“He would only show up on nights like this, when the weather turns cold and the fire burns low.” Fred Larson shot a look a Tom Paul.
“That’s all the wood I could find, old man.” The younger man was defensive. He poked a stick at the embers.
“So you said.” Fred went on. “They called him Night Blaze, though no one knew his real name.”
“That’s just a myth, Larson,” Bill Fletcher said from the other side of the circle. He pulled his collar up, huddled in closer to the pit. “My granddaddy used to tell me the same tall tale.”
Fred nodded. “Mine too.” He stood and walked around the outside of the circle of men. “Night Blaze had spent a long night in a cold canyon with his owner, and when the sun came up, the man was dead. Frozen solid.”
The men shifted uncomfortably, trying to warm themselves.
“Night Blaze was riddled with guilt.”
Bill huffed. “Horses don’t feel guilty!”
Fred walked, continued to talk. “From that day forward, the animal roamed the night, searching for travelers in trouble, helping them survive.”
“Sometimes, they’d hear gentle hoof clops just outside camp and find a patch of strawberries just when they were down to their last morsel,” Fred said. “Sometimes, Night Blaze would race up on a dark camp, screaming, and the men would wake up just before a bear tore through their ranks.”
“That’s about enough, old man.” Fletcher was getting annoyed.
Fred held up a finger, cocked his head to the side.
“What?” Fletcher said, indignant.
Just then, something heavy thumped in the darkness.
The men gasped, and Fred stepped into the night. He reappeared a few seconds later, carrying an armload of firewood.
“Looks like you missed some, Tom.”