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Before the funeral had even concluded, Abigale had already made up her mind. She gathered her late husband’s mining tools and mining clothes and stuffed them into a satchel, slinging it over her shoulder and beginning to stomp out the bedroom before stopping in her tracks. Her mother was leaning against the doorframe, crossing her arms with a disappointed expression and sad eyes.
What are you going to do, Abigale? she asked, her eyebrows furrowing together in worry and anger. Abigale thought she looked madder than an old wet hen.
I’m taking over for John, Abigale replied matter-of-factly, patting the satchel on her hip. She began to try and pass by her mother, but her mother stood her ground, pushing her daughter away and back into the room.
In the gold mines? Luddy mussy! Are you not right in the head, child? You’ll be eaten alive, either by the men or the mines.
Her mother took a steadying breath after her outburst, rubbing the fool’s gold brooch on her neck. It had begun to turn green two weeks after John had brought it back, hopeful that the rest of the town would believe that their family was rolling in riches. No matter how much Abigale’s mother polished and cared for the brooch, the green continued to colonize the gold like mold on expired bread.
Abigale stepped forward until their noses were only a few inches apart, her eyes narrowing at her mother’s words.
And how do you propose we keep this family alive? We’re already sinking as it is, nevermind with John gone.
Her mother pushed against Abigale’s chest until she stepped back.
Watch your tone with me, girl.
Her mother cleared her throat and laced her fingers together, almost nervously, Abigale thought. She began, Well, we have a very nice gentleman of the first water, very wealthy, from the Johnson family—
Mother! Abigale exclaimed incredulously, tossing her arms up in the air exasperatingly. John hasn’t been dead for three days yet! The body isn’t even cold, and you’re already fixing me up with another man.
Abigale! her mother exclaimed back, mimicking her daughter’s voice. John hasn’t been dead for three days yet! The body isn’t even cold, and you’re already fixing to leave your family and your daughter to go do men’s work.
Abigale paused for a minute and lowered her temper and whispered, How old is he?
Her mother cleared her throat again and mumbled something unintelligible and when Abigale asked her to repeat herself, her mother said as quietly as possible, Sixty.
Sixty! Abigale roared, her temper reaching beyond the boiling point and erupting past her throat, a primal rage taking over her body. She shook and trembled and twitched with anger and clutched her hands into fists, her knuckles and fingertips already yellow. I’m leaving, and you can’t stop me, she announced sternly.
Abigale straightened her satchel on her shoulder and passed by her mother, bumping her into the doorframe and causing her to yelp out in surprise. Abigale made her way through the house, saying goodbye to unassuming family and guests of the funeral before finally reaching her daughter, who was gently playing with her potato sack doll. She was too young to understand what was happening but old enough to know that something happened to daddy that made mommy sad, and her way of coping was to brush her doll’s limp hair.
Alice, my love, Abigale whispered, holding her daughter by the shoulders. Alice looked up feebly, and when she saw the tears building up in her mother’s eyes, her chin dimpled and her eyebrows knitted together in concern and confusion.
Alice, mommy has to go for a little bit. I’ll be back soon, though, okay? Abigale reassured, sniffling back her tears as she savored her daughter’s soft skin and the plethora of freckles adorning her pale body. She tapped her daughter’s upturned pig nose, red from holding back tears, and kissed it gently. She got the nose from her mother, and when Abigale looked into Alice’s eyes, she could see John staring back at her with those big emerald eyes framed by blonde eyelashes, and she couldn’t help but allow one tear to slip. Next time I’m back, I’m going to bring you the prettiest darn dress you’ve ever seen. The finest silk with the finest pearls…you’ll see, honey.
Alice nodded with her bottom lip out, which made it even harder for Abigale to leave.
Abigale’s father put his calloused hand on her shoulder, turning her around gently to face his square face that was half his facial features and half his eyebrows, which were gray and wiry and thick.
Abigale, what is it you’re doing? Your mother tells me that you’re huntin’ for gold. Like hell you are, you lunk-headed girl.
Papa, I’m going. Who’s going to stop me?
Her father shook his head and scoffed. Your daughter, for one. You’re going to leave her?
I’m leaving for her. To provide for her. And you. God knows nobody else in this family can. Bill’s leg was nary the same since the war, and God knows you need a leg in the mines and rivers. Charlotte and Claire are only thirteen. And if you intend to marry me to a man older than you, Papa, I am leaving for that reason, too.
Her father was about to protest before he paused and scratched his beard in thought and let his shoulders sag in defeat before he tersely declared, Well, if your family isn’t going to stop you, the wild will. A man can feel perfectly safe and provided for in his own home, but once he steps outside, it’s all done for. You’re not guaranteed anything, Abigale. You’re on your own. The wild takes away; it does not provide.
