Top Ten Western Short Stories For December
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Western Short Story
There were known and unknown forces at work in the region of the Rio del Poncho.
Deep in the ravines of the Rio del Poncho country of west Texas, at the edge of Sierra Padua range, stood for generations of passing riders on that circuitous trail a small cabin belonging to a robust woman whose name was Leeda. Local Indians never bothered the woman and assured ample protection for her the year round. When a daughter came to the woman, and then a granddaughter, no problems ever arose around the cabin or its occupants. The women gladly provided water and food for man and horse without charge, though a donation tin was clearly visible at the front door of the cabin that sat tightly against a rugged stretch of stone.
It was said that for one evening in the year, from a vantage where local Indians gathered, a star sat practically atop the chimney of the cabin. Indians were there every year for the occasion, watching the star as it appeared between two sharp peaks of the Sierra Padua and then, with some line of sight mystery and juxtaposition, to pose solemnly over the chimney.
And at the same time a listener would have heard a chant that was uttered but once in the year and in which the name Leeda was clearly heard, as were other names. The other names included her daughter’s name, Layla, said to mean dark beauty, and the granddaughter’s, name, Lamya, meaning dark-lipped from its origin. But Lamya was so beautiful that from the beginning her name really meant “I will pick my man.”
Local word had it that Leeda, who came from distant mountains at the other end of the world and whose name meant glory or glorious, was looked upon as a goddess of significant stature by the Indians, and most all days, at a high level on one of the canyon walls, a single, stalwart figure in ritual raiment and headdress could be seen standing watch over Leeda and the cabin.
There never had been any real explanations about Leeda until the somewhat notorious cowboy Mexico George made his second visit to the scene. A deadly accurate shooter with twin pistols, and a reputation always preceding him, Mexico George’s real name was George Henry Dit and he was called, in various places and by various people by these various names: Mexico George, The Mexican Gun, Dit-it or Dah-dah-dit Dit, as with the coded sound of the letter “G” and his surname, this by telegraphers who knew of him and spoke secretly of him when necessary. This was usually to cohorts down the line when a telegrapher saw firsthand Mexico George in one of his famous duels with those too nervous, too proud, too much the unbelievers, but who had said too openly that they wanted a piece of his hide.
Mexico George’s life, though, was no secret because he did not believe in secrets; and it was this stance that drove him into the hills to find out about the woman who had on one occasion a year or so earlier given food to him and his mount as they were running from a hastily organized and faulty posse. A drunken and misguided sheriff had mounted the search for a killer that was not, in reality, Mexico George, but who did happen to be a suitor to a charming lady the sheriff highly favored. For that trio, love and war were match-mates for a spell.
His second venture to the cabin at Rio del Poncho found him stunned when gazing upon the youngest lady of the cabin, Leeda’s granddaughter Lamya, 21 years old at his first sight of her. He had saluted, in the distance, the full-dressed figure standing high on a canyon wall. The guardian Indian had signaled back his acceptance of the peaceful sign, but Mexico George was not prepared for the beauty that appeared in front of him at the cabin.
Everything seemed casually in order for Mexico George, except for his heart that had been turned upside down and inside out by the dark-lipped beauty who met him right at the first step of the cabin porch, a gleam in her eyes, a bright smile on her face.
Her lips, dark and pouted as if secret messages were being relayed to him, caught color from her dark skin that glowed with the heat of the Earth itself. He told himself that she was “from away,” from some mysterious place he might never see, “with those lips of black fire.”
Lamya said, “Do you, sir, have need of water and food for you and your charger?” Her eyes were ablaze with talk that he could not hear but could understand … she was young, she was vibrant, and she was a whole and lovely woman in a most remote part of Rio del Poncho country. Nothing about her said she did not belong in such surroundings, being completely composed and at ease, and exhibited not a single sign of fear for this new visitor
A keen observer would have said the two vibrant young hearts, immediately knowing the hunger and the search were over for them, accepted each other and opened up to each other on the spot.
“I did not come for water or food,” Mexico George explained, “but I came to find out about your grandmother, what she really is. Why does that Indian up there stand guard over her? How did she come to this place? Where did she come from? Why do the Indians treat her like a goddess? Is that why nobody ever bothers her or her kin. Are you, too, a goddess? You sure look like one if I ever knew what a goddess looked like.”
He shook his head, emitted a comforting chuckle and said, “My curiosity sure piles up in me like a dam ready to burst.”
He wanted to pull her to him, to hug her, but some mysterious force held him in place knowing he was in the presence of something far more special than he could imagine.
