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Adventure Western Inspirational

Ambrose said, “What’s the point?” They scanned the unbroken desert stretching to the horizon. “If we don’t change direction, we’ll end up where we’re going.”

“That is the idea, Ambrose. I told you, we’re not diverting. We’re going where we’re expected.” End of discussion. Josiah had nothing else to add.

“But maybe there’s a better way. Look at that.”

The sun hadn’t shown itself, but the sky shone brighter by the minute.

“I see it. Need to go…”

A dark line of a mountain range marked the boundary between earth and sky. One could almost think it an illusion. Traversing the desert would be tough. Getting through those mountains would be the real test. No alternate routes to Joy.

Once more, Josiah checked the saddle bags on his horse, Paladin. He had plenty of rope. Water. Ammunition. Cash. Everything appeared ready. He kept thinking he’d forgotten some vital thing. Would their lives depend on this omission? Time to go. No turning back.

Ambrose joked about Josiah’s preparations for this journey. Concerns about ‘having enough supplies,’ got turned into ‘having enough to hang himself.’

Carrying everything needed was impossible. Eventually, they’d have to forage for water and food.

‘Makes life interesting,’ thought Josiah.

Two men riding across untracked, barren wilderness to parts unknown. Some called him crazy. He didn’t want to wait for the railroad. Despite its rapid progress, completion remained months in the future. Josiah wanted to be there now. Yesterday, even been better.

Once there, obligations fulfilled, he’d be a free agent again. Ambrose didn’t know what awaited him.

They had good horses. At an optimistic eight leagues per day, Josiah planned a three week trek. Though not impossible on level terrain, the mountains promised delays. It would more likely be a month before they reached their destination.

If they reached it.

No optimist, Josiah had no illusions their ambitious venture could fail. And Ambrose stood ready to note any flaw in the plan. Escorting Ambrose to Joy was no simple task. He was Josiah’s nephew. His sister, Harriet entrusted him with her son. He wouldn’t let her down.

He wished Ambrose were solution oriented. His relentless negativity made Josiah regret this agreement. Encounters with Ambrose felt like a chores. They needed to reach Joy before snow began to fall.

“Ready?” Josiah secured the last saddle bag.

Ambrose said, “Waiting on you.”

Josiah mounted Paladin, and slapped its haunch with his hat.

“Let’s go!”

Though unsustainable, galloping into the cool wind felt good. Ambrose caught up and they rode together. The horses settled into a comfortable pace. They made good time.

Ambrose said, “We should have hired a guide.”

Josiah kept silent. Any response would generate more argument.

Ambrose suspected any new information, unless he said it. He made declarations and pronouncements, expecting no resistance. The give and take of actual conversation demanded too much. Rarely one to question, he loved hearing his voice and wagging his tongue. Even agreement only encouraged his speechifying.

Since childhood, Ambrose chattered non-stop. And his skillful avoidance of sense or substance had been honed from infancy. Josiah had never met a person less quotable.

Of course, Josiah could have responded to Ambrose’s statement about hiring a guide. He saved his breath. He’d spent his adult life exploring the wild. It was his living. Would a guide know more than himself? Despite not knowing the exact route, he knew his destination. His tracking experience would serve them well. Josiah’s confidence remained unshaken.

None of that mattered to Ambrose any more than a snort from their horses.

To Josiah, Paladin’s conversational abilities were superior to both of them. His horse’s occasional snorts expressed Josiah’s views better than any words he could say.

While riding, Josiah considered these and other questions.

They came over a rise and spotted a small herd of grazing pronghorns. Josiah pulled his rifle and shot a buck. The rest scattered.

They’d covered enough ground for the time spent. Josiah thought it time to pitch camp. He had Ambrose build a fire while he dressed his kill. He cut the meat into strips and put them over the fire to cook.

“This should last us several days. Stretch our provisions.”

Ambrose commented on the vegetation, birds and the stars. Before Josiah could answer, he’d usually moved on. Josiah fed the fire and watched the sun set. A pack of coyotes yipped at the moon.

Ambrose asked, “How far did we get today?”

“Maybe ten leagues.”

“That as the crow flies? Why crows? Instead of… hummingbirds?”

