Western Short Story
His horse went down at last, the great , friendly beast with his last breath had taken him to the entrance of the canyon and dropped dead. “You even saved me a bullet, Red,” Clanwood said, as he piled what loose rocks he could find atop the corpse of Red Herman, his mount for almost seven years.
A tear in his eye found a small place in his cheek to start a roll. One tear. “Not a lot, Red, but I’m not a crying man. You know that, horse. You know that.”
He patted the last stone in place, a round, weighty stone that might hold off the scavengers for a few days. Or, he thought, until the sun got to it and the heat and the stink drew all kinds of carrion hunters, spiders to the flyers. He looked overhead to see if the big wings had spotted Red Henry yet.
He turned his back and walked into the canyon. He had no idea where he was or what was going on in his life behind him.
Except this was Arizona. Except there was at least a remnant of a posse on his trail. Except he had nothing to show him the way to someplace else. Except he was thirsty and hungry and could sleep for two weeks or two months.
The strange, funny, totally ridiculous part of the whole thing was he had committed no crime. His spit hadn’t even missed the spittoon in the last saloon he’d been in.
In the innards of a small crevice, at least six feet up off the ground, he had managed to lie down. Squeezing up and squeezing in, drawing a knee and an elbow as tight and as close to his body as he could, he squeezed up and in. The metal of his spurs made tinkling sounds, scraping sounds, lively sounds. Breathing was possible, pleasurable. He sucked on one finger until he thought he had generated some saliva. He thought of the spittoon again. He thought of spitting again. One leg was burning with an unseen fire. Maybe the spot where a bullet had nicked him, maybe a muscle was just plain sore. Hell, he was sore all over.
He didn’t even count himself alive. He just slept. He did not say his name. Made no pleas. Said no jokes. Counted his breaths until they were no longer countable. He slept.
He slept. Without Red Henry as much a watchdog as any mutt, he slept.
It could have been hours, days, minutes.
The slight, scratching sound woke him. He smelt something that was alive. Not cooked, but could be.
The sound came again. From below him. From Red Henry’s last place on earth.
Straining one arm, drawing it along his waist, he touched the butt of his pistol in its holster, a holster he had managed to slide onto his waist as he had crept to this tight chamber. It came away in his hand, a delicate, balanced, sense of weight that teased him. He hoped he had a round in the chamber. One round.
With one eye he spotted the snake at Red Henry’s site. A rattler. The diamonds gleamed in their setting, some brightness of sun had found the figures. He saw blue and red.
With aggravated silence and pain, he aimed the pistol, squeezed the trigger, killed the snake. The gunshot echoed in the rocks like a tin drum was beating in his ears.
He would eat.