The Perfumed Bandana
by J.R. Underdown
The Dread Knot Saloon emitted a hazy light. The smoke from inside drifted lazily through the swinging doors and mixed with the dust kicked up by horses in the street. The faded wooden sign (hung by a pair of nooses) swayed and creaked in a barely noticeable breeze. The establishment used to bear a more distinguished name until the proprietor gave up appearances and accepted the nature of his clientele. Here gathered all the rough drifters, rowdy cowhands, and rogue scoundrels. Fights broke out on a nightly basis; occasionally shots were fired. But the Dread Knot kept passing out the liquor, the piano kept churning out the tunes, and the dancers kept waving their skirts like a patriot waving his flag.
Into this saloon one night drifted a pack of cowboys who looked less than reputable. The youngest among them, dressed in dark blues and blacks and a checkered bandana around his neck, separated from his companions and sat at the bar. They wanted to get drunk and find a woman or two. He wanted to relax as well, but before a big job, that was the time to keep a sharp mind. In a few hours their brains would look like a muddy street on a busy day. That may make for more fun in the short term, but this young cowboy knew it would be best to stay aloof, keep out of trouble, and not let anything cloud his judgment.
He learned such caution from the first outlaw he rode with, an older man. Well, old by outlaw standards, so about mid-30s. He took a liking to the kid and taught him everything he knew. He had thankfully passed on most of his knowledge before getting shot between the eyes by a lucky lawman. A clear head before a big job was important, but that only went so far. Still, the young man felt it gave him an advantage over his fellows.
He sat at the bar, sipping a whiskey and eyeing the other patrons of the saloon on the great mirror hanging over the alcohol. His fingers toyed with a cigarette in his pocket when a flurry of color in the reflection caught his eye. A beautiful woman, one of the dancers, moved through the crowd. In spite of his commitment to sobriety of mind, he turned to see her in the flesh. To his astonishment, this stunning señorita approached him.
Her loose hair was black as the night and moved as if blown by an evening breeze. Her eyes, though dark, shone like stars. Her lips were as red as the sunset and her body curved like the waves of the sea. Her dress was a blaze of colors that somehow seemed above the establishment in which she wore it. The young man didn't know much about fairy tales, but if he did, he'd think he was in one at that moment.
The dancer pushed her way to the bar, pressing herself close to the cowboy. He felt his cheeks burn. She glanced at him and then ordered tequila. When given her drink, she raised it in salute to the young man. With a slight smile, he replied in kind with his own glass and together they drank. Her eyes held him and he had the impression she was sizing him up. He grew uncomfortable.
Finally, she set her glass on the bar and lifted her head. "What is your name, señor?"
He relaxed slightly. "They call me the Winchester Kid."
"Oh, another kid!" She laughed, spreading a glance around the bar. "He is the ninth kid I met this week." The other drinkers laughed at this invitation and some added their own less witty jokes.
The Kid bristled and blushed. He had half a mind to explain how he got his name, but this brazen dancer already moved on in the conversation.
"We must give you a more original name." She paused and gave him that searching stare. "How about . . . the Sangre Roja Man!"
Some of the more drunk eavesdroppers laughed at this without getting the joke. The Kid was still translating the Spanish, unsure what to think, when she suddenly grabbed him by the hand and led him off to where a mad mob danced to the mariachi band. A tinny piano was the usual accompaniment, but a full band graced the Dread Knot from time to time when its members were in the area or not in the sheriff's jail.
The tune they played as the Kid and dancer joined the fray was a lively tune that encouraged drunk footwork. The young cowboy was so disoriented he barely kept up with the furious dancing of his partner. Mercifully, they entered midway through the song and didn't have long to dance. The Kid was working up courage to excuse himself from his beautiful siren, but again she took him by the hand and led him through the crowd. They cut a swath to the back door where, following the young woman's energy, they burst into the night as if jumping from a burning building.
They stood now in a dark alley, lit only by what escaped the Dread Knot's grimy windows. Overhead, stars blazed like torches and gave the avenue a surreal feel.
The dancer laughed and led him to a crate on the opposite wall where they could sit down. After a minute she shivered, though the night wasn't chilly. The Kid cautiously put an arm around her shoulders, unsure of her response. She leaned in closer and made herself comfortable. For the first time, he noticed her scent and tried to identify it.
"You're making me break a big rule for myself," he said, finally finding a tongue.
"What rule is that?" She turned her eyes up to his face.
"To not get drunk or involved with women before a big . . . " he stopped himself.
"Before a big what?"
"Er, a big day, when something special is happening."
The woman sighed. "So you are an outlaw."
"I didn't say that!"
"You don't have to hide from me, Sangre. I can spot the type."
The Kid frowned and tried to relax.
"What does your 'big day' look like?" She pressed.
"Hmph. So you can go tell the sheriff?"
She laughed, full and clear. "Why would I go to him? He wouldn't believe me. He just thinks I'm a whore."
The Kid considered how to reply to this. The dancer, guessing his thoughts, punched him lightly in the ribs.
"I am not a whore!" she declared. "I will dance, I will sing, but I do not sell my body."
"Sure, sure!" said the Kid, trying to calm her. "I can see you're no one's woman."
She considered him again and smiled mischievously. Suddenly she stood, drawing him up after her by the hand.
"Let's go for a walk, Sangre. The stars call to young lovers on nights like this."
The Kid smiled down at her. "On any other night I'd be happier than a burr in the saddle to be your lover. But I gotta keep a clear head . . . " He trailed off, not wanting to say too much.
"Why is that so important?" she asked, frowning.
"I learned it from my first, er, boss. Keep a clear head before a big job. No booze, no women, no dancing, or anything else. Just relax. A clear head for a big job makes it more likely to succeed and for you to make it out alive."
The woman shuddered, though this time not from the cold. "What could be more relaxing than a walk on a beautiful night?"
"With a beautiful woman?" the Kid added, smiling.
She smiled back. Even in the dark that smile made the Kid's heart race as much as a gun being fired at him. For answer, she wrapped her arms up around his neck and drew him close. He thought she would kiss him. He closed his eyes, intoxicated by the perfume emanating from her body. But he did not feel the warm press of her lips, only the soft brushing of her nose. He opened his eyes, confused. In her pupils, a playful light danced.
Now she pulled away, trotting down the alleyway with something streaming in her hand. The Kid reached up to his neck and realized she stole his bandana. By the time he caught up to her on the street, she had it wrapped around her own neck. It looked garish compared to the vibrancy of her dress. He would have told her so, but he figured she likely knew. She offered her hand, he hesitated. So much was riding on this next job. She started twisting her hips back and forth, her dress swooshing. The smell wafted into the Kid's nostrils. Against better judgment, he took her hand.
"So what is your name?" the Kid asked. "So we can be on equal ground."
"You can call me Zante."
"Short for 'danzante.' Dancer."
The Kid smirked and they strolled down the main street of that dusty, dingy town with their arms linked. Most windows were black with darkness. Rare was the sign of light and life within the buildings they passed. The stars overhead twinkled brightly and were the most dazzling thing to be seen. The only thing other than Zante.
He looked at her and smiled, a true smile, reflecting the happiness he felt while walking next to her. Over it all, that sweet perfume conquering the smells of the street. The Kid couldn't place that aroma, he was never much for knowing what smelled like what. But Zante's perfume made him want to know it, to learn it and master it, to let it be more important to him than the next job. He tried shaking such feelings, sensing the dangerous place he was going.
She must have sensed his wrestling as well, for she spoke now in quiet tones as they came to the outskirts.
"Why did you become a bandito?"
The Kid shrugged. "It's a job, I guess."
"I don't believe that. They all say it's just a job. What is the true reason, Sangre?"
The Kid thought for a moment as they passed into the open country. "I reckon I felt aimless. Needed something to give meaning to life. Had a good first leader to make the life seem good."
"But is it good? Robbing, killing. Is that a good life?"
"I don't kill unless I have to . . . " he offered feebly.
They ascended a hill in silence. At its peak, they surveyed the stars. Those heavenly bodies seemed to stoop so close you had to reach out and touch them or your heart would break.
"Do you ever get tired of this life?" Zante asked at last.
"I try not to think about it."
"There are other paths, Sangre."
"I haven't found one yet."
Zante swept herself in front of the Kid, clasping his hands. Her eyes reflected the twinkling stars.
The Kid closed his eyes and leaned his head back. He wanted to say yes. He wanted to get lost in that perfume, lost in the starlight; to embrace this woman, this dream, who tortured his hardened heart.
"I need to get back to camp," he said.
Zante wilted slightly but acquiesced, and together they returned to town. They were silent as ghosts passing down the streets until they were back in the alley where they started. She turned to face him once more.
"Come with me, Sangre! Forget what you have been and let us run away. Let us start over somewhere else!"
"I can't," he replied hoarsely.
"If you change, I'll be waiting." With this promise she brought his head closer and kissed him.
What an electrifying kiss! The touch of those warm, soft lips against his; the sweet scent swelling his nose. He drew her in as close as he could. Eventually they pulled away from each other, eyes moist.
Zante smiled weakly and removed the Kid's bandana, placing it around his neck with another kiss. Without a parting word, she retreated into the Dread Knot. The Kid, with a heavy heart and hanging head, left the alley and found his horse.
He returned to an empty camp, for which he was grateful. He mechanically checked the perimeter, checked his guns, and laid down with his saddle for a pillow. The stars took his silent consideration for a while before he finally drifted into sleep. Only his drunken and hooting companions woke him, though he merely woke long enough to see who burst upon the camp with such clamor. He scowled at them and pulled his hat over his head.
The Kid was the first awake, even before the sun. Though Zante still haunted his heart, he gave his usual attention to the various prep work needed before a raid. As the sun's first rays glistened on the horizon, he woke the rest of the gang and they groggily got to work.
The sun was level with the ground when the group of six rode out. They had no set leader but tried to work collectively. It wasn't always effective, but when it came to choosing jobs and planning them, they seemed to always find common ground. Their big job that day was robbing a train carrying a large shipment of gold from the west.
They found a bluff that gave a commanding view of the railroad tracks. The sky was clear, the sun hot. On the bandits' faces was a mix of giddy excitement and somber focus. All checked their firearms. The Kid pulled his Winchester '76 out of its leather sheath and made sure it was clean and functioned right. His proficiency with that rifle helped garner his nickname. The check complete, he rested it across his saddle.
A whistle in the distance brought them to attention. Crawling out of the horizon came the great, thundering train. It carried a coal car, five passenger carriages, and a caboose. From the bluff it looked like a smoking snake, set afire by the sun and now mindlessly weaving its way somewhere. The bandits moved off their lookout and trotted to a more concealed location where they could wait for the train to pass.
They didn't wait long. It roared past, shaking the ground, startling a couple horses. As soon as the caboose shot by, they lurched out after it at full run. As they went, they pulled their bandanas up to cover their faces. The Kid, racing ahead, also readied his mask. He was greeted by Zante's aroma.
Immediately his focus swirled. That same bandana that now covered his face to commit crime was only precious hours before wrapped around the neck of a woman mysterious and beautiful, who stirred certain foreign passions within the Kid. Her perfume, whatever scent it was, bled into his checkered bandana and was here with him for his foul deeds. He felt as if he was bringing Zante along, exposing her to his whole, fallen nature.
This shook the Kid, more than any close bullet or close call. Suddenly he realized he lagged behind. Should he close the gap? Or should he disappear? Find his lover and run from everything? Or commit to his path? He felt, in some odd way, honor-bound to his companions and so pressed forward.
Satch, one of the more eager and restless of the company reached the caboose first. He leapt nimbly from his horse, grabbed the end rail, and pulled himself aboard. As he peered through the glass of the door, the riders saw a sudden puff of red and the body of Satch topple backwards off the train, tumbling lifeless on the rails.
Before what happened fully dawned on the bandits, a rifle barrel appeared in a hole in the glass that wasn't there a minute before. It fired off a couple shots before one of the gang retaliated with a truer aim that ended the rifleman's stand.
"I wonder how many guards they have in there?" a bandit named Thrum yelled to his fellows.
"Poke your head in that hole and find out, eh?" another named Willoughby retorted.
"Get up to the passenger car and work your way back," the Kid suggested without thinking. The inhaling of breath reminded him of Zante's aroma permeating through his bandana.
He tried to keep his focus as he watched his companions dart ahead. Gunfire appeared out of the side windows of the caboose. The Kid fired some warning shots to back them away. He then let his horse fall behind, and, with a leap over the tracks, he was on the other side of the car.
The guards in the caboose didn't bother following him and he soon found why. They were already transitioning to the passenger carriages and exchanging fire with the first of his companions who had gained the front end of the car. The solution here was simple: get on the caboose and hit the guards from the rear. Pin them down and they'll go down. He had learned that before.
But he hesitated. He saw through the car windows Thrum go down in the firefight. Already Satch lay stretched out and battered on the track a mile back. Was life so cheap that it should be spent in stealing gold? Zante, in a sense, had cursed him. She had shown him a different kind of life. That's what that mysterious scent was—life! Honest life. Seeking something better, something above the dredges man often settles for.
The Kid realized he had been letting his steed slow down and now he forced it to a standstill. The train sped away, a massive force unaware and unconcerned of the battle being waged at its back. Slowly he turned the horse in the opposite direction and set off at a gallop.
* * *
Zante sat on the step of the Dread Knot and looked mournfully down the street. She had tried saving Sangre, a young boy whom she truly believed in, truly saw the potential of a better life. But he did not come to her. He must have went out for his "job", and now may be dead.
Through the hazy dust a lone horseman caught her eyes. He rode slowly, head down. Zante realized with a start his clothing looked familiar. She stood slowly, expectantly. As the figure came closer, he raised his head, caught sight of the dancer, and urged his horse on at a faster pace.
When the Winchester Kid halted before the Dread Knot, he looked down at Zante with an impassive face. She looked up at him half expectant but matching his visage. Finally, he dismounted and stood before her, holding out a hand. She glanced down at it and saw the checkered bandana. When she met his eyes, hers were filled with tears. His were misty as well. They embraced, long and lovingly, and that was the last anyone saw of the beautiful dancer and the Winchester Kid.
J.R. Underdown is an independent author exploring multiple genres and venues. He has self-published a YA
fantasy (Plethora), a collection of poetry (Seasons So Far), and has a new mystery book out
this year (The Boyd Bafflers, Vol. 1). He is a staff writer at Jesusfreakhideout.com and has had
stories published on Frontier Tales and Mystery Weekly. For more information and other projects he's
involved with, visit jrunderdown.wordpress.com!
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The Day God Rode the Bozeman Trail
by James A. Tweedie
It was 1866, late October, and the Wyoming weather was already hinting at the approach of winter. The last of the season's aspen leaves glittered like Double Eagles over the heads of two horsemen with their eyes set on the gold fields of Western Montana.
The men had been complete strangers until the day before when they left the well-worn and deeply-rutted Oregon Trail behind and found themselves the only ones riding the equally-rutted, but otherwise empty Bozeman Trail heading north.
"Bozeman?" one man had asked the other.
"Yep," the other nodded.
"I'm thinking we might ride together for a spell," said the first. "You good for it?"
"Yep," the other said, along with a second nod of his head.
Trying to have a conversation while riding a horse wasn't as easy as it had been chatting face to face with the soldiers at Fort Laramie. But now, two days later, seeing as there was nothing else to do and no one else to talk to anyway, the two men did what they could.
"Name's Michael," said the first. "Michael Goodwin, Lima, Ohio."
"Robert Peterson," said the second man. "Cleveland."
If you had been there and seen them, even up close, you would have had a hard time telling one from the other. They were both in their late twenties, slightly under six-feet tall, of similar weight, wearing similarly drab, nondescript, clothing with hints of brown showing through the layers of trail dust that covered each of them like a blanket. Underneath their hats they wore their dark hair cropped short with nearly identical untrimmed beards framing their faces like they were paintings hanging in an art gallery in Boston or New York. The similarities extended even to their horses, both of them roans of fifteen-hands.
Only the color of their eyes set them apart, Michael's being blue and Robert's brown.
That night they shared a campsite and a fire, each fixing their own grub but sharing a pot of boiled coffee.
"I expect you fought Union, same as me?" said Robert with the hint of a question mark at the end.
"Union would be right," answered Michael with his mouth full of buffalo pemmican, "but I wasn't in it—I didn't fight."
"I don't understand. What do you mean, you 'didn't fight?'"
"I'm a pacifist," came the answer. "A Mennonite . . . folks who actually believe what Jesus and the Bible say about, 'Thou shalt not kill' and 'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.' I did what I could to help the wounded and paid the $300 that Lincoln charged me for staying out. It was a fair trade but it set me back, maybe forever. You see, afore the war broke out I was all set to buy land, start farming on my own and maybe raise a family, but that $300 took all my savings and then some. And if you think you're broke, l bet you this last bite of pemmican that I'm more broke than you are."
