Andrew and Charlie head out into the Plains.
Andrew felt funny sitting up on his horse while Charlie walked along in front, so he dismounted and led the horse, walking off at an angle from the dirt road leading out of town toward the rolling green hills. Andrew had no idea where they were headed and only a little idea of why, but it felt good to be going somewhere…anywhere. “Now that I have agreed to come along with you and spent most of my money on our supplies, maybe you could tell me about this story that caused you to go to all of this effort to find the storyteller.”
“It was something about some people who used to live around here but were long gone before my ancestors came along. Seems they had a different way of living and a different way of looking at things than what we or you have these days. My father’s cousin wasn’t to clear on who they were, where they came from or where they went. It seemed they knew some things most of us have never learned ourselves, yet.”
“That don’t necessarily make a lot of sense to me, but it does sound kinda interesting. I admit that there are plenty of things I don’t know, but if what they knew was so important and interesting, I wonder why someone besides this one old man didn’t bother to keep track of it.”
“Like I said, there was something mysterious about these people. They are all gone now and nobody except maybe this one old man seems to know where they went, why they went there or what they knew. It seems like they didn’t bother explaining themselves much.”
“You have aroused my curiosity plenty. I think I am beginning to develop some interest in finding this guy and hearing what he has to say, my own self. I do like to travel around and see the world, I always had a strong curiosity about what was on the other side of the hill, and I can’t resist a good mystery. It was darned interesting to travel acrost the ocean and see how they live back in the Old World, over there in Scotland
“You have already traveled a lot more of this world than I have. I spend a lot of time wandering around and I think I now this little part of the world but I don’t know much about the rest of is. I’d be interested to hear all about that trip.”
“It was a damned long boat ride, I can tell you that for sure. Boats and oceans and stuff don’t really agree with me at all. I caught a train out of Amarillo all the way to New York where I got on the boat. That pier up in New York was a stinkin’ mess and that city is way too big, noisy and busy to suit me. I thought Amarillo was a big town, but it ain’t nothing’ compared to New York. But gawd that place stinks and it gets worse the closer you get to the ocean. And below decks on that boat was the worst. After sticking my head down in the bunk room in that ship, I decided to just stay up on the deck the rest of the trip and I did, too. Even when that cold rain started to fall, I stayed out there night and day, bunking up against a cabin wall. It got kinda rough once and I was afraid it might wash me overboard, but even though I got pretty sick, I wasn’t about to go back down in that stinking hold.”
“It musta been bad if you thought it was so bad after hanging around with all that cattle and horses and cowboys all the time.”
“Hey, the people you hang out with don’t smell all that good either. Don’t go bad-mouthing my crew back at the ranch.”
“No offense intended,” Charlie chuckled, “but you have to admit that some of those guys could use a good dip in the creek and a change of clothes.”
“I reckon you have a point there, but it’s nothing compared to that boat. But if you survive that boat ride and get past an equally nasty pier area at place called Comarty Firth in Scotland.
You never saw prettier country than those Scottish Highlands. Granted it is a little over-civilized for my tastes and probably doesn’t have enough wildlife for your tastes but it sure is some mighty pretty country.”
They didn’t get far from town before dark. Both were a cheery mood to be on their way, to be out in the open land, sleeping on the ground, rather than in town on a soft bed. They found a good place to make camp under a huge cottonwood tree next to a stream. Charlie went off into the woods along the creek and shortly Andrew heard two shots. Charlie returned carrying two squirrels which he gutted, skinned and skewered on willow branches and cooked over the open fire.
When Charlie deemed the squirrels cooked to perfection, the two each took one, eating it right from the sticks to avoid burning their fingers on the hot grease. They gnawed on the squirrels in silence for a bit, then Charlie said, “These aren’t half bad, are they?”
Andrew chewed vigorously, then took a big swallow from his coffee cup before answering. “They ain’t half good, either. I ate half of this here stick because the squirrel is so tough I couldn’t tell where she squirrel stopped and the stick begun.”
“You saying you don’t like squirrel?”
“No, I like squirrel just fine. It’s your cooking I’m not crazy about. If you been eating like this while you wandered around the country, I’m a right bit surprised you haven’t starved plum to death.”
Charlie frowned for a minute, then his frown transformed itself into a hurt look, which then turned into a smile. He eyed the blackened squirrel on the stick. “You know, you have a point there. I guess I got used to my own cooking, but I admit it isn’t the best. How good is your own cooking?”
“I ain’t a great cook, but I think I can do better than this.”
