(An extended piece of the short story “To the Mountains” by Paul Horgan)
Julio loosened the old rifle from the clutches of the two hooks crowning
the dusty fireplace mantle. Drawing it close, Julio thought back to the
previous year when he had journeyed to the mountains in search of animal
furs. Ah, those bittersweet memories of fear and accomplishment, Julio
thought wistfully. He recalled how the winter snowflakes had laid icy
drops on his cheeks, when he had shot his first cougar... “bang”…, how
proud his mother and brother had been… “congratulations, son”…, when—
Jerking around, he blinked at his mother, Rosa, standing in the sunny
front doorway with an old saddle blanket draped on her arm.
“Julio, my little son,” she eyed him curiously, “why are you fingering
your father’s rifle?”
Presently she entered the dark shadow of the house and laid the blanket
across her rocking chair in the far right corner. Retrieving a sewing
box, she fished out a needle and some bright red thread. After sitting
down, she waited patiently for a reply.
“Mama, I would like to go to the mountains again…” Julio spoke.
As his voice trailed off, Rosa smiled with a glint of understanding in
“Ah, my little son,” she spoke gently. After a long, thoughtful pause,
she began patching together a raggedy tear.
“You belong there, Julio,” she murmured. Although he saw the sparkle of
a teardrop in her soft brown eyes, he watched, perplexed, as she turned
to smile upon him in a struggling, delicate pride, like the strength of
the stem supporting the weak spirit of its flower. “I will not hold you
back from your will. Please be safe while you are gone; come, let me bid
Julio could not speak, for joy had caught his tongue. His heart
pounding, he obediently hugged his mother and packed himself food for
the trip. Grabbing both rifle and hat, Julio flew out the door. Summer
sunlight greeted his face and flashed on the rifle barrel. “Yahoo!” he
cried. “Luis! Father! Guess what! I’m going to the mountains again!”
When he stopped at the base of the mountains, Julio loosened his horse
into the fenced area he and his brother had built six months ago.
Shouldering the gun and knapsack, he breathed in the summer air. Where I
belong, he thought. Julio eagerly set out towards the high, wide ledge
where he had stayed before, and presently he glanced downwards to make
sure his horse was secure. By mid-afternoon he reached his destination,
wedging himself between two sun-baked boulders just above the pasture.
After preparing the rifle, Julio unraveled his pack to pull out some
biscuits and a long rope meant for tying animal skins together. Hour
after hour passed, and scorching heat wore on his shoulders. Rolling
beads of sweat trickled into his eyebrows, making Julio quite
uncomfortable. All remained silent—it was as if mountain slept.
Disappointment lumped in his throat from lack of success. Suddenly a
pebble bounced off his head from the steep incline above. “Ouch! What…”
His voice abruptly stopped, for the ground began shaking below him.
Swiftly the vibrations increased, and he could hear a thundering noise
grow louder at the second. Trembling Julio sheltered himself from the
hailing stones. Earthquake? his mind raced. Where could he run? Not
until he heard piercing whinnies ring out at the bend of the ridge did
he realize what it was. “A stray herd of mustangs,” he breathed. Fresh
excitement gushed through him. His heartbeat matched the rhythm of the
pounding hooves that clattered the rocks. Hastily laying the gun down,
Julio strained to see around the boulder. Wild snorts flew into the air,
and he could see them turning the corner of the ledge towards him. As
tangled manes flapped at the disturbed mountain sky, nostrils expanded
to suck in as much air as possible. Bold and fierce, a buckskin stallion
lead the way. Foam swelled around his dark muzzle, and his sleek skin
flashed in the sunlight.
Julio caught his breath. “I’ve got to catch it and show it to Mama!”
Quickly he untied his bundle and reached for the rope. He could hear the
hoofbeats—only seconds before they would disappear. Tying a knot at the
end, he got up and whirled it in the air. Although Julio did not have
any experience with a lasso, the Spanish horse would gallop close to the
boulder, and he was sure he could hook it around its neck. With a huff
he thrust the rope towards the ledge as the buckskin flew by. It soared
into the air…