Western Short Story
At fourteen, on his birthday, Lance Burlly got a new lariat from his father and a saddle practically as old as he was, but they were his, and somewhere in the day, he just knew, there was a horse to mount them and him, his own horse.
His father, forty years a cowboy and ranch owner, once of the Burllys off a boat in Boston, had worked his way and his will on the land, its people, its treasures, the land being the first and longest-held claim in his part of Wyoming territory. He had fought for every foot of it, for Miriam to call home, to be the L-Bar-B Ranch for his lone son someday.
That day was drawing nigh; his bones told him, his energies told him, or the lack of them, and an old Indian chief, Wolf Bite, had looked into his eyes and told him. “The Great Spirit tells favored sons what is coming, but one has to be listening,” and Lance Burlly, the elder, heard everything said about and unto himself, especially from a seer among the savages protecting their land from continual encroachment by pushy white men quick to shoot, scavage and ravage, as he called it himself.
The elder Lance ambled to the barn, grabbed a length of new rope and an old saddle he’d used in the early days; it had saved him a number of times. Now, its leather polished anew, hanging useless, it was to be his sons on the horse of his choosing from an extensive remuda. Both knew it would be the one they had early named Black Burlly. The older man, indeed, had felt the ages knocking at his door. Wolf Bite didn’t hear the knocking, but saw the transfer in lives as they progressed in front of him where he had sat for ten years, his legs useless from an errant Pawnee arrow, but his mind alive, and rescued by Burlly from the desert where his tribe left him for animals to feed on, propelling the Earth and life onward, the way his corpse would eventually go, under wild teeth few men can imagine.
The father went to the barn, noosed the horse, and led him to the house where his son sat in front of a cake waiting for his father to come back from a “quick errand,” as he had said.
The big black was the horse of horses on the ranch, probably in that whole end of Wyoming, a magnificent specimen of an animal that Lance had watched grow from the day of birth, hoping one day it would be his horse. That day had come for his wishes, for ownership, for a horse of his own; what birthdays put together let no man separate.
In that meantime, Wolf Bite said, “More news comes this day. Hope for good news.” Such statements always turned the family upside down, inside out, and this new pronouncement had the exact same promise in it.
Each one of the family held their patience in check when Wolf Bite made such a promising statement. The infirm sage moved about on a two-wheel rig he had to control with a strong stick much like a two-edged boat paddle, many lefts and rights in a short run. In truth, some of their days resulted the way he fore-planned them, or fore-doomed them; they loved his sage advice, feared the doom that might be promised.
But they’d have it no other way; what ranch had such a seer on hand, one connected with the land itself and those who trod it. He might say, to Lance, “Today is the day to fish in the river who waits on you.” It came like a blessing, and said fish was for the day’s last meal.
Young Burlly, up on the saddle, ventured into town, on his own horse obviously the envy of all men in the tow, his pair of pistols shining their newness on his hips, and all men marking the image in heir own way. The first came from a town gun hand-for-hire who yelled across the road, “Hey, kid, did your pa break them guns in for you?”
The response was a two-round salvo right between his boots, road dust swirling over the boots, his wits sort of scattered, and his hands limp at his side.
“You ought to know him better than that, Bergo, and me too. You worked for him long enough to get thrown off the ranch by a man three times as old as you.” The new kid in town had made his points early in the day, working his father into the deal; he was knowing what Wolf Bite had been preaching all the time: “Take care of the older ones who have taken care of you.”
Bergo, not at all embarrassed, said, loud enough for the whole town to hear, “I last saw him as a spoiled brat, and see a man now who has moved me onto his side of the rail.” He doffed his cap at young Burlly, a salute of salutes. The story, all there knew, would spread across Wyoming like the grass was on fire, a new young gunman had been loosed on the territory.
The story got to the elder Burlly before the sun went down, and came from several sources hastening to be of good service to the big man of the region. He was sitting on the porch when Lance came in from his first ride to town with his own horse and his own guns.
“Lance,” he said, “you made your points today and you can never go back to what you used to be. You are a handy man with a pair of pistols. That brand will never leave you. Not ever. I just want you to blend it with a moderate sense or responsibility every time you point your guns at another man, because you’ll carry the echoes of the shots with you all your days.”
He sat back on an old rocking chair, nodding, measuring time, the ages, and a boy of a sudden in a man’s world., and never again able to go back.