A Hard Way to Go

A Hard Way to Go

In the early light streaking through the slabs of the small lean-to, Than Fareheart threw off the heavy canvas and got to his feet. As he stepped outside, he looked up at the small cabin, wondering if Rebecca was up. He walked behind the lean-to to pee, looking across the long meadow where the two horses grazed in the glistening morning light.

He went back inside the lean-to for the feed bags and scooped them full of the moist oats from the wooden barrel. When he stepped back outside, the horses crowded against the gate that led into the small corral. When he opened the gate, they pushed past him into the corral. Scratching under the long line of his horse’s jaw, Than slipped the feed bag over its head, and then turned to Sam’s horse, whose muzzle jerked up and down asking to be fed. Thinking about his good friend, Than’s heart filled with distress and sorrow. The horse pushed against him.

“Things have changed, eh?” Than said and slipped the feed bag over Sam’s horse’s head. With his muzzle deep inside the feed bag, Than reached up to scratch the horse’s forehead, his mind far away.

Coming back to himself, Than turned to the water trough. Working the handle of the pump, he filled the water trough, his shoulder throbbing. Recalling how Rebecca had dressed the bullet wound in his shoulder the night before, he looked up once more at the small cabin.

He went back inside the lean-to for his hat and coat, hoping that Rebecca would come out soon. He was anxious to leave but couldn’t leave without seeing her. He walked up the hill to Sam’s grave under the tall ponderosa pine, wondering if he should have carved something in the crude cross that marked the grave. The cross seemed to mock him, and he was tempted to remove it. But it was Rebecca’s idea, and he wouldn’t go against her wishes.

Before he left, he’d ask her if she’d like something carved into the small cross. He knew she’d visit the grave every day, and whatever he’d carve into the cross would fall short of what she felt and needed to say to Sam. But he’d ask her just the same. A life can’t be explained by death. And a death can’t be explained by life. The great tragedy, Than thought. One doesn’t lead to the other.

When he walked back to the cabin, Rebecca was standing on the small porch in front of the cabin, holding a cup of coffee, steam rising in the cool morning air. She stepped down to meet Than, holding out the cup.

“Been up long?” she asked.

“Not too long,” he said. “Walked up to the grave.”

“Sam still there?” she laughed.

He looked back up the hill toward the tall ponderosa pine. “Yeah, he’s still there. He ain’t like me, always needing to go. Sam was one to stay put.”

“I liked that about him,” Rebecca said. “He was steady as the sunrise. Gonna miss that. I’ll still have the sunrise, I guess.”

Than Fareheart looked over the top of the lean-to. The sun was up higher now and Than could feel the heat beginning to rise.

“Gonna be a hot one,” Rebecca said. “Wanna come inside?”

Than Farheart followed Rebecca inside and stood awkwardly at the door, looking around as if he’d never been inside the small cabin before.

“How’s the shoulder?” she asked. “Sit down, Than. You make me uneasy standing there.”

Than set his cup on the table and sat down, staring at the cup in front of him.

Rebecca stood close to the stove watching Than fidgeting in his chair.

“What’re you thinkin’ about?” she asked. “You’re as fidgety as a bear cub.”

Than looked up at her, not sure how to answer. He reached up and touched his shoulder. “The shoulder is feeling better,” he said. “I appreciate what you did for me.”

“It was nothing,” she said. “I’m sorry it happened to you.”

“It was my own damn fault. Shouldn’t have been so careless. Gonna get myself killed sure as hell.”

“Don’t talk that way,” Rebecca said.

“Talking one way or another don’t change a damn thing,” Than said. “You know that.”

“Maybe it don’t, but I don’t like hearing it,” she said.

Their lives had changed. They’d become strangers to one another. Maybe it could have turned out differently. Than didn’t know why things turned out the way they did. Didn’t know what caused men to do what they did. Why they chose one thing over another? None of it made much sense to him, so he tried not to think about it at all.

What he did know was that he always had an itch to go. Staying put just wasn’t in him. Rebecca almost got him to stay. A long time ago. But even his love for her couldn’t keep him put.

