He smiled and vanished.

The weight of the shotgun felt trustworthy against her shoulder, reassuring.  Nevertheless the man seemed uninterested in it all, and gazed past her at the hill she had just descended with the barest hint of a smile touching his lips.  Then he sat back in the saddle and pulled from a leather pouch slung over his shoulder a freshly rolled cigarette and brought it up toward his mouth.  He licked his lips in anticipation, then finally accepted the cigarette into his mouth with a broadening smile.  The breeze pulled at his long, unkempt hair and he gave a flick of his head to clear a strand of his straw-colored locks from his eyes.  He nibbled distractedly at the tip of the cigarette while simultaneously scratching his full beard with one gloved hand.

But never once did he give the woman with the shotgun aimed at his chest any consideration.

The man looked upwards at the surrounding mountains and paused a moment, possibly gauging how long it would take him to reach them on horseback, then spent another moment appreciating the lovely clouds rolling by so far overhead.

His indifference to her was infuriating, and she spoke a taut-lipped warning, if nothing else then to get his attention, "I don't know if maybe you're trying to disarm me with your coolness sir, but let me first tell you that I believe you to be an arrogant ass, and what that does is it makes my trigger finger uncontrollably crampy.  So before my finger accidentally seizes and blows your head clean from your shoulders, I'd suggest you'd regard me with just the slightest bit of consideration."

She waggled the barrel and queried, "Catch my drift, stranger?"

The man sighed, removed the cigarette from his mouth, and spat on the ground, then looked at her.

But not really.  He looked through her, as if she weren't there at all.  She suddenly grew self-conscious, and wondered why he was looking over her shoulder.  What could be there?  She twitched, but dared not take her eyes from him, especially because of his odd demeanor.  She imagined him pulling two hidden pistols from beneath his cloak and shooting her dead where she stood the instant her eyes got distracted for just the briefest of moments.

With a shudder, she resolutely gripped the stock tighter.

The man's faraway eyes were the color of the sky above them, and she had initially thought him to be young, perhaps younger than she, but his face was deeply weathered and his scraggly hair made it impossible to tell his age with any certainty.  He could have been her father's age.  He showed no signs of nervousness concerning the armed woman before him, brandishing a shotgun.

The woman on the other hand, trembled and perspired uncontrollably.  The barrel of the shotgun wavered in her hands, but it would be impossible to miss from that close a distance, and that thought comforted her.

A little.

Nonetheless, she grit her teeth and shouted, "Look at me, damn your eyes!  Do the armed woman a simple courtesy and acknowledge her damned presence!"

She fought to control her rising blood pressure, but her outburst only made her heart beat that much more fiercely within her chest.

At last the man turned slightly in her direction.  His eyes caught hers for the briefest of moments, and then softened as a warm smile touched his mouth.  Then he was gone.  He hadn't spurred his mount into action, or rolled off into the underbrush.  He simply dissipated like fog in the sunlight, instantly, and he was gone.

Wide-eyed in terror, the woman tried to swallow, but it was if a cantaloupe was lodged in her throat.  She stood frozen, unable to move, as though she were iced in place during the harshest January deep freeze.  Indeed, ice crystals crawled all over her body, pricking and shivering at her gooseflesh.

But suddenly her feet were alive and she ran.

The End

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