Thursday, July 18, 2019

Don Travis: Blue Columbine

Don Travis: Blue Columbine: dontravis.com blog post #346     Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons Well, it happened again. Last week my post received 3133 hits in a ...

Blue Columbine


dontravis.com blog post #346
  
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Well, it happened again. Last week my post received 3133 hits in a single day… all from Israel. For the past few years, this has occurred about twice yearly. I’ve examined the key words for the blogs posted each time this happens and find no rhyme or reason for attracting such concentrated interest. On top of that, I’m lousy with key words.

In the past twelve months, I’ve had 1,000 hits in a single day from Russia, Vietnam, Brazil, India, and the Philippines, but these are more random. Someone suggested the Russian hits might be bots… but a thousand spies in a single day?

Let’s face it, I do not understand this world I live in today.

Enough of that. Today, something every out of the ordinary for me. Some regular readers know that a fellow by the name of Dennis Kastendiek and I mentor the Wordwright Writing Class each Monday from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the North Domingo Baca Multigeneration Center here in Albuquerque. We spend the first thirty minutes talking about writing topics in general and the following hour and a half reading our members’ own works. We have everything from published writers to rank beginners, fiction and non-fiction, poets and essayists. We are an eclectic group.

The point of all of the above is that when we make class comments on poetry, I always preface my remarks with “I’m not a poet, but….” Guess what? Today’s post is a poem I wrote. I’m certain I broke every rule in the book, but on the other hand, I’m beginning to think there are no rules for poetry. (Poets everywhere: please don’t take me to task for that remark.)

Without further ado, here’s my effort. Let me know how you like it.

*****
BLUE COLUMBINE

I chance upon you in the shelter of a towering ponderosa.
Robbed of breath by your blue beauty, I pause to
glory in your flawless fives: sepals, petals, pistils.

I know you, Aquilegia alpina… a perennial, food for ancient aboriginals,
poison for fools who sample your seeds.
Your blossom, tall and handsome beyond reason, captures my eye,
and I snap you from your stem to closer study nature’s perfection.

I carry you, little dove—pocketed close to my heart—on my return home to
marvel at your secret shades:
sky blue with shadows of lavender, hints of cobalt, and wisps of teal.

Alas, you wither and wilt before your time, despite sips from a crystal urn.
Unable to let go, I press you between leaves of the Bard’s sonnets.
Days later, you hold traces of your prior majesty, but the comparison is spare.
To some, columbine means innocence; to others, foolishness.
Sadly, my latter has robbed you of your former.

Another season I tread that trail, anxious to see if you replenished yourself.
There, beneath the lofty pine, I find your offspring.
And once again, a single stalwart flower demands attention.
Wiser now, I forego the plucking of it,
preferring to tarry and drink my fill while still it lives.

Having learned not to hold so tightly, so selfishly, so stiflingly,
I walk the path often to witness your progeny prosper.
Far better to share that special bloom’s radiance with other passersby.
Until one day I find it gone, ripped from its stem by some admirer not
yet privy to the greatest lesson of love.


*****

That’s it… and it was harder than writing a book. I probably changed every one of the poem’s 265 words at least 5 times. How do I know it’s a poem since it doesn’t rhyme? Because it’s centered in the middle of the page, doesn’t follow any of the formatting rules, and uses punctuation not recognizable to prose writers. So it has to be a poem.

Seriously, I’m interested in your reaction to my effort.

Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say, so say it!

My personal links: (Note the change in the Email address because I’m still getting remarks on the old dontravis21@gmail.com. PLEASE DON’T USE THAT ONE.)
                                                                                                    
Facebook: www.facebook.com/donald.travis.982
Twitter: @dontravis3

Buy links to Abaddon’s Locusts:


See you next week.

Don

New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Sight Lends Substance


dontravis.com blog post #345

Courtesy of Pinterest.com
We’ll continue the dreamy, ethereal mood this week with a short piece I wrote for the blog. Let me know if it strikes a chord.

