A Ben Wade story by Jo Anzalone





He lay, his left cheek in the cold, dry grit, his eyes squeezed tightly closed. The black was dead. God damn it, the black was dead!  Teeth clenched furiously against the pain shooting through

his right ankle, he rolled onto his back. Moon was out and he just lay there a long time staring

at the glowing orb, lips pressed into a line of whiteness in the midst of his beard.

It was his fault. Two days out of Contention, riding hard south along the San Pedro...riding

too hard. Just a little sink hole sitting in the shade of a single large boulder. That was all it

took. The black went down, went down so hard both its leg and hip shattered. And he'd had

no bullets to put him down. That was the worst part. No bullets. Gun had been empty when

he'd taken it with him there just out of Contention, back there when the black had answered

his whistle. His upper lip curled in disgust at the memory of how it had all come down. Now
it was time to dispense a little mercy where it had been earned and his goddamned gun was useless.

He'd thought for a moment, he remembered wryly, of possibly bludgeoning the horse with it,

but the black must've had internal injuries as well and had cooperatively died within the hour. So he'd had to do nothing after all but lie where he'd been thrown and wait. His right leg was tucked under his left, the ankle neatly wedged between two small rocks. He needed to sit up

and poke around a bit, see if it was broken or what. But he lay there watching the shadows of craters on the moon.

A chill took him. Night had come on some indeterminate while ago. Patches of snow still

covered more of the ground than not. He didn't like being cold so he struggled to sit up,

twisting his ankle a bit more in the process, gasping with the sharp heightening of pain.

Leaning forward, he gripped his leg, breathing through his mouth until he could manage it. Blanket. There was a blanket rolled behind his saddle. If only he could reach it. He stretched forward but his fingers scrabbled to a halt  halfway up the horse's flank. His eyes settled on

his ankle. He'd have to deal with that.

He slid his left leg off to the side and, every muscle of his face screwed into tightness, pushed

one of the rocks away. Fresh pain. Again. Using both hands, he lifted his right leg, settling it straight, and leaned down, trying to get his boot off. No use. Sighing heavily, he leaned back, bracing himself with his arms, looking up at the moon again. It sailed free in the clear night. Free. Like him. Yeah. Like him. Sitting in some godforsaken wilderness with a dead horse

and a bum ankle.

"Jeremiah tossed in a pit," he muttered, then laughed a dry, hoarse laugh. It was all almost funny. Almost. He was too damn cold for any sense of that to linger long. He needed the blanket. Scootching to the side on his butt, he wriggled closer to the dead horse, teeth clenched again
against the pain any movement caused his ankle. His fingers, encased in black leather, fumbled at last on the knots tied around the blanket roll. Gingerly, he lay back, clutching the roll to his chest, eyes closed. He started to drift into sleep like that, but the cold creeping up his legs
snapped him awake and he jerked the blanket open, getting it mostly over himself.  It needed adjusting but he left it as it was, too worn to mess further with it. Sleepily, his eyes blinked

open once, filled with moonlight, then he pulled the blanket up to his chin and was done with
the day.