If you’d rather listen than read, click here. My accent may not be very accurate, but it sure is entertaining! Also, the audio version was recorded before I changed the main character’s name to Jake, rather than Abe. Otherwise it’s the same.
My name is Jake and I am awanderin’. I cut loose from my home ‘bout near two weeks ago, took my horse named Soos, and lit out for a spell. I don’t yet know where to.
Home was a dried up ranch outside a dead-end town named Cliff, New Mexico. Heck, I ain’t so sure you could even call it a town. Not much there but a post office and a couple churches. “Two churches and not one good bar!” That’s what my daddy used to say. Mama always hated it when he said that, ‘cause she was a good Christian woman. She died about a year ago, so now it’s just me and Dad.
‘Cept I ain’t there no more, so I guess it’s just Dad, or just me, dependin’ on what way you wanna look at it. I woulda stayed if he hadn’t a kept drinkin, but it got to the point where I just couldn’t take it no more. He was a mess and he didn’t want no help to get cleaned up, so I figured I’d let him be on his own for a while, and he could see where that got him.
‘Sides, I’m fifteen years old, and I ain’t had no adventure yet in my life. All I done is work on our ranch, which idn’t even a good ranch. ‘Bout the only thing I got to show for my efforts is Soos. She’s a good horse, though, and we get along all right.
“A good horse can take you places.” That’s another one a my daddy’s sayin’s. He told me that when he gave me Soos for my thirteenth birthday. It was just about the most obvious thing I ever heard, and I guess that’s why he thought it was so clever.
Well, he was right. Soos took me right on outta there, and we set off for the Gila River. It was summer time, so I didn’t take too many provisions. I knew I could shoot, catch, or gather what I needed to eat. Anyway, there weren’t many supplies to take, truth be told. Just some dried meat, a bag of beans, and some jars of peaches. I probably shouldn’t a taken the peaches, ‘cause they were special to my mama, and Dad wouldn’t let us eat ‘em. But hell, they’re food after all! I loved my mama more than I loved myself, but she’s gone, and keepin’ some peaches in a jar ain’t gonna bring her back.
One thing I knew I couldn’t take much of with me was water, and out here it’s in scarce supply. That’s why I headed for the river. My plan, such as it was, was to head up the river into them canyons and see what there was to see. Word is the government’s about to take over a lot of that canyon land and call it “forest reserve”. Some folks say that’s a crime, ‘cause them Washington bigwigs’ll try to tell us what we can and can’t do. Other folks say it’s a good thing, ‘cause if someone don’t stop ‘em, the miners and loggers’ll chop down every single tree there is out there.
Heck if I know who’s right. All my life, up till now, I ain’t never even been in them canyons to see what’s what. I hear there used to be lots of Apache in there before the cavalry finally run ‘em out and sent ‘em packin’ down to the reservation. Now they’re all cleared out, and it’s supposed to be safe for us white folks to go exploring’. At least when it comes to the Apache. Supposed to be bears and lions here too, but folks also say there may not be too many of them left. I ain’t seen none a them so far. Least I hadn’t until last night.
I can’t never sleep long at night ‘cause it gets so cold if I don’t keep the fire goin’. Just snatches of sleep is what I get, and that was startin’ to wear on me pretty good until I just decided to go ahead and sleep some during the day. Hard to break an old habit, but after I made that switch, I’m dang near nocturnal now.
Oh, I still fall asleep at night every now and then. Just can’t help it. Last night I had a dream that I woke up and it was mornin’. I don’t know if you ever had a dream like that, but they sure are confusing. I was camped on a little sand bar next to the river, and when I woke up (but didn’t really wake up, ‘cause I was still in the dream) I looked out across the river, and there was a big ol’ cougar lookin’ right at me.
He was high up the opposite hillside, sittin’ in a tree, calm as a cucumber, and for some reason my dream self wasn’t satisfied to just let him be. So I yelled at him. “Hey, lion! What are you lookin’ at? Ain’t you never seen a white man before?” I think I thought that he was so far away, across the water, that even if he wanted to come get me, how was he gonna do it? Cats hate water anyway, least that’s what I heard.
Well, that cougar didn’t like me yellin’ at him. He gave me a look like I’d offended him. Then he climbed outta his tree and ran right down the mountainside. He moved a lot quicker than I thought he could, and when he got to the water, he just started to swim across! I had no idea a big cat like that could swim.
When I saw him comin’, I scrambled over to Soos, untied her, jumped on, and shouted, “Run, Soos! If you wanna live, get us the heck outta here!” It didn’t matter, though, ‘cause that cat was a whole lot faster’n Soos-n-me. Once he got across the river, he cut after us like lightnin’. ‘Fore I knew it, he had his claws dug into Soos’s hindquarters. Soos tried to kick out at him and buck him off, but he just clung on to her back end. I barely stayed on her myself, but I was wrapped around her pretty tight, legs round her belly and my arms around her neck. I knew if I fell off I was a goner.
That hellcat was comin’ for me, and I wasn’t gonna let him get any closer if I could help it, so I lifted up my left boot an’ kicked him square in the face, hard as I could. That knocked him back to the ground, but I figured it probably wasn’t for long.
Then Soos did somethin’ I didn’t see comin’ and I still can’t figure out. In that second while the lion was on the ground, Soos whipped her body so hard that she flung me up the hill a little farther. She was then in between me and the lion, and instead a runnin’ away, she stood her ground! The lion pounced again, this time wrappin’ itself ‘round Soos’s neck right where I just was, and it pulled her down to the ground. I ran away fast as I could up the canyonside, cryin’ my eyes out ‘cause I knew Soos was dead, and she died savin’ me.
Then I woke up again, still cryin’ over Soos, ‘cept this time it was dark and cold and the sand felt like it’d turned into a solid rock. I calmed down a little, wiped the tears from my eyes, and sure enough there was old Soos, so I reckoned I was awake for real that time.
Thing was, I was still awful spooked from that dream. I couldn’t shake the feelin’ that somewhere out there was a mountain lion just waitin’ for me, and I better put some distance between myself and the other side of that river, at least for the time bein’. So I packed up my camp and grabbed Soos, and we started to climb on up the hill. “We’ll walk the ridge for a while,” I told her. “See what we can see.”
It took us almost an hour to get to the top of the hill above the sandbar where we camped, and by the time we got there it’d turned into a gray mornin’. A cold drizzle was startin’ to spit sideways on us. “I kinda wish I was down there by that fire again, Soos,” I said. Seemed a little ridiculous to be walkin’ in the wind and rain when I coulda been down there buildin’ up a nice warm fire.
But then I heard this noise down below, an’ when I looked I swear it wadn’t like nothin’ I ever seen before. This wall of water came rushin’ down the canyon, just a churnin’ brown froth swallowin’ up everything in its path, including that little sandbar where I lay sleepin’ naught but an hour or so before. It was the darnedest thing! I guess there must a been a storm upstream that I didn’t even know about until that moment. Flash flood, they call it.
I tell ya, I don’t know what to make of it all. I pondered it for some time, wonderin’ if there was a lesson in that dream or in my escape from certain death. And if there was a lesson to be had, what was it? I still haven’t settled that question in my mind.Like this? Click to subscribe!