Taken

Photo copyright K. S. Brooks.

In the evening she told me her name was Kahwihta. And when I asked how many in her basket, with what I figured was a universal kind of gesture, she held up two hands and shook all the fingers, then one hand with the thumb and first finger extended.

Tékeni iawén:re,” she said, which I guess meant a dozen.

“Well, now, that’s enough apples to make a fine pie,” I said. But I was sure flour and cinnamon were in short supply here near Ta-ra-jo-rees, the village of the Turtle Clan. I was camped on the south shore of their River Flowing Around the Mountain. We call it the Mohawk.

I’d been surveying there in the wilderness for three weeks. The geography was perfect for one supporting grazing and farming, which is what Mister Proctor, the land speculator, had sent me to assay.

Sir William Johnson, His Majesty’s agent among these people, had warned me off, lest I incur a deadly suspicion among his charges. I believe he was trying to keep this land for his own devices, since he has become almost one of the natives and keeps a Mohawk woman, who he calls his wife.

And if she looks anything like Kahwihta, I can understand why.

With what pieces of the language I’d learned, I said, “Konnòn:we’s,” which I think meant “I like you.” Since she dropped her head and giggled behind her hand, I surmised I must have said the right thing. So I reckoned I might as well try to be more like Johnson.

Kwah tokén:’en sén:ta’wh?” I said, which I believed meant to have a good sleep. I pointed at her and then to myself and then the soft fur robe on the floor of my tent.

Kahwihta giggled again and laid down, which surprised and encouraged me in a very fine manner. I was hoping the language of love was as universal as the poets say. I laid down next to her and pulled the robe over us. In the light from my campfire through the canvas, her skin glowed like polished bronze. 

Kahwihta turned toward me and repeated, “Kwah tokén:’en sén:ta’wh.” After that, I remember nothing of the night.

Next I know, I am waking, waking with this vicious pain behind my head, lying there in the open beneath the trees. My tent is gone, as well as my gun, powder and lead, surveying instruments, maps, ledgers, drawing tools, everything. Well, not quite everything.

I still had the clothes on my back and my knife. And there on the robe next to me were seven red apples. I surmised Kahwihta must have felt some remorse that probably one of her brothers entered the tent and tried to crush my skull with his warclub. That he failed was scant comfort in light of the bloody, swollen gash on the back of my head. 

I stumbled to my feet and felt a dizziness like I’d not known before. Thereafter I fell to my knees and spewed my previous day’s victuals on the ground next to me. 

I felt it wise to leave behind, in greatest haste, the village of Ta-ra-jo-rees as best I could, lest Kahwihta’s brothers returned to take my clothes and life, too. So I gathered up my robe, tying within it the seven apples of regret left by the comely Kahwihta. I then crawled on my hands and knees, like some beast of the wild, into the dense forest surrounding me.

It took me four days and every apple to reach Fort Hunter to the north by east. 

I should be quite grateful to Kahwihta, for I’m sure it was through her intercession that I am here today to tell my story of that verdant valley and the beautiful Mohawk girl. I blame myself, my arrogance and my poor language skills for all of this: my failed mission, the loss of my gun and the tools of my profession. and my near-death. 

You see, one of the old scouts at Fort Hunter told me what Kahwihta means in the Mohawk tongue. It means She Takes it With Her.

Indeed.

This story started out as a hoped-for 250-words or less piece of flash fiction for the weekly contest at Indies Unlimited website. But then, as usual, creative momentum and a too-long-dormant story-telling muscle went on a spree.  Yeah, it’s rough as a cob, but it’s just shy of 700 words, so it still qualifies as flash. And I feel better for having stuck with it.

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Huzzah for Private Hutchinson

In his patched and soot-stained tent, Colonel Elihu Leslie, his arm draped over his eyes, heard the single muffled drum outside in the twilight.

“Oh, Lord, already?” he said, for he knew what was about to occur. Colonel Leslie arose from his cot, bumping into his field desk where the letter to his wife lay. He pulled up his braces, buttoned on his tunic and stepped outside just as the seven soldiers and a lieutenant were about to march past. He raised his hand and the twenty-two-year-old lieutenant called “Halt!”

“Good morning, sir,” said the pink-cheeked lieutenant, who a year before had clerked at his father’s mercantile in Columbus, Georgia. “Firing party ready to execute your command, Sir.”

Colonel Leslie returned the young officer’s salute and looked at the single soldier, his arms bound and his hands tied in front of his waist, standing between the two files of soldiers with rifles. In the gathering light, Leslie could see the young soldier’s eyes darting right and left, his entire body shaking as if they were back in the snow at Fredericksburg last December.

With a look of pity in his eyes, Colonel Leslie approached the man.

“Soldier, you do understand why you’re here, don’t you?” Colonel Leslie said.

“‘Cause I left my sentry post two nights ago, sir? But nothing bad happened. No Yankees or spies came through. I just needed some coffee to shake off the cold and keep me awake, sir. We been marching for three days straight an’ I ain’t slept since…”

“None of us have, son. But your comrades all managed to stay awake.”

“Yessir. But do that mean I have to die? I been with this army since the bells rang in Atlanta calling us all to defend Georgia and the Confederate states. Why do I have to die this way, sir? I’m a decent soldier,” the condemned man said.

“Son we do this because we have to. Military discipline and all that. But I feel you’re missing the point of this procedure. You shouldn’t look at this as punishment, but as your sacred duty,” the Colonel said in a flat tone.

“Sir, I don’t rightly understand. How’s me gettin’ shot by my own boys line up with my duty?”

“Private, the execution of deserters, and you are by definition a deserter, has been a tenet of strong military discipline since the time of Joshua, the time of the great Assyrian kings, why even the great legions of Rome knew that skirting their assigned duties was punishable by death,” the Colonel said, his voice rising and a crowd of soldiers beginning to mill around the firing party.

“Sir, I don’t know about no Legions from Rome, just a couple of fellers from elsewhere in Floyd County. The Benteen brothers. And I still don’t think I should be shot,” the soldier said.

Leslie bowed his head and smoothed his mustache with his fingers. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and then put his hand on the condemned soldier’s shoulder.

“I see your point son, but let me explain some more about what you’ll be accomplishing today. You will not be dying because you left your post, leaving a section of our line without guard. No, you will be going to our Creator as a sign of your fealty to our Cause, protecting your home and family, since all these men here you’ll be leaving behind will see your demise and understand that such a fate awaits them, should they desert their comrades. That is a noble thing, son,” Leslie said.

“Really, sir?” the soldier said, his shoulders straightening and their shaking subsiding.

“Brave soldier, you will be laying down your life for your comrades, as much as if you fell with them in battle. Your name will be spoken of as the impetus of their never shirking their orders, never challenging the authority of their officers, nay, never giving an inch in retreat unless so ordered. Son, if I could, I would give you a medal for this brave act you’re about to commit,” Leslie said as he placed his hand on the soldier’s now-steady shoulder.