While her father was lecturing her, Abigale was searching for useful supplies and dropping them into her satchel, opening cabinets and dropping any sort of food into her satchel while leaving enough for her family. Her father soon understood that Abigale was not listening to anything he was saying, so he pushed past her and opened one of the kitchen drawers, lifting the false bottom to reveal a seemingly never-fired Colt revolver. In the wood handle was delicately carved Miller, their family name. He stared at the gun, his face a puzzle trying to sort itself out, until he eventually flipped it around so the handle was facing Abigale, the puzzle in his face still not finished. She hesitantly took it, looking at her father for approval. He nodded, and she took it hungrily, staring at how the dim light from the candles glinted off the steel.
Calm down, Annie Oakley, he joked as Abigale carefully laid it in her satchel. I know I taught you to shoot better than her. You’ve always been better than your brother. Here are a few extra rounds. Use them sparingly.
Her father looked at her for what felt like hours, hesitating on everything that was about to come out of his mouth. He knew that his daughter needed to leave sooner rather than later. He could barely haul the wheelbarrow of hay to the pasture right next to their house without almost collapsing. His knees were putty and his muscles jelly. He was no longer the man he used to be. And so, allowing the silence between them to continue, he bade a wordless goodbye to his daughter.
Abigale said goodbye to her mother, who was already in violent tears, to her brother Bill, who limped his way to her, and to her twin sisters Charlotte and Claire, who barely understood what was going on. She said yet another goodbye to her daughter but left before she could cry in front of her family. She reminded her family she would attempt to be back, but that did not make the departure any less wounding.
Abigale mounted her trusted horse, Prairie Smoke, checked all of her luggage, and gently kicked her horse in the thigh, propelling them both into the yellow sea of Indiangrass. After some time, she looked over her shoulder back to her home, only a small speck on the horizon engulfed by the icy mountains behind it and swallowed by the vastness of the Colorado landscape. She faced forward, straightening her posture and looking forward to the sun, shaking the yearning from her head. She focused on the clip-clopping of her horse’s trotting pace and the breeze blowing past her ear, threatening to undo her loosely braided hair. She glanced at the orange burning sun and savored the heat it gave her, for she knew that the weather was turning colder and more frigid, and it would eventually turn against her.
She did not know that it would happen so early, and that it wouldn’t be the weather against her. The sun had barely set before a savage wind ripped between her and Prairie, lifting her hat from her head and throwing it on the other side of the Colorado Central Railroad tracks they had been following to the gold mine. She yelped in surprise and out of instinct raised her hand to feel her naked head, and when she realized her hat had flown, she halted Prairie and hopped off. Her boots made a steady crunch on the dusty and dry dirt road, and as she walked over the railroad and reached down to retrieve her tan felt hat when she heard a rustle in the bushes. She slowly straightened herself, clutching onto her hat fearfully with one hand while the other drifted to the gun in her satchel.
In the fading light, she saw two men get up, adjust their vests, and walk toward her, both of them spinning peacemakers in their hands. She took a step back, her eyes narrowed with determination but her soul quivering in fear.
Hello, gentlemen, she greeted cautiously, continuing to step away, but they only followed. She continued, I don’t want any trouble.
They both grinned maliciously, their gold teeth glinting in the newborn moon hanging limply from the sky. Abigale began to wonder they had gotten that gold from. From the gold mines? She hoped that was the truth, but subconsciously, she knew that they did not get the gold honestly. They were good-for-nothing lickspittles.
Hiya, darlin’, the shorter one said in a thick Southern accent. Abigale winced at his gruff voice, tightening her grip on the gun until her fingertips yellowed.
Whatcha got there? Some good Justins there. Nice John B., too, the taller man insinuated, pointing his gun brazenly to her boots and hat and her horse across the tracks, who was holding all of her belongings. She looked back at Prairie, estimating the amount of time it would take to get to her and hop on her back and ride a safe distance away from the barrels of their guns. She bit her lip and shook her head. Too risky.
Abigale turned back to the bandits, raising her chin high and puffing out her chest. She slowly took out her revolver, making sure the men heard her take the safety off with a gentle flick of her thumb.
They saw the action and grinned bigger in response.
What’s a sweet piece of calico like you doing all alone out here like this? the shorter one asked. You’re a little…feminine for a lone star.
Abigale shrugged in response. Is that your business, sir? she asked, and he chuckled condescendingly.
