Of Kith and Kin

(Artwork: “Confederate Reconnaissance” by Keith Rocco)

This is an original work of historical short fiction by The Tactical Hermit. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in this short story are entirely fictional and are of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or organizations of persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

(Author’s Note: This story is a homage to the famous Texas pistoleer John Wesley Hardin. Hardin is a near mythical figure here in Texas, and is considered by some, including myself, to be one of the finest, if not the best Pistoleer of the 19th Century).

 

“Man never has really loved humanity all of a piece— all its races, its peoples, its religions—but only those creatures he feels are his kin, a part of his clan, no matter how vast.”

-Camp of the Saints by Jean Raspail

 

 

Fannin County Texas, 1867

 

I had just turned sixteen years old when I buried a hatchet into the head of a red headed yankee soldier who was trying to have his way with my widowed mother. I will never forget how calm mama was afterward as she told me me to strip off all my clothes which were covered in the bastards blood. She promptly did the same with her house dress and the yankee’s uniform and burned it all in a pit in the back forty. She then gave me his rifle and pistol belt and told me to wait until nightfall and then go and throw them all in the Sulphur river. I tossed that Springfield but could not bring myself to get rid of that .44 caliber Remington Army! Damn she was a beauty! When I returned home mama had already chopped up the yankee’s body and fed it to our hogs. I must have sat there for over an hour watching our big sow devour that yankee bastard piece by piece. Did you know a hog can crack a man’s head open like a pecan? They must really love the brains because they all fought over them something fierce!

The next day a squad of yanks came around the house asking questions about a missing soldier. Mama said one of them walked over to the pig pen and nosed around, staring at our big sow for a while. She said it made her kind of nervous until she realized that the red headed bastard was nothing but a pile of pig turds. Mama told the Lieutenant she had heard rumors of a red headed soldier going around town telling folks he was going to go down to Galveston to catch a steamer ship to South America or was it Australia? Mama had a real knack for bullshiting folks, especially lawmen or yankees. It was a skill I always admired about her.

Life was tough in Texas during this time which that bastard Andrew Johnson in Washington D.C. had the nerve to call ‘Reconstruction’. Just to be clear: I never saw any kind of construction while the yankees were here. In fact, If a yankee wasn’t trying to steal it, he was damn sure trying to fuck it, you can bet on that. After daddy was killed at Gettysburg three years ago proudly fighting with General Hood’s Texas Brigade, I quit school to go to work for Mr. Clyde Hopson’s Lumber outfit. Daddy had worked for Mr. Hopson before joining up and when it was announced that Daddy had been killed in the Dallas newspaper, Mr. Hopson rode out to the house personally to offer me a job and also give mama twenty dollars to help out with expenses which was a small fortune in those days I don’t mind telling you. I never forgot Mr. Hopson’s kindness to my family for as long as I lived.

Every morning I took my younger brother Jefferson Davis to school on the way to work, not trusting him to walk by himself past the yankee’s garrisoned in the hotel in town. There had been reports of soldier’s “interfering” with young boys all over the county. Pete Sanders youngest boy, Tom said a group of drunk yankees tried to snatch him up while he was night fishing out on the Red but he was too damn fast for them and escaped into the woods. He said they were all yelling about how they would have “first dibbs on that pretty little pink asshole.” Poor Tom said he never ran so fast in all his life after hearing that.

One of the biggest issues Texans had with this “Reconstruction” business was how the Federal Army allowed nigger units to march around town like they owned the place. This caused several altercations to include a shooting last month when one uppity yankee nigger decided he would just go in the General Store and buy himself some candy. Well, this did not sit well with the owner, Mr. Jacob Landry, who promptly pulled a Navy Colt from beneath the register and told him to get his black ass out of his store. Federal soldier or not, niggers were not allowed. When the nigger soldier mouthed back about having Federal “jurisdiction” Mr. Landry promptly shot him in the arm. Later at the military hearing, Landry said he was only sorry his aim was not better, he intended to kill the black son of a bitch, not just wing him. After a long discussion amongst Mr. Landry’s lawyer and the three officers overseeing the hearing, all charges were dropped and Mr. Landry was sent home. It seemed the Blue Belly brass was not ready to back nigger soldiers as so-called “equals” just yet. We all knew why the niggers were down here: to satisfy the wealthy abolitionist up north that “progress” was being introduced into the “backward” Southern states. It was all window dressing horseshit, and just another prime example of the kind of condescending moral indecency these Federal bastards were good at.

