A Ride Out With Friends - A Western Short Story
The baby snuffled, started to pull a face and sighed. His mother, Jacali, lay on the hot ground with the others; she raised a blanket and covered herself and her baby son so that the sound of his cries would not carry.
A mile or so away where the rutted track wound like a ribbon amongst the green leaved creosote bushes and the spiny mesquite shrubs three men rode towards the hidden group of Chiricahua women and children.
The riders had their heads down under a sun so bright that the whole sky shone like polished silver and burned like a naked flame through their clothes. The air felt hot and heavy.
The lead rider, a tall thin man of thirty with a high crowned wide brimmed hat jammed low on his head, took his canteen off his saddle horn swirled it to see how much liquor he had left, pulled the stopper out and took a long pull. He held the warm mescal in his mouth for a moment and let it trickle down his throat.
‘What do you reckon Myron?’ The only sound was the dusty thud of their horses’ hooves on the dry ground, after a minute or two Myron jammed the stopper back in his canteen. The dry leather of his saddled creaked as he turned to look at the man behind him
‘What do I reckon about what?’
Barney had a thin face with a whisky flush; his cheek bulged where he had packed it with tobacco
‘They’re offering as much as $25 for an apache kid’s scalp. Get us a few of them why we’d be richer than possum gravy.’
Myron turned forward again and swept an arm out
‘There ain’t no goddam Apaches for miles.’
In the hollow the baby grew increasingly restless. Goyaale lay close by with his pony; he stood and pulled the pony to his feet. It was a stocky pinto filled with courage and speed, Goyaale ran a hand down his forehead to his muzzle. He glanced at the others and whispered
‘I will lead them away, I will head north, maybe they ride in peace.’ Goyaale was thirteen. He was slim and small with long dark hair held in a thick headband, a bow looped across his back. He wore buckskin clothes with moccasins long enough to reach his thighs but folded back below the knees making a pocket for his knife.
He walked his horse away from them down an arroyo; the gully sides were crumbled and cracked, it was little more than a dusty trough of land that climbed to a ridge half a mile away. Goyaale knew that the riders would see him when he came over the ridge and across a basin of sandy, stony land with sparse bush and coarse grass. He decided to lead them to the far hills that were grey with stone and shale, their slopes dotted with bush. In the far distance rose the Jemez Mountains shaded blue against the yellowed plains. Goyaale leapt onto his pony’s back and took him immediately north where the land lifted into a dry pinyon covered steep sided hill that rose to a small plateau. He stood on the skyline and watched as the three white men rode towards him.
It took a long time for them to notice him.
‘Hey,’ said the third man, Hughie, a scrawny old timer whose skin was so dark he looked like he had been baked on a fire ‘Lookit, there’s $25 worth of Apache sat there watching us.’ They nudged their horses over towards the hills where Goyaale waited. The young brave dismounted, he slid off his pony’s back like water off a rock and the two of them stood shoulder to shoulder. Myron pulled out his Mississippi rifle, loaded her up, thumbed back the hammer and squinted down the sights
‘Don’t spook him Myron make sure you hit him but good.’ The shot rang out, the big barrel lifted with the recoil and the bullet missed Goyaale and kicked up dust ten paces to his right.
Myron rammed the rifle back in his saddle holster
‘Goddamit Barney hollering in my ear don’t help none. I had him deader than a door nail until you started yapping.’ Barney turned in his saddle and looked at Hughie, Hughie raised his eyebrows and said
‘Myron when you fire that gun the safest place to stand is next to the feller your aiming at.’
‘I killed me plenty’ said Myron ‘and they all deserved what they got. Apaches ain’t no different, them fellers need killing anyhow just on general principles.’
They looked over at the ridge and saw that the young brave had not moved other than to fold his arms across his chest and wait. Myron stretched forward in the saddle, leaned his arms across the pommel, pushed his hat up on his brow with his fingers and said
‘That boy reckons he ain’t scared one bit. Come on let’s cut some dirt, let’s get up there after him.’ The three of them kicked their horses into a run.
