A mile outside of Picture City, they had set up a tent for the meeting with the Apaches. A troop of cavalry from Fort Apache had been dispatched to the conference, and now two lines of horse men faced each other on the cloud-darkened meadow—one line the saber-bearing cavalrymen; the other the blanketed Apache braves, impassive-faced, sitting their ponies like waiting statues.
Everything looked drab and colorless in the gloomy half-light—the grass and bushes drained of their late autumnal richness, the horses dark or dun, the costumes of the soldiers and Apaches composed of solid, cheerless hues. Only here and there did color show—lightly in the weave of a blanket, more boldly in the slashes of yellow stripe along the dark pant legs of the cavalrymen.
Between the lines stood the tent, its canvas fluttering in the cold, October wind. Inside its small interior, six men sat on folding stools: Braided Feather, chief of the Pinal Spring band, 287 men, women, and children; his son, Lean Bear; Captain Arthur Leicester, United States Cavalry; Billjohn Finley, United States Indian agent for the area; David Boutelle, newly arrived from Washington, D.C., as observing representative for the Department of the Interior; and Corporal John Herzenbach, who was there to write down the conditions of the treaty between the government of the United States and Braided Feather’s people.
Finley was speaking.
"Braided Feather says that his people must be allowed to sow and gather their own grain and work their own sheep and cattle herds," he translated to the captain.
"This is their prerogative," said Leicester. "No one intends to deprive them of it."
Finley interpreted this for the Apache chief, who was silent a moment, then replied. Finley translated.
"He says it is known to him that many Apaches in the San Carlos Reservation have had their fields destroyed and their livestock taken from them," he said.
The captain blew out breath, impatiently.
"His people are not going to the San Carlos Reservation," he said.
Finley spoke to the Apache chief and, after a pause, Braided Feather replied.
"He wants to know," said Finley, "how his people can be sure they will not be sent to the San Carlos Reservation, as so many—"
"They are being given the word of the government of the United States of America," Leicester broke in pettishly.
Finley told Braided Feather and was answered. He pressed away the makings of a grim, humorless smile and turned to the captain.
"The Apaches," Finley interpreted, "have heard this word before."
The two young men sat among the high rocks, one of them looking out across the meadow with a telescope. From where they were, the tent was only a spot on the land below, the facing horse men only two uneven lines that almost blended with the grass. Only with the telescope could the one man make out features and detail.
If Jim Corcoran had raised the telescope a jot, he would have seen the buildings of Picture City, dull and faded underneath the cloud-heavy sky. As with the horse men at the conference, two lines of buildings faced each other across the width of the main and only street.
If Jim had turned and climbed the steep incline behind them to its top, he might have seen the dot of Fort Apache sixteen miles due west and, perhaps, caught sight of the smoke from White River chimneys eigh teen miles northwest. He would have seen, too, surrounding him like a dark green island in a sea of desert, vast forest land, and, in the distance, the snow-crowned peaks of Arizona’s Blue Mountains.
But Jim was only interested in the conference taking place below. Earlier, he’d talked his older brother Tom into leaving the shop to come out and watch it.
"By God," he said, lowering the telescope, "I never thought we’d see the day ol’ Braided Feather’d get to feelin’ peaceable."
"We never would’ve either," said Tom, "if it hadn’t been for Finley."
"That’s right enough," said Jim. He raised the telescope again and chuckled. "Christ A’mighty," he said, "an honest Injun agent. They’re as hard to find these days as honest Injuns."
His brother grunted and glanced up briefly at the leaden sky. Each time he looked at it, it seemed to have descended lower.
"She’s gonna start to pourin’ soon," he said. "We’d better hightail us back to town."
"Aw, let’s wait awhile," said Jim. "The meetin’ can’t last much longer."
"Jim, they been a hour already," said his brother, checking his watch. A raindrop spatted across the gold case, and he wiped it off on his coat sleeve.
"See, there’s a drop already," he said. "We’ll get soaked."
"Just a mite longer," said Jim, looking intently through the telescope. "We can ride back fast if she starts up."
