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Black Cloud

by Janice Daugharty

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2010 Janice Daugharty

First published by Denver Quarterly

He's out early. On foot. Crossing the pasture behind the hall-divided farmhouse built before he was born. Sixty-two now, and at that age when he has given up the day-to-day of putting food on the table for his four children--grown now and on their own--and feed in the troughs for two-hundred head of cattle, like children in their own way, and the thrill of loving women after dark.

Free now to fight for principles born from print. Though that's not quite right either; he's still strong, though lean, tough and temperamental, still physical in the old way. Not thinking in terms of what's political so much as practical. Except for last summer when he had problems with the IRS. He'd like to put a face to that name, Mr. IRS, and just once, he'd like to best the government.

He shifts the barrel of his rifle from left to right shoulder, gazing up with electric green eyes at the bluing sky. A plastic gallon jug swings from a length of cord tied to one belt loop and flops against his right leg. Long strides in calf-high, lace-up boots, khaki pants and a worn green shirt with sleeves rolled on muscular tanned arms. He used to be six-foot-four, he used to have full sandy hair; now he is six-foot-two and his hair is thinning like winter grass. Still, he is handsome and proud, a ladies' man who has loved only one lady.

In a minute he will look down, after he passes from the open field of split-tipped smut grass, to the soft gray dirt of the branch banks. Checking for tracks of a Texas cougar in Southeast Georgia. Three calves lost already.

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