Become a Fan
By Stephanie Rose
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Rated "PG" by the Author.
A short story about a boy who grew up in a rough world. But the Indian had it worse. All Elias wanted to do was help.
The hot July sun glowed almost red as it slowly started to sink behind the purple mountain ridge. It almost blinded the boy sitting atop his big dun gelding. He shaded his eyes with his hand, his too-large hat no match against the sun’s low rays. He gazed with pride at all the corn they had planted last spring. Taking in the sight and smell of it all, he smiled. They would have a good harvest this year, the first in many.
Elias Borne was a boy that had been forced into a man’s world, and it showed on his sunburned face and calloused hands. He had been nine years old at the end of the Mexican War. His father, an army captain, had come home minus an arm. Unable to work, he decided to take his family west. They stopped on a plot of ground in the north of the Colorado territory. That was almost four years ago.
It had been hard at first but eventually the Borne family had settled in and started to make a new life. Elias and his two younger brothers had to do most of the work, and they grew up fast. Even their mother, a renowned southern belle, did her share. The only thing that bothered her was the Indians. “The Indians out here are nothing more than savages,” she’d told Elias on more than one occasion. “They’d just as soon skin you alive as look at you.” Although Elias knew most of it was just his mother worrying, he didn’t take any chances and always carried a gun. So far he had had no trouble, but he heard plenty of stories of Indian raiding parties.
At the moment his rifle lay casually across the saddle horn. The hand resting on it relaxed but steady. His eyes, while taking in all the magnificence of the land, still stayed alert for any sign of danger. He had stopped his horse just before topping the ridge. He did not want to outline himself against the darkening, yet clear sky.
He had just turned to head for home when his horse started, its ears lying flat against its skull. Elias looked around slowly, searching. Suddenly he saw it. Something was moving down by the north edge of the cornfield, just outside the forest. He froze, not even his horse twitched. Slowly he dismounted and tethered the dun. Then he checked his rifle, making sure it was loaded before he started down towards the forest.
It took only a few minutes to creep down the slope along the corn, but to Elias it seemed like hours. Any second the thing, whatever it was, might spot him and, if it was what he suspected, attack him. He ducked into the cornfield as much as possible, taking advantage of any cover. At last he came out and looked around cautiously, his ears straining for any sound.
Then he saw him. A Ute, Elias thought, recognizing the shells and animal teeth strung around the Indian’s neck. But this was not just any Indian. He didn’t appear to be any older than Elias was. It was not the first Indian Elias had ever seen up close, but what he saw now shocked him. The Indian’s pants hung in tatters on his thin body. Black hair fell disheveled into his eyes but it couldn’t hide the ugly gash on his forehead. Blood had dripped down the side of his face and hardened. He had an ear of corn in his trembling hands and was stuffing it into his mouth almost faster than he could swallow.
Suddenly the Indian stopped and looked up right at Elias. For a split second his black eyes looked large and fearful. But in a flash the fear was gone, and the Indian stared at Elias defiantly. In that instant Elias forgot all about the stories he’d heard and the warnings he’d been given and felt pity for the boy. But he’s an Indian, his practical side countered, even if he is hurt and alone. But, how would I feel if I was in his situation? Reason battled emotion, until at last emotion won. I have to help him.
Carefully he reached over and picked two more ears of corn. Then he untied his bandana and, after wrapping up the corn, laid it and his canteen on the ground in front of the Indian. “A gift,” he said, not knowing if the boy understood or not. “For you.”
The Indian looked down at the pile. When he brought his eyes back up they were filled with hatred and contempt. Only then did Elias remember. Two things did the Indians believe to be signs of weakness. One was fear; the other was mercy. But we’re commanded to show mercy, Elias told himself. “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.” That’s what the Bible says. If only he could make the Indian understand. “I-I’m sorry,” he whispered. He shifted his weight and scratched the back of his neck. Not knowing what else to do he pointed to his chest and said, “I am Elias Borne. I only wanted to help.”
