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Chico's Hand

Illustration by Jeffrey Thomas

He was a half-breed, though no stranger would call him that to his face.
Some said he had Apache and Navajo, while others said he had some Hopi and Mexican thrown in, too. His mother had been white; she had lived with several tribes as a missionary, teaching the heathens Catholicism and other so-called civilized manners. She was living with some Hopi deep in Chaco Canyon when Chico was born. Chico grew up listening to all kinds of stories about the canyon and its mystic happenings.
Before he could fully explore the place himself, however, the white man massacred the entire tribe. He was seven when it happened. They had shot up the place awful bad, killing his mother and most of his
friends and kin. In the middle of the killing frenzy, some crazy sons-a-bitch had taken a tomahawk and tried to cut off Chico's left hand, on account he wore a tight silver bracelet. The coot got what he wanted and left poor Chico for dead. Only a flap of skin held the hand to his arm.
"I sewed it together, Tegwa," he told me once while we sat next to a dim fire. "See the marks?"
I'd seen them, all right. The string he had used had become part of his body-it looked like quilting, all scabbed up and purple. The hand worked, though. Hell, it worked damn good.
"When they cut it, Tegwa, the spider spirit came to me and gave me a ball of web filled with medicine. In exchange, I gave him my hand. It ain't really mine. He just lets me use it. One day, I got to take it back."
"Take it where?"
"Where the spiders live."
I even saw that damned half-breed talking to it many times. He denied it, but sure as sass he would sit up late at night, discussing weird things with it about the stars and other such truck. Sometimes he caressed it like he would a woman and whisper things to it.
Yeah, Chico was touched, but he was fast with a gun. Some folks claimed he could draw as fast as lightning, but that ain't true-he was much faster than
that. Hell, I'd seen him draw before-I never saw the gun move. It was as if it just appeared in his hand-he was that fast. He also let an old coot like me ride shotgun. The money was good then, and Chico and I were covered with it.
Lots of prospectors and settlers were moving to California then, as were some headed toward Texas and New Mexico. Billy the Kid thrived in New Mexico; a lot of other gangs were around, only they didn't get the same treatment as Billy. I tell you, even Billy stayed the hell away from Chico.
They met on a Friday evening, when Billy was playing cards in a Las Cruces saloon. Chico and I had come in from a hard day of driving cattle toward Amarillo. I was a crazy sons-a-bitch then-I sat at the table and played games with Billy, something that I should of known better. Billy cheated me, and when I called it, he tossed me off my rocker and cleared leather.
Chico had stepped down a large stairway (he had been whorring) and stood perpendicular to Billy. Billy stood up. Chico unlatched the snap from his holster.
"I'll shoot that gun out of your hand," he had whispered. "You don't even have to put it away." He flexed his fingers and they moved like a pig in grease.
As Billy had pulled the hammer, Chico had cleared leather, cracked the hammer, and belted the trigger three times, all three bullets bouncing off Billy's gun. Billy stood motionless. Chico grinned. Nothing more was said.
To see Chico would be to love that crazy coot. In fact, very few women could say no when he took them upstairs. Whores always gave it to him for free.
Damn, he was so lucky.
I guess he stood about six feet tall and weighed no more than 150 pounds. He wore a black hat with a flat brim, on top of which were three black feathers and a gray one. He had black hair that came to the small of his back; he rarely kept it in a pony tail. Most of the time he let it flow with the wind. His skin was dark; his face had two large, black eyes that never seemed to blink, a thin nose, and a slit mouth. He could never grow a moustache or beard, but it never bothered him. He always wore a black vest, a white shirt, tanned black pants, and silver-spurred boots. He never wore
chaps. On his chest was a small tattoo of a spider. I never asked him where he got it. He didn't like to talk about spiders-it was bad medicine to do so, he had told me.
Wrapped around his waist was a leather holster; to its left was a Coltsix-gun, to the right a thick blade with an obsidian handle. The Colt was the best that could be had then; it was flawless. The blade he had made from some glowing rock deep in Chaco Canyon.
