Top Ten Western Short Stories For December
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Western Short Story
Never Sell Your Saddle
trying to adjust to the fact that I sold my saddle the other day.
I put a lot of thought and work in that saddle. I found the best hardwood saddle tree with an old time slick fork, then I modified it to fit my horse and my posterior. With the best Herman Oak Leather, I cut and carved, stitched and laced, constructed and crafted what I saw as the perfect saddle. There had been many before that one. Some I had repaired too many times and sent off to where used-up equipment ends. My butt was proud of that saddle though, and it was a good one.
time back I found that I didn’t bend so good any more. I got
throwed hard. We went high a half dozen times and I quickly
remembered what I’d learned back in my rodeo days. It felt good, I
had him…just had to ride him down and he’d be over it. About then
we went way up and he did a half-gainer midair. We came down in a
ravine on his front legs, while his rear was still pointed at the
sun. I was over his ears and diving headfirst toward the bottom of
the gully. I attempted to tuck and roll, but all too quickly landed
like a skydiver without a chute.
I figured I’d found concrete, but there wasn’t any for a mile or more. Oh man that hurt! Ten minutes must have gone by while I lay there trying to pump air into my aching body. My left arm was already blue from the shoulder down and the swelling had me convinced it was broke in several places. My face was bleeding and my right leg refused to work at all. Harley stood there looking down at me like he was waiting for me to get back on and try again.
About an hour later I had finally made it a quarter mile back to the house. Mama said, either shoot him or sell him, you’re not riding him again……..you’re getting too old, you don’t bounce well anymore, and you don’t get paid when you’re not working. Of course a cowboy don’t let his woman tell him how to deal with his horse……but somehow, my last horse was gone within a month.
No pack trips to hunt elk in Montana for the last few years and no horse. But I had a saddle. I’d be ready if I needed one. Thing is, it doesn’t look as though I will. The darn years seem to be going by faster and adding up to an enormous sum. Still yet a fella needs to be ready to ride, don’t he?
heard some advice that sounded pretty good one time. It goes
Don’t ever sell your saddle – Never owe another man – Watch where you spit on a windy day – Don’t use words you don’t understand – Find the Lord before you need him – And never lose your pride – Don’t ever sell your saddle – ‘Cause life’s a long, long ride.
I suppose that I haven’t followed those good sounding recommendations, nor my own philosophy of getting right back on when you get thrown. I’m realizing that with age comes diminished resilience, and getting back on gets harder with every fall.
You know – there are still a couple of old saddles in my rack. They aren’t as pretty, or as comfortable, but with a slower, gentler horse….. I could mount up and see what’s left of this sometimes treacherous, but wondrous trail.
MIDNIGHT IN MULESHOE
Emmett Wilder heard the sound of a steam engine whistle. It was long distance across the grassy prairie, back in the mesas, still yet it broke the dead quiet on the Llano Estacado of West Texas. The little town of Muleshoe had grown up out of the sage when the Pecos & Northern Texas Railroad came through a few years earlier.
There Emmett found himself on this cold October evening of 1906, huddled up against the old Mission Adobe near the railroad station. He sat in the dirt shivering and coughing. He’d been sick for a while now, and without a dollar in his pocket and on the run from the law again, he was hopeless. He figured that between his age, his health, and not one person in this world that cared, he was done for.
He noticed a man walking purposely in his direction. He was tall and thin, walking diagonally across dirt road coming directly toward him. “Damn,” he thought, “The last thing I need is some scoundrel a tryin’ ta rob me, or worse.” Then he noticed that the man was well dressed, very well dressed in a black suit with a long black frock and wearing a stove pipe black hat.
Emmett was just too weak to protect himself and he didn’t have any weapons. He’d hocked everything of value and had bought, traded and stolen for whiskey. He had made several attempts to turn his life around and become the man he once had been, but he failed. He had walked into a brush arbor church meeting over a year ago where he began a grand effort to live the life of the good Christian. Somehow after a year of being sober he’d fallen off the wagon again and was back to stealing to quench his insatiable thirst.
He jumped when the man kicked his foot. He’d been deep in thought about his failings and had almost forgotten about the stranger. He looked up and he coughed from down deep in his lungs.
“Are you Emmett Wilder?” Asked the man.
“Yea, that’s me, regrettably.” He answered, “Are you here to arrest me?”
“No, I’m not here to arrest you. I’m here to take you away though.” Replied the stranger.
“Take me where?” Grumbled Emmett. He spit to the side and a trail of blood ran down the right side of his chin.”
