Lucky Weatherly was young and agile as he swung up to sit on the low branches of a towering Maple Tree. He anticipated attending the spectator event on early 1800’s Pay Preview, where the Ultimate Tuff Man Competition was at hand. Someone might be scalped, throat slit, or they may be disemboweled. It was a duel of honor and respect, although both Indian and white man loathed each other. Any outsider who wished to watch the melee knew to respect the duel, as they watched red and white participants duel to violent and painful deaths.
Lucky always felt like Vince McMahon. He usually supplied a regulation leather strap, babbled off a few common rules, and yelled, “Let her rip!” Both men were supplied the same bone-handled knife. The rest was a masculine ritual of the old west. The first hombre to toss loose the strap went sucker and was considered a fice dog.
“May the beaten’est man win!” Lucky said, before setting both men into calculated motion.
It was a dance of death that could last for hours. Each man had to overcome any subtle itch, each set of human eyes locked on the opponent’s spontaneous choreography, and both attempted to avoid the intense sun as it reflected off tempered steel carving blades. Once one man suffered a cut, there was no time to nurse the wound. He could not stop the game with a time out, and didn't have an athletic doctor to nurse his afflictions. There wasn’t a trainer to shoot him up with the latest wonder drug. No. This challenger was forced to grit his teeth, re-focus, and plan a counter assault. There was something far more romantic in such a hand-to-hand melee, without the loud pop of a gun; at a time when a man unveiled more skills than just aiming a piece and pulling the trigger.
This took a dispute between two enemies and plunged their differences into an art form. A man could not anticipate a bullet or how it traveled through the air, unless he was a modern Keanu Reeves in a high-tech computer simulated movie scene. It was a time when animation defined children, not art, and a block party duel was a welcome way of life.
Lucky opened a flask of whiskey and made the most of his upper deck seat, in a gun fighting coliseum—where violent entertainment was always welcome. The hidden thrill was wondering which man would be the bull, which the matador, and which would fall victim to the other’s rage? Lucky shook his well-matted head, thinking he just about forgot a burlap bag of pretzels lining the left pocket of his tunic.
For once…the Indian’s war paint was welcome because the distinctive attribute set the two duelists apart and was not a brand to fuel bigotry. Several Indians watched on, equally yoked in the respect of letting the duel run its course and solve a dispute between two quarreling parties. An unconfirmed rumor described a duel over a woman. Diplomacy kept certain camps from overreacting and creating an environment that would threaten the lives of women and children. In fact, the duel symbolized a solid attempt to sacrifice one for the many. This was a far stretch from most modern depictions of massive territorial battles where people were ambushed, women were raped, and camps were pillaged for anything of human use.
“Land sakes…I want to see real grit with those dang knives,” Lucky blubbered.
He raised the flask to his lips, again, and felt the stinging warmth of its presence wash over his body.
“I reckon all blood runs red!” Lucky could not believe the words fell from his dry, cracked lips.
The old west didn’t need cock fights or dog fights to move them. Civility threw human beings into the center ring, and said, ‘Sink or swim’!
A friend swung up into the tree like a wild monkey, and instantly joined Lucky’s side. It wasn’t long before the friend gazed down at the two, lone fighters.
“How’s our dude making a fist?”
“Slit cut, as fur as I can tell.”
“And the Ingin?”
“He’s one tuff b’hoy!”
The white man lunged, with a knife reflecting a thousand rays of sunlight. The Indian parried and his blade just missed removing his opponent’s pale left ear. Both men’s jaws throbbed as teeth sunk into soft-tooled leather. The white man had a long laceration across his knife-wielding hand, and the Indian had a four–inch slice across his left cheek. But the men still danced. Feathers of some long dead bird gave color to the Indian’s head. Neither fighter wanted to be bested by the other; neither wished to disgrace his people.
Lucky had downed most of the flask of whiskey, and he struggled to steady himself on the large branch of the tree. His partner caught sight of a beautiful woman, suddenly appearing from out of nowhere.
“Who’s the cherry?”
Lucky kept himself from being distracted. His eyes never left the duel, although his mouth declared, “Who?”
The other man pointed at the sleek maiden. Without even looking, Lucky answered, “That’s Clarice.”
“She’s some pumpkins!”
Lucky chuckled. “She’s high-falutin and designs to give men the mitten.”
The horny onlooker ignored Lucky. In some bizarre twist of fate, the man would end up being Cledus Beaumont’s father.
The blade arced down and sliced across the Indian’s chest, just as the red man made one quick and calculated lunge. In denial, the Indian fought to recover the stronghold he felt he previously attained. The wound felt heavy, throbbed, and begged to be attended to.
The Indian thought back to a time he had summoned spirits, which arose and danced around an aromatic bonfire, and he had felt the oneness of several animals’ beastly natures as their essences glided past his hallucinating eyes in the form of enticing smoke clouds. A fox told him to give up chase and run, an eagle spoke of wanting its feathers back, and the land waited to claim his body as its own.
Perhaps, I can use this to my advantage. I can lead the white man in with my wound, parry, and make an unexpected lunge at his selfish heart! The Indian thought.
But the red man grew weaker by the minute, the stinging pain increased, and the wound appeared greater than he first anticipated. The war painted man could not afford to look down and pull his eyes from the sneaky white devil before him.
The white man thought… I have you skeery and tuckered out…By Sam Hill! Surrender…while yu still stand upright.
Sensing the other’s defeat, the white man went in for the kill. He also savored the moment, as he cornered the wounded animal, anticipating gutting it like a fish. Both blades met. The Indian held back an urge to shout the pain sending intensely hot coals into the frontal lobes of his brain. Instead of screaming, the red man bit down harder on the dark tether positioned between them.
The Indian dropped the blade just enough to take a downward slice out of the white man’s calf. Not seriously wounded, the white man stepped aside, and let the Indian swipe at thin air—instead. In a matter of seconds, the white man set himself, and responded with his own thrust that caught the Indian on a downward lunge—sticking the knife through the Indian’s right oblique. This assault took the red man down with an exasperated grunt.
“Bully for yu!” The boodle surrounding the two men cheered.
The white man stood over his victim, raising the knife he held for one last mortal thrust. The task turned fuzzy, upon witnessing several free-floating forms escape from the caverns of the Indian’s wounds. The victor could only stand, paralyzed, as their undeniable thirst sucked out his oxygen.
The crowd watched the white man drop to his knees, let go of the carving knife, and forcefully grasp at his throat. The white fighter came to, several hours later, never remembering being overcome by the departing soul of his savage victim. Lucky saw a spiritual python wrap its girth around the victor’s neck, which brought the man to his knees. The older spectator rubbed his sage irritated eyes, questioned the whiskey, and noticed his partner fell out of the tree.
From his back, the fallen man yelled, “Some strange bird flew fix’in on my head!” Lucky knew the man should consider it a blessing the bird hadn’t found more.