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 Story of the Year Sept - Dec

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Which one of our wonderful writers wins your vote to go through for the finals of Story Of The Year
1. Storm - Insideoutlaw - Heyes contemplates the potential problems ahead as the amnesty comes through
Story of the Year Sept - Dec Vote_lcap20%Story of the Year Sept - Dec Vote_rcap
 20% [ 4 ]
2. Storm - Hunkeydorey - Gertrude stands up to the Devil's Hole Gang when they rob her bank and gets swept off her feet
Story of the Year Sept - Dec Vote_lcap30%Story of the Year Sept - Dec Vote_rcap
 30% [ 6 ]
3. Storm - Storm - The Kid gets a soaking when he taunts a darksider
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 10% [ 2 ]
4. To Laugh Often And Much - Gringa - Two different pieces of paper have far-reaching and profound effects.
Story of the Year Sept - Dec Vote_lcap20%Story of the Year Sept - Dec Vote_rcap
 20% [ 4 ]
5. November - Hunter's Moon - Bluebelle - Is Brampton after Bigfoot or the feet of our beloved ex-outlaws
Story of the Year Sept - Dec Vote_lcap15%Story of the Year Sept - Dec Vote_rcap
 15% [ 3 ]
6. December - Glad Tidings - Poor Heyes gets all busted up but the lawman finds that there is room at the inn.
Story of the Year Sept - Dec Vote_lcap5%Story of the Year Sept - Dec Vote_rcap
 5% [ 1 ]
Total Votes : 20
 

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PostSubject: Story of the Year Sept - Dec   Story of the Year Sept - Dec EmptyTue Jul 08, 2014 12:47 pm

Well, the poll on Story Of The Year was pretty unanimous so I'm going to give you until the end of the month to vote for the story for the first quarter of our year's stories, another month to vote on quarter two, and so on.  I'll then poll the winners for all four quarters to give you our winner of Story Of The Year.  I have posted the stories below (a different colour for each month)  so you can easily refresh your memories, so without further ado here are the nominations of Quarter 1.


September -  Storm  thunderstorm 


Insideoutlaw
Hunkeydorey 
Storm


October - To Laugh Often And Much  jump face 


Gringa


November - Hunter's Moon  Dance 


Bluebelle


December - Glad Tidings  Christmas 


Insideoutlaw


Last edited by Admin on Fri Aug 01, 2014 4:54 am; edited 5 times in total
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PostSubject: Insideoutlaw - Storm   Story of the Year Sept - Dec EmptyTue Jul 08, 2014 1:27 pm

Story 1 - Insideoutlaw - Storm


The light in the room had changed; Heyes had been startled awake knowing something was different.  His hand reflexively moved to the gun belt hanging from the bedpost, but another flicker of light halted its progress.  Lightning; that’s what he’d sensed.  


He pulled back his hand and rubbed it across his eyes.   Just his luck, he’d had a heck of a time getting to sleep in the first place.  The Kid had insisted that they celebrate their good fortune in the privacy of their hotel room with some fine whiskey he’d bought after they had gotten Lom’s succinct telegram yesterday:  Come quickly. Stop.  This is what you’ve been waiting for.  Stop.  


The Kid had passed out late last night, happy, drunk, and looking forward to the next day.  Like some obscenely adult-like child the night before Christmas.  Heyes had matched him drink for drink, but had hardly felt the effects.  His mind had been working too quickly for the alcohol to dull it.  Well, it was dull enough now.  He had a headache and a bad case of dry mouth.   Rolling out of bed, he walked to the dresser.  The tray from last night’s dinner was there and on it was a nearly empty pitcher of water.  Heyes picked it up and drank from its lip, but there was barely enough water left to wet his whistle.  He put it down and went to the window, drawing back the drapes. 


A soft glow far in the distance lit up the craggy tops of the mountains.  Heyes waited for the roll of thunder, but the storm was still too far away.  Deciding that sleep wasn’t coming for a while he sat down in the cozy stuffed armchair nestled in the corner of the room by the large paned window.  Another flash brightened the room and he glanced at his snoring partner.  Good old Kid, he could sleep through anything.  He sat down in the chair and leaned his head back to get a good view of the bright explosions lighting up the night sky.


