March, 2018

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Issue #102

All The Tales

The Green Parrot Fuss
-Excerpt from The Saddleback Creek Misunderstanding-
by Buck Immov

The big ranger was dressed like all your waddies were except he had red leather stars on his boots and another one on his hatband. He was running a little bit to fat and a little bit to gray, but he sat his horse easy enough. He his clothes were clean, but close to worn out in places. His saddle and tack were in real good repair, though.

He dismounted, slipped a halter over his horse's head and tied the lead rope to the hitching rail. I was glad to see that he didn't tie the horse up with the reins; a horse can hurt his mouth bad if he shies when he is tied up like that. Lot of men do it, though.

Any way the ranger came in and said, "How you doin'?"

"Fine," said Dad.

"Nice place you got here," said the visitor. "My name's Percy Hairytown, but you can call me ElPaso."

I looked at ElPaso and said, "You a Texan?"

"Son," he said. "You never wanta ask a man if'n he's from Texas. If'n he is, he'll tell you on his own. If he ain't, they's no need to embarrass him."

Dad grinned, then said, "What can we do for you?"

"Ah'm after some hard cases that are wanted in Texas and I heered they'd been seen up by Green River. Joined up with that bunch that killed the kid in Brown's Hole. We're gittin' up a posse and I hear that your boy here is a man to ride the river with."

"Well  . . . " said Dad.

"I don't do that kind of thing any more," I said.

"He's game," said Dad. "He jist feels real bad when he has to shoot somebody."

"Wah I wouldn't want nobody in mah posse that felt any differ'nt," said ElPaso. "There's a sure five-hundred dollar reward on each of them."

I didn't say anything. I did need that money to buy my ranch.

"Boy howdy," said ElPaso. "You can sure tell he ain't a Texan. A Dillo would do this jist for his mornin' exercise. Well, Ah'mo get goin'." As he walked away he said, loud enough to hear, "Boy git out a Texas and it's all hat and no cattle ever time."

"Looks like you got to learn something," I said. "Lemme get my stuff."

It was cold, so I put on two suits of wool unmentionables, a wool shirt, a pair of good wool pants, my sheepskin, a pair of Angora chaps with hair on them, and a pair of wide boots with two pairs of socks. I got two wool bandannas. One for the back of my neck and one to hold the brim of my hat over my ears.

The posse filled me in as we rode. They said there was this kid, Willie Strang, who was real good humored and he was allus pulling pranks. He was of good family and a good worker and well liked.

He was working on this ranch with a Navajo kid by the name of David Lant and a third guy called Pat Johnson. This Johnson was allus asking to borrow money. It wasn't safe to turn him down or ask for it back. People that did that would sometimes disappear.

Any way, this Johnson was real hung over one morning and went to get a drink of water and Willie Strang hit the bottom of the dipper and slopped water all over Johnson and ran off laughing'. Pat Johnson pulled his gun. Lant said, "You aren't going to shoot him are you?"

Johnson said, "No I'm just going to scare him." Only when he shot, he hit the kid and killed him.

Pat Johnson lit out because he knew there would be a Texas Cakewalk for him if he didn't. Lant went with him. Lant figured, being a breed, they would hang him too jis for good measure.

ElPaso wanted to go out there and take them in. Some of the others in the posse had different ideas and they had brought plenty of rope. What made it worse, the Thumpsow brothers came along. There were two of them, Nevil and Elrod. They called Elrod 'Ell so you had Devil and Hell and it was the truth.

I remember one saying, "Boy I'll sure be glad to catch up with that David Lant. I'll hang him real slow. He's a Nancy-Boy. You can tell by his pretty little face."

The other one said, "Remember that one we caught up Rock Springs? Cried like a baby."

They kept that kind of talk up 'till finally somebody said, "You know most people only run into four or five Nancy-Boys in a lifetime. You seem to see that many in a week."

"We look for them," said Devil.

"You keep it up, a body might start to wonder why you do that."

"Now what do you mean by that?" said Devil.

ElPaso pulled up, "Now you looka here. They ain't nobody having a hissy fit on this posse. It's time to paint your hind end white and run with the antelope. You hear me?"

The Thumpsows pulled in their horns. They had notches on their guns all right, but they never started trouble unless they had a big advantage.

Afterwards I fell in beside ElPaso. "How come they brought them along?" I said.

"Dead shots," he said.

After about four days, we were getting close. Spent the night at a ranch house fairly close to the canyon. Mid morning we went over to the canyon and looked around. We thought we saw smoke upstream so we rode into the canyon and started upstream. It was easier riding on the ice and we figured they were less likely to see us coming.

I was riding along I kind of got the feeling I'd missed something. I looked around and saw a little dirt and dead pine needles at the base of a cliff. I was about to ride on, figured a coyote or something had kicked it down, but then I noticed a line of shallow holes going up the rock. Your old cliff dwellers did that. They'd take a rock and chip holes in a cliff until they'd made themselves kind of a rock ladder.

When I saw that, I figured there was a cliff dweller house up there. Yes and somebody in it, too. From the tracks, there probably wasn't mor'n one man. And that one man was probably Lant; he'd know about those rock ladders. He'd probably hung back and took his chance of getting shut of those hard cases. It made sense. He'd have shelter up there and we'd seen plenty of bighorn tracks. He could shoot a sheep, wait a while, and maybe get away.

I was about to say something but I thought twice about it. If it was Lant up there, the Thumpsows would hang him and maybe skin him first. I didn't want to be a party to that. And if I played a lone hand bringing him in, I could collect the whole $500 reward for myself and not have to share it with those mudsill Thumpsows. So I didn't say anything.

Next afternoon, we caught up with the other outlaws. They were setting around a campfire like they hadn't a care in the world. We got between them and their horses and they ran up into the rocks on the canyon wall. We were all for going up after them, but ElPaso said, "Hang fire a minute and listen. That canyon wall is pretty rough. We go up there, we'll walk right into an ambush. We'll be like gnats in a hailstorm. Look, they got no horses, they got no blankets, they got dang little food, and they probably left their phosphorous matches in their saddlebags. They'll git cold and hungry pretty quick. All we got to do is wait."

He was right. Couple days and those outlaws wanted to be captured. But we were one outlaw short and that was Lant, Everybody was wondering where he had gotten to, but I kept quiet. I did tell them there was a blizzard coming, a real sockdologer. When they said that Lant wasn't likely to live through it, I kept quiet again. My mommy taught me it was rude to contradict.

We all waited out the blizzard at the ranch, figured out reward shares, and everybody headed home. Only I doubled back and headed for the rimrock over where I figured the cliff dwellings were.

It was one of those clear blue days you get in winter sometimes. When you cross the little creeks you'd see frozen rapids sparkling in the sun. I don't think there's a lot of things as pretty as that white snow on the red rocks and dark green trees. It sure looked like Christmas to me and I was fixing to get me a $500 Christmas present.

When I got up to where I figured he was, I dismounted, tied BettyBea well back from the edge, put on a nose bag to keep her quiet and looked over the edge and there he was. He must have been pretty good at stalking game because he'd shot a bighorn and was butchering it up. He was using a big ponderosa log for a butcher block; he'd set the head on it and was skinning a leg. I saw he had one of those Colt Peacemakers, but no rifle. They were sighted in at 25 yards and had broad sights so that hitting anything at any longer distance was a matter of luck. I backed off 75 yards and found a log with some branches I could wedge my rifle in. It was a perfect day for shooting. Next to no wind at all.

It didn't seem right to jis shoot him since he really hadn't done anything. I did need that money for my ranch, though. I sure didn't want to end up like old Waco Edwards after 40 years of cowboying. Waco was so crippled up he was looking forward to being hung. I thought hard, but finally took careful aim, fired, and hit him right between the eyes. The bighorn that is. That sheep's head went flying back off the log and Lant jumped a foot. The crack of the rifle sounded extra loud on that still day. Lant ducked down behind the log, pulled his pistol and shot once. Never even heard the bullet.

"I got the bulge on you, Lant," I yelled. "You'll never be able to hit me from there with that pistol. You might as well give up."

"You'll lynch me anyway,' he said.

"No I won't," I said, "I jis want the reward. Look, stay right there and I'll come around the rimrock and holler over the cliff and we can make a deal. I give you my word I won't shoot you unless you go to shoot at me."

We dickered a while and I ended up promising to find him a lawyer, to give him forty dollars out of the reward money, and to keep the Thumpsows off of him. I took him into Grand Junction jis across the Colorado state line where there was a lawyer I knew.

The lawyer was sure there wouldn't be any trouble with the trial, but then the Thumpsows showed up. I waited for them when court let out. "Evening boys," I said. "I'd like to have a real short talk, if you don't mind. When I brought Lant in, I gave him my word that, whatever happened, he wouldn't get lynched. Now you know as well as I do that a man's only as good as his word. If something happened to Lant when he gets out of jail, I jis wouldn't take it very well. I wouldn't take it very well at all."

Devil said, "You Nancy-Boys really stick together don'tcha."

I said, "I'm going to ignore that, though I'll remember it. What you had better remember is that friendly warning you jis got."

Jis about that time, the Sheriff walked up. "What's the deal here?" he said.

"These are the Thumpsow brothers—" I began.

"There will be no lynching around here," said the sheriff.

The Thumpsow brothers didn't say anything, but walked into the courtroom looking sour.

Well, they didn't acquit Lant; they gave him one year on some kind of a lesser charge that I never did understand. I think the idea was to get him off the range until things cooled down.

Me, I went back to Dad's trading post. Worked cows when I could. Then one day I got word that Lant was dead. I'd misjudged the Thumpsows. I guess they jis couldn't miss out on the fun they wanted to have with him.

I felt real bad about that  . . . real bad. I ain't ashamed to say I took on a little, shed tears. It was my fault. I should of watched Lant closer. Lot of people, too, would think I was a coward since I wasn't with him when the Thumpsows showed up. Out here, you can't have people thinking you're a coward.

No way I could keep away from a shootout. It was a shootout that probably wouldn't turn out too well for me. There were two of them and they could shoot straight when the bullets were flying. And I had to give them a fighting chance if I didn't want to get hung myself. I didn't like it. I didn't like it at all. I couldn't let it go though, so I headed north toward Beaver in Utah where the Thumpsows had a ranch where they hid the stock they stole.

Beaver is in the middle of a wide park with green hayfields down in the bottom. Above that, you get slopes loaded with that gray sagebrush and above the sagebrush you get tall hills with dark green juniper and piñon pine. To the northeast you have the Tushar Moun'ens that go way up above timberline. I came in about sundown and there was a storm blowing up. There was a lot of wind blowing dust and tumbleweeds. There were big thunderheads over the Tushars and you'd see lightning come down and bite, bite, bite the moun'ens like a rattlesnake in a campfire.

Before I got into town there was a lightning strike and a heck of a bang right ahead of me. It took a while for me to get my horse, BettyBea, calmed down, but when we finally got up there, I saw a big pine lying in pieces with four or five dead steers lying around it. I touched up with my spurs and got myself and BettyBea off the flat and into town as quick as I could. It was candlelight when I got in there with a big half moon and fast-moving clouds. It would be as dark as pitch one minute and then the clouds would move and the moon would light up the buildings almost as bright as day except for the black shadows under the porches. All the signs were banging and creaking and the false fronts were jerking back and forth in the wind. I put BettyBea in the livery stable and went into the Green Parrot Saloon to get the lay of the land.

I wanted to talk with Maw Cheryl that owned the bar, but she was real busy so I sat down to poker with some old friends I knew from when I worked around there. We hadn't played mor'n a hand or two when in walks the Thumpsows. Right away, Maw Cheryl pulled those sawed-off shotguns of hers out and set them on top of the bar. The Thumpsows thought that one over for a minute, sat down at our poker table without being invited. The other waddies looked at me, but I didn't say anything, so they dealt the Thumpsows in.

I figured I was in trouble. If I got up and left, they'd follow me and shoot me down. I wouldn't of stood much of a chance against them both. Especially with only one gun. So I played bad poker and tried to think.

"One way you can tell a Nancy-Boy," said Devil, "he talks big but it's all blow. He never has the guts to do anything. Two cards."

"I wouldn't take it very well," said 'Ell talking in a high squeaky voice and fluttering his hands, "I wouldn't take it very well at all."

"Yaller clean through," said Devil. See that and raise you five."

"Yeah," I've seen guys like that," said 'Ell. "Meeting the boats down there in 'Frisco wearing ear-bobs and rouge. I'd like to bed them all down with a shotgun. Knock."

"Hah," said Devil, "remember that little Nancy-Boy in Dodge? We shucked him down, put horse hobbles on him, and let him run. Then we loaded our shotguns with rock salt and rode after him." Devil started to laugh but went to coughing.

"Kept squalling 'til they put him in the bone orchard. Blood poisoning," said 'Ell. "Shouldn't of put gravel in with the rock salt."

"Yeah," said Devil, "Tore the blazes outta the shotgun barrels. Say whatcha want, us Thumpsows sure know how to have fun. Three jacks."

Well, they went on like that. Real flannel mouths both of them. I didn't say anything. Jis played and tried to think. I sure wished I had a few of my Navajo friends down here. The only Indian around was that wooden Indian they put up in front of the cigar store. That gave me an idea. That statue was like most of your wooden Indians. It had a war bonnet, leggings and a loincloth and was holding out three leaves of tobacco. This one was bigger than most, almost life size. That was good. The storm hadn't blown through and the light was changing every minute. This was the time, all right.

Now all I needed was patience. It didn't take long. Devil got a good hand and started betting it heavy. I raised him and he raised me back. Then I threw in my hand and headed for the door, walking as quick as I could. I knew Devil wouldn't follow me out. He wanted that pot. Soon as I was out the door, I ran to the stable, got a bridle on BettyBea, got aboard bareback, and lit out at a gallop.

