Join Date: Nov 2008
Let me know what you really think about this excerpt from my western, Kerrigan..
The Lonely trail:
So, here I was- Lost somewhere in the mountains with only my sheath knife and my pistol for companions. I had lost my horse, and a damn good one he was too. I had raised him from a colt and wasn’t happy about losing him. The way I had bailed out of that saddle and flew down into that roaring stream convinced all but one Blackfoot that I was a goner. But this last one was poking around suspicious like and he wouldn’t be happy till he had my hair hanging from his war lance. Now, I don’t have anything against the Blackfoot, in theory anyway. They were just trying to get along, and with the white man encroaching on more and more of their land, it seemed likely they would get a little riled. But, hell, I was just a poor boy from Tennessee trying to trap a few skins, pan a little color, and just enjoy this beautiful land, like they do. But, if my horse hadn’t flared his nostrils when he did and shied a step to the left, that old musket ball would have taken me right through the center of my skull. As it was, it raised a bloody furrow along side my head that swelled it such my hat wouldn’t fit for days, figuring I ever found it again. I heard the blast almost before I felt the stabbing pain and without thinking I threw my legs over the side and flew down that steep bank into a stream that was running full bank. I grabbed onto a half submerged log and wrapped both arms around it and just let it carry me downstream and away from that yelling, screaming bunch. I knew if they caught me alive, I was in for a rough time. They didn’t like us no way, and any one they caught never did live to regret it too long. “Matthew Kerrigan, you surely stepped into it this time, didn’t you”. I was the oldest of four boys and no one else knew where I was, so if I was going to get any help, it would have to be provided by my own self. James and Peter, Ma was big on Christian names, though they never did seem to have the desired effect, were back home in Tennessee, still working that hardscrabble farm, trying to help Ma make ends meet, while our youngest brother Jacob had been sent to Pennsylvania to get an education in the town where ma’s sister Jennifer lived. She was determined that at least one of her sons amount to something. Not that we didn’t get our share of schooling growing up, but we usually went just in the winter as summer was too busy a time to spare us, as the crops needed tending and cows and chickens to raise, along with the rest of the livestock.
I was floating down that frigid mountain stream, cold, bleeding from a scalp wound, and trying to figure a way out of this mess. I still had that lone Blackfoot to fret about. I knew he was one who would stay the distance, and I needed to get out of this water and get dry afore I froze to death.
I traveled around one bend, still moving at a good clip, when I spied a tree hanging out over the water on the far bank. As I swung closer to it, I gathered my strength and made a lunge up and out towards it. If I missed it, I would still be in the water, but now without anything to hold onto. But, I have always been uncommon strong and when I grab aholt of something, it usually moves instead of me. I was going almost too fast and nearly missed my grasp on the projecting limb. But, at the last second the current almost threw me at the tree. I reached up and grabbed that old wet limb and held on for dear life. In less time than it takes to tell, I scrambled up and over that fallen tree and rolled up and on the bank. I lay for a minute catching my breath, and then slowly gathered my wits. I needed fire for I was dreadfully cold, but I had little time to waste with that buck behind me. I took a pine limb and carefully swept the marks I had made coming out of the water. I then picked up handfuls of sand and scattered them carefully over my sign. I knew it might not do more than slow him down a bit, but I needed time to think and plan. Pa always said a mans’greatest weapon was his mind and his ability to think and reason. I still had my knife and a good keen blade it had. I also had kept my pistol somehow through all this, for which I was thankful. The thong had stayed on all this time, but gun work wasn’t needed here. One shot and I would have all the others in that bloodthirsty bunch on my trail again. I needed a hiding place, if I could find a good one, and lacking that, I needed a place to lure that lone Indian in and get rid of him. I stood and looked carefully all about, scanning close in first, then gradually looking farther and farther out. I looked that place over as good as a man could and saw nothing that I could crawl into or under. I finally spotted an old spruce back away from the bank a ways and decided what I would do. I broke off some of the dead branches and with that blade of mine cut enough slivers to start a fire. There was plenty of good dead wood about and I needed to dry out and get warm or I wasn’t going to have to depend on that Indian to do for me; I was fixing to do it my self. Taking a flint from my pocket, I soon had a hot spark going into that dry tinder, and a minute later I had a good hot fire blazing. I knew I was living on borrowed time, but I figured that buck would be taking his time, not wanting to walk into an ambush if his suspicions were right.
In just a few minutes my buckskins were steaming and I was almost warm again. Night came on fast in these mountains along with the bitter cold, and I still was undecided whether I should run or fight. But, I still had a mad on about my horse and I wasn’t real happy about getting shot, so I figured I might just as well fight. When we Kerrigan’s got riled up we just bowed our backs and waded in. Why, back in Tennessee we cut our teeth on fighting –with fists and guns. Seems there was always a feud or a fight going on somewhere. Most were just in good fun, knuckle and skull, but some others were more serious and gunplay was not uncommon.
