A Christmas Present
By Maz McCoy
“It’ll be Christmas tomorrow,” twenty-year-old Hannibal Heyes announced, ducking his head as his horse passed under a snow-laden branch. His words were muffled by the bandana tied across his face to keep the cold from his nose and mouth.
“Huh?” came the equally muffled reply behind him.
“I said, it’ll be Christmas tomorrow,” Heyes called back louder. From under a snow covered hat, two blue eyes looked up thoughtfully.
“Yeah, I guess it is.” Kid’s horse plodded on, following the deep holes in the snow created by the animal in front. It was still snowing. White flakes clung to the men’s coats. They had hoped to make it through the pass before the snow came, but the ominous clouds hovering over the mountain had begun to deposit their load almost as soon as they reached the pass.
Their horses moved bravely on, ploughing through the white powder. Kid gave a shiver and pulled his collar tight around his neck. Frosty flakes had attached themselves to his eyelashes.
“Kid look!” Heyes called, as he pointed to a ramshackle building up ahead. Without another word they urged the horses towards the small cabin.
Opening the door, Kid moved cautiously inside. There was no one there. There was no furniture either. An old stove stood in the centre of the room and beside it was a basket containing enough wood to start a fire. It wasn’t long before they had their bed rolls laid out, a fire going and a pot of coffee warming.
Sitting crossed legged on his bedroll Heyes held out his hands towards the stove feeling the circulation return to his cold fingers.
“Well this isn’t a bad Christmas present,” he stated, looking around the tiny cabin. “It sure beats sleeping out in the snow.”
“Yeah, it does,” eighteen-year-old Kid agreed, handing his friend a steaming cup of coffee.
“What more could we want? We have warmth, shelter from the elements, food…” He held up a stale biscuit. “…and good coffee.” Heyes raised his cup to Kid in a toast. His friend returned the gesture and they each took a sip of the hot brew, relishing the warm feeling as it moved down inside them.
The wind whistled outside in the darkness as light, from the fire in the stove, flickered around the room. Despite the long ride, neither man could sleep, each lost in his thoughts on this particular night; thoughts of happier times in the distant past.
“I wonder what they’d look like,” Kid said, suddenly breaking the silence. He lay on his back, his head resting on his hands. He knew without looking that his partner was awake. “All grown up and married with kids of their own maybe? Little ones running around their grandparents. Everyone getting ready for…”
“Don’t!” Heyes’ sharp tone cut him off.
They were silent for a while.
“What time do you think it is?” Kid asked, later. Heyes searched for his watch, opened it, and turned it to catch the dial in the fire light.
“So it’s Christmas Day. Happy Christmas Heyes.”
“Happy Christmas Kid.”
Kid sat up and began searching for something in his saddlebags.
“What?” a tired voice asked.
Heyes opened his eyes and looked across at his partner. Kid held out something towards him. Heyes sat up and took the small parcel.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“Your Christmas present,” Kid told him with a smile.
“Kid I don’t…I didn’t have time to get you anything. I thought we’d be in town by now and…” Heyes apologised.
“It’s okay. Go on open it,” Kid urged.
Feeling bad about not having a gift to offer in return, Heyes slowly untied the string around the parcel. Then he ripped away the paper. Heyes stared at the object in his hand. It was a hat-band; brown leather with shaped silver studs embedded in it. Some were six-sided, others like tiny lightning bolts. Heyes’ mouth fell open in surprise. He had seen it before. It must have been a month ago. They had been in a General Store in…he had forgotten the name of the town…but he remembered spotting the hat-band and admiring the silver trimmings. Not many material things caught Heyes’ eye but this had. However, at the time it would have been an extravagant waste of their precious funds.
“When did you? I mean I know where you…I didn’t know you…How did you pay…?” Heyes was struggling with what to say.
“Do you like it?” Kid asked.
“Of course I like it! You know I did. Do.”
“Good.” Kid sat back, happy.
“But how did you? We didn’t have much money then.”
“I robbed the bank,” Kid told him, flippantly. Two brown eyes opened wide in alarm and Kid burst out laughing. “Heyes you should see your face!”
Heyes looked sternly at him. Kid gave a heavy sigh.
“The guy at the livery stables gave me more for my saddle than I told you.” This seemed to satisfy his partner.
Heyes reached for his hat and placed the band around the crown. It fit perfectly. “Hey it fits!”
“It had better. I measured your hat.”
“You what? When?”
“Well not when you were wearing it. I can be sneaky too Heyes.”
“Kid it’s great. Thanks.” Heyes held his hat up, admiring the fancy addition.
“I don’t have anything to give you.”
“That’s okay. You’ve done enough for me over the years. I reckon I’m still in debt to you.”
“No, you’re not. Hey wait!” Heyes reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a coin. “Here.”
Kid took it, turning it over in his hand. It was a two-headed coin.
“Heyes I can’t take this.”
“Go on. You can use it. Someone has to go outside and get some more wood. Let’s toss for it.”
“With a two headed coin?” Kid asked, incredulously.
“Go on,” the dark-haired young man urged, enthusiastically.
Humouring his friend, Kid placed the coin on his thumb, preparing to flip.
“Call!” Kid flipped the coin into the air.