The Gift       

Tom Bush

Copyright 2016 by Tom Bush


Image by Ian Lindsay from Pixabay
Image by Ian Lindsay from Pixabay

One particularly sharp stone gouged at Anthony’s back where he lay in the crevice. The sun shone brightly in the early morning November West Texas sky, and the temperature began to creep up from the low thirties. Moaning, trying to move, the pain rippled up his back jerking him fully awake and exacerbating the numbing cold that surrounded him. The jagged rocks allowed the frosty air entrance into the torn camouflage coat, and ever so slowly, he began surveying his condition. Ripped sections of dark bloody spots were on his pant’s knees. The left foot lay at an unusual angle. Straining, trying to move the foot, the pain caused him to wince. Anthony was lying on his left side wedged in against his back, while trying to move forward to alleviate the dull pain from the pointed rock stabbing his spine. Suddenly, an uncontrollable spasmodic lurch propelled him forward causing extreme pain and a loss of consciousness.

The wind from the flapping of vulture wings just above woke him, and he felt a warm trickle in his eye and turned his head in slow increments, remembering the pain.

To live I must remain awake, he thought.

Surprisingly his right arm moved, and the gloved hand wiped his brow. He looked at the hand but it was not blood. Using his newly found mobility to shade his eyes, he found the sun almost directly above him but a little to the west.

It must be about two in the afternoon, I’ve been out a long time. I’m beginning to sweat, but the sun feels so good.

The welcomed warmth was beginning to penetrate but it still felt cold. His left arm was pinned underneath his left side and he could feel the tingling, numbing pressure; he used his right hand to press against the rock to relieve the pressure on his spine, and rolled gently to the left while trying to move his left arm. It was wedged. He was wedged and could not move, and that is when the sidewinder appeared flipping his tongue, looking at him with its deadly eyes. Anthony shook his head slightly and the viper was gone.

I need water. I’m dehydrated. I’m seeing things. No snakes out in this cool weather. I wonder how warm it is. If I keep calm I’ll be okay, panic and I’m dead.

Anthony looked around for his canteen. His prized Model 70 Winchester .270 was lying about 10 feet to the left with its splintered stock. His orange hat lay upside down below, almost invisible. No canteen was in sight.

If only I could get to the rifle, I could fire 3 shots and Joe would find me. No one will find me wedged in this gulch. Where is my canteen?

With great effort and pain he rolled slightly forward to his left almost face down. The pain seemed to subside without the point of the rock in his spine. Shuffling his body forward over his left arm holding onto another rock with his right hand and arm seem to help the pain. His face was between two rocks as he involuntarily released the grip of his right hand. He lay there gasping at the pain and effort as he slipped off into the dark places in his brain.

There was movement among the loose stones rousing him from the fear of the unreal darkness that clouded his thinking. The numbness had subsided so that the fingers on his left hand moved and generated movement in the arm as well. With the relief of the pressure on his spine, he found he could move his right leg. The pain was still great but he could scoot his right leg under his broken left. The pain caused him to grit his teeth, scowl, grunt and gasp for breath as he began to scoot just a little at first and then more, scooting just enough to clear the pointed rock that dug into his spine, then resting and waiting to regain his strength.

The rustle in the lose stones came again. The sidewinder flicked his tongue and glared. The sun sat low in the western sky and the chill in the air surrounded him forecasting the sudden drop in temperature, while staying awake occupied his mind.

Stay awake or die of hypothermia.

Then the movement occurred again. Raising up on his elbows the game trail below reflected mysteriously in the afternoon light - the same trail the huge Mule deer buck had traveled that morning. It was a clean shot. The buck was a majestic animal and he collapsed immediately as the round burst through his heart.

I must be close to the game trail now.

The irony of killing the majestic animal only to stupidly stumble in excitement and tumble off the mountain caused Anthony to shake his head in disgust.

Now, he thought, I’ll freeze to death in this frigid night air.

The rustling occurred again and in the silhouette of red twilight, a figure floated along the trail. Anthony tried to yell out but he couldn’t get enough air. He coughed, spitting up blood. The glowing figure in the red afternoon sun stopped and looked directly into his eyes and smiled…

I was as you many years ago. I was separated from my people and delivered my child close to where you now lay. I thought the vultures would eat me. Then, The Great Spirit said to eat the plant growing next to me. It would give me strength and life. It is the same plant that grows next to you now,” she said turning, while floating away down the path.

Anthony shook his head, and the sidewinder curled around the cactus plant watching his every move. He closed his eyes and reopened them again and the snake was gone.

I might as well eat it… maybe it’ll keep me alive.