Suddenly, I saw a mule deer that had come down to water look up the creek, ears and nose working, then with a bound, he leaped back into the trees, water still dripping from his muzzle. Almost without thinking, I leaped up into that Spruce as far as I could, then crouched on a huge old limb. “Damn it, I thought, he’s still on my trail.” I hugged that limb and never moved. I hardly even breathed. Something moved off in the brush and I looked carefully in that direction. I was cold again and night was not far off.
Then, there he was, a tall young buck, moving carefully and slowly towards my fire. He was obviously confused, because it wasn’t a normal thing for a man you were hunting to do. But, he was young and eager to prove himself a warrior, and what better way than to bring back the scalp of a white man, a man the others believed already dead. Step by slow step he came, cautious but eager. He stopped just feet away from the fire, searching every cranny and shadow in and around the area.
His desire to get me proved his undoing. Bending over and moving slowly towards my little refuge, he swiveled his head slowly, missing nothing, except the form looming above him.
Some instinct, born of the wilderness, made him look up as some slight sound caught his ear, perhaps my buckskins swishing slightly against the spruce limb. But, he was too late. I weigh 180 pounds and none of it fat and I hit that Indian full force. I smashed him into the ground and with an arm across his throat to cut off his cry; I ripped the knife under his ribcage and into his heart. He moved no more. I hated to do it, but I knew he would have cheerfully done the same to me and bragged about it at the campfire for years, with my scalp on his war lance.
I bent down and picked him up and walked the short way back to the stream bank and tossed him in and watched as the current carried him speedily downstream. It might be days before they found him, if they ever did. I went back to my fire and put it out. I carried the burned sticks to the creek and threw them in. I then spread the ashes all about and covered the burned spot with spruce and fir needles I gathered back in the woods a ways. It would pass cursory examination.
I walked back upstream looking for his pony. I knew he would be tied up not far away. I spied him finally tied to a bush and walked slowly up to him. He didn’t take much to my smell, but I had been about in these mountains so long, I had lost much of my foreign white smell. He shied a bit, but I talked slowly and quietly to him and soon his ears went up and he decided I was all right. I was wishful for a saddle, but I had ridden bareback much when I was young and was just thankful I was on horseback again. I turned that pony at a right angle and rode back upstream. I figured if any of the others decided to get curious and look for that young buck, I would be going the opposite way they would expect. After about a mile, I turned sharp right and made for the high mountains... A few hours before dawn, I stopped back up against a bank, where I couldn’t be surprised. I tied that pony tight beside me and rolled in the greasy blanket that buck had draped on his horse. It smelled a mite, of grease and smoke but it was warmth. I cut pine boughs for a bed and more to cover me on top of that thin blanket. I had slept out in worse.
I was up and ready to move before the sky was light, when I heard slow hoof steps approaching my camp. I stepped back into the darkness and waited with my pistol drawn. If they had found me there was going to be weeping and wailing in the teepees tonight. A dark movement caught my eye to my left and a shape slowly came into view. I stiffened for a second, and then exhaled in relief and happiness. There was Buck, my horse. He must have gotten clean away when I bailed off and trailed me here. He knew the smell of Indians and had learned to fight shy of them. I spoke softly to him and he came holding his head to one side so as not to trip on the reins. I was never so happy to see a horse in my life, for there was my Henry rifle and my pack with my coffee. Now, I can do without a lot of things, but coffee wasn’t one of them. I quickly stepped up and in the saddle after tying that pony on behind. If nothing else, he would make a pack horse. I turned them both towards the morning sun and got the hell out of there as fast as I could. Nightfall and twenty some miles later found me atop a hill looking down at the lights of a town. It was small and dirty and dusty, but by God it was a town and it had been two months since I had seen one or a white man. Most of all, I wanted me a hot bath and a shave. Clucking to my horse we started down the long hill towards the few lights flickering below. I could hear a roaring way out ahead of me and it took me a couple minutes before I realized it was a stream coming down from the high country. You could see the white of it in the moonlight as it raced down the mountain. I saw a corral along the right side of the street with a light shining within the building beside it. I stepped down and leaned against my horse for a second, as dizziness swept over me... Across the street was a long, low building with a few horses standing hipshot at the rail. It looked like a hundred other saloons I had seen as I crossed this country from Tennessee to this Wyoming land. I turned and entered the old barn. Looking to the left I saw an old man nodding in a chair. He sat in the shadows not moving. I cleared my throat and his voice came out of the dark. “What can I do for you stranger?”
“I need to put up a couple horses for the night, you have room?”