“I think I understand now, sir. I’m gonna die so my friends will be better soldiers, makin’ them better able to protect our state and country from the Yankee invaders.”

“Exactly, Private, Private, uh…”

“Hutchinson, sir. Ezra Hutch…”

“Private Hutchinson. Young warrior, I cannot salute you, but allow me to shake your hand, wish you Godspeed and send you on your way to obey your final orders,” the Colonel said.

“Yessir. Thank you, sir,” Hutchinson said, his bound hands clutching the Colonel’s hand. He squared his shoulders and stared straight ahead.

“Let’s get this over with, boys,” he said.

“Firing party, shoulder arms. Forward march,” the Lieutenant ordered. The small group marched down the remaining row of tents and through a treeline to a field outside of camp. About a hundred other soldiers who had witnessed Leslie and Hutchinson’s exchange followed in ranks as if marching on parade.

Leslie watched them until the last soldier disappeared behind the trees, then he reentered his tent and stared at the letter to his wife he had almost finished. He dipped his pen into his inkwell and scratched out a final sentence and signed it, “Your loving and devoted husband, Elihu.”

He unholstered the Navy Colt he had used during his days on the prairie with the 2nd US Cavalry before the war and sat on his cot. He thought of all the men he had ordered into the hail of steel and lead at battles for the past year and a half. Thought of his son, killed at Chancellorsville, who had thrilled at the chance to serve with his father, leading other young Georgians in battle against the Federals. He recalled his brother Josiah falling at his side at Gettysburg. He remembered a few of the faces and names, but the rest had become a blur, and that vexed him sorely for the past three weeks.

Leslie heard the volley of six Enfield rifles crack through the trees. There followed the cheers of one hundred men who had witnessed Private Ezra Hutchinson’s passing into the oblivion of a bastardized heroism of the Colonel’s own devise.

As the cheers echoed and faded, he carried out the last of the executions he’d ordered for that day, in that camp, in a war he never wanted to fight. In light of all his decisions, he knew his joining Private Hutchinson in honorable dishonor was an order he could never disobey.

Man, this was a long time coming. First draft, but it gives me a feeling of accomplishment I didn’t think I’d feel for some time. In any revision, I’m not sure if it would get bigger into a more full short story or pruned down into official flash fiction (1000 words or less) territory. I’m not going to worry about it. I’ve written us a story that feels like something different…and that’s a good thing. Be safe out there, erstwhile CSA friends!

Making Faces

Photo by Scott Webb

Otto Schneider worked to the natural music of the wind off the Baltic. Since the war, it became a more pronounced tune as it hummed and whistled through the ruins of what once was the Prora Kamp resort on Rügen Island.

It wasn’t quite the Strauss symphonies or accordions and brass of the folk bands the Nazis would pump through the speakers up and down the island, but it served its purpose as musical accompaniment for his efforts as well as it did for theirs. 

He recalled how Hitler’s “Strength Through Joy” organizers came to the island and told locals like Otto how they would build their spare hotels in an effort to provide affordable vacation space for the average German worker. 

“Every working German deserves a day at the beach,” they told Otto and his neighbors. So he and other local business owners quickly mobilized their meager concerns to support the coming throngs seeking a seaside holiday from their smoky factory towns, the packed cities and boring farms. 

His oldest son, young Otto, and the younger boy, Kurt, became his second pair of craftsman’s hands, carving little boats, guns and doll heads, doubling his production of those toys. His wife Magda and older daughter Maria, sewed the little outfits for the dolls. In addition to the carving, Otto painted the faces of the dolls, giving them life and a certain sparkling magic that rivaled the sunlight on the waves of the Baltic.

“How do you do that, Father?” his youngest daughter Dorothea would ask as she watched every step of her father turning blocks of wood into lively kindchen and frauleins. “It’s like magic.”

“It is, in a way, Dotte,” Otto would say. “And perhaps one day you will make such magic, turning the plain into the amazing.”

“Really, Father,” she would say. “When?”

“In time, liebchen. When you a get just a little older and the Kamp opens.”

“I will make dolls magical, Father. Just you wait and see.”

But the Prora Kamp never opened. It’s building slowed as Strength Through Joy became superseded by the Aufrüstung rearmament. And by 1939 young Otto left Rügen Island to become part of the Wehrmacht, followed in two years by Kurt.

“Otto!” Magda screamed in her sleep one night in December of 1942. 

“What, my darling? I’m here.”

“No, Papa, our Otto, our boy.”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s gone, I just know it,” Magda said, burying her head into her husband’s chest and sobbing.

“How do you know that, Magda. The last word we had, he was safely in reserve of the major armies. Here, you just rest upon me and go back to sleep. I’m sure you’ve had the fright of any mother of a soldier.” 

“He’s dead, Otto. Our boy is dead,” Magda said and quietly cried for the rest of the night.

The word came to the island two months later. Otto died that winter night of 1942 outside Stalingrad. 

Meanwhile, Otto kept making his dolls. 

Magda never was the same. Maria left Rügen Island to be near her fiancé’s family in Dresden in summer of 1943. Then letters stopped coming home from Kurt after the Allied invasion of France in 1944. He became just another German soldier who disappeared without a trace.

With the Allied bombing of Dresden in 1945, Magda’s heart finally gave out. Dorothea found her mother at her sewing machine where she had been mending and old dress of Maria’s for her younger daughter.

“Father, what will we do? It is only you and I left. No one is ever coming to this stupid island on holiday. There’s never going to be another holiday. There are no men, no husbands, no fathers. There will be no ladies and children coming to this ghost Kamp sitting on the shore,” Dorothea said. 

“We will do as we always have, Dotte. We will make or toys, give magic to our dolls, bring them to life. Someday, I know not when, the people will come back and our lives will be better. Look how well you can paint the dolls’ faces now. You have become better than I at giving them their special magic,” Otto said as he held up the spectacularly painted head of a doll Otto had carved the day before.

“Father, this a waste of our time. We must leave Germany. Perhaps to America. That is where the future lies, even for toymakers and their daughters.”

“Don’t be silly, Dorothea. What could we do there? I am an Old World craftsman. Americans have no need for that skill. And you are only seventeen. Who would hire a girl whose only skill is painting doll faces? No, we’re staying here,” Otto said with finality, taking Dorothea’s latest creation back into his shop.

“I will not sit here waiting for something to happen that never will like you, Father. I will not die here like Mother, waiting for someone to come back here that I know never will. I will go to America and make a new life for myself,” Dorothea said. But her father didn’t hear her. He only hummed along with the winds coming off the Baltic.

Otto was sure Dorothea would always be what he was, what his father had been and his father before him. She was a Schneider and that’s what Schneiders did.

Five years later, as she just finished painting the magical face on another of her dolls, Dot Snyder felt a chill as she thought of the man who had taught her the skill she now used to make a living in America. And she knew, she just knew as her mother knew, that Otto was gone.

