Western Short Story
They exclaimed, did the Stickney brothers, and loudly even for the saloon, that from their porch on Fremont Hill in Baystate Saugus, that they could see east and west to Aunt Sadie’s place east of them, all the way to Marblehead, and to Uncle Norman’s off there in the hills of South Deerfield, perhaps, as some would believe, to Pittsfield, far enough away to be at forever, and someday they’d prove it.
If it did nothing else, that acclamation, it made for talk, and laughter and a bit of boasting, all bound by doubt and the Stickney’s past claims let loose in The Big Talk Saloon. That small hovel of a liar’s sanctuary sometimes erupted at a tall tale, but it had to be a good one. And the line-of-sight theory carried more than proof as baggage, but absolute, personal, me-experienced belief. That element carried its weight farther than bull could ever be thrown, any kind of bull, whether an old-time pitcher of Cleveland threw it in his prime, or some local Red Sox talent trying to scare the masses back into a corner of the room.
Harry Stickney set up a new approach among his brethren one night as they sat in their barn in Saugus. “I’ve thought it over a dozen times, and fire is the big answer, a fire that can be seen almost across the whole state at night.” He’d paused then and continued, “We have to have control of the fire, the start of it, a timely announcement and acclimation of it so others back here can see it.” He added a perfunctory note with, “Seein’ is believin’. And with it, we’d own them lock, stock and barrel.”
He stopped right there to let their brains rush upon solutions of various orders. colors, and reality. It was Paul who said, “We have to start a fire. That means a timing device, but the fire has to be physically seen and word of it brought here so others can say, whether it’s true or not, that they too have seen the fire, the very flames of it. There are at least twenty liars who would swear themselves into the ranks, to be part of it all, to share in the short glory of the whole damned deed.”
His laughter, their laughter, was contagious; Why, the very thought of it all.
Harry picked up on the thought: “One of us has to set a timer and see it go off at some fair distance to allow his pell-mell rush for alarm, the flames spread, and then beat it back here, in whatever speed he can make the run. The guys back here have to have proof of it as well as us. We got to stick them real good with this possibility. That’s all they need, kind of like an affirmation of possibility, not counting whether it’s a fabulous lie or not, but some twist of it they can share in.” Paused, thinking more, he added, “It’d take care of two weeks or a month’s worth of laughter, maybe a whole basket full of laughs.”
He had uncontrollable and instant merriment rush through him, like Babe Ruth laughing off another homer.
Paul added, “You got it down to a T, Harry, like you was right there while you was right here. It’s perfect.”
They shared a few steins of the good stuff, each one seeing the way it would come to them as part of the clan and plan. Joy of joys, it was. And heads up for the boys at the pub, some of them, for sure, could and would see Aunt Sadie’s place east of them, all the way to Marblehead, and then struggle, from that same point, to see the flames licking away at Uncle Norman’s barn out in South Deerfield. The barn was old as the hills to begin with and he used it no more for horses or mules as he had no need for them these days and could afford the small share of a big fire in the middle of the night; day fire being of little use to begin with, and a pell-mell rushing horseman carrying a piece of a tall tale as a fact of matter right to the club itself, doubters never darers, but darers undoing doubt.
Harry’s actions at Uncle Norman’s barn, one night of deep darkness only a week later, had all elements in place and ready to go. The timing mechanism was all triggered and ready to go, and he was on horseback, on the road, heading back to scatter the word, alarm the populace, scare up the crowd, bring the club members to attention at the club when things went into flames as high as Bunker Hill itself off there in Charlestown, landmark of landmarks, history at hand, a new take on distance-sighting.
The fiery streaks and lit-up smoke swirling into the night sky was visible for miles upon miles as Harry beat his horse with spurs and whip, dashing through town after town on the same line of sight, his cries near waking the dead in those towns and scaring some old customers into what amounted to a sudden threat at breathing. His pacing with his watch had brought him damned close to the covey of liars, boasters, and other ilk of I-was-there-and-saw-it-all-on-my own.
Liars, it can be said, are club-like, rank-fed, joiners, who manage to gather their own support from similar leanings among the populace, and of course, in every liar’s league in the Commonwealth.
“We saw the fire in South Deerfield, all the way, a straight line of sight over the curve of the Earth, we few here at this organization, witnesses unto witnesses, believers among believers, the sharp-eyed among us, we late-drinkers brought to notice of a spectacular file elsewhere on the whole dang curve of Earth, and all the way from a member’s uncle all the way off there at the near-end of the state itself. It’s proof enough that we could see WAR itself under such circumstances, being gathered here at the alarm, ready to spring to arms if we are called, if a battle is warranted, we will stand shoulder to shoulder, ready to do our bit, if it at all gets too close for comfort. Why Pittsfield itself ain’t much further than that. And war at Pittsfield could be the real thing.