Attacked at Silver bluff

A short story by JW Edwards AKA Campfire Shadows

ConantTrailCabin

Chapter 1

 

I only had nine cartridges left that fit my Sharps rifle but the dozen or so renegade Apache Indians bent on killing our small group hunkering down in the silver prospectors cabin at Silver Bluff in the New Mexico Territory didn’t know that.

For the last two hours, lead was flying back and forth with both sides receiving little or no injuries.
The Prospector who owned the cabin only went by the name Pick, short for Pick Axe assume. He was still pretty much in the dark as to how this activity had come about. Still, he saved his questions for a more opportune time. He paid little mind to the holes perforating shutters and only door.

I apologized for the damage being done to his place but he just looked at me like I was loony. “It’s only wood, I’ll make new ones soon’s this scuffle’s over.”

I guess I need to expand on my opening statement about the cartridges.

We weren’t short on fire power. As a Federal Marshal along with my three deputies and an ex Texas Ranger who attached himself to us along the way, we all carried more than enough ammunition to last a good Indian siege. I only mentioned the Sharps rifle because the angry group outside wasn’t aware that I had one yet.
Colt hand guns, Winchester rifles and other various makes and models of fire power completed our arsenal. We were fully packed but still trapped inside a one room log cabin.

Before I go any further with this tale I better also explain the who, what, where and why of all this.

Yesterday, as we made our way from the Arizona territory into the mountains of New Mexico we became aware that our back trail had been compromised. By late afternoon we were able to use the new fangled scope on the Sharps to visualize who was trailing us. We were surprised to see it wasn’t part of the rustlers we followed but was in fact a small but determined looking group of Apaches.

As for the retired Texas Ranger, it was his cattle that had been rustled and he wanted ‘em back. It seems after he retired from the Ranger service, he bought a ranch in Arizona and had all intentions of living a peaceful if not boring life raising cattle.

When he discovered his cattle had quickly dwindled in number over night he called upon his ex Texas Ranger boss to see if he could pull some strings in Arizona for some help. That’s when I got the order to gather a few Deputies and see what we could do for him.

My God! If there ever was a typical looking Texas Ranger it was him. Long lanky limbs, thin as a rail and with no ass to speak of that made wearing a pair of leather suspender braces mandatory to hold his pants up. His bow legged brown corduroy pants tucked into his tall heeled boots were outfitted with the biggest silver Mexican rowels I’d ever seen completed his waist down attire. Up top he wore a clean white long sleeved shirt protected by a spotted leather milk cow vest. What some folks have now been calling a wide brimmed western hat kept the sun from his face.
The hat wasn’t really necessary since his giant salt and pepper bow shaped mustache hid most of his face from the nose down any way. With a Texas drawl so pronounced it was common for him to have to repeat himself for our understanding. We ended up nick naming him Mumbles. He didn’t seem to mind this at all, in fact he seemed to revel in his new handle. I guess sporting the name Bartholomew Reginald Bottoms wouldn’t have been his choice for a birth name.

My three Deputies were a mix of two out of work cowboys and a young man fresh off the farm in Nebraska. Nothing made any of them stand out in a crowd, which is why I chose them even though they had little experience in law enforcement.

Young, adventurous and much more physically fit than myself, I used them when I deemed I was too old for this kind of work. Oh, there was a time not too long back that I’d jump from the saddle to tackle a running felon but these days my bones protest too much for such nonsense.

As we made our way through Arizona hot on the trail of at least five rustlers and forty head of ill gotten beeves we were confident this mission would be rather cut and dry. Boy, were we mistaken.

First off, we nearly lost our Nebraska farm boy to the Salt River. Most times it’s shallow enough to even wade across but not this time. The seasonal monsoon rains rose that nearly dry creek to a roaring death trap. How the rustlers ever took forty head across confounded me. It wasn’t till after this near drowning that we found just a mile upstream a ferry operated. The wooden barge carried folks and cattle safely across at a calm spot of the river. We sure felt foolish.

The next day our mounts got spooked by a roar of a mountain lion. Try as we did, we hard reigned up but the dang horses bolted and ran smack into a large cholla cactus patch. After spending the rest of the day pulling out the painful barbed needles with a pair of fence pliers we called it a day and set up camp for the night.

The night proved uneventful and with a stomach full of beans, biscuits and bacon we slept like babies.

Trying to make up our lost time we headed out early the next day. It was before dawn when we found ourselves crossing into the New Mexico territory. Our farm boy Deputy called out saying he had to answer his habitual morning call of nature. I reminded him that it’s always a good practice to relieve yourself way off the trail, even in the dark. Anyone finding his pile could determine how long ago you passed by. At times I even tossed horse apples off the trail for the same reason.

“Don’t you worry Boss I’ll make sure I’m well off the trail but I gotta warn you I got a constitution that takes a while till I can go. It might be full daylight a fore I finish.”

Anyway, I told him, “Ralph, our trail’s easy enough to follow, just catch up to us when you’re done.”

It was nearly forty minutes later that he finally pulled up his drawers and mounted himself back in the saddle. True to his word, the sun was just popping up over the horizon. He sure didn’t exaggerate about him having a slow constitution.

