(Originally posted at Writer in the Pines on July 30, 2008)
* I run back to my own trailer for a couple of family-size microwave entrees and a bag of frozen vegetables as I wait for the men to clean up, musing on their appearance in my time. Rulon seems to have recovered all the strength he lost from the effects of his grievous war wounds. He's filled out, his chest regaining its former bulk. Carl still limps. I wonder if that will be permanent, given the awful damage to his left leg from the fight with the Acosta gang. Clay is taller than I remember. Ranch work evidently agrees with him.
Arriving back at the spare trailer, I set the microwave to nuke the meals, and bring out a pot for the Italian-style veggies. These guys have probably never seen zucchini, I remind myself as I fill the pot and set it on the stove. The shower runs in the background. I guess the novelty of an indoor waterfall won out over a sit-down bath.
I stare out into the night through the kitchen window, wondering about the men's brother, James. When I last left him--in published form, that is--he was in a world of hurt, estranged and away from the family, grieving over the loss of someone he'd cared a great deal for. I've been there, and my heart breaks for him.
Rulon comes down the hall in stocking feet, his dark hair slicked back, still damp from his shower. I invite him to sit, and he does so, pulling on his boots. I lean back against the counter.
ME: Tell me how you came here. It's pretty amazing to see you all.
RULON (settling in his chair): It was mighty amazing, the three of us riding out to check on the cattle, and seeing a rainbow arched through the sky, just ahead of us. We didn't think nothing of it. Rainbows generally fade back as you approach them. This one, though, it just stood it's ground, and we passed right under. I knew right off something wondrous had occurred.
RULON: Oh ma'am, uh, Mom, everything was different. We was in a piney forest, for one thing. I found a trail, and we followed it a ways.
ME (breaking in): You always were the best tracker out of your brothers.
RULON (smiles at the compliment): Thank you. I'm teaching 'em some of the tricks.
ME: Sorry I interrupted. Go on.
RULON: We came to a clearing, and the edge of a cliff. Mom, the view was outstanding. Outstanding.
ME: It is indeed. You were on the Mogollon Rim.
RULON: We knew we was out of our time when we saw some of those cars and trucks you explained about. It looked like folks were fixin' to camp out. (He furrows his brow in puzzlement)
ME: Folks do that for recreation nowadays.
ME (sweeping my hand around the kitchen): All these inventions have given us time beyond what we spend working for a living. Most people don't have animals to tend anymore, so they can get away from their homes and go have fun.
RULON: Can't they have fun at home?
ME (laughing): You'd think so, wouldn't you? The days of gathering around the piano in the parlor for fun are long gone.
RULON: We didn't have a piano, but growing up, we'd sing hymns and the old songs in the parlor, like you said. James had the sweetest voice of all. (Rulon passes his hand over his mouth, and I know he's thinking of his absent brother)
ME: You miss him?
RULON: Him bein' gone feels like a burning fire eating away in my chest. (He slumps forward, his hands tightly gripped between his knees. His voice is low and muffled.) Pa was wrong in the way he treated James. He knows it now. Ma grieves something fierce that her boy is gone.
ME (shaking my head): He's not dead. I wish I could tell you about him. I can't.
RULON (raising his head and sitting up straight again): I reckon you can't. It helps to know he ain't dead. Thanks for that much knowledge.
ME: I don't know if you'll remember talking to me once you go back home. I hope you'll hold on to some measure of comfort.
RULON: I dearly hope so.
ME (stirring the vegetables): Tell me more about your coming here.
RULON: Well, we decided to make camp, since the clouds and thunder come up and we reckoned it would rain soon. We was unpacking our gear when along came a little red car, or maybe it was a covered truck? It was going the other way from all the camping folks, so Carl hailed them and asked if perhaps they had an acquaintance with you. We was mighty pleased to learn Mr. McCabe and Mr. Rains are your neighbors. They said they'd caught themselves as many fish as the law allowed, and since it was fixin' to rain, they was headed home. They said they'd carry a message to you.
ME: I was pretty floored to get the news that you were here.
RULON: Oh. They gave us directions on how to get down the right trails and find you. When they left, the rain come on plenty strong. We packed up and took out after them. I tell you, it was an adventure dodging all the vehicles when we got down to the macadamized road.
ME (guffawing): I'll bet! We call that a highway. It's a turnpike for our motorized vehicles. I imagine it was slick with the rain. I would have liked to see the faces of some of those drivers.
RULON: No you wouldn't. They was plumb angry. Said some mighty foul things, too. Some I didn't even understand. And then they would do this--
ME: Don't show me! I can imagine. Some folks are just plain rude. In their defense, they don't see many horsemen coming down that steep grade. Some of the turns can make a strong man blanch, and coming upon a horse in the road during a cloudburst-- (I laugh again, shaking my head)
RULON (frowning): Once we saw the way of things, we tried to keep to the side and out of their way.
ME (recovering my voice): I'll bet!
Carl and Clay come into the kitchen. I dish up the food and they sit around the table, exclaiming over the zucchini and red peppers and how short a time it took for me to prepare their food. They wait for me to sit down, then Rulon says a short blessing, and the men get down to the business of eating.
*This is a work of fiction. I don't really talk to time-traveling characters from my novels. I do like them a lot, though, and am glad they passed under the rainbow to visit me in my own place and time. To order my novels, The Man from Shenandoah, Ride to Raton, and Trail of Storms, visit my website at marshaward.com.