How about you give us some of your things and in return, we’ll leave you alone. Deal?
Abigale scoffed, replying, How about no. Else you’ll get a lambastin’ for sure.
The men raised their guns automatically with hyena laughter, motioning for Abigale to get on her knees, but she stood her ground, pointing her Colt right back at them.
Would you rather give us some of you instead? the taller man suggested with a venomous glint in his eye, his tongue slithering between his cracked lips and coating them in a layer of putrid saliva.
Abigale began to remember her father’s words about how she was the finest sharpshooter in all of the Colorado Territory. She was not about to give up four hours into her journey.
Her boots crunched on the dirt road again as she moved herself to the men’s side, carefully calculating the trajectory of the bullet. The men cackled at her concentration, poking fun at her one squinted eye and her tongue sticking out of her mouth as she aimed the gun at them.
Aw, come on now, lady, whatcha gonna do with that there revolver? Looks like you’re on the shoot tonight, the taller man said, erupting into laughter with his miniature twin.
Abigale lined up her shot, and without a second thought, she pulled the trigger. The bullet spun and whirled and rotated until it ripped through the scarred tanned flesh of the tall bandit, leaving a bloody mess behind that tangled with his arm hair, and tore through the smaller bandit’s wrist as well before falling to the ground and bouncing off the dirt. The pain caused both men to drop their guns and drop to their knees, screaming and wailing something awful into the night like a couple of melancholy coyotes, mourning the lost movement in their hands. Abigale took the opportunity to take her hat, hop over the tracks, and mount her horse, kicking Prairie’s thigh and riding off into the stars.
After a few hours, Abigale deemed it safe to set up camp and slowly dismounted. She opened her bag and pulled out a tent and her dinner, a pot of cold beef soup wrapped in a navy blue cloth. She started a fire and held the pot over the heat, the angry flamed licking the metal pot until the broth started to boil and steam rose into the night sky. She put down the pot and got out a silver spoon that was passed down from three generations before that she hoped would bring her luck. So far, it was working.
She sipped from the soup until she felt satisfied and put the rest back into her bag to save it for as long as possible. She stared into the fire, listening to the crackling of the combustion of the blackening sticks and following the path of the embers floating from the heart of the fire into the gentle breeze. She drank from her rusty flask, the whiskey burning a trail down her throat. Her eyelids began to droop, so she packed up her things, kissed Prairie goodnight, and settled into her tent. She thought of her daughter’s face and dreamed of hugging and kissing her soft skin again. When she awoke in the middle of the night, she found herself smiling from her dream and hugging her blanket to her chest instead of her daughter. When she looked down at the gray blanket and didn’t see her daughter’s blonde locks sprawled over her arm, her smile faded as she layed back down, realizing she was all alone in the Colorado desert beside the coyotes crying in the distant mountains.
That night was not as easy as the night before. The temperature had dropped twofold, and the breeze that had been blowing gently the day before had picked up and blew large gusts that threatened to topple over Abigale’s tent. She led Prairie to the tent and had her lay down, in front of the opening for the warmth but also for the company. She wanted to hear somebody else’s breath other than her own. She curled up in the tent with Prairie’s head in front of her feet, her exhales warming Abigale’s toes. Abigale had known that deserts can get down to freezing temperatures, but she had never experienced it in such a raw way before. The wool coat that she wore in the winters suddenly felt like more of a cardigan on her skin, so she began to layer on the rest of the coats she had packed, but it barely made a difference. She curled up next to Prairie and tried to ignore the vicious wind, yet her numbing nose and fingers made it hard to.
Prairie’s startled whinny woke Abigale up with a heart attack, and as she tried to calm Prairie down, she spotted what Prairie was whinnying at: a scorpion, black and shiny and menacing, crawling up the blanket, mere inches away from Abigale’s arm. She stood up with a scream, letting go of Prairie’s head, leading to Prairie getting caught in the tent and whipping her head around until she was free. What was left of the tent was a heap of fabric, broken wooden poles, and fabric ripped beyond use. Abigale was still trapped under the fabric, however, and her sight pitch-black. She stopped, remembering her father’s advice.
If you’re in a tough spot, you stop, look around for a way out, and calmly get there. Panicking does nothing for nobody.
She took a deep breath, closed her eyes (which made no difference since her vision was already dark), and slowly attempted to get out from under the tent. She could almost see the piercing glare of the moon until she felt something on her shin, and she immediately halted, her hands clutching the fabric of the tent in fear. She looked down with the limited light from the moon and saw the scorpion making its way up to her waist. Its exoskeleton was so shiny it looked wet.
