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Savage Love

Also by Douglas Glover

FICTION

The Mad River

Precious

Dog Attempts to Drown Man in Saskatoon

The South Will Rise at Noon

A Guide to Animal Behaviour

The Life and Times of Captain N.

16 Categories of Desire

Elle

Bad News of the Heart

NON-FICTION

Notes Home from a Prodigal Son

The Enamoured Knight

Attack of the Copula Spiders

Savage Love

For my sons, Jacob and Jonah, stout fellows.

“Stout fellow, the highest honour that can be
bestowed on man or beast.”

— P.C. Wren, Beau Geste

Dancers at the Dawn

Moonlight illuminates the dancers and the whitewashed concrete bird bath by the standpipe, the coiled green garden hose, the liquid amber gum tree, and the tree nursery under the chicken-wire frame that keeps out rabbits and deer.

Phoenix Prill, the girl from hospice, says insomnia is a symptom of a morbid and excessive fear of death.

I say, “How could any fear of death be excessive? What would be the sense of a tempered fear of death? Perhaps, like everyone else, I should look forward to death and sleep well? Do you sleep well?” I ask her.

“No,” she says.

Phoenix Prill has a tiny, iridescent mole on the inside of her thigh. It reminds me of an astronomical black hole, or perhaps the universe as it existed just before the Big Bang. It makes no sense, I believe, to say something existed just before the Big Bang, before the beginning of time. But Phoenix Prill invites paradox, and of course, the throw of language is deceptive. It’s much better for describing things that don’t exist than for pinning down reality.

No one else sees them. They come in the bowels of the night when I am sleepless — gibbering, howling beasts dancing on the lawn. One, a female, is dressed like a human in a white Communion frock burst at the seams. She writhes and twists in attitudes of erotic abandon, offering her backside to the males.

FUGUES

Tristiana

1869, Lost River Range, Idaho Territory

Against the winter he had scrupled not to lay in a sufficiency before the snow dropped. The snow surprised him. Snow choked the passes, interred the arid creek beds and dry washes under a mortuary sheet, muffled the canyons to the pine tips, buried his traps, buried his hut, his pole barn, his stock. He started by killing the lambs, stuffing their skins in the cracks between the sappy logs. Then he kilt the ewes, one by one, then he kilt the ram, then he kilt the ox and the riding mule, which was starving also. Then he kilt his wife. And then his dog, regretting of the dog more than the rest because it was a pure Tennessee Plott hound. Then he resigned himself to death, composed his body beneath a pile of frozen sheepskins in a corner, and waited. He wasn’t defeated, he told himself, only indignant at the sudden wolfishness in the weather, which had descended without warning in the prospectus of his westward dreams. Yet it was imperative to die because of his losses and the embarrassment of curious bones lying about, of which the spring thaws would require an explanation.

Blue Girl

But he did not die, despite the wishing of it in the anguish of the famine pangs. One day he woke to splinters of hot sunlight piercing the log crevices. He had been dreaming of the cornfield where he stood with Hood’s Texians in the storm of lead that in the dream resembled winter sleet whispering among the cornstalks, corpses gathering like drifts in the lees and gullies. He crawled to the door, which, for several hours, resisted his efforts to swing open he was that weakened and without purchase on the material world. Then he lay on the doorsill, half in, half out, absorbing the heat from the sun, water drops pocking down from the overhang, his tongue catching the drops. All the time regretting his furious, implacable and unthinking desire to live, which under the circumstances seemed to issue from an instinctive malevolence, a spirit of meanness.

The next morning, he crawled to the door again and licked mud. Dry, warm westerlies whistled up the valley like dragon’s breath, eating snow. Along the mountainsides branches sprang back and reared, released from the burden. He sat with his back to the wall and tried to plumb the blinding, gleaming white world stretched before him. He saw something moving in the gleam, a dark, silhouetted thing struggling afoot in the treacherous element, then pitching forward and struggling up again, finally swaying upright, rooted in the snow. Thar’s food, he thought, smacking his scabbed lips.