As he was in the process of turning his mount back onto the trail he spotted in the early light of dawn a dust cloud just a few miles behind him.

Knowing how I constantly harped at making sure your back trail is vacant he spurred his mount galloped ahead until he finally caught up to us.

“We got company Boss” He shouted as he neared us.

By the way, maybe this is a good time to say this.
I’m called Boss. Not because I’m in charge but because that’s my name. When I was born I think my parents were either drunk or had been under the influence of loco weed because they named me Boston Cleveland. Rather than calling out two city names every time someone wanted my attention they just shortened it to Boss.

Now, I ain’t been to neither place nor had my folks. Why they stuck me with Boston Cleveland I never had a chance to find out as both of ‘em died early in life from too many arrow punctures thanks to a bunch of pissed off Creeks. It seems they just didn’t like white folk no more’n we liked them.

I was told at the time of the attack my Dad had gently placed my sleeping four year old form in a hidey hole he had dug out under the floor boards of our cabin when he built it. The next day I was found by our neighbors screaming my head off as I tried in vain to push the heavy trap door open. Seems my Mama had fallen dead over the trap door.

Since you all now got the idea of my family an’ how I got my name, I’m taking you back to the cabin story.
I took my Sharps out of its protective leather scabbard and told the rest to keep heading up the trail as I needed to see for myself exactly who was trailing us. I warned them to be on the lookout for an ambush by the rustlers up ahead.

I figured the rustlers may have gotten wise to our trailing them and set up a kind of reverse ambush.They could have split up, leaving half the group to stay put. This way we’d pass them leaving us caught between the two groups. If the group ahead of us turned backwards on the trail they would catch us in a pincer move between them and the rustlers now following us. I admitted to myself I must have underestimated their numbers. Now we had two groups to round up and bring to justice. It sure got complicated quick.

When I rode far enough on our back trail to see their dust cloud. I dismounted and raised the Sharps to get a better look at them through its scope.

To my surprise they weren’t rustlers at all and they now rode at a full gallop.

Chapter 2

I hauled myself into the saddle in less time than it took my heart to beat twice.
Spurring my horse is something I rarely have to do. It seems she has a sixth sense of such things. But, sixth sense or not this time she got spurred.

As I caught up to the group my horse skidded to a stop in a cloud of dust and flying gravel.

“Haul your asses outta here boys” I shouted, “them ain’t rustlers, they’s Indians an’ they’s wearin’ war paint to boot!”

As we all tore down the trail I kept an eye out for a good place to go off trail and either hide or make a stand at. As the terrain began to turn from desert flat to that of having rocky crags I began to have hope of finding a good place to pull over.

There were now some taller trees as we climbed higher. Still, there wasn’t enough of them to hide in.

I turned in the saddle to look behind me and real they were now only a mile or so behind and coming on fast. I started to fear for our lives.

Our group had rounded a large stone outcropping when we spotted the cabin with its smoking chimney. No words were need be said, we all headed straight for it.
A few hundred yards away to the cabins west side rose a straight up and down cliff face higher than any of the other surrounding mounts. The good was, the cliff gave ample protection from the scorching evening sun by its shade and most winds from western born storms. The bad was it’s north face was very climbable. A single man with a rifle could pen down anybody within range of a good rifle.

Whoever was in the cabin was about to have some uninvited company.

Upon our hurried arrival at the cabin’s front yard, the five of us had made so much noise that in no way did it not alert the cabins owner.

Suddenly and without say a word to us, the man opened the front door and stepped out onto the small covered porch. He pointed a bony finger to a corral that backed up to a rock shelf that was part of the hillside. Three sides were fence rails the other the rock shelf.

We dropped off the horses after a quick removal of the saddles and personals. I stopped for a moment and was going to rub my mount down after that fast entrance but then I heard the distant thundering of the Apaches horses and decided it could wait. Attached to one of the rails was a tin feed box filled with what looked like fresh hay. On the way out of the corral I spotted the water tank at the other end, it was nearly full. If anything, the horses were set up pretty well for a few days at least.

Once inside the cabin, the man slammed the door shut behind us and dropped the thick beam across the door to prevent it from being busted inward. He then ran around closing the four thick wooden shutters.

Each shutter had a gun slot in the center and a cross beam similar to the door. It seemed he had previous reasons for building his cabin like a fort.

The wooden roof was covered in a thick layer of dirt and gravel. Not so much sod as just dry desert scrapings. Sod’s a product the desert doesn’t provide much of so dirt was the preferred material.

Before we could thank him, the prospector asked a single worded question, “Indians?”

“You bet” I said, “maybe a dozen or more, look like Apache too.” I replied.

“Yup, figured as much. They’s a break off group a young-uns hell bent on makin’ a name fer themselves. Seen ‘em around here before.”

He wasn’t a man of many words but what he did say answered a lot of questions..

We heard the Indian’s horses pull up a hundred or so yards from the place. Any closer and we could have safely picked them off since there wasn’t much cover for them.

Besides my Deputy farm boy Ralph that I have already mentioned, there was Matt and Larry who had previously punched cows for the J Bar J located near Show Low. None of my Deputies could be called great shots but then most folks with a gun couldn’t hit a barn door at a hundred feet anyway. The Eastern papers wrote as if we could hit the eye of a lizard at a hundred paces. In fact few cowboys had a gun worth more than a dollar that is if they even owned one. As Federal Marshals and Deputies we had guns that out classed most folk.