But before she could give it another thought, one of her dolls called her from across the dressing room at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas.

“Dot, can you fix my face?” she said.

“Coming, Dolly. Can’t let you go out there without your magic, can we?” Otto Schneider’s daughter replied.

Here’s the final story from my Six Weeks, Six Senses project in concert with prompts from Canadian writer and teacher Sarah Salecky. This final week was to write about a sixth sense — the magic of intuition. I had a choice of photos to help guide me in terms of a character, a setting and an object. I write this today while crippled up with a painfully messed up back. Been down with it since Saturday. But I had to do this, even if I didn’t feel like it, or even feel like I could or not. So here you go. The story is a first draft flash fiction that may or may not grow up or grow better. But it grew. Thanks, Sarah.

Praying for Rain

“Do you think today will be the day, Pa?” Ephraim Holliday asked his father as the both stared west.

“Eph, I been praying it would be so,” said Ephraim’s father Eleazar. He reached down and gouged out a handful of the dry crust that covered what was supposed to be his cornfield like a scab. He crushed it in his hand and watched as the wind carried it eastward, as if saying, “You should go, too.”

“So you think those clouds gathering out by the mountains might be real rain clouds that’ll come our way?” Ephraim asked, since his father was the most learned man he knew out there on the Colorado prairie.

“I can’t really say just yet, Eph. A farmer’s just at the mercy of nature anywhere he lives. Out here on the shortgrass prairie, where water’s gotten scarce and we have to rely on nature’s own irrigation from the sky, mercy looks like it’s hard to come by,” Eleazar said. “Sometimes a farmer isn’t much more than a gambler, ‘cept the stakes are a whole lot higher than a few Gold Eagles.”

“Heard a man in Sterling say Hell would freeze over before we saw any rain that’d make a damn…oh, sorry…a difference for any dirt farmers out here,” Ephraim said.

“Go,” Eleazar said as placed his hand on his son’s shoulder and turned him back toward the house and barn. Ephraim knew that was his cue to do his morning chores, though they had become less laborious as his father was forced to sell off a few more head of his cattle and a mule just last week to the fellow running the mercantile in Sterling.

“Ephraim, could you fetch me a pail of water, please?” he heard his mother, Cora, call from their house, an unpainted cabin of sod and dry pine his father built with help from the Daley family. They had come west from Illinois with the Hollidays not two years before. They had made a life on the Illinois prairie for generations, according to Mr. Daley.

“Figured to make a go of it somewhere the land was open, free and wasn’t so crowded with lawyers, liars and politicians,” Daley had told his father the day they laid the first lumber.

But the Daley’s hadn’t counted on some Pawnee children who would ride onto their farm from time to time. Fewer of them a week after little Leah Daley got the measles and died. They hadn’t counted on some of the Pawnee boys telling their fathers about the sick little white girl who went to the Creator with the spotted sickness. They hadn’t counted on the Pawnee all catching measles and begin dying and deciding to nip the source of their curse in the bud by burning down the Daley’s place with the Daley’s inside. And then all but a handful of that band of Pawnee just disappeared like they had been caught inside the Daley’s blazing end, which Ephraim’s father said they might as well have.

Eleazar took possession of the seven scattered beeves and two mules the Pawnee hadn’t stolen or killed. Except now they were gone in trade to folks between his place and Sterling.

“Fire’s a terrible thing,” Ephraim said as he hauled a bucket up from the well his father had sunk near a small spring in a copse of trees nearby. The only trees for thirty miles in any direction, Ephraim reckoned. And from the way their shadows had begun to wake up from their western leisure, he also reckoned it was going on nine o’clock or so.

“Pour some of that into the big pot there, Ephraim,” his mother said. “Have you had anything to drink out there?”

“Not yet, Mother. Gotta see to the stock first.”

“If it doesn’t rain soon, you’ll be able to do that with a thimble, I’m afraid,” she said as she hefted the pot onto the hearth.

As Cora brushed back a strand of hair from her face, Ephraim stopped and realized how much his mother had changed in the past two years out here on the edge of the world. The hair she’d pulled back was gray and her eyes had taken on cracks like the ones along the lines of furrows out back.

“I’m going back to work, Mother,” Ephraim said. and the gave her a hug.

“Oh, my. You caught me by surprise, Eph. Almost dropped a plate. What brought that on?”

“Just ‘cause, Mother.”

“Well thank you, Eph. You’ve made my day. Now you better scoot before it gets too hot out there.”

Ephraim left the house and joined his father, who had begun digging a trench to somehow connect one end of his cornfield with the spring.

“Shovel’s right there, Ephraim. Let’s see if we can get another eighty or ninety feet today before your mother shoos you back in the shade,” his father said.

“Clouds are building, Pa. Look at that.”

Eleazar picked his head up from his digging and peered through the shimmering air at the far mountains, where the clouds were indeed rising like heavenly mountains themselves. Only they were beginning to crawl east.

“Hmmph, maybe the mountain’s gonna come to Muhammad today.”

“What? Who?”

“Oh, just something from old saying, Eph. ‘If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain.’ Means if one’s will doesn’t prevail, one must submit to an alternative. Like if it won’t rain on our field, then we have to bring rain to the field. Now pick up that shovel, boy and let’s move a mountain,” Eleazar said.

Ephraim grabbed for his shovel, but once more looked at the rising peaks of white and gray and made another little prayer for any rain the Lord saw fit to give the Hollidays.

“Even a thimbleful,” he whispered.

“Ephraim!”

“Yessir, Pa.” And the sound of two deep scraping shovelsful, punctuated by a shallower one, began a chain that lasted through noontime, lunch and until the clouds and sun met somewhere between Ephraim’s labors and the mountains, and when a cool wind brought a chill to the sodden backs of the Holliday men.

While they had labored, the sun had fired morning into a cumulonimbus alloy of power and potential crouching above the eastern Rockies. They looked up at the cloud tops and saw summer had forged an anvil upon which it might clang out sparks and pound down thunderclaps upon the prairies.

“Clouds are getting sorta dark aren’t they, Pa?” Ephraim said.

“Yeah, they actually are. Say you prayers, Eph. This could be the one, just like you asked for this morning,“ Eleazar said.

Out in the distance a jagged rip of white tore down from the sooty bottom of the cloud mass moving swiftly eastward.

“Shhh… Count, Eph. One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi… When they finally heard the rumble of thunder, Eleazar said, “I’ll be damned. Twenty miles.”

“How’d you know…?”

“Tell you later. Gather what stock you can into the barn and tell your mother I went to fetch what I can of the cattle. I’ll be back before anything happens. If anything IS gonna happen.”

They both scrambled from the ditch and carried their shovels toward the house, where Eleazar peeled off and saddled and mounted his bay and rode northwest to herd what beeves he could find and drive them nearer the house.

“Mother, did you see? Did you see the lightning? Hear the thunder?” Ephraim said as he rushed through the door.

“Only heard the rumble, Ephraim. Where’s your father?”