She evaluated her choices at the moment. Her trousers were thick enough to avoid any of the serious effects of a sting, and the scorpion was merely a giant hairy scorpion so it wouldn’t kill her, but the pain would be a bitch. The pain would seriously hinder her journey, so she couldn’t use her hand. She looked around the tent, calculating the least risky evasion method, and her eyes fell upon her flask. She slowly and carefully bent over, making sure the scorpion didn’t make any contact with her skin, and picked up the flask, holding it in her hand for only a second before she crashed the pewter flask into the hard exoskeleton, knocking the scorpion off her trousers and falling to the floor. She began to lift up her foot to bring down on the insect, but her mother’s words in her mind stopped her.
Respect all life. They’re more scared of you than you are of it. If it ain’t gonna harm you no more, leave it be.
The scorpion stayed rooted to the dirt ground, and Abigale could sense its fear. She gazed down tenderly at the disgusting venomous thing and lowered her foot away from the scorpion. She shooed it away with her shoe, and it complied, scuttling away into the night. Prairie huffed as she took a few steps away from the scorpion, letting out a low whinny until Abigale soothed her. Abigale’s heart was beating a mile a minute and the adrenaline was still pumping into her veins, and she had been so distracted that she hardly noticed the water pouring out of the flask and melting into the dirt below. She jumped back and cussed at herself for being so dense, screwing the cap back on, but she had lost most of the water to her own stupidity. Regardless, she was alive.
With her tent shredded, her water transformed into a soup of mud, the indomitable cold piercing her skin, and the adrenaline in her body, sleep was no longer attainable. She sighed, packed the ruins of her tent back into her bag, and mounted Prairie again. She rode into the cold and quiet night, the stars and galaxies staring down at her from lightyears away. She lifted her chin slightly to stare at the stars, which were merely holes poked into a navy blue cloth. She smiled at the vastness of the world and felt threatened by it.
In response to her contradicting emotions, she ignored the emotional war inside of her and focused on the steady clip-clop of Prairie’s hooves.
The biting cold temperatures transformed into the usual desert temperatures, soaring into drier and drier territory the longer Abigale rode. Before long, her mouth was as hot and dry as the desert, and out of desperateness, diverted her route away from the railroad tracks and to the left to try and find some type of water. She was even more worried about Prairie, whose trot was turning into a walk with each minute that passed. The limited fruit and prickly pears provided only so much moisture, and she could not survive on them for the rest of the coming days. She looked to the sky, hoping for some sign of life. She shielded her eyes from the glare of the sun and spotted what looked like a Cooper’s hawk gliding west overhead, and with that spotting, Abigale immediately followed the hawk and made Prairie use her last strength to gallop to the small possibility of a water source.
After a few minutes of continuous galloping on fading energy, Abigale’s ears pricked up at the sound of rushing water. Gallons upon gallons of it—rushing, pulsing, gushing. Her mouth watered for the first time in hours, and she could already taste the refreshing river water on her tongue. In her water-driven daze, she loosened her grip on the reins, and when Prairie suddenly planted her hooves into the dirt, she was almost catapulted into a canyon with a medium-sized river running through it. After regaining her composure from near-death, she marveled at the beauty of the river, seemingly endless as it stretched and elongated itself far beyond the horizon. After gaping at the landform for some time, she began to lead Prairie down the canyon, computing the safest route with the smallest possibility for slipping or sudden rockslides. Eventually, the pair reached the bottom of the canyon, their eyes and ears in disbelief at the sheer amount of water coursing through after days of dry desert. She dismounted Prairie in such a quick fashion that she almost fell flat on her perspired face, and both of the females rushed to the river. Prairie lapped at the bluish-brown water gratefully while Abigale hungrily gulped the water from her cupped hands. The taste was somewhat metallic and velvety, but Abigale did not mind whatsoever. To her, at that moment, it tasted like Heaven. She also ignored her father’s voice yelling in her mind and focused on the wonderful feeling of cold in her mouth.
Always boil the water. We don’t know why, so don’t ask. Just boil it. It’ll make you illy if you don’t. There’re some critters in there for sure.
Abigale was going to risk it. She prayed that she wouldn’t catch anything, and after satiating herself with water, she set up a fire and boiled a pot of water before pouring it into her flask. With her belly full of water, her mouth moist, and Prairie happy, the pair set off on their journey once again, slipping only slightly on their trek upwards out of the canyon.
Abigale had passed by a few small sparse towns on her way to the mine, stopping only for directions from puzzled men and for food with the small amount of money she brought with her. She managed to find a cheap room in a hotel and fell asleep in under a minute and had the best sleep she had ever had in her entire life. She did not know what good sleep was until she had it taken away from her so brutally by the wild.
