Once again, I have flash fiction for you inspired by Chuck Wendig’s prompt for this week. This time around I had to somehow include three randomly determined things in the course of a 1000 word story, and luck dealt me a journal, Survival, and a horse. Yes, Survival was capitalized. Maybe it’s the music I’ve been listening to, maybe I’m in a rut, but that combination just screamed “Old West” to me. I did my best to make it interesting. Have fun!
My brother had been gone for too long, and I wasn’t sure what to do about it. He’d taken the horse into town seven days ago, and should have been back in three. One day there, one for business, and one back. But I was still waiting for him near our claim. When I heard the horse coming up the trail, late that night, I jumped out of my bedroll in excitement.
I could recognize Sally by the sound of her steps, and the way she blew her lips at me. It looked like Sally had set out alone, and was more than ready for me to take all the gear off her. She’d been saddled, and her saddlebags loaded back up again, but my brother was missing. Rising panic and the cold night air made me shiver as I led Sally towards the embers of the campfire. I lit a torch and started checking over Sally’s tack, speaking to her in the calmest voice I could muster. There wasn’t any blood on her, nor was there any sign of the supplies that Jim had meant to fetch. It wasn’t until I got to the saddle bags that I found my brother’s journal with one page sticking out of it.
Jim would never have let that book out of his sight. He loved scrawling in it every night before bed, even when he’d worked a full hard day, and he never let anyone else read it. But I recognized his chickenscratch, the big letters inked across the top of the torn page. “R-U-N.”
I frantically pulled out the journal and read in the torchlight. He’d known I would; there was more beneath the warning. It looked like a short diary entry about fellows who’d been asking about our claim. But then it started up again about half-way down the page:
“Marsh Davies knows we’re not bringing in all our gold. He’ll follow Sally to you, but at least this way you’ll have warning. He’d find you anyway, he’s got some dude with a dangling watch they say can find anything. He’s sure found me again. If you know what’s good for you, run. Make sure he doesn’t learn everything about the claim. Your loving brother, Jim.” There were blue spots on the page.
I was in shock. Did this mean that Jim was dead? How the hell did Marsh Davies learn about what we were doing with our claim? Were they going to try to kill me too? Only Sally lipping at my shoulder brought me back.
I looked her over, taking in her fatigue. She’d already been going all day, and was more than ready to be done. There was no way I’d escape on her in the middle of the night with people on my trail. I knew the land around this little clearing well enough to know that I’d have to lead her at best. What wasn’t trees was rock or slope, and there was only one good way up or down our little valley. But if it was gold that they were after, I knew where they’d have to go.
I stripped Sally as quickly as I could, brushed her down, and turned her loose. She’d be fine for a little while. I put together a pack, and walked up the valley to the mine’s mouth.
Morning was cold, and covered the world in dew. The sun had yet to come over the peaks behind me, and I had a good view down the long draw of the valley. I was prone, in a small hide over the entrance to the mine. This claim was a perfect spot, with a rich vein of ore coming all the way to the surface. No one would ask any questions about why we were digging into the rock there, and we could even make some money off the ore we dug.
I opened the little telescope Jim had bought me a while back and stared at the motion coming up the valley. Four figures, on horseback, with guns out. Not friendly. The telescope was good enough to pick up the motion of a man’s pocket watch, swinging in long arcs on its chain. The man held the chain firmly, his other hand holding his coat closed across his chest. His eyes followed its arc to stare up the valley towards me. I hoped he was looking for the mine.
The men moved through our old campsite, taking note of Sally, and the tack laid up to hang. Let them think I didn’t know something was wrong, and maybe I could come through this alive. But Jim was right, I couldn’t let them know about what was going on in our mine. I lifted the butt of the Winchester to my shoulder and waited.
Soon enough, the men approached the rest of the way on foot. They stopped at a signal from Marsh, arrayed twenty feet from the mine. Marsh wore a deputy’s badge. That was different.
“We know you’re in there,” he called. “You’re wanted in connection with violation of, uh, the Alien Contract Labor Law.”
That blew it. They knew. My first shot took watch-man in the chest. I levered in another round as they scattered, shooting the dirt around me. My next shot legged one of Marsh’s lackeys, and then he was hiding behind a rock. A ricochet tore open my left heel, straight through the boot. I flinched, fired again. Marsh’s other lackey dropped from behind the pine he’d found.
I stood on my good leg and drew down on Marsh before he could get his gun on me. He went down. The legged one caught me once in the thigh, and then I caught him in the head.
Blue blood dripped from my wounds and I sank to the ground in pain. At least I’d survived. I bound the bullet wounds slowly, then rose. Now it was time to fetch Jim.
Great story, kept me hooked from the beginning. I am wondering what the alien labor law is! Is this a sci-fi western? That would be cool!
I referenced an actual law from 1885 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alien_Contract_Labor_Law), though in this case the definition of “alien” was being stretched beyond its original intent (hence Marsh’s momentary stumble). And yeah, I started writing it and realized part way through that I wanted there to be something more than just competition for a claim, hence the less-than-normal elements.