“Crows fly with purpose, here to there. Hummingbirds fly everywhere.”

“But… Why Joy?”

“Got a telegram. I’m needed. And I need them.”

“Why me?”

“Best not to travel alone.”

They traveled several days through the desert. Nothing relieved them from the land’s dry and unrelenting barrenness. The heat sapped their energy, sunrise to set. But Ambrose talked less, which Josiah counted as a blessing.

They arrived to the foothills of the mountain range. Josiah pointed to the biggest gap between peaks.

“That’s our route.”

They made camp and an early night. The fire’s embers hissed.

Josiah said, “Turning in. Slow climb tomorrow…”

Ambrose lay in the moonlight listening to Josiah’s slumber. He rose and made his way stealthily to the horses. Careful not to spook them, he saddled his horse and crouched to secure the strap.

He came face to face with Josiah’s pistol. Startled, he jumped and rolled onto his back.

The horses screamed and pulled against their leads.

Josiah grabbed Ambrose by his collar and pressed the gun into his throat.

“Where you off to, boy? Tryin’ to get us both killed?”

Ambrose struggled for his wits. “Nothin’. Goin’ for… a walk…”

Josiah shook him like a kitten. “Look, this ain’t no joke. We get through this together, or not at all.”

“Right! Right! I didn’t mean nothin.’”

Josiah dropped him. “I’m not inclined to hold your hand. And don’t have time to chase you down. Need I tie you to your horse? Got plenty of rope.”

Ambrose crouched defensively. “No! No… I get it. Don’t want no trouble. Please don’t tie me up.”

Josiah holstered his pistol and calmed the horses.

“Up early. Get some sleep.”

Making their way back to camp, no further words were spoken.

When Ambrose awoke, Josiah already had the fire going. The horses were saddled. Ambrose wolfed his breakfast.

They left before sunrise. The going was slow. The steep incline held the horses to a walk. They often stopped to determine their best route.

At mid-day, they came upon a raging river. Though not wide, the rapids prevented them crossing.  

Ambrose offered, “Let’s build a raft.”

“See those rapids? Gonna put your horse on a raft?”

Ambrose actually nodded his understanding.

Josiah turned Paladin upstream and Ambrose turned downward.

Josiah yelled, “Whoa! Where you headed?”

“Downstream. The current’s not so fast. Maybe find a settlement. Doesn’t have to be Joy.”

“That could take us several days longer. River widens. Not looking for another town. Upstream is narrower, shallower. Can ford it.”

Ambrose followed Josiah up the river. The steep terrain required many switchbacks.

They reached a point which looked like the horses could cross. But it had been a long day. They pitched camp and let the horses rest.

Ambrose continued his chatter. “Why go to Joy? What about Faith, or Charity? Why Joy? Why not Hope?”

“You know any towns with those names?”

“No. But there could be.”

“We’re going to Joy. And you’ll like it.”

“But why will I like it? You want me in Joy. What is your purpose in taking me there?”

“You signed on for it.”

“But it’s personal for you. Is there a prison there? You delivering me…?”

Josiah’s patience wore thin. “Why would they put a prison in someplace named Joy?”

“How would I know?”

“What if there is? What’s that to you? What have you done?”

Ambrose had no answer.

“Ambrose… Why not go to Joy? What are you afraid of? Have you done something?”

Ambrose had nothing to say. He turned away from Josiah and the fire.

“Long day tomorrow.”

The next morning, Ambrose woke up to the smell of venison steaming over the fire. Still dark, hints of dawn showed in the east.

They ate and checked the river. It was more of a trickle compared to yesterday, narrow and strewn with rocks and froth.

“Hasn’t rained in a while.”

They packed the horses and found a good crossing point. Josiah led Paladin. They picked their way amidst the boulders. The water ran knee deep. Ambrose led his horse, following Josiah’s path.

Josiah approached the far side. A rock shifted and he went under with a scream. Sputtering and thrashing, he emerged grimacing in pain. The current carried him until he slammed into a boulder. He managed to hang onto it.

“I’m hurt! But I’ll keep. Keep the horses safe.”

Paladin reared and bounded to shore. Ambrose led his horse across and grabbed Paladin’s reins. He hitched them to a tree. He pulled a coil of rope from Paladin’s saddle.

