Friday, February 16, 2018

In this excerpt, Horatio and Elizabeth have taken to boy onto their wagon and are headed into the night toward a nearby settlement.

Her hand fluttered to her lips. Her skin tingled. She pushed away from the boy. “Oh, Horatio, he ain’t no Injun’.”
“What?” Horatio cocked his head.
“Just look at the poor thing. His eyes are light colored not dark like an Injun’.”
Horatio leaned over his wife to inspect the boy’s eyes that held a focus on the woman’s face.
“I’ll be go to hell,” Horatio said. “Damned if I know what to make of it.”
“Mind your cussing.”
“He’s as poor as the little end of nothing,” said Horatio.
 “Oh, the poor thing, he’s burnt and scraped. Horatio, fetch that bucket of bear-grease,” she said. Holding the boy’s arm in her hands, it felt limp and tiny in her grip. Let’s get him in the wagon and take him on into Solomonville—maybe someone there’ll have an idea about him,” she said.
“I don’t know about that, Lizzy.”
She cut her eyes to him. “You ain’t sayin’ we’re leave ‘em him here?”
Hesitating, her husband said, “But Lizzy, he is an Injun’ no matter what color his eyes are.” He cleared his throat. “It wouldn’t be safe for us to have him with us. We’re still quite a spell from town. He cut his eyes to the darkened horizon. “Probably won’t get there till sun-up if we keep going.”
“That wouldn’t be Christian of us. Impossible.” Shaking her head, she gave her husband another look. Even harder. Her eyes set steely. “We’re taking him with us.   Now here, you clean his feet and hands and slather them with that grease. And any other place where he’s scorched. And hurry about it. It’s gonna be too dark soon.” She held the boy up by his arms. “He don’t weigh hardly a thing.”
The boy did not understand the white-eye tongue. He peered into the woman’s glowing face as they leaned together. Her hair shone black. Her dark eyes flashed in the low light. She smelled of sweat and smoke and sweetness. She gently stroked his arm.
He spoke to her in his garble, “I see you, raven.”
Her face colored. “Did you hear that, Horatio? He spoke to me.”
Her husband worked his mouth like a sour taste set on his tongue. “Yes,” he said, “and it don’t sound like no Apache I ever heard. There’s no telling what this boy is.” He stroked his crackly beard.
“That’s why we must take him with us,” she said. With her brow lined, the muscles in her jaw twitched.
The man tugged at his ear and then combed his beard with his fingers. With a deep, weighted sigh, he said, “I don’t like it, Lizzy, but I can see you got your mind set.”
Slathered in bear-grease and swaddled in a scratchy woolen lap blanket that covered Elizabeth’s legs, the boy sagged on the seat beside the woman. He devoured a biscuit and salty cured ham. His gummy eyes flashing in the last of the light as he drank from his cup.
The man located a peak in the distant mountain range. He bellowed, “Get up.” And he goaded the mules with a slap of the lines. “We won’t make camp the night, Lizzy. It might be best if we push on.” The woman nodded her agreement. The animals pulled against their load. Lug chains rattled. Grunting and swaying in their harness, the mules pulled the wagon onward.
Soon the night echoed with the constant sharp put-put-put calls of a tiny owl. Other owls joined in. And just as the man and woman felt hemmed in by the unremitting racket, silence fell over the darkened land. Replaced by the dull hum of hundreds of bees seeking out the evening primrose. The yips and yaps of coyotes triggered the boy to sit up and whine. Elizabeth’s warm touch lulled him back into sleep.
The squeaky cry of the killdeer, the trills and riffles of the mockingbird drowning out the call of the poor-will, serenaded them as they made their way toward the settlement of Solomonville under a deep, dark-purple sky. The moon and glittering stars shrouded by wisps of clouds.

