These are short stories put up each Friday that you can read for free. By the next Friday the post will be taken down and a new one will go up.
Martin Cass brought the flask of whiskey back up to his mouth and took another swallow. He looked back at the men in the cabin with a sly look on his face.
“So I hadn’t seen her in more’n a year at that point and at first sight o’ me her eyes go wide, her nostrils start a flarin’ and I know this is it when she starts comin’ up toward me at a steady clip,” he said, looking at the men and going right back into his tale where he’d left off before jumping up on the spare cot, the better to be seen. Being heard was no problem, the way the men were guffawing. You could thank McClellan for that. The Astoria Expedition partner had socked away a flask of whiskey for New Year’s Eve…no matter where that New Year’s might be or who he might be with. Little could he have thought back there in St. Louis when he’d bought it for two bits that he’d be holed-up in some unknown trapper’s cabin on the eastern side of the Continental Divide, the other members of the expedition – including its leader – scattered to the wind and perhaps even dead.
“Comin’ up to you from the front or the side or–”
“From straight away in front of me with those large and beady eyes and lookin’ like she’s gonna take a huge bit o’ my hide,” Cass said loudly, speaking over Robinson. The Kentuckian frowned to that, took another drink from his tin cup of whiskey to make up for it. It didn’t slow Cass in the slightest.
“So she’s is comin’ right up on me, from the front…” he said, casting a look Robinson’s way, “…and then she just charges right at me like she’s gonna tear me apart.”
Hoback nodded. “Damn moose will do that to you.” Several of the others nodded as well.
“So what’d you do then?” LeClerc said.
Cass scoffed. “Why, charged up the nearest tree…what the hell ya think I did?”
“Shit yourself, that’s what,” Reznor said, and the men fell into laughter at that. Cass frowned but started laughing as well a moment later.
“Damn near had to the way she had me up in that tree for the night and into the next day,” Cass said, taking another drink when he was done.
The men laughed and slapped each other on the back, filled their tin cups with more of McClellan’s whiskey and thanked him profusely for bringing it each time they did. For his part, McClellan nodded and smiled and tried to take it easy. He hadn’t had a drink in months after all, not since they’d run out while crossing the plains on horseback back in September. That first drink had gone right to his head, and judging from the way the men were carrying on, theirs had done the same. They carried on like that for a few more minutes, a joke here, a slight there, all in good fun and all a welcome relief from the weeks they’d endured, weeks of hardship and death, frustration and the loss of hope. Their spirits were warm this New Year’s, warm indeed. That was about to change.
“What the hell’s got you lookin’ so glum,” Reznor said to Pierre when a lull came.
“His damn wife, you fool,” Hoback said, then immediately looked over at Pierre with a hurt look on his face. “Sorry,” he said.
Pierre shook his head and waved it off. “It’s nothing,” he said, “but you’re right…I am feelin’ a bit down about her.”
“Did all you could, right?” McClellan said, taking another drink, sip really. “Can’t do much more than go back for her and when you see she didn’t make it…” he shrugged, “…well, all’s you can do is bury her, right?”
Pierre nodded. “Aye, and that’s what I did…buried her.”
“And the baby?” Miller asked.
“Aye,” Pierre said, taking another drink.
Silence fell again, for it was a depressing topic and one none of the men really wanted to touch upon. To LeClerc, however, something wasn’t right.
“Buried it?” he said, looking at Pierre, the man he’d known for quite a few seasons upriver and had become quite friendly with. “Thought you said it died inside her?”
All eyes went to Pierre, who was giving a sharp look at LeClerc, a look that said to many, ‘mind your own business.’
“Yeah…yeah…that’s what I meant,” Pierre said.
“Just got confused is all,” Miller said.
“And a little whiskey-brained,” Hoback said, laughing. A few of the other men joined in, but just as many narrowed their eyes and cast recriminating looks Pierre’s way. It was too much for the half-French-Canadian, half-Yankton-Sioux to handle.
“I need some air,” he said, rising quickly from the table and making for the door. He slammed his cup down as he did so, something that sloshed its contents out onto the table.
“Hey!” Reznor shouted. “That’s good whiskey!”
Pierre said nothing, just got to the door and got it open. He rushed out into the biting wind, the swirling snow.