But anybody familiar with Texas history knows Texans don’t take shit like this lying down. Contrary to them lying yankee newspapers, the war of Northern Aggression did not end at Appomattox. Because of the Federal Government’s insistence on waging economic and cultural war on the southern civilian populace, guerilla outlaw gangs like the James Gang in Missouri, The White Man’s League in Louisiana and several other outfits in Texas continued to fight their federal oppressors with vigor and matched barbarity. Of course being young and full of piss and vinegar, I took an interest in these gangs despite mama telling me to steer clear.

“I already lost a husband to this God awful war, I am not losing a son too! You keep your nose clean John Wesley, you hear me!”

“Yes ma’am” I replied with respect even though I was itching to join them as soon as I could. As fate would have it, I would not have to wait long.

One evening at dusk I was coming back from fishing with a nice stringer of channel cat hanging from my horn when I saw five men with their faces covered with mask sneaking off into the woods with rifles. Being half curious and half stupid, I tied my mare to a tree off the road a ways and snuck over to investigate. The sun had just went down and in the low amber light I saw fourteen year old Billy McGuiness in a stand of thick pin oaks holding the reins of five horses. I let out a low fox whistle and when Billy turned his head my direction I whispered to him:

“Billy! It’s me Wes Hardin!”

Billy jerked his head in my direction with his eyes bulging like a scared deer.

“Goddammitt Wesley! You scared the shit out of me! What the hell you doing out here! You tryin’ to get yourself killed!” he replied in a high tenor voice.

I had to stifle a laugh as Billy was literally shaking in his boots.

“No, just wondering what the hell’s going on, that’s all.” I replied as I walked up out of the brush, smiling like a jackass.

“What’s going on ain’t none of your damn business! You need to haul ass out of here!” Billy replied, his eyes darting left and right with sweat beading on his forehead.

“Oh Bullshit Billy! I saw the men creeping in the woods earlier, what the hell is…”

Before I could finish my question the whole country side exploded in gunfire and I almost shit myself as I hit the ground with a dull thud with Billy following right on top of me. He strained and grunted as the horses began blowing and pulling away in fear.

“Oh to hell with this!” Billy shreiked as he stuffed the reins in my hand and then got up and ran off into the brush like a jackrabbit with it’s ass on fire.

Before I could think about it I was up on my feet calming the horses and whispering to them to be quiet. As soon as they had settled down several masked men exploded out of the brush with rifles in their hands and their faces covered with burlap mask.

“Who the hell are you!” One of the men asked covering me with his rifle barrel.

“Where’s Billy?” another man asked jerking the reins out of my hand.

“He got scared and ran off yonder” I pointed to the dark woods like a soft brain.

“Why don’t that just beat all!” The man replied laughing as he mounted up.

Before I knew it all five riders were gone in a cloud of dust with only the sound of galloping hooves echoing in the distance. I squatted down in the brush for a few more minutes, catching my breath and trying to piece together what in the hell just happened. The smell of gun smoke floated thick in the air and somewhere on the road up ahead I could hear horses snorting. I finally got up the nerve to sneak back to my horse and I raced back home so damn fast I lost my stringer of catfish and my buckskin mare Sally-Jean had a lather of sweat on her thick as shaving soap.

Walking in the house I was tackled by a hundred pounds of worried mama.

“Oh Thank God you’re alive!” Mama’s voice was trembling as she grabbed me and squeezed me tight. I could feel her body trembling and could see that she had been crying.

I hugged her tightly in return and told her I was fine.

“I heard the gunshots and I thought those damn yankees were on a killing spree in town!” she choked out, finally letting me go.

I considered telling her the whole story but I was so damn tired I just decided to stay quiet. Better not to worry her until there was a real need for it. Mama decided to keep Jefferson Davis home for the next few days until things calmed down and I am glad she did.