“What’re you thinking?” she asked.

Than’s mind was blank. He wasn’t really thinking about anything. His stomach churned and his right leg bounced up and down. Noticing Than’s anxiety, she sat down across from him and reached over for his hand.

“It’s all right, Than,” Rebecca said. “I know that you need to get going. You got things to do.”

Than looked at her and nodded. He wanted to say something but didn’t know what. Pulling his hand away, he leaned forward to take a sip from his cup, his gaze never leaving her.

“There is one thing that I need to finish,” he said. “For Sam.”

Rebecca understood. It wasn’t easy to accept but she understood. Than hadn’t changed. Sam’s death had hurt him, put another hole in his heart, but he was the same Than as before. Restless and weary and running like a scared jackrabbit. Running from himself mostly. Thinking that something was behind him, but nothing ever was. Not really.

“The men you told me about?” she said. “The three Mexicans you were chasing. The thing that brought you into town. You got to understand, it wasn’t your fault. We both know how stubborn Sam was. You couldn’t have changed anything.”

Than looked hard at Rebecca and said, “I could’ve done things different. I knew better.”

“Nothing to do about it now,” she said. “Best to let it alone.”

Maybe she’s right, Than thought. What good will come of telling her how Sam died? It won’t pull him out of the grave. Won’t write something on his grave marker. What is the measure of a man? In the end, it comes to the same.

“I’d best go and check on the horses,” Than said.

“I’ll get you some breakfast,” Rebecca said standing up.

“Don’t have to do that,” Than said. “You’ve already done more than you should’ve.”

“I don’t want to hear another word out of you, Than Fareheart. You go take care of the horses and then come back for your breakfast.”

Than stood up, walked to the door, and turned around, wanting to say something, but nothing came to him, and he opened the door and stepped outside. He was glad to be outside, away from any explanations. He never could find the right words to express what was in his heart. If he tried to say it, it never came out right. Best to say nothing.

He took the feed bags off the horses’ heads and hung them inside the lean-to. He took his headset off the nail, caught his horse, and led him to the hitching post. After brushing him, he went back inside for his blanket and saddle. He threw the blanket up on the horse’s back and then the saddle and reached underneath for the cinch, pulling it snugly. He would sit with Rebecca and eat her breakfast. And then he would leave. And after he left, he would be filled with regrets for not saying the things he felt in his heart.

He turned Sam’s horse out into the long meadow above the lean-to and went up to the small cabin. While he ate, he looked down at his plate. Rebecca stared over at him. She didn’t know what to expect from him. She just wanted to hear him talk. But he ate without saying a word. And when he finished, he stood up and thanked Rebecca and tried to apologize for having to leave so soon. She nodded and followed him outside.

“You know you can stay,” Rebecca said while Than stood on the porch with his hat in his hands.

Than looked down at the ground and then up at Rebecca. “You need anything before I leave?”

Rebecca shook her head.

“I’ll be back to check on you ever’ so often,” Than said. “You tell Sam I’m sorry, okay? I should’ve been a better friend.”

“You were a good friend, Than, and Sam knew it,” she said. “You be sure to stop by whenever you are down this way.”

Than nodded, turned, and walked to the hitching post in front of the lean-to, not looking back. Than tightened the cinch, led his horse away from the hitching post, threw his leg over the saddle, and rode away. The sun had moved up higher in the sky, a bad time to go, but he had to go.

Rebecca stood on the porch for a long time, long after Than was out of sight. When the sight of Sam’s horse grazing alone in the long meadow above the lean-to became too much for her to bear, she turned and walked up the hill above the small cabin to Sam’s grave under the tall ponderosa pine. She looked down at the grave and the small cross and tried to think of something to say. She stood there for a long time before she blurted out, “Damn you, Sam. Damn you.” Tears flowed down her face. Looking up into the tall ponderosa pine that towered over her, she saw a solitary crow looking down at her. When the crow lifted its head, looking off into the distance, she looked off into the distance, trying to see what the crow had seen, but the only thing she saw was Sam’s horse grazing in the long meadow that jutted out into native scrub and endless sand. Beyond that, there was nothing to see.

