Friday, July 28, 2017

A Short Story (Part 6)

Setting Out

It was a fitful sleep for Tom, between the other men, the hard ground and a mid-night thunderstorm he did not get much sleep.  He began to wonder if this whole adventure was a mistake.  Had he, to use the archaic phrase – bitten off more than he could chew?  Finally, as the light of the eastern sun began to break through the dark of the night he heard his fellow tent-mates begin to stir.

Quickly, Tom realized “stir” was not the right word, for these men were loud, course, and in no way subtle.  Their rising was more of a very loud clamor and in many ways like an earthquake.  As quickly as they started, they were out of the tent and moving towards the outhouse.  Tom rose and pulling on his boots, he too followed the men.  He was amazed at the filth and garbage strewn around the camp.  He had not noticed it last night as he made his way to the tent, but in the early morning light it was almost overwhelming.  How could these men care so little about their environment?  As soon as that thought crossed he was shaken back to the reality.  These men survived in this environment, and the carnage they left was as it had been through history.  They thought little about the beaver, the bison, or the natives, they were here to make their fortune, free to do as they will, and they gave no thought to the consequences.

As the sun continued to rise, Tom found Fergus and set about negotiating for the animals he would need to travel west, away from the filth of St. Louis and into the vast plains in search of the Rocky Mountains to the west.  For the cost of 2 shillings, and an ounce of gold Tom was able to get a horse, saddle, and two pack mules, which Fergus assured him were in the prime of their lives.  He showed Tom how to saddle the horse and mules and asked where Tom was headed.  Fergus didn’t really care, he had seen idiots like Tom come and go, never to return and assumed Tom would be dead in a week, but he had gotten hard currency and gold from him so he was the better off.

Tom pointed in a vague generally west, northwesterly direction as Fergus asked about supplies.  Tom said he had some about a day’s ride away and with that he set out.

The first half-day was an experiment in balance as Chester walked slowly along.  According to the horse riding manual, Tom was supposed to get off every hour or so and let Chester have a break.  The getting on and getting off became quite tiring as the day went on, and he found his back and his legs hurt like the dickens.  Finally, he said to himself, enough is enough and decided to walk the last two hours of the trip. 

He found the camp he had stopped in that first day, and asked if he could join them for the night.  He had a case of whisky and slab of salt pork he had bought from Fergus and offered that as payment for their hospitality.  With the prospect of fresh whisky, the men quickly put down their tools and joined Tom at the fire.

The next morning, he again arose, stiff and sore from the night, as well as the long ride the day before.  Traveling on horseback was only slightly faster than walking as he figured out this whole horse driving thing.  Bidding his camp mates adieu he started to the west, but when he was sure he wasn’t being followed made his way to where he had stashed his real provisions for the journey.

He arrived in mid-afternoon and found a suitable place to tie the animals as he started figuring out how to pack the equipment on the mules.  With the setting sun to remind him that travel at night was never a good idea he made camp, finally in something that offered the comfort a little closer to what he was used to. 

Tom had brought with him a miniature, self-erecting, fully enclosed portable space camp.  It was standard issue for the military in 2222 and easily available on Amazon®. The entire assembly weighed just 5 pounds and provided shelter, light, heating and cooling, a comfortable mattress, a water distillation system as well as a waste disposal system.  Setting it on a level spot, Tom pushed the erect logo and stepped back.  The unit scanned the ground and the environment around itself and within about a minute was fully erect and ready to welcome Tom to its air-conditioned comfort.  He selected camouflage mode and the shelter virtually disappeared from sight.  The only sign of his camp was the horses tied to a nearby tree.  He figured this was alright for tonight, but once he got started he would shelter them as well.

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