The purple sunset hung over the pink mountains to the east like a dog begging for a bone. Whip Orwell reined in the great horse Caspar and looked around. He regretfully came to the conclusion that night was nigh and decided to camp for it. He looked all around him again to find a nice place with cool water and shade, and found none. So he decided to camp where he had stopped his horse.
He got down off Caspar and suddenly realized how tired he was. He thought that just a brief little nap before he got supper would take away the heat of the day. He stretched out on the sand and wrapped his arm over his eyes. It was somewhat later that he woke to see the sky filled with stars, a somewhat startling sight. He got up and went over to his horse to get his supper.
To his surprise, when he got to Caspar, he found his great horse lying in the sand. After several fruitless efforts (and meatless ones as well) to move the horse, he checked Caspar’s pulse and held his neckerchief in front of the horse’s nose. There was no heartbeat nor did the neckerchief move due to the breath of the horse. After performing some more examinations, Whip concluded that the horse was showing no vital signs. He was, in fact, quite correct. The horse had died of advanced dihydroxygenic deficiency.
Whip sighed and gave the horse one final, loving pat on its withers. He took a small shovel from the rear of the saddle which was originally intended for prospecting duties and scooped a shallow grave in the sand for the big horse. This tired him out again and he thought of taking another nap. One look at the stars, however, was enough to convince him that he should get Caspar’s grave and his own supper finished first. He finally was able to roll Caspar over so the body of the horse was in the trough he had scooped out. The legs of the great horse pointed straight upward toward the stars, which Whip thought was somehow appropriate, so he nodded approvingly. He covered all the parts of the horse that he could with sand, leaving the legs standing upwards like the trunks of four dead trees.
It was now time to start supper. Will had planned to have his last can of beans, but the beans were in his saddlebags—and his saddlebags were still on Caspar. With a sigh of exasperation, Whip scooped sand off the body of the great horse until he could reach into the saddlebags, reached in them to get his last can of beans, and then covered Caspar again. He sat down near a cactus and then began to wonder how he would open the can of beans. He had a can opener, but it was in his saddlebags. Fortunately, he remembered that he had a multiblade knife with a device on it that could be used to open the can. He fished in his pocket and found it, opened the blade he wanted, and managed to pry open the can.
Whip knew the beans would taste better if they were heated, but he didn’t have a portable stove. He half recalled a mental image of the place he was at before he had taken his nap. There had been some cacti around and he seemed to remember that there were some dead cacti lying on the ground. Whip stumbled around under the stars until he found a dead and dried cactus and brought it back to where he had the can of beans. He thought long and hard about how he was going to get the cactus lit, then reached into his jeans to get his cigarette lighter.
After a few moments he had the cactus burning brightly and the can of beans was beginning to bubble. Whip wrapped his hand in his neckerchief to protect it and got the can of beans out of the fire. He settled down to enjoy his evening meal while staring at the stars. He was familiar with much of the night sky and recognized the dippers and the hunter emblazoned on the sky, and the white river which stretched from horizon to horizon as it separated the sky. On the horizon was a moon which was half-full. (Whip was an optimist.)
After finishing the beans, Whip stretched out and quickly fell asleep. It was a peaceful sleep all night long for Whip—except for the snake. Whip woke up in the middle of his sleep and was immediately aware he was in danger. He quickly scanned his campsite and saw two wicked eyes staring at him. Whip knew it was some wild critter, perhaps a snake which was as hungry as Whip had been earlier. Whip began patting the ground around him and finally found something he could use for defense. It was like a big stick, but there were no sticks around. But whatever it was, Whip could use it. He advanced toward the eyes until he was close to them and then started to whack them with the stick. They kept getting dimmer each time he hit them until he could see them no more. This was a little unsettling since he wasn’t sure that their owner wasn’t still stalking him with its eyes closed. He felt his way back to his sleeping area and tried to stay alert, but soon nodded off.
Whip woke up when it became unbearably hot. The sun had climbed high enough to roast everything in sight. Whip rubbed his eyes and looked around him, seeing the smashed up burnt cactus stump and the brass rivets on Caspar’s saddle covered with soot. Apparently he had spend part of his night attacking his saddlebags with a burnt cactus. The brass rivets on the saddle belt, now covered with the soot of burnt cactus, had glowed in the moonlight and looked to him like snake eyes.
Since he would be going on without his horse, it was time to go now in order to get to his destination before he had to spend another night in the desert. He needed another neckerchief, but the only spare ones he had were in his saddlebags. He realized that there might be other things in his saddlebags he might need, so he dug Caspar back up, unchinched the saddle belt that stretched around the horse’s belly, rolled him back and forth to get the saddle with its bags out from under the horse, and finally reburied the great stallion with his legs pointing up as before.
As Whip got his things together, he saw a flash on the southern horizon. Not really wondering what it was, he strided off toward the little settlement of Jackknife.
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