It was summer when we got a job to take some sons-a-bitch from Texas to New Mexico. Seems this old man had a price on his head because he had finagled some cattle from another man. They was both rich, but they played games just the same. It was an easy take; we spent most of our time in saloons making sure nothing happened to the "cow." That's what Chico called him.
One night, real late, some whore jumped out of Chico's room and into the street.
The god-damned sheriff and his deputies grabbed her and took her in. Apparently, she had told them some tall tale or other, because that night she was "escorted" out of town.
I talked to her some time later, and what she had seen made no sense to me at the time. She said that old Chico had been asleep when all of a sudden he
had started feeling her out - you know, squeezing her love pillows and such.
All this time, though, he was snoring.
Then the hand had tightened.
She wouldn't say anymore, this Spanish darling. She kept telling me "araņa," all the time pointing to her left hand. I guess she had meant fingers. Yeah, he had some strong fingers. I seen him squeeze through apples and poke holes in watermelons with those fingers.
After we got that old codger to New Mexico, we got another job taking some settlers to California. Chico and I bought ourselves some fine horses. Chico got himself a beautiful Winchester repeater, while I purchased a close-tight shotgun and a Winchester Light Arm.
Chico rode high on the saddle, all the time watching the six covered wagons, three poultry wagons, and the two dozen steers. He positioned six riders to the rear, five flankers, and two up front. Each man had either a shotgun or a repeater; they were scattered enough to handle long- or close-range attacks.
I was at Chico's side, as always. It was a long haul, and after talking truck for a long time, I worked up the nerve to ask him about that Spanish harlot.
"I was too much for her, Tegwa," he said with a smile. "This hand holds good medicine, I tell you."
He held up his left hand, and for the first time I took a long look. The scars were still there, but the hand looked wrong. It was much too white and the fingers looked much too wrinkled. Tiny flaps of skin stretched along his finger tips-I swear he had tiny hairs all over. Chico saw my look and put his hand down.
"Where'd you sew it up, Chico?"
"What do you mean?" He didn't look my way.
"The hand. Where were you when you had to sew it up?"
Chico smiled as if he saw the scene before him. "There was this place, Tegwa. It was deep in the canyon, filled with so many trees, tall boulders, and jagged rocks that very few warriors ventured into it. The shaman and elders said it was holy ground, because in there was a piece of the stars. I found a pool of water that sparkled green. It was there I went to fix this
"What do you think that Spanish beauty meant when she said 'araņa'?"
Chico glared at me. "I don't know, Tegwa. I don't know." Chico pulled the horse left. "Riding hard from those hills yonder. See them?"
I threw a stare at some hills to our right. Sure enough, we had company - Mexican company. They were on horseback and kicking up a cloud of dust.
"How do we handle it?"
"Looks like 30 bandidos. They'll attack with no pattern, so we'll keep moving. Tell the others."
Chico pulled out the repeater and let out a hideous war cry. I rode around and told the others what to do. Some of the boys couldn't take it. They wanted to run, but I told them to keep in line or I'd shoot them myself. We all started moving really fast, some of the men staying close to the wagons.
Chico took six men and headed toward the Mexicans, who already were shooting.
Three men fell before the two parties met. Chico swung that repeater until it was empty, then he pulled out the Colt and began to fire at close quarters. Meanwhile, some of the Mexicans hit the wagon train. Me and the rest of the party tried to lead them away, but they were on the wagons. They were good - they took out the shotgun riders then proceeded to turn over the
first two wagons, easily halting the rest of the train. With the wagons at a standstill, we had no choice but to bunker down. I emptied my shotgun on one bandit, then took out three more with the Winchester.
I then jumped into the back of one of the wagons, had a young woman inside reload, and proceeded to
shoot my Colt at several of the coots who managed to get close.
Chico began to make his way back, two men flanking his horse. They had taken care of their war party and were headed back to lend a hand. One of the
bandidos - I guess he was the leader-took five men to greet him. A fire fight broke out, leaving no one standing.