Heyes had rarely seen his cousin so happy over the past four years since they started trying for the amnesty.  Last night, the Kid had been giddy with joy and so very determined to enjoy the anticipation of the next day.  Why couldn’t he be more like his partner?  He wasn’t really a pessimist; for the most part, he was very optimistic; maybe even more so than the Kid.  All those times, Curry wanted to quit and he would never give up.  So why was he worried now?


Heyes was fond of saying that he looked at life like a long, bumpy road and he always had one eye looking ahead for the next pothole so that he could smooth the way.   That philosophy had worked well when they’d been thieving.  He guessed maybe somewhere along the way it had become such a deeply ingrained habit that he could no longer enjoy the moment without worrying about the future.


Well, he had plenty to worry about.    By the time the Kid had begun snoring, Heyes had filled his head with doubts and he took them out now to examine each one more closely.  What was the amnesty really going to mean to him and his partner?  The wanted posters weren’t going to magically disappear from every sheriff’s desk or bulletin board overnight.  Even with modern communication it could take an awful long time for word to spread; and, in the meantime, he and the Kid would still face all the risks they’ve faced since outlawing.  They’d probably get chased by the occasional posse or bounty hunter; still get shot at by honest citizens who recognized them from one job or another.  Would their amnesty put an end to the anger felt by the people they’d wronged?  No, it wouldn’t; worse, it might even fan the flames of hatred to burn hotter and drive some of those folks to seek retribution on their own once they discover that the law failed them.  The railroads certainly weren’t likely to withdraw the money they’d offered for Heyes’s and Curry’s dead bodies.  Heyes closed his eyes to wash away the image that had leapt into his mind.


If he didn’t stop thinking, he’d never get to sleep and he wanted his wits about him tomorrow when they were supposed to meet with the governor.   He went to the dresser and poured a glass of whiskey from the opened bottle on the tray.  Downing it quickly, he poured another before going back to his comfortable chair.  The lightning was drawing closer and he could see the jagged strikes now.  A few lonely raindrops shattered against the glass.


What if the governor was going to pull a fast one on them?  Maybe this is all a set up.  Heyes shook his head.  If the governor was going to trick them, he wouldn’t be bringing Lom and the newspapers in on it.  There had been a small mob of reporters awaiting them as the train pulled into the Porterville station.   Out of habit, they had ducked out the rear and avoided facing the press.  There’d be plenty of time for that after they had the amnesties in hand.


If this was it and they got the amnesties what was it really going to change?  Not much.  Heyes downed his whiskey and peered out the window.  He could see the rosy glow of dawn rising over the peaks silhouetting the plentiful lightning strikes.   As he stood up to go back to bed, he heard the first low rumble of thunder and chuckled ruefully.  No doubt about it, there's a storm brewing one way or another.
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PostSubject: Story 2 - Hunkeydorey   Story of the Year Sept - Dec EmptyTue Jul 08, 2014 1:30 pm

Story 2 Hunkeydorey - Storming In

Gertrude Morris was a redoubtable woman by anyone’s standards.  Her late father had owned large tracts of land and had been a bit of a laughing-stock for his ability to choose the least fertile earth, the most arid areas and the rockiest ranges; but he had an eye for mineral rights and had promptly built up a mining business which quickly wiped the smiles of everyone’s faces.  


By the time Gertrude’s mother died, the mines were running dry, but by a fortunate happenstance the end of the mines coincided with the new railroads snapping up land.  Gertrude had proven herself to be a canny negotiator and prevailed upon her father to take a combination of shares and cash.  The woman who strode down the main street of Mullerville wasn’t exactly popular but was well-heeled enough not to care.  Some said she was above herself and held her nose so high she’d drown in a rainstorm, others muttered that she had managed to buy everything but a man; but nobody had the courage to say any of this to her face.  The keen, grey eyes were as sharp as her tongue.  It was easy to say she didn’t suffer fools because she didn’t suffer anyone; especially not those she considered too smart for their own good.  There was a place for everyone and if they didn’t know where that was she had a knack of putting them firmly in it.


