Ebbiot Stockton takes a Swim. By Steve Batson
The moon shone bright on the North Salida River in the crystal December night. The smell of wood smoke and the pale blue fog that gave these mountains their name . . . hangs close to the cold ground. Icy fingers reached out into the river giving warning to all as to the depth of the cold night.
All of this went unnoticed to the men who sat on the high bluff overlooking the river. They huddled around the small fire that was invisible to all except the occupants of the trench that concealed the copper kettle that hissed and thumped in the darkness. It would have been unnoticed except for the sour odor that surrounded the immediate area . . . an odor that was a sure sign that it was time to cook.
Bad Eye Bullock and Ebbiot Stockton had been hunting that week . . . and not for squirrels either. They had been hunting the Grey Fox and they had found him this morning. So tonight in the cold winter air they gathered together to reap the harvest of their hunt. They had found the fox at Old Man West's store late in the afternoon propped up with his feet on a post and a chew in his mouth.
Bad Eye approached him, "Frank I reckon whoever got that run going up on the North Salida gonna need some help bringing it out."
The fox eyed him with the wary eye of a predator . . . "Reckon so," was all the fox would muster.
"Guess whoever it is couldn't get no cheaper help than me and Ebbiot," Bad Eye ventured.
"Reckon so . . . but you get what you pay for" the Fox countered.
"Half-gallon apiece," Bad eye offered.
"Quart apiece, tonight at midnight, you know the place, nothing but a spoon full, till the run is out. Pay at daylight, this is the end of the run" the Fox reminded them.
"Sounds good to me and Ebbiot," Bad Eye said.
So it was by this, that they had come to be gathered together at this particular revival on the bluff in the cold Carolina night, on a forgotten bluff, by this timeless river. The still thumped in the darkness and they all huddled round as the first drops of the doubling dropped into the tin can. The Fox laughed, "You boys, look awful cold and thirsty."
Ebbiot Stockton stood lonely and forlorn in the flicking light of the still fire, his jaw slack from lack of drink and the long army overcoat bouncing about his ankles. The coat must have fit someone at sometime, but it simply swallowed Ebbiot and made him look like a small boy lost in his Dad's cloak. "Yea," Ebbiot said, "I'm so cold that if Mr. John Law hisself come down that mountain tonight, he could just take me on to jail . . . for not all of hell's demons or old scratch hisself could get me to hit that river tonight."
No sooner had Ebbiot gotten this from his mouth than the ice snapped a brittle pine limb in the cold darkness. The Fox and Bad Eye started and the Fox reached for his gun but quickly their eyes returned to the camp and what appeared to be a large parachute with a small man going up over the bluff and sailing high out over the river. "Cut her down, I'm gone," screamed Ebbiot Stockton and it echoed through the high mountains as did the cold splash that followed.
The Fox and Bad Eye chuckled quietly as they listened to Ebbiot swim hard for his life
toward the other shore . . . the last thing they heard as they settled down for a taste
was Ebbiot breaking the ice in front of him with his elbows as he hit a stroke that would
have brought gold in another place and time.
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