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Rated: 13+ · Other · Western · #1943382
A woman alone on the high plains. A man wanted by Union soldiers. A dangerous trek West
Tressie smoothed the mound of the double grave with the back of a shovel. A burning southwest wind licked at the tears and sweat on her cheeks. Weary with grief and exhausted from chopping at the hard earth, she sagged against the wooden handle and gazed at the small plot of disturbed soil.
Almost immediately anger overpowered sorrow, for she found it somehow easier to manage. The unspoken fury she felt could be shouted at the endless white-hot sky, and she did just that, damning her father with long, anguished howls.
The eternal land swallowed her cries and fell silent. Across the arid and flat prairie, shades of dull brown spread like death as far as she could see in any direction.
She fisted the bib of her tattered overalls in folded hands, and lowering her head moved her lips in silence, hoping for a prayer to comfort the shattered remnants of her soul. But none came. Hope had withered and dried as the months passed with no word from her father.
After a long while she plodded back toward the soddy, dragging the shovel along behind. A stiff wind boosted her reluctant steps, snapping the coarse overalls against her legs. Carried on that wind came the distinct whicker of a horse. She stopped for a moment to scan the prairie, leaning on the shovel and shading her eyes against the brutal sun. She saw nothing but endless, wavering heat waves and burned grasses.
Oh, how she hated this terrible place. How she wished for someone, anyone, to come and take her away. There it was again; a soft blowing snort. There was a horse nearby.
Hauling up, she faced south, and spotted the lone rider. Man and horse appeared in the distance as if spewed from the earth itself. A familiar trick of the heat-scorched prairie, but a sight that never failed to startle her.
Still shading her eyes with one hand, she studied the wavering image, afraid it was only another mirage. If real, who would it be? And where was he bound? Her heart pounded with a mix of excitement and fear. Was this simply a foolish prospector short of food and water?
After the gold strikes, men had poured across the plains like scatterings of lost cattle, some passing on by, others stopping to water at the well in the yard. At first she had been frightened by the strangers, but soon realized that they had but one thing on their minds. GOLD. GOLD. GOLD. It was like a wild disease with them, and one Papa soon caught. Surely there wouldn't be enough of the precious ore to go around.
Once assured that the horse and rider headed straight for her were not a figment of her imagination, she whirled and ran for the house. At the unprotected doorway she tossed down the shovel and scurried inside. From the gloomy corner she lifted a long, heavy Kentucky rifle. Just in case this traveler had more than gold on his mind, she thumbed the hammer to half cock and fingered a percussion cap from the fireplace mantel. She had fired the gun off two days ago and reloaded it, just as Papa had taught her to do.
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