“Got plenty of room, since the mines slowed down so much, pick out a couple stalls and set them in.” “Be a dollar for room and board by the day or five dollars a week, includes hay and one bait of grain a day.” I felt that was a little steep, but I was tired and so were my horses. He looked shrewdly at me and the pony when we came into the lantern light. Got yourself a Blackfoot, huh?” “They don’t usually come up this way...”
“No, it was down closer to the flats where they ambushed me.” “There’s one buck that won’t be lifting any more hair though.”
“Looks like they got some iron in you, eh?”
I shook my head wearily and said,” Any place to get a real bed and some hot grub around here?”
“Only place this late is the saloon across the street, might be some coffee and sandwiches left.”
“I could eat a bear from the inside out, the way I feel.”
“They have rooms upstairs for rent too, they ain’t much but they’ll keep the rain offen you.”
I walked slowly across the street, looking at the brands on the horses standing there. I didn’t recognize any of them, but then I hadn’t been in this country all that long either. There were four side by side wearing a leaning bar eight, and off to their side stood a mule with a Teepee brand, the like I had never seen before. I stepped through the bar doors and walked slowly into the room, looking carefully as I went. On the right was the bar, a long affair with a brass rail along the bottom and spittoons at regular intervals. An old ornate mirror hung on the wall behind the bar. I wondered idly how they had ever got that big thing here in one piece. The light wasn’t the best, with three old chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, fuel oil sputtering at irregular intervals. A big old black stove stood in one corner, giving off heat I could feel clean over where I was. On my left sat three riders playing stud poker with a greasy deck. I wondered where the fourth rider was and movement caught my eye towards the back and I saw him sitting alone at a table, nursing a glass of whiskey. The bartender asked,” what’ll you have mister?”
“Rye?” I answered. He reached down and brought out a bottle and poured me a drink. I held it for a minute, looking at the light shining through it, then took a sip. “What are the chances for a bite to eat and maybe some hot coffee?” “Oh, and the hostler across the street said I might could get a room for the night too?”
“I got some cold beef left over from supper and the pot is always on back in the kitchen” He answered. “You just stand tight and I’ll bring it right out.” As I stood there leaning against the bar a wave of weariness washed suddenly over me. I was tired and my head hurt something fierce. All I wanted was to get some coffee and grub on the inside of me and hit that bed for about twelve hours. The bartender brought out a big plate with two of the biggest sandwiches I had ever seen in one hand, and a huge blackened coffee pot in the other. The smell of the two together made my knees weak. I didn’t even get to a table, I just stood there shaking slightly and wolfed down those sandwiches like I hadn’t eaten in days. Come to think of it, I hadn’t. I was on my second cup of coffee when I became aware I was being scrutinized closely by the punchers at the table. I heard a throat clearing in the darkness by the other table where the one man sat alone.
The bartender said, “My name is O’Keefe stranger and I’ve owned this place the last couple years.” “I tried my hand at panning and placer mining like the rest of them, but all I got were chapped hands and cold feet.” “Finally, the old guy who owned this place before me got tired of it all and sold it to me for a good price.” “I ain’t getting rich, but I make do and I’ve been warm all winter, more than I can say for those punchers there and the few hangers on that still believe they’ll strike it rich if they just stay at it long enough.” A slight movement to my left caught my attention and looking carefully there I saw an old man sitting hunched over a glass of beer. His dark old eyes gleamed shrewdly at me for a second and I saw him shake his head slightly.
The puncher by himself cleared his throat again and said loudly,” Well look what the cat dragged in.”
I smiled a little and cheerfully agreed, “I reckon I do look a sight, but I been over the mountain and down the other side, and it’s been a spell since I could relax a little.” “I been watching my back trail the last day for a bunch of Blackfoot that has been hunting me.” “I do believe I’ve left them down below, though.”
“Ida took you for a squaw man by the looks of you and the way you smell,” he said with a faint sneer.
Well, I said, I’ve known some Indians in my time and good folks they were too. He was dressed better than his partners and from where I sat I could see he was wearing two guns. Now I’m not a suspicious man, but I’ve learned that most men who carry two guns do so out of a misplaced notion that it makes them seem bad .Or, that men will respect them and fear them more than others, although I have seen a few that can handle both guns with the same skill. It is a rare skill though, and one that has to be worked at almost daily.