The boy slumbered for the remainder of the journey, sleeping deeply. He awoke the next morning. Cradled in the arms of the woman. His eyes glued shut. He took in easy, slow breaths. The man stood among other men. They smoked. They chewed tobacco and spit into the dusty street. Shuffled their feet. Combing their beards with their fingers. Gathering opinions on the lost desert boy.
Pinched lipped. A slight grimace on his face. Horatio Merrill pulled in his brows, turned his eyes to his boot toes. The other men chewed over why the boy was abandoned in the desert. Pondered if his mother had died. Or if she was murdered and he wandered away. Maybe he was so tetched that his fearful people turned him out. He was Apache. That was the conclusion. In spite of the queer color of his eyes. And he should be turned over to the army.
The softness of the first light of the day, the warmth of the blanket, and the woman’s embrace kept the boy floating, languidly. Voices and sounds came to him. Drifting. Disconnected. Muffled and soothing. Horses snuffled and whinnied. Mules brayed. Dogs barked. Cattle lowed. Quarreling crow’s caws faded until only one was heard. He thought it called his name.

Shik’isn Ba’ ts’ose,” the name swirled all around, riding on the blowing dust. 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

In this excerpt, the desert boy is discovered by a White Eye couple traveling to a nearby settlement. A faithful decision is made

The man clanged around behind the seat for a tin cup. He filled it carefully to the top from one of the water bags hanging from the side of the wagon. The woman stood behind her husband and peered at the boy. Her tensed facial muscles kept her from smiling. Her eyes narrowed, but hesitated to touch him even as she reached her hand out to him.
Taking the cup, she squatted beside the boy; her blue-checkered dress billowed as she set her straw hat down beside her. She brushed away the stray hairs tickling her face. She shushed at the child and muttered to him in soft tones.
“Careful Lizzy, it might have the madness,” the man said.
“You hesh up now, the poor thing’s near done in,” she said. “And it ain’t no it.”
Thirst drove fear from the boy. He lunged at the cup. It clattered from her hands. She squealed. The water soaked into the sand all at once. The boy clawed at the drying spot, picking up handfuls and shoving it into his mouth. He spat and sputtered. Horatio handed his wife another full cup.
“Here, here,” she said. Now the boy stood. Legs quivered. Hands shook. Eyes pleaded for more. She handed the boy the cup, holding onto it. The boy’s crusty hands wrapped around hers and he put the cup to his cracked lips and drank it down. He gasped as he gulped. Seeming stunned that the cup was now dry; he held his eyes on the woman and whimpered. Horatio handed his wife another full cup of water. She passed it into the boy’s hands.  He downed it again in one gulp. His scrawny legs gave way and he plopped in the sand.
“Well, it’s a boy-child.” The woman sat back. “What in the world is the poor thing doing way out here?” Her eyes scanned the barren landscape for sign of his people.
“From the looks of him, he’s been on his own for a spell.” And then Horatio climbed into the wagon. Standing on the seat, he squinted into the fading landscape for sign of others.
“How has he stayed alive?” the woman said. “Why would someone turn a child out in this God-forsaken land?”
“Don’t see hide nor hair of a single soul. ‘Cept a coyote or two and some ravens off yonder-ways.”
The caws and fluttering silhouettes of ravens off in the distance faded into the darkening sky. Crickets crowded at the base of the creosote bushes set up a near steady racket. The rasping of cicadas joined in.
“Don’t know about water, but he’s been gettin’ his fill of bugs.” Horatio pointed to the crickets and parts of crickets scattered around the base of the bush.
Her hands went to her mouth and she gasped. “Oh, poor thing.”
“He’s an Injun’, Lizzy, they eat most anything a coyote’ll eat, I ‘spect,” Horatio said.
Elizabeth rubbed the boy’s greasy, knotted hair gently. Her touch radiated from the crown of his head to the tips of his cracked and caked toes. His body melted. His eyes, reflecting coppery in the light, turned to the strange otherworldly woman.
Her hand fluttered to her lips. Her skin tingled. She pushed away from the boy. “Oh, Horatio, he ain’t no Injun’.”