The problem was that many Indians got their guns from gun runners who stole them from either an armory or right out of the factory. This provided many Indians with high end and recently made arms.

I had Larry take the rear facing window while Ralph and Matt took the windows on each side. One window had a clear shot of the corral. Mumbles and myself covered the front where any attack would most likely come from.

“Coffee Gents?”

I was taken back by the prospectors calm demeanor. I mean who serves coffee when your life is in peril?

I shrugged and said, “Sure, why not?”

He went around giving out and filling the men’s tin cups with hot coffee as if he were a waiter in a cafe. I figured he must be a bit unbalance so he would deserve a close watch. I mean who could tell if he wouldn’t go ahead and invite the Indians in for tea?

“I was up in the tree waitin’ fer a deer to shoot when I noticed you all in the distance runnin’ fer your lives. Right off I could see those racin’ after you like a pack a dogs on your trail. Well, I figured I better get a pot a coffee goin’ an’ put some hay out in the corral ’cause it’s lookin’ like I’m about to have company.”

Maybe he wasn’t as loony as I figured after all.

It was then we heard the sharp rapping of bullets slamming into the cabin’s door and front shutters.

I apologized to the old man for the damage being done to his abode but he just looked at me like I was the one who was loony. “It’s only wood, I’ll make new ones soon’s this scuffle’s over.”

“Does this happen often? I mean your cabin is built to withstand a siege, why is that?”

“ I mine silver. Lots of folks out there would like to get at it. Once I’m inside here, they can try as they will but they ain’t gonna’ get at it, not while it’s inside this cabin they ain’t.”

“Yet you let us inside without question, why?”

“Well, I ain’t seen very many bush whackers wearin’ them bright shiny stars on the chest. Saw ‘em way off, they glint in the sun. Good way to get shot at if you ask me.”

Even a seasoned law dog can learn a new trick. “I’ll have to remember that”, I said.

I told my men to hold off firing unless they got a clear shot. “No use wasting ammo,” I said.

Just then Mumbles went ahead with two rapidly fired shots from his rifle. “Got one good, winged the other pretty good.”

An angry yelling from somewhere outside could be heard.

The prospector moved to the gun port to look at what was going on outside. After a minute of listening he turned to me and said, “Seems like your man just kilt the wounded ones brother. He’s vowing to kill you but not before he cuts off your manhood and forces you to eat it before he slits your throat!”
Turning to the Texan he added, “You sure got him riled up plenty. He’s now vowing to include your father, mother and any brothers you got.”

At that moment the rib caged winged Indian stood up shaking his gun in the air and screamed in a language only the prospector could interpret. A good sized chunk of flesh along with a rib or two was missing from the Indians side. Blood was freely running, soaking his breech cloth. It may not have been instant kill shot but his significant blood loss would definitely increase his chances of not making it through the night.

Once again Mumbles Winchester blasted away.

We all stared at the bleeding Indian until he toppled backwards, now missing a large potion of his head. Each one of us turned away repulsed at the sight of the flying red gore.

Whether or not the Indians sacrifice was planned or not we never knew but it did give two other Apache’s the ability to slip away unnoticed by us into the taller brush. It wasn’t until we heard a rifle bark from the top of the cliff that we realized they had out smarted us.

“I been in this same situation before and was able to wait them out but they never climbed to the top before. From where they was originally hunkered down the horses was safe from their guns, no more now. I’m afraid they kill ‘em off leavin’ us pretty much at their mercy.”

The afternoon came and went with sporadic shooting from both sides. No horses were shot. We assumed they were too valuable to the Apache to just kill them off. As night fell we once again took the time to have a filling meal.

Afterward, we all sat around smoking and enjoying our coffee’s when the old prospector began speaking.“Years ago silver was plentiful and easy fer the takin’. Bands of no goods plied the trails lookin’ fer prospectors too stupid to be well armed. In time they cleaned out the entire area of miners, leavin’ only me. Oh, they tried but I was too smart fer ‘em. I had planted powder kegs in the rocks where they was most likely to hide at. I trailed the one hundred feet per second fuses back inside here. In no more’n three seconds I’d blow the hell out of ‘em. If’n you look close they’s bones are strewn all over the place, ‘specially right where them damn Apache are now a hidin’. I regret that I ain’t had to place no kegs out there for quite a spell now, years even, too bad, sure would come in handy now eh?”

I mentioned how well the cabin was stocked.

“Yup, got a smoke house out back. Still got two butchered deer hanging in it. Got a cold cellar built into the hillside behind us too. Every now ‘an then I make a passage to town to buy coffee, flour other such necessities of life. I once bought a Navajo woman in town before it got civilized law to do my cookin’ and what not but one day she jest wandered off. Seems she got lonely fer her people.”

The night passed without incident.

Just after dawn I used my Sharps scope to glass the top of the cliff. I was surprised to see a well built Apache standing in full view seemingly giving orders to those below still hunkered down in the rocks below. It dawned on me that he felt no fear because he thought he was basically out of gun range.