“He just went to gather some of the cattle. Said he’d be back directly. I gotta tie down the goats and milk cow and get the horses inside the barn. I’ll be back.”

As he headed outside, Ephraim saw the clouds had become a slate ceiling across the sky and he whispered again another prayer that his family’s farm would no longer thirst for relief from this drought. He jumped when he saw another flash of lightning and counted Mississippis until he heard the thunder, though he didn’t know how his father figured out the distance. Ephraim wondered if the thunder was God’s way of telling him salvation was on its way or only another empty test of faith, a weaving of wind and water with want.

His father was closing the corral just as he finished tethering the stock in the barn. Both Eleazar and his bay mount were panting and slicked with sweat.

“I’ll take care of Red here. You go in and help your mother with the other children,” Eleazar said as he uncinched his saddle and removed the bit from his horse’s mouth. “Scoot, I’ll be right behind you.”

Behind him, Ephraim could hear the wind blowing louder now and a flash of light burst through every gap in the boards of the barn walls. Then before he could get to “One Mississip…” a sound like the Apocalypse exploded all around.

“Is this it, Pa? This must be what we’re waiting for,” he shouted over his shoulder as he ran toward the house. Inside, his baby sister Lucy was wailing in his mother’s embrace and his two-year-old brother Edwin sat on the floor clutching Cora’s leg.

“Is your father back?” she said, fear widening those wear and sun crinkled eyes.

“Yes, Mother. He’s coming right behind…”

“Shut the door, Ephraim,” Cora said. The wind was blowing dust from what remained of a dream all through the front room.

And then came the hammering on the roof.

“Rain, Mother,” Ephraim shouted, which startled the baby even more. The clattering above was so loud, he didn’t hear his father enter, only felt the chill air that raised the hairs on the back of his neck. As he turned, he saw his father standing in the doorway. He was shaking small white balls off his shoulders and hat brim.

“Hail, Cora. Very little rain yet. And that wind’s blowing up something fierce,” Eleazar said, his own eyes projecting something Ephraim had never seen in them before. He’d seen his father angry enough to level a man twice his size. He’d seen him weep over the grave of little sister Susan back in Missouri. He’d seen their joy at Lucy’s birth. But he’d never even thought of the wide and confused look he saw at that moment in his father’s eyes.

“Ephraim, come here,” Eleazar shouted above the din on the roof and the roar of the wind, which, if anything, had grown louder. Eleazar knelt next to Cora and held his boys in front of him, as close to Cora as they could get without usurping little Lucy’s place in her arms.

“Let’s pray now. Let’s pray that we are saved from whatever has beset us out here on the edge of the world. Let’s pray, boys, as the Lord has ordained. “Our Father, which art in Heaven…” And the voices of Cora and her sons carried on with the Lord’s Prayer as Eleazar listened to how the wind had changed. It now reminded him of the trains that ran from Chicago to St. Louis. And he knew Hell had frozen over and his world had just turned upside down.

Outside, something looking like Satan’s tail dropped from the heavens, it’s tip a whirling skein of Colorado dirt, dust and short grass. And as the boys, their eyes tightly closed in prayer, recited “…now and at the hour of our death. For Thine is the Kingdom and the Power…” Satan scooped up their bone-dry souls, when the only sin they had committed was to pray for rain in this little portion of the frontier between his kingdom and the Creator’s.

First story of any length in a long time. A Western, I guess. It was prompted last week by Story A Day’s Julie Duffy, who asked for a solstice story. Then so much hard life fell down on me. So today, I just started writing a summer story. Can’t say if tornadoes his the Colorado prairie in late June or not. For once, I didn’t burn too much time researching as much as I normally do. Didn’t know what might come along to stop my writing and I wasn’t waiting to find out. So here’s a first draft, rough, dust-laden and jumbled as the Hollidays’ farm the day after this Summer Solstice sometime in the 1860s. And, yes, I know most early farmers on Colorado’s Eastern Plains lived in soddies, but I needed something that’d burn and made a racket when rain and hail hit the roof. 😉

Going Back to Escudilla

Whenever he came to town, Ike Biggs could feel their eyes on him not only on the street, but even from within the storefront windows. Some folks would step off the sidewalk into the street to avoid him, or move clean to its other side. They’d sometimes make it look like they were headed to a store over there, but usually Ike would notice how they’d look over their shoulders to see if he was watching them or, worse, following.

And he knew some would be saying something like, “The boy ain’t been right since that day,” just as Abner Klein whispered to no one as he leaned on a broom inside the doorway of his mercantile. And then Ike walked across the street, too, and headed right for Old Man Klein’s doorway.

“Oh shit,” the old man said as he tripped over his broom and stumbled to the floor. He did not make it to lock the door, with its CLOSED sign hanging at eye-level, before Ike stepped up on the wooden sidewalk and strode inside.

“You all right, Mr. Klein?” Ike asked as the old man picked himself up from beside the door and kneeled in a forlorn posture, as if God Himself had just given him the bad news he wouldn’t be saved that day.

“Oh, good morning, Ike. I’m just, uh, looking for my pencil. I think I dropped it over here somewhere.”

“You don’t mean the one behind your ear, do you?”

“Oh? Well land’s sakes, there it is. Why thank you, Ike. Thank you very much. Now, um, what is it I can do for you today? Oh, no no, you just stay there. I can get myself up,” Old Man Klein said, grasping the door knob and hefting himself to his feet with a profound sigh.

“I’s wondering if my order came in yet. That wire and linen canvas and feathers. Gonna make it this time for sure,” Ike said. Klein couldn’t help but see the large oval scar atop the young man’s head and how his eyes never quite looked in exactly the same direction at the same time.

“The canvas and feathers got here just day afore yesterday, they did, Ike. But the wire I had to special order from Chicago. The kind you wanted ain’t thick enough for fencing. In fact, about the only thing it’s good for is stringing pianos. Cattle would just bust right through it and I don’t think you can really corral chickens, eh?” the old man said with a nervous laugh.

“Ain’t for no corral and you know it, Mr. Klein. It’s gonna hold together something more grand than anything anyone in this town or even them Tonto and White Mountain Apache have ever seen. And I don’t mean no grand pianee, either,” Ike said as he pounded his hand on the counter.

Ike then rubbed at his scar and closed his eyes, which suited Old Man Klein because he never could figure out which one to look at when he had to talk to Ike.

“Now don’t get yourself all riled up, Ike. Didn’t mean to start anything. Here, let me fetch that batch of canvas for you. This is going to make some giant tent, I’ll tell you,” Klein said as he headed to the storeroom just at back of the mercantile.

“It ain’t for a tent, you know,” Ike said, calming down as he heard Klein fumbling with bundles in the back. “You’ll all see the day I come back to town and I ain’t walking.”

“A’course, son,” Old Man Klein said as he hefted a huge roll of off-white canvas onto the counter. “You’ll be riding that buckskin pony you lit out of the White Mountains with, no doubt. Fine little piece of…”

“No,” Ike shouted. “Won’t be ridin’ Jlin-Litzoque neither.”