He wormed his way over the drifts, not trusting to put a foot down lest he anchor there and die, the impulse that kept him from dying so thin that like the crust of snow it barely held him up. When he got close, he could see it was a girl, just breasted, in nothing but a filthy smock, rusty stains down the front and a shit-tail from sickness down the back, bare arms and legs. Unthinkable where she came from, how she had come. He thought, when he thought, there was no one less than fifty miles away in these mountains, save for Indians. She was blue from the cold, deep-dyed blue that looked like it would never come out. Dead blue eyes, lacking brows and lashes, like slate bolts, yellow hair, and pox craters like a star constellation on her cheeks and brow.

He dragged her down beside him. “Lie on the crust,” he said, though she seemed not to hear. He jerked his head this way and that, thinking there must be others, that she had strayed from a party nearby, but he saw no one. Her tracks walked away over the rise and disappeared. He touched her blue hand. It seemed solid, seemed to suck the heat right out of him. He tried to worm backwards, dragging her by the shoulders, but her feet held solid in the snow. He spent two hours digging and trying not to die till they came free. Bare feet, swollen and black with frost. Black to the ankles, where they turned blue by grades, hard as bricks. He glanced at her eyes wondering if she had an inkling of her condition, saw outright terror there, abject, infinite. “D’ye feel anythin’?” he asked. She shook her head once, side to side. “Yer won’t last long,” he said. “I got nothin’ for ye. Are ye frightened of me?” he asked. She nodded. “Ye should be,” he said. “Ye should be.” He touched her flank. “I might breakfast of ye come mornin’.”

The Hunt

She struggled wanly on the journey home but had not much fight after he struck her and let him drag her through the door, where she shamelessly let go and wet the packed earth floor. He said, “Ye might have done that ere we come inside. Ye had plenty of time.” He piled his wife’s last clothing and her wool coat over the girl, then crawled under with her and dragged sheepskins over their heads and fell unconscious until her shrieks bore him to the surface again. She was suffering the return of blood to her extremities like fire in the veins, like being consumed in the fire, writhing and clutching at herself till he clubbed her with an axe butt to subdue the noise. Then he could not sleep again but sat up shivering in the mule blanket, with bleared eyes eyeing the limp convexity of her form beneath the sheepskins in the trickle of moonlight that filtered through the walls.

Again the sun woke him, which in and of itself kept him alive a few more hours. He went out and ate mud. The girl did not stir, perhaps already dead. He found a stone and lounged in the morning light beside the door honing the axe blade, stopping every few passes to rest, but resolute, patient. He sharpened his butcher knife. The work warmed him. Then he was suddenly alert, cocking an ear for a sound he had not yet heard but sensed in the gelid stillness. Presently he heard it closer, the frenzied, high-pitched whimper and yip of a pack working its prey, wolves hunting beyond the rise. He crawled inside and unwrapped his Sharps rifle, pocketed a dozen linen cartridges and priming caps, then wrapped the rifle again in oilcloth and canvas and went out into the sunlight with it. The pack was closing. He could tell from the rising excitement of their mutual conversation.

He set out over the drifts, squirming along the worm trail he had left the day before and thence following the girl’s track, dragging the rifle on a line tied to his belt. He like to have died there, crawling, the snow melting against his clothes, soaking him to the skin. He licked snow to wet his lips, blew on his red hands. Said to himself, Don’t die, fuckwit. You survived the cornfield for this? Then he caught sight of the racked, plunging form of the elk, black and urgent against the brilliant, dazzled snow, tongue full out, eyeballs rolling white out of their sockets, dogs hanging off its hinders, ripping the tendons like bits of string, others circling, snapping and plunging themselves through the snow crust, floundering exhausted. All alike frenzied, half dead from winter rations, from the chase, all expressing alike the dumb, obstinate, ineluctable, violent will to stay alive.

