I am amazed at the sound of the wind that is blowing in my ears. It is so loud, so overpowering that I can think of nothing else. I hear nothing save its roaring. Yet it is also very odd that even though the wind growls in my mind, I feel nothing. There are no gusts touching my face, no breeze lifting my hair. My hat lays motionless where it has fallen.
Only when Johnny's face floats in front of me do I notice the stillness around him. His mouth is moving but I cannot hear his voice, it is drowned beneath the rumbling in my mind. Johnny is kneeling, holding my shoulders, staring intently into my eyes. His face is twisted with. . . what? I see an emotion in his face that is uncharacteristic of him, foreign to him. I see fear, unmitigated, unadulterated fear and I am stunned to see it in his eyes. Something has frightened the man who is such a rock, is always such a source of strength to me.
I feel his fear seeping into my limbs. My heart is hammering in my chest. Something is wrong and I know I must help him. I feel my lips making the appropriate motions as I speak to him, yet he is not comforted. Try as I might I can't seem to say the right thing, or anything at all, for that matter.
Johnny is up now, tensely stalking back and forth in front of me, never venturing far from me as his gaze is fixed on the horizon in the direction from which help should come. His face remains fearful, distraught and as I watch him, he fires his weapon into the air. I see the weapon buck in his hands. I see him accept the recoil as he fires repeatedly. He is signaling to someone, but we are so far out on the range that I wonder if they will answer.
He kneels beside me, prodding, searching, and as his hands check out my ribs and stomach, I feel intense pain. The roaring in my ears crescendos as pain explodes in my belly, stabbing torturous fingers throughout my limbs. Finally, I must accept that something is very wrong with me. I canít remember what has happened.
I raise my head to survey the damage to my body; I must know what has frightened my brother so. And as I gaze at Johnny's hands as he touches me, I see the blood. I follow the lines of his slender fingers to the place in my side where he is pressing a wadded cloth. Dark blood seeps through the thick fabric, covering his hand as he desperately tries to stem the flow. But the blood is flowing freely, staining my clothing, turning the very ground beneath me a dark shade of crimson.
As pain surrounds me and encompasses my body, I remember. . .
Johnny was riding beside me, laughing, his face tilted into the sun. The flash of the golden horse beneath him rivaled the color of the sun. He and Barranca enjoyed running, feeling the freedom of flight. I was floating effortlessly, mounted on my own stallion of burnished copper. The mighty beasts matched each other stride for stride. Johnny turned to me, his eyes sparkling exuberantly. His love of life and youthful enthusiasm were infectious and I threw my head back laughing at his jokes, his antics.
I felt so light and free when I considered how Johnny had changed since he had come to Lancer. He was no longer the angry young man I had met on that first day. Instead, he was youthful and uninhibited, as if a great burden had been lifted from his shoulders. He seemed so comfortable and trusting of his new family now. It was thrilling to see him let down his defenses and accept us.
We galloped side by side, enjoying each other's company, sharing the sheer joy of being together.
Without a care, we rode briskly past the herd. The cattle were grazing on the lush grass of Lancer, untroubled by the two stallions running freely by. I mimicked Johnny's posture, offering my face to the sun, seeking its warmth and beauty. It was then I caught sight of the bull out of the corner of my eye. He stood apart from the herd, but unlike the feeding cattle, he was watching us, his posture aggressive, his attitude ominous.
Our intrusion into the animal's domain had infuriated the bull. He was furiously pawing the ground, his back to the cows, keeping an eye on us as we rode past. We were confident that the bull would return to the herd once we had moved out of his territory.
Thunder rumbled behind us even though the sky was a rich blue and absolutely cloudless. I felt that my mind and my ears were deceiving me until I saw the change in Johnny's demeanor. He gestured over his left shoulder and shouted at me. His smile had changed to a look of alarm as something behind me captured his attention. I could see his mouth moving but the wind of our passage tore his words away as we galloped along.
I turned to see the bull, shoulders hunched, snorting, his hoofs digging up the ground as he pawed furiously. Then he was charging, his head lowered, his intention frighteningly clear. My courageous stallion Charlie whinnied in terror, jumping to the right, the bull barely missing his tender flanks. My horse kicked out in anger and his hoof clipped the bull's muzzle. Enraged, the bull renewed his attack, and as Charlie leveled out, moving even faster, my horse rammed Barranca's hindquarters.