*****

SIGHT LENDS SUBSTANCE

I knew you ere I met you. With closed eyes, I clearly see the breadth of your shoulders, the flair of your ribs, the curve of your buttocks. And that face! Neither fair nor swarthy, but with golden skin unblemished by the razor’s burn. Beautiful, yet masculine. Oh, yes. How manly.
We held conversations in my head. Such wisdom from someone so young. Sparkling, intelligent, witty. I looked forward to our talks at the end of the day when the nightly news was done, and you alone shared my apartment. Delightful. Intimate. Ethereal.
As pleasant as this was, I searched for you diligently. Libraries, sports bars, soccer games, on the streets… everywhere. Each time someone moved out of my apartment complex, I waited with bated breath to see who the new tenant would be, only to be disappointed when someone totally unsuitable claimed the premises.
Over the years, I found some near-yous, some of whom were delightful; others odious. But none were genuine, so I lost interest. Perhaps I should have devoted the time and energy to develop a relationship with one or two, but they had frailties so human, they turned me off, as the saying goes. A few assignations were all I could manage. One, an altogether acceptable young man, more intrigued than the rest, hung on longer than most. But eventually, I drove him away because he wasn’t you.
I saw you today. The apartment in the building next to mine had gone vacant. I watched without hope as a stream of possibles entered and left with the complex’s rental agent. I must have been out when she showed you the apartment, because you had made yourself at home before I saw you shirtless on the patio that faces mine. My flesh crawled at that first sight, and my breath came in gasps. You were he! The man of my dreams. The specter who’d been with me all these years, my ideal. My David. And the sight of you lent you substance.
Careful watching showed no roommate. No visitors at all. I learned your routine and synchronized mine so far as my job allowed. Fortunately, I did most of my work from home. Medical billing is tedious but profitable.


On the third day after the new tenant moved in, I timed my departure to coincide with his and introduced myself as we met on the sidewalk.
 “Hi. I’m Lynn Proctor, your neighbor with the opposing patio.”
“Hi, Mr. Proctor, I’ve seen you out there a couple of times. My name’s Hank Warton.”
His grip was firm and encompassing. Hank. A manly name for such a graceful form.
“Everyone calls me Lynn,” I responded.
We paused long enough for me to learn he was an engineer working at a downtown firm, was single, and had moved here from Washington state. Then I asked why he chose Albuquerque for his new home.
“Beth… my fiancée,” he replied. “She took a job with an architectural firm here.” He chuckled. “Funny thing, I beat her here. She won’t move from Seattle until the middle of next month.”
Downer. But at least I had five weeks or so to develop a relationship. And I worked at it hard. I wouldn’t let go of my paragon without a battle. I introduced him to my favorite sports bar, where he was a great hit talking baseball like a pro with the guys. I noticed he drank a bit too much and got a little edgy before the evening was over. Watching his pecs play as he drove us home, thrust such frailties from my mind.
I unlimbered my tennis racket when I learned he liked the game and managed to hold my own. In fact, I beat him about as much as he beat me, which caused his shoulders to tense. During the second set, we argued over whether a ball that hit beyond the line was fair or foul. I gave in when the discussion started to get heated. My building resentment dropped away as we showered alongside one another in the club.
Then came the day when Hank rapped on my patio door after work one day. He was dressed in shorts and a snug polo shirt that showed his six pack to full advantage.
“Whatcha up to tonight?” he asked after I opened the screen.
“Nothing. Unless you want to go to the bar.”
“Nah, don’t feel like it. Just thought maybe we could hang.”
My heart skipped a beat. Lord, would my yesteryear dreams finally come true? Whoa there, Lynn. Don’t rush things. Let him set the pace. “Sounds good to me. How about a drink.”
“Scotch if you have it.”
“Rocks or neat?”
“What kind?”
“Laphroaig ten-year-old or Johnnie Walker Blenders’,” I said.
“Laphroaig neat.”
We settled in my living room with our drinks. He sat with his legs splayed, which about sent me over the moon. The hair on his legs was lighter than the dark brown on his head. Not thick, not intrusive… just sexy. Had he noticed me giving him the once over? Probably hard not to. I took refuge in my drink.
We talked about his work and his firm a bit, but I had the feeling he wasn’t saying what he came to say. By the time we finished our second drink, I’d had enough.
“You’ve obviously got something on your mind. What is it? Spit it out.”
He speared me with big, brown, expressive eyes, sending shivers up and down my spine.
“I don’t want you to think I run around on Beth all the time. But….” He gave a great sigh. “But I’m getting hard up. She’s been delayed by two weeks, and I’m not sure I can wait. Do you know any women who might accommodate us?”
I gazed at his smooth, slightly irregular, and unbearably handsome features and blurted the first thing that came to mind. “Hank, we don’t need any women. I can give you what you’re looking for.”
His crooked smile brought me to my knees in front of him. He permitted my touch, cooperated as I stripped him, and moaned as I ministered to him. I took my time and made it so good for him I thought he was having a fit during orgasm.
Afterward, he flexed his broad shoulders and stretched his arms to the ceiling. Oh, man… sex on steroids. A moment later, he rose, and performed a striptease in reverse. As he smoothed the shirt over his trim belly, he gave me a sated look.
“Thanks, guy. I needed that. See you around.”
My mouth dropped open. “Are… are you going to just leave me here like this? I have needs, too, you know.”
His eyes widened. “Hey, guy, if that’s what you want, go find yourself a queer.”
As he strolled with manly grace through the patio door and stepped over the fence to his place, I almost forgave him his callousness.


