The Starshine Kid: Arroyo Grande
Part 18 of 20
Up To My Neck
The sun bore down hot on the Starshine Kid as he followed the sign left along the trail by the mysterious band of Indians and their white captive. Marshal King came to the conclusion that these renegades must be keeping Clifford Connors alive for either some type of tribal trial, or for the pleasure of torturing him at a later more opportune time, once the group arrived at their final destination. As Adam King rounded a large boulder, a jumper from above laid him out flat upon the earth like a long dried up meadow muffin alongside a well-traveled pioneer migration trail. The Starshine Kid never knew what hit him.
The next few hours passed by without Marshal King’s conscience notice. Night crept across the distant hills and the evening stars poked their shiny faces out from the heavens above, one by one. Slowly, the crisp, cool smell of night air wakened the marshal. Groggy and thirsty, he scanned the area in front of him with blurred vision.
I’m paralyzed, he thought, I can’t move.
Marshal King struggled under the night sky, wiggling and twisting like a live Egyptian mummy wrapped up tight in grave wrappings. He soon realized that he was upright and buried up to his neck in sand. As he relaxed to contemplate his fate, he slipped back into unconsciousness.
“Marshal, Marshal,” a voice addressed the Starshine Kid in the light of the desert dawn. “Marshal, you ok?”
“It’s Connors, Clifford Connors. I recognized who you was last evening. Looks like we are gonna be sharin’ a future together. That’s quite a wallop you got on the side of your head. I can see me a patch of dried up blood.”
Still unable to fully awake, Adam simply said, “I’m a might thirsty.”
“These Indians ain’t gonna let us die just yet. They be bringin’ some water pretty soon I imagine. You was out cold when one of ‘em tried to give you some a bit earlier, just before the sky started to lighten up.”
Coming around slowly, Marshal King longed for the days when he slept with one eye open and with his finger on his pistol’s trigger. “If I only had a gun.”
“That gun wouldn’t do you no good, Marshal, buried down under this sand with your hands tied up,” Clifford commented.
“I guess you’re right, but at least I’d feel a right might better.”
“I get ya on that, Marshal.”
In the distance the brightening morning light revealed three other heads adorning the desert’s painted sand.
“Who are they,” inquired the Marshal, “more partners of yours?”
Looking as though he had swallowed a frog, Connors replied, “Were, they were some of my compatriots a long time ago.”
“Compatriots, now that’s a big word.”
Connors explained a bit to the Marshal to clarify the matter, “Compatriots, sort of. Years ago they ran across me on the trail and convinced me to ride with them. Said I owed them a favor on account of my brothers and all. Mean fellas totin’ pistols is mighty convincin’ to a man.”
Marshal King gazed across at the three lifeless heads, “They been dead long?”
“They quit breathin’ about the time you was buried, Marshal. But I ain’t got no mind to how them three got here or how long they been buried. I just knows them from before.”
Marshal King wondered how he and Connors could breathe without the crushing effects of the sand’s weight bearing down on their chests each time a breath of precious air was exhaled, “How come this sand ain’t chokin’ us and crushing out our breathin’?”
“After strappin’ our hands to our sides them Indians put some kind of thing weaved together made of sticks around our upper bodies. It’s got just enough space to ease our breathin’, I reckon. I guess they didn’t do that for them three over there.”
The Starshine Kid had never heard of such a practice and wondered why these particular Indians would want to keep them alive. What purpose could that serve? he pondered.
“I guess I don’t need to remind you that you are under arrest, Connors.”
“Right about now I wish I was in a nice small-town jail, Marshal. I never had a mind to be involved with my brothers’ schemes, but, you know, family and all. It weren’t like I had much of a choice. I always did try to stay in the background as much as was humanly possible.”
A Brave arrived and poured water into the mouths of the thirsty prisoners and then departed quickly. The Indian was tall and lean with a muscular build. His long black hair was braided in a fashion foreign to Marshal King’s experiences, but he had heard of this practice from travelers who dared to venture far south of the Mexican border and deep into the lands of the southern Americas.
Connors continued his conversation, “I always had me a mind to be a law abidin’ citizen. A rancher or somethin’, but my brothers, well….”
“Sometimes it’s hard to break away and get a clean start,” Marshal King acknowledged, “mighty hard.”
“I could do that now, in fact that was what I was plannin’ on doin’ when I rode away leavin’ my departed brothers behind, but it looks like I’m gonna be reapin’ what my brothers and I have sown.”
Marshal King pondered Connors’ words carefully, then replied, “But you did kill that jailer and you’re gonna have to stand trial for that crime.”
As nervous as a bird surrounded by felines, Connors replied, “I swear I didn’t kill the man, I was just on the verge of lettin’ him go free. I’d just got off of my horse—”
“Y-o-u-r horse? Yours?”
“Ok, ok, Clifford, go ahead and speak your mind.”
“Anyways, a shot rang out and the fella was dead before he hit the ground, I swear, so I mounted up and rode for the wind. That be why I didn’t stay around as to bury the man, Marshal.”
“I’ll make you a deal, Connors,” Starshine promised, “if you promise on the Holy Bible and your grandmother’s grave that you’ll be a law abidin’ hard workin’ citizen, I’ll plead your case myself before the judge to let you make a try at it. It may be that under some sort of legal supervision you might get your chance to prove yourself, Connors.”
“You’d do that for the likes of me?”
“I believe every man can make a change in life if he has the desire and the chance. Havin’ one without the other is like havin’ a dyin’ hunger and no food to quench it.”
“I’ve a mind to hold ya to that promise Marshal, if’n we gets outta this situation.”
As the day progressed under the hot sun, the lone Indian Brave returned every two hours, or so, to quench his captives’ thirst, but there was no sign of the other Braves. This perplexed both Marshal King and Clifford Connors.
“What do you think might be goin’ on with the other Indians, Marshal? Think they be on a raid or somethin’? They musta been awful quiet when they left, or maybe they left after buryin’ you. There was a lot of ruckus goin’ on then, I mighta missed hearin’ them ridin’ off.”
“I’ve been tryin’ to figure that one out for some time now, Connors, but… if only, if only we could see a bit more of where that Brave is comin’ from and goin’ to.”
“He seemed a might bit unsettled the last couple of times he’s been a comin’ round, Marshal. May be that somethin’ ain’t right.”
“I would agree with that. Let’s just hope he ain’t getting’ too nervous and decide to rid himself of us or stop givin’ us water.”
The sun beat down hard for the next few hours and the Brave did not return. The two sand kingdom captives could only hope… only hope for a miracle.
* Stay Tuned *
Part 19: The Nick of Time
By Royce A Ratterman
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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