The rain was behind him and gaining fast.

Timothy looked back, down the valley, and kicked at the mule, but it was hot and the mule had been going for a long time. Its pace quickened for a few yards, then dropped back into an easy trot.

The boy groaned and looked back again. His mother had told him to take his slicker, but he’d been in a hurry. “C’mon Boss,” he begged, but the mule just flicked its ears and jogged onward.

Somehow, they made it to the barn before the clouds reached them. Timothy turned the mule into the stall and made a dash for the house. The first raindrops bit into the dust as he reached the steps.

His mother opened the door. “Get wet?” she asked meaningfully.

He grinned at her. “Dry as a bone!” he said.

That Wicked Town, circa 1940

“Don’t you stop in Eagle Nest,” Nelda said sharply. “You just keep right on going through that wicked town, Clifford Earl James.”

“Gotta stop and buy fuel,” Clifford said. “I didn’t fill the tank all the time we were in Red River.”

She frowned darkly.

“What’s wrong with Eagle’s Nest, Mama?”

“Never you mind, Henry,” his father said.

“Gambling and liquor and bad women,” Nelda said. “Sin and more sin. Temptation and evil.”

“Now Nelda,” Clifford said.

“It’s the truth!”

“They’re just people,” he said mildly. “Trying to survive.” He slowed the car at the edge of town and pulled into the first filling station they came to.

“What’s that?” Henry asked. He pointed to the building across the street.

“A saloon,” Nelda said, giving it a hard look. “An awful, evil, dangerous place.”

Henry examined it carefully. Two men came out. They looked pretty normal to him.

Pelican Wonder

Gracie stomped irritably toward Eagle Nest Lake, away from the campground and motor home. Her little brother Ben followed at a safe distance.

Gracie dropped onto the lake bank and stared out at the water. Ben dropped down beside her. There was a long pause, then he said, “What’s that?”

A flock of large white birds with black-banded wings rose from the water on the lake’s northern end. They flapped ponderously, then their wide wings caught the air and they were up. They milled in the air, then fell into a line and began climbing in broad circles, soaring on the updraft, moving ever higher.

“Pelicans,” Gracie said wonderingly.

They watched for a long while as the birds soared up and up, then began moving toward the southern end of the lake.

“Wowee!” Ben said. “How many were there?”

“I don’t know,” Gracie said. “I was too busy watching.”

Copyright © 2015 Loretta Miles Tollefson

Etown Experience, 7 of 7

“It seems smaller,” his mother said.

“It was twenty-five years ago,” Arthur Jr. said. He lifted her carefully from the stagecoach into the dirt street outside the Mutz Hotel.

“I was bigger then, too,” she said ruefully, “With better eyesight.” She turned her face to the east. “But I can still see Baldy Mountain.”

“Does the air feel the same?”

She stood still, feeling the cool breeze. She nodded, then sniffed. “It smells the same, too. Dirt, animals, liquor, and men.” She smiled.

He chuckled. “Those are good smells?”

“In this clear air, yes.” She paused. “It sounds different though. Quieter, somehow. Less hopeful.”

“They’re still working the gold. Working it again, I should say.”

She shook her head. “It isn’t the same, though.” She sighed. “Nothing stays the same, does it? Everything changes.”

He smiled down at her. “Except your good heart.”

She patted his arm. “Let’s go inside.”

Copyright © 2015 Loretta Miles Tollefson

Etown Experience – 6 of 7

Eliza pushed the curtain back, allowing more air into the room. It was almost as hot outside as in, but the moving air helped a little. She stared into the dark street. In the bed behind her, Arthur moved restlessly. In the room down the uncarpeted hall, a child whimpered in his sleep.

Las Vegas could be so hot during the summer. She leaned her forehead against the window glass, thinking of the first New Mexican town she had lived in. She missed Elizabethtown. She loved her husband and her children, but there were times when she longed for those rustic log buildings with the bark still clinging to the outside, and Baldy Mountain looming above them to the east. The soft banks of Moreno Creek in the spring. Moreno River, she corrected herself with a smile.

“Eliza?” Arthur asked.

“Mama?” a small boy called.

She turned toward them.

Copyright © 2015 Loretta Miles Tollefson

Etown Experience – 5 of 7

“Henri has decided to sell the hotel and build in Cimarron,” Mary said. “Business is slowing here and the doctor says it may be better for my health.”

Eliza put her teacup on the small parlor table. “I will miss you.”

“It’s not so very far. Only a short stage ride.”

Eliza smiled. “It will be a little farther. I expect to be in Las Vegas.”

Mary’s teacup stopped halfway to her lips. “Las Vegas? I thought you didn’t want to marry.”

Eliza put her hands in her lap and looked down at them. “Charles Ilfeld has offered me a position as dry goods clerk.”

“At the Mercantile? But standing behind a counter all day…”

Eliza smiled. “I don’t expect to clerk for very long. I’m beginning to think my aversion to matrimony is shortsighted.”

Mary laughed and lifted her cup. “You should have plenty of opportunities there,” she observed.

Copyright © 2015 Loretta Miles Tollefson

Etown Experience – 4 of 7

“You went out alone?” Mary moved nervously around her small parlor.

“I was always in sight of the town,” Eliza said. “I couldn’t disappear without somebody noticing.”

“Men have disappeared between here and Taos,” Mary said grimly. “That Kennedy man was killing them.”

“I wasn’t going to Taos.”

“I’m glad of that.”

“I like it here,” Eliza said. “The openness, the freedom.”

“Then you will stay?”

“If I can find something to do. My savings are almost depleted.”

Mary chuckled. “You’ll be married within three months,” she predicted. “If that’s what you want.”

Eliza laughed. “There do seem to be plenty of available men,” she agreed. “But I’m not at all sure that is what I want.”

Mary sat down. “No?”

“Men die so easily,” Eliza said quietly, looking at her hands. “The war taught me that.”

“Yes,” Mary agreed softly. “It shadows us women as well as the men.”

Copyright © 2015 Loretta Miles Tollefson