He unlimbered the Sharps, tamped the canvas over a mound of snow in front of his face for a rest, cracked the breech, inserted a cartridge and fitted a cap over the nipple, rested the barrel on the canvas, flipped the rear sight up, and took cognizance of the distance and windage as best he could. He had not sighted in the gun since the snow fell and had no trust in his aim but squeezed off a round that by luck took a wolf in the rear near the spine. She tumbled, tried to rise, commenced worrying her own flanks with her teeth, snapping and snarling. The rifle report thundered off the valley walls. Whimpering with puzzlement, the she-wolf dragged her useless back legs, still trying to run the elk but falling over every step until the others turned on her, ripping her open in a fury of bared teeth, liquid snorts, gouts of blood, fur and entrails gobbled down and forgotten in the lust for more. A banner incarnadine in the snow.

He doggedly cleared the breech, reloaded and squeezed the trigger again, having an easier shot with the wolves bunched together like that, and wounded another, which, not being crippled, drew the others off a way in a running battle before he too succumbed. The elk tossed its antlered head and reared, attempting to pivot on its hind legs and escape along its old track, but was played out, short of blood and gripped fast in snow up to its belly, its nostrils venting gusts of pink steam, flanks heaving, and still nothing solid to fetch its hooves upon, only sinking deeper with its struggles.

He squirmed forward over the snow, excited now, sweating with the effort and exhilaration of the hunt, trembling with eagerness and anxiety lest this opportunity slip away, would have kilt more wolves to fend them off if he weren’t husbanding his cartridges, the pack now watching him, panting heavily, raising a cloud over the gleaming rib cage of the dead one, muzzles lowered with exhaustion, wary of the human. He scrabbled desperate toward the elk, dragging himself on his elbows till he was near enough to touch the flank, then rose to a stand for the first time, sinking straightway up to his thighs but not stopped by it, thrashing up the length of the body from behind and driving his butcher knife into the animal’s neck, searching with it for an artery, licking the hot, steaming blood off his hand where it came out in spurts as the elk expelled a breath and subsided in the snow, still breathing but gone.

He wept for thankfulness and set up his gun again toward the pack, which hung back but tracked with precise accuracy every movement he made. The shadows were lengthening, the dark line of the western ridge would shortly cut him off from the sun. He summoned every bit of pent-up strength and sawed the belly open along the rib line and reached in, warming his arm in the cavity, dragging out ropes of guts and reaching in again, rummaging around till he found the heart and tugged, feeling the arteries part, and he ate of it in the last sunlight, sucking out the blood, hot as if from a fire, and felt it flow into him like an inner light.

He put the heart in his coat and fumbled for the liver and hacked off the tongue, then, resurgent, separated the back legs and haunches at the hip, threaded lines between cannon bone and tendon, and knotted them to his belt, knowing they were too much for him but also knowing the wolves would devour everything he left. Then, letting himself down, he commenced the long crawl back to the hut, dragging the rifle and meat like sea anchors, not looking behind because he could not bear the thought of the wolves feasting on his kill, hurrying as best he could against the cold settling with the twilight, sweating inside his wet clothes but his breath freezing in his nostrils, his hands stiff and painful. Stop and die, he thought. You stop and you die. Darkness falling, stars appearing, moon shadows, wolf howls so close he felt himself enclosed in the mournful circle of their threnody.

Feet

In the morning, they were both took by the gripes from gorging on raw meat. The sun found them squatting against the wall, side by side, clutching their bellies, grunting to void, though nothing came. He said, “This will bring on the piles somethin’ fierce.” Then he said, “I will call ye Good Luck on account of it was good luck that brought ye to me and then it was good luck for ye that I shot that elk. But I expect that is the entire extent of yer good luck.” He looked at her feet, which were beginning to fester and stink, jelly breaking through cracks in the skin. The colour edging up her ankles. “Do they pain ye?” he asked. She shook her head. Her buttocks were white and lean, he could see the mute line of her pussy in the mouse hairs. Under the filthy shift she looked quite clean, but her rank scent was strong in the close room where they slept.