I rode until I couldn't hear them laughing in the saloon anymore and I doubled back and walked BettyBea in through the back of the livery stable. "Hobson, you there?" I said.

"Yahsuh, I is heah," he said, "what can Ah do you for?"

I picked up my Winchester. "Here's five dollars," I said. "I need you to take care of BettyBea and I need to borrow your shaving mirror and a long piece of string and this."

What you want wit dat? You going to go play Indians with l'l Opie?"

"Something like that," I said. I grabbed a chip from the wood box and whittled it into a smooth peg and cut a double notch at one end. I cut a notch in each side of the sole of my boot up by the toe. I remember thinking that I needed new soles anyway. I tied a long length of string to the wood chip, tied the mirror to the barrel of my Winchester and tied a short length of string to the ring on my Winchester. Next, I got some soot outta the stove and blacked my face. Lucky thing I had a dark shirt on.

"What de debble is you doing Misto Snakeskin?" said Hobson.

I picked up all that stuff and left without answering. That wooden Indian must of weighed at least 200 pounds, but I don't remember it being heavy at all. I no more'n got it all fixed up the way I wanted it when two of my old friends came out of the bar: Big Greg and Little Harry.

I went over to them. "Hey boys," I said. They kept walking. Little Harry stuck his chest and his hind end out and went into a strut. Big blond Greg didn't change his easy saunter, but that's about the only time I ever saw him without a smile. I didn't blame them, really. You can't afford to have anything to do with a coward, and that's what they figured I was. "Listen," I said, hurrying to catch up with them. "Could you do me a favor and tell the Thumpsows—" They stopped and turned around. They were surprised at the way I looked, but they didn't say anything. "Tell those Thumpsows," I went on, "that I'm waiting for them out here. Greg, I'd take it as a real big favor if you could loan me that pistol of yours for a few minutes."

"You want us to stand with you?" said Harry. He wasn't that serious about it.

"No, jis give me a minute or two and tell the Thumpsows what I said. If they come around the back, come out and tell me. Only stay out of the way of any stray bullets. It would help if you'd stand where you could see what happens. For when it comes to court. OK?"

"Yup," said Greg, handing me his pistol.

This pistol a yours still throw a little to the right?" I said.

"Yup," said Greg.

"Tell you what," said Harry, "I'll go up to Rosie's and get in Mandy's room. I can see from there and be out of the way."

Big Greg and I waited until we saw Harry waving from the window. I went and sat down in front of the cigar store, tied the string to my boot toe, and drew my guns. Big Greg went into the bar. A minute later he came out saying, "They're right behind me, Snakeskin." and dove down behind the horse trough. The Thumpsows came out with their guns already drawn and stepped real quick to the side and out of the light from the barroom.

A second later Devil hollered, "OK Nancy boy  . . . " and jis then the moon came out from behind a cloud.

I jerked the foot I'd tied the string to. The peg I'd whittled came out and the Winchester swung down towards the Thumpsows and hit the hitching rail with a thump. The Thumpsows saw a flash of light from the mirror I'd tied to the end of the rifle barrel. They both fired and hit what they were aiming at dead center. The wooden Indian. When the Indian didn't fall, 'Ell shot again. Then I opened up. One shot from each gun. Caught them both in the right shoulder. It knocked them back up against the wall and they dropped their guns. 'Ell had a lot of sand and he reached and picked up his gun with his left hand. I shot again jis before he did. Caught him in the other shoulder.

I put a bullet through a bar window to keep anybody from getting too curious, shoved Greg's gun in my belt, holstered my own, and ran to the cigar store Indian. I grabbed my hat off his head, jerked my Winchester loose from where I'd tied it, ran back and picked up the peg I'd used to prop the rifle straight up until I'd jerked it loose with the string. Then I headed for the livery stable. The string I tied to my boot toe caught on something and threw me flat. I got up, broke the string and kept going.

Ducked into the livery stable and sat down to untie the string from my boot. I started to put my hat back on, but I couldn't because I was still wearing Opie's war bonnet. I took it off and gave it back to Hobson. I untied his mirror from my rifle. It was broken and I offered to pay extra for it, but he said the five dollars would cover everything. I wiped the soot off my face with some sacking and finished up with Hobson's soap and water. Wiped off my shirt collar. Then I went out the back door and around to the street where the Green Parrot was. There was the local sheriff and a small crowd of men with looking at the cigar store Indian with a lantern.

Harry was talking. "I say it's good enough. He gave them Thumpsows a lot more chance than they gave little Dave Lant. Or five or six other guys, if you ask me. If they going to wobble their jaw like they done and then get too drunk to remember to let their eyes get used to the dark, it ain't Snakeskin's lookout. I heard Devil say just before the shooting started, 'OK Snakeskin'. Didn't he Greg?"

"Yup," said Greg.

"And Snakeskin let Thumpsows fire three times before he opened up. Three! Ain't that right, Greg."


"And 'Ell said he was going to bed him down with a shotgun, didn't he Greg?"

"Not plumb but pert near," said Greg.

"Well gol-dang it, that's what he meant," said Harry.

"Yup," said Greg.

"It looked plenty fair to me. Don't it to you Greg?"

"Well, said Greg, "I might of hung a few guys, but I ain't no judge."

The sheriff was looking at the three bullet holes in the wooden Indian. Two in the forehead and one in the chest. "The Thumpsows fired four times," he said and turned and went over to the cigar store and held up the lantern. There was another bullet hole in a porch post. Jis about then, Maw Cheryl showed up carrying some bandages and a basin. The sheriff looked at her. "Well?" he said.

"Doc don't give Devil much of a chance. He wasn't no more than half over that pneumonia and the bullet touched the lung. 'Ell's a sure goner, though. One bullet in the shoulder, one in the lung, and about bled out. Won't last 'til morning. He'd never use either arm again anyway. Good riddance to both of them." I hadn't allowed enough for that gun of Greg's throwing to the right. It didn't sound like a Texas Cakewalk was building so I nudged Greg and gave him back his gun.

"Here he is," said Greg.

The sheriff lifted up the lantern and they all turned toward me. Maw Cheryl squinted at my left leg. "You're bleedin' Sonny." She called us all 'Sonny'.

"Hunh?" I said.

"Hold still," she said and reached down. "Big splinter," she said. "Doc's busy. Sit down on the box here and don't move. Bring the lantern over and somebody get me some well water." She grabbed the splinter and jerked it out. It bled quite a bit. She drug up my pants leg and washed the wound down. She poured some whiskey into the wound and took some bed linen out of a basin where she had been soaking it in whiskey and slapped it on the wound and tied it in place. It stung, but I didn't holler. "You better get over to the Doc with that," she said. "After you pay me two dollars for my window."

"Come by the office when you're done," said the sheriff, "I'll release you on your own recognizance. Don't forget."

"I won't," I said.

Anyway, that wound healed up jis fine. Helped at the trial, too. That was the end of that difficulty, but it jis led to another one a little bit later  . . . uhhh. I guess the statue of limitations has fallen over on that particular business so I can tell you about it. One afternoon I was making hatbands out of rattlesnake skins at my Dad's trading post and in walks ElPaso again. We howdied and shook and shared a shot of the Oh-be-Joyful and got down to business. "We got a problem," he said.

* * *

If you liked this story, you can find others at,, or search Amazon for 'Buck Immov' or 'Trouble at Saddleback Creek'.

The End

The author lived his first 20 years in the Colorado Rockies. He went to college and graduate school in Oregon and did research fellowships in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Virginia. He spent the next 25 years as a diver, a marine biologist, in California, Alaska, Hawaii, and Guam. Subsequently, he taught biology courses at several California colleges. He has published 25 articles on science. He lives in Rainbow, California. He can be reached at:

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Danger on the Rim
by Lowell "Zeke" Ziemann

Taza Rico urged the plodding mule up the steep switchback trail that led to the top of the Mogollon Rim. Emerging on a flat sheet of rock he rode a few yards away from the Rim edge, stepped down and loosened the saddle. The sturdy grey jackass wheezed and blew, seemingly realizing his day's labor was completed.

Rico cradled his rifle over his arm, and walked back toward the precipice of the Rim. Knowing that the silhouette of a man could be seen against the clear sky from the valley below, he knelt and crawled to the edge and peered into the dark green valley below. The narrow ribbon of the path he had ridden twisted between rock outcroppings, scrub pines and chaparral that somehow clung to the steep sides of the trail. In spots, the footing became treacherous with loose fallen stones and occasional washouts that narrowed the route to two feet or less.

Seeing no rider or rising dust Taza smiled.

"Climbin' that Rim trail is a mule's job," he said. "Too steep . . . too dangerous . . . not fit for a man on horseback. Ol' Sergeant Torre will have to ride ten miles east to the gradual slopes or else give up and go back to Fort Apache."

Leading the mule, Rico walked straight north until he came to the rutty path local ranchers named General Crook's Trail. A half-mile down the road he found the crude cabin used occasionally by Crook or his troopers. The one room log structure sat tucked in an opening between two tall pines. He continued about a mile beyond the cabin and stopped in a stand of oak trees. After securing the mule, he took three strips of jerky and the whiskey bottle from the saddle bags. Sitting cross-legged on a bed of leaves he ate and relaxed with swigs from the bottle. He would bed down here, hidden, but where he could climb a tree to get a glimpse of the cabin.

If things went as planned Johana would meet him tomorrow night.

* * *

As the bugle sounded wake-up-call Sergeant Chet Torre and Scout Max Hand were already in the saddle and beginning to slowly follow the tracks of Taza Rico.

"You should have thrown him into the guard house when he first came here yesterday," said Max.

"He always comes snooping around Fort Apache. His Pa used to bring him around here when he was only ten or so," said the Sergeant, "Just 'cause Rico has a reputation as a sneaky thief don't hold up with Old Wolf General Crook.

"Yeah, but then he robbed Paymaster Roth and knifed him," said Max.

"He only got a small cut on his hand when Rico made a grab for the money in the cash box. Roth was a fool to risk his life for a lousy three hundred . . . And Rico? He never stole anything at Fort Apache before."

"Maybe so, but now we gotta chase him down," said Max.

"You just do your job and track him, and I'll do mine if'n we catch him," said Torre.

They rode on for several more miles before Max pulled up. He pointed ahead to a thick clump of Junipers. "Something moved in there."

They entered the grove with pistols drawn.

"There's his horse," said Max.

The small roan was staked down and casually looked up at the two men before she resumed grazing.

Chet frowned. "That Breed is one smart outlaw. He had a relay horse hidden in here."

Max dismounted and went to one knee. "That's what I thought at first, but tweren't no horse. By the size of these prints I believe he mounted a mule." He stood and pointed to the north. "He's headed toward the Rim."

Max led Rico's horse and the two troopers followed the tracks that headed straight toward the Mogollon Rim,

Max was quiet, deep in thought. "What makes a man like Taza Rico? Where did he lose any sense of right and wrong? If'n you ask me he's on the road to become a second Cassadore."

"Rico knows right from wrong, and he's no Cassadore," said Chet. "Cassadore is a renegade Navaho and a flat-out killer. Don't care to tangle with him. But Rico? He's just a kid mad at the world."

"What's stuck in his craw?"

"Well, his Pa was an Irish trooper at Fort Whipple. He died from the flu there four or five years ago. His mother an Apache. As a Breed, he was not welcome in either society. The Navaho accept him only because he's a good shot and brings them deer and elk meat. That'll be where he is headed because they'll hide him. We better catch him before he gets there. He probably took the mule to scale one of those Indian foot paths that run up to the top of the Rim."

The outlaw's tracks led to the base of a steep trail that hugged the side of a sheer cliff. A narrow cut wound up the sharp rise in a zig-zag fashion.

Torre's tracking friend studied the scary pathway and shook his head. "Looks like we turn back, or go ten miles around toward the Show Low settlement. There's easier trails to the top of the Mogollon Rim over that way.

Max looked up to the top of the mile high Rim, "Horses will slip and spook and might throw you on a trail like that. Mules are sure-footed, ain't fearful. Rico may have . . . and I say . . . may have . . . made it to the top ridin' a mule."

Chet thought for a moment. "We can't take the time to go around. I'm going to try this trail on foot."

"It's gonna take you a full day or more to get to the top . . . that is if you don't fall and get yourself killed."

"Thanks for the encouragement," said Chet. As he dismounted he added, "You take the horses and go around. When I get to the top I'll try to pick up his tracks. He'll probably head west along General Crook's trail. Meet me at Crook's cabin. Go as fast as you can. Change off between the three horses to keep 'em fresh."

"You ain't gonna start now are you? It'll be too dark to see where you're stepin'."

Chet nodded, "You go on ahead now. I'll camp here and head out at first light."

Max leaned out of the saddle and grabbed the reins of Chet's horse. "I'll hurry," he yelled as he galloped away from the setting sun. A tireless tracker, Max could ride for days with little rest.

* * *

Rico stayed hidden until mid-afternoon before he saddled the mule. He walked him slowly toward the General Crook cabin. At short intervals, he stopped and stood quietly, listening and watching for any sudden flapping wings of disturbed birds or clanking of an approaching army patrol.

About thirty paces from the cabin he slipped behind a large rock that jutted out into his path. Dismounting, he muffled the mule with his left hand, and again, listened for any unusual sound. He waited.

Suddenly the mule's ears perked up and Rico knew a rider was approaching. He peaked around the boulder and broke into a smile when he glimpsed a pinto pony emerging from the pines.

