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A distraught cowboy seeks death, but finds something entirely different.

By Noah HusbandPublished 2 months ago 13 min read

“Where you gon’?”

“I’ll just be headin’ out west a ways. Do some fishin’, collect my thoughts”

“Well, how long you gon’ be gone?”

I never did tell the old barkeep where I was really goin’. My wife, Rose, had passed from a fever just a month back. He knew this. The whole town of Las Flores knew it. What they didn’t know is how heavy it still weighed on my heart.

Truth was, I wasn’t goin’ out for no fishin’ trip. I was goin’ out to die. I had me a wooden canoe all set up on the beach— nice, broad, wide thing. I rode my horse, Lucky, out to it. I took his reigns off, took his saddle off, told him I was givin’ him back to the wild.

There weren’t a wave in sight, so I supposed the devil was ready for me. I shoved that canoe into the calm water, and hopped in. I had a shirt, my ten-gallon hat, some trousers, and my hatchet. I left my gun and boots on the shore. I could feel the ocean pullin’ me out, with no waves to push me back, and I laid down in my canoe. I folded my arms and held the hatchet to my chest. See, I had this idea— strange now that I look back at it— that I wanted me one of them viking funerals, where they put the feller’s body in a boat, set it ablaze, and cast it off someplace. Ain’t nobody in Las Flores was gonna do that for me, so I figured I’d do it for myself. Back then, they would put the feller’s wife and horse in the boat with him too, and let ‘em burn, even if they were still breathin’.

I sat up and looked back at Lucky. He was watchin’ me drift off. He didn’t know just how lucky he really was.

I laid back down and crossed my arms again, the way I imagined them vikings did. I shut my eyes— couldn’t help but picture Rose. In my mind she looked darlin’. She had on that red flamenco dress. Her hair was done up all nice with a ribbon in it. She danced a while, performin’ for me in my daydream. She was twirlin’, makin’ the dress dance for her. On her first turn, her face was pretty and full. On the next, that sickly pale color was back on it. By the third, those black eye bags came back and her mouth hung open. On the next turn, she was as dead as she had been when I buried her, a rottin’, twirlin’ zombie.

I shook myself out of it. I felt that damn pressure a fella gets behind his eyeballs before the tears start comin’. I sat up and looked back at the shore. It was a good distance away now. If lucky were still standin’ there watchin’, I couldn’t discern him from the rest of the landscape.

I kept lyin’ down and sittin’ up. Rose’s pretty face kept enterin’ my mind. She would live and die, live and die, perpetually. I would get tired of it and sit up, then repeat again. A few days went on like that. I felt myself gettin’ hungrier and thirstier, but didn’t care none. Rose kept livin’ and dyin’, livin’ and dyin’.

The sun was beatin’ down on me good. My muscles started twitchin’ all sorts of funny ways from the parchedness. I knew it’d only be a couple more days until the viking grim reaper came along to claim my wretched soul; and there weren’t gonna be no reunion with Rose, neither. Her sweet spirit had surely gone off to heaven. Best I could hope for was purgatory.

It was about the five or six day mark, when I stopped rememberin’ things. Right before that, I puked up somethin’ slimy. My vision was blurrin’. I figured that was it for me, and the Lord put me out.

He didn’t put me out all the way, though.

That vision of mine came crashin’ back with the sound of a wave breaking on the shore. I was laid out on a beach at night, sore as hell, nearly paralyzed. Underneath me was some sorta fur.

Ancient lookin’ fella loomed over me. He reminded me of the indigenous folk we had back in Las Flores, or around it, anyway. They were the kinda folk I was accustomed to showin’ my pistol to as I rode by, lest they try somethin’ nasty.

I tried to say somethin’ to him, but some awful, guttural, sound came outta my throat instead, and he responded by tiltin’ my head upward, and pushing the lip of a small wooden bowl to my mouth. I drank from it. I could feel it was water. The old fella smiled.

I still had no ambition to live, but my throat chugged it down aggressively out of instinct. The old fella kept fillin’ bowls and I kept drainin’ em. Then, more of the beach dwellers came, some popped outta huts bearin’ food, which I absent-mindedly devoured. All night, these mysterious folk tended to me, until the sunrise.

