Western Short Story
Earl “Lucky” Steadman, came off the trail at the first big ranch in Colorado, sure it was the place that he’d been hired to work by the owner in Wilton, right at the bar in the Angry Steer Saloon, both men already touched by the liquor, and it was just past noontime. As it turned out, this was not the hired place but the owner and his daughter hired Lucky on the spot, liking his open views on things, his past experience both as a trail hand and a herd boss moving good sized herds towards markets all over the West, from Texas to Montana in origination.
When he said his nickname was Lucky, the pair admitted that they knew a good hire after talking to him for a while, the father saying, “You indeed are lucky because we had no idea until this morning that we needed another man, one leaving us because of illness and another being drawn by the adventure of moving to other places, and I’m sure you understand his wants and not the situation. Some men are wanderers and some like the adventure found in a new place of work. We hope you like it here.”
There was a near wink in his eyes, a man of the ages, aware of changes before they happen.
Lucky felt lucky again, especially when the daughter smiled at him with open interest; Lucky was a good-looking gent, on or off a horse, and carried a smile like he was expecting good news all the time, Again, this time, he was right about expectations; the daughter proved to be a most caring person, with her own good looks helping the cause.
But they had been hood-winked a number of times by rustlers leading a herd of cattle off the appropriate range and into a sort-of locked-up canyon, no trace of the rustlers, alive and breathing was ever found, though their horses, complete with saddles, were left behind, but not one single sign of the mysterious rustlers who seemed to vanish in the night or off the face of the Earth, because not one of them was apprehended.
The father thought about Lucky being lucky and said, “Lucky, I’m turning this damned mystery over to you. Do what you can for us. You certainly give me some kind of hope in this case, the way the rustlers disappear like they’ve never been here, though we find their horses, and three times it’s happened that way. Something is certainly going on that we haven’t seen, no clues, no trails out of a section of the mountain that looms over us,”
There was a soft hint of hopelessness in his voice, in his eyes, the way he telegraphed his feelings. “It’s like they own the mountain, bottom to the top, and make their way out of our near-clutches each time.” In a sudden leap of hope, he added, “Perhaps your good luck will find an explanation. We need it, or it’ll drive me crazy.”
“I’ll do what I can,” said Lucky, his mind already ticking with possibilities, or excuses, one way or another, him believing he could find the way the rustlers escaped capture. He started thinking the horses and saddles left behind were expendable, could be left any time they wanted, meaning they had money enough to buy replacements, and that they made their escapes by some explainable route. “They’re not ghosts,” he said to himself, “but they act like they are, there has to be a special and hidden route for them to disappear like they have, and I have to find it. That means I have to go on foot like they did.”
So, Lucky left his horse at the foot of the mountain, grabbed a blanket and some grub in a satchel for carrying and set off on his exploration from the foot of the mountain, one of the ranch hands moving his horse back to their stable, and him on foot for some kind of separation. There was nobody watching over him, and he began to make his up from the bottom of the mountain, several times, as though he had lost his way, going back over his way to check a screened gully or escape loop or niche in the mountain face, finding none for the whole first day of exploration.
After a noon stop for grub on the second day, Lucky spotted a niche in a mix of land-slid boulders jammed in a tight loop like they were hanging onto their position, their crush locking them in place. The section grabbed his interest and he moved carefully around each boulder in the mid-mountain clutch. One niche grabbed his full interest as he crawled around and under suspect boulders, finding at last a way for men, one at a time, to disappear into the heart of the mountain. He left marls scratched at his entrance and slid into the niche, crawling eventually into a high chamber of sorts where a man could walk in an up-right position, free from being hampered by crawling.
He was on his way. After what seemed like an hour or more, he saw full light ahead of him, reached it, and looked down on the landscape into a small valley almost in the heart of the mountain, a huge cavern in itself. A stable of horses, unsaddled, moved about in a stone-built corral, one pole keeping them in place at an obvious opening to elsewhere in the corral, no men about.
Half the mystery was thus uncovered, this route he had found and followed, this new corral evidence of further exit. After studying the landscape about him, knowing he could not do anything on is ow, but lucky at coming to this decision, he made his way back, the same way he had come.
Knowing he could not clear up anything all alone, he made his way back to The Angry Steer Saloon in Wilton, gathered a group of men, explained the situation, and finished by saying, “I need a dozen men who will make the trip with me, with weapons, no horses once we start into the mountain, and raise our own brand of Hell on those mountain bandits. It promises to be an adventure that none of us will ever forget. Do I have any volunteers?”
The Angry Steer Saloon went crazy with emotion, all there wanting to join the escapade, get into the action of the decade, into the biggest mystery any of them had ever heard of.
Lucky picked his dozen volunteers, the next day starting their crawl and walk into a chunk of history; it was a given, they agreed, anxious to get going, though it felt as different as anything they’d ever shared. They buzzed their way to the sight seen at the end of the passage through the huge mountain, like a new way happening down below them, the corral of horses they could saddle up and ride on their return home, no matter how long it would take to go around the huge mountain, days hence.
They were ready, and the rustlers, the men of the mysterious mountain, were not ready for them, these new visitors from that other side of the mountain, the Lonely Dozen and Lucky, they were called, as they are called until this day, though some folks say the way is permanently blocked, that great adventure done and over with for all time to come.