in what seemed the outline of rises in the distance. But was that too a mirage? "Kid, do ya see those hills?"
"Yep." Curry focused for a moment. "At this rate, we'll have to make tracks if we're gonna reach them by sundown."
The men urged their mounts on, albeit a faster walk was all the stifling conditions allowed. Water was Heyes’ foremost concern. Jerky and hard tack could do for dinner, although a hot meal would be more palatable and preferable, especially for his partner. Though more alert, Heyes soon slumped back in his saddle to the silent tedium of before, while Curry remained upright.
An hour later, the hills still loomed ahead -- no mirage, this -- and Heyes figured they had halved the distance. The rises were not high; nothing was around these parts. But the hoped-for possibility of cooler climes, good grazing, and a source of water as they had last night was tantalizing. The rocking of his mount soon had him nodding off once more ...
"THERE IT IS AGAIN!"
Pulled startlingly into the steamy present by his partner's outburst, Heyes quickly shortened rein as the bay bolted from his sudden moves. The dark-haired man rolled his eyes. "I think the heat's got ya."
Kid shook his head in annoyance. "Why? I'm tellin' ya, Heyes, there's somethin' movin' up ahead."
Heyes humored him. "Come on, Kid. So where is it now, in the hills?"
"Nope, still in the road."
"We've ridden a long way since you first saw it. Maybe you're just seeing things."
"I'm not seein' things. I tell ya there's somethin' up ahead."
"And what is it?"
Heyes rolled his eyes. Impatiently, "And what's moving?"
Curry peered ahead, pausing to focus. Finally, "I don't know, but it's movin'."
Heyes rubbed his face, taking in his partner. Sure, Kid could be excitable at times, but he was mostly a steady sort. And he normally did not wither in the heat; complain maybe, but not wilt. But they had been plodding along all day, and the day before that, and the day before that, with barely a rest, eager to escape the bone-dry. Was Kid cracking on him? Today they had stopped only twice and then briefly at that to answer nature's call and let the horses drink a little from the canteens. Between jobs and low on funds, time was of no essence, except for the next watering hole.
They had come to Kansas a couple weeks before on a lark, for a change of scene, hoping to pick up a little job or poker here or there, but nothing had panned out. Heyes felt the odds of same diminishing, and they had turned west to return to Colorado, although he still hoped for better luck in Dodge, or Fort Wallace, or wherever the wind, or lack thereof, blew them on the way. The listlessness of the season and the monotony of the trip made the days seem twice as long to Heyes, and who knew how long to Kid.
Another little while passed in silence. Curry remained ever vigilant, blue eyes straight ahead, mesmerized. Finally, Heyes heard an all too familiar click -- Kid had unholstered his Colt and had it at the ready.
Heyes took in the landscape. He saw nothing that should alarm his partner. "Kid, what're you doing?"
Louder, slower, calmer, "Kid?"
Finding himself surprised at the steadiness of Curry's voice, Heyes tried to mask his growing concern. "What's the gun for?"
"Just in case."
"In case what?"
Kid turned to his partner, annoyed. He sighed. "You know, Heyes, just in case."
The next ten minutes for Heyes passed at both ends of an emotional spectrum: Guarded elation at seeing a bit more green on the hills growing ever closer and worry as Curry remained on high alert and at the ready, but for what?
Suddenly, Kid shifted in his saddle, took aim, and emptied the chamber. His mount skittered. Then, calming and checking the horse, he reloaded the Colt and holstered the weapon.
Heyes pulled alongside and looked at him, dumbfounded. "What was that?"
Kid wore a smug, almost silly, expression. "You'll see."
"Uh huh. Is 'it' still moving?"
"Nope. It stopped."
Heyes' brow furrowed. They had almost reached the hills, which in turn practically obliterated the sun. It should be cooling off soon, at least a little bit. That had to help.
Kid dismounted. By this point, Heyes could only watch as his partner grabbed a rope and walked down the trail. Lost in thought, he sighed and closed his eyes. For the first time, he realized how tired he really was; the heat had drained him. What had it done to his partner? Exhausted or not, in a role reversal he would steel himself to keep an eye on Curry tonight.
In the meantime, Heyes watched in fascination as Kid tied something up, ambling slowly back, grinning widely. The dark-haired man squinted as Curry held up the bundle: two fat sagehens!
Relieved, but also inwardly kicking himself for doubting his partner, Heyes smirked. "That was the movement?"
"Yep. These two must've gone plum loco in the heat, ahead of us the whole time, crossin' over the road, back and forth."
Heyes had to say it. "So why did the sagehen cross the road?"
Kid laughed. "To wind up on our dinner plates!"
Fast is fine, but accuracy is everything. ~ Wyatt Earp