Johana wore a leather riding skirt and a pale blue blouse that was held in place at her waist by a shiny silver Concho belt. A bright red scarf held the Navaho beauty's raven hair away from her face. Smiling chocolate-brown eyes greeted him.

The pony stopped abruptly and Rico walked quickly toward her. Johana swung from the saddle and rushed to his embrace.

"My beautiful Johana. I knew you'd be here before sunset. We rest tonight and then we go to California," he said. "I have over three hundred dollars."

Johana leaned wearily on Rico's arm. He felt her stiffen. "You didn't change your mind did you?" he asked.

"No," she whispered. "But I am not alone. Old Chief Manuelito knows you went for white man's money and suspected we might run off so he sent Cassadore with me."

"Cassadore? No! That cold-blooded butcher hates me." Quietly he continued. "I thought Manuelito considered me an adopted Navaho."

"That wise old Chief seems to read minds. Cassadore is watching us from back there in the pines. He'll kill us both if we try to run away."

Rico's shoulders sagged and he spoke in a low determined tone. "I'm not going back," he said. Then he slowly removed his hat and shook his head. "I am not Apache. I am not white man, and now, not Navaho. I only have you."

Johana frowned, "What will we do? Cassadore is wild and dangerous."

Rico nodded. "I know. The Territory has a price on him . . . alive or dead."

The couple turned and watched Cassadore ride silently out of the pines. The huge lone eagle feather he was known to wear, stuck straight up from his beaded head-band and gave him a look of evil grandeur. He stopped, threw one leg over his horse's neck and slid from the saddle. The tall bronze-skinned man who never smiled, fixed his black-eyed stare on Rico. "Have you got money?" he asked.

Rico pulled the greenbacks from his leather vest pocket.

Cassadore snatched the money and stuffed it into the pouch tied around his waist. "We take this to Manuelito.

"Hmph" he grunted, then looked at the rifle lashed to Rico's saddle horn. "Keep your rifle loaded," he said. "Blue Coats ride here . . . near the Rim."

"They're after me too. I stabbed a soldier when I took the money," said Rico

Cassadore pointed north and looked at the couple without apparent emotion. "We ride away from this cabin. Then we camp." He turned and rode to the edge of the tall pines, his rifle, ever-ready, in his right hand.

Taza Rico helped Johana onto the Pinto, then quietly pondered the situation as he mounted the mule. "Sergeant Torre is at least two days behind me. He had to ride around to the slopes near Show Low."

Cassadore glanced back at the couple. Half hidden in the trees he waited.

Rico mounted and rode close to Johana. "I might have to kill him," he whispered.

Johana read his tight face and did not reply.

The trio headed north.

* * *

Chet Torre slowly trudged up the Rim trail used by Rico. On the switchback turns he hugged the canyon wall staying as far as possible away from the edge. After an occasional peak downward, he muttered, "Torre, yer a damn fool." Lengthening shadows and ebbing heat told him the sun would set in an hour or two.

As he approached the top, he grabbed the trunk of a small bush with his left hand to pull himself up a sharp incline. The root gave way. Almost losing his rifle, he slid downward on his stomach, until his boots hit a sharp rock. The sudden stop sent a lightening stab of pain into his left ankle. He righted himself and climbed upward again, finally hobbling to the top of the Mogollon Rim.

He gasped for breath in the thin mountain air as he sat on the flat rock near the edge. Painfully, he removed his left boot. The ankle was moveable but swelling. He stood, and using his rifle as a crutch hobbled to a short stump. Looking to his left he could see the setting sun casting streaks of golden light between the trees. The soft whisper of a slight breeze whistling through the pines was the only sound.

"I gotta get to Crook's cabin," he thought. "I know Max. He'll ride hard . . . probably be there before sun up if the moon stays bright. I doubt if he will be earlier. If I'm not there he'll think I never made it to the top."

Using his yellow bandana, he wrapped a tight bandage around the injured ankle, then tied the boot to his belt. He figured the cabin would be about a half mile north. Painfully he shuffled forward.

Chet had been to the cabin twice before leading patrols. Crook's Trail ran parallel to the edge of the Rim, perhaps a half mile from it. He limped due north knowing he would cross the road that led to the cabin.

The first glimpse of the small log structure sent a sigh of relief to the pain-wracked Sergeant. He stumbled toward the front step. About ten yards from the porch he leaned against a pine to rest. Looking at the ground before him he saw the tracks. He couldn't be certain, but they appeared to him to be the tracks of Rico's mule. He made a mental note of the spot.

Sitting on the rough planked porch, he used his shirt sleeve to wipe the burning sweat from his eyes. Looking toward the east and seeing a full moon rising prompted a smile. "Good clear light," he thought. "Max may be here early."

The one room cabin held a table, two chairs and an army cot. Chet hopped his way to the cot and reclined. Despite the throbbing in his ankle, exhaustion overtook him and he soon drifted into fitful sleep.

* * *

Cassadore led Rico and Johana north at a slow pace. He continually changed his position; at times riding with the couple, sometimes disappearing into the pines, but always within eyesight of Rico. A mile from the cabin, he reined in and dismounted near a small stream. "We camp here," he said.

Rico desperately wanted to take Johana and flee, but that would be foolish and probably fatal. Obedient to the command, he dismounted and helped Johana lay out bed blankets near the trunk of a fallen pine. Cassadore watched the couple for a minute then sat on the downed pine only a few feet away.

Rico went to unsaddle the mule, thinking that he may be able to quietly untie his long gun from the saddle horn.

Cassadore casually repositioned his rifle across his lap. "No!" he commanded. "Leave mounts saddled. And no fire; Blue Coats may be about." Then he rose and walked a few yards to the side and hid himself in the shadowy forest.

Rico glanced at Johana who slowly shook her head. "Come Taza, lay down beside me. We need sleep."

* * *

"What was that?" Chet heard rapid soft footsteps. Then more similar noises.

He drew his forty-four Army-issue Colt, ignored the pain in his ankle and crawled to a small rear window. Rising slowly, he peeked out. The footsteps multiplied and became louder. Then he saw them. A herd of ten or twelve female Elk came thundering through the woods within ten feet of the cabin.

"Damn fool," he scolded himself. "Now I'm spooked by Elk."

Now fully awake, he sat on the edge of the cot and drew a cigar from his coat pocket. He lit the stogie and drew in the sweet aroma of tobacco to relax.

The rumbling of hooves occurred again. Listening carefully he drew the Colt and pointed it at the front door. He chose to sit and not raise himself off the cot for another painful crawl to the window.

"Chet . . . Chet are you here?"

The Sergeant grinned as the door opened. "I'm here . . . I'm here . . . with one good leg." He pointed at his foot. "Slid a bit and landed wrong; but I can ride."

"You sure?" Max asked.

"Let's go, the night is bright."

* * *

Chet pointed to the area where he had noticed the hoof prints. Max quickly confirmed that they were on the right trail. "Those are definitely marks from Rico's mule and they are fresh."

The high mountain moon helped Max follow the tracks. He walked slowly and silently occasionally kneeling to read the sign. Chet rode, but used only the right stirrup. The pain eased slightly if he took pressure off his injured ankle by letting his leg hang along the side of the saddle.

After nearly a mile, Max raised his right hand and stopped. A few paces ahead he pointed at unusual shadows on the ground next to a fallen pine. Chet watched him closely as Max nodded toward the shadows. Both men drew pistols.

"Rico! Stand and raise your hands," shouted Chet.

"Crack!" The sound of a rifle shot came from the darkness. Startled, Chet's mount reared and lacking the stability of one stirrup he fell to the ground. Max lay next to him bleeding from a wound in his right shoulder.

Chet rolled to a sitting position and saw Rico standing near his mule. A woman stood beside him. He had seen no flash from a gunshot. Rico's rifle was tied to the mule's saddle. Where did the shot come from?

In less than a minute he had the answer. A tall man left the shadows of the brush and rapidly advanced toward the two fallen troopers. Framed in the full yellow moon Chet saw the man's head adorned by a long lone eagle feather. Cassadore!

Lying on his back, Chet swung his pistol to his right, but a long-legged moccasin kicked his arm and the Army Colt went flying.

Cassadore sneered and cursed with hate. With deliberate determination, he aimed his rifle point blank at Chet's forehead. "Prepare to die, Blue Coat!"

The roar of another rifle pierced the night air. With a jerk, Cassadore's head snapped forward and his eyes went large. A bloody hole appeared on his forehead, and he fell to the ground

Chet crawled toward his gun and rolled to a sitting position. He turned toward Rico.

"Wait!" came a shout. "I won't shoot . . . Johana and I will go back with you."

Chet rose and limped to his friend. Max forced a smile "Looks like the bullet went clean through."

Rico walked to Cassadore. "He's dead." Then he yanked the money from the pouch and handed it to Chet.

Seeing the battle complete, Johana ran to Max and used her scarf to wrap his wound.

Chet nodded toward Johana. "What is she doing here?"

Rico grinned sheepishly. "We planned to run off to California. That's why I stole that money." Then he shook his head and frowned. "I don't know what to do now. I have no money. I can't go to the Navaho. The Apache won't have me and I'm wanted at Fort Apache."

A wide grin broke across the Sergeant's weathered face. "You can still go to California. You just earned a two-thousand-dollar reward for killing Cassadore. Max needs to get mended and we will ride with you to Fort Whipple. I'll make certain you get the money.

The End

Semi-retired Lowell "Zeke" Ziemann is a former mathematics teacher, Hall of Fame athlete and coach, financial planner and a Compliance Officer for the Arizona office of a Wall Street firm. He has had several Western short stories published on line and has four books for sale on Amazon. He has a vast Western book and magazine library and is a member of the Wild West history Association.

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The Twenty-Third Psalm
Part 2 of 3

by Steve Myers

By the time James walked into the tavern in Missouri, he'd grown a beard. He was lean and hard and carried the Hart carbine cradled in his left arm.

He had already killed one of them in Maysville, last October. Toward evening he'd come on a slave auction and searched the crowd. He spotted Charlie Vance wearing Luke's beaver hat. Next to Charlie was Tom Vance. James worked his way closer while the auctioneer offered a young black woman.

Charlie said over his shoulder, "Hey, Coleman, there's your meat."

The man directly behind Charlie said, "You go to hell too, Charlie."

The young man next to Coleman laughed and Charlie said, "What about you, Jack? You can get her cheap."

James thought: That's them, all four—the Vances, Coleman Hayer, and "the young fella." Don't see the mule. They have a wagon? Horses?

Coleman said, "Let's get us a drink 'fore we head down river."

"I'm for that," Charlie said.

James stayed back and followed them with his eyes. They left the square and went into a tavern by the landing. He went over to a stand of trees next to a small implement store and general goods. He waited with the carbine ready. He wasn't sure what to do. Should he try to shoot all four when they came out?

The auction ended. The crowd quickly thinned out, disappearing into the town. The evening eased into night while he waited. Shouts and the sounds of barrels and carts moving on the landing came from behind him. Occasionally men went into the tavern. James saw bodies outlined in the doorway in the lantern light. One wore a beaver hat.

He waited nearly two hours or more and then Hayer staggered out and went to the side of the tavern. He stepped into the dark. James crossed over and followed.

Hayer swayed and groaned as he urinated on the ground. He buttoned his trousers and turned around. James said, "You're one of them."

"What? What the hell?"

"You killed my brother."

Hayer swayed, shook his head, then pushed James aside. James dropped the carbine and grabbed Hayer by the collar. Hayer spun around and swung wildly at James. James pulled out his hunting knife and thrust forward and up into Hayer's stomach. Hayer grunted and his knees bent and he fell. James wiped the knife on Hayer's arm, then the grass. He picked up the carbine and backed off into the dark.

Hours after, the other three came out of the tavern. Beaver-hat Charlie called, "Hey, Coleman, where the hell are you?"

Tom Vance said, "Passed out somewheres."

"Hell with him," Charlie said and the three staggered off.

James cocked the carbine and fired just as they turned the corner. One of them yelled, "Damn! My ear! My ear!"

Men ran out of the tavern. Shouts of "What was that? A shot! A shot?"

James turned and disappeared into the night. He ran down to the river and away from the town. He went several miles until he was too tired to go on. He crawled into a thick clump of brush and, after a few minutes, fell asleep.

The cold of an October dawn awakened him. He crawled out to look at the mist rising from the river. He heard voices coming up from the water and then a flatboat appeared surrounded by a halo of filtered sunlight. At the front of the boat drinking from a jug was a man in a beaver hat. Two more men were back by the cabin—one had a cloth or bandage around his head—and a third was in the back steering.

James raised the carbine, said to himself, "Not much chance," and fired.

The three in front dropped to the deck.

James watched the flatboat slip away into the mist.

* * *

The bar was a thick plank set on three barrels. Two men stood there drinking and talking with a bartender. On a bench and leaning against the wall, his eyes closed, was Tom Vance.

A man came in to yell, "Boat ready to head up river."

The two at the bar downed their drinks and brushed past James as they left.

Vance shook his head and stood up.

James raised and cocked the carbine as he stepped toward Vance.

Vance opened his mouth to speak as James fired. The bartender ducked behind a keg. The tavern filled with gunsmoke. James loaded a fresh cartridge and cap. Behind him a man in the doorway called, "Hey, Tom, come on." There was a pause and then: "God damn!" James spun around to see Charlie Vance, still in the beaver hat, take off.

Tom Vance was on the floor trying to crawl away. James turned back, raised the carbine, and shot Tom in the head. He quickly reloaded, but before he could go after Charlie, through the haze of smoke, he saw the bartender pointing a pistol.

"I'm not here to kill you," James said.

"I don't aim to let you."

"He killed my brother."

"Maybe so, maybe not. I don't much care which way it is. You just turn around and walk on out."