The real pretty little lady had reloaded both long guns for me, so I jumped out and headed toward the trouble. Very few of our party were left, except women and children, and they're good for nothing. Half-way there, some bandido came from behind and shot me twice in the back. I turned around and dumped a shot of lead into his chest. Two more came at me and I took them down with the Winchester. The pain started to get to me and I fell to earth.
Laying there on the ground, I could see Chico standing next to several dead horses and men. He held the Colt in his hand, the cylinder open. Across from him stood the leader of the bandidos. In his hand rested a big navaja, a Mexican-style knife. In his other was an empty pistol. The Mexican began to wave the knife about.
Chico's hand began to twitch as he reached for some bullets on his belt. Two bullets went into the cylinder, but before Chico could slam it shut, that
big sons-a-bitch moved in. In one swift motion he cut off Chico's shooting hand. Purple and back tar exploded from his hand and covered the Mexican.
The bandido got real angry then and kicked Chico in the gut until white foam came out of my friend's mouth. After he got tired of that, the Mexican knelt and placed the blade on Chico's temple. Before he could act, however, the hand, which had been on the ground moments earlier, leaped onto the Mexican's back, its fingers wrapping around the man's neck. Chico began to laugh.
I threw up. That laugh haunts me to this day.
The dismembered hand choked the Mexican to death. I got up and managed to stagger toward Chico. He was in bad shape. In the distance I spotted some
sort of posse, probably one from a town who had seen the trouble. As they got closer, I noticed it was the cavalry. I knelt next to Chico.
"Take it back," he spat out. "Take it back, Tegwa. Take it to Chaco."
Then Chico Ramos died.
On the other hand, I lived. It took me a while to recover, but I was soon back working the trails again. I kept Chico's hand in a sack; I had to gather the money before I could return it to that place he had talked about.
A man's last request is holy, I reckon, so I was going to oblige him. It took me almost two weeks to get to Chaco Canyon, but I did. It took me three days to find the pool, but I did. I tried to toss the hand into the
water, but it just stuck to that damned leather sack. I placed the sack on some sand and the hand slowly crawled out. Before my eyes, it shed off what was left of its skin, and instead of the usual truck I'd seen in humans, it revealed a large spider, only it wasn't really a spider. It was more like a nightmare after too much whiskey has sloshed around inside the head.
It was an araņa, I guess. That's what the harlot had seen, a god-damned spider.
It crawled into the pond. I never saw it again.
Some historians say that a lot of weird things happened during the annexation and settlement of the West, and I guess it's true. The Anastasi disappeared, as did countless other tribes, and ceremonies disappeared with them.
Now than I'm real old, I remember one of the quaint Indian ceremonies that made no sense then but sure makes a hell of a lot of sense now. The sun dance has four or five Indians dancing in a circle. Each Indian takes very short steps. The idea is to keep the clouds away.
An old medicine man told me the history of that dance. The dancers are stomping away the web of a spider who creates clouds. The old man said that
once thousands of warriors danced to destroy a web from the stars. You see, these spiders were going to cover the world with a web and then eat all the
human beings and their animals. Clouds still come up, but the sun dance keeps them away. The idea was to pass the dance to subsequent generations,
should they need it to battle the spiders from the sky again.
The old shaman said that the spiders will abandon the clouds one day and instead try something else-he said we need to be ready.
Generations grow and they forget. I don't, though. Look at the eyes of a kachina made out to represent the sun. Look at the tiny orbs on the round face. Those ain't eyes - they're spiders.
How the hell did Chico train that thing to live with him as a hand? Hell, I don't know. Lately, though, I've been studying my own hand. Are these wrinkles we have, or some sort of sophisticated sewing?
Guess what? We all have them same marks.
Hell, I don't know anything anymore and I don't care. I'm just glad I know where that pond is, just in case I ever get the hankering.
Or my hand gets a hankering.