Western Short Story
Sam Walters was barely comfortable laid back in his old rocker on the porch, the sun warming him to his britches as it paused on the horizon, the single rider coming his way, barely upright in the saddle, which could free up a dozen stories if Sam let himself go.
He’d been out there, like that, and made his return, like that, pain sharing the saddle with him, as well as blood oozing from a wound, blood on the hoof. Days in the West were marked with such actions.
His cabin was the lone structure between the town of Callico Hills and that far horizon, a small chunk of it now occupied by a rider most likely hurt, likely needing help. Sam hoped he could finish his ride, as he himself was not in shape to go out there and bring him in, the years now piled om top of each other, less all his former graces and talents.
He struggled to remember what gang had shot up the town on a recent occasion, but couldn’t bring back a name, memory teasing him with hints too far to reach. But they had been a riotous group from the minute they dismounted at the Gracey Gal Saloon, shooting down a sign from its mooring on a wall across the dusty road running one end to the other end of Callico Hills, a good example of what they were capable of, before and after time in the saloon,
It all came back in a rush to Sam, even as the wounded rider seemed to gather himself for the rest of his trip to the only building in sight, the lone man on his porch of sorts, haven galore, help in sight, him hearing of a visit from a couple of story tellers who had come for an edge of solace from the old man, a one-time sheriff.
Not yet at the beverages of choice, the gang members were all excellent shooters, missing little they aimed at, hitting most of it dead center in a formidable display, as the door to the sheriff’s office remained tightly shut, the monthly visit coming as predicted all the way from K-Bar-C ranch, nearly a half-day’s ride to the northwest, far enough to run dry, close enough to bring back taste, old man Jake Tucker letting his boys burn off some pent-up energy; “They got it coming to them,” he’d often say to soften the damage, laying out greenbacks to shop owners due a payment for damages to signs, windows, front doors, and bars, furniture, inside features of any kind catching the evil eye.
Tucker himself had come to visit Sam, making sure his boys had not disturbed the old man, long from his days as Callico Hills sheriff for a dozen years, before his legs went south on him, both his aim and his full attention in cahoots with Old Man Time.
The rider was almost at Sam’s doorstep when he dismounted with trouble, holding a hand out to steady himself, blood visible on his shirt, on his pants. “Sam,” he said, “I got shot by a sniper coward on my backside. Hurts like Hell. I wanted to make it to Doc Henry in town, but I can’t go that far, be dead before I got there. I’m Jugs Matin, a new hire from the K-Bar-C. I heard the boys talking about you. Being almost half way to town. Best stop for me for the shape I’m in.”
As he made that last statement, he fell to the ground. With some difficulty, Sam got him onto the porch deck, onto a couple of blankets easing his back-side, and tended Matin’s wound from a long-range bullet. He stopped the bleeding, after digging out the bullet, a rifle slug.
“Someone wants you dead, son. Awful dead. Don’t matter right now who it was because I think he’ll try again. See anybody following you?” Sam lit up the mostly one-way conversation
“I couldn’t turn around to look, hoping he wouldn’t pull the trigger again.”
With that said, Matin passed out on the plush blankets, his eyes and mouth of no more use to him except breathing, the world around him gone poof in a second.
With some difficulty, Sam stripped his patient of gun belt and weapon, not a round left in the single pistol, still warm to Sam’s touch, his mind seeking possible scenarios, reasons for near death from a cowardly distance. Not a word, or a reason, came to mind. He looked out at the horizon, wondering if that half-killer might be stalking them right now, on a crawl, locked into natural cover, eyeing two men near helpless on the porch.
Sam’s shivering was masked, him as motionless as Jugs Matin prone on the deck
With his patient out cold, old Sam made sure each move he made was slow and disguised, his rifle coming into his hands as though it was a gift from the wall beside him, slipping easily to a ready position of protection, its snout pointed outward, his finger on the trigger, his eyes searching back and forth across the horizon, life itself at a balance point, the sun still warm coming off the wall behind him, knowing it was also on the creeping, crawling killer, now with two targets to line-up.
Sam caught a slim black movement, like it had moved or rolled on the prairie grass, and fired a round at it, advising the stalker he was ready for him. There was no response, no return fire, no scream of pain. Nothing.
He dragged Matin into the house, made him as comfortable as he could, slipped out the back door, and, with all his stamina gathered for the next few hours, went back through tall grass, and made his circular way as the sun set and night crawled all about him. He knew every bump and dip in the land, and often paused to reflect on earlier days and some long-forgotten experience. Some measure of help came from them to him in his movements.
He’d show this sucker, this cowardly killer, what even half a brain could come up with, the whisper slipping softly from his mouth, “Mister, you got a surprise coming your way.” It made him feel good, like the old days had come back, even just for one more visit.
A half-moon offered what light it could, like a prayer being answered. It focused on a figure, upright in the semi-darkness moving toward the house, caution in every move, but not enough to disrupt old sheriff Sam Walters back in action, at a minimum but operable, at it!
Sam had no idea who it was, but it was a cowardly individual that should be punished, and in proper fashion, like a shot in his leg, get him disarmed, wait for help on the way to or from town, daily passers-by who waived or said hello on the run. There was always help near at hand. He had learned to count on it, his wife Delores gone now for six years, but carrying him some of his days.
With a shot from less than 100 yards, he put a round in the stalker’s upper thigh, that man’s rifle flying out of his hands, him falling to the ground, then getting a tight rope trussing him up after wrapping part of his own shirt on the wound, stopping the blood flow.
With dawn coming soon, he could signal for help, get the prisoner to town, unscramble all the known points, characters, names and actions for the current sheriff.
“It would be a snap, a piece of cake,” he muttered, “like the old days.”
He slipped back into reality; another day gone.