A man who insists upon seeing with perfect clearness before he decides, never decides. Accept life and you must accept regret.---Henri Frederic Amiel
Josiah was planing the edge of a pew when Chris Larabee walked into the church. But he didn't really walk right in. He's sneaking in, Josiah thought. Like no one will notice. He smiled to himself.
"Josiah," Chris dipped his head briefly in greeting, then meandered about the little sanctuary, seeming to study the woodworking.
"Chris," Josiah answered amiciably, "What's brought you here today?"
Chris shrugged and continued to move about without answering. He ran his fingers appreciatively down a piece of woodworking. Josiah smiled again. Wonder what it's like when he and Vin are out on the trail together? Quiet. Real quiet.
Finally Chris slid into a pew and leaned back. "What happened out there, preacher? The day Vin killed the wolf?"
The question surprised Josiah. Chris was not a man to ask one man another's business. He put the plane down and sat on the edge of the pew facing Chris.
"Why do you ask?"
Chris looked out the window for a moment then turned back to face the preacher. "He's different. He's all pissed off half the time. He's . . . I think he's getting ready to take off."
Josiah nodded and took a deep breath.
"He shot the wolf. I offered to do it, because it was pretty obvious he didn't want to, but he did . Then he dug a hole and buried it. Didn't take the ears to collect the bounty. And before he finished he took off his medicine bag and threw it into the hole with the wolf."
"The one Chanu gave him?"
Josiah nodded. "He lost something when he killed that wolf, Chris. He needs to find it again. Get his balance back."
Chris shook his head. "That wolf was killing cattle. It killed Nettie's calf, for Chrissake."
"I know that. So does he."
"He's thinking he's just like this wolf."
"It's just a damn wolf. I don't get it."
Josiah shrugged. "Maybe Vin doesn"t, either. I don't know what years of hunting and killing and being hunted can do to a man like Vin." And neither do you, Chris, Josiah thought.
Chris sighed and leaned deeper into the pew. Resigned.
"So how do we help him get his balance back?"
"I don't think we can. He needs a medicine man."
"And how are we gonna get him to a medicine man?"
"Medicine man might have to come to him."
"It could happen." A small, sly smile tugged at the gunman's lips.
"Indeed it could, my friend, indeed it could."
Later that day Josiah was continuing his work when Vin walked into the church. Sat in the same pew Chris had. Silently.
So very much alike, and yet so different. The big man thought.
Vin didn't speak, and Josiah didn't have anything to offer him. He thought about the day JD had walked in here, looking to say goodbye. He had hugged JD. It had been so natural, and that's what Josiah wanted to do now. Hug Vin. Tell him to let it go. Make it right again. Instead he sat down across from him, as he had Chris.
"Something on your mind, Vin?"
He shook his head. He looked up at Josiah, and his eyes were the deepest, saddest sapphire Josiah could imagine. A bullet couldn't do the damage one dead wolf was doing.
"You're not thinking of leaving, are you?"
Vin looked surprised. And nodded.
"You're not going to find answers out there alone, Vin. You're not that wolf. You got cast out of the pack. We all did. But we got our own pack now. Let it go. You did what you had to do to survive. So did he." Josiah was as surprised at the sudden rush of words as Vin was. But he saw that Vin was listening, so he pressed on. "Talk to Kojay." He reached out to lay his hand on Vin's forearm, but Vin ducked his shoulder down and slipped away from the touch. Then he turned and disappeared out the door.
"Damn." Josiah said quietly. "God damn You. Help him, why don't You?" And he looked up at the cross and waited for an answer.
The resounding thump of the axe hitting wood had started early the next morning, and continued, almost without interruption, until early afternoon. Josiah had gone out back of the church to find Vin splitting wood. There was a large pile there, and really no current need for anymore, but Vin had some frustrations to work out, and Josiah left him there, going at the pile with a determination that was unsettling. He remembered Vin telling JD once that splitting wood was a good way to keep yourself from killing someone, maybe yourself. He had grinned at the time, thought it was terribly wise of the young man, but now, those words came back to him and he frowned. Well, as long as he could hear that axe, he knew Vin hadn't ridden off.
The axe wasn't sharp, but it didn't need to be. The satisfaction of thumping it down solidly into the next log was what Vin wanted, and it didn't have to be sharp for that. By afternoon, with the sun baking his back and his muscles throbbing down through his shoulders and arms to the raw skin on his hands, it still wasn't enough. Hell, he thought he could take the whole damn church down board by board, rock by rock, and it still wouldn't be enough. He leaned his head back on his shoulders and rolled his neck, dropping his arm, still clutching the axe, to his side. It was then he noticed Kojay behind him. He almost dropped the axe, he was so startled. Vin never let anyone sneak up on him, ever. Didn't get drunk and let his guard down, sat with his back to the wall in the saloon, camped without a fire when people froze to death in the night. And this old man had been standing behind him and he hadn't even noticed.