I knew you ere I met you. With closed eyes, I clearly see the breadth of your shoulders, the flair of your ribs, the curve of your buttocks. And that face!
I’ve met some near-yous, of course. But never the real you. I’ll continue my search because sight lends substance to us all. But in the meantime, I’ll live with the insubstantial you in my head as consolation.

*****

I’ll wager that at one time or the other in our lives, we’ve all encountered a situation similar to this… regardless of our sexual orientation. If you want to tell me about yours, email me at don.travis@aol.com.

Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say, so say it!

My personal links: (Note the change in the Email address because I’m still getting remarks on the old dontravis21@gmail.com. PLEASE DON’T  USE THAT ONE.)
                                                                                                    
Facebook: www.facebook.com/donald.travis.982
Twitter: @dontravis3

Buy links to Abaddon’s Locusts:


See you next week.

Don

New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Down Where I Live


dontravis.com blog post #344

Courtesy of Freepik
Something a little different this week. Last week’s story got a host of hits, 2600 or so. Let’s see if our dream piece this time can beat Me’N Mazie and Nigel.

*****
DOWN WHERE I LIVE

I lived in an ebony world, a smothering, unchanging lightlessness filled with absolutely nothing. Then there was a faint glow, although I didn’t comprehend “glow,” any better than I understood “darkness,” recognizing it only as a miniscule change in my Stygian cocoon. Then the meaningless noises intruding on this world of oblivion magically morphed into voices discussing some poor sucker in a coma. Who was in a coma? Before I could grapple for an answer, a headache came roaring up and everything shut down, sending me back into that unrelieved blackness.
The halo was brighter the second time I surfaced. Two Hospital voices hovered over me. One voice brought the scent of mint; the other, something less pleasant. They discussed CAT scans and trauma. Brain swelling and edema. Plish. Plosh. Mish. Mash. Mush. But one thing was clear… some dude was in real trouble.
I figured out I was the sucker in trouble the moment I heard my mother’s anxious voice falsely cooing how well I looked and how handsome I was. I knew it was Mother because she carried the perfume of rosewater. Panic bubbled up within me, and even though I couldn’t feel anything, I knew I was bucking something terrible, jerking like I was in the middle of a gigantic orgasm.
That special headache carried me back down where I lived even as I longed for another voice…an eighteen-year-old baritone still deepening with growing maturity, one that called me “Dumbshit” and “Summabitch” with an easy familiarity that sent a thrill knifing through me. Orion Dozier…best friend. Orry! Grew up together. Played soccer together. Whispered about sex together. Stumbled awkwardly toward a new kind of relationship until this coma thing got in the way. Why hadn’t I heard his voice? His absence slugged me in the metaphysical solar plexus so hard I zonked out right then and there, returning to the place where it was safe and comfortable.