She had savored the little town so much that she had extended her trip by two days, and by the time she had gotten back on the path for a few hours, she already felt fatigued. She kept swerving Prairie into the tracks, narrowly missing a blaring train when she awoke.
After another few hours, her forehead flared up, and not because of the constant beating of the sun on her head. She adjusted her hat, but it only seemed to tighten its grip on the circumference of her head. She lifted the back of her hand to her forehead and winced at the heat radiating off her skin.
After another few hours, her stomach churned and stabbed itself aggressively, causing Abigale to groan out in pain. She felt bloated beyond what was possible, and she felt bigger and more disgusting than she felt when she was pregnant with Alice. She attributed her stomach pains and watery bowels to the food she ate back at the hotel due to the fact that her chicken was on the pinkish side.
After the last few hours of the day, she finally noticed the building rash on her chest and arms, and at the sight of it, her muscles liquified, and she let go of the reins and slipped out of the saddle and onto the hard dirt.
Abigale awoke after what felt like years. Her vision was blurry for several minutes, only seeing silhouettes of shuffling figures above her, staring at her, ogling her. She slowly made her way to her elbows, leaning all her weight on them before collapsing back onto the wool blanket beneath her. The silhouettes now had sound, and they chattered to each other in an unintelligible language for a few seconds before one gingerly lifted Abigale’s head, their hands so delicate and soft that it felt as though she was laying her head on a pillow. Another pair of hands poured water into her mouth, and she gratefully gulped it down.
Hello? the silhouette in front of her asked in a thick accent.
Hello, Abigale slurred in response, her eyelids blinking at different intervals. Even her eyelids were fatigued from their usual movements.
Water, the silhouette said, raising the water to her mouth again, but she quickly turned her head once her memory came back to her.
Did you boil it? she asked critically, staring at the crystal clear water as if it were poison. That’s how I got in this here situation in the first place.
Her vision began to materialize, the pixels coming together to form a young Indian man, about twenty, in front of her, and as she tipped her head back, a young Indian girl, only about twelve, holding her head. The Indian man put his hands up defensively as if dealing with a wild animal. She realized the man in all likelihood did not speak perfect English, so she looked around the room and spotted a fire in a pit outside. She pointed to the fire, and once the Indians followed her finger, she said, Fire.
She then pointed to the water and made wiggling motions with her fingers to simulate steam and said, Boil water.
The Indian man nodded. She relaxed into the embrace of the girl and let the man tip the water into her throat, satisfying her dehydrated body. They then hovered over a pot that was boiling on top of a small fire. She saw them drop cloves of some plant into the water and let some of the water evaporate. They then added honey to the water, mixing it in with a wooden spoon, and pouring it into a clay cup. The young Indian girl gently reached out to give it to her, clearly not wanting to spook Abigale.
Abigale nodded in appreciation and drank it, tasting a mix of bitterness from the stuff they had added before and sweetness from the honey, and when she finished, the Indians poured yet another glass for her and gave it to her to drink once again. She did as they wanted and took another refreshing yet acrid sip, letting the water sit on her tongue before swallowing it. The young men then headed outside the hut, and when he returned, he had a bowl of hearty soup in one hand and a smaller bowl with some black paste in the other.
The young girl smiled as she received the bowls from the man and gave it to Abigale to eat. She thanked them profusely in both English and body language. They looked at each other, and when they met Abigale’s gaze, they beamed at her.
Abigale ate the soup with chunks of meat from unknown origin, but the meat at that moment was the best she has ever tasted in her life. She then moved onto the paste, looked at it critically, and ate it, immediately wincing and spitting it out. But when the young girl begged her to eat it, Abigale obliged and swallowed the paste whole so that she wouldn’t be able to taste it. Satisfied and fatigued, Abigale’s eyelids began to droop. The young girl prepped a pillow while the young man laid Abigale down gently onto the floor mat, subsequently laying a blanket made from an animal’s hide over her frail body.
The last image Abigale saw through the flaps of the hut was Prairie walking across the silt, raising her snout in the air in panic before the young Indian girl slowly approached her and put her hand on Prairie’s snout. Prairie calmed, and the girl led her off somewhere else. Abigale smiled. They were in good hands.
When Abigale awoke, it was night. She checked to see if her pocket watch was still in the pocket of her trousers, and when she discovered it, she opened it to reveal the glass cracked.