He tore up part of the pole barn and made a fire in the dooryard and roasted strips of elk for breakfast. The spring sun was so hot it rebuked the months of his arctic entombment, as if it could not have been. He unwrapped the Sharps and reamed out the barrel, then he found his stone and honed the butcher knife again. “Good luck, good luck,” he muttered as he worked. Around about, scattered bones, cracked and chewed for the marrow, began to work their way out of the snow like memories he would rather forget floating to the surface in a bad dream. The girl fell asleep in the sunlight wearing his wife’s wool coat. Her blackened feet looked like something stuffed and inhuman, like feet she was wearing over her feet. And like the snow, they were beginning to melt.

“I hain’t got a bone saw,” he said, waking her with his boot. “But I seen them do this plenty after the cornfield fight. Some survived. Yer want me to put ye out?” He raised a fist. The girl shook her head, leaned back against the wall and pulled the coat tight over her breast. He braced one leg on a split rail, pounded into the mud flat side up, then he gave her a length of check line doubled up to bite on and marked a spot where the flesh was still white and healthy, and without forewarning made a quick, deep cut to the muscle, first one side, then the other, till they came together. Then he sliced up her shin toward her knee a good four inches and peeled the skin back like a sock. He had rehearsed it in his mind and so did not hesitate or falter, nor did the amount of blood leaking from the meat cause him to worry or flinch. He cut deeper to the bone and peeled back a sleeve of muscle and fat. Then he stepped back and hefted the axe, took one slow aiming stroke, then swung it above his head and down so strong that it cut the bone and halfway through the rail. Then he snatched a flaming log from the fire and clapped the red to the stump of her leg and held it till the sizzling ceased. He had needle and thread ready, dropped to his knees and methodically sewed the sleeve of muscle over the bone tip, then the flap over the stump. It had taken him twenty minutes, working in a tranquil frenzy. He had thrown his coat off in the heat of it and still dripped with sweat, trembled with fatigue after the intensity of effort.

He glanced at the girl for the first time since beginning. She was gone in a dead faint, eyeballs rolled up in her head, lids half closed, the check line fallen upon her breast halfway chewed, blood seeping from her lip where she had bitten through, fists clenched white, and an excavation of mud and snow where she had kneaded in her agony. He made to slap her then thought better of it, dropped his ear to her breast and, satisfied that she was still alive, turned his attention to the other foot while she could not feel the pain. Sliced, peeled, chopped and sewed, and checked to see that the first stump was not bleeding nor swelling. Then he stretched exhausted before the fire and dragged his coat over his head and slept till the cold woke him, shadows lengthening. The girl was staring at her legs and the feet where he had left them. Eyes like plates, repellent in their nakedness. And her strange silence that was getting on his nerves. “Yer might live now,” he said, “if you’ve a mind to.” But she seemed not to hear.

Boots for Good Luck

A spring blizzard let down overnight. The girl clung to him with a fierce desperation, shivering in gusts beneath the sheepskins, shaking him from unruly dreams. He did not expect nor hope that she would live, only regarded the matter with a distant circumspection as somewhat subordinate to his own preoccupation with survival. You stop and you die, he thought. Between that thought and the girl tormenting him he slept but little, and rose early to piss but could not get through the door so pissed in a corner against the wall. He chewed cold roast elk for breakfast in the dark and, fortified, broke through the drift in the doorway and kicked the fresh snow till he found his cache of firewood poles. He managed to light a smoky fire on the stone hearth in the room where they slept, but the chimney would not draw and smoke presently filled the room. In a rage, he kicked the door off its hinges and threw the door bits onto the fire and fanned the smoke out the doorway, which was not much help, and finally subsided beside the girl in the smoke and gloom, his heart murderous with frustration and desire.