“Wake up, you summabitch!” The vibrant, masculine voice reached down where I lived and yanked me into the glow. Orry! Orry was here. “Stop faking it. Say something, dammit!” Even though I felt nothing, I knew he had pulled a chair up and held my hand. “Damn, Thad, I’ve been imagining all kinds of horrible things, but you’re still as handsome as the male lead in a B movie. Man, I wish I’d been with you when old Butch rammed his Austin Healy into that oak tree.”
There was a strange sound like a gulp or a gasp before the voice went on. “Thought I’d lost you, man. Couldn’t have stood it. I love you, you dumbshit. There! How’s that for a confession? Guys aren’t supposed to say stuff like that, but it’s true. You better wake up and get outa this bed, you hear me? We got lots of things to do yet. You’n me together. Things buddies do.” The voice halted for a moment. “Oh, Lord! What if you can hear me? They said I should talk to you, but nobody said if you can hear us.”
My headache came thundering back as I wrestled with his words. They were important… if I could just wrap my arms around them. Then the engine shut down and dumped me back into darkness.


My days sorted themselves into Hospital, Family, and Orry, and I was lying there just below the surface in the time between Family and Orry when my whole body gave a sudden jerk. A jerk! Wasn’t that wonderful? I had moved. My legs tingled. Tingled, dammit. Gotta have feelings to tingle, and they damned well tingled. Lordy mercy. My arms prickled. What does that say when a spasm and a tingle and a prickle are the high points of a guy’s whole existence?
There was a commotion all around me, and I heard a Hospital voice… the one who trailed mint. “Paralytic spasm. Let Dr. Morris know when he comes in. It’s an encouraging sign.”
That’s all I remember because the darkness came to claim me once again. No fair. I hadn’t heard Orry’s calming voice.


“Hey, Thad! Hear you practically got up and raped one of the nurses!” Orry was back. “In case you didn’t know it, it’s Friday night, and I told your folks I’d give them some rest. Gonna spend the entire night right here in this chair.”
My heart soared; my frame gave a little jump!
“Crap, man!” he squawked. A pause. “You okay, Thad? Don’t scare me like that.” I heard him scoot the chair over by the bed so he could give me the lowdown on the day’s events, but despite everything I could do, I sank back into that dark place while he was droning on.
“… realize how close we are, bro.” It was Orry. I about panicked wondering how much I had missed. He gave a laugh. “Remember camping out in the back yard when we were kids? I got a kick outa sleeping beside you. I always wanted to snuggle over and touch you. Didn’t have the nerve.” He gave an embarrassed snicker. “Afraid you’d wake up and clock me.”
He took my hand, and I felt it! Sensations—warmth, pressure. A wonderful sense of comfort engulfed what had been my nerveless body.
“Now I understand what was going on,” his voice got incredibly low and thick. “How come we never did things, Thad? You know, personal things? I always wanted to. I remember once you were wearing one of those muscle shirts, and I saw how your shoulders narrowed to a vee right down to your butt…like a man’s.” Another chuckle. “I about broke my neck trying to see my back in the mirror. And you know what? I was built like that, too.”
I lay there in my hospital bed breathing gently without the help of my respirator and listened to him ramble on as he held my hand. He spoke in a low voice—sometimes thick with emotion—to confide his feelings for me. His wants. His desires. The light grew brighter… brighter still. He spoke of the days when our bodies were changing, maturing, and how we struggled to comprehend what was happening. And now—lying half in and half out of a dark, bottomless place—I finally understood his meaning.
He went quiet for a moment; I willed him to continue. He did, recalling sleepovers, and double dates and long talks when we edged closer to what we really wanted but didn’t have the courage to acknowledge.
Oh, Lord! Here came the darkness to take me away again. This time it was unwelcome. I fought against it, and heard him gasp as my hand closed on his.
Then I was back in my black velvet place. But that was all right. Orry would be there when I surfaced. And I would surface again. I had something to live for now. Someone to live for. A future to experience. Until then, I’d rest in my dark cocoon.

