3231219735_f955619e1f_bFlame leaps from the end of the Winchester and the rifle bucks in the old man’s hands. Something hot and painful stripes across my wrist.
I holler and jerk my hand back. Hold it up and count the fingers. Look for blood.
It’s my lucky day. Only a little blood and I still have all five fingers. Looks like the bullet just scratched me.
But all that noise and thrashing around has gotten the ants all excited and now they’re pouring out of their nest in earnest, waving their little jaws, searching for anything they can bite.
“Give me the rifle!”
The old man looks startled, but he gives it to me. I quickly shoot off the rope holding my other wrist, then the ones on both ankles.
I drop the gun and leap to my feet. I’ve got ants everywhere. I go into a crazy dance then, jumping around, slapping at my clothes, swearing.
In the end I have to strip off all my clothes. They’re in every nook and cranny of my clothing and it’s the only way I can get them all.
Finally, the last one is gone. I stand there naked, taking in the damage. The venom courses through my veins like fire. I have big red bumps everywhere, arms, legs, torso, face. Some in places I don’t want to mention.
I notice a strange wheezing sound and look up to see the old man bent over, his arms wrapped around himself. The strange wheezing sound is coming from him. Is he having a heart attack?
“Are you okay?”
“Si, Señor,” he replies, straightening and wiping his eyes. “Is very funny, the dance you do.” He waves his arms and takes a couple dance steps. That starts a new round of wheeze-laughing and he has to stop and try to get his breath back.
“I don’t see what’s so funny,” I grumble. “You wouldn’t be laughing if it happened to you.” I pick up my pants and pull them on.
He gets his breath back and straightens. “Sorry, Señor. To be this old, I have only the laughing. It is laughing that keeps La Muerte—death—away. She does not like the sound.”
He probably has something there, but I’m not ready to laugh along just yet. I finish getting dressed and pick up the Winchester. He watches me. I look at the gun. I’ve never owned a rifle this good before. He’s just an old man. There’s nothing he can do to stop me. I see in his eyes that he realizes the same thing. Now he’s waiting to see what I will do.
I hold out the Winchester to him. “Here. We had a deal.”
He takes it, looks down the sights, whistles. “Is a fine gun.” Then he gives it back.
“I have my chickens, my small garden. I don’t need it. I think you do, a man whose enemies tie him to anthill.”
I’m not sure what to say. I stick out my hand. “Thank you. Without your help, well…”
He takes my hand softly, gives it a tiny squeeze, then lets go of it. “De nada.” For nothing.
“If there’s anything I can do for you?” I pick up his bundle of sticks. “I could carry this to your home.”
“No. Is not so far. I don’t have much to do, and is too early for my morning siesta.”
I watch him shuffle away, wondering. How does he even survive out here, all alone and without a gun? I feel like there’s a lesson here somewhere for me, but I can’t figure out what it is right now. The pain from the ant bites is making it hard to think.
I whistle Coyote over and haul myself into the saddle. But I’m not sure what to do next.
The obvious thing would be to go to Pa-Gotzin-Kay. That’s the stronghold where my clan hides out. I’d find food and shelter there. I’m sure they have at least one pistol they could spare me as well.
But I already know I’m not going to do that. Why? Because I feel like a dadgum idiot, that’s why.
Dee-O-Det told me not to go to the temple of Totec, and I did anyway. I don’t want to listen to him say I told you so.
I also don’t want to admit how badly I got played. I don’t want anyone to know how that whole rigmarole played out. All that gold and I got none of it.
I point Coyote north and nudge him with my boot hells. We’ll go to Tombstone. I can replace my pistols there. Not having any money, I don’t know how I’ll buy new ones. I just have to hope something comes to me along the way.
I haven’t gone very far before I cut across the trail of the Yaqui braves that staked me to the anthill. The trail leads east. I sit there on Coyote looking down at it, and all at once I know what I’m going to do next.
I turn east.  I’m going to get my hat back.
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