"But you're wearing a pistol on your belt and you've got a rifle on your horse," Robert said, ignoring the bet. "So, what kind of a pacifist are you? I hope you're not the kind that loves their enemy and then turns around and murders their family and friends. God knows we've got enough of them enemies waiting for us up ahead and we're going to need all the friends we can get."
"I reckon we're already in Sioux territory," Michael answered, as his eyes flickered from side to side, peering into the surrounding darkness. "You heard what they said back at Laramie, how's lately there been near thirty common folk murdered along the trail and dead soldiers, too, up at Fort Phil Kearny. That's supposed to be Crow territory, not Sioux, but they say Red Cloud doesn't care about treaties and just wants the soldiers gone and the trail cut off."
Robert sat quietly for a long time before replying.
"They said I was a fool to take the trail what with the Indians and the winter coming on and such," he muttered, "and I'm thinking that maybe they were right about it."
He paused again, and looked straight into the eyes of his companion for the first time that day.
"We're going to need those guns you've got, no doubt about it—either to scare them Indians off or to kill them afore they kills us. But if you won't use them to kill, why have them at all?"
"Bear, wolves, and rattlers—there's three reasons good enough," Michael answered. "And game. A man's gotta eat. And not God, Jesus, or Simon Meno never said nothing against killing a Grizz or taking down a buffalo when someone's hungry or if they're cold and needs a fur cloak. Anyways, it's cheaper to shoot something yourself stead of paying someone else for the meat—and the critter's dead whether I shoot it or he does. It's all the same.
"It's people I won't kill," he added with a grin. "And I won't eat them, neither!"
"Well," said Robert with a stretch and a yawn, "it's good to have someone to talk to and ride with, but I'm afeared you won't be worth a bottle of spit if'n up ahead we run into a band of them Sioux."
"God will protect and deliver us from evil," Michael said in a tone of voice that reminded Robert of back home—back when he used to go to church . . . before the war . . .
Just five years ago, he thought to himself. Five years of hell and now I'm walking back into it again with Red Cloud coming at me 'stead of Johnny Reb. Those Laramie folks were right all along. I am a fool and, more than that—a damned stupid one for getting hooked up with someone who's a bigger fool than I am.
As they took turns sleeping the fire turned to ash.
They were up and on their way before dawn hoping to reach Fort Reno before they had to build another campfire.
They were hoping they'd get there alive.
To their surprise, they soon found themselves joined by a group of sixty or more soldiers heading in the same direction.
Robert recognized them as part of the 18th Infantry, the same outfit he had joined in Ohio and fought with through Perryville, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, and Utoy Creek during the Battle for Atlanta.
He looked for familiar faces but didn't find one until a mutton-chopped, mustached officer in a Captain's uniform drew his horse alongside the two men.
"Feel free to join us, if you'd like," he said, with a dusty smile. "'Better safe than sorry,' and, as they say, 'E pluribus Unum,' 'The more the merrier,' and 'There's safety in numbers,' all true long as you don't mind the string of clichés."
"Yes, Sir, Colonel!" Robert answered as he found himself sitting straight up in the saddle and saluting Will Fetterman, the man who had led Robert 's Ohio-based brigade through the war; the man who had brought him home alive when it was over, the man to whom he owed his very life
"Private Peterson reporting for duty," he continued, "honored to see you, again, Sir!"
"Peterson? Robert Peterson? By God I didn't recognize you behind that poor excuse of a beard! In the name of Jesus, I hope you're not trying to get to Bozeman!"
Robert was pleased beyond measure to have been remembered by name, but the warning about Bozeman didn't sit well at all.
"By the way," Fetterman continued, "as you can see, I'm not a colonel anymore or a volunteer like before. I'm a professional soldier, now, and a Captain like James Powell over yonder, my co-command of this bunch of misfits."
"Where you headed?" asked Michael, hoping he and his new companion could follow the troops all the way to Montana.
"Going to Fort Kearny to protect folks like you who are traveling the trail. And if they give me half a chance and eighty good men, I swear I'll ride through the whole Sioux nation and push 'em back to the Dakotas where they belong. But enough talking, I've got to keep these men moving. Look me up when we get to Fort Reno, or maybe Kearny, if we get that far, and we can catch up on old times."
As he turned his horse, he tipped his hat and said, "Good to see you again, Robert. And Michael, it's nice to meet you, too."
While they were talking, Michael's eyes had been scanning the surrounding hills where, on the top of a ridge a mile or so to the east he spotted the silhouettes of two men on horseback with their backs to the rising sun.
Sioux, he thought. And not afraid to show themselves. Maybe hoping to get some of these boys angry enough to set off in their direction with a trap waiting for them somewhere down the far side of the ridge. An old trick and the Captain here is too experienced and too good to fall for it. If he ignores them, they'll probably just give up and go away.
And sure enough, ten minutes later, after the two travelers from Ohio had ridden out of the dust and joined the two Captains at the head of the column, the two men on the ridge had disappeared.
Several hours later, when Captain Fetterman moved to the back of the column to check on stragglers, Robert and Michael followed.
Maybe it was something like fate or Providence and maybe God's hand was in on it or maybe it was just something stirred up by the pounding of men's feet and horse's hooves, but as the three men rode alongside and against the grain of the marching troops, a rattlesnake sat up in front of Robert's horse and startled her enough to cause her to whinny out an unearthly screech and rear up on her hind legs.
Robert managed to hold on, but when the horse came down, one of her front hooves planted itself in an animal hole of some kind, causing her to stumble and fall, throwing Robert to the ground and scattering his gear in all directions.
Both man and horse lay on the ground side-by-side for quite a spell, breathing hard and searching their bruised bodies for torn muscles and broken bones.
The Captain called for a medic but Robert waved him off.
"I'm, alright," he groaned, as he sat up and began brushing sand, twigs and dust out of his hair and off of his face. "No need for a medic, but if you can find my canteen, I could sure use a sip of water."
He was back up on his feet in no time, hurting more than he was willing to admit, and favoring one leg over the other.
His horse, however, was slower to get up and when she did, she wouldn't let Robert or anyone else come close enough to touch her.
"Leave her be for a spell," Robert said, fighting back his pain through clenched teeth, "and she'll be fine. No need for you to wait up for me and her. We'll catch up soon enough and, like I said, we'll be fine. So, git! You're making me all nervous and embarrassed with the staring and—Michael, I'm talking to you—please get that worrisome look off your face—it's not helpful. So just git! Both of you and everyone else. We just need a few minutes."
"You go on ahead, Captain," Michael cut in. "I'll stay here and keep 'em out of trouble. And when they're ready, we'll catch up."
"You sure I can't leave a couple of men behind, you know, just in case?"
"No, Sir," Robert answered. "You can't spare anyone with a horse and two men on foot would slow us down when we're trying to catch up. So, thank you, but, like we've both said, we'll be fine."
The column of men hadn't gone more than a quarter mile, and the dust they'd kicked up hadn't yet settled when the fallen horse allowed Robert to straighten and tighten her harness and secure his repacked gear behind the saddle. With a boost from Michael, Robert was back up, sitting high and ready to ride.
Before he climbed into his own saddle, Michael looked up at his friend and said, "Remember what I said, 'God will protect us and deliver us from evil.'"
"Like hell he will!" Robert whispered as his eyes focused on something behind Michael and his hand reached for his gun."
"No! White Man," came a commanding voice that caused Michael to twist around to see who was talking. "You touch, you die. You understand?"
Somehow, without their horses, the two Sioux warriors, each armed with a short bow nocked with an arrow, had managed to sneak up on their prey without being seen.
"Maybe you die, anyway. Make good coup. One for Bent Feather and one for me."
"You speak English," Michael stammered, being unable to think of anything else to say.
"Hear me, and do not speak again," came the reply. "I am Broken Foot. When I was seven years old, soldiers killed my father while he slept, tore me from my mother's arms and forced me to watch while they dishonored her. I wanted them to kill me, too, but they took me to Fort Laramie and tried to civilize me and turn me into a scout. They called me a filthy savage, but in my heart, knowing what they had done, I knew who the savages were."
As he spoke, the one called Bent Feather motioned for Robert to dismount and drew what appeared to be an old and worn Green River blade from a beaded sheath attached to his waistband. He set aside his bow and with his knife at the ready, removed the guns and gun belts from the men's waists and then their rifles from the horses.
Without interruption, Broken Foot continued.
"I remember it all and forget none of it, and while I waited for my time to come, I learned to speak like a White Man. This was easy for me because our tribe already knew much of the White Man's language from trappers back in the days when my people were still as free as the sky; back in the days when our campfires burned brightly; when the long nights were filled with stories and sacred dancing to the Spirit in gratitude for blessing us with the land, the sky, the rivers and the buffalo.
"But all this was stolen from us. And even when my people made peace, still you come and take our land and kill our people, and so we say, 'Enough.' Now it is the Lakota's turn to drive you out and restore honor to our tribe.
"And I tell you this because your soldiers have left you behind, and I tell you this so you will know that the guns you have carried to kill my people will be used to kill yours, and I tell you this so you will know that your lives—if Bent Feather and I choose to take them—will make us stronger."
When he paused, Robert slowly raised his right hand, palm out. Broken Foot saw and acknowledged the gesture with a nod, granting him permission to speak.
"You have shared a sad and terrible story and you are right to think I would have used my gun against you to defend myself. But you're wrong to think my friend would have used his gun against you. He is a believer in peace and has vowed never to kill or hurt any man, even in self-defense; even at the cost of his own life."
Broken Foot gestured for Robert to lower his hand and then walked up to Michael, raised his bow and pulled it taut with the point of his arrow no more than an inch from his eye.
"Is it true what that man just said about you? That you do not fight? That you would not kill a man?"
"What he says is true," Michael replied, in such a soft and quiet voice that Robert didn't hear what he had said.
Broken Foot responded by laughing the way a drunken man laughs when he hears something he thinks is funny. But the laugh ended abruptly, as if it had been cut off my Bent Feather's knife.
"What strange thing is this?" Broken Foot asked, looking grim and serious once again. "Even Lakota women fight and have proven themselves as warriors."
He turned to Bent Feather and exchanged a few words in Lakota.
"I will now put this new thing to the test—to see if you speak the truth."
Bent Feather handed him Michael's pistol and Broken Foot took Michael's right hand and forced him to take the loaded weapon.
"Shoot me, Great Warrior," he mocked as he laid his bow on the ground and stood with his legs spread wide apart and his hands clasped behind his back. Save your friend and save yourself. Kill me and Bent Feather has sworn that as long as you do not turn the gun on him, he will let you both go.
"Why do you hesitate? Are you afraid? Are you a coward? Do you not want freedom for you and your friend? Do you not want to live? Kill me now and you will have all of these things and be rid of me forever!"
Michael turned the gun so the barrel was in his hand, pointing towards himself and in this way, he reached out and offered it back to Broken Foot.
"I desire freedom and life for my friend as well as for myself. I am not a coward and I am not afraid. But I will not kill you or any man, even if it should cost us our lives."
Broken Foot turned to Bent Feather and shrugged before taking the proffered gun. With his hand firmly on the grip and his finger tight against the trigger, he pulled back the hammer and placed the tip of the barrel in the center of Michael's forehead.
"You have had your chance, Great Warrior, and now you and your friend will die."
"As God wills, so be it," Michael whispered. "And Father, forgive them."
Even though he said this as a prayer he did not close his eyes or even blink.
As he watched, he saw Broken Foot raise the gun and release the hammer before bringing the barrel down on his head with a light tap.
The man nodded at his companion who then did the same to Robert.
"You are foolish and brave, Great Warrior," Broken Foot declared. "As brave as any man I have known. I now give you a new name, 'White Dove,' because you bring no harm to any man, and because you did not blink when you faced death. Bent Feather and I have each counted coup and have won great honor for ourselves, our families, and our tribe."
After yet another nod to Bent Feather he said, "Now we return your weapons, knowing that neither of you will use them against us as we leave. The whole of our nation will soon know who you are and, on my word, as long as you ride this trail the Lakota will never do you any harm. You are free."
As Robert and Michael watched, the two warriors retrieved their bows, turned their backs and walked away. As they made their way towards the eastern hills they dropped to the ground and disappeared into the sagebrush and high mountain grass, never to be seen by Robert Peterson or Michael Goodwin again.
The story doesn't say if the two men ever made it to Bozeman or what fortunes or misfortunes came their way in the days, weeks, or years that followed.
What is known is that less than two months later on December 21 a small band of Sioux attacked a party of men sent out from Fort Kearny to cut wood. A company of 80 soldiers under the command of Captain William Fetterman—in defiance of orders not to do so—pursued them over a nearby ridge where they were ambushed by a group of 2,000 Sioux. In less than twenty minutes Fetterman and his soldiers were dead, all but six of them killed by arrows. It was the second largest military loss suffered by the United States in battle against Native People, a defeat surpassed only by that of George Custer at the Little Bighorn, ten years later.
James A. Tweedie is a retired pastor who has lived in California, Utah, South Australia, Hawaii, and Long Beach, Washington, where he and his wife continue to enjoy life on the beach. As founder of Dunecrest Press, he has published six novels, three collections of poetry and one collection of short stories.
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by Michael W. Clark
They call me Jumper. I guess it's better than coward. I am fast, but not with the pistol draw. In a gun fight I jump to the side and roll over on the ground. I am accurate with my shots, so it works every time. Better to eat dirt than eat lead. If there is a crowd it is usually disappointed, but I am alive. Used to causing disappointment. Disappointed my Ma. My Pa was just generally disappointed with life. I know the taste of the dirt is most of the towns 'round here. Ha! They could call me Dirt eater, so Jumper is better. Don't jumping out of the way violate the Rules of a gunfight? Only one rule that's important. Don't die. Some towns are making laws against gunfights. Ha! If there was the law, the gunfights wouldn't happen. Well, most of 'em wouldn't happen. Guys get annoyed, 'course there will be fights. Accept it or not, fights happen.
Another reason I win, I don't drink as much as most of the other rowdies do. Liquor don't make you quicker. You just think it does. I know it don't. Again, I am alive, most of them aren't. Rowdies come and go, townies don't like 'em much. They don't like me less because I am not a loudmouth drunk. Excess liquor, the root of most evil. Ha! I guess I like tickling the devil's toes now and against. My Ma's disappointment came from that trait. She believed in the church and its trappings. Didn't do either of them much good. That church fire must have disappointed the entire flock. They all died, even the preacher. God and his mysterious ways. I wasn't having any of it. Saved my life, obvious as anything.
So, now I'm laying in the dirt again. Had to shoot the rowdy a couple of times because of all the liquor numbing the pain. Its after sundown so the dirt is cool. Nobody is rushing to aid the rowdy or me. Just two more worthless bastards in the road. Even the horses just step 'round us. At least, I can get up on my own. Not sure if the rowdy is dead or just dead drunk. If the townies don't give a shit, why should I? And I don't. Might be a reward though. Most of the rowdies annoy the law too. I'm sort of a bounty hunter, but not really. Do odd jobs mostly. If I happen to take down a wanted guy, I will collect. I just got into this town. I haven't checked the posters yet. Too tired to check anything but Alex. He is my traveling companion. Got him when he was just a lamb. Some ship from South America had run into a storm at sea. Lost their masts and sails, just drifted out in the Pacific, I suppose. The crew that was left started eating the cargo. When I found the wreck, I was fifteen, all that was left was Alex. I think he is a Guanaco. Found a book on the wreck. Guanaco or llama, doesn't really matter. Either would confuse folks here in the North America. Ha! Alex confuses them a lot. Many of the fights are over Alex. No messing with Alex or me. Alex seemed annoyed too. He wanted to sleep. He had spat in the Rowdy's face. That pissed off the drunken rowdy and so he is now on the cool ground, eating dirt. Ha! Should call them Dirt eaters, ain't it the truth.
The livery in this town always gives me and Alex a stall. I do some fixing for him. His daughter Mary likes me way too much. "Marry Mary!" is always the first thing she says to me. She is ten years old. It is cute the first five times. Ha! Been like a hundred. So late she is in bed. Where both me and Alex want to be too.
* * *
"Jumper! Wake up! The Sheriff is here." Not a thing I want to hear first thing but it was better than what came next. "Marry Mary and she will be merry." Oh, God's nasal discharge. What now?
Mary and the Sheriff were standing at the stall entrance. Alex was awake. I could feel him tensed to stand. I rolled away from him and he stood. He could do it faster than I could. I just sat up. "What now?" I had to pee really good. My ole Johnson was standing on his own, so I didn't stand fast or slow. It's not something Mary should see.