“Well, if you ain’t walkin’, and you ain’t ridin’, I got no idea how you’re gonna get into town except maybe…”

“When you expecting that wire to come in, Mr. Klein? I’m gonna need it to finish my łigai-itsá.”

“Was told it was in Scottsdale yesterday, so we should have it here by Friday. Your licorice?”

“My łigai-itsá. White eagle.”

“Oh, sure, Ike. White eagle. I’ll be sure to send little Eddie up to your place and let you know when you can come down and pick up your wire,” Klein said.

Ike pushed twelve dollars onto the counter.

“Thank you, Mr. Klein. I’ll be down to pick it up lickety split. And in another week or so I’ll be coming here maybe even faster. Certainly grander. Why I’ll go back to Escudilla and I’ll come a’soar…”

Sheriff Ben Benson knocked on the door frame of Klein’s store and said, “Morning, Abner. Ike. Everything all right in here today?”

“Yep, Sheriff, just fine,” Ike said as he rushed past Benson, his huge roll of canvas and a sack of feathers locked in a bearhug.

“Will you look at that, Abner. Sidewalk clears of folks like it was the damn Red Sea and Ike was Moses himself carrying the Commandments. Boy looks like he’s seen the Burning Bush itself, too. A’course poor Ike ain’t been right since them White Mountain Apaches tossed him over that cliff on Escudilla Mountain,” Benson said. “Would’ve been kinder for the poor, addled sumbitch if he hadn’t hit that eagle nest on the way down. Some days he talks like he wishes he’s one of them eagle young’uns that fell with him.”

“Yeah, but they were able to fly away and poor Ike just sorta fell like a sack of… Wait a minute!”

First story draft in a very long time. I have no idea from where it came and it’s as first-drafty as one of my stories can get. But, darn it, it’s a story! I started with the idea of some Western character name Faustus and wanted to see what deal we both could make with the writing Devil his self. Instead, I wrote about a man (Ike, as in Icarus) who was looking to soar with the angels.

Staring At the Sun As If Through a Smoke Hole

Miriam Buskirk pulled her mother away from the front room of their cabin and said, “Joshua just sits there staring. He sits so closely and stares at the fire. He lays in the fields at noon and stares at the sun. He stares at the river. He hasn’t said but five words since he got back and I couldn’t understand a one of them.”

Her mother Amanda put her arm around her daughter’s shoulder and quietly said, “The poor boy has been living with the savages for nine months. Who knows what they did to Joshua, or what horrors he’s seen. For all we know he saw them kill your and his poor father, my beloved Marcus, and that’s enough to make anyone act queerly when they come back to civilization.”

They both turned when they heard the creak of the chair across the plank floor. They watched as sixteen-year-old Joshua Buskirk rose from where he’d been sitting for the past hour and shuffle toward the door. So close had he been to the flames, they had scorched the skin of his face red. With his head down, he mumbled something into his linsey-woolsey shirt and stepped out into the midday sun.

“There he goes again, Mother. How long do you think this will go on?” Miriam said.

Amanda Buskirk, watching her son disappear over the rise toward the east, seemingly to go meet the sun before noon, said, “Until it doesn’t I guess. At least I don’t worry as much about him running back to the Mohawk again. But just running…?” She left the remainder of that sentence to hang in the breeze from the open doorway just as Joshua disappeared again over the hill.

Joshua strode through the tall grass and wildflowers over the hill and plopped down in the bare spot he had made there after a fortnight of rejoining his mother and sister. As he leaned back, he was proud to see how he still hadn’t given up the beaded moccasins he wore when he returned to the Buskirk farm after traders sent out by the Great Patroon, Van Rensselaer, found him in the village of Ossernenon. 

*  *  *

“We thought you were dead, boy,” the fur trader Markus Eikenboom said to Joshua when he was allowed to speak to the boy. But Joshua was silent. 

“Don’t you know your own tongue anymore, boy?” Eikenboom said to even more silence. “Where is your father, son? The Patroon will want me to buy back his freedom, too.” 

Joshua turned and walked back to the lodge of the family that had adopted him, only saying one word: “kanién:tara.”

“What does that word mean?” Eikenboom asked his Mahican guide.

“River,” was his reply.

*  *  *

Joshua lay on his back and stared into the white disc of the sun as it crossed over the hilltop and moved what little shadow he threw from west-leaning to east. If his mother had let Miriam follow him, she would have seen him blinking as the sunlight teared in his eyes. When she had watched from afar, Miriam had told her mother, “Joshua just lies there like he is dead, Mother.”

After that day’s morning had passed into afternoon, Joshua arose from his place beneath the surrounding high grass and made his way down to the swift-flowing Schoharie Creek. It ran past the Buskirk farm on its way to marry with the river the Dutch had named for his people, for he still thought of the Kanien’kehá:ka as his family. Most especially since the death of his father.

That’s the one part of his old life with Miriam and Mother that stuck with him after he and his father were captured by a Mohawk hunting party while the Buskirk men were setting their own trap lines almost a year before. After the Mohawk warriors brought Joshua and Marcus to Ossernenon, each was suffering from the pace, rough treatment and, especially to Marcus Buskirk, the general arrogance of their captors.

“I am surprised these savages have not yet killed us, Joshua,” his father said on their first night in Ossernenon. 

“Perhaps they will let us go if we just do as they ask, Father,” Joshua said in the glow of the fire in this section of the longhouse where his captors’ family lived.

“Do not, under any circumstances, lower yourself to the level of these savages, Joshua. They are fit only as providers of furs to the Patroon and will be someday be subjugated to our strength soon enough. We should let them know we will not be cowed by their haughty and violent ways.”

“But the one they called Shawátis seems to have treat us better than the other men. Perhaps we can convince him to…”

“Enough, Joshua! We are Christian men and, as such, tower over these animals. Why, with but one dozen militiamen, I could wipe this valley clean of their pestilence,” Marcus Buskirk hissed. “And should I make my escape, that is exactly what I intend to do.”

Joshua stared at the flickers of sunlight on the Schoharie, lost in its hypnotic dance, as if it was how the light twinkled in the eyes of Shawátis’ children. Then he clenched shut his eyes and tried not to see that day when his father, sent out to gather squash and beans with the women, picked up a rock and brought it down upon the head of Shawátis’ oldest son, who was not quite Johua’s age, and had been guarding the women from any intruders from the forest. Marcus then ran from the field and headed for the river, leaving Joshua behind with the other boys, who were learning to make bows from one of the elders.

After a group of the men chased down and brought Joshua’s father back to the village, Marcus Buskirk’s face showed signs of a severe beating, though he was still alive. Not so Shawátis’ son, who had fallen dead from the blow Marcus had delivered.

“I should kill this man who took my son from me,” Shawátis said. “Or perhaps I should kill his son. Or even both, my grief is so deep.”