“There’s a train comin’ down the tracks, a long black train and you’re gonna be on it.” Said the man as he bent over and tucked a train ticket into Emmett’s shirt pocket.
“You runnin’ me out of town?” Asked Emmett.
“Yes sir.” He answered. “I’m runnin’ you out of Muleshoe and out of Texas, and out of this world. But you will have plenty of company on that train Mister Wilder. There are thousands of lost souls headed out to my place. But let me tell you sir, this is a one way ticket. You won’t be comin’ back!”
Emmett looked up at him with the most forlorn look there ever was. “This is the end of the line for me, then?” He asked.
“This is the end.” He said. “You’ve had more time and more chances than most folks get. You just ain’t no good Emmett Wilder. Get up and come with me.”
“Jesus forgive my worthless soul.” Said Emmett as he struggled to his feet.
Just then Emmett heard a team of horses on a gallop. It was a thunderous sound. Dust swirled about in a big cloud out in the road and he heard the horses stop. The man in the black suit turned to look. They both watched and momentarily a lady stepped out of that cloud of dust walking directly toward them.
The lady was wearing a white dress. It was something like an ankle length wedding dress without lace. A white satin cape covered her shoulders and a small piece of satin fabric covered her hair.
The man in the black suit quickly became distressed. He yelled out, “What the hell are you doing here?”
She continued toward them without answering. When she came close Emmett saw that cloth that covered her hair was aglow in the moonlight. He was terrified and confused. She came close, reached out and took the train ticket out of his pocket, and said.
“Be still, all is well.”
She turned to the man in black and said, “We heard this man call. He is yet among the living. You know the law, be gone. The man in black vanished into red mist and light filled the area around them.
Emmett said, “You saved me from damnation!”
The lady replied, “Many times.”
Emmett looked to the road where the team of white horses stood in front of an old buckboard wagon. He recognized the driver, it was his Grandfather, and next to him was his Father. He fell backwards and his back slammed against the Mission wall, his knees gave way and he slowly slid down to the ground with his eyes closed.
Consciousness came to him like a lightning bolt. His eyes popped open to a bright blur. He heard his name, “Emmett, Emmett.” Slowly his eyes began to focus on the person looking down at him, it was old Doc Walker. Above him was a ceiling, brightly painted yellow.
“Where am I?” He asked.
“Yur in the infirmary Emmett. You’ve been out for two days now and ya nearly bought it ole boy.” Replied Doc Walker. You have pneumonia and sorosis of the liver. You were near dead when they found you the other morning. If you don’t quit drinkin’ you’ll not have another chance.” Answered the Doc.
“I think we all run out of chances sooner or later Doc.” Replied Emmett. “But I’ll be choosin’ later I think. Emmett Wilder ain’t never gonna have another drink and he ain’t never sinin’ no more.”
“What’s come over you?” Asked the Doc. “Comin’ close to dyin’ scare ya, did it?
“I had an encounter with a angel.” Answered Emmett.
“Well you were pretty drunk there for a few days and you might’a done some dreamin’ while you was passed out.” Said the Doc.
“I had one hell of a dream when I was passed out Doc.” Replied Emmett.
THIS OLD PORCH
From this old porch I can see things clearly. Like that big old black Angus bull way down there under that lone cottonwood tree. He’s been swatin’ flies with his tail and playing hide and seek with the hot July sun all day. The light cuts sideways and holds on hard while that burnin’ fire ball sinks into the Pacific. He’ll rest easy soon, a rush of cool air always comes down the canyon at dusk.
From this old porch I can see things clearly, like that treehouse in the big Cedar that I built with my Grandson years ago. A clear vision of us up high pounding nails in the boards and laughing about Grammy telling him not to fall, every half hour or so.
From this old porch I see images of the past clearly. Like the look of delight on my Grandfather’s face when I came to visit him. Seldom as it was, his words were kind and his love absolute. Grandparents, parents and siblings all gone on, but their image is perceptible. Almost hear voices of the past floating in the soft breeze of twilight.
Reaching out I take the hand of my darlin.’ We sit and hold on to one another in the quiet shadows. Our hands are weathered and wrinkled, yet hers always and forever tender. The image of a beautiful young girl stands facing me as I place a ring on her finger. I can see into the past from this old porch.
The future is shrouded from view as always, and the number of sunsets remain unknown. Though one evening the cool air will come down the canyon, the heat and pestilence will give way and we’ll continually rest easy.