Mary waved with her big smile. She had all her adult teeth. That was the other thing she would tell me.
The Sheriff stepped into the stall looking Alex directly in the eyes. They knew each other. There was caution more then respect between them. "About the guy in the road last night."
I sighed. Sometimes the family complains. Sometimes there is an inquest.
Sheriff handed me a $20 gold piece. "That rowdy fella had a price on him. Not much a one but a price."
"He dead? I didn't check." I was too tired as I said.
The Sheriff shook his big head. He wore a big hat too. A tan color with a wide brim. It made the rest of his body look small. It wasn't. "He'll live. In jail, but he'll live."
"I could test it. See if it is real gold. I have my adult teeth." Mary bounced over with her hand out.
The Sheriff sighed. "Mary! You think I would cheat Jumper here?"
Mary rolled her eyes.
"Well, I trust him." Ole Johnson had sat back down so I stood up. Still had to pee though. "If ya can't trust the Sheriff, who can you trust?" I needed to go more than converse.
"God." Mary smiled at me. She knew how I felt about that subject. I think she had her adult brains too, along with her teeth.
"I gotta see a man about a dog." I was not like Alex. He just let loose right there in the stall. There was a reason for everyone to leave. Guanaco piss do smell not too well.
* * *
So, I had just gotten ole Johnson out when I hear, "You Jumper."
I look to my side and there is a guy with a gun in his hand pointed at me. I only had my dick in my hand. He looked at Johnson. I looked at Johnson. I turned and pissed in the guy's face. I had to go I told ya. Alex would have been proud. Piss really stings the eyes; The guy screamed and dropped the gun. He tripped and fell face first. His face was in the mud, piss mud, that's the worst. A guy never dropped his gun. Well, a well-trained guy. I let Ole Johnson finish. I picked up the gun. "I'll get a bucket of water so you can soak your head."
* * *
He's head in a bucket. An interesting image. Kinda funny. Disgusting funny. Piss mud still is everywhere. The guy seems worthless. "You killed." He muttered.
What else could I do but agree. "Yah, when it is called for."
"You cheat." He snapped out.
"Depends on how you see it, I guess. I survive. That's what I do." Must be a family type. They track me down now and again. I don't like it. Who would? I could turn him over to the Sheriff. Don't like to bother the law. The law causes messes. I got another bucket of water for him. "For the shirt." I put down the bucket of fresh water. It was difficult to do all of this without Mary popping up. She should be at school but rules don't restrain her either.
They were all sons or brothers, ok maybe an only child in there. Can't say on that. "Names would be helpful but I can't guarantee." Alex walked up behind me. He leaned his neck on my back. He could still see over my head. He was relaxed. It relaxed me. I had the gun, anyway.
"Sherman, Bobby Sherman." He threw his head back and yelled it at me. His wet hair threw water at me. I hoped Alex wouldn't give a like reply.
I don't know. I shook my head. "How many years ago." I had been a handy man coming on ten years. Alex grew up with me.
"Four years ago. I had to grow up to come after ya." He snorted. The snort was just like one Alex did. Both Alex and I were surprised.
"Half a lifetime ago." I still didn't remember. "Was he, did he have a bounty?" I usually remember the money ones.
"He was no criminal." He shouted.
I could not remember. I stopped counting the gunfights. Never counted the dead. Shouldn't count the dead. Not respectful. Not at all. "How you know I was the responsible one?"
The wet guy with piss mud on him started to cry. A gun dropper and a crier, how will he survive? "Hey, I remember that five years ago, there was a smallpox. Killed a bunch a folks. I grew up 'round cows. Had their pox, kept the small one away from me. I helped the doctor. Maybe, maybe that was it. Lot of people were mad I survived and the patients didn't. Maybe that was it." It was a terrible time. I helped as much as I could. But a handy man, well, somethings he can't fix. I buried a lot of folks. A lot of sorrow. A lot of tears. Glad my folks had died earlier. Smallpox takes you a while to die. Painful too. I tried to forget it all. I seemed to have succeeded there. I went to get more water. Alex stayed and watched. I know, you think Alex is a dumb beast, he is not. He smarter than dogs or pigs. Way smarter than cows. Cows aren't as dumb as you think. Alex understood the situation at an emotional level. I mean, Alex can sympathize with me. He knows how I feel. He is better than most girls I knew. Alex will do the right things most times. More often than most guys. I never tell anybody this fact; they would think me crazy. I am not. Ya just have to pay attention to the animals. Humans are dumb about this. And most guys I have met have fleas too. Alex hasn't gotten anything from them. Alex is smart, he keeps his distance with strangers.
I should too. I have the guy's gun. Mine is still in the stall. Apparently, this guy brought his Ma. There, at the side of the house, is an old lady with a shotgun. She has an expression of hate on her face. I have my pants buttoned up, so Ole Johnson is not involved with her disgust, nor can he be as useful as before. I could only jump right but also, I went forward. The shotgun blast was so loud. I was right next to it. She killed some dirt. I rolled up behind her and pulled the shotgun toward her. Pinning her arms to her chest. She screamed. She cried. She and the guy were clearly related. "Mrs. Sherman, I only tried to help Bobby. I am sorry he didn't make it. I buried him with respect. I swear I did." She was hysterical for a few moments, pushing and kicking. That was ok. At least, there was no piss mud to clean up. Livery always smells like horse piss, Guanaco too, no other species needed.
The wet guy had just been standing there watching. It was a good move for him, Alex was watching closely too. The Sheriff strolled up to the scene. "Making friends are ya, Jumper?" The Sheriff actually chuckled. I didn't think it was an appropriate thing to do, but I didn't comment. "Family feels wronged somehow?" The Sheriff stated as he took the shotgun and the other gun. "Don't want to arrest a lady or shoot one." The Sheriff waved his hand for me to release her. She collapsed on the ground when I did. The wet guy rushed over to his mother. He gave her a wet hug. "Jumper, you just a trouble magnet. That you are. Had to take Mary into her dad so she wouldn't get in the middle of your trouble."
I nodded at the Sheriff. "Yeah, thanks for the aid." Alex was still keeping his distance. Smart boy, domestic disputes are so messy. Another inappropriate chuckle.
"Do you want to go or should I run them out of town?" The Sheriff looked at the gun. It wasn't in very good shape. They Sherman's were crying in a heap in the dirt.
I looked at the livery. "For the night shelter I should fix the roof there. Guess I can get it done before dinner. I can go after that. Maybe earlier."
The Sheriff bent down to the crying heap. "I'll fix you two up with a place to stay for a few days. Let things settle. Yeah, settle down. Jumper here is a good guy. An annoying one at times, but not as much as most. Sure, what you think he did is just a misunderstanding." He said it in a comforting tone. For a big man, he could be so sweet. "Come. Let's get you out of the dirt." They got up and followed him without looking back at me or Alex. It's why I like moving 'round these little town, most are decent folks. Well, except for the rowdies, but they were every where too.
* * *
I had wanted to stop by the widow's, I had planned for next week. So, I would appear early. She wasn't expecting me at any specific time, I always make the rounds though. Even Alex was happy when he realized where we were heading. He liked the widow very much too. Guanacos have a split upper lip. They sort of smile with it. Sure, it's a smile. So, expectations were high as we rounded the bend in the road and there was no house. It should have been there but it wasn't. We were both confused as we walked over the spot the house had been. It was gone. Even the support posts were gone. Sawed off at ground level. It had been a hodgepodge of a house. Part log cabin, the earliest part with add-ons at different times. I had done some of those add on. But it was gone. Not a fire, no burn marks or charcoal ash. Like someone took it up and moved it some where. I looked 'round for graves. Maybe she died, but I hadn't heard anything. Gossip is pretty thorough 'round these parts. "What a week Alex. What a week." It had been a dosey. Alex agreed. I know he did. So, we just setup camp there to figure out what to do. "Maybe faeries took her in the night." Alex believed in faeries. "The wood faeries had to be out there. You could hear them at night. They will follow wherever you go, just for a chance to get you." My Ma used to tell me that so I wouldn't wander off as a boy. Back then, I thought the cows were the faeries. They used to follow me when I walked 'round the pastures. Never let a cow lick you, I still have scares in the back of my neck.
Trying to keep a useful attitude. I just want to cry like the Shermans but what is the point? Gets you nowhere. Alex would be dead on that ship. Ma and Pa had burned in the church before I found him. Wanted to cry into eternity then but kept moving. Nothing else to do. Keep moving. And hell, might as well smile. I was wishing to see the widow though. She always had a smile to exchange for mine. Alex grunted. I like his grunts. Reassurance from a grunt? Yes, I get that. "With the light, let's try to find the widow and her house." Another grunt, this one was for agreement. Alex and I thought alike.
It was still difficult the next morning, but I shook off the sadness with the morning dew. Where did she and the house go? Yesterday, I was looking for a grave, but today I looked for cart tracks. It would have to be a big cart to take a house away. Over to the side was tracks, big tracks of an Ox cart. An ox has the strength. Alex watched me from where we bunked down for the night. He was calm. I was not. The tracks gave me a direction. Track down the house maybe she would be there? Maybe? Maybe?
The Ox cart went off to a region I don't go. It is native land. Best not to bring on trouble. But in this case, I will risk it. I followed the tracks and Alex followed me. The land was rich with growth. A large river was near. Trees were multiple. The land had not been worked. It was native land, the land of the Stewt. The originals I call them. I don't like the term Indian. Injun is worse. Originals makes more sense to me. They fit into the land. They don't chew it up like the whites. By the afternoon, the land changed, there were crops. I had not been here so maybe this was the way it was. Further on though, there was the house, sort of. It wasn't quite right. I remembered how it was, this was not right. They must have dismantled the structure, hauled it over here and rebuilt it. They didn't do it very well. The widow would have known the right way. "Was the widow here?" Alex raised his head high for a better look. He grunted sourly. Had to go ask.
The old man opened to door before we got to the house. He yelled something I didn't understand. I smiled and waved back. At the side of the house was the Ox cart. The ox wasn't. "Hello!" I shouted back. "The Widow Talbert? She here?" I walked slowly forward. Alex followed behind. "The Widow Talbert?"
"Who?" He shouted. I wasn't certain who he was asking about.
"They call me Jumper. I know the Widow. I built some of her place, which is here now. It used to be way back there by the town"
"Yeah, so what's it to you?" He had a small axe in his hands. "Who's the Widow?"
"How? Ah, did you come by this place?" I wasn't sure what to do. "It had been the Widow's house. But back by the town."
"Found it abandoned back there. No furniture, no nothing. Couldn't let good lumber go to waste." He clicked his tongue and then spit on the ground. "Hey. No one was there. I wouldn't kill a woman, anyway. They are too useful in the other way, ya know. Ha! It all comes with a price, yeah it does. But I kilt no woman in my life. So? What ja want. You just jawing. I got a chicken to kill. Don't mind killing chickens. No sir ree."
I stood there, finally I said. "This is native land, you know." I wasn't sure what to do or why I said that.
"Didn't see no fences or signs. Open ground to me." He coughed and then spit again. "What ja want?"
"It belongs to the Stewts." I don't know why I was standing there. The widow wasn't here. She wouldn't do this.
"Who that?" He coughed and spit again.
"The Originals, the natives." I pointed to the ground.
"The Injuns? Nosey lot, they." He swung the ax in the air. "I try an shoot 'em, but they are fast little bastards. Like chickens, I don't mind killing them. But their women, they look pretty good. Ya, they do." He licked his old dry lips.
If he were younger, I would shoot him. He must have been a rowdy in his young years. I certainly would have shot him. And then Alex bumped me. Two young rowdies were coming around the ox cart. "What an ugly dog. A giant ugly dog." One of them said. See what I mean about people's reaction to Alex. Never want to fight three rowdies even if one is old.
"Time to move on, I guess. The Widow is not here." I backed away. Alex did too. "No need to bother." The guy who insulted Alex glanced at the old guy. The old guy made a sour face but shook his head. I guess I'm not a chicken. Everyone remained silent, including me and Alex. We departed without further comment or an incident. I want to get off the Originals' land too. Everyone's property should be respected. I believed what the old man said. He would lie about most things I know, but he seemed to have no reason to here. What happened to the widow? She moved on for some reason. It was disappointing. I found the house but not her. Both me and Alex are sad. We'll just go back to our normal routine, maybe people in the next town know what happened. But a whole lot of things happen out here that no one hears about. Like when Stewts wipe out that old rowdy. It will happen, likely at night. The Stewts are crafty and strong. Old rowdy there will disappear with no word. But I know what you're thinking. Like the widow? The widow never done anything to the Stewt. The Stewt generally don't care what the whites do as long as they stay off the Stewt land. The widow did. The old rowdy didn't. The white folk are always saying you can never tell what the originals will do. Not true, if you pay attention, you will know exactly what they will do. It is why I don't settle down in a town, it is the white folk that are unpredictable. Well, shouldn't generalize, because if you pay attention to them, you can see ahead for what they will do. I think Alex can smell the difference between good and bad white folk. He is usually ahead of me on the predictions.
* * *
The next town has a railroad stop. Maybe the Widow took a train? But who would know her there? I don't have a picture of her. She looked pretty average. She looked like most white women. The folks know me, I fix things broken. Everybody got something broken. Done stuff for most of 'em.
Like I thought, when I asked the ticket guy for the train, he just wrinkled his face and said, "Talbert?" The town didn't have a Sheriff. There was a small bank. The Marshall would come by every week or so. There was a school. Well, there must still be one. There are young ones around. Hotel and General store. Worked on both. Hotel needs some visible repairs. Maybe some sleeping in a bed? Alex can sleep in the storeroom. I have a feed bag for him. Done it before. Ah, but I won't find her. Why does it bother me so? She didn't run away from me. She had other business which is none of my business. She didn't know I would come, specifically. Not for sure.
A bath first then sleep. Feeling pretty blue right now. Alex grunts and pushes me slightly with his neck. I have been standing in the street thinking. It is getting dark. He wants a decision. He is so bossy.
* * *
I was working on the hotel balcony after a bath and a sleep. Feather bed. Slept like I was dead. Luck had it, their best room was the only one open. Have to do an extra good job for Marcus. He's a reasonable guy. Solider in the Union army during that evil war. Came out here to get away from all that. About mid morning there is shouting in the bank. Two men burst out of the bank door. "They robbed the bank!" The shouts became clearer with the doors open. I looked for my gun, but it was not necessary. Mr. Spitter of the general store had been sitting outside the store waiting for customers to arrive. He always had loaded shotguns around the store. With the shouts, he stood up with a double-barreled shotgun in hand. He stepped out into the street and as the robbers ran toward him, he pulled both triggers. The robbers fell into the dirt. Better them than me for a change. Mr. Jackson from the bank ran up behind the fallen robbers, he bent down and picked up the money. He had a revolver in his hand. He stood up and waved with gun in hand. "Thanks Spitter."
Spitter waved back. He walked calmly back to his chair in the front of his store, reloaded the shotgun and kept it on his lap as he sat down. I kept working. They didn't need me. The doc was walking slowly up the street to the fallen robbers. It didn't matter to him whether they were alive or dead. He just needed to get them out of the street. The youngins didn't need to see that. Here is the explanation for the town's lack of a resident Sheriff. The town's justice is harsh, but it is ok by me. I went to check on Alex. Gun fire worries him. He was out in the back pasture playing with some deer. He met me before I got 'round the hotel. He came to find me, likely for the same reason.
"You the one looking for Talbert woman?" It was an old man standing on the hotel walkway. "The widow?"
I didn't understand at first. I just stared at him. Alex did too.
"The Widow Talbert?" He shouted. "Don't have ta help nobody."
"Yea, no. Yes, it is me. Yes, the Widow Talbert. You know her?" I was still confused.
He shook his dried-out face. "Not know. Knowed about."
"Ok. What about her." I was recovering. Alex was leaning on me in a gentle reassuring manner.
"Few months back, she stayed in this here hotel." He pointed to the ground. "She a looker, so I looked." He smacked his lips. It annoyed me greatly. "She was waiting for something, What? I don't know." He clicked his teeth and started picking at them with his long fingernails.
"And?" I finally intruded.
"And, well, eventually she got on a train. She left." He threw his hands in the air. "There she go." He pointed west.
"Ah, oh." I exhaled deeply. Alex did too in support. "Ah, thank you." The old man had his hand out. I gave him a nickel in thanks, like you do at church. He smacked his lips again the same way and limped away. I didn't know if I should believe him or not. He could have heard me asking people about her and made up a story for the nickel, just like the church. I wanted to believe it. I wanted her to be alright. That she followed her plans for the future. I wanted her to have a future. I guess I had wanted to be in it. But things don't work well out here in the dreams category. Most you can dream for is being able to wake up in the morning. Live another day. Just sleep through the night and wake in the morning. Alex is happy with it. So, should I.
