my thanks to ms24 and Sky :)
Despite a fractured sleep the three men were in good spirits as they prepared to leave the hidden canyon.
Johnny's sunburn and grazes had responded well to David's treatment and although still sore and stiff, he declared himself much improved. His worst injuries were to his feet and thighs, from being dragged behind the horse. David suggested bandaging would be needed for riding and he reached for Wolf's blue shirt, preparing to rip it into strips. Tony quickly pulled his own shirt off and handed it over as he took the blue shirt out of David's hand.
David couldn't help but laugh. "Tony, I didn't realise you were so sentimental."
"I'm not," he assured David, "I'm just terrified of Kimberly's tongue lashing if anything happens to Wolf's shirt. She is a Bauer, you know."
"Yes, I noticed... so where do you think Wolf is now?" David asked.
Tony looked over to where Johnny was rubbing more ointment onto his feet. "Hey Johnny," called Tony. "Can you walk yet?"
"Not yet," he replied, "I'll need some help to the horse, but then I'll be okay."
"Good." Turning back to David, Tony said, "I think Wolf's back at Erin's. He'll go up to Kimberly and say, here Tony's voice drops to approximate Wolf's deeper, husky tone, '''You belong to me now Kimberly, I just paid 52 horses to your Pa,' and Kimberly will swoon into his strong, manly arms saying," Tony assumes a girlish breathlessness, "'Oh Wolf, I love you' and right now they're in the barn and," Tony began pumping his loins most energetically until he heard the click of the rifle hammer.
"Tony," laughed Jack, "I can't walk yet, but I can still shoot, so watch what you're saying about my family."
Wolf tried not to dwell on the lost possibilities. Working at a job he loved in a life of happiness with Kimberly. For a heady few months he had clung to that dream, working with all his might to ensure it came to pass. But now grim reality pressed down around him, suffocating the dream and turning his life into a nightmare. Everything... Kimberly, the ranch, the future... were all lost to him.
He couldn't stay to be forcibly removed to Florida, but the only alternative was to escape to Canada. Despite his pleas Kimberly had said no and when he tried to push her, to beg, she had collapsed into his arms weeping. Holding her close he had been unable to staunch his own tears as he saw the door to their future close.
And then Kimberly's letter came with news of their salvation. Johnny could intervene and save him from Florida, he could save their dream. But Wolf should have known that dreams can easily be shattered... the broken shards sharp and wounding as they lie scattered over your hopes.
Wolf remembered the contempt in Johnny's voice as he spat out 'You bastard', the hatred lying cold in his eyes.
It was obvious now that Johnny wouldn't save Wolf from being sent to Florida. Wolf also knew Johnny wouldn't let Wolf, his daughter's seducer, 'escape' north to Canada. No doubt he would hunt Wolf down and place him in chains for expulsion to Florida and certain death.
And what of Kimberly? She had surprised Wolf by running away to join him. Would she also try to follow if he was forced to the reservation? No, Florida was a death sentence, he couldn't subject her to such a pitiless existance. A clean break was needed, to allow Kimberly a chance to move on and marry someone more suitable, someone white that Johnny could approve of. But how to create such a break?
And then Wolf found the Indian, lying brutally murdered ...
Moon became impatient with the long wait and nudged Wolf in the back, his muzzle soft against Wolf's bare skin. "Fine," said Wolf absently, pulling out his knife. "Fine, let's do this," he repeated, looking down at the dead Indian at his feet, wondering what he had done to deserve such a cruel punishment. Wolf couldn't even tell who had done it; Mexicans, the Apache or was it the work of white men?
The man's tongue, privates and both hands had been hacked off. Placed on the pony, the Indian had been set loose to suffer a lingering death. From the looks of him he hadn't been dead long, his eyes hadn't yet been taken by the buzzards. They stared up at him, black and accusing.
"I'm sorry," Wolf said as he cut the eyes out, carefull to leave small cuts around the empty sockets, just as a buzzard's beak would do. He then hacked at the man's long hair to approximate his own shortened length. Stepping back, he looked the body over. It was a bit short, but he didn't think anyone would notice, it was just another dead Indian out on the plains.
But notice would be taken of Moon. He was a valuable horse, unusual, and word would soon spread. Before long the sheriff of Victory would hear of the prized Appaloosa standing over a dead Indian. He hoped Johnny would be kind when he told Kimberly. And Erin.
Burying the hair and eyeballs in a nearby gopher hole, he took up the knife again to cut his forearm. Squeezing out the blood, he dribbled it over Moon's withers and the saddle, to resemble the Indian pony's blood stains. Finally satisfied, he pressed his face into Moon's neck as he offered up a brief prayer of thanks and then leapt onto the Indian pony. With a stern word to Moon to stay, Wolf turned the pony's head north. North to Canada.
It wasn't until he was over the rise and away from Moon that the tears began, the silent sobs shaking his entire body until finally the grief became too much and he tipped his head back and howled out his anger and his pain. The pony stopped in confusion as the wail of despair rose higher and ever higher, until it was carried away by the circling wind.
The breeze began as a tease, a tickle. But it soon grew strong and insistant, caressing over her cheeks and across the nape of her neck; the questing wind as warm and sure as the fingers of her lover, of Wolf. Closing her eyes, Kimberly dropped her sewing and leaned back, confident of its strength as the wind wrapped around her, it's warm breath nibbling at her ear as it carried to her the familiar intoxicating scent of desert and horse.
With shocking abruptness the wind calmed and Kimberly fell back as her body convulsed into a sobbing cry of pain and loss. Opening her mouth wide she screamed her torment up into the heavens, a scream which brought Michelle and Erin running as it continued up, up into the circling wind.
The men rode in silence, each lost in his own thoughts. As the terrible cry of despair echoed around the hills the men looked at each other, unsure of it's source. Three buzzards flapped upward in alarm and drew their eye, only then did they notice the pale horse standing over a darker shadow. Riding towards it, the sun in their eyes, it was difficult to make out the details. Tony's horse called out in welcome but the pale horse merely looked at them before silently turning away, it's entire being focused on something to the north, beyond the rise.
But Johnny had recognised the horse and as he urged the Indian pony faster he found himself repeating over and over, in a low fervid whisper.
"Oh dear God... please... no... Oh please dear God... no... please ... no..."
Lines from a Navajo Wind Chant
Then he was told:
Remember what you have seen
because everything forgotten
returns to the circling winds
William Least Heat-Moon
The story's interpretation of these lines is entirely my imagination. To me the words talk of life and travel, but here I have used them for love and loss.
Thanks for your interest...