I could not believe the amount of activity as I rode into town the next morning. Armed union soldiers and cavalry were everywhere you looked, questioning people, searching wagons and shops and nailing up posters:

$500 Reward for any information that leads to the arrest of the individual(s) responsible for the cowardly ambush and murder of four union soldiers last night outside of town. Please report directly to Major William H. Standrich, U.S. Army.

I’ll be honest, I was scared when I saw that four yankee’s had been killed and I had been so close to it, but at the same time I was excited, I hated the bastards and wanted in on this fight.

As I made the turn off main street to go to the mill, a short and squat yankee sergeant with a blondish-red handlebar mustache stepped off the sidewalk and in front of my horse like he owned the damn street.

“And just where in the hell are you going this morning laddy?” he asked in a thick irish brogue.

“I work at Hopson’s mill” I replied staring at him like he was something I found on the bottom of my boot.

He walked up to Sally-Jean and attempted to pet her on the nose but she jerked away and blew at him. I smiled and patted her.

“Your horse needs some manners!” the yankee said giving me his best go-to-hell stare.

“She don’t take to strangers. Can you move aside please, I need to get to work.”

Not waiting, I gently spurred Sally-Jean to go around him and the soldier quickly side-stepped and grabbed her by the halter. By this time three other haggard looking yankee soldiers had crawled out of the saloon and formed up on the sidewalk. Even though they were a good ten feet away I could smell the liquor on them like they were standing next to me.

“You ungrateful piece of trash! You’re gonna learn who gives the orders around here!” He stared up at me with bloodshot eyes as his right hand went to the top of his holster.

I remained calm, keeping my gaze on his right arm. I had that big .44 tucked into my belt under my jacket but I had already decided if he opened that flap on me I was going to spur Sally-Jean right over the top of the cocky son-of-a-bitch and not look back. Thankfully, one of the half-drunk soldiers broke the tension and called out from the sidewalk.

“Come on Sergeant, we’re late for muster!”

The drunk irishman shot a glance over at his cronies and then back up at me and then after thinking about it, let go of the bridle. As soon as he did I spurred Sally-Jean knocking him off-balance and onto his fat ass into the muddy street.

“You little peckerhead bastard!” the soldier yelled out from behind me in a rage as I dissapeared around the corner in a cloud of dust with a big shit eating grin on my face.

After work that day I avoided town and went straight home to where to my surprise was Sheriff Pete Slidell waiting on the porch with mama and Jefferson Davis drinking lemonade. I knew right away from Pete’s grin he wasn’t there on business.

“Boy everybody in town was talking about you today! How you knocked a yankee flat on his ass and rode out like one of them dime novel outlaws!”

I smiled as I walked up to the porch and shook hands. I had known Pete since I was a boy. He was a big barrel of man, built stocky and low to the ground with dark hair and eyes and a pair of hands like meat hooks. He had done some boxing in his youth and I remember daddy telling me there was nobody better to have with you in a bar fight than Pete Slidell. Pete got wounded early on in the War at a place called Round Mountain and came back home and joined up with the home guard regulators and after the war was over became a law man.

Me, Pete and Mama talked for a while about the Yankees stirring up a fuss in town until Mama got the hint Pete needed me alone for man talk. When she took Jefferson Davis inside me and Pete walked out to the barn out of ear shot of the house.

“So a little birdie told me you helped Billy McGuiness tend some horses the other night?”

My heart began thumping and my palms got sweaty and for a quick minute I considered running for it but then I saw Pete crack a smile and begin to do an imitation of me being scared shitless in the woods that could only mean he had been one of the masked shooters that night!

“He got skeered and ran off yonder…”

Pete busted out laughing so hard he had tears in his eyes and after a while I started laughing with him and could not stop. After we both regained our composure Pete put his arm around me and drew me in close.

“Your pa would have been so damn proud of you son!”

My heart swelled in my chest and at that moment I felt like I could fight ten men.

“Shit, I almost forgot! I got something for you!”

Pete reached into his saddlebag and pulled out a brand new leather belt and open top holster along with a box of paper cartridges for my colt.

“Figured you needed a proper holster for that hogleg you keep stuck down your pants like some jackass road agent. Besides, I can’t have you blowing your damn pecker off before you ever get started!”