Another two days on the hotel roof and I can move on. Go back to my regular rounds.
Michael W. Clark is a former research biologist, a college professor turned writer with over forty short
stories published. Most recently his stories have appeared in Lost Souls, Morpheus Tales Magazine, UC
Berkeley's Imaginirarium, Black Heart Magazine, Altered Reality, Infernal Ink, Piker Press, and 365 Tomorrows.
He also has stories in these anthologies: Fat Zombies, Creature Stew, Gumshoe Mysteries, Future Visions Vol. 3,
Nightmares, Delusions and Waking Dreams, and Devils We Know. January through March 2019, his sci fi adventure Novella,
The Last Dung Beetle appeared in www.serialpulp.com. It was
rated 4.5 on Goodreads. He is the editor and content provider for the web site www.ahickshope.wordpress.com.
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by Phillip R. Eaton
With the crack of the whip and the driver's ear-piercing whistle, the team of horses launched into a full gallop, sending the passengers bouncing from their seats. Dust began to billow through the canvas flaps, engulfing the insides of the stagecoach. The sound of gunshots and blood curdling war-cries grew increasingly louder.
"We're being attacked!" screamed old Mrs. Nelson, who hid her face in her hands.
Mr. Glendale, in his neatly pressed three-piece suit, was across from Rebecca. As he repositioned himself back on his seat, she noticed that he was wearing a gun belt.
"You know how to use that thing?" she screamed over the commotion.
"I'm not a very good shot." He yelled back.
"Hand it to me."
He looked at her from head to toe and just stared; a frown fell over his face.
Again, she screamed, "You want to get out of this alive? Give me your goddamned gun, NOW."
One more good bounce of the coach jolted Rebecca onto his lap. She retrieved his pistol from its holster and fell to her knees by the window. She pulled the canvas flap back, took aim at their assailants and pulled the trigger several times. With her returned fire, the Indians retreated into the hills. Rebecca shot off the last chambered bullet as they rode off.
The stagecoach continued at full speed, and Rebecca leaned out the window to yell to the driver just as she saw him fall from his seat. The horses were running wild. The coach continued to bounce, thrashing the passengers into each other. If they weren't slowed soon, in all likelihood, they were going to crash.
"Somebody has to climb up and stop the horses." She yelled, looking right at Mr. Glendale.
The other passengers all sat and stared at her. Her traveling companions included: Mr. Glendale, whose gun she had taken, and looked as though was about ready to pass out, tiny Mrs. Nelson, the old lady sitting next to him, and a young mother and child next to her.
"Come on, mister, man up. You've got to stop this thing before we all die."
There he sat, frozen with fear, and just stared at her. Rebecca looked down at him; he was as pale as a ghost, and had wet himself.
The old lady piped up, "You have to save us, Rebecca."
Rebecca turned to the young woman next to her, "Help me out of my dress, hurry."
"Just do it."
With her dress stripped off, Rebecca, wearing only her pantaloons and corset cover, opened the stagecoach door and climbed to the top. She crawled onto the driver's seat, grabbed the reins and pulled back on them as hard as she could. She then twisted on the seat and put both feet on the brake lever, and pushed with all her might. As she screamed "Whoa!" at the top of her lungs, the speeding stagecoach slowly came to a halt. A huge cloud of dust encircled the ragged passengers as they eagerly exited and planted two feet back on solid soil.
"You, my dear, are our God-given savior." The old lady exclaimed, coughing back the dust. "Thank you, thank you, thank you. Now, let's get your dress back on you. You don't want to be seen in public in just your bloomers. Turn your head now Mr. Glendale, you shouldn't be looking."
"I'm not real worried about that, but, thanks. We need to get to town and send help back for the driver." Rebecca then looked over at Mr. Glendale, "Do you think you can drive this stagecoach the rest of the way into town? I'd have a difficult time climbing back up there with this dress on."
"I'm, I'm really sorry about . . . " He stammered.
The other two ladies smiled and gave him a few words of encouragement, patted the dust off his shoulders, and helped give him a boost up to the driver's seat. The rest of the group reloaded themselves onto the stagecoach, and with Mr. Glendale' slight crack of the whip, the four horses continued on their journey to town.
Word spread fast as the stage approached, and the sheriff was at the hotel to greet them when they arrived.
"Where's Stumpy?" the sheriff asked, looking up into the blinding sun at Mr. Glendale.
"We were attacked by Indians about three miles back." Glendale said. "The driver was hit and fell, by the time we got the stage stopped, we were closer to town, so we continued on."
"But that doesn't make any sense." The sheriff said as he motioned to his deputy to ride out and check on Stumpy. "Indians don't attack stage lines."
"Sheriff, if I may, I don't think they were Indians." Rebecca butted in.
"What makes you think that?"
"The riders had boots on."
"But they were dressed like Indians." Mr. Glendale chimed in.
"I got a good look at them, Sheriff." Rebecca said. "They were indeed dressed the part, but, they had boots on, and it almost looked as though their horses had saddles under their blankets. I might have winged one of them too. I got off six shots."
"You must've seen them pretty good then?"
"Okay, y'all get yourselves settled. I'll take your statements later. Come see me in my office when you're ready."
* * *
"Welcome. Rebecca is it? Please have a seat. Your fellow passengers have told quite the tale of your exploits on the way in. Care to elaborate?"
"Don't know what you've been told Sheriff, just did the best I could, under the circumstances. How is the driver? Stumpy?"
"Stumpy will be fine. It'll take more than one bullet to finish him off."
Rebecca relayed her story to the sheriff once again, describing how she really believed they weren't attacked by Indians, but by men masquerading as them. He told her that when his deputy went to get Stumpy, he noticed that all of the tracks in the area were by shoed horses, verifying her story, that it wasn't an Indian attack. He also assured her that he would get to the bottom of it, and hunt them down.
"What brings you to Kansas?" He asked.
"Came out to live with my aunt and uncle, the Hudsons. You know them?"
"Well, we are a pretty small community. Around here, everybody knows everybody else. When's the last you heard word from them?"
"It's been a while. Things got pretty bad back home after the war, they sent word that I should come west with them."
"Well, I'm sorry to tell you, but they had a rough time with the dust storm last year. Wiped out all their crops. Packed up and moved to California with the wagon train. Said for you to come join them, if and when you showed up."
"When does the next wagon train leave?"
"Oh, not till next spring, now."
"Now what do I do?"
"Their farm is still there, just outside of town. Planting season is over, too late to get any crops this year. If you're plannin' on staying, you might want to check with Mr. Sullivan at the saloon. Pretty little thing like yourself could probably work as a dance hall girl. Make you enough money to get by till spring."
Rebecca was a little put off by the suggestion that her only way to get by, was by her looks and dealing with a bunch of drunken cowboys.
"How do I get to the farm?"
"Go on over to the stables, Mr. Hopkins might be able to help you out. If you don't have a room at the hotel, I can let you spend the night in a cell, and take you out to the farm tomorrow."
"Thanks, I'll go see Mr. Hopkins."
* * *
Mr. Hopkins was nice enough to loan her a buckboard, and Rebecca made her way to the Hudson farm. Much to her surprise, there was a beautiful garden planted, brimming with vegetables, and a woman weeding in the hot sun.
Mrs. Miller turned her attention away from her gardening and towards the sound of the buckboard.
She approached Rebecca, wiping her hands on her apron. "Who might you be young lady?"
"Is this the Hudson farm?"
"Yes. I'll ask you again, who might you be?"
"My name is Rebecca. I am Mrs. Hudson's niece. The sheriff said I could stay here while I wait for the wagon train to California in the spring." Her eyes gazed at the manicured garden. "He also told me it was abandoned."
"I'm Mrs. Miller. We own the next ranch over. After the Hudson's left, we thought it was a shame for this land to just sit vacant. After the disaster we all suffered through last year, we planted extra crops here this year. I suppose this is yours now?"
"I can't go back east, so, I guess I'm staying at least until the next wagon train to California."
"Well, I suppose, since we planted our crops on property that rightfully belongs to you, how about if we share some of the proceeds we get from the fall harvest. That'll help get you through the winter."
"That's very kind of you. I didn't ask for that."
"That's what we do around here. When someone needs help, we step up. You'll also need help cleaning the inside of the cabin. We ain't been in there, but it sure was one hell of a storm last year. You'll most likely need to use shovels to rid yourself of the dust. I'll send one of my boys over in the morning, after his chores are done, to help."
"Thank you so much. Tell him I'll see him around mid-morning."
"His name's Timmy. He's a good boy."
* * *
Mr. Tolliver, who owned the General Store, gave Rebecca a line of credit based on what she should get from the fall harvest, so that she could stock her pantry. Mr. Hopkins, at the stables, let her have the buckboard, provided she purchase a horse from him to pull it.
"Let me pay you for the buckboard." She said.
"No. To be truthful, that old buckboard belonged to your uncle. They couldn't take it with them, so he asked me to find it a good home. Looks like I did. That old nag, Lulu, that I sold you real cheap by the way, is used to being cinched to a wagon. Was a stagecoach horse, once upon a time."
"Thank you, I'm sure Lulu will do just fine."
* * *
Mrs. Miller's son Timmy was already there when Rebecca got to the farm. The doors and windows were wide open, with streams of dust escaping through them. She could hear loud coughing coming from inside.
She tied Lulu to the hitching post and yelled in, "Timmy, is that you, come out here."
The figure of a man emerged from a dust cloud. Sweat streaked down his forehead. Standing almost six-feet tall and wearing only a pair of bibbed overhauls, Rebecca couldn't help but stare at his muscular build.
"Are you Timmy?"
"Yes, ma'am." He said between coughs.
"I'm sorry. I don't mean to stare, but when your mother called you Timmy, I expected a young boy."
"I was once." He said with a smile. "I grew up, but the name stuck."
The two of them made quick work of the small cabin and it was soon clean enough to be habitable.
"I can come back tomorrow, and we can tackle the barn if you like." He offered.
"That'll be just fine. See you then."
Rebecca unhitched Lulu and led her to the barn. She was surprised to find the barn in excellent condition. It was full of hay and straw; it even had a bag of oats laying near the door. She put Lulu in a stall and returned to the cabin to fix herself some dinner.
* * *
The sound of horses startled her. She opened her eyes and realized that she had fallen asleep sitting at the table, worn out by the day-long cleaning. It was now pitch black out. She peered through the curtain in time to see several men mulling around the barn. She sat quiet, waiting to see if they would venture towards the cabin. Two of them emerged from the barn with their guns drawn, they were dressed like Indians. They waved to the others to come out, mounted their horses and rode off. Rebecca ran to the barn to check on Lulu.
A little before daybreak, Rebecca was awakened once more, by the sound of the returning horses. Again, she watched from her window. This time, the Indians went into the barn, and left in regular clothes.
* * *
"The bank got robbed in the middle of the night, last night. Someone said they saw Indians ride out this way. I'm checking in with all of the farmers in this neck of the woods. You notice anything?" Asked the sheriff as he led his horse to the water trough.
"Funny you should ask, follow me."
Rebecca swung open the barn door and showed him the Indian clothing that she had found, hidden behind a pile of straw in the corner.
"I'll just take these with me." He said.
"Sheriff, wouldn't it be better if you left them there? Maybe you could wait for them to come back again, and catch them."
"You just leave the sheriffing to me. I'll handle this." He bound the clothing to his saddle bags and without another word, rode off back towards town.
Like a swinging bar room door, one rider left and another one arrived.
"Was that the sheriff?" asked Timmy, while he watched the horse kick up dust as it ran away.
"Yeah, you're not going to believe this, come over here and sit down." Rebecca told Timmy all about the happenings overnight, with the barn, and the Indians, and the visit from the sheriff.
"You think they'll come back?" He asked.
"I suppose so. They don't know that the sheriff has their stuff. They'll be back sooner or later, right?"
"Maybe I should stay with you tonight. Just in case, I mean."
"That might not be a bad idea. You really wouldn't mind? I have an extra bedroom I could fixup for you. But, what about your folks? What would they say about you being here, alone with me?"
"I can sleep in the loft in the barn." He said, bashfully.
"That might be alright." Rebecca answered with a smile.
* * *
At the end of the day, Timmy headed home to let his parents know what was going on and what his game plan was. It was a little past sunset by the time he returned to the Hudson farm. Rebecca had cooked up a rabbit stew. Timmy lit the oil lamp, and the two of them ate and chatted about what cleanup they would do the next day.
Timmy excused himself and left for the barn, while Rebecca cleaned up the supper dishes. He had just opened the barn door when he heard riders approaching.
Four men, riding hard, kicked up a cloud of dust as they approached the barn.
"Yo, Bart, there's a light on in the cabin. Nobody's supposed to be here."
All four of the riders drew their guns, and Bart, looking around, said, "Chet, go check out the cabin, Rex, go in the barn and get our gear, we'll take it with us. Junior, mind the horses."
Rex came running out of the barn yelling, "Our stuff's gone."
Chet peeked in the cabin window and saw Rebecca loading a shotgun at the table. He burst through the door, almost knocking it off the hinges and yelled, "Put it down, lady, now, nice and easy, on the table, that's it. Now, come with me." And he grabbed her by the arm and forced her outside.
"Hey, lighten up. You're hurting me." She squealed as she tried to escape from his grip.
"What are we going to do with her?" Chet asked, as he holstered his gun so he could use both hands to restrain Rebecca, who was trying her best to wrestle herself away.
Timmy, hearing Rebecca's voice, bolted from the barn, yelled, "You leave her be."
Junior dropped the reins of the horses, raced towards Timmy, and hit him over the head with the butt of his gun. Timmy dropped in a heap to the ground.
"Nooo!" Rebecca screamed.
"Tie her up. We'll take her with us, and figure out what to do with her later."
* * *
The rooster called out his wakeup serenade as the sun glistened on the dew of the morning.
"Tommy, hitch up the buckboard. I want you to take me over to the Hudson's and check on your brother. I don't like the idea of him spending the night over there. That Rebecca, she's got no husband you know, and I'm not sure if I should trust her alone with your brother." Mrs. Miller said, hurrying to get herself ready.
"Ma, you don't have to worry about Timmy. Ain't no girl wants to be with him. I, am the one you got to fret about."
Tommy got the old 'mother's evil eye', which he took quick notice of, and said, "I'm going, I'm going."
* * *
The horse trotted down the laneway, Tommy snapped the reins hard on its rump. "Git up there, c'mon." He barked.
"Slow down, Tommy."
"Ma, someone's on the ground up ahead. Looks like it might be Timmy."
As he pulled the buckboard to a stop in front of the barn, Tommy leaped from his seat and ran to Timmy.
"You alright? What the hell happened?"
Timmy moaned and groaned, and held his head in his hands. "He gun-butted me."
"One of the guys in the gang who've been doing all the robberies dressed like Indians."
"Where's Rebecca?" Mrs. Miller asked.
"I think they took her with them." Timmy said as he sat up, rubbing the back of his head.
"Tommy, unhitch the horse and ride as fast as you can over to the Owens' place and fetch Seth."
* * *
Seth Owens was tending to his morning chores, when hearing the pounding of hoofbeats, he looked up and saw Tommy racing past the hedgerow towards him.
Tommy blurted out everything that he knew about what had transpired over the course of the last few days, and asked Seth if he could help, but he was talking so fast, it was hard to understand everything he was saying.
"Slow down Tommy. I'm a little familiar with the stories about the robberies by the Indians. I can tell you right now, they're not Indians. They wouldn't do that. But, I'm confused, who is this Rebecca, and what's she got to do with this?"
"Please, Seth, Ma needs you. You gotta come with me, she'll tell you all that."
* * *
Mrs. Miller was happy to see Seth and Tommy return so quickly. Timmy had a goose egg on his head, but otherwise he was alright. She explained to Seth what Tommy had excitedly tried to tell him, and how they were worried about Rebecca.
"Please, Seth, I hate to burden you with this," she said, "but I didn't know who else to turn to. I'm not sure about that new sheriff in town. Something doesn't seem right with him, and Mr. Miller won't be back for another three days. He had to go to Dodge City for some part for something."
"I'll do what I can. It shouldn't be hard to track them, it's not like they tried to hide their trail. I'll go back and get some things together and start out right away."
"I want to go with you." Timmy said. "It's my fault they took her."
Seth shook his head, no. "It'll be better for me to go alone. I'll try to locate them and make sure she's alright. If I need help, I'll come back for you."
