Writing Contest: Fiction | Writingcontest | santafenewmexican.com – Santa Fe New Mexican
Autumn Leaves by Patrick Mehaffy, Santa Fe
Billy had stopped at the spring near the low bluff hundreds of times to let Red drink. This time, as Red put his muzzle into the clear pool, Billy noticed the rock wall built into the bluff. Over the years he had found half a dozen ancient cliff dwellings riding in the canyons of the Bar D, each just a small room or two built of stone and adobe high in the rimrock. But the rocks in this wall had been laid without adobe and it was at the base of the bluff.
A week later, Billy came back with a flashlight in his saddlebag. He pulled a few stones from the wall and reached in with the light. The walls were covered with pictographs in red ocher, hand prints, deer and birds, human figures, spirals, and double bar crosses that he had been told represented dragonflies. All made hundreds, if not a thousand years ago. He wondered if the rock wall had been built by someone wanting to hide and protect the wall paintings. And then the beam of his flashlight found something on the floor.
He pulled more rocks from the wall and crawled in.
For a moment he wasn’t sure what he was looking at, but then it came together. It was the body of a young girl lying on her back, shrunken and mummified by the dry desert air. Her hands were folded across a faded threadbare dress printed with red roses. Her blond hair was carefully plaited into thick braids that lay on her thin chest. She was barefooted.
Near her head Billy saw a piece of paper under a small rock. It was a label taken from a can of peaches. On the back, in writing that reminded Billy of Harriet’s, he read:
He looked at the girl again, her dusty yellow braids and parchment skin. How carefully she had been laid out. But it was her worn dress and bare feet that touched him. After his parents had been killed, Billy had been raised by his Choctaw grandparents. He knew poverty when he saw it. Had she even owned shoes when she died? Or had her shoes been given to a younger sister when she no longer needed them? He turned off the flashlight and sat on his heels and let his eyes adjust to the darkness. He could hear Red tearing at the grass just beyond the rock wall.
That night, lying in bed while Harriet slept, he thought about …….