The passenger's tale: Arizona, 1884
Published on -10/31/2012, 9:16 AM
Editor's note: A Halloween special from Local Voices columnist Jon Hauxwell.
It was near to sundown when the driver hollered down he could see the lantern in the window of the stage station.
We was tired, an' sore, an' hungry, fulla dust from that long dry ride down the flats.
The three of us -- me an' Jake, an' a half-Yaqui ranchera name a' Lupe -- sat up an' pulled at the window aprons. Thinkin' we was about to where we could get us some grub an' a night's shut-eye.
Then them wolves come.
Hit us like a rockslide up in the mountains. The stage rocks and slews to a stop. The horses is screamin', so's the driver. Shotgun gets off both barrels, then he screams too.
They wasn't much interested in us inside, maybe. We could feel them slammin' against the walls, tusslin' an' snarlin', but then all a sudden they musta took off.
Nobody wants to get out the stage, and nobody wants to stay.
We was near enough the station we c'n call out to the agent. After a spell he cracks the door an' wants to know who we was, what we want.
We hollers back we's just the Blackwater stage, and we was all right 'cept the drivers, but we wanted to come inside, if it were safe.
He pokes out his Sharps barrel, asks us if we can see any critters still around. We can't see much of anythin', bein's it's gettin' dark, an' we says we couldn't, an' we ain't got a light.
Finally he holds his lantern out the door, up over his head, and says he'll let us in if'n we can get there, but he ain't comin' to help with no bags.
We crack the door a little, listen for noises, but all we hear is the horses snortin', blowin' blood. They was still tangled up in the traces, kickin', liftin' up they heads, rollin' they eyes. Dam' shame. Drivers was plumb gone.
We don't look to our bags neither, just run for the door, ever' man for hisself. The woman has to rassle her skirts and petticoats on her own, an' nobody hangs around to help her.
After we all get inside, door barred shut, we looks around for somewhere to sit, even as how we'd been sittin' all day. Our legs is shaky, I guess. We ain't hungry no more.
Just a one-room station, soddy with good thick walls and a few wood poles to hold up the roof. Not much fer furniture, though.
The agent boils up some chickory coffee, and that smells good, so we passes around his only drinkin' cup. Lupe doesn't have none, says she'd drink somethin' later.
Ain't had no wolves around here for a coon's age, the agent says, since the buffalo been gone, he says. These wasn't no regular wolves neither. Bigger by half, he says, and these ones don't hold back to the shadows. They just all come in of a sudden, all at the same time, like a signal.
That was 'round dark yesterday, too, when they shows up, taken the spare horse team in the corral, even my dog. I's outside movin' some fodder when they come, barely got back in to bar the door, he says.
It stays quiet outside, so finally we figures to rest up if'n we could.
Now, I was feelin' shamed, 'bout leavin' that lady out there by hersef earlier, while we two run for cover. So I says we should hang up a blanket 'cross the corner with the agent's bunk, so's she could lay down an' have hersef some peace.
The agent scowls. Jake sez mebbe you an' yer Mestiza lady-friend wants yersef a place for yersefs. I shows him my fist, and he laughs.
The lady looks at me strange, surprised like, but kinda grateful.
We rigs up the blanket, an' she lays down back there.
We decides to parcel out the night to keep watch, an' I git the first stretch. I put some sticks on the fire, trim the lantern wick, lightened a candle too.
Then I lean my back against the wall next the fire, holdin' my pistol with two empty chambers. I looks at the door, the windows, the hourglass, an' don't shut my eyes 'cept to blink, an' that not very often.
Finally I woken up Jake, he grumbles and pitches out.
My turn to sleep, I lays down, rolls up an empty mail pouch fer my head.
I musta got to sleep, I guess. Couple times I nearly woken up when somebody took t' snorin' loud, but they cut off right away.
Then I woken quick 'n' hard. The fire was down to coals, the lantern was plumb out, an' the candle half burnt. Quiet, but wrong quiet.
There lays Jake, arm stretchin' for the door latch, but all still, face down strange, like his parts ain't put together right.
An' then I sees the lady, sittin' quiet on the agent's bench, eyein' me. They was dark smears on her face an' dress, flickerin' red an' wet with the candle.
She stands up. Thank you mister, she says to me, you meant me a kindness.
She walks over to the door. An' then them wolves starts up agin, raisin' all hell.
Don't go out there, I says.
It's all right, she says, they're with me.
Jon Hauxwell, MD, is a retired family physician who grew up in Stockton and now lives outside Hays. firstname.lastname@example.org