Lamya smiled a smile full of knowledge and intelligence, full of answers. “Leeda knows all things and has come far in her journey, from all the way across the world and across the chains of many mountains. These Indians, long in their past, also came from where she comes from, in the place of the highest mountains and the one great god on the tallest of mountains, and the most open of all gods. She has discussed this life of hers and those that follow her. He is the living god of the highest mountains on the far side of earth. His name is found within my naming, if I may say so.”
“Where did she come from,” he said, “and the Indians, did they come from there too.”
“Yes, they did, but long before Leeda, from a place called AlphaTibet.”
“From Alphabet?” Mexico George quizically said.
“No,” Lamya said, “but from AlphaTibet. You will know it all in time.”
She took his hand. “Come, let’s meet my mother and Leeda, whom you met once before that I know.”
She led him to the door of the cabin, and they entered.
At the sights loosed inside the small cabin, Mexico George was stunned. One wall, the back wall against the mountain, was covered in one huge tapestry of intricate design and color. He thought it first to be a rug held against the wall without a wrinkle or fold in it, and the design of such an intricate measures that he had difficulty finding his way back to a starting point, as if he had walked in a maze. The colors ranged with the full range of human emotions, from some madness of black and red, like the fires of Hell might look, to a gaiety of a spring yellow and green almost breathing on itself. Thoughts rushed about him, seeking roots, looking for answers.
“Where did such a thing as that come from?” he asked as he stared at the tapestry or rug, even as the corners of his eyes were being pulled by other amazing sights in the room, a triple-tiered lamp of odd colors, a huge shiny metal plate, the like of which he had never seen, an Indian bonnet with more colorful feathers ever gathered in one clutch.
“Why, from AlphaTibet,” Lamya said. “A time will come when you may sleep under it, in its warm folds.”
Mexico George, trying to understand what she had said, only guessed that he now was an appointed one, that he of all cowpokes had been selected for some kind of inclusion in the life of this dark-lipped beauty. His heart beat madly with hope.
A slight freshet of breeze came on his face, at his neck, on the backs of his hands. No windows or doors in the small cabin were open, but the freshness of the air touched him again, as though the sea had brought it.
Then, in a most subtle motion, like the parting of a cloud, the huge rug or tapestry moved on itself in one corner and Leeda, the woman he had seen but once before, came from behind the fabric. Mexico George then remembered how he had noticed long before, how close the back of the cabin was to the canyon wall. That gave him an image he had not envisioned before.
Leeda, even deep into her years, was clear-eyed, wrinkle-free in her complexion, and moved without any infirmity that age might induce. “Welcome once more to our home, sir. It has been a long time. I remember your kindness before.” The magic of the old hand touched his sleeve and he “knew” a presence again of an extraordinary order.
Leeda said to Lamya, as if she were revealing a mystery, “Tonight, from on high, Poshaiyankayo, son of Awonawilona and your grandfather, comes to visit. You may ride far to the dawn and back for the time he is here. Your mother has already gone for a visit with your father, beyond Poshaiyankayo’s place, into the heart of the next mountain beyond, beyond the deepest cave he came from in his long journey from AlphaTibet when he brought all the spirits with him, the hunters and the warriors and the sentinels of the long watch, brought them under-land to here.”
Mexico George did not know the word, but knew the feeling, that he was in presence of an “oracle” that had come from AlphaTibet, of which both Leeda and Lamya had spoken with reverence. No wonder the women had never been bothered, not with such protection around them, including the sentinel on the mountain, and that “force of something else.”
He also felt that special graces had come his way, had come upon him, just a plain, fast-handed gun man, cowpoke, and long distance range rider.
There came a shaking in the ground, and Leeda said, “Poshaiyankayo announces himself now. He is impatient this day. You may ride now,” and she opened the door to let them out as the great tapestry moved on the back wall of the cabin.
Lamya and Mexico George were on their horses in an instant and headed away from the cabin, and the mountain, and the hidden tryst now back in place.
As they were riding, Lamya let Mexico George ask all the questions he wanted to ask, waiting to answer those that she knew were coming.
“Where is AlphaTibet? How far away is it? Is it really of this Earth?”
“It is of the other side, ‘Phar phyogs,’ as it is said in the language that AlphaTibet speaks. We will not go there, even if you are my sweetheart, my ‘Snying sdug’ and I am your girlfriend, your ‘Grogs mo.’ We will not ever see the lama’s throne, ‘Bzhugs khri.’ That alone is the Dalai Lama’s, ‘Yid bzhin nor bu.’ I said his name is hidden in my name, and now you know. You and I will be content on this side. We’ll have our own mountain with snow. We will always be together, ‘Mnyam du.’”
“Are you really a goddess?”