The men agreed and said the white man deserved any of those punishments. But then the grandfather of Shawátis’ clan stepped forward and said there might be a better way to solve this dilemma with some sort of natural justice.

“Let us make these two fight for the right to live. The boy has grown strong in our family in the months since he came to us. The man has grown more and more of a problem. If, Shawátis, you will agree, we will allow them to fight and then the victor will be allowed to stay, The loser, should he survive, I will leave to your best judgment.”

The men all yelled their consent, since their’s was a warrior society, enlightened and noble, but warriors nonetheless.

“Cannot war father,” Joshua shouted in his broken Mohawk. But Shawátis nodded in approval of the elder’s proposal. As the crowd of warriors pushed the Buskirks to the fire at the end of the longhouse, Joshua didn’t recognize the man through the flames as his father. 

It wasn’t the face swollen and bruised from the beating at the hands of the warriors. It wasn’t the ragged woolen clothes his father never stopped wearing in the months since their capture. It was his eyes, enraged, unknowing, mad, the eyes of a man who had killed a child earlier that day and looked like he would do it again. And then that man jumped through the fire at Joshua.

Knocked back onto the hard-packed dirt floor of the longhouse, Joshua looked up and blinked at the sun shining down into his eyes from the smoke hole in the roof. And then there was that face again.

“You’ll be better off dead than living with these savages, Joshua,” he heard his father say. Marcus Buskirk wrapped his hands around Joshua’s neck and squeezed. Joshua grabbed at his father’s arms to break his grasp. He scratched at the crazed eyes to no avail. Reaching back over his head, Joshua felt the cubby in which his Mohawk family stored firewood. He grabbed a piece of the kindling and swung with whatever strength he had left. His makeshift club found its mark on the side of his father’s head and the older Buskirk, still aching from his previous beating sagged.

Joshua scrambled to his knees and out of the longhouse, gasping and wheezing as many of the longhouse residents followed him into the sunlight. Not far away he could see the Schoharie and for a moment he wondered if his mother, somewhere downriver, knew if he still lived.

He felt his father’s fist on the back of his head and all went dark for a moment. Face down in the dirt, he dimly saw his father’s boots walking next to him and he saw the rough hand in the ragged sleeve pick up another rock and expected to hear the sound of the rock on his skull and that would be it.

But the sound of a rock hitting bone did not proclaim Joshua’s death. Rather it was the end of Shawátis’ war club coming down upon Marcus Buskirk’s head that cracked through Joshua’s foggy consciousness. He saw the men lift the body of the raggedy man who once loved him, often disciplined him like an Old Testament elder, and had just tried to kill him as Abraham would have Isaac, but for the intercession of God. And now God had interceded in Joshua’s death at the hand of his father.

“I did not like that man and I should have killed him when we caught him trapping in our country,” Shawátis said. “A man who would kill a child, one who was protecting his little sisters, is not a man, is not someone who should live with civilized people. I am sorry, young Yoshoo, but he had to die. Now, if you wish, you may join my family.” 

Joshua pondered this each day since he had been returned to his family’s farm on the Schoharie. Every day, just as he had in Ossernenon. But here it felt different, as if he really didn’t belong there anymore. The widower Cornelius De Groot from the farm just downriver from the Buskirks’ had already been sniffing around Amanda for months, according to Joshua’s sister, even with the fate of Marcus still unknown.

A dugout canoe lurched upstream from around the bend in the creek. In it, three young Kanien’kehá:ka were paddling their way back from the mouth of the Schoharie where it emptied in the Mohawk River.

Joshua raced to the river bank, waving and shouted, “Kwe. Hánio kén:thon, iatate’kén:’a.”

The young men looked up to see the white boy greeting them and asking them to come near. Curious, they paddled closer, yet stayed in deeper water.

“Where are you headed, brothers?” Joshua asked.

“Home to Ossernenon. Aren’t you..?”

“Yes, I am the son of Shawátis. Could you take me with you upriver?” Joshua said.

“If you wish,” said the young Mohawk in he bow of the dugout. “Where is it you need to go.”

“Home. To Ossernenon,” Joshua said before he waded into the Schoharie, looked once more at the sun as it began its decline over the hill, behind which his mother placed another log on the fire.

Well, so much for writing a story a day in May. Lost my mojo, as you probably can tell from this very fast free write first draft I began this rainy afternoon. There was no prompt that I know of. I just needed to write a story. So I did. Maybe. Hey, it’s a true first draft. Check your Hemingway quotes for what these are worth.

Angel of Mercy

“Winter’s Chill” Brett Reeder Lost River Range, Mackay, Idaho,

The dog barking outside the barn drowned out even the howl of the blue norther. But Angel Favor was not one to be moved by a dog. Not when that wind blew a purple cloud wall from the north over what was a warm November day, smothering it in a deadly freezing hell in but a handful of hours.

But a pair of shotgun barrels poked in his wind-chapped face gave him plenty of reason to move, even if they were being held by this wisp of a girl.

“Whoa, there, Missy. Hope you know what you’re doing with that scatter gun,” Angel said as he held up his hands in exaggerated surrender. The gun looked to be a 12-gauge and the girl’s slender finger was wrapped around both triggers.

“I do. Now what are you doing in our barn? And put the fire out. Now!” the girl said. Angel gauged her to be about 12 too.

“I’m just trying to get out of this dam…I mean this darn blue norther, Missy. Finally get warm. Don’t mean no harm. Didn’t wish to bother the house and me and old Monkey Face over there was about to die if we didn’t some shelter. And quick-like.” Angel pointed to the corner where his shivering roan shared hay with a pair of mules in one of the stalls.

“Hope you don’t mind, I borrowed one of your blankets for my horse. She never could handle the cold. I can’t, either,” Angel said with a grin as he kicked out the small fire he’d built in a hole he dug in the hard-packed dirt floor.

“You haven’t answered my question, Mister,” the girl said as she raised the heavy barrels at Angel’s head again.

“Name’s Favor, Angel Favor, Missy. Or, as my grandma who named me would say, ‘Ahn-hel Fah-vore.’ But folks just call me Angel. I was a couple days out of Panhandle City on my way to the Diamond F looking for work, when this norther blew in like nothing I ever seen. And, well, here we are. So, if you wouldn’t mind…”

“I do mind. You say you came northeast from Panhandle?”

“Yes’m, more or less.”

“You run into anybody on the trail during that time?”

“No, Missy. Not a one.”

“You’re sure,” the girl said, as she eased her grip on the gun and idly let the the 12-gauge barrels droop toward the floor. The expression on her face fell as well.

Angel grabbed the muzzles and pulled the gun from her hands. The girl jumped back and tripped on the oversized boots she wore beneath her blanket robe.

“Honest, little Missy, I don’t mean anyone no harm. I wouldn’t even have stopped here if it weren’t for the cold. And for gosh sakes, now it’s snowing, too. Would it be too much to ask if I could come into your house just to get warm? Here, take the scatter gun back as a sign of good faith,” Angel said.

