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Western Short Story
One Gun, Two Targets
Tom Sheehan

Western Short Story

The boy, squeezed between two huge rocks above the cabin, earlier ordered by his father anytime trouble loomed in the vicinity, to hide until he was called out. He had heard loud words, the argument, the voices of two men spilling bitterness, two gun shots, but never heard his father call him back since the moment two men had ridden up from the lower valley outside the town of Burkesville, Colorado. Nor did he hear his mother say a word.

He could still hear the voices of both men, guttural and vulgar, taking turns ordering his father to, “Stand tall, plow boy, or lay down in the dust, now or sooner than that, and take that whore with you.” The sounds wouldn’t go away, especially as one of the men would repeat the other man when he spoke, like a mimic on a rope.

Brockton “Budge” Bristol waited in the ensuing silence, until thirst forced him free, for a run downhill. He found his father and mother dead and cooking in the sunlight. Nothing else moved in high Colorado. neither horses, nor strangers, for the longest part of that day. He buried his father beside his mother, not more than 30 feet from the simple cabin, a mere wooden marker gathering attention.

Above the grave, he said, “Goodbye, Pa, and Ma, I promise to visit Brockton back east someday and say hello for you.”

When he turned loose the lone pig from its pen, he said, “You got to make it on your own, Smoky, just like I will. Good luck.” It was better than the wolves circling the pen, grinding their teeth for half a night before they did their damage,

Budge Bristol mounted the lone horse and rode into Burkesville, directly to the sheriff’s office, explaining what had happened, and asking a few questions.

“Anybody new in town recently? They still here? Got any names?”

Amos Larkin, long-time sheriff of the town, replied, “We had two such gents I don’t have any papers on them, but I’m sure they’ll be printed up someday, just the type, for sure, mean as hornets, both ‘em, and knowed I’d be lookin’ for their drawed faces from now on, and they up and plain skedaddled out of here last night, me not knowin’ what turn they took out of town at the Great Y, east or north. You can bet money on it, Budge, they’ll make print along the line if they ain’t had it done afore this. Just the type to fit posters.”

Budge didn’t tell Amos he could still hear the echoes of the killer’s voices, would remember them forever, come Heaven or Hell.

“You think it’s them two, Budge? You got ideas workin’ in yore head? Best let me know what ya got cookin’.”

“Just keepin’ my mind clear, Sheriff, case I ever run into them.” He quickly added, “You keep your eyes on the place for me. Make a claim legal and all. It’s mine from my Pa and Ma.”

“That I promise, Budge. You got my word. You be careful what you pull on for your comin’ days. You can’t wear kid pants where you get to be goin’, and that’s for sure.” He patted Budge Bristol on the back; watched him ride slowly out of town.

He was sure he’d never see him again; the cards were stacked against him already, even this early in his life. He remembered the boy’s parents, both of them but now with a stark reality, for the end of their known line might never appear here again, or nowhere near.

For six years, Amos Larkin, long-time sheriff of the town, never heard a word about Budge Bristol, not a peep from all over the west, never knowing what way the boy headed when he left town. After a while of often gazing outward with a sense of search or hope in his mind, he’d look down the road from his office and see an apparition of Budge Bristol, the few and strange years worked and hefted onto his face, age sitting the saddle with him, riding slowly back into town, to take over his inheritance for the last time.

That stretch of thought eventually faded away, his own bones getting a bit tired of time, now and then wondering if the boy ever found peace, a new way of life, something to live for beside the obvious revenge he toted about as his luggage.

In those six years, years of wandering, listening to men talk in a hundred saloons or in cattle camps where he’d work his way for a drive or a stretch of time, Budge Bristol never heard the voices that beat at the back of his head like a near-silent hum of awareness, the voices of the men that shattered his life, that drove him to each new place on an endless journey into and out of every cow town and railroad town he’d arrive at, morning, noon or night, the push still at work on his soul, in his mind.

There were times, he quietly admitted to himself, “I’ve been here before, but can’t remember when, but I know the face on that girl over there beside the piano and the man playing the piano.” He’d get out of that town in a hurry, not wanting to waste any of his time on a useless visit. Though he could still hear these harsh voices repeating themselves: “Stand tall, plow boy, or lay down in the dust, now or sooner than that, and take that whore with you.”

So, it was with Budge Bristol, always thinking that there were so many roads to so many places he had not waited to hear those words, those voices, the sounds of deliverance, of the weight lifted off his very soul.

He came onto a split in a valley road, the V ahead of him with signs that said Hallow Springs on the left and Rock City on the other sign. He had headed his horse toward Rock City, when the horse suddenly reared on his hind legs. Budge Bristol, for much of his years, had read and obeyed such signals, such signs, for he promptly reversed directions and headed his mount toward Hallow Springs, for only the good lord knows why.

He rode into Hallow Springs in the noon of a new day, the main street of town as quiet as mushrooms in a field, not a soul stirring on the street, until a young maiden walked out of one door, carrying a pot of some kind, and stood beside a saloon door under a sign that said, “Saddle Graces” in most promising and bold letters.

A nerve kicked over in his stomach, a lower muscle in his gut exercised itself among other bodily signs. “Mostly age talking to me,” he said in a whisper, as if that edge would heal him. “Another useless stop on my way to wherever.”

He was about to turn away from the saloon door, when he heard a voice come from the saloon like a bull rushing him from a herd, hard as whip sounds, lashes being applied to a soft body with no chance of evasion; the voice, in harsh delivery, knife-like, skilled at killing or pronouncement of death, say, in its deepest twist of anger, “If you move that card again, plowboy, you’ll find yourself dead as a pig in clover, plow boy, cooked alive.”

A second voice said, “He means it, plowboy, from all the way over here.”

The echoe’s echo was still at it, still with the crude edge to it. The challenge was thrown onto the tabletop. “Mister,” Budge said to the bigger of two men he was addressing, ‘My name is Brockton “Budge” Bristol, from down Burkesville, Colorado way, where I first heard your voices more than six years ago and when you gents shot and killed my Ma and Pa, them and me named Bristol. Anybody here interested in more facts after whatever happens here in a few minutes, can talk to Sheriff Amos Larkin, long-time sheriff of Burkesville, who has all the story.

One of the challenged men, the bigger one of the two, went for his gun first, quickly followed by his companion, before anybody else in the saloon had a chance to move, even if they wanted to/ That’s when Brockton Budge Bristol shot to death in an immediate hurry both gun-slung men, both men draped over the table when the sheriff came to investigate the commotion and deaths in his town.

When he squared things away with Burkesville’s sheriff, Amos Larkin, he had a damned good idea of what Budge Bristol’s homecoming after six long years was going to be like, after Larkin admitted, “Somebody finished my job for me. Now I can retire.”