* * *
Seth grabbed enough supplies to last a couple of days, since he had no idea of what he was about to get into. Their tracks away from the Hudson farm led directly to Brooks Canyon. It was an obvious place to set up camp, due to all of the nooks and crannies to hide in.
Seth would need to proceed cautiously, there was a good chance that they would be able to spot him first. He tied up his horse, who always got spooked by the echoes in the canyon, and proceeded on foot. The gang had passed through recently, judging on the splash marks still visible on the creek bed rocks. Seth figured they might be camped out at the landing at the big bend in the creek. That place would give them protection, and sight lines in two directions.
As he slowed his pace, Seth could hear a step, a half of a second behind his. He turned quickly to see someone duck behind a rock formation. With his gun drawn, he backtracked his steps, and snuck around the rock. To no surprise, there was Tommy.
Seth covered Tommy's mouth, "What did I say about coming alone?"
"I know, I know. But if I didn't come, Timmy was going to, and he sure wasn't going to be of any help to you."
"Alright you're here now. Be quiet and do exactly what I say, got it?" Tommy nodded his head. "It's gonna get dark soon. We'll wait till then."
The sun sets early in the canyon. It was dark, but the sky was still light enough above the canyon walls that they could see the path ahead. Around the next bend, Seth could see a flickering light reflecting on the canyon wall. It must be from a camp fire.
Voices bounced off the walls making them sound louder than they really were. As Seth and Tommy approached, they heard the clanking of pots and pans. Seth peeked around the corner. They were in luck. The gang had just sat down around the campfire for a meal, and no one was standing guard. Seth could see the outline of a girl off in the shadows. Now was their chance to sneak in and steal her away, and hope they weren't detected.
"Wait," Seth put his hand out, pushing Tommy back against the wall, "I hear a horse coming."
The two of them hid in the darkness as the large steed passed by.
"We're in luck." Tommy whispered, "It's the sheriff."
"Shh, let's wait and see how this thing plays out. I'm not so sure which way our luck is gonna go."
The scraping of the hooves on the rocks got the gang's attention, and they all turned and drew their guns at once, zeroing in on the sheriff's chest.
"That badge sure makes a nice target, sheriff." Smirked Bart.
"Put your guns down and relax. Where's the girl?"
The guys all holstered there revolvers and went back to eating. Bart stood up and walked over to the creek where the sheriff was perched high up on his horse.
"She's tied up, over in the shadows. She's got to get past us to get out of here. What are we going to do with her?"
The sheriff tipped his hat back from his forehead, crossed his arms, leaned on the saddle horn, and said, "Just what the hell did you expect to do with her? Why'd you bring her out here?"
"She was on to us. She stole our gear. What was I supposed to do?"
"You stupid jerk. I've got your costumes. She saw you and found your stuff. When she told me, what was I supposed to do? I am the god damned sheriff you know."
"So, now what?"
"Well, Bart, you haven't stolen enough money yet for all of us to retire to Mexico. If you want me to be able to keep covering for you, you had better find away to make her disappear. Permanently."
"You want me to . . . "
"Figure it out stupid. You need me to do all of your thinking for you?"
While Bart and the sheriff were talking, the rest of the guys let their guard down and continued with their fine dining. Seth and Tommy took advantage of their distraction to climb on top of the rocks overlooking where Rebecca was, and lowered a rope down to her.
Seth tried to get Rebecca's attention with a loud whisper, "Psst, Rebecca, grab the rope. We're going to get you out of here."
It was so dark, with nothing but stars in the sky, Rebecca had no idea who was trying to get her attention, but whoever it was, had to be better than the situation she was in now. Her hands and feet were bound, but she was able to loop the rope around her, and Seth and Tommy lifted her to the top.
"Who are you?"
"Shh. Never mind that now. We gotta get outta here." And Tommy pulled out his trusty pocket knife and cut her bindings, and they made their way back to Seth's horse.
"My horse can't carry three people. Tommy, you and Rebecca ride on outta here. I'll figure something out."
"I left my horse by the mouth of the canyon. I can run there faster than the two of you can ride out." And Tommy took off running like he was being chased by a ghost.
"Come on, we gotta go, NOW!" Seth got adjusted in the saddle and pulled Rebecca up behind him. She wrapped her arms around Seth's waist and squeezed.
"Git up, boy, come on." And he snapped the reins on the horse's backside.
"What the hell was that? Sounded like someone in the canyon." Bart said, drawing his pistol.
"That sound is going away, not coming in." The sheriff responded.
"Junior, stay with the girl, you other two saddle up." Bart commanded.
"Bart, she's gone." Yelled Junior.
"What'ya mean gone? She can't be." Bart answered. Then he looked up at the sheriff, "You just gonna sit there? Go after them."
Seth had a good enough head start that it was going to be difficult for anyone to follow them in the dark. "Tommy, go to my place, they'll never think to look for her there." He yelled.
* * *
They passed the hedgerow and headed straight to Seth's barn. "We gotta get the horses cooled down. Tommy, get some buckets of water."
"I can do that." Rebecca said, grabbing the buckets out of Tommy's hands. "But first, who are you? You look a lot like Timmy, who's been helping me on my farm."
"Brother." Tommy said.
"How is he? Is he alright? They hit him pretty good, you know."
"Big goose egg, but he'll live."
"You should probably go home and let your mother know that we are all safe. She'll be worried."
Tommy looked to Seth, who nodded in agreement. "Probably not a bad idea," Seth said. "just remember to cool down your horse when you get there."
"I should probably get home. I don't want to be a bother to you any more than I already am. I thank you for what you did."
"That's what we do around here."
"Yeah, I've been told that."
"Why don't you stay the night? It'll be safer to head home at daybreak. You can sleep in the house. I'll bunk out here in the barn."
Rebecca hesitated for a moment, but she realized he was right.
"Before I turn in," She said, "you got to tell me who you are."
"Name is Seth Owens. Nothin' much more to tell."
"No, just me, and old Blue."
"Oh, you'll find out when you go in the house. But, you might want to let him out, he'll want to be with me." Seth said with a little chuckle.
Rebecca opened the door just a crack and was met by a slobbering old hound dog, who pushed his way past her and made a beeline for the barn, and Seth.
* * *
A crowing rooster and a bright stream of sunshine awoke Rebecca from a sound sleep. She walked to the window and noticed that Seth was already up and working, out by the barn. She splashed some water on her face and went out to great him.
"Good morning." She said.
"Good morning. Sleep alright?"
"Like a rock. You have a very nice bed. Thank you. What can I do to repay you? Can I fix you breakfast? I don't know where anything is, but I'm sure I can make do."
Seth stopped, and stood perfectly still, listening. Off in the distance he could hear the sound of hoofbeats, and they were getting louder.
"Quick, get into the barn." He pushed Rebecca towards the barn door.
"Here boy, here Blue." He whistled loudly, and blue came running from the field.
As the horses approached, Seth recognized the men from the canyon, and grabbed his rifle.
"You got another one of those?" Rebecca asked.
Seth went to his cabinet, grabbed another Winchester and tossed it to her.
The men pulled up about ten yards from the barn, with their guns drawn, and yelled in, "Give us the girl. We know you're in there."
"Get off my property, NOW!" Seth yelled back.
"Send her out, or we're coming in after her. If that happens, it ain't gonna end well for you."
"Come get her."
"There's four of us, only one of you."
Seth fired a warning shot, knocking off one of their hats. "Next one will be in your shirt pocket."
The men scrambled for cover, firing several shots at the barn.
Seth asked Rebecca, "You see them?"
"Yeah, one's behind the water trough, one is at the corner of the cabin, and the other two ran into the hedgerow."
"You good with a rifle?" He asked.
"Want me to show you?"
"Think you can hit the one by the house?"
"Oh, yeah. He should be easy. As soon as he steps out to take a shot, he's mine."
"Okay, I would rather they were just wounded, but, kill 'em if ya have to. Get him, then concentrate on the guy by the water. I'll take care of the other two."
"In the bushes?"
"Don't you worry your little head. They are both mine. They just don't know it yet." Seth snickered.
The thicket moved and Seth squeezed the trigger. Junior fell forward.
"You're done now, mister." Yelled Bart, and the other three began to fire volley after volley of bullets in the direction of the barn, breaking the glass windows and piercing holes in the walls.
Seth and Rebecca dove to the floor, taking cover. Seth pointed and yelled, "Rebecca, the doggie door."
Rebecca crawled on her belly to a hole in the wall that Seth had made for Blue. She found that she had the perfect sight line to the house, and with one well timed shot, hit Chet in the shoulder of his shooting arm. It was time for Rex. She watched as he bounced up from behind the trough every time he took a shot. She timed him. He was pretty steady. She took aim. Up he came, and he took a shot. Down he went. Up he came, she took a shot. Down he went. He didn't come back up.
In the meantime, Seth laid down his gun and ran up to the loft, where he uncovered his father's long single-shot rifle. It was time to play sniper. Twenty yards was almost too close for the scope. He'd have to eyeball this one. Bart was well hidden in the bushes, but Seth could see his boots, plain as day, and took aim. He held his breath and gave a little tug to the trigger, sending a shell straight through Bart's ankle.
A blood curdling scream came from his direction. Bart was giving up.
Seth and Rebecca cautiously exited the barn.
"Check on your two, see if they're alive and get their guns.
Seth came out of the woods, following Bart, who was barely hobbling on one leg. Junior was dead.
Rebecca walked back from the cabin with her rifle in Chet's back. He was bleeding really bad from his shoulder.
"What about the other one?" Seth inquired.
"Sorry, he now has a third eye in the middle of his forehead. I missed."
"Yeah, my timing was off. I was aiming for his chest." She said, laughing.
As Seth loaded the two wounded and two dead bodies onto his buckboard, he turned to Rebecca and asked, "So, where did you learn to shoot like that?"
"Protecting the homestead during the war. Daddy and my brothers were all gone serving in the army. Someone had to keep the poachers out. I got pretty good."
"I'll say. Let's get these guys to town."
"What about the sheriff?"
"You let me worry about that."
* * *
Seth did a slow roll into town, trying not to attract too much attention.
"Rebecca, go to the telegraph office and send a wire to Dodge City. Tell the U. S. Marshall we need him right away."
Rebecca got down from the wagon and hurried off to find the office.
The sheriff met Seth as he pulled up.
"What do we have here?" He asked.
"I think you know Sheriff. Now, how about you dropping your gun belt, and accompany these men into a cell?"
A crowd began to gather, around the commotion.
Deputy Barnes was standing in the doorway listening, as Seth relayed to the sheriff, the whole story as he knew it.
Rebecca returned from the telegraph office just in time to watch Barnes take the sheriff's pistol from his holster and escort him, and the two living prisoners, to a jail cell.
Rebecca turned to Seth and asked, "What now?"
He thought for a moment, scratched his head, and asked, "Is it too late for breakfast?"
Phillip R. Eaton is a graduate of Lockport Senior High School and Niagara County Community College. He is retired and living in Western New York State. His interests include photography, painting, local history and genealogy. He began writing upon his retirement and has published a book, Col. Frank N. Wicker, From Lockport to Alaska and Beyond.
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The Beast of Talbot County
by K. M. Hayes
I was always a believer in karma. I often wondered how that incident from years ago would come back to haunt me. In a way, I felt like King David. One thing was for certain - I was tired of the anticipation. I was ready for it to be over no matter the cost. I wanted this beast gone.
Thursday, October 13, 1864
It was late afternoon when we rode into Talbotton, GA. We had been riding through the countryside admiring the changing colors of the trees and bright white cotton fields. The cool air brought by the fall season was a great relief.
I did not plan to stay in town long so I directed both of my lieutenants to keep pushing the cavalry column through the main street. People in this war weary town lined the road just to get a glimpse of my soldiers. As I watched my troops, a man wearing a fine suit and top hat approached me on horseback.
He spoke first, "Good evening sir. Welcome to Talbotton. My name is James Persons. I serve on the city council. Where, may I ask, are you boys from?"
I replied, "We are from Micanopy, FL. I'm Captain Cantwell, but everyone calls me Dave. This is the 'Micanopy Mounted Company.'"
"You boys are a long way from home, but we're glad to have you here," Councilman Persons said. "Many people in town have been uneasy since Atlanta fell to the Union. Everyone is concerned that Sherman will march south - our way. I think the site of soldiers may put some of the town folk at ease. Are you just passing through or do you plan to set up camp here?"
"I have orders to meet a supply train here before we join up with forces south of Atlanta. I would like to head a little further up the road just outside of town," I replied. "I want to make sure my men stay out of trouble. Do you know of a good area north of town where we can set up camp?"
"I have a ranch a few miles north of here. You are welcome to stay there if you would like," Councilman Persons replied. "I should warn you though. I raise sheep, so its not one of the best smelling places on God's green Earth."
We laughed and I thanked Councilman Persons for his generosity. I called my lieutenants over and he gave us directions to the ranch so we could set up camp. They saluted and went back to work directing the company. It was getting late and I could see the moon beginning to rise. It was about full.
As I watched the end of the column come near, I noticed several familiar faces from my past. I couldn't believe it. It was Elizabeth Baron. She was riding in a small buggy with her father and brothers trailing behind on horseback. Mr. Baron and his sons must have avoided the draft by paying soldiers to fight on their behalf. I wanted to disappear into the cavalry column with the rest of the men, but I knew it was impossible. Try blending in with a captain's double-breasted cavalry jacket and an all-yellow kepi. Elizabeth and her father finally noticed me and approached.
Elizabeth spoke first, "Hello Dave. It has been a long time. I'm glad to see you are doing well." Elizabeth never hinted at the incident from years ago.
"Thank you Elizabeth," I said as I tipped my hat. "I'm glad to see you are all faring well despite the war—"
Mr. Baron interrupted me, "I'm surprised to see you here Dave. I would have thought that a man like you—with your father's connections—would be serving as a staff officer in Lee's army."
"My father and I are not speaking at this time," I responded.
"I'm not surprised," Mr. Baron said. "If I had a son who—" " Elizabeth's brothers began to shift in their saddles.
Elizabeth took over the conversation, "Father—"please. We do not have time for this. We're running late. We should have been home over an hour ago." Elizabeth looked back at me, "Good luck Dave."
With the awkward situation over, we parted ways.
Thursday Night, October 13, 1864
When I arrived at the ranch, my company had already set up camp and started their duties. A couple of the soldiers had set up my tent and hung our company's flag above the entrance. Our flag was modeled after the Confederate stars and bars. We had placed the name of our company inside the white bar and put a picture of the territorial seal of Florida in the center of the circle of eleven stars. The design for the seal came from my militia jacket from the Third Seminole War. When I transferred the buttons to my new jacket in '61, my company took note and agreed unanimously that the symbol needed to appear on our flag.
In a way, our flag symbolized our ordeal. We were limited in supplies and we had to use whatever was available. That's why this stop in Talbotton was so important. We needed those supply wagons before we could join up with forces north of us. Our ammunition was low, our clothing barely resembled uniforms, and we needed rations.
Despite the shortages, the morale of the men was high. I could tell they were antsy. They had no way of knowing what fate awaited them in north Georgia. Any other year, they would be preparing for a festive All Hallowe'en. Up until a few weeks ago, we had served as a home guard unit. We mainly patrolled our local area for Union troops and guarded cattle shipments heading north to feed other troops. We never participated in any major engagements other than a couple of minor skirmishes.
After I took care of my horse, Levy, I settled into my tent. I took my jacket and kepi off and placed them on the table. I looked at my pocket watch. It was late—11:00 PM. I put my pocket watch away and lay back on my cot with my hands behind my head. As I gazed at the roof of my tent, I began to think about Elizabeth. I thought about our wedding.
It was early October 1855 when I arrived back in Apalachicola, FL. I met my sweetheart right outside the church that night just like we had agreed. It was about midnight. We had to be careful because I knew my father would find us easily. He owned several plantations and a large shipping company in town. These operations allowed him to set up connections in Tallahassee and across the Panhandle. He knew everything that occurred in the state. It was a wonder that we found a minister to marry us, but he could tell we were in love and he was more concerned about our happiness. The minister never mentioned a word of the wedding to my folks. After the ceremony, we took our bags and headed to the docks.
We moved quickly. My family was out of town and it was about 1 AM, so we had less of a chance of being recognized by someone. I managed to find a Scottish captain who was preparing to leave port. He had taken on a load of cotton and was heading for Europe. He agreed to take my new wife and I to Cedar Key, FL, but we needed to take a rowboat into port once we arrived near the town. The captain refused to dock his ship. We agreed, paid the captain his fee, and boarded the vessel.
