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Only on a Moonless Night

By JB Stillwater
jbstillwater.com

I will never forget that hot summer in the hills of the Tahoe. There was not a greenery or wild flower to be found. It was a place only God could love, that year. God and me, that is, as it had been my home since poor Mother had given birth to me, some thirty and five years prior. Pager, even Pager, my old crusty of a Quarter Horse, cared deeply about the heat, and that suited me just fine. The more she cared, the more slowly she walked, and after having been thrown the previous year, Pager was just to my liking when the weather got hot.

There was something else different, that summer. The dirt of the forever red that fell upon the hills, and caked my jeans with an eternal blood red stain, seemed to disappear into a dry, metal of brown. Most of the trees that surrounded my weathered cabin were losing their leaves to the Gypsy Moth, and there was an unsettling in the earth that most people did not seem to hear. I heard it, though. Pager heard it too. I had heard it many times in my life, rumbling through the ghost hills. Trouble was a-foot, I knew it, and Pager knew it.

Sure as a sure footed mule in a gold mine on fire, the following morning, our premonitions began to prove true. My left ankle began to ache. Weather might be moving in. I therefore decided to take a ride down through the canyon on the old Western Trail, to the river, catch a few Salmon and cook them up for dinner. It was certain that my now dried up garden was not going to provide. The trip down was a beauty, stopping only once to pick up an old, rusted out bunch of beads that were half buried in the dirt. I thought they would look nice hanging from Pager`s dusty old saddle. She could use some sprucing up, now ... couldn`t she?

We were lucky enough, that day. The fish were biting and I managed to pull in at least two good sized Sams for my evening repast. Making our way back up the west side of the canyon that ran along the old American River, Pager seemed just a bit jittery. The trail was one she had traversed many times, yet she was confused. Suddenly, I felt a quickness of the wind and a sudden pelting of rocks against my thigh as well as Old Pager`s left flank. She reared a bit and then continued on. There it was again! Scanning the muskrat, brown trees with my tired eyes, I could find nothing and no one in the hiding. As we continued up the trail, I thought I saw a small figure of a lad dash behind one of the thicker Sequoias. "Ho. . . Ho. . . Pager." Pager came to an unsteady stop and I jumped from her back, and high tailed it off to the suspected outlaw hiding behind the tree. Much to my surprise, no one was there. Not a rock, leaf or dried up twig was out of place. There were so signs whatsoever of anything having been a-fowl in the spot.

That night, I was awakened by the sound of tiny pebbles hitting my window. Old Pager whinnied in the corral, and when I looked outside, there again, I could have sworn I saw the shadow of a small waif, disappear into the moonless night. What in Sam Hell was going on? Of course, there were many stories about the spirits of my old gold mining-turned-ghost town, but I had never had any reason to believe in them, until that summer.

The following day, Pager and I once again set out. This time to pluck some of the ripened wild berries we had seen along our trail to the river. We were about half way down the steep side of the canyon. Washoe Meadow opened up to our right, and suddenly, Pager backed up on her hinds and took off running quicker than a Texas Lizard through the deep grass. Before I knew it, I felt myself flying swiftly over her head. When I awoke, she was no where to be seen. Trying to get up, I soon realized that would not be possible, as my left ankle was throbbing and bigger than a hornet`s nest. Calling her, I heard nothing and I fell into a pained sleep. Night-fall did not bring my old Quarter back, and I could not have blamed her, as the eerie songs of the coyote and woodland shadows, pretty much kept me company all night. As morning dawned a new day, and I tried to steady my haze filled eyes, I saw her. She was walking slowly across the meadow toward me, but she was not alone. Upon her flanks was a young boy. He was clad in deer skin pants, no shirt, and a bow by his side. As they approached me, he dismounted and made his approach.

"I have come to take what is mine," he said. "I lost it many years ago while hunting along the canyon. It was made for me by my mother, and she is asking for it."

With this, I felt a sharp pierce to my left side. Extending his arm to me, he quickly helped me to mount Pager, slapped her hard on her rear, and off we went. As I looked behind me, he was gone.

Old Pager did a good job in taking me back to my cabin. The pain in my side was beginning to subside, and on inspection there was not a wound to be found, only a small pin prick that was beginning to turn generous shades of black and blue.

It wasn`t but a few days later, that I realized that something was missing. The old, rusted out beads were gone from my Pager`s saddle. We must have traveled fifty times up and down that path and into the meadow, a trip that I was none to eager to make, Yet, they were no where to be found. Truth is, I always knew deep in my heart that we were not going to find them. They had been lost twice and found once. That was enough for the spirit boy, and that was certainly more than enough for me!

Well, as all things tend to make a shift for the better, sure enough, in the early Fall, the rain came. The ground returned to its abundant shade of red, the Gypsy Moths vacated the forest, and the rumbling in the earth ceased. Life in the hill of the Tahoe returned to normal. Well, almost normal. Every once in a while, in the still of a moonless night, came the occasional sound of pebbles bouncing off my back room window ... but only on a moonless night.

The End

Copyright 2006 JB Stillwater

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