"How do I know you won't shoot me in the back?"

"You don't. But you should know I will shoot you in the front."

James shrugged. He still had two more to get and he saw no reason to kill this man. He turned and very slowly walked out into the sunlight. He saw the packet-boat going away up the Missouri River. Several men were down at the landing and a group of four or five was coming his way. He got on the horse he'd bought in Ohio and started up river. When he heard the bartender shouting from the tavern, he kicked his horse into a gallop. The horse decided a fast trot was good enough.

* * *

For nearly one year James had followed them, asking at every river town or landing along the Ohio about three men, one in a beaver hat, another missing an ear. By the time he reached Cincinnati he realized that the best place to ask was at a riverfront tavern. There he found they'd boarded a barge carrying hogs. He was weeks behind them now, and that's when he bought that horse. He paid twenty dollars for the horse and bridle but only got a blanket instead of a saddle.

But he cut wood and split rails in Indiana for food. He stayed from November to early February in Illinois repairing a barn and doing other rough work for a widow and two daughters. He was too young for the widow and too quiet for the daughters, who had suitors as it was. He slept in the barn and kept to himself. The widow and her neighbors thought there was "something not quite right" about James.

In spring he was hunting again. He picked up their trail in Golconda at the ferry. They hadn't crossed over to Kentucky but headed west. They worked there as hands for most of the winter. He found out a farmer's daughter had run off with them. "She's a wild one," the farmer said. "No good sense. Sixteen and she got the itch real bad." "She took off with the young one," the wife said. "A no-good with half an ear," the farmer said. "What did you expect?" the wife asked. "What is there here for her?"

In a tavern in Belleville, he was told they were with some travelling show folks going on to St. Louis. Outside St. Louis he found the manager of the show who said the Vances had skipped out one night with twenty-five dollars in gold and one of the mules. In the morning the young man and the girl had left too "for Independence, they said. They were set on going to Oregon. The young man's name? John Howard, but they called him Jack. He called the girl Liza. She's not much to look at, but neither is he. Somebody shot off half his ear." "The Vances? Any idea which way they went?" "Not certain, but Elsa said she heard a horse or mule going away from town. Could've been our mule. Both probably were on it. No account thieves. Why you want them?"

"They killed my brother."

So now he'd killed two and he was close to getting the third, Charlie Vance. After that, he'd hunt down John Howard.

* * *

He kept the packet-boat in sight well after sunset, but the going got rough and the night was dark without a moon. He dismounted and led the horse at a slow walking pace. Eventually he couldn't go on, so he sat down, leaned against a tree, and fell asleep. At dawn he was up and on the horse.

Well before noon he came upon the packet-boat at Miller's Landing. Several men were busy on the boat. A man, in a cap with a short bill, stood on the dock shouting at the men. "Don't you tell me you can't fix it. You get down there and go to it. Damn no good lazy . . . "

James walked over to the man and asked, "Mister, could you tell me if you know where your passenger—"

The man turned and snapped, "What? What? Don't bother me. Can't you see I ain't got time to mess with the likes of you."

"You had a passenger wearing a beaver hat."

"So what?"

"I don't see him here."

"Course not. Let him and his damn mule off on a bar last night. Said he was sick . . . feverish. I pulled over right quick. Fever means the pox. You know about the pox? Six, seven years ago it come up river and wiped out most of the Mandan and Blackfeet and Crows. I didn't want to get wiped out too. Hey, you God damn useless . . . "

James got on his horse and started to backtrack. He rode slowly and often dismounted to walk as he stayed close to the river. By mid-afternoon, he noticed bent low branches, tracks, then a sand bar close to the shore. Now he had a trail to follow.

* * *

At dusk he came on a small cabin in a clearing. He dismounted and led the horse across a small patch of ground, scattering several hens and an irritated rooster. He passed an outhouse and a small shed without a door. A plow leaned against the shed. Laying a few feet from the side of the cabin, face in the dirt, was the body of a man. James leaned down and saw the back of the man's head was caved in. The hair was dark from clotted blood. An axe lay next to the body. The body was stiff and cold. He noticed the feet, strangely pale in the faint light, were bare.

He went around to the front. A door hung cockeyed on one leather hinge. From inside he heard low whimpers, soft weak crying. He called, "Hello? Anybody in there?"

He heard scraping or someone crawling.


He peered into the dark and saw someone or something over against a wall. He stepped inside, the carbine loose in his right hand.

He heard a voice, a woman's quavering voice: "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." Then she began to sob.

James took a few steps toward her.

"Please, please," she said, "please don't kill me."

"Lady, I'm not going to kill you. No, no. I'm not going to hurt you. I'll go away if you want."

"Wait, wait. Stand there in the light, in the doorway."

He stepped back.

"You . . . you're not him. Not him. He killed Micah. He killed him and stole his boots. Then he . . . he grabbed me . . . and . . . and . . . " Standing now, she began to sob, and her whole body seemed, to James, to be shaking. He wasn't sure what to do. He just stood there and waited.

* * *

She lit a candle set on a mantle. Seated on a chair by the fireplace, bent forward with hands pressed on her lower abdomen as if holding it in, she told him that the stranger had showed up and asked for food. She didn't like his looks but Micah, her husband, said that it was their Christian duty. So she prepared a meal of biscuits and boiled chicken. The stranger ate and then went outside with Micah. She watched from the doorway. The stranger picked up an axe and struck Micah. She quickly shut the door. The stranger tore the door open and "had his way with her." Then he took their mule and Micah's "Andrew Jackson pistol my father gave him" and rode off on his mule. She had looked at Micah, saw he was dead, came inside, then became sick to her stomach and fainted.

"He wear a beaver hat?'

"Yes, yes, he did. He never took it off . . . not even when he . . . "

James said nothing. He waited.

"Micah—he can't lay out there like that. It's not right."

"You want me to bury him?"

"Would you? I can't."

"You have a shovel?"

"There are implements in the shed. I think he'd like to be put out by the blackberry bushes. He was right fond of blackberries. He said more than once he wished we had a cow so he could have blackberries with cream. Back in Brown county, there were blackberries on his folks' farm. You never seen so many blackberries. He was like a little boy about those berries."

His eyes accustomed to the dim light of the moon just rising over the trees, James dug the grave by the blackberry bushes near the woods. He wrapped the body in a piece of canvass taken from a wood pile, carried it to the grave, and placed it in the ground.

The woman—"Rachel Wetzel but Brooks before I was married"—came out with a thick candle stuck on a plate. She walked slowly, one hand pressing on her lower body. James held the candle so she could read the twenty-third psalm from her bible. At "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever" James handed her the candle and began to fill in the grave.

As they walked back to the cabin, Rachel said, "I see you are a good Christian man. I thank you for all you have done. The Lord will reward you."

At the cabin door, James said, "I'll sleep out here on the ground. I'm used to it and I can be sure nothing happens." He saw to his horse, lay the blanket on the ground, and after a long time looking up at the sky and the moon and the far stars, he fell asleep.

He woke at dawn and lay quietly for a long time. He heard her stirring in the cabin. She came to the door and said, "I started a fire and the pot's on. It's real coffee Micah bought in St. Louis."

He stood up.

"I've a bucket of water if you want, but there's fresh from a spring back in the woods."

He found the spring. He washed his face, did his business hidden in the trees, and returned.

She came to the door and handed him a mug of hot coffee. Behind her, in the fireplace, a pot hung over glowing coals of kindling. "Corn meal mash for breakfast. I expect you're hungry. Maybe you can find an egg or two the hens laid and I'll add that. One never knows where they drop them. In the grass somewheres, I guess. But finish your coffee first. By the way, could you tell me your Christian name?"

After breakfast he told her he had to move on, but he would take her where she needed to go because he didn't think it was safe for her alone.

She said, "That is very Christian of you, Mr. Macklin. I guess it would be best if I went back to my family."

"Where are they?"

"Brown county, Indiana."

James didn't know what to say. The trip would be near five hundred miles. But he'd said he would take her.

* * *

Rachel wore a long white dress, a shawl, and a bonnet. She filled three old flour sacks with the clothes and the few things she wanted to take. She gave James her husband's coat and a pair of trousers and clean socks. She wrapped biscuits and pieces of chicken in her only table cloth, the one her mother had given her. He loaded the horse with the sacks and then lifted her onto the blanket. Because of her dress, she sat sideways.

She said, "Micah's grave—it needs a cross."

James split a board from the shed and formed a cross from the two pieces. He used twine to hold it together, then drove it into the ground with the flat of the axe. He noticed the dried blood on the axe, then tossed the axe into the bushes. He went to the shed to find anything useful. He grabbed a folded length of canvas and a coil of rope. He brought them back to the horse.

When he returned, she said, "It won't need a marker with words. God knows who's there." Then as they were leaving she looked around and said, "I believe this would have been a fine good place to live one's life." She paused. "But it was not His will."

James walked beside the horse, his hand on the halter.

Within five miles or less, he heard her moan, and when he turned, he saw her slide to the ground. She rolled over on her back and looked up at him. Her face was pale and tears filled her eyes and there was blood on her chin—she'd bit her lip. The front of her dress, from the waist down, was dark with blood.

He bent down. She said, "I thought it would stop. I put cloths, rags and rags and rags like my time. I thought it would stop. He hurt me . . . inside . . . inside."

He was down on his knees beside her. "What can I do?"

"Carry me back."

He lifted her and went to put her on the horse. She began to fall and he grabbed her. "Carry me," she whispered.

On the way to the cabin he felt her suddenly get heavier, her head fell back, her mouth opened, and her eyes stared at nothing. He went on and the horse followed.

* * *

He buried her next to her husband. He didn't remove her dress or bonnet. He cut a board and carved "Rachl Brooks Wetzl" on it, sharpened the end, and pounded it into the ground with the shovel. He read the twenty-third psalm from her bible, sounding out each word very slowly. The bible had been the book Ma had used to teach him to read.

He left everything, except for the biscuits and pieces of chicken, in the cabin.

Charlie Vance's trail went south, then west. Because of the mules it was easy to follow

End Part 2 of 3

Steve Myers grew up in small coal mining towns in Pennsylvania and Ohio, where his father and great-grandfather were miners. He served in the US Air Force during the Vietnam war. These experiences and others acquainted him intimately with the brutality that all types of people are capable of, as well as the tenderness that surfaces in unexpected places.

After his military service, Steve graduated summa cum laude in mathematics from Kent State University. He has worked as an electrician and in data acquisition and analysis, and is retired from Procter & Gamble. Steve has published short fiction, poetry, and novels. Find Steve at

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Summer's Daughter, the Song of Early Unnamed
by Nikki Ferguson

The first sighting of the Scarlett Tanager was an indication—Summer had arrived. Rolling in at sunup from the forested northern hills, her birdsong played across the waters in familiar configuration. An old trapper heard it first. Camped on the ice crusted edge of Lake Faultless, the man hoped it was only the milieu of a bad dream, but even in Mossie C. Mossburg's worst nightmare, the Tanager had never performed. In one swift move, Mossie shot from his tent to a rigid stand and scanned the nearby treetops. Upon the bird's next refrain, he spotted the brilliant plumage, flagrant like a bleeding wound against the snow-flanked branches; the seasoned trapper fell to his knees and wept. Mossie could not recall the last time such vivid emotion had overcome him, maybe last spring, when he was just a boy and Summer's daughter heralded that same awful tune . . . 

* * *

"It's a fair tune," said Early. Her yellow fringed pupils were more pronounced amidst reflections of flame. "And those red feathers sure are pretty."

Cobby felt a shiver play up and down his spine. "Pretty ain't always good," he mumbled, scooching closer to the budding fire.

"Why did old Mossie hate that bird so much, Cobby?" she asked. "Why do you? What's it mean?"

Cobby kicked a log and cursed, sending a small shower of asteroids into the dark universe beyond the campfire. "I don't hate the bird," he barked. "And it doesn't mean a damn thing. It's just an old tale, Early. Just ask anybody. Summer will never come again. Would've happened by now." Another shudder rattled Cobby's teeth together, likely initiated by the lie he'd been trying to believe since seeing that damn bird. Hearing it at sunrise that very morning, right on the shores of Lake Faultless, had seemed especially ominous, too. It was just like old Mossie's story, put him in a foul mood. And the girl's pestering wasn't helping one bit. It seemed like she sensed Cobby's deepest itches better than Cobby himself; the urge to pass on the Mossburg farback was as strong as the urge to empty every bottle of grot Cobby Mossburg laid his hands on. Funny how nobody else cared. Why this one? Why Early Unnamed?

She mumbled, "Well if it don't mean anything, you could at least tell me the story." She kicked a log and cursed, but Early's grouch-fueled ire wasn't as practiced as Cobby's. The campfire's pyramid of logs collapsed some, sending up a spark-filled plume of smoke and smuts. Before Cobby could stop her, Early reached in and saved the skillet he'd been heating up for supper, moving it to a leveler perch atop the flames.

"Don't you know better than to touch a hot skillet handle, girl?" Cobby said. "Here. Lemme see." He grabbed the girl's hand, ready to thrust the scorched fingers into a patch of snow. But Early's flesh was a healthy pink, smooth and uninjured.

She yanked her hand away, lifted a shoulder. "The handle wasn't hot yet." After a moment of sulkiness, she added, "Still hurts though. If I heard a story, it might take my mind off the pain."

