Here’s a bit of the ‘Old West’ for you today. I’ve always wanted to try writing a western! This is my #FridayFlash and Author Aerobics: Layered Conflict exercise.
by T.S. Bazelli
“Get into the house, Casey.” Elden pushed her daughter through the door. “And stay there! No if’s or but’s. Keep your little brother’s quiet. I’m counting on you, girl.” Elden shut the door behind her, aware of the eyes peeping over the window sill. That kind of curiosity would get those kids killed.
Elden smoothed her apron, and measured her breath, as the three men approached. Their horses kicked a long trail of dust behind them. They were rough men. Beards grown out, sticky with sweat, dirt clinging to sun baked skin, but there was something familiar about the lines of their jaws. One was big and ugly, the other skinny as a pole, and the third, she didn’t know what to make of. She clasped her hands together. They were not soft hands, but hands that worked the land, and could skin a cow with ease.
“Hello, Ma’am. We’re looking for the man of the house.” Big Ugly one took off his hat, and inclined a greasy head of curls. She noticed that his hand rested comfortably near the gleaming gun at his hip. The other two, his brothers, she presumed, scanned the farmstead. She hoped her eldest boy, Jack, was still out in the fields, and that he had the sense to stay away.
“I’m sorry but you’ve missed him. My husband’s been dead and gone three years. Buried right over there.” She pointed a finger at a cairn of stones marked by a cross. Cheerful yellow flowers were strewn over it, plucked by her little Casey.
“Can’t be.” The leanest of the three eyed her. “Heard he murdered our old Pap in the spring.”
“You’re right, that’s impossible. You must have heard wrong.” Elden inclined her head. “Sorry you wasted…”
There was the sound of footsteps on dirt. Quick steps. Stupid boy, she thought, her throat choking up.
“Get away from my ma!” Jack shouted, his voice rose and fell awkwardly, still changing. He was carrying his Pap’s old rifle, spectacles askew on his nose.
“Shit.” Elden muttered under her breath, then prayed to God to forgive her the profanity, the old habit, as Jack ran up to them.
“I bet you’re the one we’re looking for, kid.” Big Ugly set his hat back on top of his head.
“He’s only thirteen.” Elden gripped Jack’s wrist and shoved him behind her. “How’d your pap die? A rifle shot, wasn’t it? A long ways off? Never saw the shooter? This kid can’t see more than five meters.” She felt Jack squirming, knew he wanted to protest, but she held him firm. “I’m the one you’re looking for gentlemen.”
There was laughter all around. Jack was grew still.
“Pass me the rifle, boy.”
Elden felt the weight of it in her hands. “See that sign post down the road?” She raised the rifle to her shoulder. It was loaded. Good boy, she thought. She squeezed the trigger. A chunk of old brittle wood fell to the ground. The laughter died away.
“Go back to the house boy.”
“Go!” Bless his heart, she thought as Jack ran. He’d have to take care of his siblings if anything happened to her.
“So how’re we going to do this?” Elden lowered the rifle, noticing that all three brothers were fingering their guns.
“God above, I can’t murder a woman.” Skinny lifted his hands up to the sky. “Let’s go Randall. Give it up. Her husband’s dead. She’d got kids to feed.”
“Woman or not, she’s a killer.” Quiet replied. Those were his first words of the evening. She hadn’t known what to make of him until then. He was smarter than he looked, she’d have to give him that. The door on the farmstead shut loudly.
“I don’t want my kids to see.” She addressed them all. “Down the road?”
They walked in silence over the rise of a hill until the farm was out of sight. She let her shoulders fall back, set the rifle on the ground and fished a revolver from her pocket. It’s weight was heavy and familiar. It gleamed in the sunlight, as clouds flitted by. She could smell the promise of rain in the air. Not a bad day to die.
“Who’s it going to be?”
“Me.” Big ugly, Randall, swung down off his horse. Quiet and Skinny looked on. “100 paces.”
Elden stepped back. Watching the big man. He was just doing his familial duty, just as she was doing hers. His old pap had been stealing her cattle, slowly starving out her family. Either way, it wouldn’t work out well.
The sun broke through the clouds, and the land was bright and green, so full of promise. She waited. Gun at her side. She held her children in her mind’s eye as she watched Big Ugly’s hands twitch.
Shadows filled the world, as the sun was blotted out by a cloud racing past it. In the darkness, she she raised her gun, but it felt too slow. She squeezed. Two shots rang out, or one, she wasn’t sure. Pain flare through her shoulder. She dropped to her knees, but it wasn’t enough to kill her, she saw the graze against her arm. Big Ugly lay flat out, crumpled, stone cold dead with a bullet through the head. A small mercy. He hadn’t suffered.
“You satisfied? You had enough of revenge?” She waved the barrel of the gun, and tossed it to the ground as she got up onto her feet.
“I think we’ve had enough killing.” Skinny replied. There were no tears in his eyes. She’d expected none. These were hard people all around. He looked at Quiet.
“Who are you ma’am? If I might ask?” He tipped his hat. She’d seen that look on a man’s face before. Maybe once. That man was now dead and buried under a cairn of stone strewn with yellow flowers.
Elden smiled. “Come on, if you want to wash up, I’ll fix you boys some supper. We can bury your brother afterward. The dead ain’t never in a rush.”