*****

The optimists among us will say Thad came out of his coma to embrace a new life with Orry, and they rode off into the sunset. Doubters will admit Thad regained his health, but in the glare of daylight, neither managed to capture what they discovered in dreamland. “Life got in the way,” they’d say. Pessimists will believe Thad was kidding himself and remained in a coma—or worse. Where do you fit in?

Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say, so say it!

My personal links: (Note the change in the Email address because I’m still getting remarks on the old dontravis21@gmail.com. PLEASE DON’T  USE THAT ONE.)
                                                                                                    
Facebook: www.facebook.com/donald.travis.982
Twitter: @dontravis3

Buy links to Abaddon’s Locusts:


See you next week.

Don

New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Me’n Mazie and Nigel


dontravis.com blog post #343
  
Courtesy of Pixabay
I hope you enjoyed Mark Wildyr’s River Otter post last week. If so, let him know at markwildyr@aol.com.

This week, I’d like to a do piece of flash fiction about some kids growing up and going through the difficult process of discovering who they are. I suspect more of us are ambivalent about these things than we suspect. After all, just because the other fellow acts so confident of himself doesn’t mean he always is. So let’s get about it.


*****

ME’N MAZIE AND NIGEL
                                                                  
I’d known Nigel Blaine ever since we were both in diapers. I’d grown up watching him learn to crawl—before I did—and toddle around on two legs and get out of diapers—again before I did. I was there when he hit his first homerun and made his first basket and dated his first girl. Need I say… all before I did.
Looking back at it now, I think it was safe to say that I was in love with Nigel. It was good having the best-looking guy in town grow up two doors down from me on High Street. How did he feel about it? He was always saying, Blake, you’re my best friend. That’s a high honor, but somewhere down inside me, I was hoping for more. More what? I didn’t have a clue.
Mazie Angelicus and her family moved in next door three years ago. For the first twelve month, I just looked past her house to see if Nigel was home. Whenever we’d be outdoors tossing the ball or simply sitting on the porch swing ragging one another, she’d show up to contribute her two cents. An interloper of sorts.
Then last year, she did this Jekyll and Hyde thing and started looking like a girl instead of a tomboy. Spiky hair turned honey brown and fell across her shoulders. Freckles faded as her skin began to glow. She abandoned boxy trousers for slacks that took on a shape. And as always, Nigel took notice before I did.
When he asked her out, my stomach fell down into my guts. My hackles rose, and I didn’t know why. I guess it was because things were changing in our tight little group. The dynamics were different all of a sudden. That might have been it, or perhaps I was just jealous she claimed some of his time without me around to participate.
Whatever the reason, I sort of withdrew. I found other things to occupy my time when they wanted to go do this or that. I hated myself afterward because I was making it easier to cut me out. But for some reason, I did it anyway. My pop would have said it was all a part of growing up and growing away. And maybe it was, but I couldn’t see him in his room crying because his best friend, Mr. Potter, got married and had a family. And I was convinced that was what was coming down the road. Well, if Nigel asked me to be his best man, I’d come down sick… maybe terminally.
I couldn’t avoid them at school, so I put on as brave a face as I could, but other kids noticed. I answered the question “What’s up with you’n Nigel?” with a “Nothing” more times than I could count. Still, he was friendly and asked me to go to games and the like with him. I did, but it was different in some way I couldn’t explain. Nigel didn’t seem to notice.
Then came the winter prom our senior year. He caught me in the garage tinkering with the 49 Ford my father had given me when he got a new Expedition. He was no sooner through the door than he asked me who I was taking to the dance. “I almost said “You” before I caught myself and shrugged.
“Why don’t you ask Mazie?” he suggested.
I about dropped my wrench as I pulled my head out of the motor well. “Mazie. Aren’t you taking her?”
“Nah. I asked Helen.”
“H-how come? I though you and Mazie were together.”
“I asked her out a couple of times, but it’s like going out with a buddy instead of a girl.”
“She know you’re taking Helen to the prom?”
He nodded as he tested the drive chain. “Seems a little loose. Yeah, we talked it over, and she’s cool with it. Whoever you ask, we can all go together. Make a foursome of it.”