Than Fareheart planned to stop in Bisbee to let someone know that Sam wasn’t coming back. He had wondered why someone hadn’t come out to Sam’s place looking for him. Maybe they were used to his absences. But Sam didn’t seem like the type to stay gone for too long.

When he rode into Bisbee, he went straight to Sam’s office, stepped down from his horse, and tied him to the rail in front. The sun glared down on him as he loosened the cinch, looking up and down the dusty street for any sign of life. The small town seemed deserted. He stepped up into the shade of the awning in front of Sam’s office, opened the door, and walked in. His footsteps across the hardwood floor broke the hollow silence. He knew no one was there, but he walked into the back room anyway. The empty cot was just as he’d found it two days before.

He stepped out under the shade of the awning and looked up and down the street, not sure where to go or who to tell. Maybe no one cared. He walked across the street to the shabby adobe cantina and went inside. It was dark and he stood inside waiting for his eyes to adjust. Two men sat at a table in one corner and two men sat at the bar. Than walked up to the bar and sat down on the stool next to the two men, neither of whom bothered to even look up from their drinks. The bartender was a short Mexican with a heavy beard and a gold tooth that showed when he smiled.

“Hello, my friend. What can I get you?” he asked.

Than looked over at the two men who sat at the bar and then turned to look at the two men who sat in the corner. He turned back to the bartender. “Do you know Sam Rungles?”

“Sam? Sí, I know Sam. The sheriff. Sure, I know him. Why do you ask?”

“He’s dead,” Than said.

“Dead? How can that be? He was in here only two or three days ago,” the bartender said.

“It doesn’t take long to get dead,” Than said. “A minute. That’s all. Sometimes less.”

“But how did he get dead?” the bartender asked.

“Doesn’t matter how,” Than said. “But the question I have is who do I tell? Who decides to find another sheriff?”

“Another sheriff?”

“Is there a town council or mayor or someone who makes decisions for the town?” Than asked.

“Sí, Mayor Bernard. He owns the hardware store down the street. Do you know him, Señor?”

“No, I don’t know him. The hardware store?” Than said, stood up, and walked out. Under the blazing sun, Than looked up and down the street, remembered something, and walked back inside the cantina.

“Two days ago, there were three Mexicans in here,” Than said to the bartender. “Did they say anything to you, like where they were heading, anything like that?”

The bartender hesitated, thinking back. “Sí, I remember them,” he said. “Muy malo, these men.”

“Did they say where they were going?” Than asked.

“No, I don’t think so. They were loud and drank heavily but said nothing of their plans. Why do you ask?”

“They are wanted men,” Than said. “And I aim to get them.”

The bartender stared across at Than.

Than turned quickly and left, but before he got to the door, he turned back, “Tell your mayor that your sheriff is dead,” and stepped out into the blazing heat. He cinched up the saddle, stepped up, and rode out of town, heading north, away from Bisbee, away from Rebecca, heading in the direction the three Mexicans had gone two days ago.

Than Fareheart rode hard wanting to put as much distance as he could between Bisbee and himself. He was disgusted with himself for not telling Rebecca the truth about Sam’s death. Even though it wouldn’t bring Sam back, he should have told her how Sam had died, how he had shot him. If he had it all to do over again, he wouldn’t even have stopped off to see Sam in the first place. He could’ve stopped on his way back through, after he’d caught up with the Mexicans and done what he had needed to do. He’d been hired to go after them. It was just bad luck that they had decided to stop in Bisbee. Fate is an unpredictable companion, he thought. Do we have any control over our lives? Or are we simply puppets whose strings are being pulled by some unseen force? He just wouldn’t allow himself to believe that he had no control over his life or his actions. Maybe it is why he pushed himself so hard. He needed to prove to himself that it was his life, whether how he lived it was right or wrong. Who stood as judge anyway? Who, in the end, was going to judge how he’d lived? The way he saw it was that he was going to die alone and, when that day came, he alone would stand in judgment over his life. Whether he’d lived a good life or a bad life, whether he’d lived honestly or dishonestly, he’d decide when the time came. Not before.

