Chapter Two—The Ugly

     I really resent the title of this chapter, because it’s about me. I know I’m not the most handsome critter on earth, but “ugly” is a bit strong. “Stupid” might be a better word, especially given what happened. Here’s the tale.

     Fern Withers was a loser; that’s about the only word for it. He was a drifter, a drunk, he could never hold a job, and he didn’t really want to. So maybe he wasn’t a loser after all if he was doing what he wanted. But he certainly wasn’t a productive member of society. That made him a thief. Yet, he was basically harmless.
     When he needed money, he developed a unique way of obtaining it. He would get some ketchup, wait alongside the road for an unsuspecting sucker, and when he saw one, rub some of the ketchup on his forehead and lay in the middle of the road. The Good Samaritan sucker would stop, of course; how can any decent individual pass by someone lying in the road with “blood” on his face? Fern would then “wake up,” point a gun at the now-surprised do-gooder and make off with his money, and anything else he wanted. It worked pretty well and kept Fern in booze and women. When he ran out of money, he’d do it again.

     Do I have to paint a picture of the next event in this story?

     I’m usually smarter than that and tend to be very suspicious. But I had been traveling for a long time and I was tired, dead tired. When I saw the poor unfortunate sprawled in the middle of the road with what looked like blood on his forehead, I did what any other…unsuspecting sucker…would do. I stopped to investigate.
     I kneeled down and Fern Withers came to life, conking me on the head with the butt of his pistol. I went out like a light, and it was my turn to lay in the road for a while….

     Fern chuckled. Tee hee, got another one…He wiped the ketchup off his forehead and started inspecting his catch. He went through the man’s pockets and found a couple of interesting things. The first item caused his eyes to bug out. Wow. I think I’ll keep this, it might come in handy…The man’s wallet produced a little over $50 in cash, which Fern confiscated, of course. Wish it had been a bit more, but hey, I’ve had worse days. I’ll keep the wallet and identification, though, it could be useful at some point… He looked at the man’s gun and holster, and considered, but decided against taking that. I like my own gun. There was nothing else on the fellow’s person that Fern wanted, so he stood up and looked at the man’s horse.
     Hmm, that’s a good looking horse, a lot better than the nag I ride. I think I’ll take him and leave this feller with mine. The horse started backing away and shaking his head, obviously understanding Fern’s intent. Fern talked sweetly to the animal and tried to approach, but he couldn’t get near. Stupid beast. I ought to shoot you. But he just shrugged and thought, I reckon I better get along in case somebody else happens by. So with a new stash of booty, Fern walked over to his horse, mounted, saluted the poor chump in the road, said “thank you,” and rode off.

