The crunching sound seemed to echo for a second when his boots came to a stop at the edge of the dry wash. He took in a deep breath of the cold desert air, and it burned his dry nose a bit, reminding him to reach for his canteen and take a swig. As his head tipped back, the icy water shocked his teeth, numbed his scratchy throat, and instantly moistened his nostrils as the warm, yellow sun splashed across his forehead and cheekbones.
Screwing the cap on, he scanned the horizon for a sign of the rock which had guided him to this spot. The manzanita bushes were thick here, and grew taller than him in some spots, blocking his view. He looked at the dusty, green leaves and smooth, red bark of the one to his side and noticed that the berries were all gone this time of year. He recalled the first time he had tried one of the little green apples at the urging of his Scoutmaster many years ago. It crunched and tasted like an exceptionally sour and fibrous Granny Smith, and even though he wasn’t fond of the taste or texture, he ate the other three without batting an eye because the old man in the campaign hat and red wool jacket was watching. When he declared they were tasty and encouraged the other members of the patrol to try a handful, he remembered the old scout giving him a wink and a grin before turning and continuing down the trail.
“Manza-neat” is how he pronounced it, leaving off the “uh” at the end, and the young boy’s respect and adoration for the role model in the Smokey Bear was so strong that “manzaneat” is how it would be catalogued forever in his mind, just as the critter he had caught a brief glimpse of earlier, stealthily trotting through the brush, would always be a “kye-yoat” without the long “e” sound at the end.
Coming back to the present, he found a good place to descend down into the wash, which was about three to four feet deep and ten yards across. The dry, sandy bottom didn’t crunch under his boots like the high ground had, but did try to hold onto them as his feet sunk into the soft earth. Looking up and down the streambed as he crossed over, he half expected to see the kye-yoat lurking in the bottoms, but there was no sign of him. A boyish version of himself might have taken a shot at him with the sixgun now riding on his hip, but the bushy-tailed rascal would have been in no danger of that today.
As he clambered up the other side, the embankment gave way a little under his toehold and he was reminded of the knee that wasn’t all that it used to be. An exposed bit of manzaneat root up higher gave him a good handhold to get over the top. He brushed his hands clean and struck out through the brush on a bearing that should get him to the rock.
In his mind’s eye, the rock was a towering pile of boulders that stood head and shoulders above the high desert floor, giving an uninterrupted view for miles. He snickered a bit when he reached it and realized it had grown in his memory, as many things do. Perhaps the rock had seemed taller through the eyes that guided the shorter, more nimble body of a young boy, but he suspected that it was just the grains falling through the hourglass that were responsible for the illusion. The passing years had taught him that all good memories loom larger in the mind.
There was no snake sunning himself on the flat patio of the rock this time. Almost fifty years ago—Lord, had it been that long?—he had scared the daylights out of the man, his brother, and a friend with his angry buzz, and had paid for it with a hailstorm of .22 Long Rifle slugs that pelted the rock around him as fast as the magazines of a pair of 10/22s (and one late entry Glenfield Model 60) could be emptied. As the first few rounds from the autoloading Rugers splashed around him, he beat a hasty retreat to the gap between the boulders and found refuge from the lead rain—untouched, but eager to remain hidden and buzzing no more.
The man shook his head as he remembered drawing the Single Six one-handed from the cowboy leather and letting go with a chaser shot into the crevice, as the other cradled his empty rifle under the mag well. A lead sliver or a fragment of rock came spitting back at the sound of the shot, giving him a small sting on the cheek and scaring him to death. The boy wised up fast after that and holstered the gun, fretting about the stupid move that could have ended in disaster. Reflecting on his fortune almost a half-century later, the man silently thanked the Lord above–and the snake–for teaching him the high-stakes gun safety lesson so gently back then, and thought how much different the last five decades could have been if his youthful stupidity had cost him an eye.
The top of the rock did give him a good view, even if the elevation wasn’t as high as he remembered. The low, rolling chaparral was covered in manzaneat and other low scrub that was just tall enough to provide a good screen for his kye-yoat friend as he stalked the sandy-haired desert jacks that scampered about. The hills to the east would soon funnel the seasonal rains into a number of washes like the one he had crossed earlier, turning them into dangerous ribbons that would sweep away anything in their path. He chuckled as he remembered the young Tenderfoot scouts that set up their tents down in one of those washes once upon a time–and the “salty” warning he had given them about flash floods as he chased them back up to the high ground, like any good Patrol Leader would.
Without thinking, his left thumb hooked behind the billeted gunbelt that encircled his hips, making it creak a bit, and his right hand took a grip on the smooth walnut stocks of the same gun that had “saved” them from the treacherous serpent years before. The grip, like all those patterned after the Single Action Army, was too small for his large hand, but it felt good in it just the same. With his hand wrapped around the wood and steel, he could smell the campfires of a long-past generation, and felt a powerful blend of confidence, tranquility, and freedom.