As he approached the narrow cleft in the rock where he’d been ambushed by the Mexicans two days ago, he pulled up and dismounted. As he led his horse up to the narrow gap through the rocks, he couldn’t help but think about Sam, which stirred up thoughts about Rebecca. Why hadn’t he stayed? This life is hard. Chasing bandits. What reward is there in that? Someone needed to do it, that’s true. Bandits and killers needed to pay for their crimes. And someone needed to hold them accountable. But why him? Who had put him in charge of administering justice? When it came down to it, he wasn’t any better than the outlaws he chased. Not really.

On the other side of the gap, he studied the dirt for tracks. There was a commotion of tracks, heading in both directions. The Mexicans had circled back. That’s when they’d seen him coming and had shot him. They’d seen no reason for waiting, thinking they’d killed him. That means they have two days on him. Will his shoulder hold up? Only one way to find out. He’d set out several days ago to find these bandits and bring them to justice, and that’s what he means to do.

Stepping up in the saddle, he spurred his horse down the narrow road heading north. Once he had ridden away from the gap, the Mexicans’ tracks became clear. They were heading north.


Than rode hard through the heat of the day and into the night. He rode all night long so he could rest during the heat of the day. Weary from the long night, Than found a small copse of pinõn trees on a narrow rise above the trail. There wasn’t much shade but enough to get him out of the intense heat. He pulled his saddle down and threw it onto the ground. Scratching along his long neck, Than whispered to his horse, trying to explain. Than knew that he’d have to find water soon. For now, he needed sleep.

In the glare of the afternoon sun, Than looked out from the shade of the pinõns, and then over at his horse tied to one of the pinõns. Walking up the steep rise above the copse, Than surveyed the surrounding country, looking for any sign of water. In every direction, Than saw desert scrub spread out for miles. He looked up, shading his eyes from the glare of the sun. The sun wouldn’t set for hours, but his horse needed water. He walked back to the copse, saddled his horse, and led him down the rocky hillside to the trail.

Riding north through the intense afternoon heat, Than looked for any sign of water. To get his mind off of the unrelenting desert heat, Than thought of Rebecca sitting under the tall ponderosa pine talking to Sam. A grave isn’t much to hold on to, he thought, but when you don’t have a lot, it is everything. He thought of all the mistakes he’d made in his life. Too many to recall. Life was made up of mistakes. And we get up each morning hoping to find a way around all the mistakes we’ll make that day.

The sun seemed stuck in the endless sky. Than rode on. Through the heat of the long afternoon and into the night when the heat gave way to the desert chill, under the shroud of stars of an endless desert sky, Than rode north. When the sun broke above the far ridge to the east, Than could see the shallow outline of Tombstone off in the distance. Reaching down to scratch along the long neck of his horse, he whispered his gratitude.

In the early morning haze, Tombstone seemed like a mirage stretched across the long horizon. Bleary-eyed and worn out, Than struggled to keep going. Having come this far, he was determined to see this through.

The streets were empty as he rode into town. Than knew neither the day of the week nor the time. His two desires were to find water for his horse and a bed for himself. When he found the livery, he stepped down from the saddle and tied his horse to the rail in front of the corral. To the right of the corral stood a hovel made from hewn slabs. Than pushed open the door and stepped inside the dark room.

“Hello, anyone here?” he called. When no one answered, he stepped back outside, untied his horse, and led him to a water trough inside the corral. Drowning his muzzle into the water, nostrils flared, he took deep gulps of water. Than stood next to him, scratching along the length of his neck.

