The Red Road

As I rode past the crow-pecked bodies in the field I wondered why they were there and why they deserved to be lying face down in the dirt all contorted and flesh-torn. Pinching my tired eyes shut, I stopped my horse to let my eyes adjust in the darkness. The waning moon had slipped behind the clouds putting the field in shadow.

My count stopped at five men, all of whom were riding in the same direction. I have come across dozens men in my relatively short span of life who deserved the same fate- some of whom I delivered it to myself. In my opinion, no one's a sinner for setting those types of men straight. Looking out at the edge of the tree line, I waited until the white birches came clearly into my view and then I rode calmly on, fairly certain that I would pass through the field without harm.

Twigs and frozen clods of dirt cracked beneath my horse's hooves as we followed the old Indian trail up the backside of the ridge. The cool air was tinged with strings of smoke that carried on the wind, the sweet smell alerting me to a nearby campsite. Judging by the freshness of the bodies below the ridge and the close proximity of the camp I took a guess that this was the group who dispatched my friends down in the valley. To avoid any misunderstandings I rode off of the trail, making a wide circle around the place where I figured the campsite to be.

I didn't stop that night, occasionally dosing off in my saddle. I had my horse carry on past daybreak at a slow walk. It was tiring but I did it with an eye to pass the group of riders from last night and to avoid any chance of crossing their path along the trail. It was smarter this way; I've seen riders killed for nothing more than the biscuits in their satchel much less a horse, two pistols, one rifle, and a small sack of coins.

It took me another four days to ride out of the Chawktaw Nation and cross the river into Yell County. The frost was beginning to come on heavy making it a lucky thing I made it out of the Indian territory in the time that I did. Securing a room in town was hard this time of year but it so happened that a train was pulling out that night for California, leaving some rooms open in the inn above the tack and feed store. My board was significantly lower than that of my horse's but I was too tired to argue a lower price with the bloated man at the front desk. Reaching my room, I found that the wick for the oil lamp was burnt to a charred nub so I dragged open the ratty curtains and used the lights from the street to illuminate the space. Rolling onto the lumpy bed, I closed my eyes and let sleep take me.

The morning came quickly. It felt as if my eyes opened up only a minute after my head hit the pillow. The yellow sunlight hit my face from the open window as it peeked over the tops of the roofs; the color of it's' rays were warm but the air was cold and wet. Beads of water sat on the waxed window sill even though it didn't rain last night. The tops of my sheets were cold and damp to the touch. That's when I decided that what felt good last night was not the same conclusion in the morning.

Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I got a feel of my ice cold nose and cheeks. If I didn't get sick, it would be a miracle. There was nothing for it now but to shut the window and burry myself under the covers. Doing just that, I fell asleep for another hour before pushing myself downstairs and out the door.

I knew where to find who I was looking for, no inquiry needed. Rooster Cogburn lived in the back of an old Chinese market among the ducks and curry powders, never able to afford a real room. He kept a full stock of liquor on hand however, even though most of it was confiscated and not bought himself. I hoped that the morning gave him enough time to sober up. The last time I talked to him when he was in the middle of one of his binges, it did not end well.

AN: Hope you enjoyed it thus far. Let me know what you think.