When Cedar Key was in sight, my wife and I loaded into a rowboat with our luggage and a couple of sailors lowered us down to the water. The captain waved goodbye and continued with his trip. I must have rowed for an hour, but it was worth it. We were finally together. When we made it to Cedar Key, we rented a room at a local hotel. We considered this our honeymoon.
After a couple of days, I started looking for work so we could start our new lives together. Since Cedar Key was a port town, I thought it would be easy to find work. This proved to be harder than I thought. I started to give up hope until I came across an ad for ranch hands in a town called Micanopy. Fortunately, I had some experience in cattle ranching on my father's land before he sent me to the Virginia Military Institute.
A load scream brought me back to reality. I rose straight up in my cot. I had fallen asleep and had been dreaming. My pocket watch said it was midnight. I jumped out of bed, grabbed my carbine, and ran towards the direction of the scream suspecting we were under attack. Many of the men were taking cover waiting for orders.
When I got to the scene, I found a couple of soldiers and Councilman Persons standing around a body. It was a soldier who was on guard duty. The site was gruesome. He wasn't shot like I was expecting. His body had been mutilated—barely recognizable.
"What happened," I asked one of the soldiers.
The soldier shook his head in disbelief, "I don't know. It was so quick. I just talked to him a couple of minutes ago while I was smoking my pipe. He was fine. As soon as I heard the scream, I ran over, but he was already dead by the time I arrived."
The second soldier spoke, "It must've been a bear."
Councilman Persons chimed in, "This was no bear. I've seen this before."
"What was it?" I asked.
"It was a werewolf," Councilman Persons replied.
"I don't believe in folklore Councilman Persons," I responded.
"It first appeared before the war," Councilman Persons continued. He didn't even acknowledge my last remark. "The beast roamed the county at night during full moons. It mainly attacked sheep and such. Some ranchers claimed they saw it. Some were even killed by it when they were defending their property. No one has seen it for years. I was hoping it was gone for good."
I looked at the soldiers and they were staring at Councilman Persons in shock. Their faces had turned white. I decided it was time to bring the conversation back to reality.
"Councilman Persons, please go back to bed. We will take over from here," I said.
Councilman Persons walked back to his house in disbelief. Both soldiers and I covered the dead man's face with his jacket and buried him in front of a large oak tree. We carved the soldier's name onto the tree as a makeshift headstone.
Friday, October 14, 1864
I rode into town the next day and went to the telegraph office. Before I left Florida, I was instructed to send headquarters a telegram each day and inform them of my whereabouts. In today's telegram, I explained that we had arrived in Talbotton and were waiting on supplies. I also detailed the soldier's death from the previous night.
When I left the telegraph office, I noticed Mr. Baron, Councilman Persons, and a group of men talking in front of the saloon. Councilman Persons waved me over to join the group.
"Good morning Dave," Councilman Persons began. "We were talking about the incident at the ranch last night. It sounds like your stay might be extended."
"What would make you say that?" I asked.
Councilman Persons looked to the man on his right. "Jock is another rancher who lives south of here. He heard the supply wagons you are waiting on were attacked by the beast."
Jacques "Jock" Buisson was an old and soft-spoken Frenchman from New Orleans who had served in Napoleon's army as a young boy. Jock's father moved him and his family to New Orleans shortly after Waterloo. Jock had arrived in Georgia decades ago to start his own ranch.
"Do you honestly believe that?" I asked Councilman Persons.
"It's true cap-e-ton," Jock replied in his French accent. He removed a pipe from his mouth. "The beast attacked the soldiers guarding the wagons last night. A beast, at least eight feet tall, attacked them. They put up a fight, but two soldiers were killed. Mr. Baron even saw it on his property."
I looked at Mr. Baron and noticed that he had several treated wounds on his hand. Mr. Baron refused to look at me.
Councilman Persons started talking, "Mr. Baron shot at the beast last night. He said he saw it eyeing his livestock. When he pulled his revolver from his holster, it attacked and knocked him off of his horse. It hurried away into the woods before it could be shot."
"Councilman Persons," I said. "If this beast is truly a werewolf, like you claimed last night, don't you think you would know who it is by now?"
"But Captain Cantwell—" Councilman Persons said.
I continued, "How could a beast such as this roam the countryside for so long? A rancher would have killed the thing by now. Also, this thing seems to kill everyone it comes into contact with. Why would this werewolf only knock Mr. Baron off of his horse and disappear into the night? This doesn't make sense."
"Cap-e-ton," Jock replied. "We're not talking about a typical wolf. This is a beast from Hell. I've heard stories about these beasts roaming the countryside of France. They killed hundreds of people. Some of the best hunters in the country could not stop them."
"Gentlemen—this has been an interesting conversation, but I'm afraid I must get back to my company," I said.
We said our goodbyes and I rode back to the ranch.
Friday Night, October 14, 1864
The moon had risen over the horizon. We had one more night before it was full. I admired the site of the moon and settled into my tent to rest. We had spent the day drilling and completing our normal camp duties. I was glad to finally be settling down. As I lay back in my cot, I began to think about when my wife and I first arrived in Micanopy.
It was late October 1855 when we arrived. By this time, both of our families had disowned us. We rented a small home in town and I kept busy working on different ranches and working any odd jobs I could find. My wife, meanwhile, stayed busy sewing and selling her items in town.
When the Third Seminole War broke out, I thought I would put my military skills from the VMI to use. While my wife stayed in Micanopy, I left for Tampa and enlisted in the Florida militia. It wasn't at all what I expected. We mainly spent our time tracking Chief Billy Bowlegs and his warriors. There were no major battles like in previous wars, but I did manage to save some money.
In late May 1858, I returned home to my wife for good. We took the money we had saved and put a down payment on some property just outside of Micanopy. We realized at that moment we had made it. It took us three years and our families were against us every step of the way, but we had made it. We had our own home, a way to support ourselves, and we were together. But there was one thing that still didn't feel right. I felt guilty over it.
A scream in the distance woke me from my dream. It was midnight. I grabbed my carbine and ran towards the direction of the scream. It was a repeat of the night before. I was the first one at the scene this time, except there was no body to be found—just a large pool of blood. One look at the dirt revealed there was a brief struggle. This time the soldier's body had been dragged away.
As I was staring at the pool of blood in disbelief, Councilman Persons walked up behind me.
"Do you believe me now Captain?" Councilman Persons asked.
My jaw was still hanging open when my first lieutenant and a couple of privates arrived. The site of the blood shocked them.
"Councilman Persons," I began. "I don't know what to believe at this point. I agree there is something stocking my men. Not a beast as you say, but something more realistic."
I turned to my first lieutenant and said, "This thing seems to attack our men only at midnight. We should be safe for the rest of the night. Tomorrow we will be prepared. We are going to kill this beast so we can bring peace to this county once and for all."
Saturday, October 15, 1864
Things were looking grim the next morning. During the night, five soldiers had deserted their posts. The rest of the men barely slept and we were still short on supplies. I thought it would be best if everyone rested this morning. I was hoping the daylight would put everyone at ease.
Meanwhile, Councilman Persons, both of my lieutenants, and I scouted the ranch. I had thought of a plan during the night to basically fortify the property. My plan was to place lines of men, spaced evenly, along the parameter of the ranch. If the beast managed to make it through the first line of soldiers, a second line of soldiers placed further inside the property could alert the others once it was spotted. Councilman Persons aided us greatly in picking strategic spots. I could tell he was ready to be rid of the so-called werewolf.
Once we had determined the best locations to place the men, I left my lieutenants to assign the men to their posts and make preparations for tonight. I went ahead and rode into town to send another telegram to headquarters and check on the supply wagons.
When I arrived in town, I was surprised to find the streets almost empty. Word must have traveled about the killings. In the telegraph office, both of the employees seemed tense. They informed me that the supply wagons were halted again due to another guard being slaughtered. I alerted headquarters about the recent killings and explained that we had made plans to hunt the beast attacking the soldiers.
When I left the telegraph office, I was shocked to see Elizabeth. She was in her buggy just riding through town like any typical day. She seemed to be completely at ease. Elizabeth noticed me and stopped her horse where I was standing.
"Dave," Elizabeth began. "How are you holding up at the ranch? I heard someone was killed last night."
"We're on our toes," I replied. "I'm afraid the morale of my men is falling."
"What are you going to do—leave?" she asked.
"I can't leave until I receive the supplies we need or receive orders from headquarters," I responded.
"What are you going to do tonight?" Elizabeth asked.
"I have no choice but to try and kill the beast tonight," I responded. "I have a plan. I've placed two lines of men around the parameter of the ranch to alert the rest of the company when it arrives. We will be prepared tonight."
Elizabeth asked me another question, "Do you believe the werewolf story circulating around town?"
"Of course not," I said. "I do not believe in those legends. Do you?"
"You never know," she said. "They started somehow."
We said goodbye to each other and parted ways. On my ride back to the ranch, I wondered if there was any merit to the werewolf story. If it was true, who could it be? It could be anyone in town. Then a thought struck me. Maybe it was Mr. Baron. It made sense. The soldiers from the supply wagon supposedly fought the beast. That would explain the wounds on his hand. Also, why would the beast let him go the other night? This was a werewolf that killed anything it came into contact with. Mr. Baron also hated me and I'm sure wanted revenge for what I did to Elizabeth. That would explain why my soldiers were being attacked.
"This is ridiculous," I said to myself. "There are no such things as werewolves."
I looked down at my horse, "Come on Levy, we have a long night ahead of us."
Saturday Night, October 15, 1864
It was 11:00 PM by my watch and the moon was full with a reddish hue—a blood moon as some would say. Every soldier in the company was tense. We were all in position anticipating the arrival of the beast. The orders I gave were simple. I asked for the men to call out the moment they spotted the beast. After it was spotted, the rest of the company was to move towards that direction and fire at the beast the moment they had a chance.
The wait was the absolute worse. I was tired, tense, and I wasn't sure how the events would unfold tonight. I had all of my revolvers loaded and in their holsters. My carbine was in a holster strapped to my saddle. I looked down at Levy and could tell the small cracker horse was uneasy. Either way, Levy and I were ready for the first man to call out. As I waited for the beast to show its face, I started thinking about Elizabeth again. I thought back to our wedding day.
It was late September 1855. Our marriage was pre-arranged when Elizabeth and I were only children. Both of our fathers knew each other and felt the marriage was a good match in later years. I had graduated from the VMI and was destined to take over my father's investments. My father envisioned me working as a politician, just like him. Elizabeth had been to some of the finest schools in France and oozed class. Our families felt we would be unstoppable and could possibly make it to the White House.
Our wedding day was a site. At the request of Mr. Baron, the wedding was held in Talbotton. The entire region knew about the wedding. Some of Georgia's elite, such as plantation owners, businessmen, and politicians, were cordially invited to the event of a lifetime. It would have made royalty flush.
I found it to be the worse time of my life. My father and I had an argument the night before and everything on the day of the wedding was moving quickly. The fact of the matter was, I was torn. I was thinking of my dear sweetheart, Martha, at home. We had secretly dated for years. When my father found out, he did everything possible to sabotage the relationship. Even going as far as threatening to ruin her parents and chase them both out of town.
That was when I saw my chance. One hour before the ceremony was to take place, I was alone. I thought about my situation. I had two choices: I could spend the rest of my life living a lie and have some of the finest luxuries and opportunities at my disposal. Or I could spend the rest of my life with my true love.
I left the church without anyone knowing. I never looked back. I left Talbotton and sent a telegram to Apalachicola when I rode into the next town. In it, I asked Martha to marry me. I received a response shortly: "Yes." After the reply, I left for Apalachicola and barely stopped during the entire trip. When I arrived home, I asked Martha to meet me in front of the church. I married my true love and we boarded the ship that eventually took us to Cedar Key.
A soft noise in the distance interrupted my thoughts. I heard the horses stir. Then, a loud gunshot rang out. It was midnight.
"I've spotted it!" a soldier yelled.
I directed Levy to run in the direction of the yelling. As I rode, I heard screaming followed by more gunshots. When I arrived, one soldier was wounded and screaming in pain. I looked at the ground and saw a trail of blood from another soldier stretching into the darkness of the nearby woods.
Then I heard another scream in the distance followed by the sounds of a shotgun.
"It's over here now! God help us all!" a soldier yelled.
I had poor Levy running as hard as possible in the direction of the yelling. He was breathing heavily. When I arrived at the scene I saw two soldiers on their backs. One was covered in blood - dead. The other was wounded and trying to say something. I barely made out what he said. He was in shock.
The soldier spoke the same phrase over and over, "We can't stop it."
Then there was another scream about 100 feet away. The sounds of carbines firing followed. I directed Levy to run as fast as possible in that direction. Then, I heard another scream in the opposite direction. Levy stopped.
"God help us! It's huge!" a soldier yelled.
More gunshots ensued. I heard screams and gunshots all around me. I panicked. I didn't know where to go first. Levy was spinning in circles from all of the commotion.
Then, in the moon lit field, I saw a dark figure crawl into the open. I couldn't believe my eyes. It was the beast. It stood up on its hind legs. It had to be at least eight, maybe nine, feet tall. Its long claws were clearly visible and I could see fur raised on its back. It lifted its snout and let out a great howl.
I grabbed my carbine and pulled it out of the holster. I knew I might only get one, maybe two, chances at the shot so I was careful. My stirrups pressed tightly against Levy's sides. I took aim at the torso of the beast and fired. The beast moved at the same time and I missed the shot.
I took aim again and fired. This time was different. I saw the beast's right arm jerk back. I had hit it, but not enough to slow it down. The beast quickly ran off and disappeared into the night.
Sunday, October 16, 1864
It was late morning and the sun was beginning to warm the Earth. Our dead and wounded were laying in organized rows in front of the tents. Our company doctor was treating each of the wounded as best as he could with our limited supplies. As I helped the doctor, I noticed a horse and buggy coming down the road. I took a closer look at the driver. It was Elizabeth. I stopped what I was doing and walked towards the road to greet her.
She stopped her buggy when she saw me. She paused and didn't say a word. I found it odd. I assumed she was thinking about the awkward meeting in town Thursday afternoon.
After the pause, Elizabeth reached into a sack with her right hand and pulled out a telegram. "This came for you today," she began. "I assumed you would be too busy to ride into town today."
As she handed the telegram to me, I was in shock. Wrapped around her right hand was a blood stained cloth covering a wound. It was in the same area where I managed to shoot the beast last night. I'm sure Elizabeth could tell from the look on my face that the reality of the situation was dawning on me. My hand was trembling as I took the telegram from her.
"I loved you Dave." Those were the only words Elizabeth said. She gave me a slight smile and lightly shook the reins in her left hand, directing her horse to continue down the road.
I was still in shock as I watched Elizabeth go around a turn in the road and disappear behind the trees. I forgot all about the telegram I was holding. I must have stood in that spot for five minutes before I read the message. It was from headquarters:
Captain David Cantwell—
Because of your recent reports, your judgment has been called into question. You are to relinquish command of the company to your first lieutenant and report to Charleston, SC where a panel will determine your fitness to command troops.
—Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, C.S.A.
K. M. Hayes is a new writer from Gainesville, FL. He has recently had work published by The Society of Classical Poets.
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The Man With No Name
by Craig Sholl
The man had been found one day by Father Dominican while making the long and tiring journey from the Salinas Valley, near the southern New Mexican border, all the way up to the Franciscan church of San Sebastian, an old and long-standing mission going back to the time of the Fifteenth century conquistadors. The church, however, had been in long neglect and had been widely resented by most of the locals or Puebloans who neighbored its adobe walls, so that in time much corruption and unwelcomed taxation had been endured by the townspeople, as a new clergy and director of council was being summoned in hopes of carrying on the order, and to correct the innumerable injustices of the past administration.
It was Father Dominican, a modest and plainly man in stature who would lead the council and was then heading the expedition to the outpost on foot. He and his fellow missionaries, consisting of a few nuns and Franciscan traditional priests, had been traversing along the Rio Grande in that late of August and had been steadily making their way up, as the Mexican sun held, hot and arid in the cloudless sky.
It was Father Dominican, nevertheless, who would first spot the lone figure of a man laying half dead on the rubbled ground, his foot and knee slightly bent up from the contour of a nearby rock. Upon coming up to the stranger, Father Dominican could also notice that the man's face and forehead had been badly battered as their looked to be a large dash of stained blood onto the pebbles and rocks laying off to the side, and his hands and all the bones of his fingers looked to be broken as well.
He could tell though that the bludgeoned person was a young man, perhaps in his thirties, with slight sideburns coming down his cheeks and which like the rest of his face was inundated with blotches of inkish blood. Also apparent, was the fact that the man was not wearing a gun of any kind, or holster, and that Father Dominican either guessed he was a local cowhand that had been ransacked and left for dead, or perhaps even part of a much less formidable outfit.