“Good boy,” he whispered to the horse. “I put you through hell, I know, and I apologize.” Tucked back under the shanty, Than saw four empty pens. The roof of the shanty formed the floor of a hay loft. Than climbed the rickety ladder and pitched off hay into one of the pens. When he climbed down, he led his horse to the rail outside the pen, took off his saddle and blanket, threw them over the top rail of the pen, opened the gate, led his horse through, took off his bridle, and turned his horse loose. When he stepped out of the pen, he took the saddle blanket, climbed back up the rickety ladder to the hay loft, threw the blanket down at the edge of the hay, and fell instantly to sleep.

When he awoke, the sun was low down in the sky. Was it possible that he’d slept all day long? He climbed down from the hay loft and went back inside the shanty. No one was around, so he walked to the main street. There were several horses tied to a hitching rail in front of a saloon across the street. He crossed the street, went inside the crowded saloon, and walked to the long bar. When the bartender asked him what he’d like Than asked him about the sheriff’s office.

“He ain’t there,” the bartender said.

“Do you know where I can find him?” Than asked him.

“Sure,” he said pointing to a tall man standing at the bar. “That’s him right there.”

Than stepped in next to the tall man. “You the sheriff?”

“That depends,” he answered.

“On what?”

“On what you’re needing the sheriff for,” the man said.

“My name is Fareheart and I’m looking for three men. Three Mexicans wanted for robbery and murder.”

The sheriff looked hard at Than. “Them don’t sound like any I’d be lookin’ for.”

“I’ve been trailing them up from Mexico,” Than said. “I’d appreciate any information you could give me.”

“Listen, I try to run a clean town. Ain’t nothin’ like it used to be now that the Earp brothers left. The ranchers still come into town and raise a little hell, but I don’t bother them and they don’t bother me. Them Mexicans of your’n, can’t say I seen ‘em.”

“I’m sure they came through this way,” Than said. “Ain’t any other way headin’ north.”

“You’re right ‘bout that,” the sheriff said. “Where’d ya see ‘em last?”

“Bisbee,” Than said. “And I tracked them here.”

“Sam Rungles still sheriff down there?”

“Sam’s dead.”

The sheriff looked over at Than. “They kill him?”

Than looked at the sheriff not sure how to answer him. “Sam was a good man and a good friend of mine and I mean to catch up to these men.”

“Could be they holed up in the Dragoons,” the sheriff said. “Off to the northeast there.” The sheriff walked to the door, stepped out into the street, and pointed to a jagged ridge of mountains to the north. “Up there.”

Than looked across the desert. “But they’d of come through here for supplies,” he said.

“I reckon so,” the sheriff agreed. “Might ask Preston down at the general store. He’d of sold ‘em what they’d of needed. Down the street there.”

“Thank you,” Than said over his shoulder.

When he found Allen’s General Store, it was closed. Than walked around to the back of the store and found a small room in the back. He knocked on the door but no one answered. Frustrated, he walked back to the livery to check on his horse, still finding no one there. He led his horse to the water trough, dropped the reins, climbed the rickety ladder to the hay loft, and tossed down more hay.

He shook his head as he looked down at the small pens and his horse at the water trough in the big corral. Odd way to run a livery, he thought. Climbing down, he went to the water trough, took off his hat, and stuck his head deep into the trough. Shaking the water out of his hair, he reached over to scratch along the long neck of his horse. “We’ll leave out of here early tomorrow,” he said. “Not a lot of information to be had here.”

After leading his horse back to the small pen, he climbed back up to the loft and lay down, thinking about Rebecca. It seemed as if she were a thousand miles away, though it wouldn’t take him any time at all to get back to her. Sleep didn’t come to him right away. Sleep hadn’t come to him easily for a long time. He’d chosen a hard way to go. And the way tomorrow wouldn’t get any easier.

Even before the sun broke over the low ridge in the east, Than had saddled his horse and rode out of town heading toward the ragged peaks to the north, not sure how he’d go about finding what he was looking for. The Mexicans had two days on him, and that was a lot of distance in the desert.

Where were they heading? he thought. None of it made much sense to him. And when he caught up to them, then what? Did he aim to kill them? Than didn’t like killing, never had, never would. A funny way to make a living for someone who doesn’t like killing. These men, the Mexicans, they liked it. They fed on it. Some men were like that once they got the taste for it.

