Top Ten Western Short Stories For December
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Cowboy, ranch hand, sometimes deputy to a few sheriffs in Bridgeton, Texas, often a disputant in favor of any small rancher like his father, Sugar Stetson was named by his mother on her death bed the day he was born, his father ever saying in endless tribute to both of them, "That was the last and the only word she said when she held him at birth, 'Sugar,' so 'Sugar' he is." Thus was a legend of a kind traveling the whole of Texas, even as his prowess with a six gun grew and stormed each and every saloon within a few hundred miles of his home range; "That Sugar Stetson sure can handle that six gun of his." to accompany that statement, they'd make a practice quick-draw at their for-sure empty belt line as if their idea of a six gun was aimed and ready for action, right at the belly of a listener.
best friend, steadiest friend, as we'll come to know by varying
degrees, was Big Boy Ben Kindle, the fattest cowboy you can imagine,
who was married to a woman twice widowed, half again twice his age,
who presented him a son who kept falling off his horse, a pony at
first, and a pretty-as-a-picture Appaloosa named Balloon as he grew
into his early teens, still fall-prone.
the great story tellers of legends in every Texas saloon need to have
handles on a running start to get a legend going, as in the case of
Six-gun Sugar Stetson, the names going two ways at once, with and for
it was (as they say yet in those same saloons), that the lone bank
robber came out of the Bridgeton Bank of Texas on a quiet Monday
afternoon, a shot suddenly coming through the bank window behind him
as he mounted his horse and Sugar Stetson at that precise moment
stepping out of Garrity's General Store, goods in hands, dropping the
goods to the dust and drawing a six gun from his holster in a most
rapid move, drawing down on a bank robber with a gun already in hand.
was a debut into legendary discussion.
bank robber," several legend makers could spout in unison,
"armed a-ready, a bag of dollars looped on his saddle horn,
looked up and saw a cowboy dropping his goods in the store doorway
and took aim. It's a bet among all of us he never knew the pain that
tore through his chest right pronto, Sugar Stetson so fast on the
draw, so direct in his aim and, you have to admit, his bullet faster
than his own hand." A pause would follow, to which was added,
"That there was Six-gun Sugar Stetson in action."
much as his friend's unexpected baby son was born, so came abreast a
cowboy's second name, attached for good regardless of all future
actions on his own, including a touch of buffoonery on his part. Of
course, believers among you, the intent will be viewed as intended,
marked as unselfish, a real piece of education coming free-hand to a
young boy, known from day one, as if by his mother's selection, Yaqui
by name, prone to falling off his horse, each arm broken at different
times, two fingers also broken in the mix, a couple of seasons of
embarrassment on his part, a similar piece of that embarrassment
shared on his father's part, a scourge of course to his heavyweight
father for years knowing the sense of ridicule, except when his pal
Sugar Stetson was within hearing distance, which was as some might
say "a might good mile and a half long at the ear."
don't know how much he can take, Sugar," Big Ben said to his pal
one day as they sipped a few beers at the saloon bar, "'cause
he's some like me and some like his Momma, who don't give a crow's
ass about noisy-ass neighbors."
was deep in thought about the subject, and replied, "It will
only take one lesson, Ben, one lesson of a lifetime, to change
things for him. He's worth anything we can do for him."
got an idea, Sugar?"
not yet, but it's abrewin' in place, 'cause I'm trying to put my arms
around it and it ain't here yet."
Big Ben asked. as a filler in a pause of conversation, "You
gonna run in the big race this year, Sugar? You think Sweets can run
the race like he did last year?" The idea came out of the wide
open prairie that ran away, in long paces, from Bridgeton, often
caught in a warm breeze racing across the stretch of grass and weed,
unused paths, horse tracks years deep under dust, wide views that ran
the whole circular ring of the horizon. It was also where death was
damned near visible from unmarked graves rising noticeable atop
wind-swept mounds, the odd lot of small creatures looming like
caricatures of the West itself, sitting like outposts at their
duties, gophers, dogs of any kind from no pack of hounds, Injun rats
setting a spell on food hunts, a wolf not particular of his coming or
past kills, the bones and feathers of a dead bird, for sure some of
its odd parts in flight again.
fast as images came to him, in colors, caricatures, bold as brass at
the back of his mind, he saw much of a whole charade, piece by piece,
from the very depth of his mind, but nothing of the finish line,
Sugar Stetson lined up at the rail of Josiah Breeds' ranch, a mile
from town, on his horse named Sweets, with 40 other riders on their
fastest and or their favorite mounts in the 12th running of The
Bridgeton Borders Race, established by the one-time saloon owner,
Josiah Breeds' brother, Enos Breeds, who simply wanted it to end in
front of the saloon to start a day of celebration. It was usually
considered a gimmicky race for the first few runs, but chicanery,
chance and motivational choice gave the winner a solid year of grace
at the bar every Saturday night. All of them thought about the third
year winner who was dead a month after his win, out on the trail,
shot and killed by an unknown scoundrel who also killed his horse and
scarred his saddle with a keen knife, and had not yet been
for some of those hard-working hard riders it was still like getting
a raise, Saturday night becoming larger each year, race day a big
winner for the saloon itself, for the saloon owner, and for the
winning rider with his year of a free run at the bar on Saturday
was a jovial time in most situations.