He took to whittling with his pocket knife. He found an unsplit cylinder of pine and began to shave it down. The girl opened her eyes and he told her where to piss. She crawled on her hands and squatted on all fours, pissing backwards like an animal. Then he said, “Take off that rag. It stinks to heaven.” She dragged her shift over her head and he threw it on the fire. Naked, on hands and knees, with no feet behind, she looked inhuman but not animal either, just alien, strange and mute. And yet she had some inner strength, a power of intention, with which he felt a kinship. What she had already endured he could not fathom. It did not matter if you were puny or strong, he thought, wrong or right; if you had the will, you could endure — until Fate or old age cut your string. Most just rolled over for the knife. He had seen it in the cornfield. He despised anyone who let himself die or whined, bargained, begged or prayed. He gave Good Luck his wife’s last dress to cover her nakedness and cut and wrapped sheepskins around her stumps to keep her warm. She moved away from him, curled up close to the fire, and slept.

They were blockaded inside for a week, till he thought maybe winter had come back for good. They roasted the last of the elk, boiled the hooves, bones and sinews, scraped the hair off the skin, cut it up and boiled it and cracked and sucked the bones. He whittled the whole time because he had to be doing something, and at the end of the week had the semblance of a foot, an ankle and part of a leg, with a deep bowl cut and polished at the top to take her stump. He carved the toes and nails and little creases where the toes crooked, a dainty girl’s foot, almost real in the firelight and smoke; it gleamed golden-red in the firelight. He checked her stumps every day for signs of putrescence, but they healed steadily, dry wounds with purple scar tissue pouting like lips and two rows of punctures where the thread sutures went in and out.

At the end of the week, the wind turned from the west again and a real spring thaw commenced, brutal and swift. Across the valley a cliff face of ice and rock let go and came rushing down in a thunderous wave. A freshet ran through the hut, and they had to sleep nigh to the wall, practically on top of one another, to stay dry. The new snow melted faster than the old, and he walked out one morning with the Sharps to see if any of his elk remained. All he could find was the upturned rib cage like the skeleton of an ancient wreck left high and dry by the tide and some long bones and vertebrae scattered about. He trudged over the lip of the next rise where he could see clear to an oddly feminine lithic cleft that boxed the head of the narrow valley. And just there, instead of game, he spied a thin column of smoke like an exclamation mark over a diamond of spruce trees nestled between two fans of scree with a flat, snowy expanse of pond in front.

He bent low and hastily retraced his steps out of sight, not because he was afraid but because he preferred to make his moves in secrecy, unencumbered by the complicity or anticipation of others. Home again, he kicked out the fire and thenceforth lit it only at night, blocking the door, smoke or not. They were starving again, but were used to that. Good Luck slept with her new foot held to her chest like a dolly. He feverishly commenced work on the other, carving doggedly while perched on a granite outcrop uphill from the hut, where he repaired every morning with the Sharps to keep watch.

The second foot came into shape faster than the first but without the niceties, just the notion of a foot that still looked like a piece of dead pine with the toes and nails scratched in to give an idea. The night he finished it, he dug in his traps for his spare boots, worn-out stove pipes with pegged soles and straight lasts for walking that he had after the war. He stuffed the new feet into the boots then wrapped Good Luck’s stumps in lambskin and helped her pull the boots on till she was lodged firmly inside the wooden cups. He cut down the market straps from the mule harness and buckled them around the boot tops till they cut into the flesh below her knee, and said, “Stand.” And then he said, “Walk.” But she could do neither except she climbed her hands up the log wall and swayed in the doorway holding the jambs. “Walk,” he said, but when she tried, her legs gave way for the tenderness in her stumps and general lack of use.

He knelt and rebuckled the market straps, tighter than before. Then he nudged her with his toe and said, “Get up, or you’ll have another name.” She started to drag herself up by the log wall, but he yanked her back, tossing her in a heap where the meltwater oozed. “Do it by yerself,” he said. Again he was struck by how alien she seemed, on all fours, her lank, unkempt hair over her face, her lean amphibian torso dripping water, the big, ungainly boots gleaming dully behind like a tail. Something inhuman, indomitable, but veiled. She puked between her hands, wiped her mouth with a sleeve, then hitched one booted foot under her hips, rested her weight on it a moment, then hitched the other one, rested there, gathering her strength, then pressed herself up on her fingertips and pushed off. Not enough the first time, nor the second, but the third time she rose awkwardly above her feet into a stand. She kept her eyes on the floor. He could detect no aura of emotion save for the intensity of effort and concentration. She rocked a little one way and then the other, then slid the off foot forward an inch or two, and then the other.

