RE: Writers Win 5 Steem! Twenty-four hour short story contest July 31--A cowboy during the 1800s in the American West runs into a flying saucer
Mataeo's smooth brown arms worked the round stone further into the burning coals. He had reached Sedalia avoiding the bushwhackers only to find the farmers just as deadly. He kept the coals lows to avoid being spotted and stayed by the railroad where the noisy herd could moan into the night. The tortilla was blanched and speckled in only seconds. He felt the pangs inside his guts yearning for the dried meat rolled methodically into his palm. The hard tack got him through the daylight hours, but it was time for eating and then sleep. He took out his bowie knife and shaved some cheese into the beans bubbling in the cast iron pot. As soon as he had taken the last bite he pulled his bed roll to the small fire and laid his saddle next to him for a place to lay his throbbing head. Lying on his side he saw the silhouette of the steer with his nearly eight foot horns perfectly defined in the falling light. He was too tired to dream or to miss his hermanos or his novia. She was a beauty with long tangled hair and full lush lips and worth every protracted hour across the plains. He would get forty dollars a head if he could get the herd north to Kansas, more than enough to start a life with her.
In five days he would be there. He had come a long way from mending fences and branding cattle. He was lucky to be on the trail when the boon hit. He was trusted and had a knack for spotting wolves and finding water. These two things made him better than the others. It was why he was in the lead and why he would have his fair share at the end of the drive. In spite of the blisters on his back and the ominous skeletons he came upon occasionally, it was a good life. There were tales of a mania called the Dark Rolling River that over took some on the trek. The long tedious journey was said to be too much for some cowboys. Some say it was Tick Fever that the cattle got, but whatever it was, Mataeo was boiling all his drinking water and covering his skin with the oil from the jalapenos.
It was as if he closed his eyes one minute and opened them the next. Nothing inside of him told him he had slept. Each muscle in his neck felt like fire, but it felt that way every day. He shook it off like every other morning and reached for coffee. He took Mercy and Faith to the riverbed to ready them for the hot summer day. The two horses whinned when he dropped their reigns into the swift stream. The lead steer was down the bank some thirty feet and looked more like a statue than a living, breathing being. Mataeo admired him. All the other cattle followed him and when he was done grazing and headed out, Mataeo would have to be ready.
When Miguel was hurt and had to leave the ride, Mataeo had to depend more on this animal to help him drive the herd to the end. The swing and flank riders were lost in the cloud of dust swallowing the some three thousand cattle behind him and news of his brother would be lost for weeks. Still, knowing his brother's fate would not change the imperative to go forward. Since the Civl War ended there was competition. He had to get to market first without running off the good weight of his herd. The giant steer looked like he hadn't lost an ounce on the rocky trail. Mataeo smiled with pride letting his tongue fill the space between his front teeth. He let his feet soak in the rapid swell.
He saddled the gelding and rode him back to the cook to get his rations for the day. His roll was ready. The leaner cattle looked anxious, as if they knew their time was coming to an end. He said little to the leathery man with the swollen knuckles. There was nothing to spare, not even conversation. That had been left behind. The solitary thought, the singular focus to succeed, took everything they had.
He was warned about the forest, plenty of places for marauders to hide, not to mention the quarantine. Some ranchers were trying to get the government to keep Texas cattle out of the east. Mataeo wondered if it was the last time he would make this run. For now, he had no ambition other than to return to Texas with his bounty to present to his Karmen. It was hard to think of ever leaving her again. If he would have stayed with the rodeo he would never have made enough to keep her. She would be married to another. As it was, he was haunted with the idea that someone might steal her away while he was gone. He had no stomach for mining and he was good with cattle. No, he would be a ranchero, he bred hefty stock with good bloodlines. He limited the size of the herd and kept them penned before the trip north.
Then they had to outrun a prairie fire when Miguel was overcome by smoke. They left his brother with only one horse, a small amount of rations and a few dollars to buy his way in to the town to the east. Mataeo thought of his brother sitting in front of a hotel with his boots on a railing watching the town folks squirm when they passed by him, Mataeo laughed to himself. He laughed until he saw the dark clouds roll in furiously across the sky. There was no choice when the hail came, he drove the lead into the forest. When the steer charged out ahead of him, Mataeo decided from then on, he would call him, Tormenta. They would leave the russian bred winter wheat and sorghum scantily ranging outside the limestone fences of the farm feilds. They would leave the bounty of the sodbusters and take to the cover the scratchy pines.
He was thankful for three days of safe passage through the narrow openings and fissures in the pass, but it was night when the bulge on his shoulder festered. He scraped the tick off with his knife and poured tequila into the yellow wound.
He took special care to run his hands carefully up and down his horses. He checked their manes, last of all, finding several bugs clinging to both of them. He had only ever cut out a botfly that was a full inch in diameter and that horse bled badly. After three days in the forest, with little to sustain them, he worried more than ever, what effect the cutting might have on the pair of horses. It was just a flickering thought to leave the parasites on themuntil he made it the day and a half journey to the market, but they had taken him so far, he had to save them, even if it meant he might have to walk part of the way there.
It was good to be back in the prairie. The smell of grass filled his nostrils. All of his senses seemed heightened. The full clouds were painted against the lazuline sky. The clear blue seemed to shimmer. Mataeo covered his eyes when a shard of light split the horizon. An azure haze sheltered against the low, full puff balls, then in an instant, the cloud shot like a rifle into the weeds around him. The ground broke and dirt clods pinged like spokes on a wagon wheel. There was nowhere to run. After a month of thinking only of the herd, it was the first time he considered his own saftey. the thought flickered through his mind that it was indians with their magic, but it was coming from above him. He was pinned down by hot cones of air that threw him face down to the earth.
"Karmen," he whispered her name.
The thought of her gave him the strength to rise to his knees. He crawled until he found a soft patch of moss and laid his face against it. There was a burning between his temples and with one eye opened he watched a silvery form slink toward him. Suddenly he felt the ground tremble. Tormento charged toward them. Mataeo pinched his eyelids together and everything went black.
When Mataeo woke up moon beams were bathing him in soft ribbons of light. He could hear the locust worrying in the distance. He rolled to his side and shivered in the misty fog. He stayed dow, trying to remain motionless until morning. He wondered if it had all been a fever, or poison, but when he stood up the ground was parched all around him. There were circles entwined in a pattern that could have been no accident. Tormento, Mercy and Faith were all still sound. The herd was not dimished, as far as he could tell. He had one day to think about what he might say to his riders once they reached the railroad. By the time he reached the market, he knew he would tell no one about the encounter, not even Karmen.