Tom put his watch away and looked over at his brother. When was Jim going to grow up? he wondered. He was eigh teen already, but he still acted like a kid most times. It made their older brother Al mad. Well, that was nothing much, Tom thought, smiling to himself. What didn’t make Al mad?
Tom yawned and drew up the collar of his coat.
"Suit yourself," he said. He’d wait a little longer anyway. "Can you see good?" he asked.
"Yeah, real good," said Jim.
Overhead, there was a swishing sound.
"All right, all right," Captain Leicester said irritably. "Any breach of treaty on our part releases his people from the agreement. Good God, what does the man want?"
He aimed a stony gaze at the clerk, then looked back suddenly, interrupting Finley as the Indian agent began translating for Braided Feather.
"That goes both ways, of course," he snapped.
When Finley turned again to the Apache chief and his son, he saw that, although they had not understood the content of Leicester’s words, his tone of voice had been apparent enough. There was a tightening twitch at the corners of Lean Bear’s mouth, the faintest additional glitter in the dark eyes of Braided Feather.
Finley pretended not to notice. He nodded to the two Apaches, then asked a question. The chief sat in silence awhile; across the table from him, Leicester shifted restlessly, the wooden stool creaking beneath his weight.
Then Braided Feather nodded once, curtly, and his son grunted, lips pressed together. Finley turned to the captain.
"It is agreed then," he asked. "The band will be supervised by an Apache police force?"
"We have already discussed that," said Leicester.
"Further," said the agent, "that the band will be subject only to Apache courts and juries to be formed?"
"Presuming that the members of said courts and juries are acceptable to the United States government," said Leicester.
"They will be formed with that stipulation," answered Finley. "The point is: The Apaches must be allowed to govern themselves and, when necessary, act as their own judges, mete out their own punishment."
"Presuming that this right is not used merely as an excuse for laxity of discipline," said Leicester, "it is acceptable."
"They will govern themselves then," Finley said.
Leicester nodded wearily.
"Yes, yes," he said. He turned to the clerk. "Put it down," he said.
Corporal Herzenbach dipped his pen point into the vial of ink. The sound of it, as he wrote, was a delicate scratching in the tent, just heard above the flapping of the canvas.
Over the distant mountains, thunder came rumbling at them like the chest-deep growl of some approaching beast.
"Come on, let’s get out of here," Tom Corcoran said. "It’s get-tin’ set to bust wide open."
"Aw, just another minute," pleaded his brother, the telescope still pressed to his eye. "You talk as if we was a hundred miles from town."
"The way it’s fixin’ to rain," said Tom, "we could get ourselves soaked in two seconds."
"Y’think maybe the meetin’s takin’ so long because it ain’t workin’ out right?" asked Jim, changing the subject so they wouldn’t go right away. He wasn’t in the mood for riding back to town just yet. Al would just put him to polishing rifle stocks again.
"Y’think so?" he asked again.
"Who knows?" Tom said distractedly. "Who the hell can figure out an Injun’s brain? Braided Feather’s been turnin’ down treaties more’n ten years now. Wouldn’t surprise me none he turned down another."
Jim whistled softly. "That wouldn’t be so good," he said. "Braided Feather’s a real son of a bitch. I’d hate t’see him on the warpath again."
"Yeah," said Tom. "Come on, let’s go."
"Y’think maybe—what’re ya lookin’ at?"
Tom Corcoran was squinting upward. "I thought I heard some-thin’," he said.
"I don’t know."
"Where, up there?" Jim looked up at the cloud-roiling sky.
Jim snickered. "I expect it was a bird, Tom," he said.
"Yeah, sure, you’re funny as hell." Tom lowered his eyes and shivered once. "Come on, let’s beat it."
"Oh . . ." Jim Corcoran stuck out his lower lip. Well, no help for it, he guessed. It was going to be a working afternoon and that was the size of it.
"So," he said, shrugging, "let’s go then."
The sound passed overhead again, a faint, rushing sibilance.