for the first time, Six-gun Sugar Stetson wanted the lead when he
came into town and the final loop around town once to end up at the
posted rail of the saloon. It was imperative to him, made him shout
out continuously how he was going to win the race. "I got you
all dead at the finish! I'll win by more than this horse's neck and
your horses' ass-ends! No man can beat me to the saloon this day when
I'm on this Sweet horse! None of you! None of you!"
odd part of the whole thing, spoken openly in the ranks of racers,
was that Sugar had not won in four previous tries, coming in second
the year before, and the other three times in the also ran entries,
left in the pack, prairie dust floating around the mix of them..
stranger could tell, from both tone and temperament, there was a
healthy respect for him from all the others, most of the taunts and
replies of a sort of friendly response."You're a whole year
older, Sugar, and a whole year slower! Your horse is a whole year
slower too! Last year was plain all-out luck for you, Sugar! Look at
you now, Sugar, a loser right at the start," followed by a most
noisy fit of laughter. Lots of riders laughed. It was great fun to do
so. It was entirely comfortable, without a quick-draw in the mix, now
or later, and figured by many of them to be the only chance to laugh
at him. They all knew each shout embraced a kind of respect that he
had earned in his young years, and each one being a mild touch at a
rather friendly retort among old pals.
a great pal to have," might have been vocalized from all the
contestants, or from most of them, to be sure.
at the starting line, but alone in his own thought, Sugar knew
something had to happen during this new year of the race: he had
hopes for a spectacular finish, a glorious outcome, a remarkable turn
of events, and nobody in the entire town had any idea of his
intentions. Once more, he thought, he faced the odds on his own, no
help promised him.
the starter's gun went off, Sweets leaped out at Sugar's command and
the spurs' jabs applied with fervor. He was long-legged and speedy
and had been a most trusty companion to his owner for five years.
Sugar knew the old thrill that came over him and his horse under
pressure of an event or an incident; there had been many of them,
some as important as mere survival of the pair, or the capture or
demise of a wanted man, many reasons possible for the cause
undertaken. Despite all its charms, its general and peaceful nature
through much of the years, service of one sort or another made
declarations on the populace as a whole, and on law-abiders from any
occasion was entirely new to Sugar; he kept looking for the break in
the cause, the loophole in the loop, the solution to a problem
without a name.
and a quick scan behind him told him he was ahead of the mob of
characters, the closest riders being friends from their youngest
years. Big Boy Ben Kindle, however, was nowhere in sight, back there
near the aft end of the racers, no horse apparently ever to make a
difference in a race for him. Instead of seeing Big Ben up close to
him at the lead, he thought again about Ben's son Yaqui, the clumsy
one, the outrageous slings and arrows of youthful taunting thrown at
him for years done and for years yet to come, just like the ones his
father had endured, notwithstanding Sugar's oft corrections.
was wondering how he'd react if he had a son of his own with troubles
of his own. It made him lean forward in Sweets' saddle, another
thrust coming with his thoughts.
kept him out in front of the slew of riders as Bridgeton loomed ahead
of him, its collection of small buildings forming a pattern on the
plains where a stream came down from a hill at the foot of a
mountain, the first settlers liking the looks and the promises of the
area a mere 40 years earlier.
feeling of competition suddenly closed around him as he felt rather
than heard a rider coming close upon him. The spurs tapped energy
from Sweets, who leaped ahead as if he too had measured time and
effort. The dusty main street, the saloon on the far corner around
which he'd have to ride a loop around to the joys of a gathering
awaiting the finish of the loop and the arrival of the winner.
crowd screamed its excitement as Sugar and his nearest competitor
started around the last loop nearly neck and neck, Sugar and Sweets
in a thin lead. When the pair shot around the last leg of the race,
the loop nearly done, the saloon only 50 yards away from them,
Six-gun Sugar Stetson, in the clumsiest closing in years, fell off
his horse and rolled like a silly character in the dust of
Bridgeton's main road, the saloon mere yards from him, his arrival
like a burlesque actor doing his part of dedicated humor. The laughs
and guffaws were solid and fully appropriate, and promised to be
worthy of mention for years to come.
just the way Six-gun Sugar Stetson presented it to young Yaqui
Kindle, down between two buildings of the town a short while later,
"Anybody can fall off a horse, Yaqui, even when it counts, like
at the end of a race like I did. You know all those who saw me will
keep reminding me in the oddest ways they can think of. Of course,
it'll all be up to me how I handle the jokes they'll toss at me. But,
as I tell you now, they won't mount
to a hill of beans, not to me and not to you either." He laughed
and continued, "You have to admit, when I say mount
it comes with more fun than they can imagine. That's the way to play
Yaqui Kindle nodded his affirmation and understanding, a special deed
indeed done and accomplished.