Just a song for the day.
The trail wasn’t hard to find. If anything, the climb back up the hill caused more effort; at least physically. Daniel stared at the gaping hole of broken branches and flattened earth before him. It was if a road to hell had been paved specifically just for him and that certain death waited at its end. Shivering in the cold rain, Daniel hesitated. A flash of light, followed closely by the clap of thunder, forced his decision. Daniel hurried into the false shelter of the forest canopy.
“What are you doing?” A voice whispered inside his head.
Daniel ignored it as he trudged his way forward.
“It’s just the mail.” The voice continued.
“It’s my job.” Daniel said aloud.
“Your job?” Taunted the voice inside. “You saw the telegraph poles being installed along the trail. Your job won’t be here for long. Maybe six months, if that.”
Daniel’s foot slipped on a loose rock.
“Damn it!” He cursed aloud.
“Why go on?” The voice continued. “There’s nothing there. You know the bear ate all the mail.”
“No I don’t.” Daniel argued. “It’s my responsibility.”
The branches grew lower as the path broke left and up the hillside. Soft muddy soil slowly gave way to hard rocky ground.
The voice seemed to grow louder. “Your responsibility? You’re supposed to deliver the mail, not die for it.”
“There are important documents in there.” Daniel thought.
“Sure there are.” Said the voice. “Love letters from politicians to their mistresses no doubt.”
Daniel grabbed a broken sapling trunk for support as he climbed higher. “No. There are contracts, payments, and deeds that need to be delivered. People’s homesteads are at stake.”
Lightning flashed to reveal a cave roughly fifty yards away. The drag trail of the horse’s body led right to it. Daniel stood there and stared at the inky black abyss.
“Looks like you’re about to find out.” The voice teased.
Lightning lit up the sky followed by a loud clap of thunder. Daniel’s steed bucked in response.
“Easy! Easy.” Daniel soothed, trying to calm the beast. “Just some noise. Ain’t nothin’ to be scared of.”
Steady streams of water flowed down the muddy hillside in miniature rivers as they struggled against the flow. A second flash lit up the sky.
“Oh yeah. We are right in the heart of it!”
Thunder roared so closely that the ground shook. Daniel flew through the air as he felt the horse buck him off.
“God damn it!” He yelled picking himself out of the muddy trail.
A piercing cry grabbed his attention. Daniel’s eyes mirrored the horror of his horses as his mind relayed the true event.
His horse cried out again in a mix of pain and primal fear as it was dragged violently on its side.
“No!” Daniel screamed while yanking his Colt from its holster; firing three shots in rapid succession.
A roar from behind the horse echoed the roar of the shots as a large paw clawed across Daniel’s shoulder and chest. The force of the impact knocked him down the hill.
Daniel lay against the trunk of a large Pine, clutching at his shoulder as he heard his horses last muffled cry off in the distance. The pain held him hostage and he sat there as the rain pelted him mercilessly. Slowly, his mind and body reconnected. The feeling of hot lava ran down his shoulder as his blood mixed with the mud on the ground. Daniel’s good arm shook rapidly as he assessed the damage.
Five cuts dug deep into his shoulder, scraped his collar bone before continuing their journey diagonally across his chest fading to an end just above his belly.
With shallow breaths, Daniel struggled to take off the scraps of cloth that was his coat and shirt. Useless and heavy, he let the coat fall to the ground. His hand shook rapidly as unbuttoned the few buttons on his shirt. He screamed in agony as his body twisted while trying to take off the shirt. Failing at the effort, Daniel took out his knife and tore at the fabric until his injuries were free and exposed. Using his knees and teeth, he cut the fabric into smaller pieces and let the rain wash over them. He then bound his wounds as best as he could before trussing his left arm up with a mix of ticks and cloth. Daniel cried out again as he slid his arm into the sling. Sweating from the effort, he paused for a moment then struggled to his feet on wobbly legs. Slowly Daniel made his way back to where he last saw his horse. Nothing was left but a large mark where the bear had dragged the body away. Daniel walked around the area, looking at the muddy ground. After what seemed an eternity, he stopped near a large puddle. He dug his hand into the soft mud and pulled out his revolver. Wet and filthy, he pulled the hammer back until he heard two clicks. Spinning the cylinder, he counted the primer caps. One. Two. Three. Three rounds were left. His reloading powder was gone and the powder in the gun was questionable at best. Silently, Daniel set the gun back into its holster.
There was nothing for it. Daniel looked up at the sky and with a deep breath; he started his walk down the drag. He had to find his horse, or what was left of it.