A Western Short Story
Colorado Till the Grave
Jack McCaffy sits in a bar; his head hung low, a velveteen black colored ten gallon hat cocked over his dark empty eyes. A short glass filled with amber colored whiskey and two ice cubes rests between his perched elbows, over a worn out piece of parchment – the nullified claim to his land. The ten gallon’d man strikes a match and lights a roughly packed cigar. Leaning back, he inhales deeply, allowing the noxious smoke to fill his lungs. In the cigar, his mind is clear, his head becomes light as if it could lift off and take him out of his hell. Out of the frigid, god forsaken mountains of Colorado, back east, back home, back to his cozy Carolina cottage.
When he opens his eyes, however, he isn’t home; he is still in the rowdy bar, full of miners and outlaws, ranchers and drunks, gamblers and whores. The papers back East promised that there was fire on these mountains, gold in the hills. It took months of preparation, months of stockpiling enough money, months of fighting with his dear old lady in hopes of convincing her that the gamble was worth the reward. “It’s waiting for me there, I swear, in California, Colorado, out West. Come on darlin’. Scarlet, we can finally make good for our kids.” She finally consented, almost shared the same fervor he developed. But now, as he sips his glass of whiskey, welcomes the burn down his throat, he prays to God that he will be forgiven for what he has done to his family.
He has debts, debts that have bound him to this town. There is no running from the life he so willingly ran across the country to have. He sold his land, his cabin, all of his possessions; cashed in the little amounts of gold he sifted from the rivers and picked out of the frozen mountains. He bought his wife and three children a ride on the next carriage, gave them enough to catch a train when they reached the nearest railroad, and scrounged whatever he could to provide them enough money for supplies. While he sits drinking his last bits of money away, his family waits at the edge of town, told he will be joining on the next carriage.
The failed miner cocks his head back to ingest the remainder of his whiskey. His broad shoulders protrude into the bar and bounce off of a mostly naked dance-hall girl. She loses her balance and falls onto a table of roughneck miners, most likely criminals. A burly fellow, long curly black hair, thick tangled beard, scarred and pitted face, an expensive white ten gallon gingerly resting on top of his greasy mane of hair sits at the head of the table, all the others crowding around him, listening intently. As the big-bosomed, half-naked courtesan collapses onto the oak table, a bottle of expensive bourbon tips over and spills all over the unctuous man’s beaten up duster.
“Bitch!” The man yells in his gruff smoker’s voice, standing from his chair.
“I’m sorry sir, I’ll get you a new bottle, on the house.”
Before she could push herself away from the table, the long bearded outlaw lifts his hand and strikes her with a back hand. She collapses to the floor, holding her cheek, whimpering like a punished dog. Mumbling angrily to himself he hobbles over around the table, and reaches down grabbing the distraught woman by her long blond hair. With his free hand he reaches for a sharp buck knife, stains of blood still showing through the rusted edges – was it from hunting, or was it a testament of all the men he killed in this hellish country. Jack, trying to ignore the escalating incident behind him, orders another whiskey, hands over his last bit of currency, and quickly shoots the small glass of fire water down his throat.
“I’m gonna have to teach a whore to know her role!” The burly man sticks the knife into the frantic woman’s mouth.
Jack has heard enough. There is only so much injustice he can stand for. For months he has watched as the devil ruled this town. Ol’ Hickory made sinning this town’s primary means of survival. Good friends, respected officials, poor miners and farmers, gunned down for the sake of fun. Sometimes it seemed like people were killed for the shear purpose of hearing the sounds of their .44 six guns. Standing, Jack, smoke pressed between his lips, alcohol coursing through his blood, turns toward the much bigger gentleman and un-holsters his colt revolver from the ragged belt that held up his tattered old trousers, a prized artifact from his service in the war against Northern Aggression.
“That’s enough, let her go, and you and I can settle this outside,” Jack sounds calm, not a hint of trepidation in his voice.
The bearded aggressor chuckles and looks over to his boys. They follow suit. Jack takes aim and gently squeezes the trigger of his gun. The piano stops playing as the bar becomes silent, and a loud gunshot echoes throughout the room. The man’s expensive white ten gallon flies into the air and settles on the dusty ground. For a moment no one moves. Stunned by Jacks audacious decision, the man tosses the woman to the ground and swiftly draws his own weapon, a very expensive polished revolver with pearl hand grips.
“Fine, les’ have it yer way stranger. Duel, outside, now,” the man spits a large tar colored conglomeration of chewing tobacco onto the rough hardwood floor.
Jack takes a deep breath and holsters his gun, shaking his head, “Okay, but then your gonna leave this little lady alone.”
The man slightly bows his head, agreeing with Jack’s terms. The two hell-bound slaves of Ol’ Hickory’s regime make their way out of the bar, into the piercing cold mountain air of the Colorado winter. Face to face in the middle of the dusty street, the bar’s patrons leaning anxiously over the railing in front of the bar, the two of them, hands trembling over the oily grips of their holstered instruments of death. They turn from one another, each taking one slow step at a time. Jack counts the seconds in his head. One, darlin’ I love you; two, kids don’t be scared; three, your daddy’s gonna make it alright; four, somewhere in these Colorado hills; five, darlin’ I’ll find that gold; six, its waitin’ on me up there; seven, say goodbye to our three children; eight, lay them down tonight in bed; nine, and tell them daddy’s gone to them mountains; ten, Scarlet I’m sorry for all I’ve done.
As they reach their final steps, both men swing around and begin to pull their six guns. Jack is quick, one of the quickest there’s ever been, his hand like lightning tears the gun from his hip and takes aim on the bearded man. But there is one shot, a single ringing note through the mountain town. And there is one long brimmed, black ten gallon hat falling in the air. There is one smiling man, a stream of tears falling from his eyes. There is one man whose smile falls straight into the dirt. The abused courtesan, confused by how such a quick draw failed the honourable man, prances into the street and kneels over the rag doll body. Taking the rusted gun from Jack’s hand she opens the chamber – empty.
Author Bio and Intentions
I graduated from the Pennsylvania State University in 2012 with a Bachelors of Arts in English Studies. Focusing on creative non-fiction, poetry and fiction writing genres, I have been trained and educated in many forms of rhetoric. My passion for writing has always been the most important thing in my life. It is my hope and desire to get my original work out to the community, in order to generate a following an eventually replace tradition employment with a freelance career. Please, follow, comment, and share as nothing is possible without the support of this wonderful community of artists. Thank, you. Cheers, folks!
The Horse You Ride Out On
A widowed-wife weeps over an empty grave, a thousand miles away, somewhere in Beaufort County, nowhere near gold, or gamblers, or god forsaken mountains. She weeps for a man who didn’t die by some famous gun, or act of heavenly judgment, but instead a quiet shot from a lowlife in the mountains. Manifest destiny and greed for gold, a widowed-woman and fatherless daughters and sons, there’s no difference when it comes to those Colorado Mountains. Men come, hopes and dreams as their steed, yet find only death, instead dragged out by the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
How does music help in your perception of a literary reading?
A Note From the Author
Just a quick word, before I let you read on. I had some inspiration for this story, two songs to be exact. The first is Fire on the Mountain by the Marshall Tucker Band and the second is an old Bob Dylan tune called the Ballad of Hollis Brown. Bob Dylan's tune is not available via Youtube for me to post so I found an acceptable covered version. Still take the time to find the original; it's worth it. I welcome everyone to listen to these songs as you read to give yourselves a bit of ambiance. Enjoy, friends!