the changing truth

June 7, 2008
By Steven Thompson, Montesano, WA

Southern Arizona is rough country for anyone or anything, that’s why few things make it there. There are mice, rattlers, and scorpions and because only a experts could find water there are not many plants, but camas root and cactuses. The only human beings to live in the southern deserts of Arizona are the Apache Indians who stalk like the mountain lion and are strong and fearless like the bull. They know how to live off the land and are for the most part peaceful, unless you are a white man in their territory.

The sun was slightly past mid-air on its way setting to the west. In the tall stone pillars and the great canyon walls show all of the colored layers of rock that can’t be explained as anything but pure aged beauty. In the distance there is a plume of dust kicked up by what looks like a single horse. It’s odd that a horse would be sprinting in the middle of the desert because it could be a likely death in heats like these. Anyone who has had to travel in the west could tell that there is something wrong with this picture.

More closely observed you can tell that the horse is being ridden hard by a cowboy and about seventy yards behind there are six injuns on horseback sprinting hard and keeping up. This man is Clallam White, an ex-soldier who earned his way in America fighting in the war between the states. He’s just a hard man with a goal, to live in California and make a family. That’s just a dream until he can make it through Arizona alive, and at the rate he’s going his chances are grim.

Trickles of sweat were now rolling down Clay’s face. As a boy he worked his hands raw and his muscles sore from the five in the mourn’ days he spent in his families fields back in Virginia. He always felt that it was for the best because he always knew that it was what kept him fit and in shape…but that was way back and now he wished he had his youth once again. The Indians were one thing but what he was really worried about was the terrain.

As Clay was rounding one of the never-ending bends, the canyon became much narrower and he noticed a huge boulder sitting about twenty-five yards above the canyon floor and forty yards down from were he rode. Clay had a smirk of relief on his face and pulled a huge carbine from the scabbard on the side of the mustang and mounted the butt of the oversized weapon on a steel hand crafted mount on the left shoulder of the horse. Clay loaded a lead slug half the size of a fist into the chamber with a massive amount of powder and took great aim for the unsound structure of rock and clay. Waiting patiently as the distance grew less he made no shift in the saddle or of expression on his face as though he forgot of everything else around him. He was just at ten yards and he pulled the trigger, the horse kicked sideways but kept on track without missing a step as though this has happened before and all hell broke loose because along with the roar of the weapon echoing down and back through the canyon, there were gruesome screams of Indians as the rocks and boulders crushed the bones of them and the innocent horses. Now that reality was flowing back and the adrenaline was going away, clay realized he heard an odd scream unlike that of the apache, it was a gruff and raspy voice and Clay knew then that there must have been a man above the rocks when he fired and he or they came tumbling down rubble.

Clay veered the horse around and trotted back toward the dusty pile of rock. With a sick feeling in his gut and afraid of what he might find he glanced all over the pile searching for a body or movement, but he saw nothing and then a yelp was let out and clay started moving boulders out of the way searching for the sound then there was a head. It was a white man and he wasn’t in very good shape.

“Hey…HEY!”, Clay yelled to keep the man conscious, he went to med school and knew that with a head injury you can’t have that person go unconscious because there will be a chance that they will stay there. The man was still awake though, and clay could tell now that he had the man pulled out and laid back on his bed roll.

“Snake, I was bit, a snake.”, The man didn’t know what he was saying but Clay knew something was wrong.

Clay was checking the mans limbs for a snake bite and finally on the mans left leg he found a bite wound, only it wasn’t a snake bite, there was a chunk of his leg missing but it was a fresh bite mark from a person, not just a person, but one of the apache. It took a clean chunk right out of his calf and then clay realized that that must have been why the man yelped. Clay grimly chuckled to think that the Indian had saved this mans life.

“What’s your name?”, said clay.

The man opened his eyes but looked at clay blankly, then his attitude changed for the worst and the man broke out in an awkward rage.

“Where’s Jessica?”, The man yelled, while lunging toward clay ready to kill.

The men fought, rolling back and forth on the ground for a good five minutes, but clay has had a lot of different training from the army and finally used a rock to crack the man on the collar bone, being afraid for his life. The man’s eyes glossed over and he rolled onto his back, arching it with agony. Clay stood up, then backed off, but stayed in the sight of the outraged man to talk some sense into him.