The coffee was just how I liked it, black and strong enough to float a horseshoe, or melt it down. I was starting to feel some better and was still looking forward to that hot bath and bed. But, I had been in many a bar in my time and had learned to read men pretty well. This one fancied his self a bad man and was just chomping at the bit to prove it. I wanted none of it, none at all
I turned back to the bartender and was set to ask him if he had heard anything of our Pa, when I heard him push his chair back and stand up. One of the other punchers at the left table moved slightly and I saw him pull his belt around closer to his side. I wasn’t wishful of getting shot from two sides and stepped a little to my left, kinda innocent like. This put them both in my line of sight. The bartender looked at me closely as he moved in and refilled my cup. “Watch them Kerrigan, I’m from the olde country myself and they’re a bad bunch. When the big one heard my name he stepped suddenly into the light, and I saw the black and white cowhide vest he was wearing, along with the two colts at his sides. The air seemed to thicken and I could feel the anger building in me and feared it. For when the fighting was upon me, I swear I almost enjoyed it. I didn’t like the killing, but the idea of two strong men going up against one another always held a strange fascination for me.
The other two at the table on the left put their hands carefully on the top and left them there. The big one smiled nastily and said to his partner,” Becker, what do you think we should do with this stinkin squaw man?”
He answered; I think we should show him his kind ain’t wanted around here.”
The bartender said,” Come on now boys, let’s not have any trouble here, I run a peaceful place and Curly, you know the boss warned you about causing any more trouble.” “He said he ain’t paying for no more busted up bars or any more funerals.”
“I’ll pay for this one O’Keefe; it won’t take long and funerals are cheap.”
O’Keefe said-“Well two against one ain’t exactly what you call a fair fight, now is it.”? Curly answered, “Becker is just here to witness it was a fair fight.”
I knew how this worked and had seen it before. It was the first time I had it used on me though, and I was still uncertain why it had come to this, so fast. One or the other would make a move towards his gun and then I would be caught in the crossfire. I had it figured to take out Curly first, as he was sure to be the fastest. Becker would shoot too, but I knew my worst danger was this tall, brash young cowboy in front of me. “I don’t know what your problem is mister, but I want none of it.” “How about I buy you all a drink and we’ll call it even?” Something moved far back in those black eyes of his and I thought for a second he was going to buy it. But, it was not to be. I had my mind made up I was gonna’ take some lead, But others had done it before and I reckoned l could too. I smiled a little at this; they must have thought I had lost my mind. I sighed inwardly and became entirely focused on what lay before me. The stillness in me was cold and stark. I wasn’t wishful of killing, but I was even less wishful of dying. I had a lot left to do.
The one of my left stepped suddenly into the light and said, “Get the bastard, Curly, I have this side.”
In the sudden stillness and silence we all heard the unmistakable sounds of a double barrel shotgun being cocked. The sudden, sick look that came over the face of the one called Becker was almost comical. A voice from the darkness in the back called out,” You just worry about the pretty one Matt, and I’ll make sure these other three stay hitched.” “Sit down you, and put those hands on the table with the other two.” With an ashen look on his face, he walked carefully and slowly back to the table and sat down with his two friends. Everyone new what devastation a double barrel twelve gauge shotgun loaded with buckshot could wreak. At that distance it would blow a man clean in half. Curly looked a little peeved at this, but he had supreme confidence in his abilities, and I knew he was a tough man, a hard man. Perhaps he was not above using a little extra help when he could, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t fast or that he was a coward.
“We don’t have to do this, man, why I don’t even know you.”
“Yeah, he hissed, but I know you.” I stood motionless watching his eyes. Inside I was raging, but outside I was as still as a pool of water.
“Well son, this is as good a time to die as any.”
I saw his eyes widen at this and then his hand flashed to his side. As his pistol was coming level, mine was already firing. The two shots sounded as one. The heavy .44 slugs sent Curly staggering back into the table. With blood running down his side, he still struggled to raise his gun.
I stood watching. With a look of bewilderment on his face, he slumped over the table and then fell slowly to the floor.
“I didn’t, I didn’t know.” “They said you were nothing, a bum, a nobody.” With that he rolled over on his back and was gone. At the age of twenty, I had just killed my sixth man.
I stood bleakly with that thought in my head and wished to never kill another.
That hard bitten old man in the darkness called out-“Well, he’s your friend, pick him up and cart him back to the ranch.” “Tell Benson to send a better man the next time. No son of old Matt Kerrigan is going to go down easy.”
The three walked over to Curly and rolled him over. Becker said- “Shot him right through the heart, I never saw anything so fast...
O’Keefe stood watching this then said “wait minute fellows.” “How many shots did you hear?” They stood uncertainly for a minute, and then the little bowlegged one said,” I believe I heard one?” “And Curly never got a shot off.”
O’Keefe said,” Look at his shirt pocket.”
There, almost touching, were two bullet holes cutting the tobacco tag hanging there almost in half. They stood transfixed and into the silence the sounds of two empties hitting the floor, one by one, sounded unnaturally loud. In a whisper Becker said,” two times, two shots and I swear I heard only one.” “Who the hell are you?”
"Just Kerrigan," I said.