Western Short Story
The Lee Creek Howler
Rick Breeden

Western Short Story

Ezra Bullock whistled loudly and a bit off key as he announced to no particular tree, "Yes sir, I am gonna ask her."

He pictured Marie Boyd with her long wavy dark hair as he moved over the first rocky ridge that separated his families’ homestead from hers. These same two thickly wooded hills and the hollow along Lee Creek had separated their farms for three generations now.

He carefully parted the brush and led with an elbow through the honeysuckle tangles along the creek bank. Had to be sure he did not scratch his hard won guitar.

"I think 7 weeks steady courting is enough to convince even my mother that my intent is divine in nature."

Holding his guitar over his head, he picked his way across the staggered stones placed across Lee Creek. Back in the Spring, Ezra had convinced Marie's brother, Fitz, to help build the low water crossing. They made it easier to get to the good hunting found on the north side ridge.

Just as he was about to make the last stretch to the southern shore, a scream and a screech such as he had never heard in his life echoed down the creek hollow.

"Sweet Jesus."

He dropped to one knee and stabbed the key end of his guitar downstream as though it was the squirrel gun that he usually carried when in these woods.

"Lord, forgive that oath."

His voice was a little shaky, and that vexed him some. He was surely a full grown man able to handle a strange noise here on his home ground. Ezra held completely still. He scanned the creek and woods for any sign of movement and listened hard for any sound that might give him a clue to the location of whatever beast made the nerve fraying yowl. The forest remained eerily quiet. He felt a bead of sweat run down his left temple.

As though a hushing weight lifted from the area around Ezra, normal sounds and movement resumed. Two mockingbirds made throaty calls and chased each other toward the Boyd farm. Ezra stood slowly and carefully stepped to the damp creek shore.

He shrugged and resumed his trek to meet the only object of his current desire. Not even some critter or Ha’int could deter him from his “guitar lesson” from old man Boyd today.

Increasing his pace up the southern ridge, Ezra paused on the summit and looked carefully along the creek again. Nothing out of the ordinary did he hear or see. He fairly floated down the last 200 yards to the edge of the Boyd's north fence and hid his guitar behind the old pecan stump as usual.

“Maybe one of these days I'll confess my white lies to mom and Mr. Boyd, and take lessons for real,” Ezra almost vowed as he looked over the zigzag rough cut cedar rails. He removed his hat and smoothed back his bushy hair as he approached the stone house and soundly knocked on the front door.

As he was fidgeting a bit waiting, Ezra heard Marie’s father shout, “Marie, your young man is calling again.”

Marie looked up at him and smiled as she slipped out onto the porch. “Hi Ezra.”

“Hi yourself, Kid.”

Marie wrinkled her nose at him, but really thought it was sweet that he had a nickname for her. “Can we walk down to the creek today?”

“Sure,” he replied. Then his brow furrowed as he recalled the Howler. “You think your dad would let me carry one of his guns with us? I didn’t bring mine today.”

“OK, you ask him.”

Ezra followed her into their cabin and saw Mr. Boyd in the corner by the wood stove. He looked up from the harness he was working on and raised his eyebrows.

“Mr Boyd, Marie was wanting to take a walk down to the creek and I was wondering if I could borrow a gun to take with us. ‘ cant be too careful sir.”

“Harummpf! You know better than to wander around in these parts unarmed, boy.” Mr. Boyd walked over to a gun rack behind the front door and selected one seemingly at random. He grabbed a couple of cartridges, handed them to Ezra, and returned to his work.

As Ezra and Marie went out the door her father called after them, “Mind that port side chamber son, trigger is a might ticklish.”

“Yes-sir,” said Ezra. He and Marie made their escape.

They hurried across the front yard until they were safely secluded behind the brush lining the creek trail. They joined hands then and slowed to a leisurely stroll.

Smiling up at Ezra, Marie said, “Thank you for calling on me again so soon. I like our walks.”

“My honor, Kid.” Squeezing her hand he added, “When we get to our favorite spot by the creek I have something I want to ask you.”

“OK,” her smile grew dimples as she squeezed his hand in return.

Ezra shifted the 10 gauge Greener on his shoulder and pushed aside some hedge limbs for Marie to enter the creek opening. The peaceful scene was shattered by a clattering of stones and a thrashing of brush, seemingly right next to them.

