Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: YOUTH (04/04/19)
- TITLE: The Long Trail
By Dennis Gallemore
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Hearing and seeing nothing amiss, I shrugged and turned back around, the gunshot to my leg throbbing something fierce. A solitary buzzard wheeled in the sky above me. “You won’t get me today, vulture. I reckon the posse will catch up to me before I breathe my last.”
Uncapping my canteen, I drank the last of the brackish water and tossed it aside. My horse staggered and then stopped, his head drooping. Sliding off the saddle, I fell to one side as he shuddered and fell over, nearly crushing me under his bulk. A wave of dizziness overtaking me, I sank further to my knees on the broiling-hot sand. Pulling out my pistol, I put the end of the barrel to my horse’s head and pulled the trigger, the gunshot echoing across the barren, lifeless desert. If the posse didn’t know where I was before, they surely did now. The hot breath of the posse’s mounts would be breathing down my dry, cracked neck before the sun set upon the God-forsaken cauldron I found myself in.
I stared at my gun, wondering, not for the first time, when it had first become a part of me. No marks were filed on it, only a tin horn did that, but If’n I had a mind to, I could have filed a dozen marks along the barrel. A dozen shots fired; a dozen women made widows. “No woman to mourn me when I’m gone. No woman, and no man for that matter.” If the circling buzzard heard, he didn’t make no sign of agreement one way or the other.
My final act of compassion for my horse completed, I reached into a pocket and pulled out a weathered old bible and opened it. It had been my ma’s and her grandma’s before that and now, years and miles later, it was mine. I don’t know why I carried it all those years but I had. Now and again I had taken it out and looked at it, but I never read it. I always thought I’d have time, but now I’d completely run out of time. The posse was coming and there was nothing in the whole wide world that was going to stop them.
There was ma’s writing on the first page in her careful hand: a list of the ten commandments. She kept telling me when I was young that I should read them and follow them. I never read them and I sure didn’t follow them. Fighting back tears, I read the final inscription: To my son, Seth, on this day, July 15, 1872, his tenth birthday. Shaking my head, my vision blurring, I cried out in a pain far worse than the gunshot I had taken to my leg. Today was July 15, my birthday, and I had just turned 19 years old. Gunshot and without a drink of water anywhere, I sat beside the carcass of my horse and celebrated my birthday, my youth forever gone.
I heard the posse coming before I even saw them, the snorts of their horses loud in my ears, the sandy dust kicked up from their hooves filling the air around me, gagging me with its fetid odor. Forcing my head up, I find myself looking at a dozen black stallions, their eyes glowing red, their breath reeking of brimstone. A dozen riders, all grim-faced and silent, sat upon their mounts, their gaze upon me vacant and hollow.
My stomach turning over, I staggered to my feet, the bible slipping onto the sand below. “I reckon I just needed more time…”
Nudging his hellish mount forward, the leader stepped closer. “You’re out of time, boy. You had your chance. Now you’re riding with us.” He grinned, steaming saliva dripping down his face. “By the way, boy; happy birthday.”
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