Even a Winchester would hit him only by pure luck so I lowered my sight to scope out those in hiding but could not see anyone. It was then that it dawned on me that the big guy up top giving orders must be their leader.

Well, I smiled. I doubted these renegades had ever faced a Sharps before.

Taking my good old time, I placed one of the Sharps big cartridges within the breech. When it closed with a loud click everyone turned from their breakfast to look my way.

I adjusted the sight since I was going to be shooting at a steep upward angle. I had to guess at the amount of rise since I’d never shot at that angle before.

I exhaled and pulled the trigger.

Inside the cabin the enormous blast deafened everyone, including me.

Propelled by the tremendous force of the explosion behind it, the huge bullet tore through the air seemingly oblivious to the earths gravity trying to slow the bullet on its upward lethal travel.

Clearly visible in my scope, the chest of the Apache exploded. At the exact moment I pulled the trigger the second Indian in a terrible case of bad luck had approached his leader from behind.

The leader was forcefully blown backwards into the arms of the second Indian. Not that that the second Indian much cared. A fresh coffee mug sized hole where his heart should have been appeared to dampen any sympathy for his leaders demise.

With the two supporting each other it took to the count of three before they fell away from each other.

The leader pitched forward, nose diving off the cliff, the second Indian lay backward staring at the sky but unable to see it.

Those hiding below watched in horror as their leader cartwheeled the three hundred feet downward to where they lay in hiding. Rocks do a funny thing to a body at that distance. Few of the horrified Indians escaped being splattered in their leaders blood and brain matter.

It seemed to dishearten them. For they stood now in plain view lowering their weapons.

Chapter 3

What I took for disheartenment was actually fear.

As I looked to the direction they all had turned to face I realized that they were all now facing the trail up ahead. I soon saw what they saw. A large Apache party headed right our way.

It was my turn to be disheartened. No way could we fend off over fifty hardened to the core warriors.
Their leader rode three horse lengths out front and adorned to the hilt in black and red war paint.

When the troupe of Apache neared the part of the trail that lay directly across from the cabin, they halted.

The proud leader slowly observed the dead laying about the rocks, including the now unrecognizable renegade leader and loudly grunted his disapproval. He then went into a verbal tirade against those left alive making their way out to the open.

To no one in particular inside the cabin I said, “Looks like Chief ain’t very happy with the outcome of those that attacked us. He’s probably pissed they couldn’t take care of a few lawmen locked up in a cabin.”

The Prospector, who’d been listening to the Chief’s rant turned to me saying. “He ain’t mad about the deaths, rather he’s mad that his renegade nephew attacked us without his consent. It seems there had been a deal set up with the Territorial Governor where the tribe would cease any unprovoked attacks in return for this winters supply of Government beef. Now he’s worried the deal won’t go through.”

What the prospector said must’ve been true because to a warrior, each came sheepishly forward and laid down their weapons in front of the chief. The two Indians riding directly behind the Chief dismounted and began gathering up the abandoned weapons. When through, the disarmed group were marched up the trail in the direction the Chief and his warriors had come from.

Meanwhile the group of us held up in the cabin realized our bacon had just been pulled from the fire.

Leaving the dead lay where they fell, the Apache warriors turned away in force, leaving the Chief to sit alone on the trail facing us.

His countenance was no longer that of an angry enemy but one of disappointment.

Before he turned away to follow the others he lifted his right palm to the sky as if to say “sorry fellas, shit happens.”

We never did catch up with our rustlers but we did find the cattle hidden in a grassy box canyon twenty miles up ahead. We’ll never know what happened to the rustlers but my bet is they ran into the Chief and his group. Fearing the worst they most likely abandoned the cattle with plans of retrieving them later on and fled. Won’t they be surprised when they find their box canyon empty.

Along with the herd, we made our way back the way we had come. When we reached the cabin we stopped on the trail and yelled a “Halloo”. True to his word he’d already replaced the shot up shutters.

There was no sign of the prospector but we all knew he was watching us from somewhere unseen. We waved a goodbye to wherever he was and headed home.

THE END

 

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The water hole

 

The water hole

Prelude

It was the summer of 1863. The fire bright orange ball of sun was just beginning to touch the top of the Diablo Mountain range to the west.  The newest American State of Arizona cradled this small mountain range approximately sixty miles southwest of Tucson.

A lone horse carrying two riders made its way slowly east out of the Diaz pass in the attempt to escape the setting sun and the bushwackers somewhere behind them.  It wasn’t the sun that dogged the two as much as it was the bullets still lodged in them.  The rear rider hunched over his wounded wife trying his best to shade her from the sun and hold her upright in the saddle. The wife, a middle aged Mexican beauty whose flawlessly tanned face was cropped by her long black hair that now hid her pain clenched eyes, lifted her head slightly. She had regained enough consciousness to pat the arms of her loving husband as he held her firmly in place. Almost immediately after her show of affection, she again  passed out.

Chapter 1

The two were on their way back to Tucson after visiting her family still living in Sonoyta, a small sleepy Mexican border village known only for its Jesuit mission.

