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Point Panic

 

Point Panic

By James Hold

 

[Copyright 2017 James Roy Hold
Shakespir Edition]

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POINT PANIC

 

A life with strange beginnings can ofttimes mean a life with strange encounters. So it was for the Yegua Kid.

The night was such that one could cut the darkness into solid chunks and make a wall of it. Not that walls were needed there in the Davis Mountains where peaks rose high on every side. The Kid, camping beneath a madrone tree by a canyon stream, lay with his hands behind his head, staring upward at the cloud-filled, taking in the sounds of critters buzzing and chirping. He was restless and in no mood for sleeping. But it was not the storm threatening sky that kept him awake. Earlier that day he had spotted El Muerto riding along a distant ridge and the Kid had no wish for a nighttime encounter with the legendary dead man.

The story of El Muerto was widely known and every region had its version of the tale. Stripped to its essentials the story ran thus: A rustler stole some cattle from a rancher. The rancher in turn hunted the rustler down, beheaded him, and strapped the corpse to a saddle on the back of a wild mustang which was turned loose to wander the countryside. And although the terrified animal fled far away from civilized areas, El Muerto could still be spotted occasionally, searching for his missing head, or a substitute, so he could rest in peace.

The Yegua Kid never placed much stock in the story until today. And while he was not necessarily worried about the spirit of a dead man trying to steal his head, at the same time he had no desire to mix it up with a wild horse driven crazy by the stench of its decaying rider.

Suddenly the Kid’s ears took in sounds that were not of the canyon. It was the sound of men, scuffling and fighting.

Sounds carried far in the mountains and pinpointing their location was not easy, but with the aide of the Yegua Horse, the Kid soon traced them to their source.

Atop a steep hill, three men had pinned down a fourth, that fourth being a young boy in his early teens. The larger man, straddling the youth, held high a sharp ax, ready to bring it down on his helpless victim.

“I will deal with you as I once dealt with your father,” the man was saying. “The same as I would with any thief.”

Only before the ax could fall it flew from his hand, a shot from the Kid’s 45 knocking it away.

“Is there a problem here?” the Kid asked, showing himself.

The three men reached for their weapons but the Kid’s colt dissuaded them.

“This boy here,” the man who had wielded the ax explained, “he is a horse thief. I merely make with the justice as is my right.”

“Do not believe him.” The boy gained his feet and raced to the Kid’s side. “El Chacal lies. I bought the horse fair and square only now he wants it back.”

Do not believe me?” Chacal reacted like one insulted. “It is the boy who is not to be believed. Everyone knows his father before him was a thief and he is but the fruit of a bad seed.”

The Kid took Chacal’s argument for what it was worth.

“The fact of his father being a thief,” he told the would-be decapitator, “doesn’t necessarily mean his son would follow. That kind of logic doesn’t hold water.”

“Oh?” Chacal gave the Yegua Kid the once over. “And what would you know about things that hold water?”

“Much more than you’d think,” the Kid replied cryptically. Then, still holding the three men at bay he gave his attention to the young boy. “Tell me your side of it.”

#

“It is Chacal who is the horse thief,” the boy explained. “He steals from the ranchers then hides them here in the mountain. There is a formation close by where three walls form a natural enclosure. Chacal drives the horses there and closes them in with large tree trunks. One day, many years ago, my father was prospecting and witnessed Chacal and his men drive the horses into this rock corral. Chacal caught him. He accused my father of being a thief, then he—” The boy broke down crying. “He cut off my father’s head and tied him to a horse… creating his own version of El Muerto to keep people away.”

“Bah!” Chacal burst out harshly. “The boy lies. His father was a thief and everyone knows it.”

“Only because that is what you and your men keep telling everybody,” the boy countered. “But who besides your men are witnesses? It is because you have money from selling your stolen in horses in Mexico and because of your hired thugs that you have power and say-so among the people. But do not be so smug, Chacal, because your time will come. My sainted Tata, who some called Bruja and others called Mistica, told me before she died a day would come when you and my father meet once again, face to face, and he will have his revenge on you.”