I was able to sit up now, and carry the water bowl myself. The old fella had been exchanged for an even older lady, who sat cross-legged, smilin’, puffin’ on an odd lookin’ cigar that seemed like it was made from reeds.

With a gravelly voice, I managed to say, “Thank you”.

She giggled. She hadn’t the thinnest clue what I had just said.

“Thank you,” I attempted again.

Still nothin’.


She kept on gigglin’, puffin’ that smoke from those reeds.

Suddenly, she seemed to have an idea, she turned and rambled something quickly in her native language at a boy who was wearin’ only a cloth, and holdin’ a funny-shaped piece of driftwood under his arm. The boy smiled, nodded, and ran off someplace.

Lookin’ off to my left, I could see my canoe sittin’ on the shore. Next to me on the fur, my hatchet and stetson. I wondered to myself: Who are these people that can be so trustin’ of a stranger, washed up in their land with an axe on him, that they would spend all night nursin’ him back to health? These were nothin’ like the indigenous folk I knew back home. Sure, they looked like the ones I knew. They had the same black hair and strong features, but they were more simple lookin’. They didn’t wear no braids or feathers. They let their hair flow however it liked, and they wore minimal clothin’ too.

The boy came runnin’ back with a young man followin’ behind him.

The young man had a grand smile on his face, and he reached his arms out in a welcomin’ gesture.

“English?” he asked in a very thick accent.

Out of pure surprise, I stuttered, “Y-yes. English”

His smile widened. “It is good… uh… to meet… uh,” he searched for the word, tappin’ his chin, “!” he concluded with enthusiasm.

I was so bewildered to find someone who spoke English, that I couldnt find any words of my own to reply with.

“You…” he continued, “Come, uh, see island… with… me?”

“You want me to see the island with you?”

He nodded.

I was reluctant, but seein’ as I set out to die anyway, I figured I didn’t have nothin’ to lose. I stood on my wobblin’ haunches, and gestured for him to lead the way.

As we walked ‘round the island, the young man was more gestures than words, though the English he did speak was enough to fill in the gaps. He told me all about this strange place I found myself in. He told me it was an island, sea on all sides. He told me the mountain in the center of it was a volcano. He told me he had washed up on the island, just like I had, only he was just a baby when it happened. I doubted that part, but my curiosity outweighed my skepticism.

“Y'all are awful happy to be stuck out here” I said

He found this humorous.

“Stuck?” he replied, laughing, “Island not… stuck us. Island… help. Island heal. Island have… all we… uh... need. You see? Seal… coconut tree… give food. Water… from spring… and from rain”

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Name? Ah! Name is…” he pondered for a moment, “Name, to you, mean… Rides… on tides… something like this”

“Rides-the-Tide” I repeated.

He nodded, smilin’ in approval. He had these big relaxed eyes. They were the sorta eyes that made you trust a fella, like no ill will could be goin’ on behind em. I got to wonderin’ what my own eyes looked like. I imagined they were dull and pitiful. I imagined they had been that way since Rose’s passin’.

“Rides-the-Tide? Now how’d you go and get a name like that?”

Rides-the-Tide’s smile widened again. He suddenly beamed with excitement.

“Come!” he said.

He beckoned me with a wave and started runnin’ off quickly for the western side of the island. Now, I admit, his excitement was contagious. I couldn’t hold back a chuckle as I took off racin’ behind him.

After a stint through some thick vegetation— about a half-mile’s worth— we reached the western shore. There were more huts on the beach there, and Rides-the-Tide kept pointin’ to the horizon.

“You go! You try!” he shouted repeatedly.

“Go where?” I asked, “Try what?”

I peered out into the rollin’ waves, and in their curls, I noticed somethin’ I could hardly believe. It was the little boy from earlier, with his funny-shaped hunk of driftwood, and he was usin’ it to ride the waves!

“How in the hell?...” I asked under astonished breaths.

“You go! You try!”

Baffled, I replied, “I go try that?”


He ran down toward the beach. I followed, now noticin’ that it wasn’t just the boy out there. Half the damn tribe had gotten in that water, men and women, young and old, all standin’ or layin’ on slabs of driftwood.

Rides-the-Tide and I came to a patch of sand where two oblong boards were lyin’. He picked one up, and gestured with his eyes for me to grab the other one.

