The hot sun beat down on the lean young man lying back on his horse. His Sharps rifle lay propped on the dead animal, ready to fire, although it had malfunctioned twice already. Half an arrow was sticking out from his left shoulder, the other half lying two feet away. Where the shaft entered the body, dried blood had caked into his chest hair. An Army Colt was held limply in his right hand across an outstretched leg, half-cocked. The Dragoon was in the pommel holster at an easy grab.

All ready for a last stand.

Three Indians had died by his hand. One lay uncomfortably close to him but hadn’t moved since he fell that afternoon. Apaches could be patient, but how patient? Two Apaches lay in the field beyond his position, between him and the tree line. Both of them had died by his pistol while the one lying close had died by the Arkansas toothpick, a razor-sharp, fifteen-inch blade. That lay in the dirt, bloodied.

Overhead, a flock of carrion birds made their lazy circles over him, patiently waiting for death to come upon their prey. Their eyes weak, their beaks dull, they were only able to feast on dead creatures with no defense against the living. On the same side his arrow wound was, Colton Marston had discovered the Indian he killed with the knife had gotten him first.

He had to live. But he didn’t want to. He was tired…too tired to care anymore. There was a herd of cattle a long ways away that would require him to keep living…and a girl. A blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl who wouldn’t understand if he quit at this point in his life.

Colton became aware he was not alone. His grip tightened on the pistol, but his mind was foggy. He saw Consuelo appear, coming toward him.

“Connie…” he said hoarsely. “Wha…what are you doing here?”

“You cannot die now, Colton,” she said. She knelt down. He reached out to touch her, but his hand would not move. “You still have much to do.” She disappeared.

He struggled to his feet. He holstered one pistol and stuck the other behind a belt. Colton swayed for a moment before walking into a tree line. He didn’t know how far he had gone before he fell into a tree, using it to hold himself up.

There was someone near him. He couldn’t see them, but he somehow sensed it. A man wearing a torn and bloody shirt with buckskin trousers came up from behind and turned to him.

“Got into a fix, son?” It was Chauncey Marston…his deceased father.

Colton wanted to say something, but what could he say? He didn’t know the man beyond any relational level.

“Reckon you could say that.” Colton slid down and fell to his back.

The sun shone through the pines, and a soft wind rustled around him. Chauncey’s bearded, shaggy head looked down on him. “What are you doing, boy?” he asked.

“Thinkin’. Maybe I don’t want to move.”

“Is that what Consuelo would have wanted?” Chauncey gave his son a knowing grin. “Think about Susan? She needs you. What about that gal you left with the herd? You help them move a herd only to give up and die by a little arrow wound?”

Colton furrowed his brow. “I don’t know about that…”

“You were horseless in Apache country before, wounded by Comanche and Kiowa, got into a bad fight with the Blackfeet, and you’ve always survived. You’re a Marston, boy. If you don’t know what that means, you best find out.”

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