Than thought about the first time, when he’d killed William and Monty Eager. How afterward, he felt nothing. Not pleasure, not disgust, nothing. And he thought how strange it was to feel nothing. What’s a man doing chasing after something that leaves him so empty and dry-mouthed?

The sun beat down on him, and Than looked for shade. The desert scrub was unforgiving. In the distance, he made out an outcrop of rock and scrub where he could get out from underneath the relentless glare. The small jut of sandstone didn’t provide much cover, but it was something. After he slid the saddle to the ground, he peered up into the harsh sunlight before stepping into the narrow shadow. He slumped to the ground, leaning back against the hard rock face. His thoughts immediately turned to Rebecca.

If he didn’t have thoughts of Rebecca, he’d have nothing. Nothing at all. A sad way to make it. A life filled with regrets. Is this why he followed such a torturous path? Looking for absolution? Looking out across the lifeless sand and barren scrub, he realized that he’d never be forgiven. His was the worst kind of sin of all, not knowing what he needed to be forgiven for.

As the sun moved across the sky, the shade narrowed, and he was soon engulfed in harsh sunlight.

“Well, my friend,” he said throwing the saddle up onto his horse’s back. “No rest for the weary, eh?”

Through the long afternoon, he rode toward the Dragoon Mountains. Before he’d reached the foothills, the sun was perched on the western horizon. He would set up camp here for the night and at first light tomorrow would head up into the higher peaks. From what he could see, there weren’t many trails up into the rugged peaks. With luck, he’d cut the Mexicans’ trail tomorrow.

Against the cold desert night, Than fed the campfire all night long, sleeping fitfully. In the faint light of morning, weary and cold, Than saddled his horse and headed out, moving up the steep trail into the high mountains. Before the sun had even cleared the steep peaks of the Dragoon Mountains, Than was on the Mexicans’ trail. The horses’ hooves had cut deep into the hard dust of the steep trail up the mountainside. By nightfall, Than stood at the edge of a pine forest, watching the Mexicans in the light of their campfire. Drunk and boisterous, they cursed and spit at each other, unaware that Than Fareheart stood thirty feet away.

Disgusted, he turned away and walked back to his horse, drew his rifle out of the scabbard, cocked a shell into the chamber, and walked back to the edge of the forest. The Mexicans were loud and careless, unconcerned with what was going on around them. These were evil men, without any purpose in life.

Than knelt and watched the Mexicans, growing more and more despondent. Such evil should be punished, but why should their punishment fall on his shoulders? He didn’t have a taste for killing. He’d seen enough of it in his lifetime. Maybe now was the time to put an end to it. Ride away. Give this duty of justice over to someone else.

If God existed, He would reckon with these men when the time came. If He didn’t, then not much mattered anyway. Than walked back to his horse, slid the rifle into the scabbard, and led his horse away from the Mexicans’ camp. When he was a safe distance away, he mounted his horse and rode down the mountain. By daybreak, he was once again riding across the endless desert. He’d stop in Tombstone long enough to get supplies and then head back to Bisbee. Back to Rebecca.

Than Fareheart rode with a lighter heart now and the trail seemed more forgiving. When he got to Tombstone, as he passed the saloon, he noticed the horses tied up in front, the same as when he came into town the day before yesterday. The general store was closed, so he would have to wait until morning to leave. His horse needed rest anyway.

Once again, he found the livery empty, so he unsaddled his horse and turned him loose in the big corral with the water trough. He climbed the rickety ladder and threw hay down into one of the smaller pens, climbed back down, opened the gate to the corral, walked over to the water trough, took off his hat, and dunked his head deep into the trough. There wasn’t enough water in the West to cleanse him from his sins and transgressions, but it’s possible that he’s found the right path now.

Early the next morning, he tied his horse in front of the general store, untied the saddlebags from behind the saddle, and with the saddlebags slung across his shoulder walked up and down the empty street, waiting for the store to open. Tombstone had an unusual sense of time. No one seemed to inhabit any part of the town except the saloon. Yet when he looked through the front windows of the general store, it was clean and fully stocked. Someone would have to be here soon to open the store.

