Stunned into a state of shock and mired in mixed emotions, the men turned around and headed for fresh air. Each man had their own set of questions. They could only guess at the meaning behind each symbol. The purpose each served alluded their reasoning faculties. The sorcerer’s intentions were completely beyond comprehension.
All but one of theses men perceived the otherworldly ceremony as a sick gross joke. The bastard had lost his mind and gone berserk — simple as that. Nothing more needed be said. He was a menace to society and beyond help. It was their job to catch the murderer. He must pay for his crimes, and he would pay with his life. The penalty was death. There could be no compromise. Sure, they had misgivings, but that bloody crazy act did not increase their fears of going after this man and carrying out their duty. Curses and spells belong in fairy tales. They have no place in the minds of grown men.
Only 18, Mark was the youngest of the bunch. He was the one brought up to believe differently, although he wished he’d soon grow out of it. Raised the old-fashioned way, he had yet to shake off the aftereffects of his upbringing, which included all that mumbo jumbo in The Bible. He used to believe wholeheartedly, and admitted as much to himself, but, for the most part, he denied the fact he still retained a part of the imaginative belief system contained in that old-time religion. Yes, even though he knew it wasn’t his fault, nor was it something he willfully chose to put his faith in, he nevertheless berated and condemned himself for having believed it in the first place, as a child. In regard to these matters, Mark wasn’t about to fess up to his brethren. No, not hardly.
Because of Mark’s long-held beliefs, and thanks to what he just experienced in the flesh, he was inclined to view the murderer as an evil villain, not as someone who was insane. He saw him as a purpose-driven man who knew exactly what he was doing. Mark’s question as he exited the cave came down to this: Was it really possible for a man to be possessed by evil spirits? He’d never come into contact with, nor personally confronted a man labeled as such, so he didn’t really know if he believed it or not. He couldn’t rule it out, and this troubled him greatly. Mark left the question open, but since he did, he alone out of the group was leery of the pursuit. Mark thought himself a man, and he planned on toughing it out. He kept his fears tucked away, hidden from his cohorts. Sam truly impressed Mark, who admired the way Sam took charge. In the past, when he tried to talk tough, no one took him seriously, so he doubted his own meritorious valor. Some young men believe they have to prove themselves. Mark had more to prove than all the others, so as soon as they were out of that hell hole, Mark volunteered himself to be the man who would make his way to the top. “Okay, kid.” Sam relented. “Just be careful. Here, take this lantern, but don’t drop it. It’s breakable.” Mark was more than thrilled, and he took the slippery slope to task.
In a silent procession, Sam led the rest of his men back down to planet Earth. The rain on the ground had now turned to slush. The footing was pretty slick, and it was still sprinkling, but they managed alright, as did Mark. By the time they reached their horses, Mark had already found the murderer’s muddy tracks. He crept towards the precipice and shouted, “He was here! He headed east!” Sam yelled back, “Okay! Now get on down here!” It was going on about ten o’clock by that time. Sam walked to his horse, and opened up the saddlebag once again, pulling out more deer jerky. It would give him strength, or so he concluded. He passed it around to his men, and put some aside for Mark. Then he went back to his saddle, and broke out a bottle of whiskey. “Something to calm my nerves would be good right now.” That was one of his reasons for bringing it. Those men were part and parcel for his other reason. “A little courage in a bottle won’t do them any harm, and it’ll help them get up the gumption for the chase.” Sam took a couple of swigs and passed it around. About that time, Mark showed up happier than hell to have accomplished his daring feat, and Sam said nothing. Sam already knew Mark didn’t drink the stuff, so he went back and grabbed his canteen of water. He handed it to Mark, along with his share of jerky, and took the lantern from his hand. Then Sam addressed the gang, “What do you say boys? Are you ready for this?” Cries rang out all at once. “Hell, yes!” “You bet we are!” “Damn right!” Mark swallowed real quick and joined in late, “Let’s go get that sonuvabitch!”
That’s exactly what Sam wanted to hear. Adding some volume to his voice, he shouted the order. “Mount up, men! If I remember correctly, just around the bend of the river there’s a place where we can get up to the top of the cliff, so follow me, and let’s ride!” Now hanging from their saddles, and from their horse’s manes were icicles just beginning to find their form. The horses also seemed ready to vacate the place, and happily obliged the call to “Giddy-up!” and go.
Sam’s memory served them well, and they did find their way to higher ground. With the help of their trusty lanterns, they found the murderer’s embedded prints, and followed his muddy tracks along the trail less traveled. Sam felt like death warmed over, even though he was “colder than a witch’s tit in a brass bra”. After a short jaunt, he slowed their pace. Sam wasn’t in that big of a hurry, because he was still of a mind to call off the chase once they’d reached the road that would take them back to the river and on to Bedlam. “That man has surely headed off to Mexico, if he has any sense left at all,” Sam figured. He was not ready nor willing to pursue the murderer to God knows where. He didn’t believe these cowboys would mind. Sam thought they were mostly in it for the money, and mostly he was correct in that assumption. I say mostly because — Mark still had something to prove. He was more than willing and ready to go to the ends of the earth, if only Sam were to ask that of him.