“Ho-ho!” Chacal broke out laughing. “It will take some doing for your Bruja to arrange such a meeting, since the last I saw of your father’s head was when I cast it into into Barrel Springs and watched the current carry it away. Somehow I do not think it can swim from there to here.” And Chacal’s companions joined in on his laughter.

#

By now the storm clouds had accumulated overhead and vivid streaks of lightning cracked the sky. A light rain began to fall and with it echoing thunder that rocked the walls of the canyon. A cold wailing wind arose and with it the cries of voices, both real and imaginary.

“I do not like this wind and sky,” Chacal ceased laughing. “It is not good to be out in such a storm. What do you say we call a truce for now and seek cover for ourselves?”

“Your secret corral?” the Yegua Kid suggested.

“It is near,” Chacal conceded, “and there is a sheltering overhang. Come, I will lead you.”

The Kid holstered his pistol and he and the boy followed Chacal and his men. The corral was but a short distance away, near a cliff side, and hidden from view by a twist in the path. There were no horses in it at that time and the large tree trunks that would have served as a gate were to one side. Here they found a natural overhang, deeply recessed in the side of the mountain, which afforded them shelter from the rain which was coming down in heavy sheets.

Here too, as the Yegua Kid checked on the young boy, did Chacal retrieve a hidden rifle secreted on a rocky shelf, and pointed it at the two.

“I think now you will put up your hands,” he told them, grinning evilly, “since I cannot now allow men who are not in my employ to know this location. It is too bad, stranger,” he told the Kid, “as I have no beef with you; however that is as it must be.” He passed the rifle to one of his men, then from the same rock shelf, took down another short ax. “Actually this works out well for me since, as the first El Muerto I created has done a good job keeping people away from this region, two more should be even more effective.”

The Kid said nothing. There was no help to be had. The only other one there was his horse, and at the moment it was too busy with the storm to pay attention to anything else.

“Boss,” said one of Chacal’s men. “I beg you, do not kill them now. If you do then we will be forced to sit with their corpses until the storm is passed.”

To which the young boy cried out, “What do I care if you kill me now or later? With every evil deed you only hasten the day when my father meets you face to face!”

Maldito!” Chacal spat an oath. “For the other I can wait, but with this perrito I have had enough. I will kill him now and damned be his father if he wishes to prevent me.”

Chacal took the boy by the arm, raising the ax high overhead, preparing to strike.

#

Suddenly the whole heaven was alive with lightning, weaving a web of fire across a black canvas, and in the illuminating gray glow they saw El Muerto atop his wild mustang. The frightened creature, driven by the storm, had descended to the lower reaches of the mountain. The animal with its decaying carcass entered the corral, perhaps knowing of the sheltering overhang. Chacal’s men, panicking at the sight, fled in terror, leaving the Jackal to face the demon of his own making.

The wild mustang reared on its hind legs, striking at Chacal with its front hooves. At the same time Chacal swung at it with his ax. His aim was bad and the horse deflected each blow with what might have been supernatural accuracy. Slowly the horse drove Chacal back, out of the corral and toward the cliff’s edge. Then, as if Nature herself had seen enough, a bolt of lightning struck the upraised ax and Chacal disappeared over the side.

Kid and boy watched wordlessly as the mustang re-entered the corral and sidled up beside the Yegua Horse. The two seemed to find comfort in each other’s company and Kid and boy retreated to the farthest end to give them room. It was a grisly sight, the boy crying openly as he viewed the desiccated remains of his father’s corpse, and the Kid let him grieve as he would.

#

A short time later the storm died down and the Yegua Kid went and dragged the tree trunks into place to close off the entrance to the corral, hoping this way he could approach the tortured horse and rid it of its awful burden. As he was doing this he heard a moaning sound from the edge of the cliff where Chacal had fallen. The man was not dead. Somehow he had survived both the lightning and the fall and was calling for help.