He scanned the horizon for a hawk but didn’t see any. A snow white contrail from a high-flying jet slowly streaked across the blue sky and he wondered if the pilot was looking down on him as he looked back up from below. He’d spent many hours looking out the cockpit windows of aircraft like that over the decades, and while the younger version of himself would have longed to trade places with the pilot, today he was happy to be on this end of things, with the warm sun on his cool face, the clean air in his lungs, the desert stillness in his ears, and the well-traveled sixgun in his hand.
Next week would be Christmas, he mused, and the grandkids would be on vacation from school. His eyes twinkled and his dry lips broke into a wide grin at the thought, as he envisioned the fun that lay ahead.
The house was already brimming with twinkling lights, and a fresh wreath hung over the fireplace and gave the living room a smell of evergreen that competed with the mouth-watering scent of pumpkin spice bread wafting out of the kitchen. His lovely wife would finally put the “good” Christmas music on (the B-Grade stuff had been playing for weeks already, but the favorites were held in reserve for the visit), and the house would fill with the excited voices of the family he loved so dearly.
He would never admit it (yet somehow, his wife knew anyways), but he was especially excited to hear one of those voices in particular. His grandson Tommy was eight now, and growing up to be a fine young man under the parenting of his loving mother and father. He had a keen interest in history and poured through his grandfather’s library with wild abandon every time he came over, pulling stacks of books about western gunslingers and military battles out of their slots and devouring them as they lay open-faced on the floor. Tommy liked baseball and had recently been introduced to camping, and couldn’t get enough of it. Unlike most kids his age, he knew the Pledge of Allegiance, could render a proper flag salute, and knew the protocol for how to display the colors—“He shouldn’t leave that flag out at night without a light on it, Grandpa!”
The boy made him proud, and gave him hope. He loved him to death.
His grip tightened on the sixgun and his dry eyes actually teared up a bit as he thought to himself, this is the year.
Tommy had already proven he was ready for the responsibility. This past summer, he had impressed everyone with his maturity at the shooting range when he ran the single-shot Marlin bolt action like an old pro. The stubby Model 15YN had been the gun that his mom had fired her first shots through at his Great-Nana and Papa’s house in the mountains. The man remembered the little girl in pigtails and wondered how she had grown so quickly . . .
Tommy took to the gun like a fish to water, demonstrating that he could listen to directions, be safe, and even out-shoot some of the adults to his left and right. A few more sessions followed later in the fall, where he proved the first time had not been a fluke.
Tommy had been responsible with the little Stockman pocketknife the man had given him for his birthday, and even though he didn’t realize it had been a test, in addition to being a gift, Tommy passed with flying colors. He used it just like he had been shown, and there had been no troubles, so this was it. This year would be the year.
The man had found the old gunbelt in the bottom of one of the dusty “box-o-holsters” in the garage. The leather was a little dried out and the nickeled buckle had a little tarnish on it, but some neatsfoot oil and Simichrome had fixed it up nice. The old, suede-lined gunbelt would be a bit too big for Tommy’s slender hips—just as it had been for his, when he first got it a lifetime ago—but Tommy would grow into it quickly.
The holster that rode on the man’s hip would finally get threaded onto its old partner and they would be reunited as a set once again. The holster would carry the Single Six in style, and Tommy would probably like the way that it hung low on his gun side, just like the cowboys in the old movies they liked to watch together on rainy visits.
Tommy would find all of it under the Christmas tree in a week, along with a few paper boxes of .22s in his stocking. The manufacturers didn’t sell the ammo in 50 round boxes anymore—only in those 100-round plastic boxes, or those “milk cartons”—but the man had been planning for decades and had enough stashed away to supply Tommy, his firecracker of a little sister (when she was ready–which would be soon, because she was as sharp as a tack, and eager to follow in her big brother’s footsteps), and his future cousins-to-be for a lifetime. There was enough lead sitting in the man’s garage to change the magnetic declination in the local area, and the kids and grandkids wouldn’t have to worry about feeding the sizable gun collection that would all become theirs someday.
But it would start with the sixgun on his hip right now. He looked forward to the day that he’d be back out here with Tommy and the Ruger in tow. They’d make some noise, have some fun, and maybe even eat a few manzaneat berries if they were out.
With a grin at the thought, his thumb and index finger slipped off the rawhide thong, and his thumb found its spot on the hammer spur as it had thousands of times before. With a straight trigger finger, he drew the slender, long-barreled beauty out of the leather and drew down on the plastic spinner target he had planted on the slope below, about 20 yards distant.
As he cocked the hammer on the gun he thought to himself that he should remember to tell Tommy the lesson about the snake. He made a mental note of it as the front sight danced on the red, polymer disc.
When he pressed the trigger, the little gun bucked gently like he knew it would, and the disc went spinning round and round to his great satisfaction. This would be Tommy’s gun next week, but for now it was still his, and he had several paper boxes of cartridges in his pockets to turn into spent brass, which would get packed out as trash when he hiked back to the truck in an hour or so.
He wasn’t sure if it was the sun above, or the glow in his heart that suddenly warmed him, but he knew that the sixgun felt good in his hand, and it was a great day to be out here with his memories and the kye-yoat.
With that, the RevolverGuy Team is closing out 2018. We will be taking some time to spend with our families, and will be back after the new year. Until we meet again, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!