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Western Short Story
Joey Charlo and the Big Black Bear
Tom Sheehan 


Western Short Story

When prospector Joey Charlo built his cabin in front of a cave on Colorado’s Flake Mountain area, he was planning to spend a year in the area looking for his dream cache. After checking out the cave as far as he figured he needed, he saw no signs of habitation and figured it was a good spot in case of an emergency; Life, he thought, had few sureties beyond the next dawn and possibilities were highly imaginative, but necessary.

There were several other prospectors nearby, most if them friendly, some of the cussed variety, one of them, hurt years earlier from a fall off his horse, sat chipping away at a rock wall as though he was looking for a way through. He never smiled and nobody cursed him for it, life itself having strange trails of its own.

Once on a rare rainy day, Joey decided to check out the cave a bit further his last such visit. He still found no recent signs of habitation and wondered about the situation. It was at such times, when he was alone, that he agreed to talk to himself to keep a sense of company.

“With the first look around here, a gent would figure a whole tribe or a clan could live here for ages, there’s so much room and a sure way out I ain’t found yet, me and my miles of hunting. Some folks you meet sure have a way of disappearin’ at the last minute, knowin’ they was goin’ all the time.”

This recent search, really only 30 yards or so more than the previous exploration, earned from him the new moniker, “The Long Haul to Nowhere.” Surprise hit him for his ability to bring up the new name, which he really liked and made him content on another day without a strike at an exorbitant treasure. “It ain’t every day a man has himself a small treat of pleasure. Hah, The Long Haul to Nowhere sits well in my mind. I might as well share it with some of the boys. He practiced the recitation on the long way back to his cabin.

When he got back to the cabin, he forgot what he had created, but found that his cabin had been entered and mistreated by some one or something. He set about to clear the place up when he found excrement proof that a bear had been the visitor. “Oh, crap,” he said, not realizing the connection, but aware that the cabin door was not even broken by the entrance, and said clearly so he could understand it himself, “I’ll have to spruce it up, or pie it up, of oak it up before I get to sleep tonight.”

He had realized that he was not really put out by the visit or the mess because he was in black bear country to begin with. “They was here before me,” he managed in his humility of man in bear country.

That afternoon, the rock chipper, on a quick holiday, came for a visit. “I wanted to tell you, Joey, that I saw a big black bear open your front door like he’s been here before. I sure stayed away from that big fella the size of a giant spud havin’ lots of eyes.” He laughed at his own joke until Joey joined in like they were a duet at a stage show.

“You sure bring some fun atop the bad news,” Joey said to Horace Burstell “It makes for better news than the visit, and I ‘preciate it a good ton. You can come here anytime you ain’t broken through on your way out.”

Joey thought their joint laughter would scare off any forest or mountain animal or harbinger, bringing up that odd word back from a school teacher he once met on his only train ride ever.

It all made him think he better make a back door in the cabin so he could escape into the cave if he had to, feeling positive that there was an exit back there he plain hadn’t got to yet, like Horace hadn’t found was way out yet.

With due application and a woodsman’s tenacity, he constructed the new entrance/exit way with a clear route to the mouth of the cave to wherever it went, north, south, east or west, up-country or down country, up-river or down, any place where a single flake of gold said, ‘Whoa, horse, this here’s the place for us.

And so, came the day for Joey Charlo when he heard, from a short way he thought from the cabin, the mighty roar of a big Black Bear sounding like he was proclaiming long-held ownership to the cave or the cabin or the whole of Flake Mountain, him being big enough to make such a claim. The outer parts of the cabin shook with the roars, as if it was going to collapse right there around him and him locked into its rubble.

As he slipped out the back door of the cabin, Joey said, “Horace, I hope I have better luck that you’ve had so far. This here critter sounds like he means business and I’m bound for elsewhere. I hope you hear him too and can make somehow make way on your own.”

Joey took a small tool sack with him and, of course, his big blunderbuss, half the size of his cabin door.

He was at the mouth of the cave when the loudest roar ever came and he saw his old cabin shake like it had never shaken in the worst of storms. A chunk of one side fell away by its whole self and smashed into pieces on other rubble, and with a terrible rumble the roof fell down in one solid piece until that too was smashed apart with a chilling sound of destruction.

And a huge Black Bear, near as big as a hunk of Flake Mountain, stood roaring at his devastation, as though it was a chunk of good old Justice itself.

At the mouth of the cave, looking back at the bear and his flattened wreckage spread twice as wide as the cabin had been, Joey Charlo dropped his tool kit, loaded his old blunderbuss and took aim at the Big Black Bear roaring with a continuous ferocity as it looked at him, Joey thinking it was eye to eye, and about to come to take over what once might have been his old home at Flake Mountain.

Joey had a dozen thoughts race through his mind:” Sorry, Big Boy, but I didn’t think anybody lived here: Never saw one sign of habitation here, Big Boy. I don’t know where this place goes to, Big Boy, but it has to go someplace.”

The old weapon was loaded, aimed, about to claim its latest victim to some extent, when Joey Charlo lowered the weapon, then dropped it, and ran deep into the cave, not listening to hear if the bear was chasing him, but yelling out, “Horace, I hope to Hell I have better luck than you.”

He ran as fast as he’d ever run, hearing the roars of the bear get fainter behind him, until he spotted ahead of him a sudden patch of sunlight, and right there on the side of a new trail, complacent, a bit wearied, sat Horace Burstell, who said, “Glad to see you, Joey, been waitin’ on ya seems a week or more.”



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