"Mmhmm." He chuckled. But good humor soon fled. The Tanager had that effect on Cobby Mossburg. "Folks go about their lives thinking the curse of the Scarlett Tanager is a superstition," Cobby said, more to himself than the child. "Like a carving on some Hope Stone meant as a lesson, but hardly meant to be taken seriously." Unless your surname was Mossburg, he considered, it meant nothing. Oh, the red bird came around every so often, piping and brash, more like an awareness of doom than doom itself. And the seasons changed from winter to the mildest springs. Ice melted, harvests ripened, and warm weather flowers bloomed. But winter always followed. Summer was only a scary story told around campfires when the grot flowed and the tongues loosened. But even deep in the steady foothold of winter, Cobby's apprehension remained. Like some disease sitting idle in his gut and brought to life by the Tanager's simple refrain, the prospect was always there—Summer was only one red bird away from striking.

"Was Mossie really just a little boy last time he heard that bird?" she asked.

Cobby nodded. "Yep. Time moved on and folks forgot about Summer, but the Maker sent the Scarlett Tanager. Summer's daughter, she was a warning. That song you think is so pretty? Well, it made an awful mess."

"I always thought the Maker was, you know, just a story," admitted the girl.

"Stories can be true," he snipped. "Never experienced a Summer myself, but not seeing a thing don't mean it's not real."

"I sure would like to hear that story." Early exhaled loudly, forlorn and disappointed. For a child, she didn't ask for much. Cobby reckoned it must've been nearly a year since he found Early Unnamed, wandering the shores of Faultless, practically naked and too skinny for the buzzards. When prodded for an answer, the child claimed a trading caravan had gone off and left her. Amazing she'd survived. The hills were no place for a lone girl, especially a child.

Torn between duty and dredging up painful memories, not to mention scaring the child silly, Cobby scratched his beard, wishing for a nip of grot. Made the telling go easier. Yet his stash was bone dry. Wasn't much work around town anymore for the likes of Cobby Mossburg. He'd burned his last bridge and lost his last friend years ago, thanks to a makerlovin' affection for grot, an affection he'd developed to cope with the stories ingrained into his soul since birth. That was Cobby's best excuse, anyhow. Now, he'd be happy for the tiniest nip.

Hoping to take his mind off his unjust sobriety, Cobby fiddled with supper. He tossed the sliced peppers and squash into the skillet, now sizzling with hot grease, adding an extra few dollops of bacon fat. If he couldn't have grot, at least his veggies would be flavorful. At least they'd taste like bacon, even if his stash of that indulgence had also run dry.

Early abided his fiddling. Then, looking meek and devious at the same time, she reached into her furs and pulled out a shining object. Wasn't even half a pint of liquor remaining, little more than a nip or two—just enough to warm Cobby's tongue and put him the mood for telling a story. He smiled at the girl.

"Well, now," Cobby said with a chuckle, his mood vastly improved. "Why didn't you say you had some grot?"

"Will you tell me the story now?" Early asked.

"Will you pass that bottle over?" Cobby countered.

Early narrowed her eyes. She dangled the bottle higher, shook the contents. Then gingerly, with the utmost care, she leaned forward and placed the liquor at Cobby's feet, like an offering.

With a nod of understanding, of gratitude, Cobby retrieved the bottle. Yanking out the stopper, that familiar ploink sound alone elicited a flood of saliva. And when the lovely fumes hit Cobby's nose, his mind fled to the past, first alighting on the happiest memories of crisp winter nights, cuddled up at the hearth with his sweetheart. Before folks began to sneer at Cobby Mossburg. Before they called him an old fool, an old drunk, clicked their tongues at his tales and damn near bullied him out of town. He took a drink. The memories, good and bad, diminished some after the liquor hit his gullet; and Cobby held up his side of the bargain.

"Well, it's a farback tale," he began. "And before you ask, I'll tell you what a makerlovin' farback is. My daddy's daddy heard the story from his own daddy's daddy. Maybe even farther back. A farback."

"A farback," she said.

"You must understand," he continued, "so long unlived, so long untold, a tale grows cold. And a farback tale, it gets blurred in the telling. It tends to grow cobwebs. But the gist is the gist." Cobby downed another shot, mesmerized by the flames with cheeks coloring red. As his mind swept away those cobwebs, the tale began to reemerge, a story he'd heard since birth, a story he'd inherited as an obligation. More like a curse, Cobby reconsidered. Folks were no longer interested in the mystics, those stories from farback when the town of Possibility was just that, a possibility.

Cobby breathed deeply and began, "Now, Mossie was an amicable fella, but tougher than most. Never took sass from nobody. He heard that Tanager's song, set eyes on those flashy red feathers and well, old Mossie lost it. He fell to his knees and cried like a baby. See, Mossie remembered Summer," Cobby whispered. He swallowed. He whispered again, "Summer. Mossie wasn't like the others. He couldn't forget. He . . . he . . . "

"He what?"

Cobby took a swig, cleared his throat, determined not to break down and cry himself. "Mossie, he wiped away his tears, stopped his blubbering," said Cobby. "Summoning sense, he rose and didn't bother to pack his traps, deeded down the Mossburg line for time eternal. With a sharpened axe at his side and a spear tucked behind his back, Mossie hiked into town."

* * *

Arriving before the sun dipped behind the hills, none could blame Mossie C. Mossburg for stopping at the tavern first, though he afforded no instance for idleness. By the whites of his eyes and the tremor in his step, fellow imbibers sensed the customarily sociable trapper was in no mood for chitchat. They left him be. Mossie downed two quick shots. He slapped a liberal nugget on the bar, rushed back into waning daylight and sprinted the thirty-three steps leading up to the Great Hall. Bursting through the carved oak doors, he leaned against the balustrade and breathless, Mossie alerted the mayor. "Summer is here," he told the woman. She uttered a small fearful sigh. And by nightfall, the high hills of Possibility were dotted with the flames of thirteen beacons.

A rare occasion, all citizens gathered in one place at one time. Even the outcasts, the rugged folk, were drawn to the Great Hall by the light of thirteen beacons. Loitering outside amongst the misting fires and the rambunctious children; noses raised high, they were too proud to step inside, but too nervous to enter. Moon at full zenith, Mayor Venda Cale called the meeting to order. Even the fires halted their crackles, the air stilled and the babies found a suckle. As the grimmest news was formally announced, Mayor Cale's gentle voice travelled far into the night.

* * *

"Now, I won't bore you with the rote speech," Cobby told Early, "passed down from mayor to mayor since time eternal. But it began with the usual flimflam."

"What's the usual flimflam?" she asked with a mouthful of crisped veggies. "What'd the mayor say?"

"Oh, such and such," replied Cobby. "Every mayor knew the words." He lubricated his throat with the final swallow of grot, sparing time for a regretful sigh. With a flourish of hand, Cobby recited the mayor's speech in a high and crackled falsetto. "Good people of Possibility, the Scarlett Tanager has been sighted. Summer's daughter is come. Inevitably, darkest times are upon us. We must fight, we must band together and bladdity-blah-blah." Cobby looked toward his audience of one, having forgotten the remainder of the old sermon, and added, "So on and so forth. Mayor finished up with the usual honeyed Hope Stone carving: Sure as the Maker will lovingly destroy, the Maker will lovingly create. "

"Seen that carving a million times," said the girl. "Always wondered what it meant." She wiped her mouth on her sleeve and reached into the skillet. Heedless of spits and sizzles, Early pecked at the last slivers, the crunchiest bits of squash and peppers, closest thing to bacon without actually being bacon. As if a hankering to speak occurred only with a mouthful of half-chewed supper, she added, "Don't seem right."

"How's that?" asked Cobby.

"Well, how can it be both? How can killing be a loving thing?"

Cobby p'shawed the question. "Maker only knows," he said. "Maybe folks get too big for their britches and they need a fresh start. Just like they need Summer's daughter, a fright lurking somewhere in the cracks, to keep 'em in line. Stoke the fire, child," he added. "I'ma turn in for the night."

"Shoot," she carped. "Ain't even fully dark yet."

"Story's over." And the bottle of grot was empty. "Tanager came. Mossie told the mayor. Thirteen beacons were lit. Summer came to Possibility. That's it."

"But what happened when Summer came? And why . . . why'd they light thirteen beacons, anyway? Why not fourteen or twelve?"

"Don't you know any of your history, girl? Thirteen beacons, on the thirteen highest peaks," he said gruffly. "Like one of those newsie papers they spread around town, it's a way to let folks know what's going on."

Still met with a blank-eyed stare from Early, Cobby explained, "Child, if you ever see thirteen big old fires burning on the high hills of Possibility, you best do two things and do 'em fast. First, drop to your knees and beg the Maker to spare your sorry ass and second, make your way into town."

"Is town safer?" she asked.

"Is town safer," he mimicked the child. "Ever heard the term safety in numbers?" Early shook her head no. "Well, now you have," Cobby added. "That's it. The end. Goodnight and may winter be unending. May Summer's daughter never cross your path."

Early snarled and huffed in complaint. Then, she played the other ace stashed up her sleeve, knowing what it took to keep the old man talking. Pulling out yet another bottle of grot, mostly full, she shook it, swishing the contents around the sides, making music to Cobby's ears.

"Where'd you get that?" he asked, eyes narrowed in suspicion, mouth drenched in need.

"I got my ways," she said, dangling the bottle like bait. Cobby knew he should reprimand the girl, recite some Hope Stone carving about how thieving is wrong. But that first bottle, only a few swallows to begin with, had only awakened Cobby's need. He always wanted more. Well, there was more. The indignities of thieving be damned, Cobby's eyes lit up and he reached for the bottle, but Early snatched it away.

"Tell me, Cobby Mossburg," she said with a sly grin. "What happened next?"

"The Maker destroyed," he said, keeping his eyes planted on the bottle. "The Maker created."


Cobby licked his lips. He would feel better, calmer, just holding the bottle in his hands. But as usual, Early was full of piss and vinegar. Ceaseless in her pestering, she wouldn't give in until he did. Oh, he'd told her a hundred tales as they'd navigated the hills bordering Lake Faultless, but not this one, never this one. Up until this morning, thank the Maker, they hadn't come across the Scarlett Tanager. No use in bringing it up. But Cobby knew he'd give in, eventually, with or without that second bottle. The bottle only made it easier.

"Well?" Early asked. "What happened next?"

He snarled and stomped a foot. "You sound worse than any Scarlett Tanager. Why? Why? That's your song. Why? How come? What happened next? The song of Early Unnamed. Why do you ask so many questions, girl?"

Early grinned and fiddled with a peppercorn stuck in her tooth. She lifted a shoulder. "Just curious I guess. Just wanna know. What else happened at that meeting in the Gray Hall—"

"The Great Hall."

"Well?" Then, gently and with reverence, as if she held the quivering body of the Tanager itself within her cupped hands, Early rested the bottle of grot at Cobby's feet, like an offering.

The liquor swayed gently. Unable to settle on one color, like snowfall on the highest peak, it glowed silver at sunrise, and golden as the sun set. "Did you steal this?" he asked. Early offered no explanation. She only grinned, waiting for Cobby to accept her offering, knowing he damn well would.

With an equal amount of reverence, Cobby accepted the bottle and held it close to his heart. Cold dread, residing in that muscle since sighting the damn bird, melted some. "Well, the rest of the story . . . ain't so easy to tell."

"Why?" she asked.

He sneered at the word, might fork over one third of every sip of grot just to never hear it again. Speaking of grot, Cobby decided it was better not to question Early's timely acquisitions, how she'd scored two bottles in the middle of nowhere. Moreover, best not to wonder if she carried a third; it was better to drink. He uncorked the bottle, took a satisfying pull and considered how to temper the dreaded ending for a child's ears. But there was no way to soften the blow of Possibility's fate. He sighed and took an angry swig.

"Not so easy to tell, girl, because Summer came to Possibility," Cobby grumbled. "Old Mossie, he couldn't say which was worse, Summer's arrival or the people's reaction to it. Or maybe they were the same thing. Maker only knows.

"Gathered at the Great Hall, despite the mayor's encouragement, Mossie watched the townspeople lose all sense. Neighbor attacked neighbor. Children were trampled. The elderly and infirm, they were easy targets." Looking away, he added, "Witnessing such mayhem, it wounds a man, Early. But witnessing . . . well, that's what a Mossburg does."

"How's that?" she asked.

Cobby took two deep swallows, one for himself and one for old Mossie, and sneered at the child. Seemed like there were two of Early Unnamed sitting by the fire now. A good vintage will do that, he considered. "Folks used to say my ancestors were chosen by the Maker himself, to remind people of what they'd forgotten. Now they just say we're worthless."

"Nah," she scoffed. "You're a bonafide Hope Stone carving, Cobby Mossburg. A holy man."

Coby grinned. "Not exactly holy. But the Mossburgs are known for squirrelling away a tale, learning it by rote and repeating it to avid ears. Trouble is," he added, "ears aren't so avid these days." Silently, he pondered the contradiction; the same reasons folks had admired Mossie Mossburg was the same reason they despised Cobby Mossburg. Nobody wanted to hear, and they damn sure didn't want to believe. Nothing to be done about it, Cobby took another pull.

Early wiped her nose on her sleeve. "The way I see it, Maker blessed the Mossburgs," she said matter-of-factly.


"Gave you a gift," she added.

"If by gift, you mean curse," Cobby muttered. "Summer passed, and folks snapped out of it. But only Mossie remembered."

"Still," she mumbled. "Being alive is a gift. Maybe knowing the truth is a gift, too." Early beamed and slapped her knee. "Say, maybe that's why I found you out here, wandering the shores of Lake Faultless. I like a good story and you sure do tell a good story, Cobby Mossburg."

Cobby opened his mouth to refute; though he disagreed with who'd done the finding, Early's words swelled his heart, and he said only, "Thank you."

She lowered her chin. "And maybe the worst part is meant to be heard, otherwise the good parts don't mean so much."

