Congratulations to Anton Kukal for taking the honors in this month’s eSpec Books Flash Fiction Contest. As Anton has already won a copy of The Weird Wild West he will receive another ebook of his choice.
Honorable Mention – The Last Dream-Song by Larry Ivkovich
Bighorn’s Last Survivor
By Anton Kukal
Riding their wild ponies over the ridge at the Little Bighorn, whooping war cries and brandishing weapons, the Indians attacked. Flowing like a biblical flood across the prairie, the brightly painted and feathered warriors washed over the desperate troopers of the Seventh Cavalry.
Private Finn O’Malley had grown-up listening to the tales his grandfather told of the great Indian Wars back east. Hoping to keep the frontier safe, he’d enlisted to do his part, but this battle was nothing like his grandfather’s glory stories.
As the situation went from desperate to hopeless, Finn fought on, firing and firing until he had only one shot left. “Save the last bullet for yourself, son,” the veteran sergeant had told him. “They like to torture white folk.”
Finn was trying to decide if he should end his own life, when a spinning tomahawk knocked him to the ground. As he lay dazed, the battle swept over him, the Indians running up the hill toward Custer’s last stand.
The sun burned down, his mouth was dry, and pain throbbed in his head. Any fool could see the battle was lost, so he placed the cold steel barrel of his pistol against the side of his head and closed his eyes.
A shadow fell over him, blocking out the sun. Was it an Indian coming to finish him off or a fellow soldier coming to save him? He took a quick peek. Standing over him was a cavalry horse. Gathering his strength, he grabbed the bridle, leapt up into the saddle, and galloped away from the final slaughter of Custer’s command.
After cresting a ridge and riding hard, Finn slowed the horse to a fast trot. He didn’t want to push the animal any further. He could see at least five bullet wounds and a dozen other cuts and scrapes. He was amazed the horse was still willing to run, but then Finn recognized the mount as belonging to Captain Keogh.
“Comanche.” He patted the horse’s flank.
The faint war cries behind him alerted Finn to the pursuit. A dozen Indians mounted on ponies crested the ridge. They were a long ways back, but Finn urged Comanche on, “I’m sorry, Ole Boy, but you’ve got to run!”
The bloodthirsty band chased him across the prairie. It was a wonder they didn’t catch him, but Comanche, despite hideous wounds, galloped ahead every time the Indians gained any ground. Once Comanche leapt a dry riverbed, and the Indians, fearful of the jump, had to stop and seek another place to cross. Although by sundown, Comanche’s strength had given out, and the exhausted horse collapsed in a shallow ravine, near the base of a high hill.
“I’m sorry,” Finn said with tears rolling down his face, “You gave me your all, but I have to leave you.”
Finn climbed out of the ravine and began running uphill. Looking down on the plain, he saw the Indians below crossing the ravine where Comanche lay. Whooping and hollering, they headed up the slope.
He figured the Indians would just ride him down, but they stopped suddenly, staring past him up the hill. An old spear was driven point first into the ground, surrounded by a large pile of rocks and decorated with feathers and the desiccated carcasses of lizards. A leering human skull stared down from the butt end of the spear, the yellowed bone still covered in places by rotting skin and white wisps of hair. The eyes were sunken and a ring of dangling buzzard beaks surrounded the jawbone giving the impression of a ghastly beard.
Finn took a step uphill toward the hideous marker.
“No!” warned a coarse voice. The Indian who spoke was older than the others, age lines creased his leathery face and his eyes shined not with anger or hate as the others did, but with a great sorrow instead.
“You ain’t getting me!” Finn told them.
The older Indian outstretched his empty hand and he curled his fingers in a jerking motion as if to say come here.
The Indian frowned. “The top is death.”
“And you’re not?”
Finn waited for a response, but the Indian remained silent.
“Well if you’re stayin’ down there. I’m goin’ up.” Finn took a few tentative steps up the hill.
Some of the Indians wanted to shoot him, he could see that, but the old Indian waved them down. “Do not waste bullets.” Sullen faces relented and Finn wasted no time, he hurried uphill, but on passing the marker he felt disoriented. He trembled with a strange weakness, staggered and then collapsed to the ground. For a long moment, his vision was filled with lights and colors, the world spun around him, and he could do nothing, but lay on his back and stare up at the darkening sky.
Finally, Finn struggled to his feet. The Indians waited below, their postures relaxed and weapons lowered, but he did not trust them.
“What was that?” Finn asked.
“You have trespassed, but are not dead,” spoke the old Indian. “Those of the hill will accept you for a time.”
“I don’t understand?”
“Your people never do.”
Finn continued walking uphill, worried the Indians would shoot him, but no shots were fired, and soon the heathen monument was a tiny dot below. In the moonlight, he watched the Indians galloping away across the prairie. Feeling safe, Finn sat down to rest, marveling at the stars in the sky. Why did those Indians let him live? What was that Indian talking about? He closed his eyes and within moments he was fast asleep.
When Finn next woke, the stars twinkled overhead and a white mist had settled over the hilltop above him. He heard the light laughter of many people, a sound like the tinkling of little bells. He heard high notes of ethereal music and child-like voices joined in song. Rising, he headed toward the jubilations entering into billowing white clouds where he found his way only by listening.
The mists ended abruptly and Finn found himself in a garden full of men and woman, but they were a race of people unlike any he had seen before. They were tall and slight, with long pale hair and ears that arched into tiny points. Their laughter titillated when they saw him and a beautiful young maiden, dressed in a flowing white, knee-length gown came to join him. She took his hands into hers and led him to the dance. Around and around he spun, glimpsing sunrise and sunset, in a world where time stood still with a people who loved and laughed through eternity.
Finn awoke to the sounds of battle. He leapt to his feet, raced down the hillside, and climbed through the ravine. The heathen marker and Comanche were both missing. Cresting the next ridge, he saw cavalry troopers fighting off an Indian attack. He did not recognize the soldiers, but the beloved battle flag of the Seventh fluttered in the wind. Finn sprinted into the fray.
A bloodthirsty, tomahawk-wielding Indian ran at Finn with murderous intent. Finn fired from the hip. The bullet grazed the Indian on the shoulder, toppling the heathen to the ground. Finn holstered his pistol and looked around for another weapon, but all around him the fighting suddenly stopped. Troopers and Indians dropped their weapons and ran to aid the fallen Indian.
The wounded brave was helped to a sitting position, and he exclaimed in perfect English, “You jerk! You shot me.” The warrior was not an Indian, but a white man dressed in buckskin, feathers and beads. One of the troopers who had rushed to help the injured brave was a white woman wearing a cavalry uniform, her blonde hair spilled out from under her hat as she embraced the wounded Indian.
A cavalry officer walked up, his uniform immaculate, but this man was dark-skinned. Finn saluted and stood at attention. What was going on? Everyone was staring at him. Did the war end?
The blonde-haired trooper helped the wounded person to his feet. As the couple passed arm in arm, the woman asked, “What the hell is the matter with you?” Another trooper walking away said, “Blanks, buddy. We only allow blanks during reenactments.” A burly sergeant grumbled, “Thanks for ruining the 139th refighting of Custer’s Last Stand!”