“Try to stay still,” the Yegua Kid told him, peering over the edge. “I’ll get a rope and pull you up.”

“It’s no good,” Chacal answered back. “My leg; it is broken. You will have to—”

The Kid waited for him to finish his sentence.

“Have to what?” he called down after a while.

Then he heard Chacal’s voice, softly at first, “No,” speak in a hushed tone. “No,” he said again, louder this time. “No, it cannot be! No! No!”

The Kid started to descend but Chacal waived him off. “No, stranger, no. Do not come down. Tell the boy… Tell the boy his Bruja was right. It is the face of his father looking straight at me. He has come for his vengeance after all. Even though I tossed his head into the river he has managed to find his way back up the mountain. Tell the boy… Tell the boy I’m…”

That was all. The Yegua Kid scrambled down the crumbling side by a zigzag path until he came upon the body of El Chacal, now dead, lying on his back and facing the cliff wall. The Kid was puzzled. Had the man seen some type of vision in his dying moments? But the man hadn’t been dying when he first spoke to him. So what happened?

Then, as the morning sun rose higher in the sky, he saw it. There on the cliff wall, the image of a face etched out by the rainwater running down the hillside, the loose earth having fallen away, and a combination of protruding rocks and sticks and mud somehow coming together to form the semblance of a man’s visage. Not that it really resembled a face, but in the shifting shadows of night turning into day, it had been close enough to convince Chacal he was looking into the face of the man he had killed… After which his heart gave out.

The Kid made with a grim smile. Maybe the boy’s aunt had been right after all. Or, to give it a more positive spin, perhaps Chacal had a conscience after all and it finally got the better of him. But more likely it was simply that Chacal, like all evil men, was a coward at heart and his imagination got the better of him. That would be a question only Chacal could answer.

The Kid took another look at the image etched into the mountain side, curiosity compelling him to yank one of the twigs protruding from it. A sudden rumbling caused him to scramble to the side, for in doing this he had loosened the earth and the pile came falling down, burying Chacal and the face forever.

#

The young boy awoke, hours later, still weary from his ordeal. He yawned and stretched, then leaped to his feet recalling the events of the night before. Coming out of the overhang and into the sun, he saw the Yegua Kid tending to the wild mustang. With the help of his own horse he had managed to calm the beast enough to fit a makeshift hackamore over its head and tie it to one of the tree trunks enclosing the corral. He had removed the corpse and saddle from its back and was treating its sores with salve from his saddlebags. The Kid’s placid tones and laidback nature helped the creature to relax and in short order the Kid completed his ministrations.

“I’ve done all I can for him,” he told the boy as he approached. “Stay back, though. He’s still a wild creature and after all that he’s been through I doubt he can ever be tamed. I figure I’ll let him rest a while then turn him loose.”

“It is best,” the boy agreed. “He has suffered much and he deserves what peace he can get in the time he has left.” The boy glanced at the rotting saddle lying on the ground. “As do we all.”

“I, uh, buried your father over there.” The Kid pointed to a corner of the corral. “I couldn’t do much without a shovel, but you can come back later and finish the job.”

“I will. Thank you.” The boy started to go, then turned back. “Earlier… this morning, I… thought I heard voices. Was that…?”

“Voices?” The Yegua Kid pretended puzzlement. “No, I don’t think so. It was probably your imagination. We all get a little confused at times, imagining things that aren’t there. If you don’t believe me, just ask… Well, no. On second thought I don’t suppose it’d do any good to ask him after all.”

 

 

 

17128

 

 

James Hold

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Point Panic

The Yegua Kid roams the Texas southwest observing many things as he goes along. Like the lazy river for which he is named, he keeps to himself and lets life unfold as it will.

  • ISBN: 9781370797134
  • Author: James Hold
  • Published: 2017-05-08 09:20:07
  • Words: 2598
Point Panic Point Panic