A lizard relaxed on the warm rock, soaking in the sunshine. On the nearby bunkhouse porch, Jimmy Hickok stretched lazily, thinking how he’d enjoy a few hours rest like that lizard.
Jimmy groaned at the sound of Teaspoon’s call. So much for rest.
Teaspoon approached the porch. “I need you to take this message over to Captain Baker at the army camp near Silver Falls. The route skirts Kiowa lands, so I want Buck to go along, too.”
“Why not just send it by Buck and let me stay put?” Jimmy questioned.
“’Cause I want an extra gun just in case of trouble, so get your lazy butt movin’.” Teaspoon ordered.
Grumbling, Jimmy went to get ready. Buck was already busy with Warrior. “All I wanted was a little rest. Is that too much to ask?” Jimmy muttered as he put the saddle on Sundance.
“Well, we were next up on the schedule.” Buck pointed out.
“I wasn’t lookin’ for an answer, Buck.” Jimmy snapped. “It was one of them repetitive questions.”
“Rhetorical questions, Jimmy.” Buck grinned.
“Yeah, whatever. Let’s go.” Jimmy led Sundance out, leaving Buck to shake his head in amusement.
The ride to Silver Falls did little to improve Jimmy’s mood and Buck knew better than to try to start a conversation. They rode in virtual silence, located the army camp outside of town and delivered the letter and then rode back to the hotel to get a room.
On the way home, Jimmy was in a better frame of mind. Buck wasn’t sure if it was due to the fact they’d had a good night’s rest at the hotel or if it was the amount of money Jimmy had won playing poker. Either way, Buck thanked the Spirits that his friend’s surly mood had disappeared.
The riders stopped along the trail to set up camp for the night. While Buck was tending the horses, he saw something tawny out of the corner of his eye. Drawing his gun, he called to Jimmy, who was building the fire. Jimmy came over, gun ready.
Buck pushed back some bushes and discovered a young doe lying on the ground. Her back leg was broken. Buck looked sorrowfully at the helpless creature.
“We’ll have to kill it. There’s no way she’ll live.” Buck stated the obvious.
“Well, go ahead. At least we’ll eat good tonight.” Jimmy commented.
Buck leaned over the animal and chanted softly. Then pulling his knife, he ended the deer’s earthly life.
Jimmy looked puzzled. “What’d you say to that deer?”
“I asked forgiveness for what I must do. And I wished her well in the life after.” Buck informed him.
“Why? It’s just a deer.” Jimmy stated.
Buck gave Jimmy a scathing glance. “It is not ‘just a deer.’ The ceremony honors the deer’s spirit. And moreover, the deer is my sacred animal. I am, after all, Running Buck,” he said pointedly.
“If you say so.” Jimmy shrugged. “Hurry up and get it ready to cook. I’m hungry.”
The deer was soon roasting over the fire and the smell had Jimmy’s mouth watering. As soon as it was done, he took a huge piece and started eating.
Buck paused to first offer his portion to the Spirits by raising his arms in each direction; north, south, east and west.
Jimmy snorted. “You’re almost as bad as Emma wantin’ to pray ‘fore supper every night.”
Buck concluded the ceremony and turned dark eyes on Jimmy. “You don’t care about the white man’s God and you hold my beliefs in contempt. What do you believe in, Jimmy?”
“Myself.” Jimmy stated. “Now let’s finish eatin’ and get some sleep.”
Buck shook his head. “Maybe you’ll have more sense one day, my friend,” he said softly.
Jimmy lay under his blanket, a content man. His belly was full. Maybe a little too full, Jimmy thought. Still that fresh venison had been delicious. Now he intended to get a good night’s rest.
As Jimmy drifted off to sleep, he didn’t notice the cloud that sailed along and blocked the moon momentarily, or the mist that descended on the little camp.
Something was tickling his cheek. Jimmy brushed it away in annoyance. A second later it was back. Sleepily, Jimmy mumbled, “Go ‘way.” A soft chuckle caused Jimmy to open his eyes.