The man regardless of his circumstance was, nevertheless, quickly summoned onto a nearing wagon as the Father's fellow missionaries carefully gathered him and hoisted him onto the platform. Amid the particular wagon though, as they carried him away, was also the new church's resurrected bell and that had recently been cast to be hung in the church's constructed bell tower, specially erected and built for the coming Father and his fellow brethren.
The next few days would go by, however, when at last the congregation led by Father Dominican would finally arrive at the San Sebastian church residing just outside of the New Mexico city of Santa Fe.
Father Dominican would, nevertheless, see to the young man in the coming days as best he could after what was, for the most part, a well-greeted reception, mostly put on and felt by the locals or Puebloans who had long resented the religious gentry, but could tell that the newly arrived Father was hardly a part of the bigotry and unjust order that had long reigned their community, and instead, was an admirable quite humble man in appearance and manner.
For several weeks the man in question or bludgeoned stranger would not come to consciousness but would remain dormant as to any signs of getting better with his eyes shut and barely audible breaths observed, as the Father would sit for a time each night beside his cot in one of the vacant wings of the old Franciscan church. Neither, for that matter, was there any indication in any of the man's pockets or clothes upon his first day's there that could hint as to who he was, or where he had come from, with just a few scraps of straw and few small coins in either pocket.
Father Dominican would, nevertheless, see to his uncertain recovery and it was thought by the others that the man would not last the next few days, but the Spanish priest would simply go about his routine, wetting him down and keeping him clean so that infection would not arise, and also on occasion so much as reading the bible to him, though he knew the man was not showing any real signs of getting better.
One day, thereafter, during Sunday prayer and after the congregation had just commenced their early morning psalms, the man would, for no anticipated reason, suddenly come to and regain slight consciousness. As he opened his eyes, nevertheless, a young Spanish clergyman sitting next to the man's cot with some netting strewn above for the diverting of straying flies and such, would notice his first signs of life whence lifting himself from his seat and fetching the Father Dominican now nearing the end of his sermon.
Despite the Sunday prayer the Father would quickly leave and summon himself to the man's side as he awaken, with slight indications of intelligibleness in his hollowed eyes, and a his lips slightly speaking small, occasional gibberings at times though his face seemed to be still deeply bruised from the innumerable blows and concussions he had been inflicted with, but would continue to get better from there on in, and it was considered by many of the Father's congregation to be a miracle of God.
For weeks on afterward, the man would continue to recuperate and gain a fair amount of consciousness so that his eyes became more solid and less hollowed, and his speech finally became audible, with much less present confusion.
Nonetheless, after feeding the stranger his daily nourishment of some prepared soup and broth, the man would finally say something, during one day, as the same Spanish boy lift away his spoon from his face, and as the boy could see his lips slightly move.
He could not understand at first, but quickly realized he was indicating he was cold as the young boy further covered him with the sheets and as the man and stranger drifted off to sleep.
Things would eventually improve though, as far as the man could be discerned in his face and intelligibility, and he would begin to ask for other small favors, such as when the Spanish priest or Father Dominican would read to him certain passages from the bible, or when leaving the room at night to turn down the candles.
The man would, nevertheless, improve each day so that he could finally get up and walk, as it was observed one morning upon himself rising in order to wet himself with some water that had been left near his bed, and which was used for as such.
Upon coming in, the young priest, or by his name of Fernando, would again quickly summon the Father Dominican whence it was visible that the man had finally regained his faculties and was no longer the helpless invalid he was before.
Still, although the other would try at times to question the man, and Father Dominican would try to learn what he could of the man's origins or where he had come from, it was not evident in any real way that he knew of his own name, or any of his knowledge of his past, or why he had been found bludgeoned in the way he had.
For in addition to his new mental lack of awareness of who he was, it was also evident and visible that the man looked very much to be as affected by a sort of sleight stroke of the mind, as though he had been stricken with such a condition, so that he looked to walk funny, and was lame of eye and his head and body was often perceived in a fatigued way.
His manner was, nonetheless, completely void of any violence in temper and never did the man retaliate in any way other than in the manner described, so that he was often regarded as a quiet person, with hardly any talk from him, other than when he was in need of fulfilling some daily habit, or when indicating he was hungry.
The others did not, in this way, see him as being a danger to anyone or anything, and the Father of all people was quite open to letting him stay, and it was felt by all to greater extent that he should stay on and assist in the daily chores and prayer so that in time he became a part of their community and would come to be seen as a normal part of the ongoings of the Church and fellow clergy.
Years would pass by, nevertheless, and the man would continue to work and be of service to all of those around and he was commonly referred and to be known as, 'the man with no name,' but in time he would answer and reply to the name Peter, which Father Dominican had given him under the circumstance and as he thought appropriate for him to have as a child of God.
Peter would, therefore, continue his modest vocation and would never speak of where or why he had been found in such a way and no one would really question his existence other than regarding him as a kind and gentle person.
In addition to his daily regimen of chores, however, such as helping with the Father's duties in his administering of education for his fellow Mexican townspeople in the San Sebastian School next to the adobe church, as well, as, giving sermons and Sunday worship for his clergy and Mexican Puebloans, alike, the one called Peter would also be in charge and responsible for the ringing of the church bell that had been erected for the church tower and which he had been brought with that same day he had been found many years ago.
Now that he had finally found a place in the church and community as being and feeling a part of the clergy and accepted for who he was despite his given limitations and appearance, he seldom questioned where it was he had come from or what his real name might have been, or anything requiring him to remember a past he could not bring to mind.
For he was in this way very much settled, and the Father looked upon him as a good person, although knew in some way he may have come from more foul and corroborative circumstances.
* * *
On a stormily November night in the year 1870, henceforth, while making his way up New Mexico en route to Colorado and escorting a prisoner, Sheriff Barnaby Townsend would have to find refuge in the nearby San Sebastian Church as the wind and thunder and lightning come down with vehemence, nearly getting caught in a mud drift, but luckily saved himself and his convoy by steering to the side, whence seeing the faintly lit torches of the church from inside the gate at a small distance.
Entering the church's vicinity, then, he would look up from the front of his sheriff's wagon and see a sudden flash of lightning from overhead, while briefly glimpsing what looked to be the church tower and bell; just then though a bolt of stray thunder would strike the tier as the bell sounded from inside momentarily with what seemed like an audible thud.
Nevertheless, the priests and clergy from inside the structure would quickly open the doors of the church upon the evident blow, but would hastily see to the sheriff while taking the harness of his wagons horse, bringing him past the surrounding fence closer to the entrance.
Getting off from on top of the wagon, the sheriff would go back to the wagons barred door as he whip out his gun and told the prisoner to get up to go out. Cautiously opening the kennel door after the sheriff unlocking it with key, a handcuffed prisoner with his hands clasped together and hanging below his waist, would look to ascend himself down onto the wet ground, as the sheriff stood back holding his gun in hand and pointing it at the prisoner.
Continuing on, he would lead himself and the prisoner through the church's entrance as the fellow priests escorted the two while making their way up and through the roomy construct with the dim glow of soft torch light and candles amongst its walls and church's altar.
In this, the priests would remain mostly silent as it was quite evident that the man and his convict would have to stay the night and would have to wait out the storm from overhead.
The whole time though, Sheriff Townsend would keep the prisoner well within his sight and would take him by the arm up the stairs of the church's wood steps, as they creaked along, and as the cloaked priests showed them to their room on one of the upper levels.
The room was lit like all other rooms and in the hall with candles and softly light as the priests gathered some linens in one of the cabinets above a small furnace, off to the side, to dry themselves with.
The sheriff would, nevertheless, keep the prisoner handcuffed as he dried off both himself and the other, but not before handcuffing him to a fixture secured in the cement wall, as he went afterward to get a stool in the corner and brought it over for the prisoner to sit on.
The prisoner would not say anything despite this for as long as this took and would keep quiet the rest of the night, although he looked to be of an older man with a grey beard and whitely hair, but not by any means overly physical.
The attentive and formidable sheriff would sit down at a nearby table, keeping an eye on the prisoner as they waited for whomever to come with some food the Father's priests had promised them in the meantime.
Suddenly, then, as the sheriff sat quietly with the subdued prisoner, Father Dominican would enter the room in his kindly manner to greet the sheriff and his captive.
Getting up from his seat as the sheriff saw him come in, Father Dominican told him not to bother to stand and that he was a welcomed guest and that if there was anything he needed not to be afraid to ask. Then, going over to the prisoner as he sit there, not saying anything, the priest would give a small benediction by making a cross with his hands as the man rose to his feet momentarily so he could do this.
"Don't worry, Father," the sheriff would oblige him. "We'll be headed on our way soon as it gets on mornin' and the storm passes through. I'm much obliged."
The Father simply bowed his head, then, as a few of his brethren came in with some hot soup and bread and set it down on the table.
"I hope this will be satisfactory," the Father spoke as the sheriff looked to take a spoon in hand and tried a sip from one of the bowls.
"Very much obliged again," the sheriff would speak up as he looked to the prisoner afterward. "I wouldn't be worryin' too much about Carl here, though." Taking a bowl of soup and spoon from the table the sheriff would give him a sip of the broth as the old man looked to swallow it down.
"I'll be keeping a good eye on him for the night, and I don't plan on sleepin' any. He much appreciates the soup and warm shelter, though."
"Yes, Señor," the Father would reply as he looked to head to the door. Turning to him then, he would tell the sheriff he would gather some sheets for him and the prisoner, and that he would be back in a little while.
After the sheriff had finished feeding the old man the soup and bread, and after he had had some of his own, some time went by as the sheriff took his seat and as the prisoner kept quiet leaning against the wall.
"I supposin' we won't be gettin' much sleep tonight but maybe you could prop your head on the floor once the priest gets back with some of those sheets, and you have yourself a little nap. Anyway, we were lucky just to get out of that storm the way things were headed so we should be thankful in that."
The prisoner would stay quiet, despite, as he continued just sitting there and looking down.
Just then, though, the sheriff could hear some words being said from out in the hall as he listened but could not be sure what he heard, though he could tell they were whispering something to themselves.
Then, the priest or Father Dominican would enter the room again, as he had with him the bunch of cotton sheets in hand and that he would give to the sheriff.
"Much obliged," the sheriff would say again as the priest went to go back out of the room.
From outside thunder and lightning could still be heard with steady wind and rain pouring down, but the sheriff would continue to stay awake as he keep an eye on the prisoner who was now slightly nestled against the wall with one of the sheets covering him and that the Father had brought.
As he look to his side, he could see lightning come in through the window of the cement wall, but almost looked to go off to sleep then as his eyes slightly settled into him.
Drifting away then, his breathing became silent as the room continued cascading of the lightning with some of the lit candles gradually dimming down. Nevertheless, after a time, the sheriff would begin lightly snoring, but it was then when the prisoner would open his eyes and look over at the sheriff.
Calmly he continued keeping still just lying there but then he mirrored to his handcuffed hand mounted to the wall with his arm hanging from above, off the fastened hook. Suddenly another distant sound of thunder sounded as the sheriff woke without indication, but the prisoner just faced away turning to his side.
Just then, though, a man would enter the room without any heed of warning as the sheriff looked to take notice. The man would, nevertheless, not look to say anything as he was hooded like the other priests but could tell still that he was a white man unlike the others and that he looked to be limped in walk, with a slightly shadowed face hidden by his cloak.
Going over to a cabinet on the other side of the room the man would briefly go to get something out as the sheriff could see this. Turning then, with the object or book in his hand, another heap of lightning would come through the room so the sheriff could see his face plain as day and brightly lit.
He could see that the man looked distant of eye and that he was an older man, though not as old as the man he was escorting. Nevertheless, he could tell there was a distinct likeness to his face and head that he had seen before though he could not be certain why he thought this, but he would continue thinking it over, as the man just stand there for a moment before carrying off out of the chamber.
He also noticed, then, that their looked to be a straw bed in the corner of the room but had not paid much attention to this thinking that the room was unoccupied by anyone, or that it belonged to one of the Spanish priests, since it was quite modest in decor and very primitive at first sight.
As the man left the room the sheriff simply sat back in his chair and relaxed a moment as he could hear then some more whispering from outside like before, though he could tell now that it was the Father Dominican talking to the man who had just entered.
After this there was a brief silence in the hall again as the Father and other looked to part, but then he could hear the Padre coming back as he entered the room again to see how the sheriff and prisoner were doing.
"Are you alright, Señor?" he asked as the sheriff sat their looking back.
"I reckon I'm fine," he answered him while the prisoner was slightly snoring in the corner. Going back out, the sheriff would sit back in his chair and took out a cigar that he remembered was in one of his coat pockets.
Going over to the candles in the far corner as he lifted himself up, he would light the smoke in the flame and come away from the candle. Then, looking around the room he would go over to the cabinet the same one the man had taken the small book from and open it slightly. Inside he could see a few articles of clothing and a cross made of wood. As he took the cross in hand to look at it, he saw that it had been made by hand and that it was carved with the name Peter on its front side.
He put it back though almost as quickly as he got it out and returned it to the cabinet without a second thought. Then, going back over to the table puffing on his smoke he would sit down again. Just then, though, he remembered something that he thought he would never think about again as he gazed back near the cabinet.
Going back over to it, he would wait a moment, and then, would take out the cross again to look at it. There was something about the name and the way it was carved that reminded him of something, but he could not be sure what it was.
Nevertheless, as he continued looking at it, he could see there was another small carving in the wood on the bottom of the cross that he could not be sure of but sworn he had seen something like it in the past.
Holding it up to the Flame of one of the candles he could further make it out, but it was a star with seven points in perimeter with a small, barely legible X carved out in the middle, and was distinct to other stars he had seen like it such as the gold-plated badge he was wearing attached to his shirt.
Nevertheless, holding onto it a moment more, he could tell where he had seen a similar star like it before, and that it was the gang symbol of the Jody Clanton outlaws who were responsible for some of the most murderous jobs and bank robberies that side of the country.
Holding it up again to the light, he suddenly remembered years ago seeing the same seven-pointed star, a corner for each of Jody's gang members and that they would leave every time they robbed a bank or committed some awful theft, they were responsible for. A moment more, he would put back the cross and looked through the rest of the man's articles or what clothing he had, but which did not mean anything to him.
Sitting back down at the table he realized now that he had seen the man before, although it was uncertain from what he had saw if it likened to someone he had known.
Suddenly though as he took his smoke from out of his mouth and rested it onto the side of the table so that it stuck out over the edge, he remembered who the man likened to himself, but could not believe that it could possibly be the same person he had seen.
Shocked and confused, he was now unsure of anything but as he continued sitting there in his trance he suddenly realized that the man he had just seen might be no other than one of Jody Clanton's gang, or his right hand man of all people and second in command, Barney Dreyfuss Laramie, a cold-blooded killer and known thief, quite experienced with the use of a six shooter and that he had seen murder down single handedly two of his men during a bank robbery nearly killing all in sight except for himself, after ducking down near a horse dock.
He could not believe though that it was indeed the same man, but as he sit there he knew of the familiar seven pointed cross with the scrawled X in the middle, but as he thought some more and seeing the man in the burst of lightning as he had with his faintly covering sideburns coming down along the sides, and distinct look in his clef and chin as well as his slightly chiseled cheeks and jutting forehead, he realized now that it might be the very same man, or the one he had seen gun down his deputies that day in front of the bank.
Still, he could not be sure, but as he look momentarily to his side at the prisoner who was still slightly snoring in the corner and quite impotent seeming, he decided then that he would get up and go out to see if he could find the Father Dominican, or even the man himself that he now sought.
Putting out his cigar after rubbing it on the bottom of his boots he would go outside while giving the prisoner one last look and leaving out through the wood door with its gate like latch.
Looking, side to side, he could see no one except for some dying candles gradually going out, but there was still some ethereal light coming from down the hallway as he made his was along the corridor and down the wood steps at its end.
It was quite late now, nearly early morning, but in the background, he could hear some lightly praying somewhere and voices being heard though he was not sure where.
Once reaching the bottom of the steps near where he had come in, he looked out across the Church procession, over to the candle lit altar that had the image of Jesus and the Virgin Mary ascribed and painted on its wall and a gold cross amid the brightly lit candles in its center, each in their own holders for the priests or Puebloans and locals to light after prayer.
Nevertheless, the faintly praying now had stopped as it was silent then as he look around seeing no one and was about to go back up the steps, but then, he could suddenly hear a door in the back open as his attention diverted to it. Steps could be heard then, but Father Dominican suddenly could be seen walking out of a shadowy corner of the vestibule as the Sheriff removed his hat momentarily to talk to him.
