by Joshua Blanc
Two figures wobbled to a halt at the top of the rise. Fil clung
desperately to his mount. His guide and companion, Jim, whose grey
beard could be mistaken for a tumbleweed, balanced with ease and looked
out across the land. Baking desert lay as far as the eye could see.|
"This here's cactus country," said Jim.
Fil glanced around nervously from his perch on top of a glistening mound of jelly.
"I hear ya," he said.
He spurred his jelly forward, and it followed the trail down to the basin. The 'splorch, splorch' it made was reassuring for a moment, but when the sun was blocked momentarily by a rock-formation he felt shivers up and down his spine. Or perhaps they were wobbles, caused by his mount? He shrugged the feeling off.
Fil nearly wobbled right off the jelly.
"Y'hear that?" said Jim.
Fil listened, but until his jelly stopped wobbling, all he could hear was the sound of wobbling jelly.
"I don't hear--"
"Shh! It's over there, in the shadows, I'm sure of it."
Jim tested the wind and chewed madly at his tobacco. A big wad of it he spat on the ground.
"Best be headin' in the opposite direction. We don't want no trouble, 'specially since we're low on horsefeathers."
Jim hopped off his mount and turned it around to follow an old dry river bed. Fil stopped puzzling over Jim's remark about horsefeathers and pulled on the reins. Being new to jelly trekking, he hadn't yet mastered steering his steed. It sat there, undulating softly.
"Come on now, we hafta git," he said.
He hopped down and pushed at the beast, but it wouldn't move. He'd never heard of lame jelly -- lime, sure -- but he guessed this must be the type. He leaned his back against the slick surface and pushed again.
Something shiny caught the sunlight and he stopped. He could see the outline of a cactus, a saguaro -- the meanest of them all. It stood there at the edge of the rocks and bobbed; sniffing the air, no doubt.
He wanted to call out 'Jim!' -- he could hear the old man muttering to himself in the distance -- but no sound would leave his mouth. He really did shiver this time, as the cactus was joined by another, and the inevitable another.
What was it he'd been taught about being stranded in cactus country? Eat your horse? No, that wasn't it. If only he'd paid more attention. More and more cacti emerged from the shadows, their spines shining in the dwindling sun. Fil was now surrounded by a forest of cacti, with nowhere to run.
Jim's voice called out behind him, and he came to his senses.
He scrambled to the top of his jelly, and in his haste got his foot stuck. It was at that moment he remembered his training. Cacti will only attack your jelly, so in a sticky situation such as this get as far away from your mount as possible.
The jelly jiggled wildly. Egad! The cacti were eating poor Felicity! He wriggled his foot out, as spines pierced his jeans, and saw Jim riding full-pelt towards him.
"C'mon son, grab hold!"
He leapt from the quivering mass and shared saddle on Jim's faithful 'Trigger.' They galloped away, and the slurping sounds died down behind them.
"It's a good thing I remembered you were with me, boy, or you'd've been a goner."