Goyaale watched them head his way and smiled, the others were safe now, and he was content. I fight for my tribe, he thought, it is these men who are at fault not the Chiricahua. He welcomed the challenge. In his short life he had already proved that he could endure hardship without complaint and that he was a stranger to fear. He had dreamed of the day he would die and believed that it was many years away but he would welcome it. He would be dressed in his best clothes with his face painted and wrapped in rich blankets; they would carry his body to a cave in the mountains wrapped in splendour and seclusion.
He watched the men ride towards him and he could tell that they thought it would be a simple thing to kill him, but men had underestimated him before and lived to regret it.
I am warmed by the sun, Goyaale thought, rocked by the winds and sheltered by the trees. I can go everywhere with a good feeling. Come then white men if you seek to harm me then we shall ride the clouds together.
Goyaale’s pony stamped his hooves, tossed his head, shook his mane and Goyaale vaulted onto his back and the two of them poured like liquid down the slope.
Myron, Hughie and Barney whooped and hollered after him, slapped their horses and booted them into a wild untidy run across the dry land blanketed in sunlight. Goyaale knew where he was leading them and the three men blindly followed in a haze of alcohol and dust.
They rode on under a hard blue sky through a valley bright with sunshine. Heat waves bounced off the horizon into hot air that seemed to glitter. They could taste the heat and smell the hot dirt that swirled around them.
Two Chiricahua braves sat on ponies on a far peak and watched
‘The boy has done well.’
‘Yes, he has saved my grandson,’ said the old chief ‘he will lead them towards us but we will watch, for now, let us give him this day. He is the little shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.’
‘He will bring them this way.’
‘Yes but not to seek our help. I believe his challenge is to himself and the white men set against him. I think he will leap the sky.’
The scalp hunters chased him across the land and he led them higher into the jagged hills where the slopes became steeper and brighter against the sky.
Myron started to lose interest; his horse felt tired now he could hear the heavy laboured breathing deep in his chest. Myron slapped the horse on the rump and lashed the rawhide reins across his shoulder; he loosened the reins and let the horse work its own way up the crest of the hill. He reloaded his Mississippi rifle.
They all saw the young Chiricahua top the rise and race down the other side, they closed in
‘His horse must be played out by now,’ said Barney ‘I could have sworn it almost stumbled.’ The land had hardened and they saw the boy’s silhouette moving down the steep incline in a thick screen of powdered dirt but whatever secrets the dusty cover hid from them it kept to itself.
The three men thundered down the narrow trail, their horses were coated in sweat their coats glossy and lathered around the saddle and neck and foamed across their hind legs. The trail had been eroded by the wind over time and dirt billowed in a sandy red cloud, as they ran it rose and swirled around them masking the three riders faces. They rode on like pale ghosts. Their horses’ hooves hammered against the powdery, fine earth. The warm wind tugged at their hats and pushed their coats out behind them. They gained on the young boy; they crouched forward and leaned into the necks of their horses. The gradient increased as the trail wound down and they saw the young Apache emerge from the shadows of the dust cloud, bursting forward like an arrow. The boy shouted and leapt into nothing.
In one terrifying moment the three men saw the ravine yawning in front of them. Barney and Hughie did not have time to react, their horses tried vainly to stop but both horses and riders plunged over the edge, falling like rag dolls to the distant rocks below. Myron leaned back in his saddle and dragged on the reins; the horse sank onto his hind legs and skidded to a halt. Myron tumbled out of the saddle and rolled; he jumped up and drew the rifle from his saddle holster. He stood on the rim of the gorge and waited for the dust to clear.
Goyaale and his pony cleared the gaping ravine, almost 20 feet wide, and he now stood straight backed with his elk horn bow in his hand, safe on the other side. He pointed the bow to the ground and threaded an arrow to the bowstring. He held three fingers on the bowstring around the arrow and raised the bow up. He drew the string to his cheek and waited.
The figure of the white man loomed out of the settling dust and stood in a shroud of floury dirt. Goyaale saw the rifle barrel watching him like an unblinking eye and he relaxed his fingers to release the arrow. It hummed across the open space and slammed into the man’s chest.
The two Chiricahua on the hill watched with immense pride.
The old chief said
‘What did he shout as he made that jump?’ The brave next to him said
‘The Mexicans have their own name for Goyaale, he used that, he shouted Geronimo as he jumped.’
And that’s how it all started.......maybe.
© 2018 John M McNally