Their breakfast that morning consisted of hot coffee, corn cakes and jerky, a meager but filling trail meal. Pleasantly stuffed, they mounted and rode east facing the rising sun. By horseback they had a three day ride ahead and already had three days behind them.  It was midday when they again made the decision to stop and water their mounts with extra canteens carried for that purpose. More pieces of Jerky wrapped in corn cakes would be their midday meal.  It was then the riders, Del and his wife Maria, heard the approaching horses.

From the north came four riders. An unpleasant feeling settled in Del’s stomach as he watched the four slow their approached into their camp. Del made his way to over to his horses and removed the Henry rifle from his saddle holster.

The lead rider lifted both hands into the air and exclaimed, “Hey now Mister, no need to pull that long gun on us, we mean no harm to you and your lady. We’re just honest cowpunchers making our way south to the border. It seems people keep mistaking us for a group of bushwackers out of the Wickenburg area. So for our own protection, we needed to clear out of the territory. We been holed up for a week at a water hole about six miles in the direction we just rode in from. It’s got lots of fresh water but no game at all to speak of. We’re hungry”

Pointing to the corn cakes, the man named Theo told them,” We sure could use us some of your grub mister. We ain’t eat nothing but biscuits and dried beef an’ that ran out yesterday.” With a forced laugh and cold, unsmiling eyes, he said, “Shoot ,it ain’t our fault we look just like them desperados.” Then turning to look at the placement of his men he added,” right Jethro?”

Eyeing the Corn cakes Maria had been making, Theo, dismounted and moved nonchalantly towards the fire. Jethro and the two riders Bill and Jess , remained in their saddles but nudged their horses into a side step that widened their separation from each other.

Del was no fool, these men meant them harm. They were most likely the bushwackers they had just kidded about. Marie stood unmoving while Del evaluated each rider then shifted his eyes to her. Marrying Del had afforded her a protected life away from violence. Still, in her gut she knew these desperados meant them harm and she returned the nod ever so slightly that Del had made to her.

Without warning, Del raised the long gun and fired a slug clean through Jethro’s knee which dug into the side of his horse. Jethro’s hand never touched the gun in his holster. Screeching in pain, he fell off his grazed mount and onto the ground. The surprised Theo turned and cleared leather but fired too soon. Missing Del, the wild bullet drilled straight into Maria’s gut. Hearing Maria grunt, Del Cocked his lever action rifle and again fired, this time cleanly blasting off the gun hand of Maria’s shooter. With the force of a mule kick, searing pain punched Del in the back, knocking him face forward into the desert sand.

When Del regained consciousness, the riders had fled, as well as Maria’s mount. Each move drove the breath out of Del as he crawled over to where his lovely Maria lay. She was still breathing but the shallow irregular breaths told the story. Looking around, Del realized they had been robbed. Gone were the four large canteens of water they had carried with them.

With only one horse between them, and shot up as they were, Del knew that reaching Tucson was now out of the question.  They needed water quickly. The loss of blood drove his thirst, and he could only imagine what Maria was going through. Being shot in the back and Maria unable to help, there was no way to clean his wound. As for Maria’s wound, it was beyond cleaning.

With a herculean struggle, Del mounted his dear Maria in front of him on the saddle and wrapping his arms tightly around her, they headed north towards the water hole the bushwackers had told them of.

Chapter 2

As water holes went, it was rather amazing. An underground spring fed the crystal clear pool of cool water. In any other circumstances it would have been a delightful place to camp out at. A ring of Mexican fan palms surrounded the small water hole.

No bigger than two freight wagons pulled side by side, the pools edges were of hard rock. Desert willows and western dayflowers grew between them adding to the pools beauty.  Beyond the palms, Mesquite and Joshua trees completed the landscape.

In the distance, Del saw the tops of the green palms. He angled towards them fearing Maria wouldn’t make it that far.  As the rays of the setting sun reflected off of the idyllic water hole, Del kissed the back of his wife’s head telling her, “It’ll be alright sweet heart, we made it to the water hole. I just need you to help me get you down in one piece. Can you stay up while I dismount?”  Maria, didn’t speak but she nodded her head slightly. Del dismounted then lovingly lowered his wife to the ground.

Once on the ground, Del made his wife as comfortable as he could. He uncinched his saddle, letting it fall to the ground. His horse immediately lowered her head into the inviting pool and began drinking its life giving water.

Del removed his hat and dipped it into the pool. Bringing the dripping hat over to Maria, he pulled his kerchief from around his neck and sunk it into his hat. He then and squeezed the water soaked kerchief between her dry cracked lips.

“I’m so sorry Maria, we never should have traveled alone. Your family gave us warning, but I was too bull headed to listen. “

Maria opened her eyes and tried to smile. The words she spoke came only as a whisper. “Delbert my love, how many times have we traveled over this trail to visit my family? Have we ever been in danger? No my love, you could not foresee these brutal men this time.”  Maria coughed which nearly drove her back into unconsciousness. After a bit, she again spoke but notably quieter now. “I know am dying my love. Hold me until I leave.” Finding his hand she held onto it tightly and continued speaking, ”When I go, place me in the ground within sight of this beautiful pool.” Without turning her head, she slid her eyes over to the water hole. “ Never have I seen such beauty with all its flowers and trees.” Then looking back into Del’s eyes, she whispered, ” I will watch over you my love, look for me after I am gone.” With those last words on her lips, Maria stopped breathing.

