The Blood Red Prairie – a story

In honor of Father’s Day I wrote my dad a short Western. I hadn’t written a Western before and it was pretty fun. Not sure I’d do a lot of them but it’s always good to try something different to see what you end up with. This is what I came up with.

The Blood Red Prairie

The sound of the wagon coming was like thunder on the dry dirt and it startled the pony, which bucked against Marie. He grunted and laid a hand on the pony and it quieted down immediately. The pony was carrying twenty pounds of dynamite and he had something special in mind for that, so it’d do no good to him if it made a mess of Grazer’s Point, a settlement only three months old. He took his hand from the pony and laid it against the side of Marie’s head and she whinnied her approval. She didn’t much care for wagons herself, or coaches. That made three of them. Ever since Junesberg he had been no fan of any big transports, whether they carried people or, other things. He looked up from Marie and gave the wagon a look that dropped the driver’s head and made him slow up as he passed.

Slow.

Slow was good.

Slow was always good.

He closed his eyes and could see the bodies hanging from the grove of trees just outside of Junesberg and knew that if he wanted, he could smell them too, just as he knew who they were, and who’d put them there. He opened his eyes and spat a wad of chew into the dirt and gritted his teeth. Yeah, sure, the bodies, the smell, but there was something else too, the woman, the woman who was responsible for it all, and that was why he was here. That was why he had the dynamite. And for the first time in ages he smiled, his face crackling as he did and dirt flaking free, and with the dirt came the blood as his lips cracked apart. He spat again and this time there was more blood than chew but he liked it. Preferred the taste of the blood because it meant he was here, alive, and that he still had time to finish what he came here to do.

He took a deep breath and swung a leg off of Marie, then the other one and dropped onto the dirt softly. A mongrel came near and growled at him but Marie stomped her front legs and sent it away to cower beneath the general store. The man stretched and his back exploded with cracks that followed his spine all the way up to his shoulders where he cracked his neck as well. He laid his left hand at his side and felt the familiar shape of his knife and, satisfied, looked up to take in the town.

Grazer’s Point was new alright, and it hurt his head to look at it. The paint on the buildings was still new, and, apparently, not completely dry as on the Livery the red paint had run and pooled around the building like blood, a strong rain having washed much of that hard work away. Much of the town was still under construction, and it spoke volumes to the man that it looked as if the Jail would be the final building to be completed. He had seen the town’s Sheriff, napping in a rocker on the porch of the Saloon, his gun lying on the wooden planks between his feet. There was trouble here. Danger. And worse, there was ruin coming here. He had seen towns like this for weeks, towns set up to lure the farmers and the gamblers alike; towns set up to suck in money and keep the locals busy enough to not get riled when the rains weren’t coming for a few weeks at time. These towns were naïve though, and it was that naïveté that always brought the trouble. It was that sort of mind set that brought the likes of the Lady Hush, who he’d been chasing since Junesberg. She with her easy smile and easier legs but who knew far too well the workings of the human heart, and knew how to crush the life from it with a bare hand, or worse, to convince someone to do it for her. That’s what had happened to him. That’s what had happened to…

He spat and began walking towards the Saloon. It was near to sundown so people were heading out of town and back for their camps or their farms. A couple of old timers were getting their pack mules geared up for some panning in one of the nearby streams or rivers. A few stragglers were wandering over to the saloon, the wagon driver among these. There was a hotel above the Saloon where any visitors in town could stay a spell but other than a few strangers and the local shopkeepers who lived above or in back of their stores there wasn’t much life here.

This was new all right.

But not for long.

There was one place she’d be by now, and he knew it, it was just a matter of where in the hotel she was and who she was with. He picked up his pace, anxious to be before her again, to have one hand in her hair and the other holding the blade at her throat. He was almost at the steps when Marie whinnied and he turned to see two men approaching her and the pony. He turned away from the Saloon and its hotel and dropped his hand onto the knife and cleared his throat.

“Nice night for a stroll, eh gentlemen?”

“That so, mister? See, we was just sayin’ how it seems a bit cold out. Might want to bundle up. Eh, Sam?”

“Yessir, might want to bundle up. And hey, there’s a right nice blanket right there on that pony.”

“Hmm, if you boys are so dainty as to think that a late Summer breeze is too cool for you then ya might both need something from a bottle to warm ya, and not off the back of my pony. Now what say I buy you two fellas something that will put some hair on yer chests?”

He wrapped his hand around the hilt of the knife and watched the men in the fading light to see who would move first. He hated this, this posturing. It was a waste of time and he had better things to do. He saw the one on the left’s eye start twitching and knew it wouldn’t be him. It’d be Sam, the other fella. He turned his attention to lefty and let Sam think he was being forgotten. He smiled at lefty and stood easy, letting his shoulder slump as he pulled the knife from its sheath. Sam cleared his throat and he looked over to see the man brandishing a small gun. Sam held a finger up to his lips and nodded toward the pony. He smiled and shrugged at Sam to tell him to take what he wanted but as soon as the bandit reached forward the pony reared up and let out a terrible howl. Sam took a step back, startled but before he could get his bearings the knife was sticking in his throat. Sam sputtered in disbelief and looked at lefty, who could only look back, just as stunned. He moved quick then, dashing forward to grab lefty’s throat in his hands and squeeze, squeeze, squeeze until his hands turned white and lefty was limp. His heads was pounding, the sweating rolling hard down his face and cooling him, bringing him back to himself. The world had started to go black for a moment, and that’d be no good. No, he needed to stay calm. At least for a while. The pony was still agitated so he laid a gentle hand on it and it calmed down immediately. He’d found her tied around the legs of a man who’d been buried upside down in the desert and had he found her a day later she’d have been dead with her old master. It was no wonder she was a bit skiddish.

He took a deep breath and held it as he checked beneath the blanket on the pony and saw that the dynamite was still there, untouched, and he let his breath out slowly. Good. He stepped over to Sam and shook his head. Stupid, it was all so damn stupid. He pulled the knife free and wiped Sam’s blood on his pants then sheathed it again. He looked around and it was full dark now and there were no eyes on him so he leaned down and grabbed Sam by the legs and started dragging him towards the Post Office and Town Hall building, where he could stash the bodies beneath until he was done with his business.

It took twenty minutes to clean up the mess the boys made but it was done now and he was tired. Time was short for him and he knew it, the cough that had started so casually now bringing blood up thick and black every time it came. Still, as short as time was, he had time enough for one more night’s sleep and tomorrow, tomorrow he could finish what he came to do. He patted the dynamite gently and smiled again before petting Marie, who nuzzled against him. He took both animals by their reigns and lead them around the back of the buildings where he could set up camp.

Dawn would come. Sooner than it seemed on a night like that, and then, and then, and then Lady Hush will find out how hot Hell really is.

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