Photo of Indian brave. With effort and pain, he reached over with his right hand and pulled at the small cactus plant until it came loose with dangling roots. Surprisingly it had no thorns. Biting down on the lobes on top of the plant, Anthony discovered the juice had a sweet and a peculiar alkaline taste, but the moisture is what he most desired. Feeling refreshed almost immediately, his strength surged, the dull pain subsided, and he felt giddy. He munched on the raw cactus and rested, dozing off. The sound of rustling along the path brought him back.

With dark muscular bare legs, worn grayish brown deerskin moccasins and a breach cloth waving gently in the wind a figure stood next to him. The bare, sun tanned skin accentuated the dark piercing eyes with black hair flowing long against his back and the faint smell of wood smoke subtly seeping into the air around Anthony.

Anthony shook his head to clear the apparition away but it did not go.

You take our land, You kill our game and desecrate our sacred holy plants without honoring the Great Spirit,” the Indian said with no expression looking down upon Anthony.

I fell off the ledge up there, and I’m hurt pretty bad. Can you help me?” Anthony said.

If you help me you can have the buck I shot, and I will pay you!” He said in desperation.

There was a pause and without response, the Indian only glared at him.

She told me to eat the plant. She said it would save my life. I thought she must have told you and you came to help me.”

Ah, the one who brought the plant to us came to you. It’s a blessing to us and all our people. If she told you to eat then you have the blessing too,” the Indian said smiling, ”I will accept your offering.”

Then the Indian leaned over touching him upon the head, Anthony fell into a deep sleep, dreaming of Indians in war paint dancing, drums beating and he felt the heat of the fire they danced around. They brushed him with a Peyote Fan of feathers and waved the smoke across his body, and the Indian woman came back and removed rocks, smoothed a place, then lay next to him under a blanket keeping him warm during the cold night.

In the morning the sound of a helicopter cutting at the thin mountain air woke him from his slumber. He looked about but no one was there.

Dreams?” he said aloud and looked up at the chopper as it dropped in low. His leg ached from the fracture but he was able to sit up and wave at his rescuers in the door as the chopper lowered into the gulch. His hunting buddy waved back with a big smile.

As the bird sat down and swirled the dust, Anthony looked at the imprint in the dirt next to him, the ground was smoothed out with a slight outline of a human shape but no one was around. He was glad to see his rescuers and all else slipped his mind. 

They gathered his belonging and whisked him off to the hospital in San Antonio. The EMTs did a preliminary check and mapped his burses and cuts. They stabilized him with an IV and put a quick splint on his leg. Joe grabbed his hand and grinned big.

I thought you might freeze to death out there buddy, but you don’t even have any frost bite.”

Well, an Indian girl kept me warm during the night and gave me a cactus to eat. She didn’t have any water,” Anthony replied.

You wish. There ain’t nobody around here for miles. They ain’t no tribes around here. This is a closed military base. It’s a miracle you didn’t die!”

I know it sounds crazy but she was there. I swear! I got a good night sleep considering the pain.”

What kind a cactus did you eat?” Joe replied.

I don’t know but I had to have water and that was the only thing I could get.”

You ate peyote, I’ll bet you anything. The Indians swear by it. You’re high on that stuff now aren’t you?” Joe said.

I don’t know but it saved my life. You guys didn’t see that big buck I killed did you?”

Like I said you’re high on that stuff now. We didn’t see no bucks out there neither,” Joe retorted smiling and having a little fun.

Anthony dozed off to sleep as the sedative set in. They landed in preparation to transport him to the hospital.

Several choppers were waiting to drop off patients from a bad traffic accident so they transported Anthony by ambulance after landing at a nearby field.

The old dark green F-150 was parked at the gate not fifty feet away as they loaded Anthony from the chopper to the ambulance. The Native American driving the Truck opened the gate and smiled broadly at Anthony as they drove by. The huge 12 point mule deer lay gutted in the bed of the truck and the Indian touched the brim of his Stetson hat and said, “Thanks for the buck Anthony”.

Photo of a dressed deer.

Anthony could not believe his ears. Could that be the same Indian in my dreams? He thought.

They pulled into the hospital and rolled him to his room. A bevy of nurses and doctors checked him out, prescribed medications and told him how lucky he was. He dozed off to sleep, and when he woke a Native American nurse stood over him.

He gasped, “Is that you?”

Shush, now you must get some sleep,” the nurse replied.

Her eyes were dark and gleaming; her dark skin highlighted by the white nurses uniform.

You ate the plant. It saved your life but now you must return to the real world.” She said.

Anthony smiled and said, “Thank you.”

Go to sleep and dream of drums, dancing braves, cactus and me. Tomorrow’s another day. God has smiled on you.”

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