The Easiest Prey

After the cornfield, the colonel put him in a sharpshooter company on the evidence of the quantity of Union dead along his front. He shot ten-inch patterns with a Leonard target rifle at two hundred yards and five hundred yards, and they issued him an English Whitworth with a four-power telescopic sight that cost a thousand dollars and could kill a man a mile away. He played cat and mouse with the Union artillery till the end of the war, mostly alone because he was a marked man, the Union gunners reaching out with percussion shells any time they had an inkling where he might be. Their officers had field glasses and watched for the muzzle flash. He never shot three times from the same stand. He ate alone, slept alone, and was let off drill and fatigues so he could perform his solitary duties in his own time. He shot officers, gunners, horses, mules, oxen, suttlers, drovers, niggers, dogs, and once set off a powder wagon. The Whitworth threw a hexagonal bullet that whistled eerily in flight and thus announced itself. He loved to watch a gun crew suddenly go still with dread, faces turning up like leaves, waiting to see who among them had been chosen. The colonel said, “You’un must’ve been whelped with a long gun in your hands.” And then he said, “The easiest prey of all is a human nine hundred yards away and no knowledge of your presence, your gaze. If it weren’t war, they’d call it murder.” In December 1864, he went into winter quarters with the 1st and 4th Texas between the roads to Williamsburg and Charles City outside Richmond. One night he stole a wool coat from a drunk Irishman pressed for a work battalion, tossed the Whitworth into the James River, and deserted.

Before dawn, he made up two packs for himself and the girl, everything they could carry on their backs. He told her to stand, and she did. He said, “We’ll leave by and by. Tonight or tomorrow. You best practise.” He took a handful of the linen cartridges and the Sharps in its wrapping and slipped through the doorway before the sun came up. He kept to the timberline, not venturing into the open sage and grass ridges leading down to the narrow flats at the valley floor, and when the sun came up, he stepped back into the trees where the going was tedious and slow but where he was invisible. The snow was still deep amid the trees, the crust softened so he fell through time and again. He had to navigate deadfalls and rock slides and ford meltwater freshets that crashed down from the icy summits, flooding gullies. When he grew cold from the wet, he trudged faster to keep warm, and then he sweated from the effort and threw off his coat, rolled it and tied it over his shoulder, always suffering the discomfort, despising the exhaustion that now and again staggered him.

At length he met a rock spine going down with a crest of windblown evergreens like a coxcomb on top threaded by a game trail that was easy walking. He did not stop but let the trail lead him steeply down into the valley, unlimbering his rifle as he went, dropping the block, loading a cartridge, setting the cap and trimming the sights. He stopped before the trees thinned out completely and went to cover where he could see across the valley, steep-sided with islands of sage and hardy high desert grass and occasional hummocks with a few conifers holding their own, the meltwater eroding the lava dust in curves and fans, flooding the low ground and the pond and a creek emerging there and zigzagging lazily in the direction whence he had come. Smoke billowed from the camp, a freshly lit fire burning the damp off the tinder. He could smell horseshit and piss and searched the trees till he spied the backside of one, maybe two painted ponies. He could see where their hooves had trampled the yellow-stained snow. Back in the trees was a lean-to and the fire and a single man draped in a buffalo robe. He watched carefully, letting the impressions grow into recognition, never thinking he understood the scene until he had worked over it. There was a rifle propped against a tree, near at hand. He took it for a buffalo gun, a Sharps 50 by the look, the big brother of his own but slow to reload. A sawbuck packsaddle and canvas packs sat at the back of the lean-to along with an old McClellan saddle, a string of steel traps tarnished with long use, a miner’s pick and a shovel. He waited while the sun felt its way down the slant valley wall to the flats, and presently a second figure appeared from the direction of the horse line, buckling a belt round his pants, wearing a Union infantry cap and gimping on a bad left leg. Then he realized that the one in the buffalo robe wasn’t a man but a woman.

