Short about a U.S. Army deserter as he crosses the frointier in search of a new life.
Before him stretched the open plains, dotted with sprawling underbrush and rocky outcroppings, and bathed in a crimson light from the rising sun. Behind him there lay desolation, more plains, scarred by the blood of the pioneers, of his fallen friends. He sat proud upon his steed and his chest swelled as he surveyed the glorious expanse before him. And yet all this grandeur was tainted by his memories and his fears. With every step of his horse, a painful thudding reminder of the maligned fighting and warring he had left rose up his spine and constricted about his throat. He sniffled and flipped the reigns lightly. The bristly brown beast beneath him shifted and straightened its back. It began to trot along the open prairie with noticeable trepidation. The undulating, unassuming plains before the man were no comfort from the great darkness, the guillotine which hung disdainfully over his head.
The horse maintained a steady pace for much of the morning until it arrived upon an all too usual sight. A covered wagon sat precariously balanced on a rock jutting from the ground. Its contents, including passengers, had been sprawled out along the ground as though the wagon had heaved and vomited all that was within it. Thomas approached the wagon carefully. He saw the blood of the scalped man sprayed across the canvas of the wagon; he saw the woman, her dress torn, lying with her legs splayed and her under-garments removed. Her eyelids were spread twice as wide as her legs, and her shirt had been torn so as to reveal her breasts. A cut mark had been made from her sternum down to her raped womanhood and streams of blood had flowed and pooled on her cold, motionless stomach. Thomas nearly felt a tear form in the corner of his eye, but then he felt his cold and emotionless heart reach up and blot it dry. Truly now he was incapable of sorrow. Like the woman, his soul had been raped and had been left for dead.
A soft sobbing noise carried faintly over the noisy whispering wind caressing the hills of the Montana landscape. Thomas instinctively reached for his knife at the sound of another human being. He dismounted his horse and crawled on all fours in the direction of the sound. As he approached the pillaged wagon he saw flaps of a leather garment blowing in the breeze beneath the base of the wagon. Fear and uncertainty throttled the man as he crept, his knees weak, both from riding for hours and from apprehension. As he rounded the wagon, Thomas saw a young brave holding a bloody arrowhead in his right hand and a box labeled 'COFFEE GROUNDS' in his left. His long black hair was quivering in the wind and tears cascaded down his prominent cheeks, falling innocently from his rounded chin. A great anger swelled within Thomas and he crawled like a beast towards the young native. Thomas, enraged, produced his knife, and placed its tip at the temple of the young brave. So lost in his own despair the Indian had not moved or acknowledged the presence of Thomas until now. And at the pressure of a hand-sharpened steel blade forced into his temple, managed little reaction.
The Indian, brown and dirty, bloody and grimy, shifted his head towards Thomas so that his eyes could be seen. His great round, brown pupils slowly lifted in their tear-filled sockets and struck Thomas in the gut. Thomas’s stomach knotted itself up into a ball and his heart skipped a beat as his mind released a deluge of pain from its storehouse of memories.
The night air was a still, motionless, dead. Thomas Browning rose in his sleeping bag off the plains on Montana and stared into the midnight sky. A shrill cry had echoed through the darkness seconds earlier and Browning thought immediately of his beloved. He raced through the darkness towards the flickering candlelight by the wagon, some twenty yards ahead. He tore open the wrinkled canvas covering the entrance of the cargo hold of the wagon. A Sioux Indian, holding a knife in his hand, was undressing his wife who had just been awakened. Thomas cried out for his beloved and leapt onto the back of the brave. Sweat and hunger were oozing from the Indian’s pores and he easily threw the attacking white-man off of him. Thomas, lightheaded and half asleep, reached for the shotgun hidden under some pans in the front corner of the wagon. The Indian saw this and immediately grunted, placing his knife firmly against the woman’s throat. Elizabeth Browning closed her eyes and a whimper escaped her struggling body. Thomas raised the gun and the Indian never hesitated in slowly drawing the blade of his knife across Elizabeth’s throat. A low gurgling sound reverberated painfully off the canvas. Thomas quivered and tears filled his eyes. The Indian stared intently at the white-man. His large brown pupils, dilated, were dark as the night of which he was master. Thomas raised the gun and the Indian pressed more firmly on the knife. A sputtering cough burst out of Elizabeth’s mouth, spraying blood into the air, which promptly fell back onto her face. And the Indian’s eyes never moved, not even as searing lead tore through his chest and flattened, ripping a fist-sized exit wound through his spine and lower-back. The Indian simply fell over dead, his corpse lying prostrate on top of Browning’s beloved.
It was not the gurgling and ripping of his wife’s throat, nor the shrill cry she bleated into the night, but the eyes of her murderer that Thomas would ever remember. And it was these eyes which he now saw threatening him in the head of this little brave, hidden timidly behind a wagon, surrounded by two dead pioneers. A wagon which looked remarkably similar to Mr. Browning’s; a woman who suffered much the same fate, at the hand of the same bastards. Perhaps this is why Thomas did what he did. Perhaps he thought he was justified in dragging the shaking brave from behind the wagon; in showing him the scene in front of the wagon; in forcing him to run his finger down the gutted woman’s chest; in emotionally devastating a young Indian who had done nothing to Thomas. Or had he? It mattered not. For after this procession which was intended to instill guilt in the young boy, Thomas gestured for him to lie down. The white man stood above him, and placed his knee into the sternum of the brave. The young Indian looked up and saw the silhouette of the white-man. The white-man’s head blotted the sun and became a looming shadow, a maligned uncertainty. The brave felt nothing within his soul but fear. He no longer asked questions, nor wondered what he had done. He would submit, he would comply if he felt he could escape this evil fate. But he could not. The cold steel of Thomas Browning’s knife was drawn across the Indian’s throat. That familiar gurgling sound fell dead from the boy’s throat and was nearly inaudible in the now howling wind. The brave closed his eyes and thought of his father and mother, and then all was still. Silent.
Thomas Browning threw the knife from his hand and stood to his feet. He approached his horse and mounted it forcefully. The sun was high in the afternoon sky as he began to ride off. Once again a sense of pride swelled within Thomas. He felt the air rush past his cheeks, rustle through his blood-stained coat, and then briskly race on behind him. He flicked the reigns several times and the horse reached its full speed as it crested a ridge. Below, Thomas saw a great valley. Never again did he look over his shoulder, out of fear or curiosity. Had he, though, he would have seen a lone Indian carrying the scalp of the man back to his horse. He might have inferred that the boy had no hand in the murder and rape of the man and woman. But Browning was unconcerned with these details. Yet had he looked even closer, Thomas may have been able to see smoke rising from tee-pees on the horizon; fires raging as woman and children prepared the midday meal; men, braves tanning buffalo hide and constructing new shelters. These details were all but irrelevant. Could Thomas have forgotten the devious brown eyes which had stared into his soul? He chose to remember such things as these.
Now, though, as he rode along this ridge, as he saw the expanse beneath him, Thomas Browning was whole again. He was a pioneer, an American hero. His horse stopped at the pinnacle of the ridge and lowered its long, slender head. Wind whipped and threw its mane into the air, flailing about wildly as the sunlight glistened off its coarse strands. Thomas Browning flicked the reigns and then spread his arms out into the air. His horse charged into the vast land below, sprawling valleys and craggy cliffs beyond. An eagle soared high above the planes and followed Browning all the way to the snow-capped peaks of the Sierras where it landed on a young sapling. It raised its majestic head and spread its wings, standing as a silent sentinel over the destiny below.