Monday, June 10, 2013


My father was captain of the militia and men was saddling up. I could hear horses snorting in the dark and the jangle of bits and bridles. Mother lit a lamp as my father pulled on his boots and had words with his corporal.

The Piankeshaw had attacked again, this time at Hardin’s farm. The corporal lowered his voice so my mother might not hear the worst of it.

“They cut ‘im down, cap’n. Scalped him and set the cabin afire and took captive Missus Hardin.”

My father asked how many they were. Number of muskets. Their direction of travel. Whilst the corporal told what he knew, my father gathered up his kit, his long rifle, powder horn and shot, and his tomahawk.

“Don’t expect us back any time soon, mother,” he said. Quiet, like he was going hunting.

“Daniel,” he said my name. “I know you awake there, boy. You mind things til I git back.”

The ropes creaked on my bed as I propped on my elbow and nodded from the shadows. “Yessir, pap.”

His company rode south and Mother blew out the lamp. I waited some minutes afore telling her I was off to the privy. In the dark, she did not see me take my rifle.

My father’s pack horse was a roan we called “Crab.” I put a bridle on her and put my heels to her and went bareback after my father’s men.

I found their mounts hobbled one side of a ridge running alongside the river Ouabache. The sky was turning to gray with the coming light and I crawled my way up the ridge, flanking my father’s men like they was flanking the Piankeshaw.

As I crested the ridge and peered around a pin oak, the militia’s guns opened up. The company had divvied theyselves into three squadrons, one driving up the middle toward Miz Hardin, lashed by her neck to a sycamore as I could see. The second squadron swept the braves north and into the waiting third. A hammer on an anvil.

My father was not one to raise his voice at our mother. He was a deacon. The Presbyterians met for worship in our barn. He whipped me only when I had it coming.

Here though, he ran ahead of his men like a bull at the head of a buffalo herd rumbling down the Trace. What didn’t git from their path, they trampled and left bloody. When my father’s guns was emptied, he went to his tomahawk and swung it like a scythe. A farmer of men, he felled them one and another.

I kept my head low whilst here and there a ball would whiz by or hit close and take a notch out of my tree. My father was now to the sycamore and he was chopping through the leather straps that bound Miz Hardin. My father did not see the brave stalking up behind him. But I did.

My father’s law was that our rifles stayed charged, and I generally followed his law. Other than being here along this river, I should say. My rifle was thus charged with fresh powder and ball and I thanked Providence for this.

His back was to the Piankeshaw creeping up on him from tree to tree. The brave's face was painted red with black streaks slashing cross his cheeks and he carried a ball-headed war club in one hand and a blade in the other. My father’s men was engaged in their own fights and I dared not call out lest I show myself.

I worked by feel and did not take my eyes from my father. I rolled to one side and fumbled for the small horn that carried my priming powder. I bit down and pulled out the stopper with my teeth. I tapped a measure of powder into the pan and snapped down the frizzen. One tree now between the brave and my father.

I shouldered my rifle and made my guess on wind and distance. I sighted in and squeezed and dropped that brave with a ball between the shoulders. Even from my perch, I could hear the man grunt as he dropped to his knees. My father heard it as well. He turned and seen the Piankeshaw still reaching out with that knife. My father swung his hawk in a great arc and split the brave’s brainpan like a melon.

The skirmish ended and I stayed hid. Of the Piankeshaw lying afield, I heard splashes as my father’s men pitched their bodies into the Ouabache. The company collected up Miz Hardin and gathered theyselves and rode out.

I figured I was in for it when I got back. But I hain’t been on a battlefield before, and I was going to see this’un up close. I came from behind my pin oak and lightfooted my way down the ridge face. On the ground, I seen a deerskin breechclout. Earth and leaves soaked dark in men's blood. A blanket. The leather straps that once held Miz Hardin.

I stepped on something hard, kicked over by leaves. I reached and came up with my father’s tomahawk, the handle slick with blood. On the iron head, the image of a long knife was laid in with silver. Colonel Small made this hawk for my father, like the one he made for Colonel Knox.

I wiped the blood from the handle. My rifle ball had dropped that Piankeshaw and my father’s blow had finished him. I slid the hawk into my belt. I was fourteen and in for a whipping.


Story originally submitted to NPR's Three-Minute Fiction, Round 11 (May 2013)

600-word limit, story to contain a "character who finds an object he has no intent of returning"


Neehar Gupta said...

Fantastic! I was on the edge of my seat hoping Daniel would take down the Piankeshaw in time. Good stuff!!

Joe said...

Hey Neehar,

Thanks! Glad you liked it!


Larry M. said...

Very well written and captivating store! You'll do well, Pilgrim!

Joe said...

Thanks, Larry. Appreciated.