Top Ten Western Short Stories For December
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Western Short Story
From the day, the very first day, when a pistol came into his hand, from his mother, of all people, young Ransom Doak knew the edge, beauty and balance of its comfort. He was six-years old handling his first gun, his mother approaching 40 years, and her husband dead at the hands of a marauder looking for a cheap and quick meal from the lady in a log cabin only an echo outside the small town of Small Parallels, Texas.
His first shot at a bucket big enough to catch a shotgun blast, didn’t move the bucket, but killed his pet rabbit, which his mother eventually cooked for supper.
“No, Ransom, darling, you hurried that shot too much. Remember, always remember, the target belongs to you.” She knew she had to make the point of all this stick in the boy’s mind for a lifetime, so she made the words hard and true, and as solid as night’s surety- black as forever, solid black, a deed calling for the death of a murderer.
“You own it from now until the skies fall down on us, and believe me, dear boy, they will fall down again someday, like they did when your father was shot in the back at his work His killer, from that day until forever comes, belongs to us. The passage has been made. The Good Lord provides for that. You keep that face of his in your mind for all your life until that rotten killer finds the bullet that owes him is already lodged in his chest, the one put there by me or by you, and I prefer that you do it. Claim it back for yourself, my darling boy, now load up that pistol, practice when you can and I will sell my soul to get money for us and for a new pistol set for you for your 12th birthday, when that day comes.”.
Ransom Doak shot his pistol for hours in a day, every day, as he watched the men come from town to visit his mother, and the jar of money in her secret place in the barn grew by pounds and mounds.
Well before he was 12, the pistol was a delicate instrument in his hand, to his eye, as his targets became smaller, the aims better, the notoriety of “the kid shot” moving around the territory beyond Small Parallels, far and wide as some folks told it, including the story behind the story, and many men wanted to be in on the coming kill.
But none of them ever had that killer’s face locked into their minds as Ransom and Edna Doak did. He was broad across the forehead, almost cliff-like in its shape, thick at the chin and lips, nose might have been winged by a stray shot much earlier in life, a capital mark for any man to carry about in his life, including not going near Small Parallels for years on end. Both ears were pinned back as if he was listening to two sides of everything, here and there, hither and yon, up and down, out front and in back, and both ends of the local canyon as well/
They were talking one day at the woodpile as Ransom was doing his day’s work at the pile of split logs, swinging the ax like a 100-pound sword as it came down in the top face of a log to split it like a slash from King Arthur on his horse, the power like a strike from a God on high, a god of the saddle.
“My boy,” she said, visibly impressed with his strength and dexterity, “you master many things in your days. What you touch, you own What you do, becomes you. Remember the face that only we two know in all of Texas. I have the strange feeling that destiny comes near for us, for your father, for the man with the killer’s face. I think he is near/After all these years, he has dared to return. Though I have not seen him, I feel him to be near. We must be ready for the moment.”
She gathered a few things, placed them in her carriage and said, “I will go into town and look around. If he is here, I will let you know. That is my promise to you.”
She was about to start off when Ransom swung the ax like a gunshot and another log split into two pieces. “You are so good at that, Ransom. Keep working and we’ll have winter’s pile ahead of schedule.’
“I’ll do that, Mother, and straighten up the pile while I’m at it. Have a good day in town.” He returned to his chore as she headed into Small Parallels.
When she was out of sight, he felt the strangest of feelings rush up and down his frame, up and down his arms and legs, leaving a kind of message in his whole body that Time was touching him in a brand-new way, one not ever felt before, not ever known before. But it was acceptable to his whole body, as if questions and answers were in orbit in and about him. In a series of motions, mind pictures, quick images striking with a powerful force, he was armed, and began saddling his horse.
A once-known feeling of death and desperation was racing through him, and he felt like he had been warned by notice and armed to the hilt.
His horse, a highly-favored black stallion named Black T, Ransom’s horse for nearly ten years, raced a route different from Ransom’s mother’s path. Ransom judged that they’d be in Small Parallels before her, figure out what was pulling at both of them, for surely some single sway had moved each of them to be on alert, to be wary for each other. It would be havoc to let some hideous villain have the upper hand, the first hand, the loaded gun in hand before its victim knew it was raised against him or her.
Life, as it had been known, could come crushing down upon them in spite of old hates and atrocities, in spite of outright murder old as the ages, and at the hands of the killer from years-past.
As he passed by a tie rail, one black stallion, a beauty of a horse, neighed a recognition to him, as if saying hello after a long separation. There was no doubt it was his father’s horse, Black Messenger, stolen by his father’s killer years ago, still healthy, still black as coal dust, as black as night itself.
They had a quick reunion and Ransom whispered, “You’ll be going back home with us tonight, Blackie, I promise you that. No long-time murderer riding on your back all over the country. Not anymore. Now, I’m going to see what’s what in the saloon and who’s who, bet your bottom dollar on that, Blackie, your whole bottom dollar.”
Kid gunsmith Ransom Doak slipped into the saloon, quickly scanned the room, saw mostly known faces or new faces of no interest to him. Yet one man, faced away from him, carried a thickness of hair showing under his sombrero and laying on the broad board of his thick neck.
A certainty began to fill Ransom Doak, as to who the man was, not a local he could tell immediately, but a newcomer for sure. Ransom felt the grinding in his stomach in his whole chest as he blurted words he had saved for years, “Hey, skunk killer, with the face I haven’t seen in many years, but I was tipped off because my father’s horse is looped to the rail out front, the horse taken by my father’s low-down skunky killer who has run right into my gun range where I been waiting all these years,”
There was an elongated silence, the big man didn’t move for long seconds, some folks thinking Ransom Doak, with only a view from the man’s backside, might have made a mistake.
The silence, the intake s of breath, filled the room, and the big man said, “Whoever you are, I came to town on the stage, Go find the stage driver and ask him.”
“No, you didn’t,” said an unknown voice across the room, “I saw you alight from the saddle of a big black right out front only a few hours ago. He turned to Ransom Doak and said, “Honest, Ransom. I wouldn’t kid you on that. Right off a big black he leaped like he was going to own the place. Made me look at him a couple of times. He’s the dude, I swear on the Good Book.”
Reality often comes in different sizes and in a variety of announcements, and when they are attested to by a sideways leap of a cornered man and a drop to his knees on the floor, his gun in his hand, the bullet meant for vengeance and carried for years was in his heart before he could pull his own trigger. Vengeance was quicker than protection in this case.
The widow Doak heard the single gunshot and thought she best check on the excitement. Ransom surely was back at home, but she could never tell about that boy except she believed he had moves she’d never seen.