Jimmy found Cody standing over him. At least it looked something like Cody. The blond rider was wearing elaborately beaded Indian buckskins. From his ear dangled a silver earring shaped like a hawk. Jimmy lay there staring until Cody grinned and spoke. “C’mon, Jimmy, get up. You got a long journey ahead of you.”
“What are you talkin’ about, Cody? Me and Buck are on our way home.” Jimmy suddenly noticed Buck was missing. “Where’s Buck? And why the heck are you dressed like that?” Jimmy questioned.
Cody wore a smug smile, the same one he always had when he knew something you didn’t. Jimmy hated that smile.
“Buck ain’t here. This is your journey. And the reason I’m dressed like this is cause I already made my peace with the Spirits. They sent me to tell you that now it’s your turn.”
Jimmy tried to figure that one out. Made peace with the Spirits. “Does that mean you’re…?” Jimmy hesitated on the word.
“Dead. Nah.” Cody laughed. “It means that I already learned my lesson. Now it’s time for yours.” And with a reassuring smile, Cody disappeared.
Everything became hazy and Jimmy rubbed his eyes. Looking around, he realized he wasn’t in the camp anymore. He was on a mountain side.
“Cody!” Jimmy called. “Cody, where are ya?!” Then he noticed movement in the trees. His hand automatically went to his gun.
“The gun will not help you here,” a voice called out.
“We’ll see.” Jimmy replied. “Come out, whoever you are.”
A young Indian boy of eight or nine stepped forward.
“Who are you?” Jimmy asked.
“I am Hunter,” the boy replied. “I am here to warn you and offer help.”
“You’re just a kid.” Jimmy commented.
“I am more than I appear, as is everything here.” Hunter stated.
“Where is here?” the dark haired man asked.
“We are on Spirit Mountain,” was the answer.
“Oh, come on.” Jimmy laughed. “You expect me to believe that?”
Hunter shook his head. “We had hoped this would be simple. We should have known better after watching you with Buck.”
“What about Buck?”
“Buck is one of ours. We watched you mock him and his beliefs. You even ridicule the white woman, Emma, and her beliefs. We are here to show you the error of your ways, James Hickok.”
“How do you know my name?” Jimmy had a sudden uneasy feeling. “And who’s this ‘we’?”
“We are the Spirits!!” The answer reverberated across the entire mountain.
Hunter smiled at the shocked look on the young man’s face. “Be warned, you will undergo an ordeal tonight. There will be dangers, and you will need weapons to protect yourself.”
“I have ‘em.” Jimmy patted his gun.
Hunter shook his head. “I have told you, your weapons will not work here. You may take these if you choose.” The boy held out a bow and a quiver of arrows. The bow was silver and the arrows pure white. “Only Spirit weapons will protect you on Spirit Mountain. I beg you to take them. Do not anger the Spirits further.”
Jimmy scoffed at the young boy with his bow and arrows. “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster by your side, kid.”
The boy smiled. “There may come a time when you regret those words. Just remember, you were given a choice.”
Jimmy waved his hand. “I’ll get by fine on my own.” He reached for his gun, only to find it and the boy gone. “What the hell is goin’ on?!” he fumed.
A soft giggle answered him. Jimmy turned toward the sound to behold a beautiful Indian maiden. Her pale doeskin dress was almost white and her long raven hair fell to her waist. On soft moccasined feet she approached him.
“Why did you disdain Hunter’s gift? He offered you protection for your trial. Why must you insist on scorning those things you do not understand?” The girl spoke in a voice as sweet as honey.
Jimmy shrugged. “Hunter said danger was coming and then you showed up.” He grinned as the girl stopped in front of him. “I don’t think you’re very dangerous.”
The girl slowly shook her head as she regarded him with a sad smile. “Do not be fooled by appearances. Danger is all around. You would have done well to heed Hunter’s words. You are prideful and stubborn, but you will learn, James Hickok.”
In a flash, the girl was gone and in her place was a mountain lion. With the quickness of lightening, it sprang on Jimmy, sending him to the ground.