     It had been late morning when I stopped to “help” the fellow sprawled in the road. I guess I did “help” him, didn’t I…..Well, when I woke up, I could tell it was the middle of the afternoon. I had a headache that went from one side of my head to the other, and from the top of it all the way down to the bottom of my feet. That’s quite a headache, folks. The first time I tried to sit up, pain shot through me like a lightening bolt, and I almost threw up. I closed my eyes tightly, took several deep breaths, and when I calmed a bit, opened my eyes again. Blurry. I shook my head and opened them again. A little better. I probably had a pretty good concussion—banging one’s head against the butt of a gun will do that—so I moved slowly and carefully.
     I stood up and took another deep breath. I wobbled, took a step, and fell to my knees again, with agonizing pain lancing through my head. Still breathing hard, I took a few moments to let that pain pass, and then tried to stand up again. By this time, a horse had trotted over and snorted softly, so I leaned against the saddle. I stayed that way for about two minutes, just letting the throbbing subside, along with the spinning in my head.
     Once my head cleared a little bit, I began to take stock of where I was. What happened? I thought about it and couldn’t remember. I looked at the horse. “Are you my horse?” I couldn’t remember that, either. “You must be my horse, or you wouldn’t have come over. How come I can’t remember you?” For a moment, I figured it was just taking a little time for my head to clear, but after a couple more minutes, I began to get concerned.
     And what really bothered me was…I couldn’t remember my own name.
     I felt my head and found a pretty big bump on my noggin. I tried to think. Did I fall off the horse? My mind spun and I closed my eyes again, supporting myself against the saddle. Who am I? I flat couldn’t remember.
     I had enough sense about me now to search my clothes. I found no wallet or identification. I checked the saddle bags, beginning to panic a little. I found some clothes, ammo, jerky, coffee and pot, and a few other essentials—including some money—but nothing that told me who I was. I said to the horse, “Ok, horse, you got a name. Tell me what it is. Then tell me mine.”
     The horse just nickered. He’s laughing at me. Well, I guess it was funny—to him.
     I didn’t panic too much. I suspected that I had probably been riding, gotten tired, fallen asleep, toppled from the horse, and landed on my head, perhaps hitting a rock and causing temporary amnesia. But it still bugged me a bit. If you’ve ever had amnesia, and can’t remember anything, then it’s a bit frightening. I closed my eyes and tried to recall something…a few flashes zipped through my mind—some trees, a lake, snow-capped mountains, false-fronted buildings. Well, I must be in the west, which, from looking around me at the scenery—rolling hills with mountains not too far away—didn’t take much to deduce. I pulled a face. At least I know what the “west” is…
     My head started hurting again at the mental strain, so I decided to stop trying to recall stuff. It will all come back to me soon…I hope…I wasn’t a doctor—at least I didn’t think I was, I really didn’t know what I was—so I didn’t know much about amnesia, but I was confident I’d get better. Somehow I knew I had been bopped on the head before and I was still alive and had a brain, so I reckoned I’d get better in time.
     Still, it wasn’t pleasant not being able to recollect anything in my life. At least, not put anything together. A few more visions—a man and a woman, older…dad and mom? A ranch house…home? Am I a rancher? A dog, black lab…mine? I shook my head, frustrated. Then another lightening bolt flashed through my head, and I squeezed my eyes shut and held on to the saddle until it passed. Well, that’s what I get for thinking, I guess…I probably was never good at it, anyway…
     I happened to glance to my right and, about 20 yards away, I saw a snake slithering lazily across the road. I hate snakes, so I pulled my gun and fired. The snake’s head came flying off. I nodded, satisfied, then stopped. How do I know I don’t like snakes? And then, something a little more eerie—the gunshot. Blowing the head off a snake at 60 feet with a pistol is no mean feat. I frowned, then glanced around and saw a tree across the road, probably 50 yards away. There was a dead limb hanging down from one of the branches. I didn’t even aim, I just shot from the hip, and the limb disappeared. I was thoughtful as I re-holstered my gun. I’m pretty good with this thing…I felt of my hip. A knife in a sheath. I pulled it out, pivoted, and threw it. It thudded into a knot in a fence post across the road—right where I had intended for it to go. My head swam at my rapid movement, but that cleared in a few moments. I walked over, shaky but pensive, and pulled the knife from the post.
     Who am I? Well, whoever I am, I’m pretty good with weapons….
     I didn’t know if that was a good thing or not.

     After a few minutes, when I felt up to it, I mounted my horse, whom I called Horse. He seemed to respond to that, so maybe that was his name after all. “What’s my name, buddy?” I asked him………..”No, I don’t think my name is ‘Whinny.’ At least, I’m not going to respond to it.”
     I started to gig Horse and take off, but then…I didn’t know where I was going. Or what direction I had come from. Which way? My head started hurting again, and I swayed in the saddle. I closed my eyes and it passed. I figured out how I could tell what direction I had been traveling in. I rode in one direction for about 50 yards, then studying the tracks Horse had left, I went about 50 yards beyond where I had woken up and, sure enough, it was fairly obvious we had come from this direction. So I turned around again, and that’s the way we went. From the position of the sun, it appeared we were headed in a northwesterly direction. Towards some nice, high mountains. I wonder where I’m going. Will I recognize where I’m going when I get there? How long am I going to be like this? It was frustrating and aggravating, to say the least.
     But it was what it was and I was going to have to live with it until it wasn’t what it was.