Apparently if you’re doing the short-story-per-day challenge instead of NaNoWriMo, you’re supposed to also post it on your blog. I hesitate to do this because it’ll be painfully obvious if I fail to keep up, and also because I’m not sure I want everyone to see my first-draft stuff. But oh, well, what the hell.
Here’s story number one. I decided to write some backstory for a character I’ve been using to do some testing on the FAR Western game.
The Silent Kid
James Fenton stood frozen in place, unable to move, unable to speak.The barrel of the Colt Navy revolver didn’t waver as the man who had murdered his father cocked the hammer and began to press the trigger. The muzzle of the gun yawned wide and black.
James turned his tear-stained face toward the speaker, his mouth hanging open in silent surprise.
“Come on, Luther, he’s just a kid.”
Luther Scanlon’s eyes narrowed, his mouth set in a hard line, but he lowered the revolver just a fraction. “Jesus, Ben, have you gone soft in the head? We can’t let this kid wander off and tell the law, you know that.”
“Where’s he going to wander to?” Ben’s long, straggly mustache quivered whenever he became emotional. Now his voice also quivered with nervousness. Luther had killed at least twelve men, and that didn’t count shooting James Fenton, Sr., in the back three days ago. “Nearest place is the stagecoach station, and that’s a full day’s ride away.”
“We can’t take the chance!” Luther growled. He swept his arm out to encompass the assembled outlaws. “You all ain’t got the guts, so I’m gonna have to take care of it.”
“It ain’t a matter of guts, Lu.” An unseen voice spoke out from the back of the group. “Killing a little kid…it ain’t right.”
Luther scratched his grizzled chin with his left hand, which oozed blood from a shallow, ragged wound. The Colt Navy rose again to point at James’s skinny chest.
Suddenly, emboldened by the semi-anonymous support from one of his fellows, Ben stepped in front of James. “We’ll take his shoes away,” the sandy-haired young man blurted out. “He won’t be able to go very far that way.”
The revolver stayed in position, pointing at Ben’s abdomen now instead of James’s chest, for several ominous seconds.
“Have it your way, Benny,” Luther spat. “But if he does run…”
The revolver now pointed at Ben’s face. The muzzle remained rock steady while Luther slowly, slowly began to lower the hammer. If his thumb slipped off the spur, or even let it down a little too fast… A bead of sweat rolled down Ben’s suddenly pale face.
Luther gave a gravelly bark of laughter. “Well, go ahead, Benny! Take the boy’s shoes off! We’ll leave it up to Mr. Bunnell to decide what to do with this runt when he gets back.”
James Fenton’s big, hollow brown eyes remained fixed on Luther Scanlon while he mechanically raised one foot, then the other to allow Benny to take off his boots.
Benny muttered to himself, rendered garrulous by relief. “Jesus, how’s a scrawny little kid like you got such big feet?” A guy had to be half crazy to stand in front of Luther Scanlon’s gun. What had he been thinking? “Dunno why I even bothered…you better remember you owe me one, kid.”
The kid said nothing.
Luther shoved the Colt Navy pistol into his waistband. “Well, kid, ain’t you gonna thank me?” James said nothing. “All right, then thank your defense lawyer here. He’s the one saved your skin.” James just stared at him and still said nothing. Luther took out a plug of tobacco and bit off a chaw. “Kids these days… No respect.” He shook a finger at James. “You behave yourself, you hear? I ain’t taking no more shit from you.”
The outlaws then drifted off about their business, leaving eight-year-old James Fenton to sit barefoot by himself under a fragrant juniper tree. He flung the hard little bluish-green juniper berries at a white rock while his thoughts ran in circles.
He had given Luther Scanlon a ration of shit, that was for sure. He almost smiled at the thought. He had scratched, clawed, and kicked, and bitten a chunk right out of the back of Luther’s hand. He could still faintly taste the blood. Traitorously, his eyes then filled with tears. He had challenged Luther to a duel, and had received only mocking laughter in response. That was when he had snapped and launched himself blindly at his father’s murderer.
No more tears, Sunny Jim! Now buck up, and let’s go make tomorrow happen. That’s what his father had told him over a quick hug whenever he got homesick for life back in Virginia. But his father was dead, shot in the back by men he had trusted.
Luther Scanlon and Blond Ben with the scraggly mustache, and Gordie, too. They had been hired to help drive the herd in to the new homestead, but they had betrayed the Fentons for money from the slick-talking outlaw, Mr. Bunnell. Teach Bunnell…and a dozen of his men who had filtered in from the hills one by one, until James could no longer believe Luther Scanlon’s lie that his father’s death was an accident.
Silent tears coursed down his face while he rehearsed their names in his mind and committed their faces to memory.
Some time later, James wiped away the last of the tears. He would not cry again. There was a secret, unseen tomorrow waiting for all of these men, and he had to make it happen.