He ran to where Josiah held on, head barely above water.

He growled. “I think my leg’s broke.”

“I can’t reach you. Current’s too strong. Grab the rope.”

Ambrose tossed the rope. It fell short. Another toss landed well but fearing the current would pull him off the rock, Josiah missed it. Another bounced off his head, generating angry curses.

Josiah yelled, “Throw it long. Up stream. Let the current bring it on.”

Ambrose did as told. The current carried the rope to Josiah.

“Yes!”

Josiah yelled, “One shot. Don’t let go!”

He grabbed the rope with both hands and went under. The current about pulled Ambrose in, but he dug his heels and pulled. Josiah came up, closer and still holding on. Ambrose dragged him onto the sand.

He tried to help Josiah stand, but his leg couldn’t support any weight. Ambrose lay him back onto the sand and cut away the pant leg. He had an undeniable fracture.

“Don’t want to lose it. Can’t. Find some sticks. Make a splint.”

Ambrose ran off. Sun in his face, Josiah lay back and groaned. Ambrose returned with some green branches. He cut the leaves off.

Josiah directed him in setting the bone and fashioning a splint.

“You’re gonna hear a truck load of screams and vituperation. Pay me no mind, son. Whatever you do, get that damned bone set. And tie the splint on tight.”

Ambrose nodded.

“What are you waiting for? Get to it!”

Ambrose worked fast as possible while Josiah thrashed in pain. What took a few minutes, felt like an hour to Josiah. Ambrose learned some new vocabulary.

Ambrose trimmed the rope and said, “Think that’s it. What do you think?”

Josiah lay panting. Ambrose offered his hand to help him sit. He looked at the leg for a long minute.

“You done good. Now help me mount Paladin and let’s vacate this godforsaken patch.”

Ambrose offered Josiah a rude crutch. They staggered to a boulder nearby Paladin. With heroic effort and much additional cursing, Ambrose hoisted Josiah onto his saddle. He uncoiled the rope.

“Hang on. I’ll secure you.”

“No! Not tying me.”

“You don’t want to fall.”

Josiah paused. “Yeah, better… Damn!”

Once secured, and after Ambrose had mounted his horse, Josiah pulled himself upright.

“Unless I’m completely off kilter, we want to head that-a-way.” Josiah pointed. “When you encounter a trail going up… up… Follow that.” Josiah slumped into his pain.

Holding Paladin’s lead, Ambrose led the way. They progressed slowly. Many long days of riding and heat had taken a toll.

The first trail seen in days was obvious at first sight. They followed it running beside a swift stream.

After a while, Ambrose saw a figure silhouetted at the top of a distant rise. He raised his arm over his head and waved a greeting.

“Look, Joe.”

Josiah roused himself from his doze. A man in white robes ran up and led the horses into town beneath a canopy of lush shade trees. He walked them to a lake shore. Swans glided across the quiet surface.

People came to greet the travelers. They assisted their dismounting and took them where they could rest. A man examined Josiah’s leg and found it to be healing beautifully.

Sweet music filled the air. People served them good food. All their needs were met.

The trip melted into memory. They had made it. 

July 01, 2023 02:55

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6 comments

Bonnie Clarkson
21:23 Jul 05, 2023

Good use of horses and common sense to keep it sounding western.

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John K Adams
03:28 Jul 06, 2023

Thanks again, Bonnie. Trying to write in that particular vernacular is a challenge.

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Mary Bendickson
15:54 Jul 03, 2023

Joy,joy,joy! Was it really joy or somewhere else?

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John K Adams
16:19 Jul 03, 2023

I think it was really Joy. But it might have been East Joy. Thanks for reading and commenting, as always.

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Amanda Lieser
13:00 Jul 25, 2023

Hey John, Always a good story when two people are thrust together in life. It makes it even better when they’re given a harrowing, life changing moment. I loved the language of this story, in all its intricacies. You did an epic job of creating something wild and crazy, with a happy ending. Nice job!!

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John K Adams
13:34 Jul 25, 2023

High praise, indeed, Amanda. Glad you liked it. Didn't get much traction when first posted. That's okay. You found it. Others will. Thanks!

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