Damn it, Abigale cursed at the immobile watch hands, throwing it on the floor. She stood up slowly, her legs still teetering and her head pounding from the sudden movement. Her footsteps on the silt were the only sound she heard until she reached the entrance of the hut and heard a faint melodic voice singing out into the cool night.
The ethereal voice grew louder the more she walked away from the village, her legs staggering and tripping over air. In addition to the voice was the warm glow of a fire, and soon enough, when she made her way through a barrier of brush, she smelled the burning embers and heard the crackling of the fire, too, as an undertone of the singing voice.
Once Abigale reached the voice, it belonged to an old man with greying braids draped over his shoulders who was singing to a circle of three others. He raised and dropped his voice in beautiful succession, riffing some notes and prolonging others. The young man that had taken care of Abigale was lightly tapping a drum in his lap, his eyes closed and his head bobbing as if he was watching a movie of the song in his brain.
Abigale did not understand the words he was singing, but she felt them. Before long, the old man opened his eyes, revealing a warm amber color to them from the glow of the fire, and smiled at Abigale’s curious presence. He beckoned her to come closer with his hand adorned with bluish-purple veins, and Abigale awkwardly sat down on the log next to the young man, all of the Indians staring at her.
The old man motioned to the drum and to her, signaling for her to sing. She shrugged and began thinking of a song, and before long, the starting note slipped from her throat and went out into the night. The old Indian, most likely the chief, nodded in approval, and from that small act, Abigale found the courage to continue.
As I walked out on the streets of Laredo.
As I walked out on Laredo one day,
I spied a poor cowboy wrapped in white linen,
Wrapped in white linen as cold as the clay.
I can see by your outfit that you are a cowboy
These words he did say as I boldly walked by.
Come an’ sit down beside me an’ hear my sad story.
I’m shot in the breast an’ I know I must die.
It was once in the saddle, I used to go dashing.
Once in the saddle, I used to go gay.
First to the card-house and then down to Rose’s.
But I’m shot in the breast and I’m dying today.
It was a tune her mother had sung to her ever since she was a nipper. Whenever she would cry, her mother would pull her into her lap, rock her until she quieted down enough to start singing faintly so that Abigale would have to quiet down completely to hear her mother’s angelic voice. When her mother would get to the part about dying, Abigale would burst out crying yet again at the thought of her mother dying, but her mother’s voice rang out above Abigale’s wails, and eventually, she sniffled down and laid her head on her mother’s shoulder and went to sleep. Her mother smelled of vanilla from her relentless baking and like flowers from the garden she maintained religiously.
Abigale could almost smell the combination of vanilla and flowers as she was singing, and before long, her voice faltered and was following by a sob. She sniffed back her tears, but they fought her efforts tooth and nail until they pooled at her chin and dripped into the dirt. She shook and hugged herself, her breaths coming out in irregular intervals as she choked on her own breath. The young man next to her wrapped his arms around her shoulders hesitantly, waiting for her to fight back, and when Abigale began sobbing harder, he squeezed her shoulders tighter in response.
Her necklace suddenly felt heavy, pulling on her neck until she could hardly stand it and opened the locket, revealing her family picture. She covered her mouth with a hand to prevent her wavering sobs from waking the sleeping village behind her, and when the chief came to look at the locket and smiled approvingly, she cried harder.
I miss them an awful lot, sir, she whimpered into her sleeve as she tried to wipe away the torrential downpour of her tears. That’s my family there. My husband John and my little girl Alice. I’ve been pining away for them since I left.
Oh, poppet, the chief said in a thick accent. It is hard. I know. Sing. Please. It will help. It has helped me.
Is it helping you right now? she asked, and he chuckled softly. He nodded and handed her a beautiful rose quartz gemstone, cut down to make a triangle shape.
He pointed to the top point and said, Me.
He then pointed to the bottom right and said, Daughter. Nadua.
Finally, he pointed to the bottom left corner and smiled fondly, his eyes glossing over with wet tears. He squeaked out, Wife. Topsannah. Dead.
Abigale pointed to John in her locket and sighed. Dead, too.
The two people gazed at each other in mutual understanding of love and loss, a pain so deep that it takes longer than any gunshot wound or gash to heal. It may never heal; the pain only dulls as other daily happenings take over the person’s mind. Had this journey been a mere distraction from Abigale’s grief? Was she so dim-witted that she decided to become a saddle bum for the rest of her life because of her husband’s death? And abandon her family, the people she loved the most? She buried her face in her hands and cried for ages, letting the tears slip between the cracks in her fingers and wincing slightly as the saline water stung the cuts and callouses on her rough-ridden hands.
After some time, she lifted her face from her hands and met the chief’s empathetic eyes and nodded. He went back to his sitting position and the second he sat down, Abigale started her song again, picking up where she left off.
