A Chance Encounter with the Devil


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Red Barbre tore the long red silk bandanna from around his neck and mopped the sweat running into his eyes. Stopping the buckskin under the first shade in five miles, Red hooked his right leg over the saddle horn.

“Damn it’s hot.” He complained to himself.

And since he hadn’t seen another living person for the last one hundred miles, it was a good thing that Red spoke only to himself. It was hot enough to drive even an old mossy-horn like him a little daft.

He was heading down out of the high desert making slow time into Pueblo Los Angeles. The northwest trail he followed was the most direct route, but also the lonesomest. A friendly sort, Red liked companionship. He was more apt to be found in a crowed saloon than out on the trail. But from time to time situations arose when Red found traveling alone and inconspicuous the best course of action.

Absent-mindedly Red pulled the cork from his wooden canteen and took a long drink. The water that hit the back of his throat felt thick as syrup. He sloshed it around his mouth a few times and spit the tepid liquid onto the ground. His horse grunted at the sudden impact of water at its feet.

The Santana winds were easing off after blowing for three solid days. Both Red and the horse were on edge from the constant wind in their ears and movement around them. Red had once heard a story from an old Mexican vaquero about how people went crazy during the winds, driven to murder and worse. He now knew first hand why the Spanish called these the devil winds. But of course, these were the superstitions of ignorant peasants. Red shook the thought from his head with another slug of water from the canteen.

“Walk on, girl.” Red said to the mare. “Let’s find a sheltered place to sit out the night just incase these God awful winds decide to kick up any worse.”
“Swinging his leg back down Red deftly found the stirrup and nudged the horse into motion. The mare, a seventeen hand, solidly built buckskin, welcomed the trail. She cantered a few paces in her anxiousness to be moving, then settled into a long legged walk. Less than a quarter mile went under the strong horse’s hooves when she shied and came to a halt. With ears pricked and nostrils flaring she stamped in a nervous circle. Red pulled at the reins and talked to the mare in soothing tones.

“Easy girl. What do you see? Whoa girl, settle down.”

Red, getting control of the horse, backed her away so as to keep his eyes on the trail.

“Somethin’ up ahead there? What do you see?”

Red looked into the brush on either side of the trail straining to see anything that would give away the presence of a threat.

Not a thing stirred. Red prodded the shy horse on. Reluctantly she moved down the trail. In a few yards both the mare and rider settled back down and Red scouted for a good location to spend the night. Within two miles Red found just what he needed; forty yards off the trail a large rock overhang looked mighty inviting.

Turning off the trail and pushing through a tangle of brush, Red was immediately pleased with his choice. The overhang formed a deep shelter, almost, but not quite a cave. A good fire could burn in back and not be visible, while the roof would dissipate smoke. Still it was close enough to the trail to hear the approach of any travelers. A game of cards would certainly help sooth Red’s overworked nerves.

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