"Now that sounds like a Hope Stone carving," Cobby chuckled. He sighed and sank lower into his furs. "You're pretty wise for a child." He peered across the flames, noticed how they danced wildly over Early's face and colored her hair to a deeper shade of red. Firelight suited her; she'd make a handsome woman someday. Though the girl's exact age was a mystery, sometimes Early Unnamed was ignorant like a newborn, sticking her hand into a hot fire; but other times she was sharper and shrewder than him. Having scored two bottles of grot from thin air was for damn sure a talent Cobby lacked. And, she'd survived alone in the wild hills. Who was she? He pondered the question often enough, but there were bundles of unwanted children tossed out like old bathwater, left to fend for themselves. The notion was passable, and history could be a repetitive bitch for the Mossburg male; maybe Cobby had spawned a few orphans of his own, likely a guilty motivation for taking Early under his wing.

"You'd best finish up, Mossie," she spoke in a melodic voice. Had she called him Mossie? Made Cobby shiver and feel hot at the same time, one of those reactions provoked only by high fever or inebriation; and Cobby never got sick. He studied the bottle of grot, expected it to be more emptied than it was. His tolerance was lower. Made sense he was getting good and drunk off the girl's lucky acquisitions.

He hiccupped and swayed and watched the light playing inside Early's yellow crested eyes, a remnant of the old ones. She was an orphan of no particular line, a nobody special, a child so unwanted she was left unnamed—and even she was marked by Summer's daughter. And though Cobby hadn't peeped his own reflection in years, the yellow flavor resided in his eyes, too. They'd all been kin at one place in history—joined by a shared experience, and time was small where the Maker was concerned. Whether folks believed or not.

Early would abide Cobby's silent, drunken musings for only a short spell, before she opened her beak and peppered him with her irksome brand of birdsong, so he resigned himself to the task. They'd struck a deal, after all, and though a Mossburg may be guilty of many failings, a Mossburg never reneged on a deal.

He took another swallow and said, "It didn't take long before Possibility was overcome by the soldiers of Summer. While everybody was gathered at the Great Hall, they crept in from the woods, snuck down the mountains and crawled from the streams. Some say the Maker's minions rose up from the very flames of thirteen beacons." Cobby hiccupped, reached up to scratch an itch in his beard, but missed and poked himself in the eye. "Issa strangess thing," he slurred. "Must be a good, a good vintage. The best." Holding up the bottle, it was still mostly full.

The fire's flame raged anew. Fingers to his brain, their heat prodded him onward, bringing to the forefront an old Hope Stone carving. Long forgotten by the people, passed over for the fluffier and more sterile aphorisms, Cobby recited it like a chant. "Maker's spawns of smoke, heat and ash, fill their houses, fill their minds, and dance."

"Dance for me, this Summer's night and show them love from hate and fright,
" said the child.

Cobby stammered in surprise, "You've heard-heard that one before?"

In a collective voice, she spoke the words like wind whistling through a fire, "Multiply their ugliest sins, make them wince, make them cringe. Make them question every fact, every notion, every act." Spellbound, Cobby swayed to the rhythm of her song. "Suffer they will for hours to come, until the light o' morning sun. For once the dark has passed o'erhead, so the soldiers will fall down dead."

Struck with sudden awareness, Cobby continued the verse in a whisper, "Memories wiped clean, bloodied on hands and knees, let them awake to see their slaughter—"

"And leave one whole to speak the words of Summer's daughter."

In the ensuing silence, a tingle ate through Cobby's bones. He whimpered, shivered in the fire's too consuming heat. With blurred eyes, Cobby sought out the girl's form through the flames, but she blended too easily now, hidden amongst their fiery shades. "Who are you?" He might've only thought this, might've asked this out loud; Cobby couldn't say for certain.

"Don't forget the farback," she said. Cobby shook his head, not the best decision. The motion only increased his wooziness.

"We struck a deal," she added. "A Mossburg never reneges on a deal."

Cobby fingered the bottle of grot. It felt warm to the touch, as if stashed in a ray of sunshine rather than held in the girl's pocket. "Like an offering," he whispered. Cobby took a few deep pulls. But the bottle didn't seem to be getting any lighter. He hefted it up to the fire and peered at the contents, which seemed plentiful, both delighting and distressing him at the same time. Across the flames and through the bottle's warped lens, Early's shape morphed and twisted. Cobby thumped the side of his head, to shake free the liquor induced visions. The visions remained.

"The farback," she said, reminding Cobby Mossburg of his duty. "You won't forget."

Cobby nodded slowly. He swallowed his own gathered saliva, but it ran hot like liquor down the back of his throat, even sloshed in his belly, just like a pull from the bottle. His eyes played tricks. They lied, showing the girl changing shape in shadow of flame, with vivid red feathers peaking at the crown of her head, with lips forming to a bright yellow point to match her eyes.

A brilliant light caught his eye. With a gasp, Cobby turned his head, only for a second, and saw the high hills of Possibility dotted with the flames of thirteen beacons. Just as quickly as the vision had appeared, it vanished, replaced by the fecund greenery of a Summer's night, revealed only in flickers of campfire. And Cobby swore silently, if he survived this night, he'd never touch another drop. Unless once again, he heard the Tanager's call. And once again, he heard the Tanager's call.

He turned his head, to look for Early Unnamed; but Summer's daughter was gone. Cobby shot to a rigid stand and scanned the nearby treetops. Upon the bird's next refrain, he spotted the brilliant plumage, flagrant like a bleeding wound against the snow-flanked branches; he fell to his knees and wept. Cobby could not recall the last time such vivid emotion had overcome him, maybe last spring, maybe never. But Summer's daughter heralded her awful tune and Cobby had an obligation. It was a Mossburg's duty to inform the mayor.

He summoned sense. A deal was a deal, and Cobby didn't bother to pack his meager belongings. With a mostly full bottle of grot at his side and the furs on his back, Cobby Mossburg hiked into town. He didn't bother to stop at the tavern, either, having the forethought to bring along Early's offering. He wasn't welcome there, besides. And as morning's sun peeked over the mountains, Cobby stumbled up the thirty-three steps leading to the Great Hall. Bursting through the carved oak doors, he leaned against the balustrade and breathless, Cobby alerted the mayor. "Summer is here," he told the woman. She uttered a small, pitiful sigh and then turned her back on Cobby Mossburg. And by nightfall, the high hills of Possibility remained untouched by the flame of a single beacon.

The End

Nikki lives in Oklahoma Land Run territory, and cannot help but be inspired by the prairie, the dialect and the frontier ghosts who must surely wander her backyard. Summer's Daughter is a story inspired by a single red bird. A visitor to her lake cabin each spring, the Scarlett Tanager sings a recognizable tune incessantly, distracting Nikki when she's sitting on her porch trying to write.

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Sickly Man
by Jonathan Oosterhouse

Sheriff Nathan Degroth leaned back in his chair, legs on the wooden table. He peeked through his eyelids at the open doorway to the town of Bushes. It was very early morning and still dark. The sky was clear and stars sparkled ever so brightly over the town. Nathan would crack his eyes open, at the verge of unconsciousness, then close them again. Cowboys and drovers started to stir and go about their duties. When Nathan opened his eyes again, the sky had turned a light blue-grey. He yawned and sat up, scratching his grey-brown beard.

The cool morning air permeated the jailhouse. Nathan stood and yawned as he went about boiling some coffee on the potbelly stove in the corner of the room. The wooden walkway outside the jailhouse creaked with booted footsteps. A middle-aged man walked in. His trousers were held up by thin suspenders and his wrinkled and stained shirt was tucked into the waistband. A faded red kerchief hung loosely around his neck. The tan, leathern, creased face smiled slightly.

"Morning, Bob," Nathan said, his tired eyes hardly open.

"Mornin'," Bob answered in a chipper, yet slow voice.

"Coffee?" Nathan offered, holding up a tin cup. Bob nodded, reaching around and scratching the back of his neck. Nathan poured two hot cupfuls of coffee, handing one to Bob, then sitting back at his table. Bob pulled up a chair and leaned back against the jail bars. The two sat and drank coffee, watching the early risers go about their business through the jailhouse door.

Bob was a close friend of Nathan's. He wasn't his deputy, but everyone pretty much thought of him as one, being he was always around with the Sheriff. Nathan often called upon Bob for a hand in his daily duties.

A two-horse wagon rode across the dirt street, trailing a small cloud of white dust behind it. The now dark blue sky lightened a little as the sun crept up on the horizon. The quiet of the early morning was now the normal clamor of a small frontier town. The walkway creaked again with a pair of boots as two cowboys strode past the jailhouse, tilting their hats at Nathan and Bob as they passed.

Bob finished his coffee, looking around the jailhouse idly, then looking down the dirt street.

"You have breakfast?" Nathan asked as he stood from his creaking chair.

"No," Bob replied, shaking his head. The answer was the same every morning, and yet every morning, Nathan asked. So he refilled the tin cups, handed one back to Bob, then started frying some sourdough and bacon in a frying pan.

"Hear about them Injuns raiding over in Mexico?" Bob asked, sipping his coffee.


"A cavalry soldier rode through town yesterday, had a brief chat with 'im. Says there's a Comanche party ridin' through Texas, headin' west through the territory raiding any town they come across." Bob stopped for another long gulp of coffee.

Nathan pushed the bacon and sourdough around the pan with a fork.

"You don't say. I haven't seen a Comanche since my ranger days," Nathan said. He paused in thought and looked up at the wooden ceiling; remembering. Bob took notice.

"Think they'll come here?"

"Doubt it," Nathan answered in a low, shallow voice.

"Everythin' okay, Sheriff?"

"Oh, just thinking of times past." The bacon sizzled in its grease, as did the sourdough.

"How many did you kill, Nate?" Bob asked in a gentle, hushed voice, trying his best to be sensitive. Nathan turned around and looked at him with sorrowful face.

"Too many to count. I have tried to forget those days." Bob pursed his lips and went back to his tin cup. Nathan shook himself from his dark thoughts, flipped the bacon, then picked his own coffee cup up and sipped. Soon, he got two plates and dished the sourdough and bacon, then set them on the table. Bob began eating and chewed with his mouth open making a loud, squishy-wet sound. He scooped the fried dough up with a fork, and ate the bacon with his fingers.

"Chew with your mouth closed, please," Nathan said, swallowing a mouthful of fried sourdough. Bob obeyed. They ate their breakfast in silence. When they finished, a young man came running from the general store across the street. He burst into the jailhouse, gasping for breath. He yelled and babbled, pointed this way and then that way, waving his arms like a windmill. Nathan stood with both empty plates in his hand, blank expression on his face, as he listened to Burt Andrews spew nothing that could be understood. Mrs. Andrews came in next, eyes wide with fright then impatience with Burt's inability to speak. Bob smiled wryly at the scene as he finished his second cup of coffee. He then set the cup on the table.

"Get a hold of yourself, you darn fool," Sue Andrews snapped, slapping Burt across the face. Burt held his hand to his cheek and stared at his wife in surprise, then caught his breath.

"Now, start again, Burt," Nathan prompted as he set the plates back down on the table.

"Sorry, Sheriff," He said with cherry cheeks, "We was starti—"

"Want some coffee?" Bob interrupted.

"Quiet, Bob," Nathan said with an irritated glare.

Burt looked at Bob, then turned to Nathan and continued, "We was getting up and opening the store, and we noticed that Sue's father, Simon, was missing from the spare room downstairs." Bob got up, filling two more cups with warm coffee and handing them to Burt and offering one to Sue, who refused it, saying she didn't drink the stuff. Bob shrugged.

"Any idea where he might have gone?" Nathan asked, placing his hands on his belt.

Burt said, "No."

"He's been suffering from memory loss," Sue said with a worried look on her face. "I'm worried he may have wandered off somewhere."

"That is probably what happened, Mrs. Andrews," Nathan confirmed. "Might be wise to start asking around town. Of course we'll help you look." He nodded to Bob. Bob looked at all three of them. All four of them left the jailhouse. Bushes was an L-shaped town, with the adobe jailhouse being in the corner that faced southwest. It was fit snug against the downward slope of a rocky ridge that rose up out of the New Mexico desert. Most of the town was adobe, but some wooden buildings, such as the general store, coexisted.

Throughout the plain, as the sun rose, bush thickets and mesquite trees peppered the landscape. The desert began to heat up in the rising sun, returning it to a hellish landscape.

Cowboys began to drive their cattle wherever they were headed. Caravans left and caravans came. The saloon opened, but very few of anyone came in, being it was owned by a protestant that didn't serve more than one of any kind of alcohol to a person; if you wanted two shots of mescal, you were out of luck. The general store was open, but its owners were wandering around the town, looking for their father.

Nathan waited until Burt and Sue went down the boardwalk, then he and Bob stepped into the street. They crossed to the saloon and went through the worn swing doors. The bar and two tables were empty, aside from one cowboy who sat at the end of the bar. It was a small saloon, if it could even be called that.

"Sheriff," Tim Ruthers, the barkeep, greeted. He had all the beer and liquor glasses cleaned and shined on the shelves behind the bar. Nathan nodded at Tim, then turned his attention on the lone cowboy.

"What are you doing here?" Nathan asked, "Isn't your outfit headed out on the cattle drive to Los Elmos?"

James P. Emmerson looked from his small glass of whiskey. His leather chaps hung loose on his legs. Gloves were protruding from his vest pockets, and he wore no gunbelt.

"They cut me from the outfit," he said in a solemn, sober voice, "Didn't need another mediocre cattle-hand to hand dollars over to." He sipped his small glass of whiskey.

"Well if you're looking to get drunk," came Tim Ruthers, "This ain't the place." James snickered in response.