One totally miserable half-hour later, the posse arrived at the main road and found themselves in the grips of indecision. The murderer’s tracks not only went South, but they were going to North as well. It looked as if that vicious killer couldn’t make up his mind, either. The men had never actually seen Sam confused up until that moment. He loudly threw his question up for grabs, “Why in the hell did he hesitate?” Without waiting for an answer, Sam dismounted and grabbed his lantern, then he followed the deep fresh hoof-prints heading South. He didn’t have to go far.”They stop right here.” Mark turned his horse and walked North for about twenty yards, then stopped and climbed down. “They stop here, too. Hold on a second!” Mark grabbed his lantern, and walked to the side of the road. “He got off the trail here and went that way,” he said as he pointed in an easterly direction. “Let me see how far these go.” Mark followed the tracks for just a short ways, then turned to his left. He went another twenty yards before seeing, and then realizing, the man’s directed intentions. “Oh, my God! Sam! He’s headed North, back toward town!”
Now I wished I woulda got more rest cause it looks like we’re going to be sprinting back to town.
Man I’m cold and tired.
Who was that dude in the western books that said something along the lines of, “It’s doesn’t take long (life on the trail) before you understand that out on the trail you eat when there is food, drink when there is water, and sleep when there is time
so I’d better do it now, I don’t want to miss ANYTHING in ch 18 so wake me here before you start.
Another nice installment tree
If you wish to be alarmed, Dusty, I can manage that.
I’ve never read a western book, and I don’t know who said that,
but it sounds very true to form. Have you ever noticed that in most
movies, and in most books people never need to use the restroom?
Fictional characters never have time to take a…uh, a break and relieve
themselves. All that stuff happens backstage, and behind the scenes.
So I say, I’m not going to start something that I won’t have time to finish.
‘Roughing it’ has evolved along with the times. Isn’t that a good thing?
The remaining chapters…I have a lot of work to do.
I thank you for your continued patience. It’s too cold to hang 10.
Sounds like our posse gets to go back to town after all. Not only a twist but a complete 180. Here we go………..
Backstage in the theater the crew, otherwise know as the ‘Techs’, have a saying, “There’s plenty of time to sleep after you die”. There’s no mention of food and water, that’s for the actors.
Yes, Derek, the posse has reached the crossroads.
It acts as a pivotal point in a critical stage of the story.
Plans were made to be broken, and decisions were made
to be made and remade, over and over again, my friend.
My next chapter will pertain to my fanciful haunted hanging tree.
I can’t save it till last, because the rest of the story depends on it.
What it is, and what it represents provides for an optional conclusion,
or another way of looking at it when all is said and done. You’ll see.
I’m not sure how the tree does what it does, but I bet the Techs know.
“Hearts of oak are our ships
Jolly tars are our men.
Steady boys, steady
We’ll fight and we’ll conquer
Again and again.”
That’s a fitting old song, Ed.
I didn’t know you were a sailor, mate.
Was Mark teased by the other men for being religious ? How did the other men believe most men in that time separated into two groups the god fearing ones and the ones that figured they were going to hell any way?
Also If it is around 10:00, weathers getting bad, and I know that dark was approaching earlier in the chase so…that puts the posse in the dark…How are they following the murderer…is there moon light? snow on the ground to reflect light? just wondering how they are able to follow tracks in these conditions. I can follow tracks but I have to have a little light to make out what is going on…just saying.
No, Mark was not teased for his beliefs. The other men didn’t know because “Mark wasn’t about to fess up to his brethren.” I tried to make clear the other men’s beliefs, or disbeliefs, in the opening paragraph. Deism was still prevalent back East, partly due to Thomas Jefferson’s way of thinking. Anything supernatural (miracles), including the belief in an after-life, was looked upon with much skepticism. When I was 20 or so, I read “The Age Of Reason” by Thomas Paine. It definitely changed the way I looked at The Bible. Mark is like me when I was 14 — a true believer, except that I was more evangelical (Southern Baptist). Thought I might even become a preacher due to my advanced oratory skills. Thought I might have been ‘called’, so to speak. I want the reader to sympathize with people like Mark who hold firm religious beliefs because most of it is caused by forced indoctrination (brain-washing). I have come to believe differently now, but I won’t get into that here.
Back when Luke was running to and fro, I mentioned “the full moon’s light”. It’s Halloween night. Overcast skies, so it’s not super-dark. We had weather like that last November. I checked out how well I could see in those conditions. Ah, it’s no use. Guess I’ll have to get a lantern lit here and there. Placement-wise, I set the story somewhere in northwestern Nebraska or eastern Wyoming. I was thinking freezing cold and crusty mud. They’re only an hour or so behind the murderer. Oh, hell! I don’t know…but I see what you mean.
Don’t worry about it so much. I am trying to give you the feed back you need not discourage you. Make reference to the moons brightness at times break the storm cloud to give sight a chance and it’ll be okay. I was not aware of the Deism for which you speak perhaps a short narrated paragraph to catch us up to your speed.
Okay, Stuart. I’ll find a way to shed some light
on our cold, wet and miserable subjects. Thanks again!