Their eyes met, neither of them speaking. Kojay motioned back to the pile of wood and eased himself to the ground. Vin launched himself back at the wood.
Forty minutes later, he sank to the ground beside the old shaman. Everything hurt, now, but at least the pain in his heart was bearable in comparison.
Finally, Kojay spoke. "Spirit gave medicine for you and you have given it away. Without your medicine to remind you of who you are, you are lost."
Vin looked down at the ground. "I killed a wolf, Kojay. I left the medicine with the wolf."
"No. The wolf has his own medicine. You cannot give your medicine to another in that way. You share your medicine, sometimes, yes, but you cannot pass it on like that."
Vin continued to look at the ground, then lifted his eyes to the far off horizon.
Kojay spoke again, gently. "Spirit does not punish us for what we do not know. Now you know things you did not before. The wolf, his body is dead; his spirit is at peace. Like you, if you die, some part of you will be at peace from this race you think you need to run."
Vin shot a quick look at Kojay. What did he know about runnin'?
The Seminole leaned closer to him. "You run from more than you think. When you know what you run from, then you can stop. Until then, no. Now, you can teach the young one what you have learned. Not just with the wolf, but from before."
"The young one?"
"The young one who is so full of life and will not listen to an old Indian. The young one who thinks killing will make him strong."
Kojay nodded. "You have Hawk medicine, remember. You see far, fly close to Grandfather Sun. You are messenger."
Vin leaned back, putting both hands behind him, palms down in the dirt. He felt better, somehow. But still sore.
"First, you finish the wood. When our hands are empty, what will decide the fight is what is inside our heart."
He struggled to his feet, picked up the axe and stepped back up to the stump. Picked up another chunk of oak. And started again. Only now, the axe was lighter. A few minutes later, when he looked back to see if Kojay approved, the old man was gone. There on the ground lay a medicine bag on a thong. He picked it up and slipped it over his head.
He turned back to the chopping block, letting the thoughts run through his mind, turning them over and turning them loose. When he could swing the axe no more, he sank it into the block, and slipped down to the earth, stretching out flat on his back. He pulled his leather coat to him, rolled it up into a pillow, and there, behind the church, in fading daylight, he slept, truly slept, without dreaming.
When Vin awoke, the first thing he felt was the coldness. His shirt, damp with sweat, was cold against his skin, and his body ached. He clenched and unclenched his fingers, loosening the joints. He sat up, and rubbed his shoulders. Then he heard the voices.
Inside the church, Josiah had yet another visitor. Vin rose stiffly and went to stand beside the side door.
"He's mad at me, Josiah. And I don't know why. It was just a wolf. People kill wolves all the time. Back East---"
"I ain't mad at you, JD."
Vin, standing in the doorway, startled both the preacher and the kid. JD stood up, unsure of what Vin might have heard, of what he might do. The tracker smiled, and the boy relaxed. It was a genuine, disarming smile. But Vin looked like hell. Shirt pulled half out, coat hanging from his hand, dirt on his face. Vin sank into a pew three rows back from the other two men. He didn't look like he could have walked up the short isle any farther.
To his credit, JD waited for Vin to speak.
"First time I killed a buffalo, I was maybe 14 years old. Made me feel pretty tough, killin' that big buff. And the next time, and the time after that. That's how you kill buffalo, one at a time. If someone woulda told me someday we could kill 'em all, I'd told 'em they was crazy. But we did. They ain't hardly none left now, purty soon, they'll be all gone. Just cause it made men feel good to kill 'em." Vin shook his head. "Don't make you strong to kill somethin', JD. Makes ya weaker inside."
"Sometimes you feel like you got to. But you always got a choice. Once you kill somethin' you can't go back. Ever."
Was he still talking about the wolf? JD wondered.
"I regret lotsa things, JD. Mostly killin's. Killin' buffalo and wolf and people. Just cause there's more of 'em out there don't mean killin one of 'em, just one of 'em, is right. Nettie can't lose no more cattle to a wolf. So I killed it. Don't mean I gotta like it. I ain't mad at you. I reckon I'm mostly mad at me. That make any sense?"
JD looked at him in earnest. He nodded. "I guess."
"You wanta go to the saloon, get a drink?"
JD, relieved, smiled. "Sure. You buyin?"
"Do I ever, JD?"
"There ya go, Kid."
The three men got up, Vin stretched, and they slowly walked out the door, down the steps and towards the bright light of the saloon.
Chris noticed the thong hanging from Vin's neck immediately. He also noticed the relaxed manner in which Vin grabbed JD around the neck and pushed him toward the bar. Josiah winked at the man in black casually and dropped into a chair beside him.
"How'd you get Kojay out here, Chris?"
Chris frowned. "What'd you mean, preacher?"
"Kojay. How'd you talk him into comin' so quick?"
"I didn't talk to Kojay."
Josiah laughed. "Reckon I better make some apologies tonight, then. Somebody's listenin'."
| Back |