Only then did the look in the Indian’s eyes change. He seemed almost triumphant. Elias would have thought it amusing considering his situation, but there was something behind it that truly scared him. Suddenly he realized what he had done. I gave him my name. The Indians believed a name was something very sacred, a closely guarded secret. To possess the name of an enemy was to hold a certain power over him.
Without a second thought, Elias turned and started walking; not quickly. He wouldn’t show fear on top of everything else. Only once did he turn back. The Indian stared disdainfully back at him. After he reached his horse, he looked once more. The boy was gone, and so was the gift.
When the sun rose over Aspen Mountain, it revealed a completely different sight from the one on which it had set. Black gun smoke hung in the once clear, beautiful valley and loud gunshots mixed with hoarse screams filled the air.
Elias Borne slumped behind a rock gasping; blood was seeping from a wound in his thigh despite his attempts to stop it. He stretched to try to look over the rock but all he could see were dead soldiers. Any Indians that had fallen had already been carried away.
“Watch it kid!” Quickly an arm reached up and jerked Elias back down just as a bullet smashed the rock inches from his face.
Elias groaned and grabbed his leg. “Fools,” he hissed, thinking again of the senselessness of their situation. “All of us.”
“None of that, kid.” Ned Wallace gave him a soft cuff. Elias glared at the older man, but Ned, although straining, was grinning back at him. “Let’s take a look at that wound.” He carefully started ripping a hole in Elias’s pants. “We’ll get out of this. We’ve been in tougher situations.”
“Well I sure can’t remember any of them.” Elias tried to ignore the pain as Ned wrapped up his leg with a strip he’d torn from his shirt.
“Yep. Last time I was this close to death was back when I wandered onto your ranch, half starved and, well, you know.”
“Yeah. Come a long way since then.”
“Well, that should do for a little while.” Ned tied off the makeshift bandage.
“Thanks.” Without warning another shot rang out and a bullet ricocheted off their rock and into the ground. Both men ducked farther down. “Shucks, Ned,” Elias whispered. “I knew some of the army officers were a little green, but Major Brandon hasn’t even started to bud yet. The army hired us to track Indians, not fight them. Why didn’t he listen to us?”
“Like you said,” Ned sighed and tried to wipe some of the dirt and sweat off his face. “He’s still green. He formed his idea of Indians and warfare back east. But the fighting methods Indians use out here aren’t found in books.”
“But to walk right into their trap. It’s a miracle we’re still alive at all.”
Ned started to reply when suddenly they heard something shuffling in the grass behind the rock. Elias looked at Ned who nodded slowly. One hand holding his gun ready, the other clutching his thigh, Elias rolled out from behind the rock. Not five yards away an Indian crouched ready to spring, his rifle gripped under his arm. Elias saw alarm flash across the Indian’s eyes. “Surprised you didn’t I?” he gasped triumphantly. Shoot him, he told himself. Shoot him now. He had him dead to rights. If you don’t, he will. His finger tightened on the trigger.
“Elias.” The voice was so low he almost missed it. “You are Elias Borne,” the Indian said in halting English. Elias looked hard at the young brave. He noticed the thin white scar running across his high forehead. Only then did he recognize the all too familiar black eyes.
“It-it’s you!” he stammered. “You-you remember me?”
The Indian nodded slowly. “I remember you,” he said. “You weak then.” A look of scorn spread across his hard face. “You weak now. But I always strong.” In one quick motion the Indian brought his gun up to his shoulder.
So this is how you’re going to die, Elias thought miserably. Elias stared at the Indian’s face until all he saw were his small, evil eyes. He heard the loud report of the rifle and blinked, waiting for the pain and numbness. But it didn’t come. He hadn’t even been hit. How could the Indian have missed him? He opened his eyes and saw the Indian sprawled facedown on the ground, his unfired rifle beside him.
“Kid, you all right?”
Elias looked back at Ned. “Yeah,” he gasped. “Thanks.” Ned quickly helped him back behind the rock.
“He almost got you didn’t he?” said Ned. “What happened, trigger get stuck?”
“No.” Elias looked back at the body once and shook his head.
“You all right, kid?”
“Yeah, I’m okay.” Elias sighed, his pounding heart finally beginning to slow down. “Just glad I didn’t have to kill him.”
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