Randy felt a tug on his shoulder and spun in an about-face to confront his attacker, both guns drawn.
Behind him stood only the open desert, save for a cockeyed signpost he hadn’t noticed as he stumbled past. A cross board pointed to the east, and faded scrawling gave him hope: “Stallings – 6 mi.”
A rusty, hand-hewn nail held the sign in place and caught a scrap of ragged buckskin that flapped in the cold breeze. Randy clasped a hand over his shoulder, and tears flooded his eyes as his hungry fingers found the hole in the material.
It was the most massive buck Randy had ever seen, though he was only six at the time. But he and Daddy bagged it on their first hunt together, and that made it special.
Once the skin had dried, Grandma sewed it into a jacket big enough to last Randy all his life. It hung like a dress the first few years, but he grew into it soon enough. And, whenever he nicked it playing or hunting or fishing, Mama had mended it for him.
But there was no one to mend it for him now. No gentle woman’s touch to soothe his world-weary soul, no father’s warm gaze to tell him he was a good boy.
And really, he wasn’t a good boy, not any more. He was a thief among thieves, double-crossed and left to freeze in the desert winter with no horse, no money, no dignity.
How had he come to this?
He didn’t know, but he had almost made it back to civilization. Just six miles to go now, and then he’d start to set things straight.
He turned east, clutching the hole in his jacket shoulder and sobbing into the wind because he knew it was a lie.