Short stories written by Lucinda Abra

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Higher Ground

In Memory of a Tree

The Neighborhood Boy


Krishna and Arjuna

In Memory of a Tree

Having just completed a long, grueling cattle drive, the dirt-encrusted cowboys had been boisterously swigging whiskey shots, one after another. There was one exception to this boisterous cluster, their point man, Juan. Short and wiry, thin as a stick, he was by far the more introverted one, who had spent the last months at the front of the cattle drive, regulating the direction and speed of the herd. Juan spent his workdays alone riding forward to their destination, with no other companionship other than that of his horse, at least until mealtimes. A human compass with an unerring sense of direction that never failed the others, he was the arrowhead that led the barreling mass of flesh onward.

Instead of joining the others, Juan sat to the left of the disheveled piano man. Leaning sideways, he gulped cool sarsaparilla; it clutched in his chapped, cracked fingers. Despite being nearly on top of the battered instrument, he still could not discern the notes over the din of his rowdy companions. Frustrated and bone-weary, there was no reason to stay in the saloon even one more moment. Taking the last swallow, he tucked his worn hat tighter against the autumnal breeze and walked out into dense, new moon darkness.

The large mare kicked up some dust as they rode from the Flay, just outside Fort Griffin, headed towards the Guadalupe Mountain range. Juan was determined to return there, a location he had found several years past. In his memory, it was a peaceful oasis, a private site. He intended to fall into a satisfying slumber to reward the five months of hard labor. He planned to hunker down there a few days and rest up before heading back to California. The thought of unwinding in solitude had been his only goal.

Finding a secluded spot under a bluff, Juan fell asleep beneath a sturdy chinkapin oak that towered overhead, some fifty feet tall. His horse had been surprisingly uneasy, so he gave in to her whim and sheltered the animal a ways apart, closer to an outcrop of boulders.

He had determined the tree would offer protection from the elements.       

The gray cluster of clouds, crowded as they were, scurried from the south, signifying an upcoming storm system. In Juan’s fatigue, he had fallen asleep oblivious to the soft, repeated drips that descended slowly but surely upon his worn Navaho blanket. The man jostled on the dampened ground in an unconscious stupor. In his uneasy dream that night, he had been fighting against a relentless flood as the sensation of wetness wormed its way upward.

As the dawn broke through the night’s curtain, Juan’s eyes opened. Still relaxed, snuggled in his bedroll, his eyes drifted through the overhanging branches until they rested on a sight that seared into him, leaving a scorched brand upon his heart. Within the embrace of the mighty oak was held the remains of a man, swinging mutely from a sturdy noose. Swaying in the morning breeze, it was as if the air itself sought to soothe the dead. Throughout that night, the man’s swollen body had been surrendering drops of human essence through the tears and rips of his mutilated humanity, sharing his last drops with the stranger underneath.

Juan did not bother with his usual morning ritual of a cup of coffee. He disregarded his intention to rest a spell. Instead, he jumped on his still fidgety horse and rode hard through a dreadful storm until he was out of Texas, leaving the damp, stained Navaho blanket and his cattle driving career behind. It was time to leave the past as far away as his nightmares would allow.