Stream of consciousness, as usual…
Comments appreciated as always!
Rio turned onto the trail beside the river and said softly, “Don’t look like a river to me, but I think Uncle Ethan brought me this way before, so I guess this is the Cache la Poudre. We’re almost there Red.” He started humming softly and Red, his roan gelding, twitched his ears. “Okay, okay no singing. Maybe an hour Red, then you’ll be home and I’ll get you get a nice bait of grub and a stall, then I get a real bed, not a damn bedroll on the ground!”
Buck and Jack had been taking turns watching the river trail from their vantage point on the ridgeline since early morning. Jack was snoring lightly, laying in the shade of the pines, propped on his saddle. Buck saw the lone cowboy coming up the river trail. “Too far,” he mumbled to himself. After fifteen minutes or so, he eased the new Winchester rifle with its Malcolm scope across the back of his saddle, grumbling a bit as he finally got the rider in the scope, slowly let out his breath, and touched off a round.
The shot echoed down the canyon as Buck watched the rider fall from the saddle and lie still in the middle of the trail. The roan scampered a few yards up the trail and stopped as Jake jerked away grabbing for his gun until he heard Buck laugh.
Buck laughed. “Got ‘im. I tole ya I could hit him from here!”
Jack crawled forward and peered over Buck’s saddle, “Are you sure? The ol’ man don’t want anybody goin up that trail.”
Buck replied, “You see him layin’ there. If ya don’t believe me, go look for yourself!”
Jack got up, “Nah, it ain’t worth the ride, whoever he is ain’t moved. He’s dead.” Jack looked at the sun’s position and continued, “If’n we’re gonna get back to the ranch, we need to mount and ride. We’ll come back tomorrow and get his horse and saddle. It’s too far back to the crossing to make it over there today. And that horse ain’t gonna stray that far.”
In answer, Buck picked up his saddle and started saddling his chestnut as Jack threw his saddle over his grey gelding.
As dusk was falling, the roan nudged Rio’s foot again. He moaned and finally rolled over. Staggering to his feet, his head covered with blood, he stumbled toward his horse. Red shied away at the smell of the fresh blood and Rio grumped, “Dammit Red, stand still!” He grabbed the stirrup mumbling to himself as he climbed into the saddle. Leaning forward he mumbled, “Com’on Red, go home. Go home, fella.”
The roan turned and plodded slowly up the river trail as dusk turned to night, the cowboy swaying in the saddle.
Red stood ground reined in front the old stone cabin and Rio slumped on the steps, too dizzy to even try to make it up the steps. Going in and out of consciousness, he wondered if he’s going to die before his uncle, Ethan came back. Pretty sure I sent him a message I was coming to see him on the way back. He should have gotten the message. Too dizzy… “I’ll get you in the stable Red, you just gotta wait.”
Red pricked his ears, turned and neighed as a man riding a horse came into the clearing. Rio looked up, and saw an old Mountain Man, late 60’s, solidly build, bearded with long gray hair, dressed in buckskins, “Unk Ethan, I’m…I’ve been shot.”
Monte Henderson, the old mountain man, tied his horse to the rudimentary stable, and walked slowly over, his old Colt Navy conversion in his hand. “Damn, I’m getting tired of findin’ bodies up here.” Getting his toe under Rio, he flipped him over, and Rio moaned. Monte leveled his pistol, “Well, you ain’t dead are ya?”
“Help me or shoot me, but you better not kick me again, ol’ man. Pretty bad when you kick your own kin.”
“Hell boy, you ain’t in any shape to tell me anything, and you ain’t my kin.” Monte shook his head, and stepped around him, going into the cabin. He found the table and felt the lamp, with the chimney raised and pulled out a Lucifer, lit it, and carried it back out the door. He looked Rio over, then took the lamp back inside, leaving the door open.
Shuffling and grunting he got Rio up and into the cabin, half carrying him to a bunk and rolling him into it. “Damn boy, you a heavy one, lessee where you been shot.” He holds the lamp over Rio, and asks again, “Where you shot boy?”
Rio mumbled, “I dunno, my head hurts real bad. I member falling, nothin’ else.”
“Only thing I see is this scalp wound, don’t look like you’re hit anywhere else.”
“I can’t see real well, ‘m seein two of ya Unk Ethan.”
“I ain’t Ethan, lemme see if’n I can patch you up there boy.” Monte rummaged around, heated some water, and found an old shirt that he tore strips off of for a bandage, and some left over horse liniment. He turned back and saw that Rio has passed out, “Well, this makes it easy. You ain’t gonna complain are you, boy?” Dabbing a corner of the shirt in the hot water, he patiently worked the blood out of the scalp wound, slapped some horse liniment on it, and wrapped a strip of shirt around Rio’s head. He tied it off, grunted and said, “Huh. Dunno if you’re going to make it or not, boy. We’ll see if you’re alive in the morning.
Taking the lamp, he went out, grabbed Red’s reins, then led him over to the stable, unsaddled his horse, put it in a stall, pitched some hay in, then repeated the evolution with Red. He set both saddles over the rail of the empty stall and hung the bridles from the saddle horns, then picked up his trap door Springfield and Rio’s Spencer and walked slowly back to the cabin.
Miles away, in the bunkhouse on the Circle K ranch, Buck snorted and laughed as he said, “You shudda seen it boys, at least 300 yards weren’t it, Jack?”
Jack leaned back in his chair. “Maybe, but it was downhill, so it was a pretty good un.”
Callahan sipped his coffee and asked, “What did the ole man say? You gonna get a bonus for this un?”
“He ain’t said yet, but I think so, He wuz real happy ‘bout what we done though.”
Callahan spit in the fireplace. “Taint fair, I set on that damn trail for a whole week and never saw nobody but our riders. How come you get ‘em all Buck? Ain’t this your third one?”
Jack plopped his chair down, interrupting, “Buck’s just lucky, but with the boss wantin’ to get the rest of that range, everybody’ll get some of that money sooner or later.”
Callahan rolled his shoulders and walked to the door, throwing the remnants of the coffee out. Dropping the cup on the battered table, he said, “Maybe I get off this damn nighthawk shit, I can get some. I’m as good a shot as you are Buck, and you damn well know it.”
Buck bristled, then saw that the thong was off Callahan’s pistol. He shrugged. “Ain’t my call. Talk to the segundo.”
“Maybe I will. C’mon, Murphy. We gotta ride.”
Buck grinned. “Have fun boys!”
Murphy contented himself with smacking Buck in the back of the head as he went by. As he and Callahan walked down to the corral, he asked, “How come we keep getting the nighthawking and they get all the good jobs and bonuses?”
“Probably because they have no problem killing somebody by shootin’ them in the back. I ain’t that cold blooded.”
Murphy snorted. “Or from ambush, apparently…” They quickly caught horses, saddled them and rode out into the night.
Monte poured a cup of coffee and walked over to Rio, kicking his foot. “You still alive boy?”
“Yeah old man, I’m still alive. And I’m not a boy! Name’s Rio, Rio Hackett.”
“Okay boy, and I ain’t Ethan, or whatever you called me last night.”
Rio sat up with a groan, holding his head. “Well, ya kinda looked like him last night. And you sure as hell act like him,” he winced, “I don’t feel so good, still can’t see worth a damn and my head is killing me. Where am I?”
Monte pushed the cup into Rio’s hands, “Here. Drink this and I’ll try to find some herbs to put in a poultice on yer head. You’re in a cabin on a bench in Poudre Canyon. I found ya on the steps last night.”