No mother had ever loved her. A woman or two passed through, but none of them stayed long. Ever since she could remember, she’d trailed Pa at his blacksmith or on the homestead though some days he didn’t speak five words to her. As she got older, she picked up a little cooking, but neither of them did more than they had to in the house. She was near thirteen when Bessie and her three boys moved in homestead after marrying Pa, Bessie railed at the filth in the house and set about teaching Anya housekeeping with a ready back-hand. She wasn’t partial to the girl, backhanding her own boys just as often. When Bessie’s baby girl was born a few months later, she carelessly handed it off to Anya, taking it only to nurse. For the first time in her life, Anya knew love, never leaving her new sister in Bessie’s way.
Bessie remarried quickly after Pa was kicked in the head by a horse and liked Anya even less after she caught her new man looking Anya’s way. Within a month, she’d handed Anya off to a Snake Oil peddler passing through. He warned her not to try to get away. “I done paid good money for you.” Anya endured his drunken assaults and those of men who paid him for her time. After the most brutal beating and rape she’d yet endured, he passed out from his own “Snake Oil.” Fueled by adrenaline and the knowledge that it was now or never, despite her useless right arm, Anya dragged herself to the wagon, took his pistol from under the wagon seat, aimed at his head and pulled the trigger. It kicked her backwards against the wagon. Desperately, she pulled herself up, took the shovel propped against the wagon wheel, steadied herself as best she could, and bashed in his skull. Repositioning herself, she took another go at him, knowing if he lived, he’d kill her.
With agonizing effort, she pulled his old horse next to the wagon and slid over from the step. Fortunately for her, the horse was old and docile or he’d have never tolerated her clumsiness. Popping the reins, she gave him his head. From time to time she’d nod off and awaken to find his head drooping, as he rested along with her. Urging him on, they’d travel a bit more till he sensed she wouldn’t notice his dawdling. In that manner, they traveled on through the night and early morning. As her fatigue and pain got the better of her, she spent less and less time pushing him. He ambled along and grazed as he pleased with no interference from her. She slid from his back as he made his way down a little slope to a stream. She drank beside him and crawled into the shade of a willow to rest. Somewhat interested, he watched his fellow traveler, then began grazing further and further along the stream. It was a good day to be a horse on the loose.