Western Short Story
He was as thin as a gnawed bone a hungry dog or wolf had been at, with not a hair on his lip or chin, lanky to boot, and so handy with either of his guns, in either hand, that folks around Newhorn, Texas called him Kid Bullet, wise enough to read odd looks and stares on the faces of people around him at any particular time, intentions nearly imprinted in their voices, and some of their words smaller than curses.
Nobody in Newhorn knew him by any other name, recalling to a man his entrance into town almost a year earlier, and his hanging around there like he was hiding from a gang or a posse, or waiting for one, either, or. No one ever knew, and he never spoke of his past, sober or drunk, on a Saturday night at the Wide Road Saloon, with the best drinks served in fifty miles, far enough to spend a dime for a dollar’s worth, the way one rider announced his own arrival at the saloon at the end of the trail, two fingers designating where he wanted his first drink, his hands not catching on the bar edge.
The stories began the day of arrival, a book soon needing a cover, but not needing a sales pitch or a flyer announcement, all because the new kid was into action with a shot, the assemblage of stories commencing at once with hardly more than a whispery move on his part, as follows as the first in a long line of stories about Kid Bullet.
None among us can count all of them, never mind telling them over and over, the way history often moves, from the mouths of men, the watchers of history, and even the liars putting themselves where they were at such and such a time, or were not, possibly driven by headlines, wanted posters never telling the whole story of one man on the loose
With Kid Bullet, the script goes a long way on his stories, the ones that others told, but not from his lips.
Through the open double-door of the saloon one day in his first week there, while at the bar and looking into the mirror behind the bar, he shot a man out front of the saloon trying to steal his horse, knocked the man dead before he hit the dusty road, stirring up the dust, the horse’s reigns still in his hand, the right one, his left hand free to draw his weapon, which barely came loose from his holster, everything ending for him in one shot from Kid Bullet, thus called from that day on, the barkeep setting up free drinks for many because he had never seen such an act as the Kid pulled with that artful trick shooting on display for real.
One down and how many to go, or how many gone elsewhere, this on his way here.
The sheriff looked for posters or circulars on him, but found nothing, having no found name in the meantime, no birth name. Like a ghost had come into town and was planning to stay a while, or grate somebody’s nerves until they found that to be due cause for them. It was as much as teaching noisy people one, good, stiff lesson. Folks afoot or horseback, no matter where, picked up their own personal lesson from him, often without a word more, said, “That’s teaching at the high end of thought, you can bet your life if you have the nerve to let us do without you.”
That’s the hardest of all to swallow for westerners who have long journeys behind them, about every one of them trail-wise, tracking coming second nature in the art of survival, what to do when you get there, get some place you’ve been looking for.
And once arrived, what was reception like for an unknown visitor?
Kid Bullet, another story goes, saw a rider scoop a girl off her mount, a young girl, and headed off to the mountains. The Kid wasted no time in thinking about the grabber’s intentions but spent the next few minutes on the girl’s plight. When he spurred his horse into action, it was to correct any vision he had from the reality of the man’s mission.
The story says Kid Bullet rode for hours into the hills and dales and sudden valleys Time had squeezed into the mountains until he tracked the trail to a cabin locked into a small valley, out of sight from the regular trail. He noted the horse tied up out front of the cabin as the one the grabber used, the one he was trailing all this way.
He dismounted, tied off his horse in the brush, approached the cabin as quiet as sin, and heard the scream of a young girl. In a blind rush, he crushed the cabin door, guns ready, and shot the kidnapper as he reached for his pistol belt hanging on the wall. The girl nestled in his arms as they rode away from the cabin on his horse, turning two other horses loose in the wild of the mountains.
The girl, the storekeeper’s daughter, 13-years old, by name of Wendy Brown, rode on the Kid’s horse with him, snuggly keeping her grip on him all the way back to town, forever grateful for his arrival and rescue of her from certain terror, probably death at length, in the company of one horrible and well-know customer at her father’s store, her remembering the way he always looked at her when he came to buy something.
That story, of a certain, made the rounds of town in an immediate hurry as if the girl was the daughter of a newsman rather than the storekeeper. She helped it along by telling every customer about Kid Bullet before they could get out of the store, her father looking on in pride at her rescue by Kid Bullet.
In time, the stories grew and grew with every move The Kid made until the day came that he slipped out of town, never to be seen again, probably getting a new name in a new town, but nobody ever knew his real name.
When he died, and we assume that he did, there was never a stone with his name on it, because nobody knew what it was.