He offered the girl his hand and helped her to her feet, handing back the shotgun.

“All right, Mister. You can come inside. We’re good Christians in this house and Jesus calls us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and welcome the stranger. So that’s what we do”

“Amen to that, little sister,” Angel said, raising his hand to Heaven.

“Glad to hear that you believe those teachings, Mister. But there’s another one I ain’t said yet.”

“What’s that, Missy’?”

“How are you at caring for the sick?”

Once Angel saw to his horse’s comfort, he followed the girl through the freezing wind and cutting snow toward her house, pulling some firewood from the stack by the door. Before he entered, he took a look back at the barn. Or toward the barn, the blizzard having erased it from view, just as it had the footprints he and the girl had made only seconds before.

“This ain’t good,” Angel muttered to himself as he entered the cabin and pushed the door closed.

“All right, Mr. Angel Favor, you can throw one of those logs on the fire and shake out of your coat. There’s coffee in the pot and some stew left in the Dutch oven. Oh, and I’m Martine White. Folks call me Marti,” the girl said.

“I thank you kindly, Miss Marti. I ain’t been this cold since a Norther blow in like this in ’88. And that was a killer. I mean there was cattle foundered and froze in the snow from…”

“Stop! No more,” Marti said. “Now what was it you said about tending to the sick?”

“Well that depends on the kinda sick,” Angel said as he ladled the boiled down dregs of the stew onto a chipped white plate with blue flowers around its rim. “I ain’t know miracle worker or nothing, but I’ve tended some old boys back from snakebite, fevers, even got one boy from Kansas through the bloody flux.”

That’s when Angel heard the weak cough from behind a curtain at the far end of the cabin.

“What do you know about the grippe?” Marti asked. She pulled back the curtain and revealed a woman, Angel guessed to be in her mid-thirties, lying in a brass-framed double bed.

“My mother’s been sick with this fever and cough for days now and is only getting weaker. My Pa didn’t know what more he could do and set out yesterday morning to fetch a doctor from Panhandle City to see if he could help, you know,” Marti’s voice cracked, “save her.”

“You say your mama’s been like this for a few days now?” Angel asked.

“Yep. Fever, aches all over, then this cough. Mister, when you said you didn’t see my father on the road to Panhandle, an’ then this blizzard started, all I could think was I was going to be an orphan in a few days. And that’s only if this storm lifts.” Marti took the wet dish towel off her mother’s forehead and dipped it into a washers on the table next to her bed. She rung out the towel and placed back on her mother’s head.

“She’s burning up, Mister. Can you help at all?”

“Damn, Missy, the grippe, that there Russian influenza, is nothing I want to get too close to. I seen it run through Indian camps, cow camps, whole towns and leave…well, let’s say it wasn’t a good thing.”

“Then there’s nothing we can do. I don’t even know if my father’s made it to Panhandle or is holed up someplace in this storm, or his horse foundered or busted it’s leg, or…”

“Worryin’ like that’s not going to help your Ma or your pa. And most ‘specially you, Miss Marti.” Angel said.

He quickly put on his coat, pulled down his hat and moved toward the door.

“Your gonna leave us? What kind of Christian man would do such a thing?” Marti shouted as he grabbed the doorknob.

Angel turned and said, “I never claimed to be the greatest Christian ever wore shoes, but you stay here.” With that he opened the door to the howling wind and cold and strode out in the direction of the barn. he returned in a couple of minutes, his hat and shoulders covered in snow.

“Missy, would take my hat and shake the snow off it into your Mama’s basin there? We gotta help get her fever down first. Now, please tell me your Mama is a good baker. I need me some cinnamon,” Angel said as he shed his coat and placed it over a chair.

Marti looked up with a start from dropping the snow off the brim of Angel’s Stetson into the basin.

“Baking? Baking? My Mama’s dying here and you want to make a damn cake?”

“No, Missy, I ain’t much of a baker. But I seen this tin of medicines they sell in Dallas what claim to help with the influenza. Says on the tin they’re made of cinnamon and quinine.

“My mother’s spices are in that cabinet by the stove, but where in God’s name are you going to get…”

Angel pulled a small bottle from his pocket and plunked it on the table top.

“I ain’t never traveled without it since they give it to me in Cuba for the malaria. It’s good for fevers and whatever’s in your blood that might be making you sick. The cinnamon, or so my big sister taught me, can help with pains and helps with colds and the grippe. Now I don’t know how much of what is in them pills they had in the apothecary, but I’d say your mother’s not got much to lose if we make us a weak tea of these things and have her take as much as you can give her. Then there’s only one other thing I know that’ll help her now,” Angel said.

“What’s that?” Marti asked.

“Pray, Miss Marti. Pray like you never did before.”

“Here, Mama, try to take some of this tea. Might help you feel better,” Marti said as she spooned some of Angel’s concoction to her mother’s lips. Marti heard the door creak open behind her and felt the wind whoosh snow into the kitchen.

“Mister!” she called, as Angel closed the door behind him.

“Gosh darn that man. Now he leaves me to fend for myself. Don’t worry, Mama, I’m sure Pa’s on his way back with the doctor. We just had a bit of a storm that’s slowing him down,” she said. But Marti was beginning to feel none of them were going to survive this storem, one way or another.

Then the door burst open again and Angel rushed into the cabin looking like a Stetson-wearing snowman.

“You miss me, Miss Marti?” Angel said with something between a grin and a grimace. “I think I got something else that might help your mother until your daddy gets back with the sawbones.” Angel pulled yet another bottle from the pocket of his gum rubber rain slicker.

“What do you have now, Mister Favor?”

“You can call me Angel, Missy, seeing as how we’re going to be neighbors for awhile. This here is some horse liniment I picked up in Panhandle to help ease old Monkey Face’s aches and pains. Mine, too, truth to tell.”

“You’re not putting that stuff on my mother,” Marti blurted. “Like to burn the skin right off her.”

“No, Missy, I want her to breathe it.”

“What?”

“Yep. I’m gonna put a dab of this here liniment in a pot of boiling water and let you mama breathe in the steam. This stuff’s got camphor and menthol in it and I just know I seen something in that same apothecary that folks with colds were supposed to smear on their chests. Supposed to break up their catarrh. Pretty sure it was something like this stuff. Sure as heck smelled something like it,” Angel said as he put a pot on the stove and set it to boiling.

“I’m just going to use a teeny tiny bit, all right? Just to get the vapors up. Might help. Couldn’t hurt more than what your poor mama’s going through right now. If I’m right, it might help her get up some of that stuff and ease her breathing,” he said.

After that, Angel wrapped some snow in an oilcloth tablecloth and his own coat and placed them on either side of the Mrs. White.

“Why don’t you get some sleep, Miss Marti?” Angel said to the girl. “I’ll keep the fire going and an eye on your mama.”

