This was my first ever challenge story.
The Kid clenched his teeth against the pain engulfing his heart and stared out across the water, the shimmering shards of moonlight drifting over the surface glinting hypnotically in his shocked, dull eyes.
Why the hell had they accepted that invitation to dinner?
It all seemed innocent enough. Two women they had helped with a broken axle had wanted to thank them with an invitation to a home cooked meal.
If only they had known that one of them had recognised them from a bank they had robbed...
It wasn’t an invitation. It was a trap.
What did they care for the fact that they hadn’t committed a crime for two years? They were worth money... good money and that was all they were interested in.
Sure, the Kid had managed to put a bullet in the sheriff’s knee and hit the deputy in the hand so they had made it to their horses. It was either that or shoot to kill or die in prison.
Heyes had even snatched up the sheriff’s gun to make sure that he couldn’t shoot them in the back as they made good their escape, but the small clapboard house was on the edge of town and the shots had attracted attention.
It hadn’t taken long before the thundering hooves behind them heralded the following posse as they battered their way into the darkness with adrenaline fuelled blood pumping loudly in their ears.
The Kid heard Heyes’ horse scream in pain as a bullet rammed into her flank before she dropped heavily to the ground.
‘Heyes!’ he whirled around and offered him a hand to jump up behind them.
‘No, they’re too close and neither of us will stand a chance of out-running them riding two up. Just go!’
The Kid hesitated.
‘Go!’ Heyes bellowed. ‘I’ll meet you at the creek where we camped last night. Just get out of here.’
And he had... after all if Heyes couldn’t meet him he had a good chance of springing him from a small town jail.
The Kid had ridden off into the night and had lain in wait about ten minutes away, waiting for the posse to charge by so that he could go back for Heyes... but they had never come, so he had cautiously turned back and retraced his steps to the outskirts of town.
It hadn’t taken long before he heard the raging gun battle and he had urged his mount into action and galloped back. There was no way that he was going to leave Heyes to face that on his own.
The barrage seemed to come from the new railway works just on the edge of town, Heyes had clearly taken refuge there and was doing his level best to hold them off.
The Kid crept forward, hidden in the shrubbery and saw that all the action seemed to be centred on the small hut which sat at the edge of the excavations.
He heaved a sigh of relief. At least Heyes had some kind of cover and now that he was here, the five men who pounded the fragile building with lead would have something to distract them.
Suddenly the air was lit up by a huge explosion as the hut was rent into pieces before his very eyes. Huge plumes of orange, red and yellow flames hungrily consumed what was left of the shattered building as broken pieces pattered down around the site.
The Kid watched in absolute horror as an eerie silence descended on the whole area, the shooting suddenly stopped by the shock of the explosion. The only sounds drifting across through air was the crackling, splintering of the burning wood as the smoke mingled with the faint banana-like smell of nitro-glycerine.
Dynamite. There had been dynamite in the hut and something has set it off. No human being could survive a blast like that.
A flickering, glowing ember danced its way across to the Kid’s hiding place, caught in a thermal, before it suddenly burned itself out, its brilliance snuffed out suddenly and irrevocably before his very eyes.
The Kid sucked back a rasping breath as caustic tears caught at the back of his throat. He wanted to cry out, to scream Heyes’ name, but he couldn’t... not without signing his own death warrant. He dropped his head and blinked back the blinding tears before he turned off in to the night.
He had wandered aimlessly for a while. Time simply meant no more to him than anything else did at that moment. Eventually he had found himself back at the creek where they had camped the previous night, where Heyes had told him to meet him.
There was something slightly comforting about being back in the last place they had spent the night, but the familiarity also brought stabbing, pulsing moments of pain. His mind kept flashing pictures of Heyes’ smile across the campfire and memories of their casual, comfortable laughter over the bacon and beans they had eaten the night before.
That was gone... all gone and the Kid had never felt so lost and lonely in his life. Even when they had lost their folks they had each other, but now he had no one, nothing. He had no family, no home and no base... and now no Heyes.
And without Heyes he could envisage no future. It all stretched out before him, empty, meaningless and blank. Just what was he going to do now?
Heyes retreated into the yard drawing the posse away from the Kid.
At first they had been fooled by two guns firing at them, thinking that they had cornered both outlaws, little realising that Heyes had saved the sheriff’s gun and was providing the fire power of two guns. By the time they realised they had been fooled they had given up the chase as they reckoned that enough time had elapsed for the other one to get clean away. Besides, a bird in the hand was better than two in the bush, after all.
Heyes’ dark eyes scanned the yard and saw that the only real cover was a small hut over by the half built tracks. Quickly dismissing the railway sleepers, shallow piles of earth and scrubby bushes as too open and exposed, he made straight for it.
He only had to delay them for enough time for the Kid to get away, and then he could surrender. The Kid would get him out, somehow.
Bullets battered into the hut as he cowered on the floor keeping his head well and truly down. The pounding was relentless, shattering through the rough planks, splintering and fracturing the thin lumber and he quickly realised that the citizens of this little town had no interest in capitulation. He was wanted dead or alive and his heart sunk as the realisation filtered through his consciousness that dead was not only cheaper for the state; it was final.
What difference did it really make to them, as long as they were paid?