"That's too bad, Jimmy," Nathan said, pursing his lips and patting James on the shoulder. Bob went and sat next to James and asked for a glass of mescal. Tim Ruthers frowned and rolled his eyes, knowing that Bob would try and squeeze him for another drink after the first. Nathan looked around the bare adobe building, then looked at Tim Ruthers.

"You see Simon, Burt and Sue's father, this morning?" Nathan asked, leaning on the bar.

"No, can't say that I have," Tim Ruthers answered as he poured Bob a drink. "I didn't see him at church yesterday either."

"I guess he's been suffering a bout of dementia."

"He's old," Tim Ruthers said, "Heck, I'm old." Bob sipped his mescal; James finished his whiskey.

"How about you, James?"

"No," James answered, "Even if I had, I don't remember." He stood, slapped a coin on the bar and tipped his hat, pushing through the doors.

"Well, Tim," Nathan said as he looked after the cowboy, "Let me know if you find anything out."

"Will do sheriff," Tim Ruthers said. Bob slugged his mescal down and held out his glass for another. "Bob," Tim said sternly, "Every time you come in here, you try and get two drinks. And every time, I tell you no." Bob shrugged and tossed a coin on the counter. Nathan tilted his hat and walked back out to the street. He looked down the dusty street to his right. He saw Burt and Sue going from door to door and asking about their father.

"A bit early for drinking isn't it?" He asked Bob as he came out. Taking a cigar from his pocket and lighting it, Nathan smoked.

"A bit early for smoking?" Bob asked with a grin. Nathan nodded and glanced down the street to his left. The livery stables stood at the edge of town to the east. Nathan began moving down the boardwalk toward the stables, tipping his hat to a few women as they passed. Bob smiled a polite kind of smile, keeping behind Nathan. When they made it to the livery, Nathan looked around for the hostler. Several horses nickered from their stables, including Nathan's tobiano paint gelding.

"Hola señor," A young Mexican boy named Rimando said as he laid some fresh hay down for the horses, "Can I help?"

Nathan nodded, puffing his cigar, "Did you happen to see an old man leave town this morning?" The boy scratched his shiny black hair as he thought.

"Si. Early this morning. Leaving town." The boy had a serious look on his face. "Is everything okay?"

"No," Nathan said, "He's missing now."

"He was headed straight out of town."

"Okay, thank you." Nathan turned, nearly walking into Bob.

"We goin' after 'im?" Bob asked.

"Might as well. He won't be coming back without help." Nathan looked at the ground as they walked back along the boardwalk. Then he heard a woman say sheriff. Sue came down the boardwalk toward him.

"We haven't found him," She said in a panic, "We have looked everywhere, asked everywhere. What should we do?" She was at the verge of tears, looking up at Nathan earnestly as Burt came up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders.

Nathan said, "Hostler saw him heading out of town. Probably east."

"Really?" Came Burt.

"Yeah. I'll go pick up his trail and find him, bring him back to you folks." Nathan rubbed his beard and puffed on his cigar some more.

"I can come with you," Burt suggested, coming from around his wife.

"That's not necessary. Me and Bob will head out and look for him."

"Thank you, sheriff," Sue said in relief.

"It's my duty to keep the citizens safe," Nathan said.

Burt and Sue went their way.

Nathan turned to Bob, "Saddle the horses. I'll go get some things from the jailhouse. Bob nodded and went back to the livery. Once in the jailhouse, Nathan took three canteens from the coat rack and slung them over his shoulder. After snatching up two Winchester from the rifle rack and his gunbelt, he went out to meet Bob. Nathan's tobiano paint was already saddled and waiting outside the livery. Nathan pushed one of the Winchesters into the saddle scabbard and hung the canteens on the saddle horn.

Bob came out with a chestnut horse and mule, both lightly equipped.

"Better move fast. He won't be very far out," Nathan said, squinting at the rising sun. Two cowboys came riding hard from around a bend of a rock outcropping, heading toward town. Bob stopped and watched them as they made their way. They stopped just before the sheriff, breathing hard. Dust had caked over their shirts and chaps. Their faces were streaked with salty sweat.

"What's the trouble?" Nathan asked the two men.

"We was just starting out when we seen some riders comin' from the south-east. Seven, eight, hell, could've been ten, Comanches!" He stopped and looked Nathan in the eye. Bob frowned and Nathan swore.

"How far?" Came Nathan.

"Six miles out." The cowboy turned and looked the town over. "We're going to go and regroup with our outfit."

"Alright," Nathan agreed. He watched the riders leave. "Looks like a group from the Comanche party coming up from the border," Nathan said to Bob. Bob nodded.

"You still goin' after the old man?" Bob asked.

"Yeah, I suppose," Nathan said, "But I'll need you to stay and keep an eye out."

"Why can't I go out and look for him?"

"Because, if that Comanche party is out there, someone who had dealt with their kind before should be the one to confront them."

"You think they're coming this way?"

"I don't know, but it is a possibility," Nathan said as he took the Colt revolver from his holster and loaded it. He set it back in his holster and loaded the Winchester, then mounted the horse and took the lead to the mule. Nathan could sense Bob's heavy gaze and looked at him

"See ya," Bob waved with a look of disappointment burrowed into his face.

"Yep," Nathan said cynically, nudging his mount and mule off and out of the town.

* * *

Heat waves shimmered over the chalky dust. Nathan headed east through the bush thickets. His shirt was wet at the armpits and small of his back; hat salt-stained. He squinted his eyes in the overwhelming brightness, affixing them in a wrinkled state. The canteens were still full, being he wanted to save as much water as possible.

An hour in, Nathan had rode in a wide arc and picked up the trail of a single person, wandering without a horse through the flatlands. He followed the trail in weary stature. From the northeast, a cloud of dust rose up. It was the cowboys pushing their cattle around the canyon that flanked Bushes to the north.

A water hole, which sunk in the earth, appeared about a hundred yards to Nathan's front. His tobiano paint trotted into the depression. The mud around it was disturbed with more tracks. Nathan stopped his mount and mule in front of the watering hole and let them drink their fill. He took one of the canteens and gulped water greedily, then crouched to refill it. A dry creek bed snaked around and twisted north, then snapped back east. The tracks continued along the bed. Nathan mopped a kerchief along his sweaty brow, looking along the creek bed.

Standing, Nathan led his horse and mule down the creek bed. Some small cacti grew up the incline of the creek side. The horse hung its head low next to its rider.

Within a few hundred yards, Nathan came upon a deep crag that connected to the creek bed, slicing ten feet into the ground. Pinyon pine trees and mesquite grew around it. No pool of water was in the crag, but it attracted sparse vegetation. An old man sat hunched on a rock in the shade of a mesquite tree, almost looking dead. Nathan brought his horse down into the small gulch and came up next to the man.

"Hey," He shouted in the heat laden air, moisture evaporating out of his mouth. The old man's face that was empty twisted into a scowl of irritation.

"The hell you mean, 'hey'?" Simon said, looking up at the sheriff.

"Any particular reason you left town, Simon?" Nathan said as he sat on the rock next to the old man, feeling around for the cigar in his breast pocket.

"What?!" He screamed in a raspy-dry voice, face creasing into an ever more angry glare. Nathan rolled his eyes, remembering the dementia; he lit the cigar.

"Your daughter is looking for you. Says you left without saying anything. She and her husband are worried sick."

Simon's scowl changed into a puzzled look as he said, "Well, shoot. Sue ain't older than three years. And you say she got a husband?"

"Old man, she's older now. You are not remembering clearly." Nathan handed Simon a canteen. Simon nodded thanks and pulled the stopper out and drank until he needed a breath of air, then drank again. Nathan waited patiently, looking around the small gulch.

"How long you been here?"

"Oh," Simon said as he looked up from his canteen, "A year, I reckon."

"You only left this morning." Nathan looked at him, holding the cigar between his thumb and forefinger.

"What? I been wandering this desert for years." Simon squinted his old eyes at Nathan; Nathan looked away and decided to leave it alone. Nathan stood, clenching the cigar in the corner of his mouth. He climbed up the side of the gulch and looked around the vast, dry, land. To the southeast was a incline. A small dust trail coughed up from the top. Many small specks moved in the shimmering heat at the crest of the incline. Nathan took a deep breath of cigar smoke and swore to himself. He turned back and slid down the gulch.

"Hop on the mule, Simon," Nathan said hurriedly. Simon, still sipping from the canteen, looked up and saw Nathan's distressed face. Surprisingly, Simon obeyed like a young child, and hauled his aged body onto the animal. Nathan jogged up to his horse and slid the Winchester from the saddle scabbard when he heard the distant hoof thuds. He stopped, ear to the air, trying to pry out the sharpness of the sound. Telling Simon to stay, Nathan went up the far side of the gulch. He peered out from the thicket.

The specks at the top of the distant hill were now bigger and only about four hundred yards off. Nathan couldn't make them out, squinting through the heat waves at the shimmering figures. Simon stayed on the mule, humming to himself, forgetting what he was doing in the middle of the desert. Nathan turned and looked at Simon.

"Have some more of that water!" He said in a stressed whisper, pointing at the canteens. He whipped his head back to the coming riders. Simon took his canteen he was handed earlier and drank some more water. The riders came closer. Nathan's heart nearly sank. He was able to make out the feathers, yellow face paint, and buckskin. All carried repeaters.

"Comanches!" He whispered to himself, he felt like curling up in a ball. He looked back at Simon who sat completely unaware. Nathan crouched down again and ran over to Simon.

"Simon," Nathan said, "Simon!"

"What?" Simon snapped, forgetting the sheriff.

"Do you remember where Bushes is?" Nathan asked, hoping the old man would remember. Simon looked up in the air then rubbed his leathery hand across his scruffy, white beard.

"Bushes?" Simon asked.

"The town you live at."

"Oh," Simon seemed to remember with a confused face, "That way, I suppose." He pointed west.

"Yes, Simon, that's it. Head that way." Nathan took his canteen and slung it over his shoulder, then reached into his saddle bags and grabbed boxes of ammunition. "Go as fast as you can. Take my horse and the mule. You can do it." The old man seemed unsure of himself and grimaced. Nathan stroked his horse, then looked up at Simon

"Don't you dare forget," He pointed at Simon, "I do not care if you have a memory problem, you get to Bushes and send help this way." Nathan looked back at the lip of the gulch. "Now go!" Simon nodded and started off with the horses. Nathan ran back to the lip of the gulch and poked his rifle out of the shrubbery. As Simon came out of the crag with the horses, the Comanches, who had ridden much closer, moved faster, going after Simon. Nathan held his rifle on the closest Comanche brave and fired. The rifle report clapped across the dust as the brave fell from the horse. The rest of them stopped and started circling their horses. Nathan levered another round.

He glanced over his shoulder to see Simon making off west. The braves started shouting and firing their carbines inaccurately toward the gulch. Nathan fired another shot, which kicked up dirt just below the brave's horses. One of the braves saw that the bullet had come from the shrubbery and charged. Nathan aimed carefully and fired, hitting the brave square in the chest, a spurt of red sprayed from the back. Again he glanced back, only to see Simon disappear into a mesquite thicket.

The braves backed off just a little bit at three-hundred yards. Nathan took the moment and refilled the Winchester's magazine with fresh cartridges. He started trembling, remembering times long ago; the anxiety and panic of Indian raids. Trying to keep the rifle steady, tears started to well up in the corners of his eyes. The sun dried his mouth out, and filled him with a big thirst. He grabbed the canteen and chugged, then returned to his rifle. Nathan couldn't see the details of the face paint, nor tribal decorations on their guns, but he imagined them and countless number of which he had seen.

Like wavy spirits, the braves moved through the heat waves, circling on their horses. The cowboy had said there were possibly ten, but there were sixteen. Nathan knew he was going to die. Then he saw one of the braves break from the group and come trotting toward the crag. A white strip of cloth was tied to the barrel of his carbine. Nathan adjusted the hold on his rifle, keeping the sights of his Winchester trained. The brave came closer at a slow pace while the others stayed back in a line. The tears that had welled up now came down in streams on Nathan's face, cutting through the layers of dried salt.

The brave moved across the chalky dust at a slow pace and stopped at a small clump of cacti, and waited, just twenty yards away. Nathan hesitated, shuddering as he thought. He urged himself out of cover, and stood at the lip of the crag, carbine aimed at the brave. The brave held his eyes coolly on Nathan. His tan-creased face made not an expression, just a calm look. The two stared at each other for a few moments. Nathan tried to keep from breaking down. The brave saw Nathan's red-wet eyes and the trails that tears had made.

"You kill two of my people," The brave said in a halting, deep voice, "Now I offer white flag, and you have gun on me."

Nathan said, voice quivering, "You started to go after my friend." The brave looked west where Simon had disappeared, then stared back at Nathan with piercing eyes. He saw the tin badge that was pinned on Nathan's shirt.

"You lawman?" The brave asked, nodding at the badge.

"Yes. I was looking for my friend."

"You find him?"

"That was him that rode off." The brave seemed to think about the statement, tilting his head.

"Then you must go with him," The brave said.

Nathan answered, disregarding him, "Are you the Comanches riding from Texas?"

"Yes. But we do not raid."

"How do you mean?" Nathan raised his head.

"We look for battle, but do not raid."

"But you started after my friend," Nathan pointed out again, "That is no fight."

"He could be cavalry scout."

"Well, he isn't," Nathan snapped. The brave looked at him curiously.

"It is law of the west: Survive. Is it not how white-man does it?" Nathan understood, but was still edgy, keeping the carbine on the brave. He did not answer the brave. "We will leave you, and your friend. We must bury our dead and collect their horses." The brave turned off without looking back and made for his companions. Nathan watched in utter disbelief as the brave left, leaving a trail of dust behind him.

