Western Short Story
Thurman “Turf” Malloy, dreamer, supposed cowman. comfortable in the saddle all the live-long day, looked across the Texas plains, his eyes stretching beyond what he saw, not noting the herd of cattle spread across his view. That moment was all of a century and a half ago, 1867 to be exact in our count, and Turf on the search.
“Cattle don’t occupy my mind,” Turf Malloy’d often say, yet with a knowledgeable nod at an interested face, he’d add, “but what they trample on does, the land occupies my mind. Where puncher cooks cook their steaks keeps telling me there’s gold in the land. Not the yellow kind, not the ring and necklace stuff, but that under=earth stuff that’ll make empires from down below. Whole vast empires.” His hands stretched widely at his sides.
There came a gleam in his smile.
The thought made him nervous, but gave him energy, drove him on.
As it was, near 1543, two centuries earlier, the Indians of western Texas had found fluid coming out of rocks and earth, which they believed was medicinal, and so spun the tales of its power, and thus carried the proof of what had been found. Watercraft of different kinds had also been caulked with the new finding, thereby twisting legend and lore in a couple of directions. Malloy treated such data with the reverence that historians have for the past, sorting fact from fiction, lore from legend when feasible, guess from proof, whenever they could.
It was after the Civil War rocked the land, when Turf Malloy started drilling for oil in 1867, following the suit of other seekers, and kept the empire dream moving on its edges, a capacity of thought working through many of his nights, making dreams, disturbing sleep.
Accidental interruptions can mark most days, and usually toss in extra mixes of every degree for those folks with attention or awareness, or those waiting for charms to work or bad luck to rear its ugly head. Proof of this came on the day he met Alice Hudson and her husband Tim on a rocky trail, their small party already attacked by a few Indians, Tim Hudson sorely wounded, and close to death. Turf Malloy’s life took another twist. He ministered as best he could the wounded man who died in his arms, and saw the new widow’s sad beauty evolve during that day, a kind of beast and beauty element of itself.
“He was an honest and good man,” Alice said in quick surmise, as Turf put a marker on the new grave in the middle of nowhere, mountains and cliffs and rocky stages of erosion abounding in every view as far as one could see and still make judgments, not be awed by the land itself.
Turf replied, “And now you are in my custody from this day onward.”
In the morning, they moved on, their searches doubled by trouble, new hungers working, the area known as Hillview directly ahead of them, possibly fortune and future also, and a huge sadness behind them in the rocky ground. For long hours, even her beauty at rest, his eyes scanned the trail, the rims and edges of cliffsides poking their chins and rocky paths at him.
Oil, he was positive of, sat at rest, waiting to be found, ready to pour into a thousand types of containers. Oil was the huge dream. Oil was the fortune waiting for the adventurers, the daring, the dreamers, the diggers of the Earth, those who rammed a piece of steel into the heart of Mother Earth, who cares the length or the latitude.
And there near Hillview came the gush of life, legend, land riches scooped with reason all about him in a hurry of sales and scales, his riches piling up, Alice Hudson suddenly a queen even in her own sadness as the pair joined their own forces. They found an empire to their liking, nothing could stop them, until a spirit from the past from an old trail burial decided to join them.
She woke with a start, and alarm. “Did you just see what I just saw, Tim on horseback rushing to catch up to us. Did you see it, Turf? Oh, my gawd, it’s so real!”
Turf was employed in his own dream when she woke him. “I was having my own dream. That section on the northwest side is a sure good addition to grab. I’ve been warned to start today to wrap it in the coffers. It should be ours.”
“Can’t you think of anything else, Turf? We’ve had a warning. We have to pay attention to it. Tim was a stern believer in dreams and warnings put in your lap. He always said so. I remember when he first spoke about those Indians. It was the night before the attack. He knew it was coming.”
“That’s you just hearing his words, like an echo, coming from back there where we buried him. And no cowboy’s horse ever wants a ghost perched on his saddle. They’d go crazy. Toss him off in a second, on the first four-legged leap off the ground. Rest easy, queen of the May. It’s not a problem for us.”
He stretched his hand to touch her and he could feel her shrinking in the bed, withdrawal controlling her, as though she wanted to depart, disappear, leave this whole word of oil.
“Listen to me,” he said. “In the first place, it was Indians who found oil, used it, made it special and then it became big medicine. But they never knew how big it was going to get, how gigantic, and even now I have a hard time trying to measure how big. It’ll probably be bigger than me, but I want to try to get as much as I can, and that has to include you.”
She swarmed around him. “Then you have to think about what I say, every word I say. We have had a warning. we have to listen.”
“Okay,” Turf Malloy said, “I’ll pay attention to your words. I’ll go for a simple ride to the north west to look at that chunk of earth soon to be ours.”
When he sensed the horse’s motions were becoming exorbitant, he tried to pull him back, was suddenly impelled into the air, came crashing down on a rock, his last sight being the liquid oozing from the side of the rock.