We both had a good laugh as I tried the holster on and Pete showed me how to wear it low on the hip so as to make it easier and quicker to draw. He then showed me how to cock it while it was still in the holster. I worked it a few times and boy did it feel smooth!

“Damn, thank you Pete, I really appreciate it.” I was smiling and feeling as giddy as a little kid and then suddenly it hit me. What would I tell mama about all this?

I guess Pete was reading my mind because as soon as he saw my face he already had an answer.

“If you’re worried about your mama, You let me take care of her.”

My eyes narrowed as I stared up at Pete like a pissed off rattler. I wanted him to know I meant business when it came to protecting my mother, even though there was not another man in the world I would rather have courting her.

Seeing how serious I was Pete gave me a playful wink.

“Don’t worry, your mama told me how handy you are with a hatchet! You can be sure I’ll walk the straight and narrow, John Wesley!”

 

The End.

Medicine Gun

(Artwork is “Winter Travelers” by Alfredo Rodriguez)

This is a work of short fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in this short story are entirely fictional and are of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or organizations or persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

This story is dedicated to my friend, John Gregory Herring, aka “Spotflare” (1947-2020)

“Keep your nose in the wind and your eyes along the skyline”

 

It was the waning days of late summer in the year of our Lord eighteen hundred and forty-eight when ‘Red-Tail’ Jack Patterson came down from the Little Belt mountains for his annual visit to the Medicine Gun trading post near the mouth of the Judith river. Coming down into the low country on his three year old roan mare, the mountain man was a spectacle to behold. Everything he wore was self-made (except his tanned buckskins, which he had traded for with the Cheyenne) from his knee length Grizz coat to his red fox and muskrat hat, to his knee high Elk boots trimmed in the finest beaver fur. Resting in a tanned leather scabbard was his trusty fifty caliber hawken rifle while two fifty-caliber pistols were mounted on either side of his saddle horn. Tucked into his belt cross draw was another pistol, this one with a custom short barrel for a wider spread at close-range, along with his fourteen inch drop point knife with a antler horn handle rightly named “Annabelle.” He also on occasion tucked a razor-edged pipe hawk in his belt he had taken off a Crow brave last year after the bastard tried to steal his horse.

The owners of the trading post, Otis and Prudence McSween, were overjoyed to see Jack return since in the thirteen months he had been gone there had been countless rumors of his death from any number of french trappers, wagon train masters and Army scouts alike. As was the custom when Red-Tail visited, before he was ever allowed to put his feet underneath her supper table, Prudence handed Jack a large piece of homemade lye and mint soap, scissors, a small hand mirror and a towel and pointed him toward the creek to bathe.

“I love ya’ like a brother Jack, but My God! Me and Otis smelled you long before we saw you!” Prudence exclaimed, smiling.

Jack slapped Otis on the back and let out a hearty laugh as he took the necessaries from Prudence and headed to the creek whistling an old church hymn.

When he showed up an hour later, the couple did not even recognize him.

“My God, you look like a new man Jack Patterson!” Prudence exclaimed, smiling as she grabbed him by the arm and pulled him inside to the dinner table. Typically Jack would take offense at somebody calling him by his Christian name but Prudence McSween was the closest thing to family Jack had, so she could rightly call him whatever she pleased as long as it was not late for supper!

“So how many this time Prudence?” Jack asked, smiling as he sat down at their large maple dinner table as she poured him a steaming cup of coffee.

“Well, let me see.” Prudence replied, holding the coffee pot with a dish towel and looking up at the ceiling as if she was reading off an invisible tally sheet.

“Three at last count: cree war party, grizz attack and drowned in the Powder river.” Prudence replied with a wise smirk.

Prudence was a tall, handsome wisp of a woman, not yet thirty with dark, raven hair past her shoulders and soft, sad brown eyes. She and Otis had lost their twin daughters to the pox three years prior and the sorrow still clung heavily to her soul. Jack shook his head and laughed heartily as he enjoyed the regal comforts of having good honest white folks for company, a roof over his head and real coffee to drink.

“The Powder this time, huh? Last time it was the Milk, wasn’t it? And Cree? Hell, last Cree indian I saw was Rutting Pony. He tried to marry me off to his humpback sister for two horses and a pistol, can you believe it!”