The hand which rattled the doorknob of the bank did not belong to a woman who was going to take ‘no’ for an answer.  It was ten to five on a Wednesday.  It should still be open.  In fact, Gertrude was going to make sure that it was.  She had shares in this place and was not prepared to be inconvenienced by layabouts and goldbrickers.


oooOOOooo


“Wheat!”  Heyes positively bellowed at the outlaw holding his gun in the face of the matron who stormed in the back door of the bank.  “Shut that door.  I thought you’d locked it?”


“I checked!  I swear I did,” Wheat muttered.  He lowered his gun but still kept it levelled at the bantam quivering with anger at the audacity of the man who had confronted her.


“How could you have checked it?” Heyes growled.  “She just strolled right in on us.  That could’ve been the law.”


Wheat scowled.  “Yeah, well it weren’t.  It was an old lady.”


“Old!  How dare you?”  Wheat felt his chest prodded by a rolled-up parasol.  “I’m probably no more than ten years older than you are, although it’s hard to tell under all that hair and grime.”


“Wow, that old?  And ya can still chew your own meat?”  Kyle snickered, rapidly regretting the comment when Gertrude pinned him with an arctic glare.  “I didn’t mean no disrespect, ma’am.  It was aimed at him, not you.”  Kyle shuffled from foot to foot.  “I’m sure you chaw just fine,” the woman’s grey eyes narrowed to slits.  “In fact, you look like you’re gonna chew me out any minute now.”


“And she’d be right to.  Show the lady some respect,” the Kid drawled.  Gertrude’s head tilted back as she looked the approaching gunman up and down.  “Ma’am, will you please step this way?”


“Why?”


The Kid’s eyebrows gathered in a frown.  “Why?  Because I said so.  Now, I asked you nicely...”


“Your friend is pointing a gun at me.  What’s nice about that?”  Gertrude whacked Wheat on the arm with her parasol.  “Put that thing away.  Didn’t your mother teach you anything?”


Wheat’s top lip curled in anger.  “Yeah, she taught me that women may not hit harder, but they sure hit lower.”


Heyes glared at Wheat before nodding a mute instruction to the Kid and putting his ear back to the safe.  


“Ma’am, it ain’t a good idea to hit a man who’s holdin’ a gun on you,” the softness of the Kid’s words didn’t match the firm set of his chin.   


“Why?”


The Kid gave a snort of irritation.  “You sure ask that a lot.  It’s dangerous, now come with me.”


“Dangerous?  Nonsense,” Gertrude eyed her moustachioed opponent up and down.  “If he was going to shoot he’d have done it by now.”  She raised her weapon once more only to have it dragged from her hand by the Kid.  “Give me that back!”


“Ma’am, I’ve asked you nicely, now I’m tellin’ you.  Come with me and I’ll take you to the rest of the customers.  We have work to do and you’re gettin’ in the way.”


“Why?”


“Why?”  The rolling blue eyes accompanied a snort.  “It’s like dealin’ with a two year old; because I said so.”


“No,” Gertrude shook her head.  “Why should I let the likes of you rob this place?”


“Because you ain’t got a choice, ma’am,” the Kid’s eyes narrowed.  “Now, I never like to manhandle a lady, so if you’re determined to stay here and watch, go ahead.”  He signalled with his head to Kyle and Wheat.  “Go and keep an eye on the other customers.  I’ll deal with this.”


“This?  I’m not a ‘this,’ nor am I a customer.”


The Kid heaved a sigh and folded his arms.  “Yeah?  How would you describe yourself?”


“The owner.  At least, I own thirty five percent of it.”  She stared straight at Heyes.  “Stop that immediately, young man.”   


Heyes seemed oblivious to the command.  His dimples deepened and he pulled back from the safe.  The Kid gave a whistle of admiration as the door opened like a sigh.  “You ain’t lost it, Heyes.  That was what; five, six minutes tops.”  