“Who is Jessica?”, clay demanded, even a little ticked off himself from the random attack.

“My wife, my wife, where is she?”, the man said in a more desperate tone this time,

Clay’s face grew white, and his stomach grew knots as he was reminded that maybe this man wasn’t the only person to be caught by the avalanche of rock.

“Sorry to say friend, but you were caught in a rock side, but you were the only person to be scavenged from the debris.”

Once the man processed what he had just heard though his mind, he started to sob then cry like few men do in their lifetimes. Clay felt bad, but also didn’t know how to comfort a man crying so bad when he caused the man’s pain in the first place, so he just gave the man time to grieve without the interrogations.

The next day the man was ready to talk to Clay and Clay was ready to listen.

“We were just down in the bottom of this canyon yesterday“, the man explained, “Oh, by the way, my name’s James Peyton, I’m from Kansas and me and my family wanted to head west, maybe to California.”

“Looks like we have the same goals friend.”, Clay said

“Call me Jim, that’s what I’m called back home.”, the man said,” But like I said, we were just traveling down here about three miles back when we finally caught a break and found a trail to get our wagon up on the flat of this place, when we heard the yell of Indians below, Then from nowhere came a huge explosion and everything is a blur after that.”

“That was a charge set by the Indians who were after me”, Clay said with a poker face on. ”My old mustang was fast enough to get under and past the charge before it did me any damage, but those apache weren’t as lucky, I don’t know if they forgot were the charge was planted or what, but they got caught in the pile with you, and when I heard your voice come out I came back, then one of those redskins took that chunk out of your leg and the yelp you gave when he did that gave me a chance to locate you in the rubble.”
“Thanks a lot, if you weren’t there to help me I would have lost my chances at all of my dreams.
The next day Clallam White now feels like he’s a horrible man for having to lie to this nice guy, then having to break his collar bone, but life has to go on. ”We should probably get our coffee and grub now so we can get an early start before it’s too unbearably hot in this desert.”

It was a long eight days that followed. There was hardly any talking going on between the two, not because of hostility, but of exhaustion, for there was the factor of heat and that they had to get off of their horses and walk to save them energy.

That morning, still a few hours before the sun rose Clay woke up for no realized reason at the time and for the twenty minutes he stayed awake. In the minutes to follow Clay thought he heard something but wasn’t sure because of his insomnia, then with his senses alert and scanning he heard it again and then knew that there were another group of Indians like the ones before coming up the trail behind them.

“Jim, wake up, there are some Injuns down the trail to the East.” Clay whispered, ”We need to get going now to buy some daylight.” They got going down through the canyon at a good paced rate in order to get some light before they encountered the Indians and then found a good place to bunker down. Clay pulled out the huge gun that got him into this whole deal in the first place.

“What is that?”, Jim said with some interest.

“It is a homemade gun that my pa made about ten years back. Some could argue that it’s a small cannon that looks like an oversized shotgun, and I could probably agree with them.” Clay then had his gun loaded and rigged up to the mount on the horse, afraid it would tear his shoulder clean off and got set because at that moment, nine Indians came tearing around the corner, guns blazing. Clay took aim at another tipsy set of boulders at the top of the canyon, he went into his intense faze of concentration and was timing the shot, and before he pulled the trigger, he said, “And it was what killed your wife.” The gun roared once again, and the rocks crushed everything in its path including all but one of the Indians.

Adrenaline then took over in the both of them as the Indian was riding toward them, he was then 15 yards off and Jim managed to get one shot into the Indians arm before the Indian collapsed onto Jim and made Jim drop his rifle. They rolled around as he and Clay had earlier, and then again as earlier, a bite was taken out of someone’s leg, but it was the other way around this time and Jim took the bite out of the Injun out of spite. The Indian let go of Jim and clutched his leg allowing Jim to grab his gun and finish the dispute fast and painlessly.

Clay was already making his way up the pile that he made on top of the Indians just a few minutes earlier, and Jim was right on his tail. As they both reached the top, Jim took Clay to the ground, holding his arms down while on top of him with question that you could see in his eyes.

The sun was now lighting up the surroundings and in the distance both men heard a sound.

“Jim, is that you?!” It was a woman’s voice, and Jim looked up with a great look of relief on his face. Jim stumbled to his feet and ran to her as she ran to him, and they clutched each other in their arms once again.

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