“Yes,” Lamya said. We three are. My mother Layla is and her mother Leeda is. We are each ‘Lha mo’ and everywhere, ‘Gas a ga la,’ as can be said of our presence.”
“Who is your father?”
“My father, ‘Pa lags,’ is from AlphaTibet too, which is ‘Phar gir’ from here.”
“Why have I been picked out of a bunch of plain drovers and cow punchers who just ride around on the grass for days on end pushing ornery cattle who don’t want to go anywhere? Why me?”
“You were pre-chosen, at birth. You have always been mine and I have waited forever for you. And I will teach you the language from faraway, and someday you might converse with the gods.”
The two enchanted ones rode away from the cabin for many hours, rested, lit a night fire, slept, and came back in the morning to find Leeda in the morning feeding two strange cowboys and giving grain and water to their mounts.
“How long will you stay here?” Mexico George asked Leeda, filling the water bucket a second time from the deep well.
“His thirst is huge,” she said, patting the horse on the neck. “A good servant is as good as a fresh wind. Then, in another revelation to answer his question, she added, “Until a boy is born to us, a baby boy whose name will be Wise Wind; in the language it is ‘Mkhaspa rlung.’”
One of the cowboys spoke his thanks and said, in a sort of warning payment, “We heard Jobo Jackmin’s comin’ this way and plannin’ to do some stealin’. Heard him down the trail keep sayin’ there had to be old money kept here from what he hears all over. He’s been sayin’ it every place where he shoots off his mouth like he don’t want it to be no secret, and like he don’t want to find no secrets either. Been sayin’ it in saloons and at trail fires and brandin’ pits, like he wants you to know he’s comin’ and ain’t scared like most of us is.”
Leeda, still patting one of the horses as though it was her child, said, “Oh, his surprise will be our surprise also. This Earth is full of surprises. Perhaps he will find the ‘Pute’ standing in his way.”
“What is that?” the other cowboy said, his eyes still wide in amazement. “You sing a strange language like it’s music.”
A mystical response issued from Leeda, looking off to the highest mountain peak, as she said, “That’s the passage under the earth. It’s the way of ways.”
Mexico George, invigorated, in love, acknowledging the mysteries that leaped around him, had a sudden moment of clarity; in all these high-powered, difficult-to-understand forces, perhaps it will be one simple man like himself who will extend justice for all. He had to be ready for that moment.
Jobo Jackmin did not come on horseback; he slipped into the area in spur-less boots, dressed all in black, and moved as sly as a ferret on the hunt. Asleep at the lookout point, the Indian sentinel heard nothing, nor did the ground shake as one might suppose at such entry, nor did Mexico George, sworn to be ready, appear as the vague shadow that was Jackmin made his sly entry into Leeda’s cabin.
Leeda knelt in prayer, as though in a trance, and did not acknowledge Jackmin’s entry.
Jackmin said, “Well, Witch, I now have you in my gun sights. Your life is in my hands.”
He looked around the room, saw the grand oil lamp burning low, turned up its flame, marveled at the huge and beautiful tapestry on one wall, got caught up on what he wanted to steal … to prove he had been here, to back up his words he had been spouting everywhere along the line, to be the man he had promised.
“You are mine, Witch woman,” he boasted. “No Indian helps you in the night. I have proved that part. You will do what I say or you will die tonight, you and your daughters, if they even decide to help you. I have heard all about them, especially the youngest one, who I will take with me.”
It was at that threat, at that exact moment when the huge tapestry on the wall moved, a softness protruding as a bulge.
The floor beneath Leeda and Jackmin did not shudder. The air did not rush past them from a deep hole in the Earth. There was no sudden or raucous or mysterious noise. There was only a movement in the tapestry as if a stick was being poked at it from the other side, or as if some creature in the dark was trying to find an opening in the material.
Jackmin fired one shot, then another, at the tapestry. The movement then came from another point. He fired again and again. The movement, the poking carried on, and Jackmin, with both guns blazing away, tried to blow a hole in the fabric. The movement, the poking, continued, and Jackmin kept firing, until there was, in the final moment of silence after the barrage of shots, the inevitable click of firing pin hitting nothing; all bullets fired, two guns empty.
Without firing a single shot, Mexico George, beloved of the threatened Lamya, appeared from behind the tapestry, and knocked the Jackmin to the floor. He carried him outside, took off his boots and pants, put his shirt on backwards, tied him on a horse, and whacked the horse on its rump. The scrambled horse carried down trail to total exposure the embarrassed, useless, ill-dressed mouthy killer for all to see.
Until the cabin slid into a hole beside the mountain years later, the occupants long gone elsewhere, stories were told by none who were eyewitnesses, and no miners ever found soft digging, no passage under the Earth.