“But, Mama and, and my pa…”

“I’ll be listening for him, too. Was he well mounted when he left? Did he have a blanket and a decent coat?”

“My father has a good horse. Marcus Aurelius, he calls him. He’s a foreman at the Diamond F, so he needs a good horse for that and to keep our own stock under watch. And, yeah, he had a blanket on Marcus and Mama wouldn’t let him leave without his new coat,” Marti said.

“That’s good news, Missy. Now why don’t you get some sleep and I’ll keep an eye on your mama. Get me another pot of coffee going, if you don’t mind.”

“All right,” Marti sighed. “I’ve been up for a whole day and a half now and I don’t think I could stay awake another minute. Thank you, Mister Favor.”

“You can call me Angel, Missy. We been partners in helping your mama and I think partners can call each other by their first names,” Angel said with a grin.

“Thank you again, Mist…I mean Angel,“ Marti murmured as she rolled into the blankets of her bed behind another curtain dividing that end of the cabin. Angel could hear her rhythmic, soft breathing within a minute.

“Well, I guess I’d better make me some coffee,” Angel said. After the water had come to a boil, he let the ground beans sit in the pot for about a minute and then poured himself a cup from the rack that contained other pieces of the blue decorated china upon which he had eaten his stew. When was that? Four, five, six hours ago? He’d lost track of time. That sure is some mighty fine dishes to own when you’re living out here, he thought.

Angel looked over at Mrs. White. He had been fearful of touching Marti’s mother because, after all, she was a married woman. A gentleman does not touch a woman of such refinement in her nighty without benefit of clergy, he thought. Or, in some of the places he’d been, five dollars.

He also wasn’t so sure he wanted to get close enough to Mrs. White should she give him the illness that might take her life that very night. But with Marti sleeping soundly, the poor little mite, Angel knew he’d have to minister to the woman himself. He placed another pot of water on the stove and fetched the basin in which he had placed the liniment and water before.

“Damn, this does have a certain something to it,” he said to himself as his eyes watered and nose ran. He made another cup of his quinine and cinnamon concoction and moved to Mrs. White’s bedside.

He lifted the spoon to her slips and she weakly said, “Martine?”

“She sleeping over in her corner, Missus,” Angel said.

“Doctor?” she wheezed.

“No, ma’am. Just someone who stopped to help.” She took a sip of the tea and gave a weak cough. “That’s it, Missus. Let’s get some of that stuff up.”

“Matthew?” she whispered.

“No, ma’am. Angel, Angel Fav…oh, your husband. No, ma’am. He ain’t back yet. But don’t you worry. Little Martine has been taking extra good care of you. You’ve got yourself a strong little girl over there. She a downright hero.”

Mrs. White gave Angel a weak smile and began to cough again.

“Ma’am? I want to help you along a little with that cough. First have another sip of this tea and then I want you to sit up a little and breathe in some steam from a basin I’m preparin’. Think you can do that for me, ma’am?”

She nodded.

“Good. I’ll be back in two swishes with my other concoction.”

She grasped his hand and, in a weak voice, said, “Thank you, Mister…?”

“Angel, ma’am. Angel Favor. Now you just rest here for only a minute.”

Angel returned with the liniment-infused basin of water and a towel he had soaked. He placed the basin next to the woman and held the towel her head to keep the vapors where she could breathe them.

Mrs. White’s breath rattled in her chest and Angel thought this might be the end.

“Marti, Marti, come over here to your mama,” he yelled. He was fearful her mother was dying and didn’t want either of the White womenfolk to not say goodbye if this was it.

Angel pulled the towel away as Marti ran to her mother’s bedside.

“Mama? Mama? Are you all right?” Marti said.

Mrs, White gave a great sigh, followed a wet cough of loosened phlegm.

“Cover her mouth and let her spit that stuff out, Marti,” Angel said, just as Mrs. White coughed up another bit of the stuff congesting her lungs. She then took a deep inhalation and coughed again.

“Oh, Mama.” Marti cried. “Is this good, Mr. Angel?”

Angel’s mind was spinning. Had he killed this poor woman with his ministrations?

“I ain’t sure, Marti. Not at all. But better out of her than in, I’d imagine,” Angel said unconvincingly.

The dog suddenly barked, the cabin door flew open and a large man with a torn bit of blanket wrapped around his face stood in the doorway. He was covered in snow. Behind him, Angel could see the snow was not falling so heavy as before, but the wind still howled.

“Who’re you?” the man growled, a Colt pistol suddenly appearing in his hand.

“Pa!” Marti shouted and ran to the snow-covered figure, who raised his Peacemaker.

Angel stood back from Mrs. White and said, “Easy there, mister. I’m just a traveler caught in this norther who your daughter asked to help with her ailin’ mama.”

“It’s all right, Pa. Mister Favor has been helping me. I didn’t know what to do when you didn’t get back after the storm hit,” Marti said.

From the bed they hear a voice say, “Matthew, close that door before we freeze to death.”

“Sarah? Sarah!” Matthew White cried, holstered his revolver and rushed past Angel to his wife. “I was so afraid I’d return and you’d be…you’d be…gone. And…what the hell is all this? You smell like a gimpy horse and a tin of muffins. And the bed is getting wet from…is this snow?”

“That’d be some of the things I did to help your Missus,” Angel said.

Matthew White felt his wife’s forehead and noted her fever had broken. Her breathing was stronger and her grip on her husband was stronger than when he left two days before.

“I tried to get to Panhandle, but the norther overtook me and Marcus and I had to take shelter in the abandoned barn at the old Blandings’ place. Never could make it to the doctor,” he said, shaking his head.

“That’s how I found Mr. Favor, Pa. In our barn,” Marti said.

“I saw the roan in with my mules. You had to take my horse’s brand new blanket for that old mare?” White said.

“Under the circumstances, I didn’t get too choosy. I took the one on top,” Angel said.

“Well, whatever you did, it doesn’t matter because you helped my wife and daughter when I couldn’t. I don’t know how, but Sarah seems to have broken through from what I was afraid was the influenza we’ve been hearing so much about. I don’t know how we can thank you,” Matthew White said.

“Well, once all this storm ends up, I imagine you’ll might need some hands over at the Diamond F. I’m even better at taking care of stock than I am people,” Angel said.

“And he’s really good at taking care of people, Pa,” Marti said as she looked up into her father’s eyes.

“He’s a godsend, Matthew,” Sarah whispered from her bed.

“You got a job, Mister… I’m sorry, what’d you say your name was?”

Ahn-hel Fah-vore. But most folks call me Angel.”

This story came out of nowhere and tried going back there three times. But, over the past three days I battled my way though it. I wanted to do a story about one of the great Blue Northers that struck the Texas panhandle in the latter part of the 19th Century, or the one in 1911. My friends from Texas and the southern Plains know what I’m talking about. I didn’t realize when I “built” Angel, how resourceful he was. He surprised all of us. Hope you could suspend your disbelief for a spell and enjoyed the story.