Darkness settled over the desert landscape. If there were light, it would have illuminated a mortally back shot man weeping over the beautiful woman he held in his arms.

 

Chapter 3   

Daylight found Del feverish. He knew the bullet was lodged next to his left shoulder blade. It had missed his lung but now he felt a growing infection starting. Time was of the essence if he were to survive. He had to make it to a doctor.

Lifting Maria’s head from his lap, he gently placed her fully on the ground. His tears had left trails of wet desert dust down his cheeks. Making his way to the clear pool, he drank for the first time since arriving. It was then he noticed his horse was missing. During the night it had run off.

Wildly looking about, he painfully rose to his feet. Hoping the horse had just wandered off looking for nearby  graze, he made his way to a small rise in order to scan the landscape around him. Reaching the mounds top, he rotated his body searching the desert for any sign of his horse. There was no sign. Disappointed, he made his way back to the pool where Maria lay. He decided to bury her in the spot where she had drawn her last breath.

Grabbing a flat stone, Del dug the grave throughout the day until he was satisfied she would rest undisturbed.  Afterward, he placed the same stone on top of the mound and with his knife, carved her full name on its surface. Then he wept.

The turning of the earth once more brought about the evening sun to silhouette the small Diablo Mountain tops.

With little in the way of food and with a rising fever, Del drank of the cool waters again. For the hundredth time, he pondered Maria’s last words. “Why did she say to look for her,” he wondered. “What a strange thing to say as her last words!  What did she mean by them?”

Deciding she may have been delirious, he finally gave up and tried concentrating on his own survival. Besides, he thought to himself, he was becoming so feverish that he might soon be in the same delirious state himself.

Gathering small sticks and branches as best he could, he soon  had a small fire going. Inside his saddle bag, he found a few pieces of jerky and an uneaten corn cake Maria had rolled up in a sheet of parchment paper. Hunger avoided him but he knew he had to eat to survive. As darkness settled over the desert, he let the fire dwindle into a pile of glowing embers.

It was then Del heard his name quietly spoken. He hadn’t hear it in his feverish head but instead it came from across the pond from where he sat. Searching into the night he gasped. On the other side of the pond stood his beautiful Maria.  With feverish eyes Del gazed at the apparition before him. “Maria?” His voice cracked. “My beautiful Maria? Oh how I wish it were really you. My fever’s deceiving me.”

Without moving, his beautiful  Maria spoke. “You are not deceived my love, I told you I would watch over you. Did I not tell you that you should look for me?”

“This is a cruel dream!” He shouted angrily. Attempting to stand, he fell onto his knees. “You’ve been taken from me! You’re gone. No one comes back! “

“Yes, I was. But I am waiting here until you join me. As I lay dying, the beautiful Gabriel took pity on me. In my sorrow I begged him to let me stay behind until you too would cross over the pool to join me.
I was granted that act of kindness. He is waiting on the trail up ahead. When you join me, he will take us home.”

It was too much for Del’s feverish mind to accept. He resorted again to anger to remove the apparition from before his feverish eyes. “You are not real! As much as I would hope it were true, it ain’t!”

His angry outburst nearly made him faint. In pain and now on all fours, he lifted his head and looked across the pool to see his wife still standing on the other side. She continued to smile patiently at him.

“When I stir the pools water, drink from it and your fever will lower enough to know I am really here. Please Del, you are dying as I was but it will be a little bit longer before we are together again. I do not want you to suffer during that time.” Pointing to the water hole she spoke, “ Drink sweetheart, now.”

Del Crawled to the pools edge. Suddenely ripples formed as she dipped her hand into the pool, Del lowered himself into the water and drank.

The next morning found Del ‘s fever significantly diminished. Having eaten the last of his food the day before, he knew he was going to be in for a rough time. The funny thing was, Del thought, “I’m not feeling hungry in the least.”

Then remembering the previous night, he looked to the pools opposite side as if still expecting Maria to be standing there. “Sure seemed real at the time though,” He said quietly to himself. “Maybe she was a dream, maybe not. Whatever she was, she’s right though, my fever did go down.”

Attempting to stand, his legs found themselves too weak to comply. “Oh Jesus, I’m worse off than I thought! I’m a goner for sure.”

By noon the sun was at its blast furnace best. Del’s skin had begun to blister where it was exposed and his lips were cracked open in numerous places. With only the water to drink and trying to save what little strength he had left, Del decided to lay within inches of the pools edge. Still, his fever and the gnawing hunger that should be plaguing him were not evident. He rested, then again fell asleep.

Chapter 4

He awoke to Maria’s voice. “My love, wake up, let us talk again. I know you will soon be joining me but I want to talk of our love.”

Del opened his eyes. Unable to stand or even sit up now, Del noticed a faint light on the pools opposite side. There stood Maria, as beautiful and alive looking as the day he met her.

“Why? You know I love you. Is there something wrong?

“No, I just miss you terribly. Time is not the same for me anymore. Sometimes I feel years pass waiting for you to awake from your sleep. You will understand soon. It is unimportant, I am just anxious to touch you again. How do you feel today?”