“Okay, you’re now the official cook in this outfit. I’ll do the hunting and you can cook the stuff.”
Andrew scowled at what was left of his stick. He much preferred the hunting job over the cooking job but he valued his full set of teeth more than either one. “Okay, you got yourself a deal.”
It was that first night that brought the beginning of some very troubling developments for Andrew. Some time in the dark of the night, Andrew came awake with a start. He lay motionless trying to figure out what had awakened him. He could hear Charlie breathing steadily, almost snoring, where he lay a few feet away, so he know it wasn’t something he had done that awakened him. It also must not have been anything very loud since it didn’t wake him up. He strained his ears for any clue, but all he could hear was the rustling of the leaves of the cottonwood trees and the grasses. In the distance, he could hear the howling of some coyotes in a very normal way. No other sounds, nothing. He turned his head slightly and strained his eyes into the darkness. At first nothing, then he was almost certain he could see some faint figures moving. Was that faces he could see looking in his direction? He couldn’t be certain, so he lay staring into the dark. He couldn’t be certain for many minutes, then suddenly, so suddenly it made every hair on his body stand on end, it became clear. There were at least a dozen people standing silently looking at him. Just as he decided to wake Charlie up, they disappeared. He didn’t see them move left, right or away. They just weren’t there anymore. He continued to lay motionless, staring into the dark and listening for the rest of the night, but there were no further signs of whatever it was. At the first hint of dawn, he got up, started a fire and made a pot of coffee. When Charlie awoke, he decided not to say anything about it. He wasn’t even sure if it had been a dream, his imagination or something really out there.
The dream didn’t repeat itself for several days, but at the beginning of each day, Andrew watched Charlie stand for a few minutes with that same kind of routine of sniffing the air, cocking his head to first one side, then the other as if listening for a faint distant sound. It was the same thing he’d done when he first invited Andrew to join him in this journey. Eventually, curiosity got the best of him and he had to ask, “What’s the deal with this thing you keep doing? You thinking you hear something or are you just absent-minded and forget what we was gonna do or you got some kind of bug in your ear?”
Charlie got a puzzled look and chuckled. “No, I don’t really hear anything and I don‘t have a bug in my ear. In fact it is more of an absence of hearing anything. I keep trying to get a strong feeling of where that storyteller might be but I am not getting any signals at all on that one. I have a feeling we are going the right direction, but my intuition of it is weak. I would like to get a much stronger sense of it. I have always done well to work from my instincts or impulses or some kind of unseen pushes. That sort of thing is what caused me to come looking for this guy in the first place, but it is beginning to grow impatient. I keep looking for him day after day and getting nowhere. I am curious about the story and I feel driven to find this man for that reason and perhaps something more. I am not going to give up any time soon, but I sure do need more to go on.
“Well, you ain’t really getting nowhere. You did find me while you was looking for that other fellow. I know I ain’t really what you were looking for, but I am something and maybe there was some reason for it. I don’t know why, but I am feeling a strong urge to find this guy myself.”
“If you have such a strong urge, you tell me where to find him.”
“It ain’t all that strong. I don’t think I have the same sort of sense you have about things like that, but I do have a ton of determination, so if this guy exists, we’re gonna find him for sure.”
Charlie chuckled again. “I do think we just might and it sure is good to have you come along with me.”
Andrew debated with himself for a minute about whether or not to tell Charlie of what happened those few nights before. He still couldn‘t decide what to make of it, but rather than fading from his memory, the event was troubling him more and more. Finally he decided to just throw it out there. “You know, something happened a few nights ago that has been kinda bothering me. I can’t rightly figure out if it was a dream or something really happened.”
Charlie looked hard at him. “What’s that?”
“Sometime in the middle of the night, that first night out, something woke me up in the middle of the night. At least I think I was awake. Anyway, what I think happened is that during the night I woke up for some reason. You was still sleeping soundly and I just lay there trying to figure out what had woke me up. Then, and I know this sounds crazy, but then, I am sure I saw some people standing in a grove of cottonwoods, just looking at us. I couldn’t tell anything much about them, but I guess they didn’t mean no harm or want anything because, just as I was about to wake you up, they disappeared. The just simply disappeared, without so much as a sound.”
“I don’t know if it is going to be any comfort to you to know this, but I have been seeing that same thing off and on since I first began this journey. I think it is a good sign that you saw them also.”
“Wait a minute. You have seen them too?”