The next day when I spotted Mazie coming home from school, I saw her through different eyes. I grabbed a jacket and flew out the front door before she disappeared into her house.
“Hi.”
“Hi, yourself.”
“Teacher keep you after school? I’ve been home for half an hour.”
“Well, you had wheels. I walked.”
“You know you can ride with me whenever you want. You’ve done it a hundred times.”
“I know. But a couple of us went for malted milkshakes.”
“Uh…”
“Uh, what?”
“Do… do you have a date for the prom?”
“Billy asked me, but I told him I already had another date.”
“Do you?”
“No, but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings by saying no.”
“Would you hurt my feelings?”
“What? By saying no if you asked?”
“I guess.”
She tossed that gorgeous honey brown hair of hers. “Are you asking?”
“Uh, I guess so?”
“Geez, I’ve never been asked for a date is such a romantic way.”
“Does that mean no?”
“It means ask me, you dopehead.” Her smile took the sting out of the “dopehead” part.
“Okay, will you go to the prom with me?”
“I’d love to go with you.”
My stomach did a flip-flop. I could feel a smile stretching my lips as far as they would go. Then I frowned.
“What’s the matter?”
“Nigel wants to double date.”
“That would be fun.”
“Uh… I mean….”
She laughed, and I felt my face go red.
“Blake, I have no problem double dating with Nigel and Helen. After all, he’s my best friend… except maybe for you.”


Things got serious between Mazie and me after that wonderful prom, just as they have for Nigel and Helen. Helen’s a regular member of our group now. Awkward at first, but perfectly comfortable now. I know I can’t do anything until after college, but I’m seriously thinking of asking Mazie to marry me sometime in the future.
But you know what? Nigel Blaine will always be my first and lasting love, even though it will forever be unfulfilled. During unguarded moments, I believe he feels the same way.

*****

Childhood bonding is strong and slow to let go sometimes. How many of us have felt as Blake does at sometime in our lives? But we soldier on and fulfill nature’s call to propagate. Well, some of us do. The braver souls follow their nature wherever it takes them.

Now my mantra: Keep on reading and keep on writing. You have something to say, so say it!

My personal links: (Note the change in the Email address)
                                                                                                    
Facebook: www.facebook.com/donald.travis.982
Twitter: @dontravis3

Buy links to Abaddon’s Locusts:


See you next week.

Don

New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Guest Post of Mark Wildyr’s novel River Otter


dontravis.com blog post #342

My fellow Okie Mark Wildyr is trying to get a publisher to pick up the other books in his Cut Hand series. He’s asked to do a guest post presenting the opening to the second book in the series, River Otter. I, of course, graciously consented.

When we reach Chapter l, the first player is River Otter, more commonly called Otter, white man’s name Joseph Strobaw, who was the last spouse of the legendary Billy Strobaw, a white man the Indians knew as the Red Win-tay. The second is Dog Fox, whom Billy gave the white-sounding name of Cuthan Strobaw, so that the youth would never forget his true father, Cut Hand. The year is4, and the Civil War is raging, but has not touched this part of the Wyoming Territory… until now.






RIVER OTTER

By Mark Wildyr





Timbers fall to ringing axes, game to booming sticks.
Hunger drives us from ancestral homes.
Tribal drums go hollow.
Flutes pipe in despair.