In the back of his mind, Del continued to think that this all may be a fever dream or maybe this is what happens as one is dying. “I actually don’t know if I have a fever anymore or not.” He said, “I feel all weak and shaky but my head feels OK. Do you really have the ability to take my fever away with the pond water?”

“I’m glad you feel better, but no, it was not me who removed the effects of your fever. I do not have that power, it was given for me to use, that was all.. Touch your head, is it not still burning?”

Del brought his hand up and the laid palm of his hand over his forehead. The fever was still burning. “Yeah, I feel the fever on my hand but not inside my head. I don’t feel hungry either, of course that just might be from bein’ sick, No?”

“No, not really. I asked that you not suffer while I wait for you. Do you remember Padre Feliciano at the mission in Sonoyta? When I was young he taught us about how God loves us and will answer our prayers. Remember your and my long talks together about Heaven and being granted miracles in your time of need?”

“Yes, of course. I still believe all that. I just figured it was for really saintly folk, not a guy like me.  I’m not used to asking for help… as you know what a stubborn fool I can be. So you pray and he really answers?”

“It is more than just what we used to call prayer. I can sit with him and talk with him as a child. It is wonderful here, I can’t wait for you to be with me. It will not be much longer. You are very sick. I was told that if you wish, you may cross over the pond at any time you decide.”

Del wiped the sweat pouring into his eyes. The day was not yet hot enough to cause him to sweat this bad so he figured his fever must be raging. Moving on his stomach, he again lowered his mouth to the pools surface and gulped at the cool water. Lifting his head, he told her,“Maria, I’d do anything to be with you right now, you know that. You know me though, I don’t give up till the end. I still want to somehow try and make it to Tucson, get healed up, return here and take you back there for a proper burial.”

“I understand my love, but there is no need to think of doing all that. I am at peace where you buried me. I asked that you bury me here besides this beautiful pool among the green plants. I am happy that you did, it made your heart happier knowing I rest in this beautiful place. Where in Tucson is it as beautiful as here?”

“You have me there!” Del answered. “I wouldn’t mind finding myself being buried here next to you.” Suddenly Del began to chuckle, “Thing is my dear, there’s no one around to do the honors!”

“Trust me my love, it will be.” And with that, Maria once again faded into the darkness.

“Maria? Maria! Don’t leave me, I’m scared to die by myself. I need you to be with me when I go!”

Del fell into a fever wrought sleep. By noon he was unable to crawl the few inches to the pond to quench his thirst. He could tell by the smell that the infection in his back was septic.

Still, he felt little pain and no fever. By now his body was being horribly wracked by the sun as well as the fever. If he could see himself, he would not recognize the face that was once a handsome man. Being born and raised in west Texas had given Del a ruggedness one could only describe as manly. He now appeared to be a shell of what he used to be. He was now so dehydrated that even the skin on his hands became as thin as parchment paper.

lying on his stomach and unable to move about , Del looked over where Maria had been appearing and in a voice that sounded more dead than alive he tried shouting for her,” Maria!” His face collapsed onto the flat rocks edging the pool.

“ Yes my love? “

Barely lifting his head he asked, “Where did you go? You left me! I’m scared sweetheart, I never died before! Will it hurt?”

“No Del, it will not hurt. You only have to walk across the water to hold me once again. Please, trust me Del, have in all our years together given you any reason or cause to doubt me?”

“No, you have been my trusted soul mate since we met. I’m a goner here sweetheart, my heart is racing and I can’t breath well no more. How do I find the strength to get up and walk over to you”

Maria smiled broadly at her loving husband and told him. “ Stand up my sweet, it is time for you to hold me once again.”

Del shakily started to rise, then suddenly found a strength that was not within him before. Rising to his full height, he stretched and looked about startled at what he saw. The pond water shimmered with the luminescence like that of a sea shells inner pearl essence.  The blue and purple flowers now radiated in hundreds if not thousands of colors he had never seen before. Amazed at what he saw, his eyes finally sought out and found those of Maria’s. “Oh my gosh.” He exclaimed, “You’re so beautiful!”

“As you are my love!”

Del looked down and saw his hands were strong and youthful, his voice once again strong his legs felt powerful. He walked over the ponds surface and threw his arms around his dear wife. “I love you so much! Am I really dead now?”

‘Turn around and see for yourself.”

Del, still holding Maria turned enough to view across the pond. There his body lay sprawled on the ground. “I guess I am dead, this ain’t so scary after all. It was nothing crossing over the pond,” He said to her smiling. “Do we leave the pond now to go home?” He asked her.

“We will leave after this is played out,” She told him, “there is something that must be finished first.

When she was through speaking, Del heard the sounds of horses arriving at the pond. At first he thought it was ironic that just as he dies help arrives. Then he saw who the riders were. The four bushwackers.

 

Chapter 5

The four rode in still bandaged and bleeding. Their leader Theo, had his stump wrapped in an old shirt and Jethro sagged in his saddle feverish from the knee wound. The two unhurt riders dismounted easily and strode over to Dels corpse. A kick to the ribs lifted him a few inches clear of the ground and nearly dumped him into the pool. Del and Maria stood on the opposite bank watching not 20 feet away but invisible to those alive. “Dangest bad luck I’ve ever seen!” Said Theo, “help me down Fred. My stump is killin’ me.”

