The Light of Life
In the trackless desert, among the cactus, lizards and snakes lived a hermit who said it was his garden, and for those with the ware withal, food, water, and shelter were provided. The people of Amarillo called him, The Desert Mouse.
Nobody understood how the he managed to survive the harsh of summer. He was a local legend who seemed to have live out there forever.
Many a trader sought him out to learn his secrets of survival so they could cross the desert to improve their routes. Most never returned alive. Those who did, never found him.
It was John Brannigan who set out from the Tin Penny saloon one night determined to learn old mouse’s ways. “I’ve had enough of all the talk about this mouse fellow. I’ll find him and settle it once and for all.”
Miss Odessa Lil, the saloon’s dancer begged him not to go. “Johnny, don’t you have a plan? Earl, Danny and Jake McAllister went, and they came back strapped to their horses. What if old mouse is the one who killed them?”
Johnny sized her up. “Seeing how you got a bee in your bonnet, I’m taking you along. One look at you and he’s apt to forget all about shooting me for a few minutes. That’s when I’ll subdue him. How’s that?”
Johnny and Odessa rode out at midnight. She clung tightly to his chest. “Which way do we go?”
“The one folks didn’t return from.” Johnny spurred the horse on.
The shadow of one horse and two riders stretched to the west as dawn broke the horizon shining below the clouds, when a rattle snake struck. Johnny and Odessa parted the rocks and dust as they hit the ground.
Picking cactus needles from his arm Johnny, cocked his gun. Thunder rolled and lighting flashed as he fired, putting the horse down. “Storms coming.”
“We can’t go on without the horse,” Odessa said.
Johnny grabbed the saddle bag. “And we can’t go back either. When the horse fell it crushed my canteen.”
“We need to find shelter. Flash floods happen here.”
Johnny walked. “Then we won’t have to worry about water. Best thing to do is keep moving before it gets too hot, or too wet.”
Odessa followed his heels and by noon they came to a ravine. “We gotta take a break,” she said.
“We’re buzzard bait if we don’t find water.” Johnny pulled her on. “See this ravine, I bet we can find water down there, come on.”
Bees buzzed their ears and sand exploded up around their feet, Johnny dove for cover, Odessa froze.
“Get down, we found him,” Johnny said.
“That’s far enough,” The Desert Mouse said and fired again.
“What do I do,” Odessa asked.
“Stick to our plan, dance.”
“I thought you were joking, that’s what made me think you were cute and come along.”
“Cowboys never joke when it’s serious business. I though you knew.”
“Well, I only ever see cowboys when you are hooting it up. I didn’t know.”
The Desert Mouse fired again, this time the shot went right between Odessa’s legs. “Get out of here.”
“Johnny….” Odessa pleaded. “Do something.”
“Then start dancing,” he said, but despite his urgings Odessa’s limbs were stiff from the ride and hiking in the heat. “Come on, don’t squat with your spurs on.”
She struggled to dance, looking more like a lizard on a hot rock when another bullet nearly hit she got into a silent rhythm, Moon Walking into the Hokey-Pokey and broke into the Hustle. Johnny flanked the Desert Mouse. A gunshot stopped her in the middle of a pirouette.
“He only wanted to ask you a question,” she wailed. Ole mouse had shot Johnny right in the head.
“Then why’d he try to sneak up on me?”
“Because he didn’t want to get shot.”
The Desert Mouse leveled his gun on Odessa. “Wasn’t a very good plan. Why’d you have to come and find me, you’re almost too pretty to shoot.”
Odessa backed away. “You don’t have to.”
“If I don’t, I’ll die. Every year on my birthday I have to trade a soul for mine, so I can keep on living.”
“When I was twelve I didn’t get an extra candle on my cake. That meant I was going to die. Your soul will be extra insurance for next year.
“I’m pretty certain you don’t have to kill to survive.”
A swirl of black smoke formed between them transforming onto a hooded figure. He released Johnny’s soul in a flash. “Yes, he does, or so he thinks.”
Odessa screamed, “Death!”
Death turned. “There you are, Mouse. It’s time.”
The Desert Mouse stood defiantly. “We had a deal, Death. You can’t take me until I have my cake. And I’m fresh out.”
Death’s scythe vanished and he reached into his cloak and held out a birthday cake without an extra candle.
When Death gives you lemon cake, the jigs up.
Lemon Birthday Cake.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled), plus more for pans
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. lemon zest
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs plus 3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup buttermilk
1 lemon, thinly sliced and seeded
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 9-by-2-inch cake pans, tapping out excess flour.
In a medium bowl combine the dry ingredients, whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest together.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar until light and fluffy. With mixer on low, beat in eggs and yolks, one at a time. Beat in 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Add flour mixture and buttermilk; mix just until combined.
Divide batter between pans; smooth tops. Bake until cakes pull away from sides of pans, 32 to 35 minutes. Let cool in pans 10 minutes. Run a knife around edges of pans and invert cakes onto a wire rack.
While cakes are baking, bring remaining 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water to a boil in a saucepan. Add lemon slices and simmer 25 minutes. Stir remaining 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice into syrup.
Using a toothpick, poke holes in warm cakes on rack. Brush with lemon syrup. Let cool completely. Prepare frosting, substituting 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice for vanilla extract.
2 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
6 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
6 tbsp. butter
5 tbsp. unsweetened condensed milk
In a medium bowl, sift together the confectioners’ sugar and cocoa, and set aside. In a large bowl, cream butter until smooth, then gradually beat in sugar mixture alternately with unsweetened condensed milk. Blend in vanilla. Beat until light and fluffy. If necessary, adjust consistency with more milk or sugar.