* * *

The sun was close to dusk when Nathan made it back to Bushes. He wandered into the saloon and found Bob rounding up a posse of townsfolk, with Tim Ruthers refusing them second drinks. His eyes lit up when he saw Nathan saunter through the swinging doors.

"Sheriff!" He exclaimed, "We was just about to go lookin' for you!"

"Sure," Nathan said, sitting down at a small round table and on a wobbly chair. The protestant barkeep brought him a small glass of mescal, saying he didn't have to pay for it.

"Did Simon come back?" Nathan asked, nursing the mescal.

"Yes sir," Bob answered.

"He didn't say anything about sending help, did he?"

"No," came Bob again.

"I knew he wouldn't remember," Nathan concluded, throwing down his throat the rest of the mescal.

The End

Jonathan Oosterhouse is an avid, young reader and writer of western and crime fiction. He has published one piece of work in Frontier Tales Magazine under the title The Dry White.

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Death Ghosts
by Donnie Powell

The 100-strong Cantex gang hit the small town without warning. They rounded up everyone in town, killed the part-time sheriff, his deputy, and anyone who resisted. They herded the children into the church, sparing them. They robbed the bank, each of the stores, taking jewelry, cash, supplies, horses, wagons, whiskey and whatever they wanted. With lookouts posted, the gang closed in on the citizens. As they had done in other small towns, they had all the men and women stripped of their clothes. They raped the women and beat the men. Some of the gang carved their initials in the women's bodies—laughing saying "So you and your husband can always remember us".

Next they forced the townspeople to have sex with each other. Any who refused were threatened with death. The gang laughed saying, "So you will remember what your naked neighbor looked like and how they looked while having sex." One citizen said, "This is my sister I cannot have sex with her." A gang member pulled out his gun and said he would kill the brother. The sister begged him not to shoot her brother and got her brother to have sex with her, thus saving his life. The gang laughed saying, "Maybe brother and sister have done this before."

The gang wanted no posse following them so they killed or injured many of the young men—especially ex-soldiers. They also stole or ran off all the horses in the town.

They put six of the youngest and prettiest women in a wagon they called "the honey wagon"—where gang members could find rape victims. Those men and women left behind had the tips of their noses cut off—so they would be reminded every day of the gang.

The gang set fire to most of the buildings in town to help ensure the townspeople would lick their wounds instead of coming after them. Some of the towns they had raided never recovered and just became ghost towns.

* * *

As the gang camped that night—with guards posted—one member read aloud the old local newspapers he had found in a building before he set it afire. One article told of a few local farmers who were unusual veterans of the War Between the States. They formed a one-of-a-kind unit to kill Union generals. A few stealthily went behind enemy lines at night to dispatch their targets. Others had super long-range sniper guns and skills to shoot targets from almost a mile away. The unit had succeeded by killing many generals—Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Wallace, Harrison, etc. Next they targeted colonels and other officers. The unit had such an impact that the North sued for peace and the war ended without a victor or loser. The leader was named Pearson. Several of the gang told of hearing of these men and said they were called "Death Ghosts"—a term that spooked Union officers. They also told of how a general would be surrounded by guards but somehow the Ghosts got through and killed him—or how they would have decoys but the real general was still found and killed. One said in several battles, from nearly a mile away, the Ghosts shot officers watching the battle. The more they talked the quieter the gang became.

One member voiced their thoughts, "So, now the Death Ghosts will be coming after us." Some said, "they are farmers so maybe they won't feel obligated to come after us." Another said a couple of the wagons they stole were farm wagons. They then asked the captives their names and what they knew about the veterans known as Death Ghosts. The women were dazed and in shock and provided little information. One gang member found information in a stolen wagon showing it belonged to Pearson. Another pointed to one of the captives saying "she was sitting on this wagon when we came into town—she must be his daughter." They pressed her until she—Jane— came out of the fog and confirmed she was his daughter. She told them her dad and his army buddies had been out of town on a trip selling cattle. The leader said having his daughter as a hostage would stop him. To which Jane replied, "That won't stop them—they believe in the law—no matter what you do to me—they will come for you—they will get you and make you pay for what you have done. You picked the wrong town. If you surrender now, you will get a fair trial. You have a choice—surrender or die." The leader slapped her to the ground yelling, "Shut up! Shut up"!

The next morning, ten of the gang had deserted and gone their separate ways—hoping they would not be tracked down.

* * *

Back at the town, Pearson, two sons, and his friends returned from their trip. Mrs. Pearson—a victim herself—told them what had happened in town. He snatched up his rifle and started for his horse, but Mrs. Pearson grabbed him and pleaded with him and the others to control their wrath—to avoid rushing into an ambush—to plan and be patient. She said, "One mistake and you, our sons and rest of the team will be dead and our daughter lost. Go, Death Ghost, on a long cautious hunt—do what you have done so well in the past—seek, find—do whatever you must. Go."

The gang left a few behind to set up an ambush—thinking the posse would be so upset they would be careless and rush into the trap—they would be easy prey. A few days later, one ambusher caught up with the gang and told that the others were dead—killed in the night just like the generals.

After that report, the rest of the gang got more worried and sped up their rush to Mexico—hoping the Ghosts would stop at the border—but knowing the Ghosts would stop at nothing. The gang wondered how to survive—surrender to the law or soldiers or just keep running.

The posse alerted nearby towns about the gang being close by—they prepared just in case they were raided.

While being raped in the "honey" wagon, one girl was able to get her assailant's gun, shoot him and drive the wagon off. She was chased and she emptied the gun, reloaded and kept shooting until all the ammo was gone. She was able to shoot 3 more of the gang. But as they were closing in—knowing she would be killed—she drove the wagon over a cliff killing herself and the horses and destroying the supplies in the wagon. She sacrificed her life but made a small dent in the gang. After that, the furious leader told the remaining ladies that if any of them killed another gang member all the ladies would be hanged. He had the dead girl brought back and hanged her—naked—to the nearest tree—they even pulled her legs apart and rammed a large stick into her—someone cut off one of her breasts—they used her for target practice. All the remaining girls were in tears begging them to stop—but the gang's pride had been hurt by a woman and they were now monsters. Then the leader turned his men loose on the captives for a night of rough and brutal debauchery. The next morning, all the women had bruises, cuts and scrapes and were nursing bleeding wounds. They saw the sign attached to their hanged friend—the sign said "She fought the Cantex Gang—this is what will happen to you if you follow us." One woman had the courage to ask the leader if they could cut the girl down and bury her—he said, "No" and slapped her. She asked if they could drape her with a blanket—his answer was a couple of kicks. Thus the women resolved with pioneer spirit of iron to do whatever it took to survive and see these monsters brought to justice or killed. They now possessed a silent, suppressed determination that the gang failed to see—had they seen, it would have struck fear in their inner-most beings.

* * *

Like the other women, Jane had been raped and abused many times. One outlaw was called "Biter" and another preferred rough anal sex. One night while doing their cooking chores, Jane challenged anal man to a fight—if she won all the girls would have 3 nights off—if he won she would give oral sex to each of the men. The leader smiled and agreed to the bet. Jane coaxed—tricked—her opponent into removing his clothes by saying, "That way, when you win, I can immediately pay off the bet, starting with you." The outlaws did not know her dad had trained her in the rough and tumble art of wrestling and fighting hand to hand—to win. Biter stepped close to be second in line. Jane faked and maneuvered then quick as lightning she kicked anal man hard in the stomach, while bent over gasping for air, she swung her elbow into biter's teeth breaking all his front ones—he fell over backward bumping his head knocking himself out. Just as the other man straightened up she kicked him in the stomach again, this time he dropped to his knees. She grabbed an ear of corn with the shucks peeled back, whirled, jammed it into his anus, then kicked it home with just the shucks showing. She came around in front of him saying, "There you go Mr. Shucks, next time you want rough anal sex I'll be glad to give you another serving of corn." She dragged biter over to a log, and propped him up so he didn't drown in his own blood. She said, "Mr. Gummer, next time you want to bite one of us, I'll let you bite my elbow." Thus the two now had new nicknames. She said to the entire gang, "Unless you welch on your bet, we ladies now have 72 hours off, come on girls, lets go to bed." Addressing the leader she requested clothing to reduce tempting the gang members over the next 3 days—he agreed. She said they would continue their camp chores of cooking, cleaning, etc., but would like boots since their feet were all bleeding. He agreed. The ladies hugged her and thanked her and without vote, immediately elevated her to the status of their leader. They had their best night of sleep—and she told them to be ready to leave at the right time—she knew her father and brothers and special former soldiers were coming—and they were probably close by. She told them to keep their boots on even at night.

Unknown to the ladies, her father and team were close by and had been gentling the horses each night by giving them cubes of sugar. The next night, her dad silently approached the girls, led them out undetected while the other team members covered their retreat and led all the horses away. Dawn found them a few miles away as the gang awakened to find their horses and the girls gone. The leader sent three fast runners after them to try to kill them and get the horses back—they were backed up a little later by five more men with extra food, water, etc. The three encountered a sign that said "Surrender to the law or die". They ignored it and charged ahead. One of Jane's brothers used his long range rifle to shoot all three. He set a trap for others he thought would be coming—and he was right. They carefully approached the apparent shooter's ambush site, where he had placed empty shells in plain sight. One gang member said he was taunting them but another said, "No, it's bait! Run!"—just as the first of five shots rang out. They should have surrendered.

The gang needed horses so the leader sent 10-12 men to nearby towns to get—steal—horses. Thanks to the posse's warning the towns were prepared and the gang members never returned.

The posse got the ladies far enough away that they were safe. Then the ladies—and horses— were escorted by three members back home. The ladies—having been raped and abused many time—broke down sobbing and telling the men they were "damaged goods and that no decent men would ever look at them". To which one brother said "I'm looking and hope I can call on you when you are better." Others said the same or similar things and that really lifted the ladies' spirits—so much so that the ladies said, "You are and will always be our heroes—true heroes." And for the first time in a long time they smiled.

The rest of the posse went looking for the gang—determined to finish this thing.

When the two groups of the gang failed to return from the raids to get horses, the rest of the gang began to realize they might not survive—maybe they should surrender. A few days ago when they raided the little town and captured the sex slaves they had nearly 100 men. Now they were down to about 60, they had no horses and were stranded in the middle of nowhere. They also thought that if the posse could steal the captives and horses without any noise, then they could just as easily have killed them. Would the posse return once the captives were safe? The gang began to believe the posse were indeed Death Ghosts.

One night, the posse Ghosts slipped into camp capturing some of the stolen money—they left several painted signs that said "Surrender to the law or die". The next morning, the snipers shot up the food cooking on the fires. The next night none of the gang slept—they were all on high alert but again the ghosts slipped in and left their calling cards. When a couple of groups tried to slip out and come in behind the posse, several were shot down as the others hastily retreated to their camp. A short time later they raised a white flag. They had to leave their guns and come out naked except for their boots.

They were terrified by the looks of the posse especially when one said that was my daughter and a couple others said that was my sister.

Using leg chains the posse had brought just in case, the posse had the gang chain themselves in pairs. Naked except for their boots, the gang walked back to the town—dreading what awaited them. They dared not try to escape because they thought there were dozens of Ghosts hiding in the nearby area. The townspeople greeted the gang with boos and pelted them with dirt. They were marched by the cemetery so they could see all the graves of the people they had killed.

They were all found guilty and the murderers hanged—the others were sentenced to long terms in prison. The citizens of the town could finally begin to put the horrible events behind them and move forward with their lives—thanks in no small part to the Death Ghosts.

FOOTNOTE: During the trial, the judge publicly thanked the posse. The gang could not believe only 8 men had destroyed or scattered the Cantex gang and captured the 50 or so that were left—only 8. Witnesses from other towns came to testify against the gang—bringing many spectators in the courtroom to tears. The judge said, they ALL deserved to hang—but evidence was lacking for some. He said, "I should invoke a ruling that 'if one gang member does something then each gang member is guilty'—if I do that all of you would hang!" To which the courtroom responded with cheers and clapping—they wanted these monsters put to death.

FOOTNOTE: The Ghosts sent posters to towns where the escaped gang members might have gone. The posters said, "The Death Ghosts will come for you unless you surrender—Surrender or die." Surprisingly, all but two were so terrified of the Ghosts that they turned themselves in and awaited their fate in the judicial system. They were nervous wrecks constantly looking over their shoulders, unable to sleep—they were glad to surrender. Two months later the final members surrendered saying at last I can get a good night's sleep. Thus ended the Cantex gang—thanks to the Death Ghosts.

FOOTNOTE: All the victims and their families thanked the posse over and over and spread the word and increased the legend of the Death Ghosts.

The End

Donnie Powell was born and raised in Georgia. He grew up watching western movies and television programs such as Gunsmoke, Wanted Dead or Alive, Paladin, Bonanza and anything western. He still watches them today on the Western channel. He taught school (math) for three years, then 34+ years Federal civil service. He enjoys dabbling in writing short stories of various types. He has three self-published books on Amazon--titles are Some Christmas Stories and Others by Powell, Josie: Squaw Slave White With Many Sex (ADULT STORY), and Cancer Detection Dog On the Run (Adult Story). In August 2018, he will have been married 50 years, has two sons and one daughter, two fine children-in-law, and two (daughter's) wonderful grand-darlings. He has also written an unpublished, non-serious book, When I was a Boy in Georgia. He gives "Thank You" wooden nickels to veterans and stuffed animals (with a tag that says " . . . do a good deed . . . and pass me on or keep me . . . " to people in wheel chairs, senior citizens, Nurses and other medical personnel, etc.—he has received many blessings from each project.

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