The job had been simple enough — walk due west from the encampment as far as he could by noon, then turn around and report back.
It should have been a typical day for a mining company scout. Henry had spent plenty just like it.
But the sparse woodland and gentle prairie fell off quickly, giving way to scrub and dirt and grit. Before Henry had walked an hour, he was standing in the middle of a desert.
He should have turned back while it was still morning, but he pushed on and, when an ocean of gray clouds swallowed the midday sun, Henry got turned around.
Just when panic was setting in, Buddy showed up out of nowhere.
“You lost, stranger?” he’d asked.
Henry was suspicious, but thankful to hear another voice. “Gettin’ that way, it seems.”
“Name’s Buddy.” The newcomer nodded. “Where you headed?”
Henry looked him up and down. Buddy wasn’t armed, and he just stood there smiling.
“Back to my mining company, just outside Pearville.”
Buddy nodded again. “I see. I reckon you came out here looking for a new spot to dig for gold?”
Henry felt ashamed somehow. “Yessir.”
“Uh-huh,” Buddy said. “Well, there ain’t nothing this direction for another twenty miles — and the Comanche who live out there won’t be any too happy to see a prospector poking at the land.”
“Can you help me get back, then?”
Buddy sighed. “I suppose so. Follow me.”
They arrived just outside the encampment as dusk fell.
“Come inside for some dinner,” Henry said.
Buddy studied his companion. “Alright, I’ll eat.”
Man and dog turned toward the campfire, already glowing orange among the tents.
“They’ll never believe you, you know.” Buddy said.
Henry wondered if maybe the heat had finally got to him.