The comment caught Prudence and Otis totally off-guard and they looked at one another in total shock and then busted out laughing so hard they both had tears in their eyes.

After finishing their coffee, Otis helped Jack unload the few black bear, mule deer and elk pelts from his mule as Prudence cooked up a dinner of venison backstrap, mashed potatoes and fresh squash from her garden. As they ate and talked about local news, Prudence took stock of Jack, whose full Christian name was Johnathan Obadiah Patterson. He was somewhere in his thirties and had deep set blue-grey eyes that often twinkled when he laughed. He had got the name “Red-Tail” not from the hawk as many thought but from his temper. Three years prior at a gathering near the Musselshell, ‘Coon-Eyes’ Jim Grady, a man of fearsome low-reputation and character, accused Jack of poaching beaver on his patch and a fight ensued. After the fight ole’ Coon-eyes actually in fact resembled a coon with both of his eyes blackened courtesy of Jack. After that day Johnathan became known as “Red-Ass” Jack, which later was changed to “Red-Tail” so as not to offend Prudence McSween, the only white woman in the territory Jack cared about not insulting with foul language and bad manners.

To their delight, Jack stayed on and helped Otis and Prudence with several jobs around the place including patching the roof, building a smokehouse and planting a fall garden. On the afternoon of the fourth day however things took an unexpected turn. While working in the garden Jack noticed one of the flea bitten dogs Otis had kept looking up the trail as if annoyed by something. Never one to ignore an animal’s instincts, Jack walked up past the barn to take a look. There, about fifty yards up the path was a skinny and winded grey mare with a man slumped over in the saddle. As Jack looked closer he could see a small pair of arms wrapped around the man from behind. A child! With his protective instincts telling him to run to the horse and help the man and child, his hard taught experience told him to stay put. This could easily be a trap. Besides the riled up injuns, there were bad outlaw elements around these parts since the wagon trains began coming through regular. Slowly backing up off the trail, Jack pulled his pistol and took a knee behind a tree. He sat there for a long minute listening and looking. After deciding they were indeed alone, Jack slowly walked up to the horse with his pistol cocked and trained on the slumped rider.

“Hello there on the horse! I say Hello!” Jack yelled out several times.

The horse was so exhausted it did not so much as flinch at Jack’s approach.

“Easy there girl, easy…” Jack cooed as he gently walked up and put his hand on the reins.

Immediately Jack could see the saddle covered in fresh blood with the slumped man in the saddle unconscious but alive, if not barely. Peering around the side, Jack could now see the child was a little girl around the age of eight, her wheat colored hair and little round face burrowed into the back of the man, whimpering softly like a wounded animal. Jack double checked that the child was not wounded and once satisfied started leading the horse toward the barn. By this time Otis had heard the commotion and came out running with rifle in hand to help.

“We got us a badly wounded man and a scared child here” Jack yelled as Prudence came out the door of the trading post wiping her hands on her apron.

“My God! Bring them both inside now!” Prudence demanded as she quickly went inside and began clearing the table.

Jack gently tried to pry the child’s arms away from the wounded man but the child was not having any of it, letting out a shriek of pure terror.

“Child, you are gonna have to let go so we can help him” Jack pleaded.

After a brief tug of war and the child finally relenting out of exhaustion, Jack gingerly lifted her off the horse and carried her inside to an anxiously awaiting Mrs. McSween who then took the child into their bedroom. After that Jack and Otis went to work lifting the man out of the saddle and into the house.

“Damn this feller’s lost a lot of blood!” Otis remarked as they laid him down.

“We need to find these holes and start pluggin’ em’. Otis, help me turn him over and get these clothes off of him.” Jack commanded, taking out his knife and cutting the bloodied shirt and pants off the man.

As Jack began to examine the man right away he counted two bullet holes high in his chest and one in his stomach. He could not find one exit wound. After a couple more minutes of searching the man let out a soft whimper,  took a wet gurgling breath, whispered the name “Celia-Anne” and then died right there on the table.

Otis and Jack both stared at the man for a long moment and then removed their hats out of respect.

“Not much we could have done. He had been shot in the lung twice and had lost too much blood.” Jack said softly.