Once on the ground Fred helped Jethro dismount. Jethro lay moaning where he was placed. The four horses made their way to the pond and drank deeply. The other unhurt bushwacker Bill, asked Theo what to do with Dels body. “We cain’t be leavin’ it layin’ about.” He told Theo, “ It’ll draw critters and coyotes from miles around. Then they’ll  sense your blood an’ you bess believe while you sleep, they be on you in a minute! Besides, he’s startin’ to stink”

Even in his pain Theo knew Bill was speaking the truth. “Yeah, you and Jess bury him over there by that other grave. It must be his woman. The diggin’ will be easier over there anyway seeing  as it’s been already dug up once before.”

That night the four drank what whisky they had left and enjoyed a meal from the last of  Marie’s stores.

Del Turned to Maria saying angrily. “Did you see what they did? That bushwacker kicked me even though I was dead! He said I stink too! I’ll teach them to go kicken on me!”

Pulling his pistol from it’s holster, Del fired all six well aimed shots at the men. There was no explosion, just clicks. “What’s going on? I know I reloaded, they should be shot to heck!”

“Guns do not work here my love.’

Throwing his gun down, Del ran around the pond and up to the four bushwackers. There he swung his fist to and fro, up and down…all with no more effect that punching a puff of smoke. ‘”I can’t even punch them Maria! This just ain’t fair! They need to be punished, they shot you, they shot me they stole your horse!”

“Come back to me my love and I’ll explain.”

Del rounded the pond to stand next to his wife again.” I guess I acted the fool, didn’t I?”

“You were upset and you wanted vengeance. Remember, here there is only one who says, ‘vengeance is mine’. It is not ours to seek vengeance, not here.  Do you remember the night your horse ran away from the pond? Yes? OK, I must tell you it did not just wander off as you thought. I frightened it off!”

‘”Why did you do that? And how come these bushwackers don’t see me but you said you were able to scare off my horse?”

“Men cannot see a spirit, for that’s what we are now my love, but an animal can.”

“Why did you do it, scare off my horse I mean?”

“I did it because you were dying and I didn’t want you dying somewhere out in the desert where your body would become a meal for scavengers. I was selfish, I wanted you to lie in your grave next to me.”

Del looked sheepish. “Oh, then I guess that’s OK then. So what about these no goods here? Do we just have to let them ride out of here free to do what they please?”

“No, watch this.”

Maria stepped in front of the horses and screamed at the top of her lungs while waving her arms frantically. As one, the horses bolted in panic, never to return.

“What the hell did that?” Theo shouted. “what spooked ‘em to hell like that? In the condition we’re in, there ain’t no way we can track ‘em down. Look way out yonder to the east, they’ll be twenty miles off by morning the way they’s runnin’! Were goners without them horses.” Looking around he yelled, “Dammit, they had our packs on ‘em too!”

Del sat on the ground laughing as he realized what Maria had just done. “You stranded them here the same way I was!”

“I told you it would all work out didn’t I”

“Oh my gosh, did you think that up yourself?”

“No,” She said looking up the trail, “I had some advice.”

Chapter 6

On the morning of  the fifth day, Jethro had passed on. By noon Theo had followed. Without food, Bill and Jess were so weak, neither could stand. The seventh day found them both expired in the furnace known as the Sonora desert.

The four sat looking forlorn and lost at the edge of the pond next to their corpses. Not having crossed over to the opposite shore yet, they were unable to see Del or Maria yet.

After a time, within a shimmer of golden light, the beautiful Gabriel came to the pond. He strode over to Del and Maria and greeted them warmly. Del would have cried at the beauty of Gabriel but there were no tears to shed on this side. Squeezing both their hands he let go and walking to the ponds edge Gabriel called the four men in a voice that was as powerful as dynamite yet as loving as a child with a kitten. “Come here. Cross over the water and follow me!”

As if suddenly awake, the four gathered themselves up and one by one crossed over the pond to stand in front of Gabriel. It was then they noticed Del and Maria.

Ignoring the beautiful Gabriel, Theo yelled out, “Why you two scoundrels got us kilt out here!” The four drew their pistols and began firing away at Del and Maria… all with no effect. After realizing their guns only made clicking sounds, Theo threw his gun at Del’s head…which went clean through with no harm to Del. “What?” Exclaimed Theo, It was then he realized his hand had been returned to him. Turning in amazement he shouted, “Look fella’s, my hand! It’s back on me!”

Theo stood there smiling while the other three gathered around him wide eyed.

At that moment, Gabriel once again commanded and pointed to the south, “Go, follow that trail, there you will forever reside at its end!”

As the four headed down the trail heading south, they began laughing and telling crude jokes and  wondering if there were any loose women to be had. Del stood up, took Maria’s hand in his and together they began to follow the four down the Southern trail.

“Delbert, Maria, stop!” Gabriel’s hand reached out to them and halted their steps.  “That trail is not for you two, it is for them. It heads South where the dark reigns forever.

Stepping between them, Gabriel gently spread his arms over their shoulders as a bird protecting her young.  After turning them in the opposite direction, the three began walking. Smiling broadly, Gabriel then told them. “Delbert? Maria? Come, your trail is with me, to the north, into the light.”