“Have you ever seen them do anything besides just watch you? Have you talked to them or anything? Do you have an idea of what to make of them?”
“It has been just the same as it was with you. I wake up and just see them in the middle of the night. They don’t say anything and it seems like they know when I am going to move or try to speak to them because they just disappear, just like they did with you. I don’t know quite what to think of them either, but I do think they are related to this journey and the story the old man tells because they also came to me on the first night after I decided to go looking for him.”
“Well, ain’t that something? I admit to seeing some strange things in my life and I also have to admit that I have a good imagination because I manage to spook myself when I am out on the night watch or riding the range by myself at night, but it appears this weren’t my imagination. I don’t think that does make me feel a bit better about it to know you have seen this same thing.”
“Well, like you said, they must not mean any harm since they haven’t done anything evil to either of us, so don’t let it scare you too bad.”
“That’s easy for you to tell me, but it might be another thing for me to be able to just relax any about it.”
They had stopped walking while they talked of this strange thing, but suddenly, Charlie set out walking again at an even faster pace into the northeast, causing Andrew to have to scramble to catch up and jog toward the point where he had last seen Charlie disappear over a hill, horse and pack mule in tow. When he caught up with him a few minutes later, Andrew said, “What’s the hurry, did you finally get a feeling about where this guy is hiding?”
“No I don’t think so. Maybe. I don’t know. Yeah, I think I did.”
Two days later, on a small hill at the side of a river, they came across a small camp of what Andrew judged to be Comanche Indians. As they approached every head in the camp turned toward them and they all stopped what they were doing. Soon, one man came walking out toward them. “How ya doin’,” he said in greeting.
“Yah-at-hey. I’m Charlie Chiwaten from the Weeminuche Utes. This is my friend Andrew Blocker. We are quite well. Just out for a little walk.”
“Charlie Chiwaten! I know of you. My wife’s uncle said he saw you down near Texas last month. It seems to be quite a long and crooked walk you are taking.”
“I guess it is. Actually, I have been looking for someone.”
“Yes, my wife’s uncle said you were asking about someone. I was sorry you run into him instead of me because I think I might know something about this guy you was looking for.”
Charlie and Andrew brightened. “Oh yeah?” Charlie answered. “Tell me what you think you might know.”
“Last summer we were up at the headwaters of the Pecos and run into some of my cousins who were up there. They mentioned that they had run into and old Arapaho man who told them stories of some Ancient Ones who used to live in the Bighorn Mountains.”
“That sounds like exactly the same guy we are looking for,” Andrew said.
“Did they give you any idea of where this guy usually lives?” Charlie said.
“Seems he don’t exactly live anywhere, but he told them he was headed up into the Bighorns. He said he goes up there most summers. He claims he communicates with Ancient Souls up there and learns their stories.”
“If they’s ancient souls up in those mountains, I ain’t sure I wanna go up there,” Andrew said.
“He didn’t say there were any ancient souls up there for sure. He just said he was going to go up and look for them,” Charlie said. “Besides, how do you know there aren’t ancient souls around you right now? Just because you don’t notice them, doesn’t mean they aren’t there.. What do you think an ancient soul might do to you?”
“I don’t know and I don’t think I want to find out.”
“Aww, you big baby. You aren’t going to chicken out on me now are you?”
“No…I don’t reckon I am, but I’m not too anxious to run headlong into a pack of ancient souls up in the mountains.”
Charlie turned his attention back to the Comanche man. “I thank you for this information. I guess my crooked journey calls us to the Bighorn Mountains.”
“You are welcome to stay with us and rest for a few days if you like. My wife’s uncle tells me that you have some interesting stories of your own to tell and we would like to hear of them.”
“Thank you for your hospitality, but I don’t think we have to hurry on our way right now. Maybe we will run into you again after we find this storyteller and we can stay and visit with you then, but right now, I feel a strong sense of urgency to find him.”
“Okay, I am glad you ran into me and I was able to maybe give you a little help. Maybe we will see you again someday and you will take time to sit at the campfire with us.”
“I promise to do that. If what you tell me leads us to find this man, I will owe you more than a simple story or two.”
“You owe me nothing. The information I pass along to you cost me nothing to get.”
“Still, I am in your debt for helping me toward this goal. We must go now.”
Andrew tipped his hat to the Indian and bowed in the direction of the still watching camp, then hurried to catch up with Charlie who had already set off again to the northwest at a fast pace. The Comanche man stood where they left him and waved when Andrew looked back. The rest of the camp watched them hurry away as well.