Brothers - A Story For Thanksgiving

Tom Bonard eased his rangy gelding onto the icy slope of the coulee. The nervous horse picked his way to the bottom, his hooves slipping and sliding on loose stones and dirt. The blanketed paint that Bonard was leading didn't have as much difficulty because he was riderless. At the bottom of the dry stream bed, Bonard saw what he was looking for -- a campfire flickering in the darkness 150 yards ahead. He pulled his wide-brimmed Stetson further down over his eyes to ward off the icy effects of the blue norther' sweeping across the plains. This is the doggonest place to be Thanksgiving night, he thought to himself as he pulled his coat tighter around his throat against the wind-driven sleet.

Bonard urged his horse toward the campfire, the paint trotted behind on the tether. As he got closer he recognized a familiar figure, wrapped in a blanket, hunched over the fire. Bonard stopped and dismounted. The figure continued to stare into the crackling, popping flames. Bonard knew that his old friend was ignoring him on purpose.

"Running Wolf," Bonard shouted above the wind. "What in blazes are you doing out here?"

The old Indian continued looking into the fire. "Dying," came the reply.

"That's what I heard, but I didn't believe it," Bonard replied evenly as he stooped by the fire to get warm. "I rode out to your place to invite you and Deer Woman to Thanksgiving dinner. Then she told me that you had taken a notion that it was your time to die, and came out here to do it."

"Deer Woman talks too much," Running Wolf growled.

Bonard smiled. "At any rate, I came out to see if you could postpone dying long enough to come to Thanksgiving dinner with my family. Deer Woman is already there. Cora has been cooking all day and the kids at home are really anxious to hear some more of your great stories."

"You will have to tell them the stories for me, Bonard," the old Indian replied, still looking into the fire. "You know most of them."

"Can't do it was well as you can. Besides, since I became a preacher I lost my knack for stretching a point three ways from Sunday."

Running Wolf turned for the first time and looked Bonard in the eye. "It is my time to die, Bonard. You know our ways as well as any white man. You know that the spirits...."

"I thought you were a Christian, Running Wolf. Remember, I baptized you. You know that only God can decided when you are to die. You're not supposed to do it yourself. But if you intend to sit here long enough, He might grant your wish anyway. As cold as it is, you'll probably freeze to death."

"It is my time to die," the old Indian repeated defiantly.

Bonard sat down next to the fire and pulled his coat up around him. "Okay, Running Wolf."

Surprise came over Running Wolf's heavily lined face, the skin stretched over his high cheek bones like old leather. "What are you doing, Bonard?"

"Well," Bonard replied. "As long as we're brothers, we might as well die together."

"Blood brothers," Running Wolf said, nodding. "That was a long time ago. Many seasons."

"Sure was. We were just young bucks then."

Running Wolf turned to his old friend. "Will you sit there all night? Cannot I not be alone in my misery?"

"If I have to, I will stay here all night," Bonard answered. "It might take a long time for both of us to die."

"You are stubborn, Bonard," the old Indian muttered. "And you talk too much."

The two old friends sat side by side in silence, staring into the fire for many minutes. Then Bonard said, "By the way, I saw an old friend of yours today." When Running Wolf didn't reply, Bonard continued. "Jody came to the house with his wife and son Sprout. They're there now."

Running Wolf turned toward Bonard. A slight smile played on his old, cracked lips. "My godson is here?"

"Yup. All the way from St. Louis. They took the train to be with us for Thanksgiving. Only took them a day to get here. Remember the time we went to St. Louis and how long it took for us?"

"Many days."

"Two weeks."

"How does Jody look, Bonard?"

"Good. A little older than when you last saw him. Sprout's growing like a weed, though. Jody told him all about the stories you used to tell him when he was his age. That little boy has really been looking forward to meeting a real wild Indian like yourself. Now how in the world am I going to tell him, and your godson -- my son Jody --, that their favorite person in the world would rather come out here to die than to visit with them on Thanksgiving?"

"I thought that you said we were going to die together."

"I'm just hopin' you might get some sense between now and then."

"Bonard," Running Wolf grumbled, "you talk to much."

"I'm just stating the facts, my brother."

"I have come here to die."

"I know. That's what you said." Bonard got a far away look in his eyes. "So it's a cryin' shame that you won't be able to taste that juicy apple pie that Cora baked for you, either."

Running Wolf turned again. "Apple pie?"

"A big one. Just chock full of apples and cinnamon and sugar.... I can just see you and Jody and Sprout and me sharing a big hunk of that pie right now by the fire, while you tell us about your past glories as a warrior. But if you're determined that you're going to die...."

Suddenly Running Wolf threw the blanket off his shoulders and got to his feet. "Enough, Bonard. You fight like a woman and I cannot win that argument. We will go to your house. I will put off dying until tomorrow."

"They'll be here for a week, Running Wolf," Bonard said grinning.

"Then, I will die next week."

Running Wolf and Bonard extinguished the campfire with dirt. Then the old Indian mounted the paint that Bonard had brought while Bonard mounted his own horse. "I can just taste that apple pie now," Bonard said, smacking his lips.

"Bonard," Running Wolf said frowning. "You really do talk too much."

"Yes I do," Bonard replied with a shout. "But that's what I do for a living. Praise the Lord."

Laughter echoed through the coulee and could be heard even above the howl of the icy wind as the two old friends rode away together, then disappeared into the storm.

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven."   (Ecclesiastes 3:1 NIV)

[ by Ed Price -- from 'Themestream' ]


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