TO DO OR NOT TO DO
They were tired. The day had been hot and long and they had been pushing hard through most of it, just as they had done the day before and the day before that. Now, finally as the hot day was melting into late afternoon they had come across the railroad tracks that Heyes had been sure were out there somewhere. They sat their horses a hundred yards or so from the tracks, squinting in one direction and then looking in the other, seeing nothing but tracks and grass and brilliant blue sky.
A slight breeze came up and sent the grasses rolling like a soft swell of the ocean and men and horses both closed their eyes and savored the relative coolness of it washing over them. In unison both horses dropped their heads and started to graze. Curry took his bandana from around his neck, opened his canteen and poured a small amount of warm water onto the cloth.
"Are you sure you want to do this Heyes?" he asked as he re-wrapped the dampened bandana around his neck and then leaned onto his saddle horn.
"Well, I don’t see as we have much choice," Heyes answered as he squinted back down the empty track. "It’s either that or riding on three or four more days in this heat and we’re running out of supplies."
"I know, but if it’s this hot out here I don’t even want to think about how hot it’s going to be inside a boxcar. At least out here we have some breeze."
Heyes glanced over at his partner, "Kid, I’m beginning to get the feeling that you’re loosing faith in me."
"Not you Heyes, just your idea." Answered Kid, "Besides, I don’t see a train coming."
"Give it time, it’ll be along."
The two men sat quietly for a few minutes, the only sounds being the buzzing of flies and the horses munching grass. It was obvious to Heyes that there was something on the Kid’s mind but the younger man was hesitant to bring it up.
"Come on Kid, your silence is deafening. What’s bothering you?"
"No, not nothin." Countered Heyes, "What are you thinking?"
"Well Heyes, ya know I don’t want you to feel insulted."
Heyes sat up straighter in his saddle and became slightly defensive. "What do you mean, insulted?"
"Well, hopping trains is for young men," answered Kid. "And you’re what, thirty-one now? I’ve noticed you’re slowing down some and I’d hate to see you get hurt."
Heyes bristled slightly, feeling insulted. "What do you mean, slowing down? And you’re a fine one to talk!"
"What do you mean? I’m still in my twenties!"
"Yeah, twenty-nine years and ten months!" Heyes threw back at him, "And I seem to recall you saying; ‘That small a difference don’t make no difference at all.’ Or some such."
"Well, fine." Answered Kid, "But I’ve noticed that your leg hasn’t fully healed yet. You pretend everything is fine, but I’ve seen you winch with pain whenever you happen to step wrong on it. You try running along side a moving train and that leg gives out on you that would be it! You bruised that muscle real good, which isn’t surprising considering you have no fat around it for protection."
"Oh, are we getting on to that again?" asked Heyes, exasperated. "Like I’ve said before, I’m not skinny! I’m lean!"
"Yeah, lean and bruised….and crippled."
"Crippled!?" Heyes bristled even more.
Karma-Lou tensed slightly and raised her head from grazing. Her human’s voice was rising in anger and being the self-centered diva that she was, she was certain that he was angry with her. Subconsciously Heyes stroked her neck and she relaxed and went back to grazing. The simple action brought Heyes’ stress level down as well and he continued to gently pull his fingers through her mane.
Kid noticed this interaction and smiled slightly. He knew Heyes was becoming fond of this mare and though his friend would never admit it, he really did not want to leave her behind to hop a train. Kid took it upon himself to support him in this matter, anything at this point to avoid jumping onto yet another moving vehicle.
"Besides," Began the Kid, giving his seal brown gelding a pat on the neck. "Ol’ Buck and me have been together for awhile now and I’m really getting quite fond of him." Curry smiled. "Kind of hate to part with him now, if’n I don’t really have to."
Heyes looked over at his partner suspiciously. There was something more going on here than met the eye and he was bound and determined to get to the bottom of it.
"Nope." Said Heyes, "I’m not buying it."
"Not buying what?"
"You trying to put this on to me." Heyes answered. "Come on Kid, there’s something eating at you and I want to know what it is."
Kid hung his head slightly, feeling a little ashamed that Heyes had nailed him, but still it was to be expected. They each knew the other so well that there really was no point in trying to hide anything. Still, Curry hesitated, not quite ready to own up. Heyes sat quietly and waited. He knew it was coming he just had to give his friend time to come to the same conclusion.
"You remember Carl Murdock?" Curry finally asked, though still not looking up to meet Heyes’ eye.
Heyes’ expression became serious; he paled slightly and swallowed at the memory. "Yeah," He admitted. "I try not to think about it."
"Well I can’t help but think about it Heyes. Every time we hop a train, or have to jump offa one it’s there in the back of my mind. I can’t get rid of it. And when that incident happened well, he wasn’t much older than we are right now."
"I know." Heyes answered quietly. "Being around trains the way we are can be dangerous, there’s always a chance that an accident could…"
"No, Heyes." Curry cut him off. "Not just a chance, it’s a sure thing sooner or later. We’ve just been lucky. A slight misjudgment of speed or distance and that’s it. Carl didn’t even look like he was in trouble, one second he was hanging on to the ladder between the cars and the next he had disappeared." Silence ensued. Curry sighed and shook his head. "By the time that train had finished rolling over him…." Curry hesitated for a moment, looking like he might be sick. He got himself under control and then quietly continued. "I never would have thought it possible for a man’s body to be so broken up and contorted and he still be breathing. Damn it Heyes, if he had been a horse we would have taken pity on him and shot him right then and there! Instead we had to try and keep him alive, causing him die slowly and in agony, bleeding to death from the inside. It wasn’t right Heyes, it just wasn’t right."
It was Heyes’ turn to hang his head. "I’m sorry Kid." He finally said, "I didn’t realize this had been eating at you all this time."
"Well, I was always able to push it back before." Kid commented. "But that last time we ran into Harry and we tried hopping that train, I swear Heyes when I saw that ground coming up at me full speed ahead I thought for sure I was dead."
"You’re not the only one." Heyes mumbled. Then he sighed and tried to lighten the mood, not really wanting to go back to the memory of that day. "Well, you know they say the best way to get over being throwed from a horse is to climb right back on again."
Kid gave him ‘the look’. "I really think they were referring to the four legged kind of horse Heyes, not the iron kind."
Then they heard it; the not so far off whistle of a train heading their way. All four of them looked down the tracks towards the engine chugging towards them, rattling and clanging and spewing smoke.
"Well, here she comes." Commented Curry needlessly.
Nobody moved. The two horses, being used to trains dropped their heads and began to graze again. The two men sat passively, watching the locomotive as it came up level to them. The engineer, spying them out there on the grasslands sent them a friendly wave and quick toot of the whistle. The two men smiled and waved back.
"Well, there she goes."
"Yup." Heyes smiled over at his friend. "I seem to recall passing a nice little grove about a mile back, would make an ideal spot to camp for the night."
Curry returned the smile with relief, "I think I know exactly where you mean Heyes. Sounds good to me."
They pulled their horses’ heads up and headed at a trot back the way they had come.
"Think you can get us a rabbit or two with that fast gun of yours?"
"I’ll certainly give it my best shot Heyes."