As Prudence walked in from the back bedroom holding the child to her shoulder, her eyes met Jack’s and he gently shook his head that the man had passed. Quickly Prudence turned back around and shut the bedroom door behind her while softly singing a hymn:

 

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;

I dare not trust the sweetest frame,

But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand,

All other ground is sinking sand.

 

Jack went through the man’s pocket’s respectfully looking for any clues as to his identity. All Jack could find was a worn brown leather wallet with three U.S. dollars which he promptly handed over to Otis.

“Who do you think he is Jack?” Otis asked, looking concerned as he pocketed the money.

 “Well, he’s not a trapper and he’s not a scout. Judging from his haircut and clothes I’m guessing he’s a pilgrim that got lost or separated from the wagon train, maybe.”

“But why would somebody shoot a pilgrim with a child? You think injuns done this?”

Jack shook his head. “I doubt it. And since he still has his wallet, I don’t think bandits did this either. It’s peculiar.”

Otis and Jack then proceeded to wrap the body in a blanket and bury the man behind the trading post in a little makeshift cemetery Otis had created for folks who had died while passing through, either from sickness or being murdered by injuns.

“We don’t even know this feller’s name for a marker.” Otis said, wiping his brow after shoveling the last of the dirt on the grave.

“The Good Lord knows him and I guess in the end that’s all that really matters.” Jack replied, his gaze fixed on the mountains in the distance.

A week passed and although the girl still had not spoken, Otis and Prudence slipped right back into their roles as loving parents. They had taken to calling the little girl “Celia-Ann” and she seemed to cotton to it just fine. Prudence sewed her some right handsome dresses and in the evenings after supper all three of them would go for a walk down by the creek while Jack watched from a distance on the porch smoking down his pipe. One evening Celia decided to pick a small bunch of yellow and blue wildflowers for Jack.

“Well that is right nice of you young lady! Thank You!” Jack said, smiling as he kneeled down and took the flowers.

Celia looked at him for a long moment, her little blue eyes twinkling with delight. Jack could see she wanted to say something but just couldn’t bring herself to do it. Instead, she cracked a smile that could break your heart and ran off into the house with a giggle, her sun kissed hair bouncing with every step.

“Someday that girl is gonna start talking and when she does the world better watch out!” Jack said out loud laughing to himself as the sun disappeared behind the little belt mountains and somewhere out in the valley the soft purr of a whip-poor-will floated on the evening breeze.

The next day Jack headed out early to go hunting. With fall quickly approaching the Mule deer and Elk would be active in the valley timber below the snowline and he intended to take advantage of it.

As he was heading out Prudence came out the front door in a rush.

“Wait! You can’t go without taking a lunch!” she exclaimed smiling, handing Jack a small red handkerchief tied up with a hunk of jerky, a sliced onion and some homemade goat cheese.

“Much obliged Mrs. McSween.” Jack replied, tipping his hat.

As Jack rode off he smiled to himself. If any of his old mountain buddies could see him now he would be the laughing stock of the territory. Packing a lunch in a handkerchief to go hunting for the day? Whoever heard of such foolishness! But that’s what living indoors does to a man. Still, Jack may not have wanted to admit it to his buddies or even to himself, but he was fast growing accustomed to these small little pleasantries of life.

Prudence watched Jack until he disappeared around the bend and under her breath uttered a small, earnest prayer for his protection and return.

After about an hour of riding, Jack got off the main trail and headed south. Although he intended to do some hunting, that was not all he intended to do on this outing. He had decided to satisfy a curiosity he had about the man who died bringing Celia to safety. Where had he come from? Jack knew he had most likely been part of a wagon train going west to Oregon. It was the only logical explanation of why an eight year old white child would be out here in this wilderness with a man who was obviously not a trapper. The only problem was the trail the wagons took was over a hundred miles to the south. So the most likely explanation was the pilgrims had gotten lost or separated and went looking for help. The question was why had the man been shot? and by whom?

Although Jack knew the trail would be cold and almost impossible to track, he followed his gut instincts and backtracked south-east. It did not take him long to find something. Stopping at a small spring to fill his flask and let his horse drink and graze, he spotted smoke on a ridgeline to the southwest. Jack ruled out injuns. Injuns did not make big fires for all to see like white men did, they were smarter than that. No, this was most likely eastern tenderfoot pilgrims. Being cautious, Jack decided to make a big circle and approach them from down wind. As he got closer he began to smell their clothes and their cooking. These men had been on the trail for some time judging from how loud they were stinking up the countryside.

