©Manuel Ramos, 2011
The back of his neck itched from the sun. He scratched but the rough skin of his fingers did nothing to help.
The summer haze made him squint. Heat vapors wiggled against the horizon. His hat slumped around his ears, and his horse moved to the torpid rhythm of the desert – slow, steady, dying. The pistol hanging from his belt was hot to the touch. He considered using it one last time. It had been a long ride.
The burst of light from the top of the dune jarred his eyes. He fell from the horse and rolled next to a boulder. Streaks of pain ran from his lungs to his groin. He pulled the gun.
“Mateo! Surrender or we kill you! Vamos a matalo."
He smiled at the broken Spanish. Do they think I don’t understand? They want me dead, that is all I need to know.
“Aquí estoy. Come and get me.”
He licked his cracked lips. Breathing burned his lungs. A broken rib when the crazy horse kicked me. Spooked by the gunshots. But what an animal. Ran until her heart gave out.
He aimed his pistol at the light. He would wait until he saw their hats.
Juanita. Carlos. María. His memories had become names only. He could not see their faces anymore, or hear the music in their voices. He prayed their names to himself a hundred times a day. He chased their ghosts as the men chased him. Outrunning the men through the arroyo, then the hills, and now the desert, he shouted the names and heard the lonely echoes, and believed that he had lost his mind.
He had enough. He stood up.
The first shot exploded the dirt in front of his ragged boots. The second whizzed by his ear. He fell to his knees before the third one tore through his shoulder. He dropped his gun and shouted his memories.
He heard a rattlesnake’s warning, a hawk’s squeal, the hot wind gasp. He opened his eyes. Blood soaked the remains of his shirt.
The light was gone. He struggled to his feet and stumbled to the dune.
The blood of three men streamed over sand and rocks. Across the ridge he saw the Comanches. They laughed at him, turned their horses and disappeared below the haze. He picked up a dead man’s canteen and poured water down his throat. He choked, sputtered, coughed. He prayed the names of his memories.