Get six jolly cowboys to carry my coffin.
Six dance-hall maidens to bear up my pall.
Throw bunches of roses all over my coffin.
Roses to deaden the clods as they fall.
Then beat the drum slowly, play the Fife lowly.
Play the dead march as you carry me along.
Take me to the green valley, lay the sod o’er me,
I’m a young cowboy and I know I’ve done wrong.
Then go write a letter to my grey-haired mother,
An’ tell her the cowboy that she loved has gone.
She finished her song with an exhale, closing her eyes and savoring the gentle sound of the young Indian playing his drum beside her. After he finished his solo, the rest of the Indians stood up to leave, all of them walking away apart from the chief. He sat next to Abigale, put a hand on her shoulder, and stayed with her in the cold desert, listening to the fire crackle in front of them and watching the smoke drift into the Heavens. The smoke curled and danced and wrapped around itself, gaining more and more mass as the fire died. It imploded on itself as a log fell into the center of the fire, the flames roaring for a split second before finally and pathetically dying under the log.
The chief slowly and wordlessly ushered Abigale back to the village, wrapping her protectively in the animal skin he was wearing. He led her back to the hut, gave her a long hug, and disappeared into his own hut. Abigale stood in front of the hut, staring out into the barren landscape highlighted by the yellow moonlight and populated only by the huts of the Indians and the dead and dry brush and skeletal trees that looked one day from death. And yet she found it so hauntingly beautiful, she couldn’t stop staring out into the night.
She only went into the hut when the young Indian man and girl pulled her into the tent and made her drink more of the bittersweet water. She coughed, sobbed, and fell asleep.
The goodbye was quick yet as painful as a scorpion sting. She did not want to leave the tribe, and yet she had to. She mounted Prairie, who was plump and well-rested from being revered by the kind Indians for the past week. Abigale had overcome her illness, but the remnants of her rash remained in the form of scars from her scratching at the angry red pimples. She took with her the animal hide from the chief and a flask full of boiled water. She had learned her lesson in the most unpleasant way. She took a swig of her whiskey flask, the first taste of alcohol in a week the sweetest she had ever tasted. She waved goodbye to the Indian man, whose name was Isatai, and the young Indian girl, whose name was Na’ura and was Isatai’s sister.
And before long, Abigale was back on the trail, swiftly finding the tracks and following them as she had been the week before.
Her mind drifted back to John as she touched the chief’s animal hide decorated with tassels and dyed yarn from the sheep they kept closeby. She could easily turn back right now and marry the old shote from the Johnson family. But the idea of him shucking off his clothes made her almost vomit onto the saddle. And the idea of him and Alice being together made Abigale kick Prairie from a trot to a gallop.
Yes, I’m doin’ this because John is gone. But I’m not doin’ it to forget that he’s gone. I’m doin’ it for my family. For my family. I’m gonna strike it rich.
It took several days of interchanging between freezing and fiery temperatures before she came across a small settlement of tents with men milling around outside them, cooking foul and sharpening knives. At the first sound of Prairie’s hooves clopping on the silt, their eyes lifted from whatever activity they were doing and widened in surprise at the very sight of a woman, a gal-boy, on their settlement, their stare trailing as Abigale weaved her way through the tents. She kept her gaze straight ahead, not wanting to provoke any of the men, but made she had her revolver visible on her hip.
Hey, g’hal, one of the men exclaimed once he snapped out of his woman-obsessed stupor. Whatcha doin’ here?
Same as y’all, sir, she replied coolly, keeping her eyes ahead, focusing on the mountains in front of her.
For gold? the man asked.
He scoffed and slapped his knee, rousing the rest of the men to do the same. Everything’s been exhausted, sage hen. And I doubt you’d find it.
Stall your mug, ya sold up spooney, Abigale spat, rolling her eyes.
The man stepped back as if he had been punched, and in retaliation, he ran up to Prairie and started cussing and yelling profanities at Abigale—some of them she barely knew the meaning of.
She calmly pulled out her Colt and cocked it, squeezing one eye shut and pointing it straight in the direction of the man. His mouth immediately clammed up, and Abigale went on her way. She finally reached the end of the tracks, the biggest and longest train she’d ever seen waiting as men tipped nuggets of gold into its compartments. Abigale inhaled deeply, let out the breath for a few long seconds, and smiled. She had arrived.
The three pairs of trousers she brought on her journey quickly ripped and got dirty from the constant panning for gold for days in the muddy waters that were dangerously unpredictable. She had tried finding gold in the mine, but when a boulder almost fell on her, she decided that the river was a better bet.