Stanza from the poem “Echoes of the Flute” by Mark Wildyr

Prologue

White Stone Hill, Dakota Territory, September 5, 1863

           The sun rising over the smoldering village promised a hot day. The sky was clear blue and cloudless, except for the cumulus of black buzzards circling expectantly overhead. Smoke from blazing lodges rode the wind, burning eyes and carrying the acrid smell of gunpowder and the stench of death across the prairie to the coulees and the short, wooded hills where the Dakota warriors had taken refuge. The very air tasted bitter to the tongue. They were tired; their horses, spent. Even the earth beneath their moccasins seemed exhausted.
          On the run from the Star Chief Sibley since the battle at Big Mound two moons past, they had stood to fight him again at Dead Buffalo Lake. Now for the span of two suns, they had done battle with another Star Chief called Sully, a relentless warrior who spent his time drawing pictures with pigments soaked in water when he wasn’t killing tribesmen.
          Today would bring no respite. The blue coats and their thunder guns were still here, hovering like the feathered bone pickers circling overhead. The white army had inflicted a terrible toll on the Dakota. Warriors were accustomed to staring into the face of death, but how could even the bravest stand against big guns that shredded men and horses with bursts of fire and thunder?
          Inkpaduta, whom the Americans called Red Cap, a dour, pox-scarred war chief, had led them through these many days of slaughter, fighting with a ferocity born of a deep, implacable hatred of whites. He had a wily mind, vicious fangs, and terrible claws, but Sully had numbers, firepower, and tenacity.
          The shelling began again with the booming of cannon and the ear-splitting eruption of hot shells. The fusillade was not so effective now that they had the protection of the gullies and the hills, but Sully would soon be on the move. Their ranks decimated, the Indians withdrew, abandoning food and provisions and leaving their women, children, and wounded to the mercies of the Americans. All was lost now, but at least some of them would live to do battle another day.