While he waited, Than Fareheart thought about Rebecca. Would she be happy to see him? It had seemed to Than that she wanted him to stay. Having him there would lessen her burden. Besides, it wasn’t safe for her to be there all alone. If nothing else, he could provide some protection. Maybe he could never make up for all the suffering he had caused her, but he was determined to keep her safe.

The rattling of the front door of the hardware store startled Than, and he quickly turned around. Preston Allen stood in the doorway, squinting into the harsh sunlight.

“You coming in?” he asked.

Than walked to the open door and went inside.

“Can I help you with anythin’?” Preston Allen asked.

“Sure. I need a few things. Not much, just a few items to get me back to Bisbee. Some biscuits, coffee, canned beans, bacon if you got it.”

When the items were collected and paid for Than carefully put them away in the saddlebags, thanked Preston Allen, walked back to his horse, tied the saddlebags on behind the saddle, tightened the cinch, untied his horse, threw his leg over the saddle, and rode out of town, heading south. He’d be in Bisbee by nightfall.

Darkness had come early it seemed to Than, but he pressed on, wanting to get to Rebecca’s place tonight. Bisbee was deserted when he got there. It was only a few more miles out to Rebecca’s, but not wanting to alarm her, he thought it best to wait until morning.

The livery was dark when he stepped down from the saddle. After he tied his horse to the rail in front, he stepped inside the small room next to the corral. No one was there. He looked inside the tack room. There were a few saddles on stands and bridles and halters hanging on the wall. He grabbed a halter and walked back to his horse, slipped the bridle off and slipped the halter on, and led him to the water trough. While his horse drank, he took off his saddle and carried it to the tack room. When his horse had had enough water, he led him to one of the stalls where there was hay in the feed bunk. Than slipped the halter off and hung it on the gate.

Than looked around for a place to sleep. He didn’t care where he slept, he just needed to sleep. Dead on his feet, he made his way to the hay pile and slumped to the ground. The glare of the sun woke him the next morning, and he sat up, looking around, wondering where he was. When his horse nickered from the stall, Than remembered where he was and how he’d gotten here.

After trying to stretch the stiffness out of his back, he led his horse to the water trough. He retrieved his saddle from the tack room and saddled his horse. The place was quiet. He wanted to pay someone for the stall and the hay, but no one was around and he was in a hurry. After he had settled in at Rebecca’s place, if she’d have him, he’d come back to settle up with the owner.

When he got to Rebecca’s, it was eerily quiet. Even though he told himself that she was likely sleeping, he didn’t believe it. She would be up by now. He tied his horse to the rail in front of the lean-to and took off the saddle. When he carried it inside the lean-to, he noticed Sam’s saddle was gone. He quickly walked behind the lean-to and looked across the long horse pasture. Sam’s horse was gone. He looked up the hill toward the small cabin. Dreading what he’d find, he hurried up the hill, threw open the door, and went inside. Everything was like it had been when he’d been here four days ago. Four days that seemed like a lifetime. He went to Rebecca’s bedroom and looked through the small dresser. Rebecca was gone.

He stood there for several minutes, unable to move, thoughts racing through his harried mind. Where could she have gone? Where? In disbelief, he walked out of the bedroom and back into the kitchen. The small coffee pot was sitting on the stove. Why hadn’t she taken the coffee pot? She must be planning on coming back. Deep down, he knew she wasn’t.

Filled with gloom, he stepped out of the cabin and walked slowly up the hill to Sam’s grave. He looked down at the small marker planted at the head of the grave. A simple wooden cross. Now, however, it was painted white, and Sam’s name and the date he’d died were etched into the white cross. It was a simple marker, but it said everything it needed to say. Sam was gone. And now, Rebecca, too. Than Fareheart slumped to the ground, staring at the small white cross stuck in the hard ground at the head of Sam’s grave.





Leave a Reply