Published on Saturday, February 22, 2014
The Shade of Richard
By Nicole Maddalo Dixon
Jimmy went along with us to Lincoln so that I would have him with me while the two "prisoners", Billy and Tom, were being kept. By the time Sheriff Kimbrell and his men arrived in Patricio we had to make a late start, and so on our way into Lincoln we stopped to make camp, cooking two rabbit carcasses that had been hunted down for sport by two of the posse men.
Kimbrell's posse was more than adequately supplied for such a relatively short trip, but there was a large enough crowd of us and experienced cowboys who knew even the easiest terrain could be unpredictable were always prepared for an excursion.
They cooked up a feast consisting of cured deer meat in greasy skillets, roasted potatoes, jerky, and plenty of bacon and gravy for biscuits. Cornbread and canned fruit were offered, and little cakes and candy were available for something sweet while tins full of coffee were heated, though only the few who would remain awake drank it down while the rest of us had ginger beer or water.
The group of us was amiable and in good enough spirits which made for a fun night despite my current high-anxiety over matters. All of the men talked animatedly, and a good many of them sat with Billy and Tom, laughing as Billy made them do so with his jokes and stories. Every so often he would look over at me to pay me attention with a wink while Jimmy and I played cards until it was suggested we bed down so as to get an early start in the morning.
Billy rolled out our bedding and, closely sidling up next to him, my back against his front as he placed his freed arm around me, I was permitted to keep my Winchester by me as I often did when forced to sleep out in the open wilderness, its presence calming me. Allowing me to keep my rifle did not present a problem since Billy did not pose a threat, being there willingly.
I felt at odds as I settled in; I was thoroughly exhausted and my heavy eyes dropped easily enough, but my mind was restless. Maybe this was because of the emotional turmoil that had consumed me as of late, or perhaps it was the exhaustive trials of riding through the desert, an undertaking that was commonly strenuous as it could often be rough and difficult, especially when one factored in the landscape and weather. Perhaps it was a combination of both these matters because, though I dreamt under some semblance of sleep, it was anything but peaceful. I had been looking up at the sky when I must have seamlessly slipped into unconsciousness, not realizing I had dozed-it was as though I hadn't closed my eyes at all. The darkened firmament with its glittery stars that seemed just beyond the warm glow of the campfire embers and the lowered voices of the men who kept watch over our party as they rose and fell mellifluously streamed unbroken through my mind; there didn't seem a pause between wakeful cognizance and the oblivion of slumber.
Under the guise of wakefulness, I listened as the men said peculiar things-conversation that was strange and illogical to me as things often are under the tutelage of sleep. I could feel Billy lying against me, the weight of his arm over me, and imagined a recalled, false discussion that we alter our direction; that we not go into Lincoln after all, instead changing our minds and deciding to head off to California where the gold-diggers had gone. Some intuitive part of me that kept tabs on conscious facts understood this as nonsensical, yet still, I believed in it. After all, are we not at the mercy of our own mind when left to its devices? It will lead you where it wants and has the ability to distract you from its deception even as you have the sense to question it. I was made to wonder over abandoning the purpose of our intended visit to Lincoln and the peculiarity of why it was suddenly no longer important to Billy for us to go there after all of the frustration and bickering.
My mind was working at this when out of the blackness came a human figure even darker than the night that surrounded it. It was silent as it came toward me, and I noted that a person ought to make noise as they walked over God's natural elements such as rocks and twigs and other things that get underfoot. The vision of this human form was surreal and otherworldly-I thought this even as I believed I was truly witnessing it-and in the final moments of seeing that shape the darkness seemed to slip aside as though the thing were passing through shadow into light, and when the face came directly into my view I saw that it was Richard. The left side of his face was bloodied, a splintered maw where Roberts' bullet had torn through the eye-socket, but I recognized him all the same.
Startled, my eyes came open and I sat up, lifting my Winchester as the rifle had never left my grip. Getting quickly to my feet I stumbled, my mind unable to function under its self-induced chaos. I floundered in my bleariness, made worse as my sight was dim and indistinct. Confused and frightened by the ghost of my fallen friend, I frantically lifted the rifle should it come at me again. I was vaguely aware of Billy sitting up, watching me, and of my spooking the others as I fumbled around in the dark out of fear. I fell over a log and hit the ground which sent a shock of pain through my left arm, jarring me fully awake and causing my rifle to discharge, the round shattered the leg of one of the horses. It whinnied terribly as it went down, and I laid there motionless, wisely afraid to move after the alarm I had caused within a group of heavily armed men and simultaneously worrying that I had fractured my arm. Men surrounded me with their weapons drawn until their confusion subsided and it became clear that the matter had to do with my being strung out and nothing more.
I, however, was certain of what I had seen. Jimmy lifted me carefully and tenderly helped lead me back towards my bed as my Winchester was cautiously taken from me. Terrified, I exclaimed, "Richard!", repeating the name in fear. Billy reached for me and Jimmy gently helped guide me down to him before kneeling beside us in the dirt and placing his hand tenderly upon my shoulder. Billy put his arms tightly around me and was understandably fraught with concern.
"What about Richard?" he asked.
A gunshot rang out and I realized that they had put the horse down. Yes, there was an awful neighing off in the dark, wasn't there? The curiosity of whose horse it was crossed my mind as I put my hand to my muddled head.
"What about Richard?" he asked again.
I stared at him blankly and he wrapped his hands around my arms, shaking me as gently as he could while being firm.
Blinking, I only continued to stare at him, and then I became aware of everything, of the others looking at me inquiringly; Jimmy's eyes probing, searching me. I looked around at all of them, my eyes scanning the crowd before looking back to Billy, sentient.
"Oh," I whispered with shock. "Oh, Billy... "
I put my hands up to his shoulders and clutched them intensely as we sat looking at one another. He gently put his hands to my face, his eyes imploring me to tell him what happened.
"I saw him, Richard," I said.
"No, honey, you didn't. You were only dreaming."
"No, it was him. It was real. He meant something by it-it brought news of something bad!" It, I had said, a fiendish specter of a once beloved, deceased friend.
"His face... you didn't see his face! He wasn't peaceful! The dead look like that when they're full of torment."
Billy pulled me to him and stroked my hair as I pitifully lay against his shoulder. He rocked back-and-forth in an attempt to soothe me. He had trouble allowing himself to sleep the rest of the night, and I was simply unable to, so we laid there next to one another, silent and uneasy.
The next morning as we rode towards Lincoln I was quiet, still haunted by the ruined ghost of Richard. Though the sun was bright and warming I shivered, my world concealed by shade. Everything felt "off", much further out of position than things had been when I was merely upset by the decision we were currently fulfilling by going back to Lincoln. I was convinced that if I turned to look behind me I would find Richard there, dogging me closely in warning as we rode on, that ghastly wound mocking me.
Billy and Jimmy would look at me and exchange worried glances, but I hardly noticed this as I was too caught up trying to understand the prophecy that had presented itself to me in such a familiar form. My mind, taxed by nerves, wouldn't allow me to believe it had only been my imagination conceptualizing and trying to relieve me of the demons I carried. I was convinced we were headed for a bad end.
Nicole Maddalo Dixon is a published author with Sunstone Press. Her first book, Bandita Bonita: Romancing Billy the Kid, is now available for purchase; information can be found at the her website.