The Starshine Kid: Arroyo Grande
Part 13 of 20
Long and Far
Clifford Connors’ reckless nervousness resonated like a church bell announcing a funeral as he raced through the darkness of night; he knew he was no match for any U.S. Marshal, especially the two who had just managed to eliminate his entire family in the space of one day.
Flour sacks… Clifford contemplated wrapping his horse’s feet in burlap to help mask his horse’s prints and to hide sign along the trail, but he abandoned the idea once he realized he did not have any burlap sacks with him. Clifford had fled with the one horse that bore the shoes which left their distinctive mark in its tracks. In one way or another most horses leave their own distinctive imprints; one only needs the ability to recognize the uniqueness within those imprints.
Following in the darkness, Marshal King made an attempt to reflect some moonlight across the trail he followed using a shiny tin plate, but the waning moon’s light was not enough to make the effort worthwhile. Reflected light across a trail reveals shadows left by horseshoes, footprints, wagon tracks, and just about any other thing that leaves sign, including small critters, lizards, snakes, and the like. The marshal had successfully used the technique to trail a lost boy a number of years prior, during a full moon night. Finding the lost child back in the day was something that could not wait, but chasing an uneducated outlaw could wait until the morn.
With the chilled darkness of night creeping quickly upon the hunter and hunted, both parties decided to forego their quests, one of escape and one of capture, to settle in for some sleep under the starry heavens and wait for the first glimmer of dawn’s light.
“C’mon old friend, I guess we be settlin’ down for the night,” Starshine gently whispered to his horse as he dismounted and staked and tethered the steed. He saw what he thought appeared to be an elderly Indian dressed in white on the peak of a small hill nearby, but after observing the figure for quite some time he dismissed it as some type of tree, large shrub, or a faint shadow in the dark.
As Adam rolled out his bedroll and started up a fire from the bits of dried wood and sagebrush he had gathered, he reflected back to the days of his youth. He related a story to his only audience at hand… his faithful mustang, “When I was a lad, mind you, for a season I was riding the rough string with a bunch of older, more experienced men. They introduced me to one of the best times of my life and my fondest memories. Oh, yes, I got bucked to the ground more times than I can count, but I wouldn’t trade any one of them bruises for a sack of gold. Those were the days, my friend. On cold mornings, just as with you, I’d warm the bit a might before securing it in a steed’s mouth. I learned me this lesson the hard way, when I tried to put a cold bit into this half wild Paint one unusually frosty morning, the fella bit me hard… still got the scar here,” he pointed to show his horse, but his horse only puffed a snort through its nose before lowering its head to nibble upon the grasses below.
Lying down under the clear star-studded sky Adam continued his tale, “We used to fix us up a mess of pan-fried bread and bacon every morning, and coffee so strong it would pert near knock a man’s boots off. My job also included keeping track of things in the tally book. This one grub line rider taught me the basics of breakin’ a horse. He wasn’t around very long, but the things he showed me… well, they were, and are, priceless hands-on treasures.”
I’m as hungry as a badger, Starshine thought, but that’ll have to wait for the morn. The Starshine Kid drifted off into sleep, a deep sleep...
“That be of a right mind as to what he said,” someone softly remarked from the other side of the morning campfire.
“Why, I don’t believe me a single lyin’ word you said, Hector, not a one.”
“You callin’ me a liar? Why you mangy—”
The foreman interrupted, “You two pipe down. We got work to do.” Looking over at Adam, the foreman said, “And you, boy, I got a special project for you. Come with me.”
The two approached the edge of a crest that overlooked a valley cut through its middle by a wide river.
“I want you to scout out the area down there real thorough. Look for sign of Indians, wild horses, Mexican bandits; you know… anything and everything. We’ll be dealin’ with this string of horses ‘til you get back. Ride long and far if needs be. Be back in three days.”
The young Adam gazed down into the valley where sage and juniper dotted its loneliness like peppercorns spilled across a tabletop. “Yes, sir, I won’t be lettin’ you down none.”
As Adam rode his grey gelding down the grassy hillside toward the river’s edge below, he could hear the chorus of string riders’ and cowhands’ whooping and hollering fading away in the background. Hitting a dry patch of dirt about one hundred yards from the river, he stopped abruptly. The dust from his horse’s hooves enveloped him as swiftly as did a sudden sense of uneasiness.
“Whoa, girl.” Adam looked around, carefully examining the area for any type of sign that supported his feelings. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, he traveled onward along the river looking for something… anything.
About an hour down river Adam heard the distinctive sound of crows in the distance, the human mimic type of crow talk he was all too familiar with. Buzzards circled overhead nearby, obviously gathering for some type of festive occasion, as smoke billows rose gently into the sky below the carnivorous creatures.
After slowly removing his rifle he rode onward, onward toward the buzzard feast and crowing sounds. Cresting one of the small rolling hills that studded the river’s edge, Adam saw the remains of two covered wagons. He felt his horse’s uneasiness and continued his approach with caution.
Rounding one of the smoldering wagons, Adam observed a lone old Indian dressed in white leather of some sort with a white feather headpiece and a golden spear in his right hand. Adam dismounted, secured his gelding to large sagebrush, and then slowly made his way toward the elderly man. The aroma of the smoldering wagons and dry grass was pleasant and the feelings of uneasiness dissipated with every step he took toward the stranger ahead.
“Hello, my son,” the Native greeted him with a soothingly soft smile.
Adam looked at the man curiously and replied inquisitively, “You speak my language?”
“What is this place and what has happened?”
The elderly Indian stretched out his spear and pointed to the horizon, “This is the future and this is the past… both are long and far. You must never forget the one or stop seeking the other, my son.”
“I do not understand.”
“That is true, but one day you will.”
Adam dismounted and approached the man.
The grey gelding whinnied loudly. Adam turned around quickly to see what caused his horse’s sudden cry, but the animal was only grazing upon the grasses that surrounded the large sagebrush where the beast was tethered. When Adam turned back to question the mysterious elderly Indian he found himself standing alone in the grassy knoll with no signs of any wagons, buzzards overhead, or the mysterious white clad native.
“Well, well, now….”
When The Starshine Kid awoke he threw what small branches he had collected onto the few burning embers of his fire. He quickly made some coffee while downing a few dried sticks of jerky. After that, he rolled up his bedding, and washed his face with some dew he had gathered into his hat from nearby brush.
“Had me quite a dream in the night,” Starshine addressed his horse, “Anyway, it’ll be light soon, we’d better be gettin’ a move on.”
* Stay Tuned *
* Stay Tuned *
Part 14: The Hourglass
The Starshine Kid: Arroyo Grande
By Royce A Ratterman
© All Rights Reserved
Cover Art & Illustrations by Erlend Evensen
The characters, locales, enterprises, entities, and events herein are entirely fictional and intended for educational and entertainment purposes. Content portrayals do not reflect any actual events, locales, entities, or any individuals living or deceased.
Dedicated to all of those who lost their lives establishing peace, safety, and harmony in the days of the Old West