"Is there anything you need, Señor?" the Father would ask as he approached him with his hands in his priests cloak.
Looking down a moment, the sheriff would wait to speak but then lifting back up he would say, "I'm sorry, Father. But, I noticed a man come in just now, a little while ago."
"Yes, Señor. I am sorry, but that is Peter our bell ringer. We put you in his room for the night since it is decently warm, and we thought it appropriate under the circumstance."
"Well, I much obliged Father, but you say his name is . . . Peter?"
"Yes, Señor. He has been a bell ringer for some time."
"I see," the sheriff would reply while still holding his hat and looking slightly down. Looking back up though, he would ask, "Does he have a last name?"
The Father would hesitate for second but then replied, "No Señor. He came to us some time ago. He was found one day, and had been badly beaten. We know nothing about him, except that he is somewhat lame."
"Lame?" the sheriff asked cutting him off briefly.
"Yes, Señor," the Father replied. "He is often mute, and does not talk much."
"I see," the sheriff went on. "Uh, does he ever speak of his past to you, or anything?"
"No Señor," the Father would say. "He does not talk much and seems to have no memory of anything before we found him, except that we think he may have been a cowhand or ranch worker, but he is quite harmless."
"Harmless," the sheriff replied. "I see."
"Yes, Señor?" the Father asked, seeing he was unsure.
"Would it be possible for me to see the man again?" he asked inquisitively.
"Yes, Señor," the priest replied. "If you want, he is staying in an adjoining room of my chamber in the west wing. You can follow me there. I will take you to him."
As the Sheriff and the priest made their way across the chapel and past the open pews and altar, the light was still quite somber and Father Dominican would walk back with him through the shadowy entrance and door he had come in by but was quite baffled by what the Father told him, and unsure if the man he was about to meet was indeed the man he had known.
For although he was described as harmless, he could not but think that there was some link to the other, and seeing the symbol of the star, and his face, he could still not be sure, but he could not understand either how such a man might have wound up in such a place, or why he was the way described with no memory or utterance of his unknown past.
Still, the fact that he had been found and left for dead or beaten like the priest had told him was something that only made him more curious as to his current disposition, and although he knew the man he thought him to be had been a violent and notorious killer and gang member, he saw no reason to prepare himself for any outburst, except the mere notion and shock that may come if it was, indeed, the same man.
Walking in after the priest had opened the door, the sheriff could see the fathers modest chamber and bed, as they passed through to another small room with a door. Opening the door the priest would say, "Follow me please, Señor," as the sheriff kept in back.
Inside the small aperture of room was the man lying on his bed with the dim glow of a mere candle on top of a nearby table.
The man did not waken, nevertheless, as the sheriff stand over him with the priest looking on the side, but then, as if out of a dream the man would suddenly and calmly open his eyes, as the sheriff stand there looking back.
He could see still that he was a lame man as the priest had said and as he briefly observed him earlier, and that it looked as though he had been touched by some type of mental ailment or even severe stroke that rendered him the way he saw him, then.
Nevertheless, as the man calmly lift himself up while the priest looked on, the sheriff continued to study his face in the dim light. He could see no sign either from his look of eye, or any gesture that made him think anything inordinate as to the sheriff's presence with the Father, other than the mere notion of why and what they wanted of him.
Mumbling something at first the man looked to talk to the priest, but the Father would just stand on and utter something in Spanish which the man seemed to understand enough to let him look. For a moment the sheriff did not do anything, but then, taking the nearby candle from off the small table, he would further scrutinize the face as he held it high and as the man continued in his oblivious sort of gaze.
As the sheriff's eyes opened wider though he could immediately tell the man had a distinct likeness to the outlaw he had known and their seemed to be a small scar running down the bottom of his cheek.
Ponderingly, the stoutly sheriff turned to the Padre to ask him something.
"You say you found him?"
"Yes," the Father returned as the sheriff looked back up at the man.
"Did he have that scar on his face when you found him?
For a moment the priest would not say anything as he looked to think, but then he would reply.
"Well, yes, Señor. I believe there was a small scar on him when I found him, but his face had been beaten so badly I could not be sure if it had been there before."
Taking his small candle again the sheriff would look one more time, then return it to the table next to the small Bible the man had brought down for himself.
"Well, I can't be sure," the sheriff went on, putting his hand up to his face and feeling his mustache." A moment went by as he looked at Father Dominican. "That cross by chance he has, do you know it?"
The Padre looked to think. "Yes, Señor. I had given it to him when he first arrived. He has had it ever since."
"Has he ever said anything about it. Anything at all?"
The priest looked unsure but then would speak up.
"No Señor," he replied. "Why is it you ask?"
"Well, when I looked at it there was small star near the bottom - and an X etched out in the middle."
Thinking again the priest or Father Dominican seemed to remember.
"Yes, Señor," he said, "I believe I have seen it."
Putting his hand back up to his chin and mustache the sheriff would go on.
"Well, did he by chance say where he had seen that?"
The Father thought a moment.
"Well, no. I believe I had asked him once after giving him the cross, but I cannot be sure if he knew where it was he saw it."
The sheriff looked back at the man, now sitting on the edge of the bed but still silent and unsure.
Turning to him then, the sheriff's voice would change to harsher demeanor as the man look him back.
"Is your name . . . Barney Dreyfuss Laramie?" he asked more coldly.
The man sat there saying nothing, though, but would just turn to the priest standing along. Then, the priest would talk Spanish to him again as the sheriff waited.
Looking back up at the sheriff the man would finally say, "Name is . . . Peter."
His voice was trammeled a bit, but the sheriff looked back to the priest. Looking at the man again, he would ask, "Why did you make that star in that cross?"
The man looked unsure but looked back to the priest as he spoke more Spanish to him. Then, looking back at the sheriff, he would speak some more barely legible Latin, as the priest translated it for him afterward.
"He said the star he is not sure of, but it is something that has always stayed with him since he's been here, and that he cannot remember why this is?"
The sheriff looked hesitant but would speak.
"Well, try to remember now," he went on, looking hard at the man. "Think now . . . where did you see that star?"
The man sitting their listened to the priest's translation as the sheriff stood by. Looking more marked in eye and thinking, the man would suddenly begin to sense something or something he had known, but the sheriff as he looked could just barely see this.
"Barney Dreyfuss Laramie," be bolded out. "Notorious bank robber and killer of the Jody Clanton Gang," he went on.
The priest or Father just stood there with wider eyes but would translate some of what the Sheriff spoke to him.
Looking back up at the sheriff, finally, the man would slightly tilt his head as he seemed to be thinking of something but not knowing what.
"Try to think now. You, Barney Laramie, killed two of my men and nearly killed a mother and child just after robbin' the New Hyde Bank in Colorado."
The priest could see the man was beginning to look agitated and confused and turned to the sheriff saying, "Please, Señor . . . I do not think he understands any of this. "Perhaps—"
The sheriff would just cut him off, nevertheless.
"Well, I do," he boldly said. "Two of my own men gunned down in cold blood right in front of women and children and God fearin' folk. It was him who done it though, I know it was. I'd recognize that face even after all those years and with all those bruises anywhere."
Looking straight at the man the sheriff continued: "It is you, isn't it, Barney? A star with seven points for each one of your men, and an X in the middle to demark me and my men— the same X that you carved into the middle of that star."
The man could not be sure of what the sheriff spoke as the Padre went to translate, but suddenly as the sheriff took off his hat and opened up his coat to show his badge to the man sitting there staring back, he turned of a look of some epiphany though it was unsure of what.
For as he thought looking down a moment, he soon realized that he had indeed seen the star somewhere before and was trying to place it. As he looked at the sheriffs gun and star his eyes had a deadness to him as he looked away. The Sheriff and Father Dominican could see this, nevertheless, as the man looked of uncertain guilt. The priest would speak up to him, then.
"Es esto cierto?" he would ask.
The man would again look trembling at the sheriff, but then would bid down his head. "Si," he answered almost to himself, though the sheriff could hear this too.
The priest would, nonetheless, look on perplexedly as he finally went to speak.
"I reckon," the sheriff said before he could do so. "Barney Dreyfuss Laramie . . . " he would say once more as the man look stern of eye. "I'll be damned."
Turning back to the priest as the Father looked slightly irresolute in eye and manner, he would look to talk to the sheriff, but then the sheriff would simply censure him away with his arm.
"Well, I'm afraid I'll be havin' to take him in," he said to the priest as they huddled near the door.
Looking back over at the man sitting there, the priest would ask, "Are you sure, Señor, he is who you speak of?"
Glancing back at the oblivious face of the man he would say, "Yes, that's him alright. Nobody could have made that star the way I saw it, and I'd recognize it anywhere's. That's Barney, alright. I wonder . . . " he went to go on, but then the priest briefly stepped outside the door with him leaving it half-cocked.
"Señor," he said, "Mightn't it be better, perhaps if the man were to stay here and live out his life?" but the sheriff would simply look down and remove his hat for a moment while thinking and looking at the door. Returning it to his head again, he would speak. "I'm sorry Padre, but I just can't see leavin' him here, and I think owe it to all those people he killed and I think their wives and children would want it. Just seems to me he ought to pay for what he's done."
The Priest looked on in silence, but would say, "Yes, Señor. I believe you are right. But he is still a child of God, and he has been here so long. Mightn't you have any doubts?"
The sheriff stood there and answered after a slight moment. "No. I'll be takin' him in for sure, and he'll have to go up with to Colorado where I'm head chief in New Hyde."
"Well, Señor," the priest spoke as the sheriff listened. Lowering his head, as he went on in compliance he would say, "I see. Then, if it must be," as he looked back to the half open door.
It was still windy and thundersome outside, for that matter, and the two knew the sheriff could not depart until morning, but the man would be brought up to his own room where the prisoner looked to be still sleeping against the wall, as the bowls of soup and bread had already been taken away.
The man would be able to stay in his bed, nevertheless, under the watch of the sheriff until early morning. The sheriff would last the night without sleep but only thought how such a man that was lying in the straw bed in front of him could be the murderous man he had known, as though they were two different people now, one Barney and the other, a man named Peter the church bell ringer. He could not be sure if the man before him understood all that he had done and the men he had killed, but somehow, he still thought it right to bring him in and let justice have its way.
In the morning, once the storm had passed through, it looked to be bright and clear on a new autumn day as the sheriff and his prisoner would settle out, and after he had handcuffed the one, or Barney now, who could not be sure of what awaited him.
The Father would say goodbye one last time in his regretful manner, and some of the congregation could see the wagon and jail move through passed the gate and fence, but no one would speak of it.
In addition, the bell had been detached from it scaffold by the lightning during the night and had crashed into the floor of its tier, so that it could not be wrung, as the wagon passed by one last time and as the man could see it through the bars of the wagon's door, now sitting across from the convict and chained down to his seat.
He knew he would never see or hear the bell again but could not seem either to understand all that he had done, leaving him in a most unreconciled confusion of anguish.
As they made their way over the next day's, they would soon be close to the town of New Hyde where the sheriff was headed, as each night they would settle down and the sheriff would chain them to a tree or obstruct that could be used to secure them as such.
For he now felt a relief that he had got Barney Laramie, the ruthless killer he had known him to be, and was somehow in anticipation of seeing him tried and found guilty of what he had done, but he could help neither to see that the man before him was different of eye, and character, and that their seemed to be a missing piece to his association of the once killer and bandit thief he had known.
On occasion, when watching the man feed himself, he could see unlike his other, less affected prisoner, or old man, that their seemed to be a kind of reverie that the man possessed so that he was not as quick to get up or when being indicated to leave, as though he were in another place and time.
Still, the sheriff would try to not dwell on this and would keep his composure for the most part and try to see through as to the justice he thought he wanted for him.
One day, then, as they had stopped for what would be the last time before the sheriff planned on reaching the town, the prisoner had been steadily sleeping the night and the old man, or convict, had already opened his eyes laying on his side. The sheriff would not see this, nevertheless, as he quickly got up and went to strap over his suspenders and then to unlock the prisoner's chains.
As he went over to Barney, he woke without being spurred but simply would rise up to his tiring feet.
As the sheriff went next to the old man though he would simply look to be asleep, but the sheriff would stand over him as he give him a small shake of his boot.
"Wake up, Carl. Time to go," he would casually utter.
Then, undoing his chain, the man would stand on with other as the sheriff took out his gun.
"Alright, boys," he would carry on as they walked over to the wagon handcuffed and as Barney walked in his same limped way.
Opening the jail wagon door, the sheriff would stand off to the side to let the others go on in, and then to fasten them to the foot lock once they were inside as there was an iron clasp around their ankles that would fit onto a solid beam along the bottom.
Dropping his key though as he removed it from his pocket, he slipped his gun into his holster in a careless way, as the others could see this and as the sheriff looked to bend over and pick up the key from off the ground.
It was a bright sunny day and as the sheriff went to unlock the door with his gun in holster, the old man could see this and quickly dropped a knife from out of his sleeve that he had somehow pawned that same night at the church when the sheriff had been away, and that had been lying next to the loaf of bread.
Barney could see this, nevertheless, out of the corner of one of his drooped eyes but would not do anything at the moment despite.
Then, after the sheriff had unlocked the door and stepped back, the two standing at a small distance behind him, would proceed to go in as the sheriff let them pass. The old man went through first as the other followed and were both handcuffed, still, of course, as the one went to make the first step.
Just then, though, the sheriff would turn his head ever so slightly as the old man could see this, and as he momentarily tried to draw his knife from down on out of his sleeve, into his hand, while hiding it.
The sheriff, now looking back, did not think anything inordinate as the man briefly stood there before heading in, but, all of a sudden, a swoop of birds seemed to take off in the surrounding brush as the sheriff took notice while turning his head again. Nevertheless, the old man and prisoner could see this as he quickly got grip of his knife and as the sheriff still had his head turned, he went to swoop down from off the step and tried to stab him in a quick scurry. But, the sheriff seeing this in time, managed to stop him with his hand by preventing the blow, and would stand there momentarily with the man trying to haul him off.
Just then, the old man would turn towards the wagon as the sheriff leaned up against it, and as the man continued to force down the knife into the sheriff's chest. Almost about to give way, the sheriff even with his ardent strength could not prevent the knife from coming down on him so as he began to give in, Barney's hand quickly took hold of the old prisoners' arm and forced him back into the wagon as the two fought for a moment while the sheriff looked on.
Falling, finally, to the ground the old man somehow regained the initiative and continued trying to penetrate the known outlaw, but the sheriff would simply draw out his weapon and fire a shot, as the old man fell from off on top of him and onto his side as he lay there dead and his eyes wide open.
As for Barney he just lay there a moment more looking languid and quite fatigued from the scrapping, but the sheriff would go over to the knife, then, as he picked it up from off the ground and from the old man's hands still clenching it. Looking at it a moment more before tugging it away, he would slip his gun back into his holster and would look down back at Barney, putting his hand out to him.
The man would rise up to his feet, nevertheless, as the sheriff helped him do this, and as there seemed to be no need for caution. Then, looking at him as he took his hat from off his head a moment and put it back in place, he would say, "Ok, Barney, we're goin' home."
The prisoner just stood there saying nothing, but the sheriff knew then that he could not take him no matter what he had done and that he was not the same man he had known before. So, instead, as he look to the dead man on the ground he would say, "There's no need for anymore blood, I reckon."
The man, or Barney, would sit up with the sheriff after undoing his handcuffs and the two would head back to the church where they had just come from, as the wagon pulled off and turned around to get on their way.
The man would, nonetheless, return to the church and live out there for the years to come and few would give any qualms to this, or what the Padre had been told by the sheriff and, as a child of God, they could not turn their heads away from a sinner no matter what his past was or what he had done.
He would be called again by the same name the Father Dominican had given him those first days he had been there and would not dwell on his past as much or what he was guilty of, or why the sheriff had let him stay. But, to some he would still be known as the man with no name, and few would ever come to know him in any other way, except for his kind repose and humble manner.
He would return to the belfry that following Christmas on the Lord's birthday in that same year, when the bell had finally been restored to the tower and the tier had been repaired to celebrate the occasion.
The bell, for that matter, would last many more years, and would eventually be taken down and put on display in the coming time so that visitors of the old Church could see for themselves what had been hung in the old tower. Stories would, nevertheless, be made up as the years passed on of how it had come to be a part of the church or why it had been brought up, but the story of the man would never entirely fade, and it could sometimes be whispered the one called Peter had been its caretaker, although others would simply speak of him as, 'the man with no name.'
Craig Sholl lives in Long Island, NY. He has been published in Frontier Tales and The Cat's Meow Magazine. His book No Gun's in Little Cavern is available on Smashwords and Amazon.
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