Foaming at the mouth, Dusty needed no breakfast. For a while, he slipped in and out of consciousness wondering what that big bright thing in the sky was….”
by daniel s. irwin
Dusty knew he was in for hard times when he headed out West. He’d had plenty of people tell him of hardships that they had suffered or heard about in tall tales. He thought of all that as he hunkered down among the rocks on the forward slope of the hill waiting for his attackers to come. They had been hot on his trail for more than two days.
He was grateful that the ride, so headstrong and merciless, had killed his horse. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have the raw chunk of horse rump that he now gnawed on. Always the optimist, Dusty scanned the horizon with his good eye…the other he lost when it was popped from the socket by a blow to the back of the head in a saloon brawl. A shy man around the ladies, the disfigurement of the back of his skull from the mismatch in healing had become an advantage in striking up conversations with the unkempt, obnoxious women that he, as a true frontiersman, preferred.
Often, when waiting for a fight that may be a man’s last, one reflects upon events in life. Dusty thought of his visit to the ocean, his only time on the coast. He remembered the day that the shark took his leg while swimming and how, had it not been for his poor aim in chopping wood the day before, he would have had both arms to fend off the creature and help swish away the blood flowing from his not-so-well-healing shoulder.
Dusty pulled out his hunting knife, accidentally slicing his stomach in the process, and cut himself a piece of cactus. He had leaned that certain cacti held water. He put the piece in his parched mouth (raw horse rump tends to get a bit dry, probably from the hide). Wrong cactus, dry and bitter. Fortunately, the cactus needles stabbing his tongue added a new aspect to the horse rump.
Still, he waited. When night fell, as it often does in the desert, Dusty hacked up his wooden leg to build a fire-a true stroke of genius as, had he had matches, he could have prevented the frostbite to his toes and might have been able to spot the rattlesnakes that cozied up to him in the chill of the night. Nature’s alarm clocks, their fangs gave him the jolt he needed to wake at dawn. Foaming at the mouth, Dusty needed no breakfast. For a while, he slipped in and out of consciousness wondering what that big bright thing in the sky was.
High noon, the heat was unbearable, Dusty checked his ammunition. One cartridge for his rifle; his revolver, empty; knife, remarkably back in the sheath with no injury to himself.
Riders on the horizon. Kiowa? Navajo? Apache? Zulu? Zulu? They came closer. And closer. And…rode by without noticing Dusty watching them from his hiding place among the rocks.
Jake! It was Mule Brain Jake, Goat Face Floyd, and Hank Red Turtle! Dusty was saved.
“Jake! Jake, you ol’ mule brain!” Dusty cried in his faltering parched-throat voice.
“Dusty? That you?” called back Jake. “We been lookin’ for you for days. Two Cows the medicine woman said you ate her peyote by mistake and rode out like a madman.”
“What?” replied Dusty. “Peyote? I thought that liver soup tasted kinda strange.”
“Two Cow say you owe her much wampum for spiritual mushrooms,” said Hank Red Turtle. “Maybe she take your rifle to pay.”
“That’s a deal!”
And, with that, Dusty handed Hank his rifle. Hank cocked it and shot Dusty.
Dusty fell to the ground, “Why’d you do that?’ he asked.
“You ain’t got no horse, Dusty,” said Goat Face Floyd, “You’d die like a dog out here tryin’ to make it back. We can’t let you go through that.”
“You’re right,” gasped Dusty, “I’m a lucky man to have caring friends like you.”
With that, Dusty died.
“Hey, I just though of something,” said Mule Brain Jake. “He could of rode double with one of us.”
Floyd and Hank looked at Jake with astonishment at such wisdom and each gave an affirmative grunt.
(photo: john richen)
Daniel Irwin is an artist/writer (both a matter of opinion) who works as a medic in a maximum security prison “’cause my creditors expect to be paid and I gotsta eat.” His work has appeared in various publications in the U.S. and other places, including Cerebral Catalyst and Admit Two…he got some really good hate mail from some of ’em and sent some really good hate mail back to a few.