“Get back!” he yelled. He pulled Marie behind him and cocked both hammers on the shotgun. Ezra snapped the weapon up to his shoulder. What seemed like a cannon exploded in his ears and a giant mule kicked him back into Marie. Scrambling to stand back up while also rubbing tears and smoke from his vision, Ezra’s blurry eyes crossed while both trying to see if Marie was OK, and also to see if some beast was attacking them.

“Marie, are you alright?”

“I think so, what was all that about?”

A great rumbling roar and pounding from Lee Creek interrupted his explanation. As he leaped forward to protect his love, Ezra looked down and realized both chambers of Mr. Boyd’s gun had fired. He was unarmed except for what was now a short metal stick.

“Run Marie!” Looking to see that she needed no more encouragement, Ezra stood his ground and squinted through the dark canopied opening, trying to locate their threat. Another scream and a guttural growl was immediately followed by splashing and a tawny flash of some great furry beast pounding over the ridge. It vanished out of sight to the southwest. Ezra listened for a few moments longer, then sprinted to catch up with Marie. She was now halfway down the trail to her home.

“Wait up!” he called. Marie turned and ran into his arms. They both panted and shook for a time, then separated just a little and looked back toward the creek. Then they inspected each other.

“Your head is bleeding,” she observed, and reached into her dress pocket to dab at his temple with a linen kerchief.

“Are you injured,” he asked?

“Just my nerves,” she replied. Marie hugged him a little tighter and asked, “What was that?”

“I dunno.” Ezra looked sharply into her eyes and said, “Marie, will you marry me and be my wife?”

Marie’s eyes and mouth opened wide and she said, “Ezra Bullock, I don’t know if I can stand much more excitement today.” She stepped back a bit and poking her fists on her hips, looked up the trail to her cabin. “And besides, here comes Pa. He already doesn’t look too pleased, and he is armed.”

Cyrus Boyd walked quickly and with purpose up to the couple. He looked them both over carefully and asked, “Well did you kill anything, or just disturb the peace of the hollow again?” Mr. Boyd reached out for the Greener and opened the breech to pull out both spent cartridges. He fixed Ezra with his stern expression, but there was a twinkle in his green eyes that suddenly looked just like Marie’s.

“No sir it got away, but it was big and loud and covered with tan fur.”

“Harrumph, that shotgun has a kick to it, don’t it?” Pointing to the blood drying on Ezra’s temple, he added, “Did this great big beast bite you son?”

Blushing some, Ezra met the gaze and answered honestly, “No sir, I lost my footing and must have scratched myself on the brush.” Since his voice seemed steady enough, he pressed on with, “Mr. Boyd, I would like to ask your permission to marry Marie and start a cabin for us somewhere over between our two farms.”

Cyrus looked from Ezra to his daughter and asked, “What do you think about this idea, Marie?”

Reaching out to grasp her beau, Marie beamed up to her father and said, “I think it’s a fine idea.”

Nodding his agreement and shouldering both weapons, Cyrus Boyd walked slowly back to his cabin.

The next winter arrived with a clear, brisk, north wind, and a freeze that crusted the edges of Lee Creek. Cyrus Boyd huddled into his favorite trade blanket. He waited for his new son-in-law by smoking and pondering on his cabin’s front porch. Seeing motion by the old pecan stump near the fence, Cyrus recognized Ezra Bullock limping across his yard. The boy looked a bit thinner and had aged some since they had last shook hands.

“Finally come for a guitar lesson, Ezra?” Mr. Boyd pointed to an adjacent chair with the guitar leaning between them.

“Perhaps in a while sir. I am just enjoying some familiar country and family right now.” Firmly clasping his mentors hand, Ezra sat in the proffered chair.

“You seem to be healing up nicely, son. It’s good to have you home.” Looking keenly at the younger man, Cyrus asked, “Did you boys see any action on your march up country?”

“Yes-sir, we had a pretty good scrap up by Elkhorn Tavern.” Ezra met his gaze with a calm, steady look back and stated, “I see you picked up a new scar as well.”

“Ahh, nothing to brag about.” Cyrus eyes narrowed a fraction. “You’re not in any trouble are you, son?”

“I reckon not sir. We were militia volunteers when we agreed to go fight. I reckon I can also volunteer to come back home afterward and put some more meat up for the winter. Spring will be bringing a new addition to our family you know.”

“Aye.” Cyrus sighed. He reached down for the little guitar. He turned slightly toward the younger warrior and said, “This is called a G chord.”