These are short stories occasionally put up on Fridays, and which you can read for free. Enjoy!
There was a brisk breeze as Rose walked and around him the Aspen trees rustled and shook, their bright leaves falling all about. Yellows, reds, browns and even some green – a swirl of colors that’d usually put the mountain man in a good mood. Today, however, he was in anything but. Carrying so much was putting an ache in his side and he’d already noticed a few spots of blood showing through his undershirt. He’d have to re-stitch the wound when he stopped for lunch, he thought to himself, but lunch never came.
“What the…” Rose said to himself about an hour and three miles after starting out on his walk. His eyes narrowed and he stared down at the ground. It was partly-wet due to the morning’s frost, and in some places that’d led to mud. That’s why the tracks were so easy to pick out, horses moving in single file with at least one person walking along beside them.
Could be the Crow, Rose thought, but then another part of him thought, Could be more of them damn Hidatsa. There was only one way to find out, so Rose followed the tracks. He did so for nearly two hours, winding this way and that along the Powder River’s course before the tracks started going up yet another rocky trail. The trail wound its way to a ridgeline, one that Rose knew from the day before looked down on a wide river valley. If the Indians he was following continued as they were, Rose knew he’d have a good view of them once they reached the valley floor.
Up and up he went, his legs aching from the added weight of all the trade goods the horse would usually be carrying, his side on fire from the reopened wound. He was feeling a bit light-headed too, and that worried him, especially on the sections of the trail that were directly above the roaring river now more than a hundred feet below him. If I can’t even walk a couple miles, hell…what good am I?
Rose shook those kinds of thoughts away, but they came back again and again. He promised himself that once he got to the top of the ridge he’d rest, and rest for some time.
He never got the chance. Upon reaching the top Rose found that the Indians he’d been following weren’t down on the valley floor but were instead waiting for him. The mountain man went around a bend in the trail, came out from behind some pine trees, and there before him, about a hundred yards away, were a dozen Arikara, Assiniboine, and Hidatsa Indians, all mounted, all holding their rifles or bows, and all looking back at him. Rose’s eyes went wide at the sight, but only for a moment – right upon seeing them they saw him, and several of the Indians kicked their horses and began to charge. That’s when the bullets and arrows started firing.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
SWOOSH! SWOOSH! SWOOSH!
The pine tree next to rose was hit, sending bark shards flying into the trapper’s face. Another rifle ball whizzed right by his head. The third went off somewhere, thank God. The arrows didn’t fare much better, with two flying high and one hitting the same tree that’d been hit by the bullet. All of it caused Rose to jump back behind another pine, one that was then hit by a rifle ball too.
“Shit!” he said to himself, and got his rifle up. He could hear horses charging toward him, though the pine trees on top of the ridge were quite thick so the animals had to stay to the rocky trail. Rose knew that, and would use it to his advantage. Waiting a few seconds more, he took a deep breath to steel his resolve and then jumped out from the tree with his rifle to his cheek.
The lead Indian – an Arikara, it looked like – went down, flying backward off his horse. Luckily, the rider behind him was so close that he was hit by the falling man and he too was thrown from the saddle. That left three more braves charging at him, however, and Rose knew he was in trouble.
Without a thought he threw the saddlebags of trade goods from his shoulders, gripped his rifle tightly, and turned to run.
The tree right next to his head exploded as it was struck by a rifle ball. Bark flew, but Rose rushed on, heedless of the dangers for there was nothing he could do about them anyways. His only hope was to get down the mountain path, far enough to…
There! Rose thought with a smile, his breath heaving. He’d made it back to where the trail began its switchbacks, the route he’d just taken. If he could just make it a bit further he’d be overlooking the Powder River below.
SWOOSH! SWOOSH! BOOM!
Arrows and rifle balls flew toward Rose, but the thickness of the pine trees saved him. On and on he went, his side on fire and his shirt there sticky with blood. Then he was there, the trail overlooking the river! Rose came to a sudden stop, nearly pitching over the side. My how lightheaded he felt!
There were fewer trees here, not enough cover to stay for long. One of those last arrows had nearly taken him in the back of the head. Still, the mountain man was having a hard time getting his courage up. If he wanted to jump he’d have to do it here and now. The thought of falling more than a hundred feet to a relatively shallow river didn’t much appeal to him, however.
BOOM! BOOM! SWOOSH!
The ground at his feet exploded as a rifle ball tore into it. That did it.
“To hell with this,” Rose said, then with a quick prayer to a God he never really gave a damn about, he jumped.
The world seemed to grow bigger, the sky taking up more space than usual. Rose’s attention was on the water below him, however, water that was rushing up fast. He was in the air for so long that his body realized he was falling and the prickles of fear rose up all over the mountain man’s body. He was in the air for just a couple seconds but it felt a whole lot longer. The wind rushed through his hair and whistled in his ears and his two feet felt like lead balls leading him to his doom. Then the water was there and Rose was suddenly in it.
He came down hard, his feet hitting the riverbed with force, though thankfully they only hit the soft mud and not a stray rock or boulder. The current was strong, however, and Rose got caught in an undertow that spun him end over end. It was all he could do to hang onto his rifle, which was no soaked. He wasn’t sure which way was up, but then his foot touched bottom again and this time he pushed off with all his might. He shot up, his head breaching the water and his lungs gasping for air.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
SWOOSH! SWOOSH! SWOOSH!
Balls and arrows flew at him, but they were too far and the current was carrying him farther away still. And oh how the water was cold!
Just a mile downstream, just a mile is all, Rose thought to himself as his teeth began to chatter. Turning about he was able to look back up to the ridgeline more than a hundred feet above him – and now several hundred feet behind him – to the Indians standing there. They stood and watched but made no move to follow. He’d gotten away.
The mile took an eternity it seemed, with Rose’s body growing colder and colder each minute he was in the water. Then, after a large bend that brought him around a small hill and completely out of sight of the ridgeline now well behind him, Rose saw a sandy beach and made for it. It was a struggle, not because of the current but because of his weakened state. His side felt numb now, but then so did his fingers and toes and many other areas. Somehow he managed to get over to that side of the river and get his feet down into a shallower section. Then he was standing again, then walking up onto the beach.
Fire, Rose thought as he dropped his rifle to the ground, I’ve got to get a fire started.
Kneeling down right there on the beach, Rose gathered a few loose twigs and sticks together, got a bit of dried grass for kindling, and then took out his flint and steel and started striking sparks.
SCRISH, SCRISH, SCRISH, the steel sounded as it swiped across the flint, casting sparks down onto the makeshift fire pit, SCRISH, SCRISH, SCRISH.
Damn, Rose thought, for the sparks weren’t taking. He stood up to circle around to the other side, thinking that might block a bit of the wind that was blowing.
Instead Rose’s head swam and his vision blurred. The next thing he knew his legs felt like water and he was falling to the ground. He didn’t even have the strength to get an arm up to block his fall. He hit hard, and everything went black.