The Hunted

Picture courtesy of Dave: http://www.shorpy.com/node/17258

He upended his boot, draining the blood that had been pooling inside. After washing the gauze that wrapped his leg in the river below he gingerly set it to dry on the lower limbs of a nearby acacia tree. His shed his bloody clothes and placed them next to the draped gauze. He arranged the thorny boughs to conceal his clothing. Returning once more to the riverside, the man waded in to his waist and dove in.

The cold canyon water shocked his senses. It was here, deep below the gradations of red earth that the water had cut a path away from the warmth of the sun. The man listened intently for the sounds of the men who hunted him. Somewhere above this pool was a company of men who sought his life. Crickets cautiously began to warm their instruments. He shut his eyes to better detect the hooves of horses or the disturbance of brush. He knew his pursuers were not far and that he had to stay vigilant. He turned around and looked deeper into the gorge he had turned his back on. Rays from the setting sun had crept through the ceiling of the gorge and painted the walls of the canyon in dappled hues of orange, pink and red. A rock fell through one of the rays, dust trailing it like a comet. The man’s gaze shot up to the origin of the pebble. Rocks don’t move themselves.

A silhouetted figure retreated from the height of the precipice. The man immediately dove to the bottom of the pool. The report of pistols echoed down the walls of the gorge and into the surrounding canyon. Bubbles streamed around the man’s head. The man calmly waited at the bottom of the pool gripping a large rock in his hands and pressing his back to the canyon wall. He cleared his thoughts, searching the recesses of his mind for a comforting memory. He resurrected the eyes of a girl he knew lifetimes ago, their emerald depths rivaled the pool he sought refuge in now. He could feel the warmth of her smile. Her face was so close that he had to pull back his head to see it clearly. Her lips parted as she breathed comfort. Her indiscernible words settled over him like the silt that filtered through the water. A falling boulder produced a depth charge that shook the water around him. He focused on the image in his mind. The smell of linens and perfume reinvigorated the memory.

The reports had subsided minutes ago, but the man remained steadfast at the bottom of the pool. He wished he could stay longer with the memory, but she gently exited his embrace broke the trance. With the haunting steadiness of a crocodile awakening from its slumber, the man’s eyes opened.

Twilight had dyed the now cloudy water in the pool in cold grey and lavender tones. He quickly pulled himself from the pool and dressed himself. He applied the gauze carefully over the torn flesh claimed by a grazing bullet. He holstered his pistols and shouldered his rifle. The weight of the arms confirmed that they were still loaded. His fingers traced the fabric that banded his lucky hat. Even in the low canyon light he could recall every detail of the fabric’s red and orange bohemian design. It was the only physical proof that muse who had come to him in the pool had ever existed.

His captors were closer than he had expected, but even the most skilled canyoneers would have difficulty reaching the bottom of this stretch of canyon in one day, especially at night. The persistence of the men who hunted the man manifested itself in the specks of fire that descended the canyon wall. The man consulted the river for advice. The river’s water coursed over boulders whispering of patience. The river’s swirling eddies understood that the hunters had become prey for a man who had been starved of retribution. The river’s red sandy shores knew the lengths that life would go to in order to maintain itself and promised bloodshed. The rotting smell of blossoming agave flowers along the bank primed the canyon’s residents for death. The man lowered the brim of his hat and set off towards the fires, patiently awaiting the hunt.

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