Top Ten Western Short Stories For December
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Western Short Story
Tate Sims watched from a bluff high above as his target knelt alongside a small creek, then bent over the water, cupped his hands, and dipped them into the stream. Sims lifted his rifle to his shoulder, aimed carefully, and fired. His target arched in pain when Sims’ bullet ripped into his back, then collapsed face-down into the creek.
Sims gave a grunt of satisfaction, laid down his rifle, and scrambled down the steep bluff. He was an extremely handsome man, the scion of a wealthy Philadelphia banking family. Sims had been on his way to a life of luxury and ease, until he killed Jackson Holcomb, his rival for the hand of Mary Louise Hart, in an illegal duel. Forced to flee Pennsylvania, Sims discovered he enjoyed killing, and was very good at it. There was a string of corpses from Ohio through the Midwest and into the Wyoming and Dakota Territories as testimony to his skill.
The Lakota Sims had just shot had been leading a string of ponies, horses which would bring Sims a good chunk of cash from the miners of Deadwood. Once he’d sold the horses, Sims planned to spend several days drinking, gambling, and whoring. His good looks assured he would never lack for feminine company. Unfortunately for the women who fell for his charms, or were available for his cash, Sims had an extreme streak of cruelty. Very few of his consorts escaped unscarred, or even alive.
Sims reached his victim, pulled him from the water, then rolled him onto his back. To his surprise, the Indian was still alive, despite the bullet which had torn through his back, angled downward, and exited from low in his belly, leaving a large exit wound. The dying Sioux glared at Sims, then muttered several words.
“Ah, shut up, ya lousy redskin,” Sims said, with an oath. He pulled the Bowie knife from his belt and plunged it into the Indian’s belly, slicing it open and disemboweling him. Sims proceeded to scalp the Lakota, then ripped open his deerskin trousers, cut off the man’s privates, and tossed them into the creek.
“Reckon that takes care of you, Indian,” he said. “Now to get outta here.”
Sims made certain the dead Lakota’s horses were still secured to the trees where they’d been tied, then climbed back up the bluff to retrieve his rifle and own bay gelding. He got the rifle, shoved it back in the saddle boot, then climbed into the saddle. He raked the bay cruelly with his spurs, sending it plunging down the bank. Swiftly, not wanting to remain near the mutilated corpse of the Lakota, which was already gathering flies, he tied the leads of the dead man’s horses together, looped the lead horse’s rope over his saddlehorn, got back into the saddle and spurred his horse into a lope, the Indian ponies strung out behind.
Sims rode for an hour before, with dusk coming on, he decided to camp for the night. Deadwood was two days ride off, so since he’d found a good campsite, one with plenty of cover, grass for the horses, and water for them and himself, he figured it wasn’t worth pushing on after sundown.
After unsaddling his horse, then settling him, along with the stolen ponies, into a rope corral where they could browse, Sims built a fire, then cooked his bacon and beans. He was hunkered against a rock, savoring a cup of coffee, when he noticed two yellowish eyes staring at him from the darkness.
“G’wan, get outta here, you!” Sims yelled. He picked up a loose rock and chunked it at the creature. With a low growl, it turned and ran off.
“That was a wolf!” Sims exclaimed. “Strange the fire didn’t seem to bother it. Even weirder the horses didn’t seem to take notice of it. Oh, well, I’d best get some shut-eye.”
Sims tossed out the dregs of his coffee, pulled off his boots and hat, spread out his blankets, and rolled into them. Within five minutes, untroubled by the killing and mutilation of the Lakota, he fell into a sound sleep.
The next day. Sims had been riding for almost the entire morning, when he sensed a presence behind him. He turned in the saddle to see a large gray wolf trailing him, just about two hundred yards back.
“Can’t be the same one from last night, could it?” he murmured. “Nah, that’s impossible. No wolf would, or could, trail someone that long.”
Sims pulled his horse to a halt, then removed his Winchester from its boot. He turned in the saddle, aimed, and fired. His bullet struck the wolf squarely in the chest, the impact knocking it backwards, head over rump, blood spurting. With a yelp, the animal struggled for a moment, then lay still.
“That takes care of you,” Sims said, sliding his rifle back into place. He kicked his horse into a lope once again.
Two hours later, Sims realized another wolf was trailing him and the horses, this one only one hundred yards behind.
“Can’t be!” he half-screamed. Beginning to panic, he dug his spurs deep into his bay’s flanks, putting the animal into a dead run. He kept the horses at that pace until they were ready to drop from exhaustion.
Sims rode at a walk the rest of the day, the only steady pace the worn-out horses could maintain. Finally, convinced the second wolf had only been a figment of his imagination, he stopped for the night, just past sundown. The horses were given a ration of grain from the small sack of oats he carried, allowed to graze for a short while, given a drink, then tied to a picket line strung between two tall, sturdy pines.
Satisfied they were secured for the night, Sims settled to his own supper. This time, despite telling himself he had nothing to fear from wolves, Sims built a large campfire, and kept adding logs to it, wanting it to burn brightly for the entire night.
He turned at the sound of a wolf’s low growl. He saw the animal’s yellow eyes staring at him, then it broke into a howl, immediately panicking the horses. The terrified animals pulled free from the picket line and galloped into the night.
Sims leapt to his feet, cursing. He pulled his six-gun from its holster and emptied it in the wolf’s direction. The animal yelped, turned tail, and ran.
“Now what?” Sims muttered. He was afoot, and still more than a day from Deadwood. Well, he was resourceful. He’d start walking toward town, then, the first rider he’d come across he would kill, and take the man’s horse. Sometimes, having no compunction about killing could be to a man’s great advantage.
The next day, Sims began walking, along a fairly well-traveled road which would bring him to Deadwood. He fully expected to meet another person before an hour was out.
Today, however, the road was strangely empty. Sims trekked for several miles, his feet now sore and blistered. The sun beat down on him, soaking him with sweat and adding to his misery.
Sims had traversed a steep section of the road, and reached the top of a ridge. Both sides of the road were bordered by steep cliffs, drops of at least a hundred feet or more.
“Got to rest my feet,” he muttered.
Sims sat on a boulder alongside the road, pulled off his boots, and began to rub his blistered, bloodied feet. It was then that a low growl again caught his attention. Once again, a large wolf was staring at him, unblinking, its gaze seeming to go right through him.
“No!” Sims screeched “No! It ain’t possible!”
His eyes widened in terror when the wolf slowly advanced toward him, crouching in its hunting stalk.
“No!” Sims screamed yet again. “Get away from me!”
In abject terror, he rose to his feet, and started backing away from the animal. The wolf kept coming. Sims kept backing, now completely unaware of the drop behind him… until, with a scream, he toppled over the edge, his body bouncing and tumbling off the cliff face until it brokenly landed on the rocks far below.
The wolf, panting, turned and disappeared back into the forest. And the spirit of a murdered Lakota named Gray Wolf was finally at rest.