Coming within a hundred yards of the camp Jack left his horse in a small stand of ash and maple trees and crept up within earshot of the camp. Taking a knee in the high grass he sat there with his Hawken rifle and watched and listened.

There were three of them, all of them with decent, well-fed mounts.

“How long is that rabbit gonna take to cook? I’m so damn hungry I’m ready to eat it raw!” One of the men complained.

“You watch your mouth young’un! Yeah, you eat this meat raw and you’ll wish you were dead!” An older man replied sitting by the fire, turning the meat in a pan with a fork.

After a few minutes the man cooking by the fire divided up the meat between each of the men.

They all ate like they were starving except the older man who had done the cooking. He restrained himself and ate like a civilized man, savoring the taste.

“How much longer do we gotta stay out here Boss? Pearson and his daughter have either been scalped or are bear turds by now!”

“We stay out here until we find them or find proof they are both dead, it’s that simple.” Boss replied

“That Jake Pearson was stupid to argue with the prophet like he did. He should have just given up his daughter to marry when she turned twelve like all the other families in the wagon train agreed.”

The man called Boss stood up to stretch and looked over in Jack’s general direction. Jack could see clearly he was heeled with a pistol and a large knife.

“We’ll rest up a few more hours and then ride North. An Army scout told me there is a trading post near the mouth of the Judith. It’s possible he could have made it there.”

As the three men settled down for a rest Jack shook his head and cursed under his breath. This beat all he had ever seen or heard. A grown man marrying several twelve year old girls? What the hell was going on? And why did they call that man a prophet? Were they some kind of church? Jack had more questions than answers about who exactly these people were but he knew one thing for certain: These were the men responsible for that man’s death and they were about to ride to the trading post and find Celia. Jack simply could not allow that to happen. Jack crept back to his horse and thought about a plan. Judging from listening to these three talk, only the older one, “Boss” , had much experience with killing. The other two, were just hired pups. The simplest plan would be to just to ride in there with his three pistols and kill all of them in one fail swoop. But it was also damn risky. Better to divide and conquer and pick em’ off quietly, one at a time, using fear as his primary weapon, just like the injuns did. He pulled his Crow pipe hawk from his saddle bag and stuck it in his belt.

Jack waited an hour to let the three men get good and relaxed and then crawled into the high grass not fifteen yards from the camp. He quietly unsheathed his knife, reversed his grip and made several short, quick calls with his mouth that sounded like prairie dogs humping. At first the men paid no attention and then Jack increased the volume and then two heads popped up in unison. Jack smiled to himself. This was going to be fun.

“What in the hell is that?” one of the young pups exclaimed.

“Sounds like a horny prairie dog” Boss replied lazily, uninterested.

“Well they need to shut the hell up!” the kid replied, laying back down on his bedroll.

A few minutes passed and then Jack started up again, increasing the volume.

“Sonofabitch!” The kid yelled out as he got up and stormed toward Jack in the high grass with his pistol drawn.

“I’ll shut you up you little squeaking bastard!”

The kid came bounding through the grass like a pissed off bull elk and stopped within three feet of where Jack was crouched. Jack could now see the kid’s face clearly. He was no older than seventeen, tall and lanky with a baby face and large, scared eyes. Jack doubted he had ever killed a man in his life. Jack let him walk right by him and then in one swift motion came up behind him like a mountain lion springing a trap. With his left hand Jack covered the boy’s mouth and with his right brought his fourteen inch blade down in a plunging motion into his heart. The boy died with a soft gurgle and his eyes wide with horror as Jack gently set his body down in the tall grass. It had all taken less than ten seconds.

Wiping the blade on his pant leg, Jack then made a semi-circle around the camp and waited. When neither of the two men moved, Jack quickly walked over to the other young boy who was lying down on his bed roll with his back to him.

“Did you kill that noisy bastard Seth?” the boy asked with his back turned

“No, but something killed Seth” Jack whispered back, smiling like the devil himself.

