sun hung high over head by the time Carson found the location of the
carcass. He was out in the heat on a broken down burro three miles from
home because he’d seen the buzzards circling and there was always the
chance that the scavengers had found meat he could eat. It had been
another bad year for crops and any meat Carson could put on the
table—even scavenged carcasses—helped stave off starvation here on the
edge of nowhere in the Oklahoma Territory.
dismounted and drew his Sharps rifle. It was a muzzle loading long gun
with a full charge of black powder behind one of Carson’s precious
bullets. He hoped not to need the gun but it was best to be sure. Even
dying, a coyote could cause him a world of hurt that just might result in
the buzzards getting two meals today instead of one.
of the big birds were on the ground now—ugly critters braver and
stronger than their fellows. They had pecked at their prey, impatiently
testing the dying animal’s remaining strength. It had tried to shield
itself from their unwanted attention by crawling between two large rocks
and the boulders combined with the buzzards’ bodies and the waves of
heat shimmering off the plain obscured it from Carson’s view. He
approached slowly, whacking the first bird with the butt of his rifle when
it failed to immediately give up its prize and retreat. Bullets and powder
were too precious and the long gun took too long to reload to shoot the
bird if he didn’t have to.
buzzard staggered a few steps and returned to the air. Its friend followed
it, calling out in anger to their fellows. Carson ignored them, crouching
down to peer between the stones to see what sort of animal he had found
and how difficult it was going to be for him to get it out. He jumped back
in surprise when he found a woman.
lay stretched out on her stomach, cheek to the ground, dark flesh covered
in dust and a torn cotton smock. Her feet were cut and swollen from many
days of walking unshod over rough ground. He might have thought that she
was dead, but then the buzzards would have already been into her. Chances
were that she had been conscious not too long ago.
prodded the body and got no response, so he lay the Sharps down out of the
woman’s reach and carefully pulled her out from between the rocks. Her
dark skin was dry to the touch—sun burnt no doubt although it hadn’t
turned red like his did. Her lips were cracked from lack of moisture, her
face swollen with thirst. He went back to his burro to recover his water
skin, squirting the slightest trickle onto her parched lips. They opened
feebly in response, so he gave her a little more, careful not to do more
than dampen the flesh. She couldn’t drink if she wasn’t conscious, but
maybe the water would help revive her.
recapped his water skin and tied it to the burro alongside the Sharps.
Then he picked up the unconscious woman, cradling her in his arms until he
could set her on the burro’s back. He had to hold her in place as he
began to guide the burro on the walk back to his little shack.
was very light with little meat left beneath the flesh. She’d been on
the road a long time—a runaway most likely—and the journey had taken a
grueling toll on her body.
hoped that she would make it.