“Now, my arrogant one,” the animal spoke in a gravelly voice, “you have no weapons, no friends, only yourself, as you are so fond of saying. What will you do?”
Jimmy struggled under the creature’s weight. He tried to shove the cat off, but to no avail. Jimmy was frustrated, but not defeated. Not yet. He wrestled and fought with the cougar, but could never best him. The animal simply smiled at the young man’s struggles and somehow remained on top of Jimmy regardless. Jimmy continued to fight until his strength was gone and still there was no change in his predicament. He longed for his gun, or even that blasted bow and arrows. One thing puzzled him, though, the great cat could have killed him at any time, yet the animal never bared its claws. Instead it simply pushed Jimmy back to the ground with a velvet paw and held him immobile.
Panting for breath, Jimmy glared at the animal atop him. Then the lion spoke again. “Have you finished?”
“I reckon.” Jimmy gasped.
“So do you admit that there are those more powerful than you?”
“Yes.” Jimmy said grudgingly.
“Then do not be so quick to dismiss us again,” the voice ordered.
“But I don’t feel right prayin’ like Buck does.” Jimmy argued.
A deep chuckle sounded. “It makes no difference if you pray like Buck or not, little one. All that matters is you realize that by yourself you are weak and need help. You are not the greatest being. There is one much higher who made all things, even me. And that one deserves your respect. Do you understand?”
Jimmy nodded. “So is that my lesson?”
“Partly. You must remember five things from this ordeal, Jimmy. Do not let pride blind you. Heed the wisdom of others. Be watchful of danger. Rely not on your own might. Acknowledge the higher power.” The yellow eyes regarded the young man lovingly as one might a wayward child. Then the great cat sat back on his haunches. Jimmy squirmed sideways now that the weight was gone. The mountain lion raised a paw. “Here is something to help you remember your lesson, my son.”
Jimmy yelled in fear as the heavy paw descended, claws bared. He closed his eyes and waited for it to tear his flesh. Instead there was a glancing blow across his shoulder and back and then hundreds of tiny lights exploded behind his eyes like firecrackers.
“Jimmy, you alright? I heard you yell.” Buck was sitting next to his friend.
Jimmy stared around him in a daze. He was back in their little camp and it was morning. He shook his head in an attempt to clear it. “Yeah, I’m alright,” he assured Buck as he sat up.
“We’d better get goin’ soon.” Buck stated.
Jimmy nodded. As Buck started readying the horses, Jimmy reflected on what had happened. It had to have been a dream, he thought. Then he reached to rub his shoulder. It was mighty sore this morning. Shrugging out of his shirt, Jimmy craned his head to examine his shoulder and back. There he saw five red welts. They looked and stung like marks from a switch. Jimmy gave a lopsided smile. He’d been taught his lesson just like any other rebellious boy. Putting his shirt back on he went to help Buck.
“Ya know, Buck, I’m sorry I made fun of your beliefs.” Jimmy commented as they swung up on the horses.
Buck raised a questioning eyebrow. What brought that on, he wondered. It sure wasn’t like Jimmy to apologize.
Jimmy saw the look on Buck’s face and grinned. “You were right about respectin’ them,” Jimmy admitted.
“Well, I only speak the truth.” Buck smiled.
“I know that now,” Jimmy replied. “The Spirits taught me a lesson last night. I’ll tell you about it on the way home.”
Emma set the ham on the table next to the plate of biscuits and the pan of baked beans she had sweetened with a jar of molasses.
“Looks good, Emma.” Cody reached for the biscuits.
“Cody, we ain’t said the blessin’ yet.” Jimmy spoke up.
All eyes, except Buck’s, turned to Jimmy in astonishment. “Want me to say it, Emma?” the young man asked.
Emma just nodded, wondering what had come over the boy.
On the rise overlooking the station stood a strange trio; an Indian boy, an Indian maiden and a mountain lion.
The mountain lion nodded and spoke. “It appears that the boy learned his lesson after all.” They all smiled proudly and vanished.