However, it was not.
She once almost got swept away by a sudden gush of water, and she reckoned the water was trying to kill her. She laughed at the water’s futile attempts to drown her. She had already almost died twice, and shame on her if she got caught off her feet again.
The only things that showed up in her secondhand pan were regular rocks and infinitesimal pieces of fool’s gold, which gave her quite the surge of happiness the first time around. Eventually, the constant taunts from the men and the disappointment when the teller condescendingly broke the news that the stones she had found were fool’s gold became too much for her. She decided to wade down the river and around the bend where the waters were the most dangerous. Few men had gone there, and when they did, they were swept away and left either with serious injuries or dead.
She waited until a particularly large wave ripped through the river and then quickly bounded down the river and around the bend, much to the men’s surprise. She began thinking about going back to the mines again when she spotted something glinting under the water. She walked over to the shining object, reached her hand down into the icy water, and picked it up. When she held it above the water, her heart leaped out of her chest. It was a nugget bigger than the palm of her hand, and she struggled to hold onto the wet rock. It had the most beautiful golden color to it, but she struggled to not let her expectations get the best of her. She placed the nugget gingerly in her pan and attempted to wade upstream, but suddenly, the water’s murderous ways returned, and a wave barreled downstream, picking up energy as it got closer and closer to her. She gasped and tried to get behind the bend, but the wave caught her foot and dragged her under.
Abigale took a big gulp of air before going under, holding tight onto the nugget as the water swirled around her and blinded her with mud and small rocks. She kicked but in return smashed her foot against a rock, and as she exclaimed in pain, water began flooding her lungs. She kicked once more and brought her head above water, coughing up water as she swam toward the banks of the river, clutching the nugget so tightly that her knuckles went white. She sunk her fingers into the dirt of the banks, dragging herself onto the dirt with one arm and holding the nugget as if it was a child in the other. She brought herself to lay on her back, coughing water up all the while, and stared up into the blue sky decorated by puffy white clouds. After a few moments, a crowd of men formed above her and blocked out the peaceful image of the clouds traveling across the blue silk sky.
Is she alright? one of them asked.
Doesn’t look it, one of them replied.
Abigale managed to realize her surroundings, turned onto her side, and tried standing up. However, her injured foot prevented her to do so, a searing hot pain shooting through her hyperthermic body when she put weight on it, causing her to collapse to her knees. She ignored the men’s questions and offers for help, all the while standing up cautiously and limping to the teller’s office. The teller scoffed patronizingly and crossed his arms when he saw her enter the building.
What did you go and do that for, biddy? he scoffed, giving her a once-over of her sopping wet appearance.
Abigale slammed the nugget on the teller’s desk, splattering water all over his paperwork with a smile.
The teller rolled his eyes and raised the monocle to his eye, picking up the hefty nugget and inspecting it. He appeared to choke on his own saliva, and he began to scramble for a magnifying glass. He looked at the nugget once again and sat back in his chair, stupefied.
Well, color me impressed, he replied. He gave Abigale one last look before laughing once more. But now you’ve gone and gotten yourself boogered up.
Abigale looked at her angry red foot, her toe pointed in a strange direction, and shrugged.
Abigale strolled out of the office with a large satchel of bills and coins, all neatly wrapped with bands. She barely gave the men another glance as she limped to Prairie, mounted her with great difficulty, and rode off with her bag of money that would sustain her and her family for months. She inhaled in the dusty air of the desert and exhaled it as she started her journey back to her family.
The minute she saw her home over the horizon, Abigale kicked Prairie with her diggers until Prairie broke out into a full sprint, only stopping until she reached the front door. At the sound of Prairie’s whinny, Alice opened the door, and at the sight of her weary and tanned mother, she screamed in delight and ran toward her mother, who enveloped her in the biggest hug she had ever given her. The rest of the family joined until it was one big group hug, all of them crying from happiness. When Abigale showed them the stacks of money in the satchel, the hoops and yells from her family echoed louder than the coyotes at night. But when Abigale revealed a pink silk dress and a set of pearls to Alice, her screams were the loudest of all.
Abigale thanked Prairie for the journey and gave her the finest hay she could and buckets of water, left her alone, and spent the rest of her day with her family. She knew she would have to leave again in a few months, but days last long in the desert. They seem to last for years.
So Abigale focused on her family.
And when she would go out onto the porch late at night and stare out into the desert cloaked by the sky’s darkness, she would thank the wilderness, too, for fortifying her. It had taken so much away from her. But it had also given her all she could have ever wanted.
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