“No, no,” I said, “You go on”

He gave me another look that told me he wasn’t budgin’ until I joined him. I sighed and obliged.

I removed my hat, then my shirt, and lay 'em on the sand. I rolled my trousers up to my knees, and grabbed the board, stickin’ it up under my arm. With some sorta foreign grace, Rides-the-Tide galloped out into the water, tossed his board beneath him, and landed on his belly, before paddlin’ out to where the others were.

Meanwhile, I was havin’ trouble gettin’ past the first row of waves. Tide kept knockin’ me backwards. However, after watchin’ Rides-the-Tide a while, I got the hang of dippin’ under the waves, lettin’ em roll over top of me.

I managed to paddle out to where he was, and he told me, through broken English and hand-gestures, how to stand up on the board. On my first few attempts, I fell hard. I cursed and punched at the water each time, and the island folk laughed. After about a dozen attempts, however, I was standin’ up on the small waves, and I continued to do so until evenin’ fell, and everyone swam inland for dinner.

That night we sat around campfires. Rides-the-Tide and I were sharin’ one with four others from the tribe. We were gnawin’ seal jerky. Tasted like a some kinda god-awful rubber thing, but I kept that to myself. We were all still salty from the tide ridin’ earlier. I gave a look to that little boy who’d been conquerin’ waves thrice the size of mine, a look that said, “Watch out boy, I’ll catch up to you soon”. A woman in our group produced one of them reed cigars. She stuffed it up with somethin’ and lit the end of it in the fire.

She took a long, slow, pull on it, and passed it over to her right. The little boy took it, and had a drag himself, before passing it along to Rides-the Tide. He took the longest inhale of all, and was very slow to exhale. Then, he passed it to me, smilin’.

“Tobacco?” I asked, pointin’ to the cigar.

He nodded and continued smilin’. I gave it a sniff.

“Funny smellin’ tobacco”, I said reluctantly.

“Go,” he urged.

I put it to my lips and performed a long inhale, before breakin’ into a fit of coughs. Rides-the-Tide laughed, pattin’ me on my sorry back, as he took the cigar and passed it along.

I watched that reed cigar make its way ‘round the circle. These warm faces I had become familiar with in such a short time, sat around me conversin’ in a language I could not understand. I sat among ‘em, just listenin’, content to allow my own thoughts to wander. The cigar continued ‘round the circle, and I realized that for the first time in over one month, I had nearly surpassed a whole day without thinkin’ of Rose.

The cigar returned to me. I took a moderate drag. No coughin’ this time.

I went to bed that night feelin’ hazy and floaty, like in the canoe, but without the pain of hunger and thirst. My eyes felt heavy and ready for slumber. I fell onto some furs in Rides-the-Tide’s hut, and transitioned beautifully into mornin’.

I rose with the sun to find Rides-the-Tide missin’ from his hut. I got up, and meandered down to the shore. The mornin’ breeze felt immaculate on my bare skin. I had not worn a shirt nor hat since their removal yesterday, left ‘em on the beach in fact, and I felt it would be fine if I never saw them again. I walked over to where I had left my hatchet when I first arrived. It was lying there still, unmoved. I picked it up, and went for a stroll down the shoreline, listenin’ to the waves crashin’, lookin’ forward to ridin’ them once again.

I happened across a large stump of driftwood on my stroll. It looked like it had once been the base of a sturdy tree. I heaved it up the shore a bit, and started hackin’ at it with my hatchet. Half the day went by, and I at last had somethin’ resemblin’ the start of a board. I carried it back to the hut, where Rides-the-Tide was eatin’. He saw me carryin’ my object and smiled.

“What… is this?” he inquired.

“Well it ain’t finished yet,” I replied, “but this is a gift for my good friend”

I smiled back at him.

“I… uh… never ask,” he started, “What is… your… uh…”


“Yes. Name.”

“Well,”, I thought about it for a minute, “It used to be somethin’ kinda meaningless…”

I pondered on that question a bit. I had never stopped to think what my name actually meant. Prolly meant nothin’. I figured I’d like a name with some meaning to it.

Finally, I decided, and said, “How ‘bout you just call me Driftwood?”

Rides-the-Tide smiled.

AdventureShort Story

About the Creator

Noah Husband

If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.

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