Screaming, Barranca stumbled and before my horrified eyes the golden stallion and my brother went down in a tangle of limbs. It was only a miracle that Johnny wasn't crushed beneath the floundering horse. Instead, Johnny rolled away, out of the danger of the flailing hooves and right into the path of the maddened bull.
It is in moments like this that I am amazed at how time ceases to exist. When traumatic events unfold, they do so painfully slowly. It's as if the agony of the moment is not enough - it must be drawn out. Each sequence of events is deeply embedded in our consciousness where it remains for the duration of our lives, to be replayed repeatedly in our mind.
Screaming in protest, Charlie turned in answer to my demand and we moved to stand defiantly between my brother and the oncoming bull as I struggled to pull my rifle from its scabbard. Johnny was on his feet quickly, firing until his Colt was empty, the hammer pounding on empty chambers. As I saw the bullets find their target, I was overwhelmed with relief knowing the threat to my brother had been eliminated.
The bull stumbled in his final moments, the ground trembling beneath the impact of his heavy body. His death throe was pitiful and horrible to witness, but Charlie was still frantic. The close proximity to the dying bull and the sickening smell of spilled blood was driving him mad with fear. He bucked, twisting his head to free himself from my tight grip on the reins and I felt myself falling, colliding with the fallen bull. I saw the horns of the bull and twisted desperately to avoid them. I thought I had succeeded, but as the ground rushed to meet me, a mighty fist struck my side, knocking the breath out of me. My last thought as I hit the ground was that at least Johnny was safe.
Charlie came to a halt a couple of yards away, snorting, and shaking his head. The smell of death further unnerved his normally steady disposition. Barranca rose then, uninjured, gingerly moving away from the scent of blood. Cautiously, I raised my head, searching for my brother.
Then I heard the wind. . .
Johnny leans over me, his mouth moving in earnest, and I realize his words must be directed at me as no one else is present. I need to reassure him, to show him I'm not hurt as badly as he thinks. I try to rise, determined to stand but my body won't obey. With a groan I start to fall back, my energy spent with even this small effort. Johnny's arms surround me and he gently eases me down. I know he wants me to rest. He places my hands on the sodden cloth indicating I should keep the pressure on the wound. Once more, he loads his weapon and I watch as he raises his Colt skyward, his arm jerking with the recoil of each of the three rounds in a signal for aid.
As Johnny returns to my side, I feel a new sensation. The terrible pain is easing, becoming a dull throb and then nothing. I feel no discomfort at all. While I am relieved to be free of the agony, I am worried. The wind has abated, the roaring becomes a soft sound like the faraway rumbling of thunder, receding until at last all is calm. I can feel the warm sun shining on my face. My limbs are becoming heavy and numb, as if I had been indulging in one too many rounds at the saloon. It's strange that my limbs can feel so heavy yet float effortlessly off the ground.
Johnny is kneeling beside me once more, examining the bloody cloth, then pressing it firmly on the open wound. I feel my life flowing out of me even as I see my blood flowing out of the wound. I was told once, long ago, at the beginning of our time here at Lancer, about men who had been gored by longhorns. I heard the talk of the pain, the slow march toward death - and the fear. But I feel none of that. There is no pain. . . no fear. Nothing but the warmth and peace that now embraces me.
Johnny. My brother Johnny. Dark and mysterious, deadly and compassionate. An enigma the like of which I had never known before. One of the greatest joys was discovering I had a brother and witnessing him become the man he is today. Johnny is safe, and I need to tell him it how valuable his life is, how ensuring his safety from the bull was worth whatever the cost to me. I would face the maddened bull repeatedly if it meant the life of my brother were spared. Yet, I know he would willingly, without any thought to his own safety, do the same for me. I try to tell him how much he means to me, how he is the perfect brother and my life has been well spent. His eyes seek out my own, his hands grip my shoulders. He understands, I know he does.
Soundlessly, riders appear behind him. I see Murdoch dismounting and hurrying toward us, his mouth is moving as he approaches, yet I can not hear his voice as he calls out. He, too, is afraid. His face is blank, as if shock has overtaken him, and he joins Johnny kneeling in the tall grass beside me. It is as it should be. . . we had time together, we were a family even if only for a short while. We loved and learned so much about each other. I look at my father and then at Johnny as their faces swim before me and I mouth the words - it's all right. . . I know they will take care of each other. They urge me to hold on. Oddly, I can hear their voices now as if far away.
I offer them a smile of assurance; I don't want them to worry. What will be. . . will be. It is right, it is good, and I am at peace. With their hands on my face and shoulders, I close my eyes and slide into the darkness that beckons, accepting its healing warmth.