He thought he had them figured now, but he waited just to be sure, and presently the smell of coffee drifted across the pond to where he lay. A horse nickered and tossed its head and tried to back out of its tether. The man hefted an axe and set up to split firewood. He rested the Sharps on a rock, threw away the first cap and fitted another over the nipple, then levelled the sights on the middle of the man’s back as he raised the axe over his head, and shot him. The report rolled up the valley, then came back. He levered the chamber open before the man hit the ground, replaced the cartridge and cap, and took his second shot. The woman was already moving, rolling sideways over a log for cover, her hand reaching for the Big 50, but his bullet caught her in the head going down, sprouting a crimson mushroom where her ear had been.

Then he was running, reloading, cursing as the snow caught him and bowled him over. He held the rifle in the air even as he tumbled, rolled up on his feet and threw away another cap, replaced it and took aim in case someone was moving in the camp. But nothing moved. He went on at an easier pace, straight across the valley, crashing through the spring crust over and over, not stopping for the creek, nascent, engorged, descending like molten glass out of the pond over a beaver dam, but going straight in up to his chest with the Sharps overhead, fighting the current and feeling with his feet for holes or rocks, sinking into the cold gravel bottom. Stop and die, he thought. He cut for the treeline away from the camp and circled to come at it from beyond the tethered horses, still anxious he might have missed something. There were three Indian ponies, short-legged pintos with big heads, thick necks and scraggly manes, unshod but their hooves had been well trimmed.

He pushed cautiously into the campsite. The Big 50 still leaned against the tree. The woman breathed with a liquid rasp, her face swollen grey-blue, a plume of pinkish brain matter caught in her black hair. She was Snake by her tattoos, the ones they called Diggers for their primitive ways, built like a tugboat and tall for a woman. Her squaw-man was dead with a curiously bloodless hole going into his spine and a bigger hole coming out the front with the entrails bursting through and bits of bone. His forage cap was gone. The dead man was going to grey like himself, but with the added pathos of a bald spot like a monk’s tonsure. He pulled the dead man’s boot off, rolled up his trouser leg and found the scar where a Minié ball or a sliver of shrapnel had swept off most of the calf muscle. It was hard to say which side he had fought on. The forage cap didn’t mean anything. The people coming west were mostly Southerners like himself. Both man and woman had their eyes open, but what they saw was in another world altogether.

He snapped up the Big 50 and the saddles and tack and quickly harnessed the horses, one for packing, two for riding, but one without a saddle. There was coffee, sugar, salt, flour, biscuits, salt beef and pemmican in the pack, also a cask of black powder, lead pigs, a bullet mould, wadding, pliers, a skinning knife and a wooden box containing nitric acid and aqua regia for testing gold. He rolled up the squaw’s buffalo robe with another he found in the lean-to and lashed them both onto the mule pack with hide thongs. He hung the traps from the crossbuck, then coursed back and forth through the woods behind the campsite like a dog hunting a scent until he found the bale of furs — black bear, grey wolf and bobcat — hidden in a shallow overhang. He dragged the bodies under the lean-to then collapsed the frame over them, kicked out the fire. He believed the woman was still breathing when he left her, which he could scarcely credit, injured as she was, except that he knew when his time came it would be just as slow and difficult. He mounted and rode out, leading the pack horse and spare on a string, letting the horse pick its way along the flooded creek till he spied a likely ford and crossed, then clambered up past the elk bones. By the sun, it was just after noon.

In the Eyes of Another Man You See the Enemy

He incinerated the hut and the remains of the pole barn ere they departed and threw what bones he could find into the conflagration. Then they rode hard to the mouth of the valley into the high desert between the Lemhi Mountains and the Lost River Range where the Pashimeroi trickled like a green snake in the summer, the almost treeless mountain slopes on either hand covered in scree and dust-blown snow, looking like the mountains of the moon. At the river they reined north toward Leesburg and the Bitterroots. There was no track nor sign of travellers and after the third day when the thaw continued they ...

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