As the boy jumped up in fear Jack closed the distance with a razor edged pipe hawk in one hand and a .50 caliber pistol in the other.

“Oh Christ” was all the boy could choke out as Jack brought the pipe hawk down into the boy’s skull with a wet splitting sound, the boy’s blood and brains spilling out into the dirt like thick, black oil.

In all the commotion Boss sprung to his feet and while he was cussing trying to cock his pistol Jack shot him clean through the right knee, sending him crashing down to the ground screaming like a banshee.

Jack casually strolled over and kicked the man’s pistol out of his grasp.

“You sorry bastard!” Boss yelled out in pain.

“Bushwhacking three innocent Christian men! You will burn in hell for this!” Boss spit in anger, his eyes like two red coals.

Jack stood there watching him squirm in agony for a long moment and then drew Annabelle from her sheath and walked over.

“Go ahead! slaughter me like you did those two innocent boys!” Boss spit through yellow, cracked teeth.

Jack kneeled down in front of Boss and in one quick jerk grabbed the man’s hair with his left hand, turning his face so it was inches from his.

“Innocent? You want to claim you and these boys were innocent Christian men? What kind of Christian men hunts and kills a father trying to protect his eight year old daughter from some sick bastard wanting to marry and bed her?” Jack stared at the man with pure hatred.

“The great prophet will deliver this world!” Boss cried out as he writhed on the ground laughing hysterically.

“This is for Celia and Jake Pearson.”

Jack then scalped the man in one quick motion with his knife, the scalp peeling off the man’s skull like ripe melon. Smiling, Jack then proceeded to stuff the bloody pulp of hair into the man’s mouth until he began to choke on it.

“Maybe that will shut you up for a few minutes.”

After gagging and retching for what seemed like forever, the man finally spit out his own scalp and began yelling in pain at the top of his lungs once again.

“Keep yelling like that and you’re gonna attract injuns, most likely Blackfeet, who will take pleasure in roasting you alive for sport.”

Jack shook his head in disgust as he turned and leashed the three horses to his and then gathered all the men’s weapons and stowed them on the trailing horses.

“Oh God! Please shoot me, please mister!” Boss pleaded and cried like a child as Jack mounted his horse and turned North.

Jack refused to look at the man as he rode out of the camp at a slow walk.

When Jack arrived back at the trading post that afternoon, Otis, Prudence and Celia were all waiting on the porch.

“My, my, where did you get those three fine horses?” Prudence asked, walking up with her eyes wide.

“Oh, The Good Lord just dropped them in my lap,” Jack replied with a smile.

Otis walked over and unsheathed one of the captured rifles and then glanced up at Jack with a smirk.

“The Good Lord is mysterious like that I reckon.” Otis replied as he began removing the saddles and feeding the horses fresh hay.

Jack walked over to Celia and kneeled down and gently touched her on the nose, making a funny face.

As Celia let out a long belly laugh at his silliness Jack smiled and a deep sense of satisfaction washed over him like he had never known in his life.

Home had finally found him.

 

The End.

 

The Apotheosis of Benny: Short Story

Obscenity warning. This is all catharsis. And fictionalised slapstick. An experiment in creating a backdrop for an unpleasant experience I might have had in TES IV: New England, being the only sober guy in a gang of wignats hanging around an Irish bar. I am not Benny.

The Apotheosis of Benny: Short Story — The Sperg Box

Shoot: Short Story

A+ writing.

 

The Sperg Box

Interrupted reveries. The man felt the dust blowing off the shelves of his mind. Little akashic records with their books all overturned. He found himself again sitting, slumped ever so slightly, cradling a revolver in his hands. Old, now. Funny- he’d always assumed that the tools he bought would age much better than he. Instead he saw hairline scratches, a beginning of a pit here or there from those months he had forgotten he’d even owned a piece. And yet there he sat, older really on the inside than out. Tired, from the grind.

“Dad,” the man’s son’s voice rang. Dad looked up, for a time he almost thought he could see his boy’s voice echoing through the falling leaves of the trees. “Dad, what’re you doing?”

“Thinking, Kiddo.”

“You do that a lot.

“Yeah I do…”

“Are we gonna shoot now?”

“Ayuh.”

Kiddo looked on passively. Dad wasn’t…

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