Chapter 1

Teacher’s Mead, Dakota Territory, Spring 1864

A whistle drew me outside where a child’s voice from atop the hollow hill behind the house directed my gaze south. Less than half a mile away, six mounted warriors rode west between the Mead and the near shore of the bloated Yanube River. They were too far away to identify, but they did not have the look of Sioux.
Cuthan joined me on the porch. “I guess we know why the blue coat went flying by here. Do you think they’re renegades, Otter?”
An hour earlier, a trooper had passed on the south side of the river, riding hard for Ft. Yanube.
         “If they are renegades, they’ve thrown away the advantage of surprise, but we’d best get everyone inside.”
         I looked toward the near field where six-year-old Alexander stood in the middle of the freshly turned rows. A hand shaded his eyes as he stared at the riders. He caught his father’s wave, dropped the bag of corn seed he was holding, and started for the house. John, younger by a year, shot around the corner of the porch, eyes agog. He’d given us the warning from the hill.
         “Do you see them, Pa? Do you see them?”
         “We see them, Son,” Cuthan said. “It took sharp eyes to spot those riders in the tree line. You did well.”
         Glowing from this praise, the boy self-consciously snatched off his hat and slapped it against his leg to free it of dust, as he’d seen his father do a thousand times.
         The warriors had halted and were talking among themselves. After a moment, they headed in our direction at a slow, cautious pace. Each cradled a long gun in his arms.
         Cuthan’s wife, Mary, stepped out onto the porch. “What’s happening?”
         “Get back inside,” I said sharply. Those warriors should see a family of natives, not a yellow-headed American woman. “Where are the girls?”
         “They’re in the house. Oh!” she gasped as she caught sight of the warriors.
         “Go inside with your mother,” Cuthan said to the two boys. “Let’s join them, Otter.”
         “I want to talk to those men.”
         “We can talk through the door.”
         “I want to know what’s happening. The best way is to go out and talk like men.” I said.
         “I’ll get our rifles.”
         “I’ll go alone and unarmed. If anything happens, send Mary and the children through the secret tunnel into the hollow hill. You stay in the house. Fight them off if you have to.”
         “I’m not going to let you—”
         “Think of your wife and fry and do as I say. I’ll be all right.”
         I walked to the barn, trying to appear unhurried. White Patch, anxious for exercise, danced in anticipation as I threw a halter over his long nose. I didn’t bother to saddle the pinto. I would have preferred to greet the strangers in my breechclout, but Mary considered them uncivilized, so I refrained from wearing mine around the Mead. I stripped my white man’s shirt over my head and dropped it in the dirt. Getting rid of the garment made me look more like who I was.
         By the time I left the farmyard, the riders had almost reached the line of trees bordering the old game trail running in front of the place. When I got within a hundred paces of the leading horseman, I gave the open-handed salute. He returned the gesture as we pulled up facing one another.
         “Hah-ue.” I spoke the Lakota greeting even though I could see these were foreign Indians. Southern Plains from the look of them. Four wore their hair in a pay-shah—a roach. One was in braids, and the sixth wore a turban of some sort. “I am River Otter.”
         “I don’t speak Sioux,” the leader said in passable English.
         I repeated my name in the American language.
         “I have heard of you. The Last Yanube, they say.”
         “Almost, although the man who farms this land has the same blood I do. What can we do for you?”
         He squared his impressive shoulders. “I am Big Scar. My men and I are Cherokee.”
         “You are a long way from Cherokee country, and you do not have the look of a wandering star-gazer.”
         They broke into laughter and chattered among themselves for a moment.
         “Do you fly the Stars and Bars or the Stars and Stripes?” Scar asked.
         “Neither. We are peaceful tribesmen who want no part of the war. We are content to let the whites kill one another while we mind our own business.”
         The Cherokee leader was a striking, reddish-hued man with a meaty nose and a purple scar across his right cheek. He wore his hair in a stiff roach and was dressed in fringed buckskin trousers, a leather vest, and a bone breastplate. He pursed his heavy lips. “A warrior should choose a side and fight for it.” Lifting a bare arm, he indicated his companions. “Join us and raise the hatchet against the people who killed your village.”
         “Those people are dead now, and I had a hand in seeing some of them to that end. I have no quarrel with the others.”
         “Are there tribesmen in the area who will join us?”
         I motioned over my shoulder. “My adopted son, Cuthan, and I are the last bloods in the hundred fifty-mile stretch between Ft. Ramson and Ft. Yanube, although occasional travelers come through the territory going from where they have been to where they are headed. You seem to ride with some purpose in mind. Was it you who frightened the army man who went flying past earlier?”
         The men laughed again. “You are right. He was running away from us. We intend to stop him before he reaches the fort up the river.”
         “Then I apologize for detaining you.”
         “No need. The way the blue coat was flogging his horse, he’ll ride the animal to death and have to walk the rest of his journey.”
         “Why do the Cherokee come all the way up here to frighten our whites? Don’t you have enough of your own?”
         “Aye, more than enough. But we are part of a big Confederate army come to take this country away from your whites and give it to ours. We are the Native Detachment of McComber’s Battalion.”
         I kept my Indian face in place. McComber’s Battalion meant nothing to me. “There is a Confederate army behind you?”
         “The main detachment is at Ft. Ramson.”
         “Have they taken the fort?”
         “They are doing battle for it as we speak. We are to catch the outrider and stop him from bringing reinforcements.”
         My heart lurched. I felt as if the blood drained from my face and puddled in my moccasins. The American’s Civil War, until now merely a series of news dispatches and gossip items, had arrived on our doorstep.
         “I see no singing wires,” Scar said. “Does that mean they have no telegraph at Yanube?”
         “Nay, it does not reach that far.” I saw no harm in answering honestly, since I perceived this as a test of something he already knew.
         “Good. Who is with you in the stone house? I see two rifle barrels sticking from gun ports. If I didn’t know better, I’d say this was Ft. Yanube. It is built like a blockhouse.
         “That describes Teacher’s Mead. The stone house was built back when there were hostile tribes in the area.”
         “And the rifles pointing at us?”
         “One is in the hands of Cuthan Strobaw, the son of Cut Hand, last chief of the Yanube. The other is held by his wife.”
         “Tell them it would not be wise to be so unfriendly when next we meet.” He waved his companions toward the river before turning back to me. “The farm to your east. Is that owned by bloods, too?”
         “That is the home of some foreign settlers. They, too, take no sides in this war. They came across the ocean to farm in peace.”
         The man nodded. “The river is angry. Is there a walk-across?”
         “Our snowmelt is just ending, so you’ve come when the waters are at their highest. The best walk is thirty paces to the right of the big cottonwood you see yonder. Even it is dangerous this time of year. I would not risk it.”
         Scar had to get his men to the other side in order to catch up with the dispatch rider, and my last remark was a subtle challenge. He fixed his eyes on me for a long moment, although I was unable to discern if it was rudeness or merely his adoption of the American habit of staring. Then he wheeled and caught up with his companions as they rode for the river at a leisurely pace.

*****

The Strobaw family’s life has been shaped by the people and the events ever since Billy Strobaw came to the territory in 1832, fleeing New York where his family was tainted by their loyalty to the crown during the Revolutionary War. Now, another war is about to change things for them once again.

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