Time ticked by and shots continued to thump into the wooden walls, systematically weakening them and increasing his vulnerability. Time seemed strangely elastic. He had only been in there for about five minutes but it seemed like hours as adrenaline fuelled his mounting fear.
‘Get a grip, Heyes!’ He muttered under his breath. ‘This isn’t gonna get you outta here. Think, man, think.’
He was truly cornered and he began to doubt his ability to survive this, but at least the Kid had escaped... it wasn’t all for nothing. The Kid would stand a better chance on his own, maybe even build a future?
He preserved his ammunition for as long as possible, occasionally discharging a gun aimlessly through the window to keep them at bay, and looked around the hut.
He needed a plan and fast. It was at times like this that his mind seemed to run like quicksilver and he desperately hoped it wouldn’t let him down this time.
There had to be something... there was always a fallback plan. He just had to find it.
The shelter had mostly been used to store gravel and aggregates of different sizes, kept separate in canvas bags. A shovel and a couple of tarpaulins lay on top of them and, more usefully, a pickaxe was propped up in the corner.
Heyes shuffled over on his belly and got his bearings, slightly surprised that he hadn’t paid more attention to his surroundings before now.
This small building was of a portable type, commonly used by railway workers as they moved from site to site along the length of the new railway lines. On short legs with a pitched roof, it was robust enough to be used time and time again, but not strong enough to stand up to a prolonged attack.
Time was running out and fast.
He rooted around in the gravel to get to the pickaxe and his heart leapt as he struck gold. Eureka! A stick of dynamite and a roll of fuse.
The germ of a plan started to form along with a pair of dimples. He had a chance, maybe; if he was lucky...
His skilled hands quickly attached the fuse and tossed it up to the rafters. Time and time again it fell back down, but he persevered, pausing only to fire off the odd shot to keep his attackers at a distance and curse under his breath in frustration and his hands began to sweat and tremble.
Would he ever be able to get that dynamite up to the roof? It would have been an easy job if he had been able to stand up, but the flying bullets meant that his head was likely to be blown off so he stayed firmly on the floor. After what seemed like an eternity, the dynamite finally caught on the rafter. Heyes caught his breath and watched it teeter precariously before it finally wedged itself in the corner.
He heaved a sigh of relief. It looked like he might get away from here after all.
His next move was to use the pickaxe to pull up a couple of floorboards until he had enough room to drop through to the gap below. Portable railway huts were usually about two feet above the ground, on wooden runners by which they could be carried from site to site so it could easily accommodate a man lying down underneath it, but making sure that no-one saw him slip down there would take extreme diversionary tactics.
But Heyes was prepared for that.
Finally, he moved as much of the gravel across to the side of the hole as possible, spreading it as thickly over the length of the floor as possible, before covering it with the sackcloth and one of the tarpaulins.
He was ready. It was now or never...
Heyes lit the fuse and watched as it fizzed its way up to the explosive above. Years of experience had taught him that fuse burned at two feet per minute and the effect that the explosive would have on the flimsy little hut. With perfect timing, he wrapped himself in the other tarpaulin and slipped through the ripped floorboards before he dropped to the ground below.
He had just slipped beneath the protective layer of gravel as the building above him erupted in explosive flames. Wood and flames pounded into the tarpaulin covered bank of shale, acting as a barrier from the deadly shrapnel which flew in all directions as the explosion released its power upwards, taking the path of least resistance against the flimsy roof.
Heyes convulsed in agony as something thudded into his right shoulder. He was unsure whether he had been shot or if a rogue projectile from the building had struck him. It didn’t matter which, it hurt like hell but he had to keep moving.
He knew that he still had the element of surprise and that was going to help him get out of there. In any case, he would be a dead man if he stayed beneath the burning remains, as the floor would shortly give way, consuming anything flammable in its torrid heat.
He leaped up, still covered by the black tarpaulin as it camouflaged him against the darkness and pushed himself, face forward into the nearby pile of earth beside the half-worked railway line. He then lay perfectly still, looking for all the world like a discarded tarpaulin on top of a pile of soil.
Dawn was starting to grey the night sky when a numb Kid heard a twig snap. His lightening reflexes worked faster than his conscious mind and his hand instinctively darted down to his gun.
He simply could not believe his eyes as a pale, tired looking Heyes stumbled into the clearing.
A pair of dark eyes slid up to him as the Kid could hear the irritation in his voice.
‘Kid? Why are you just standing there? I’ve been hit!’
‘Heyes? I saw the explosion!’ the Kid exclaimed as he strode over to help his injured partner. ‘I thought...’ The Kid’s voice trailed off, unable to finish the sentence, his amazement still robbing his mind of clarity.
Heyes smiled at him softly. ‘You don’t get rid of me that easy. You know me; more lives than a cat. I stole a horse, Kid. Do you think that’ll work against our amnesty?’
The Kid slipped an arm around Heyes’ waist and supported him over to a fallen tree trunk and looked down at him with glittering, blue eyes. ‘I’ll get some wood and light a fire. Let’s look at that wound.’ He paused and turned, shaking his head as emotions fought with his ability to articulate. Heyes would have been able to find the words; relief, pain and anger, but he simply wasn’t wired the same way. ‘Heyes don’t ever do that to me again. I thought you were gone, I really did, he swallowed hard and looked over at the silver conchos catching the early morning light. “It just wasn’t the same without you.’