Kill Or Be Killed
by Charles H. Keller
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It was as if time had slowed nearly to a stop. Every detail of the battle between Jacob Stoner and the Sioux brave was clear and precise like a moving picture in Jacob's head. He blocked the thrust of the warrior's blade and spun away clearing a space between them. They stood face to face, each intent on the death of the other. Jacob knew he would have to kill this man or die trying. They circled, staring, lunging and dodging, waiting for an opening.

Jacob was good with a knife and fists. He was hardened by the hand to hand encounters at Chattanooga during the war. It wasn't the first time he'd been in a kill-or-be-killed fight.

Every muscle in Jacob's body tensed. Each nerve was charged with energy and primed for a deadly encounter.

This brave seemed to be the veteran of many fights. A two-inch scar marked the left cheek just below the eye and his nose had obviously been broken. He was a formidable foe standing nearly six feet tall and solid muscle. His dark eyes stared at Jacob with hatred. He must kill while making eye contact in order to count coup on this white devil. Neither man thought this fight would be fatal for him. Each felt certain victory would be his.

The Indian lunged and let out a yelp. Jacob dodged but misjudged a little and he felt the cold blade as it pierced his right leg. He had almost been missed entirely but the point of the knife entered about an inch into his thigh. Everything stopped. He felt every strand of muscle tear. Each sinewy particle of tissue was an electric shock as it was separated by the intruding tip of the weapon. He winced as he fell away. Lying on his back, he saw the big Sioux warrior get to his feet and jump toward him intent on finishing this.

Jacob rolled at the last minute catching the right arm of his opponent in a way that jarred the knife from his grip. They both reached and clawed but Jacob was there first. The two grunted as they tumbled down a small ledge into a creek bed. Sliding and scraping in the gravel, Jacob tried to get into a position to strike but the brave was unbelievably strong. His grip on Jacob's arm felt like a crushing vice. Somehow Jacob managed to hold on to the knife and twist his arm away from the numbing grip of his opponent.

They wrestled and groaned until the brave moved into a vulnerable position. Jacob thrust the weapon upward with all his might. The knife found its mark and the Indian's eyes widened with the realization that his life was over. Jacob twisted the blade and finished him.

The brave fell away as he exhaled for the last time. His lifeless eyes stared, without seeing, toward the sky.

Jacob thought about something he'd heard from his commanding officer during the war: Underestimating the strength and resolve of your enemy can be a fatal mistake. There was a certain admiration for an enemy who fought well. This brave had been a strong man and a dangerous foe.

For a moment Jacob lay there trying to regain his strength. This battle had taken a lot out of him and there was a brief time he'd thought he might not be the victor. But it was over now. The Indian lay dead in the gravel. It was time to tend to his throbbing wound.

Jacob pulled himself up and limped over to the trickle of water in the creek. He washed the gash in his thigh. The icy water helped relieve the pain a little. Then he bound the wound with a handkerchief. That would get him by unless an infection set in. Hopefully he'd be through a town with a doctor by the time that happened.

After burying the dead man, Jacob stood over the grave and his mind jumped quickly through the past few years. He searched his mind for a reason for all the suffering and pain he'd witnessed. It seemed he had been a twig in a mighty stream being swept along through the rapids of war and killing. It had become second nature. The need to survive had taken him back to the most basic instincts of the animal world. Kill or be killed was no way to spend a life. There had to be some tranquility somewhere. A man shouldn't always be focusing every bit of his energy on survival. He vowed silently to find that place and change the path of violence he had traveled for so long.