"There it is again," said Tom, looking up.
"I didn’t hear nothin’," said Jim.
"You wouldn’t." Tom lowered his gaze.
Jim chuckled, standing up.
"You scared o’ birds?" he asked.
Tom flat-handed him on the arm, and Jim lost his balance, almost dropping the telescope. He laughed aloud as he staggered.
"Birds", he said.
Below, their horses nickered restlessly. They strained at their ties.
"It is agreed then," Finley told Braided Feather in the Apache tongue. "No rifles or pistols will be kept by any of your people.
"When one of your men needs to hunt, he will go to the soldiers who rule the reservation. There, he will be given a weapon and a pass which will allow him to hunt for a certain time with the weapon. When the time is ended, the rifle or pistol will be returned to the soldiers.
"I have tried," he added to the chief, "to get permission for these guns to be held by the Apache police, but it cannot, immediately, be done. Later, when the soldiers understand, as I understand, that your word is good, I am sure we can get the weapons put under the control of the Apache police. Is that agreeable?"
Braided Feather nodded.
"It is agreeable," he said.
"Is it also agreeable," asked Finley, "that the making of tulapai will be limited so that none of your people can drink so much that they might commit an act which would break the treaty?"
Before the chief could answer, Lean Bear spoke angrily to him. Finley did not interfere in the brief exchange between Braided Feather and his son. He glanced over at Leicester and saw the captain gritting his teeth. He looked at Boutelle, who sat, legs crossed, looking at the two Apaches with hard, critical eyes.
Soon Lean Bear had relapsed into a thin-lipped silence, and Fin-ley’s gaze sought that of the chief.
"It is agreed," said Braided Feather, "if it is also agreed that no white man will be allowed to offer whiskey for sale to any of my people."
Finley passed this along to the captain, who nodded, a sour expression on his face. Leicester’s stomach was upset. There was a dull pain in the small of his back, his wife had been frostily rejecting the night before, and he was sick and tired of haggling with these damned, arrogant savages.
Quickly, sensing the decline of cooperativeness in the air, Finley went over the remaining conditions of the treaty while the captain squirmed uncomfortably on the squeaking stool. The two Apaches, father and son, sat without expression. David Boutelle sat, lips pursed, appraising Finley’s words, and the corporal clerk sat with the pen poised between his ink-spotted fingers, waiting for instructions.
Outside, the chill October wind rustled the browning grasses, ruffled the blankets of the Apaches and the dark coats of the cavalrymen, stirred the horses’ manes, picked at the canvas of the tent, and was a cold current on which flying things could ride.
They were almost to their horses, which they had tied up in a space below the rocky shelf on which they’d sat.
"You think Al will be mad because we came here?" asked Jim. Now that they were actually going back to town, the thought of Al’s angry impatience was distressing him.
"What’s the difference?" asked Tom. "If he don’t get mad at that, he’ll just get mad at something else."
Jim chuckled nervously. "That’s a fact," he said. "I think we got us the touchiest brother in the whole territory."
"Don’t I know it," said Tom.
Only the week before, he’d had a fistfight with Al out behind the shop. His ribs still ached from the drubbing he’d taken.
"Hey, I hear it now," Jim said abruptly, looking up. His gaze moved along the rock face beetling above them, but he saw nothing.
"What is it?" he asked.
"I dunno." Tom looked up, curious again. "If it’s a bird, it’s a hell of a big one."
"Maybe it ain’t a bird," said Jim. "Maybe it’s somethin’ in the rocks. Y’know? Maybe a—"
It came at them with such speed that they had no chance to move. One second they were scuffling down the slope toward their horses, the next, they were paralyzed in their steps, faces frozen into masks of dumb horror. Jim was quick enough to fling an arm up, but neither of them had the time to scream.
Even if they had, their voices would not have been audible above the terrible, piercing screech that filled the air around them.
Excerpted from Shadow On The Sun by Richard Matheson.
Copyright 1994 by RXR, Inc.
Published in January 2010 by Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.