“About that.  I wasn’t counting.”  He stood to admire the contents.  “It’s a Griffiths and Sons.  Stealing apples from an orchard is harder than getting into one of these babies.”  He patted the top proprietarily.  “The bank couldn’t have helped us more if they’d bagged it up and left it on the counter.”


“My manager assured me it was the best money could buy,” Gertrude exclaimed.  “That cost a fortune.”


“This?”  Heyes gave a cynical laugh.  “Second, maybe even third-hand.  Real cheap.”  He scratched the top with a coin revealing some forest-green paint.  “It’s been touched up to make it look new.  Don’t tell me you trust this man?”  


“Yes.  The board interviewed him together.  He came highly recommended by the Mayor of Barlow, not to mention a Bishop.  He beat all other candidates based on his recommendations.”


Heyes and the Kid exchanged a glance before they burst out laughing.


“A Bishop?” chortled Heyes.  “Not a Governor or minor Royalty?”


“What’s so funny?” Gertrude demanded.


“It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book, ma’am,” the Kid smiled.  “Fake references.”


“But they replied,” she stammered.


“Yeah.  By letter I’ll bet?”  Heyes grinned, “real promptly?”


“Well, yes...” Gertrude’s brows knotted.  “They were glowing.”


Heyes bent to grab a wad of cash.  “I’ll bet.  You do realise he probably wrote them himself and had a stooge post them?” 


“I will not stand here and listen to a good man being abused by common guttersnipes.”


Heyes turned slowly and fixed the matron with his most glittering smile.  “Common?  There’s nothing ordinary about us, ma’am, I can assure you and at least when we rob you we have the courtesy to do it to your face.”


Gertrude glowered at both men in turn.  “You are cracksmen; pilfering good-for-nothing larcenists.”


“You missed out ‘crack shots.” Heyes nodded towards the Kid, “especially him.”


“You’re proud of it?”


Heyes pondered for a moment and shrugged.  “We’re proud of being good at anything we do.  There are too many greedy, violent men in this line.”  His eyes darkened along with his voice.  “If you’d stormed in on the wrong men you’d be dead by now – if you were lucky.  We’re not those kinds of men.”


“Is that a threat?”


“Nope.  It’s a simple fact.”  Heyes riffled the wad of notes through his fingers and stiffened.  “The payroll came in today.  The safe should be full.”


“It is full,” Gertrude huffed.  “At least, for the moment.”


Heyes pursed his lips and fixed the Kid with a hard stare.  “It’s full, but not with money.  See for yourself.”  He handed over the wedge of notes bound with a paper band.  See for yourself.”


The woman turned the bundle in her hand.  “It’s money...” 


“The notes at either end are,” Heyes arched a brow.  “Look in the middle of the bundle.”


“Newspaper?”  The matron eyed the outlaws suspiciously.  “What have you done?”


“You watched me open the safe, ma’am.  The payroll was already like that.”


“Do you take me for an idiot?  I refuse to believe you.  What are the chances of meeting two sets of thieves on the same day?”


“If you leave the house, about a hundred percent,” Heyes watched the Kid root through the stacks of notes, tossing each aside with disgust.  “You may believe in the goodness of your fellow man, but I’ve found most folks are so crooked you could screw them into the ground.  They’re honest when you’re watching.  If I ran a bank I’d be watching all the time.”


“Well, you would think that; surrounding yourself with guttersnipes.  It’s the company you keep.”


Heyes strode over to the ledger, a long finger following his eyes down the column.  “Yup, the manager signed in seventeen thousand dollars.  So, Mrs...?”  He eyed the woman expectantly.


“Miss.  Miss Morris.”


Heyes nodded.  “Miss Morris, how do you explain the fact that we appear to be down at least seventeen thousand dollars?  We never took it,” he folded his arms.  “In fact, it leaves us in quite a sticky situation.”


“In what way?”


“My partner and I may not be violent, but there’s a whole gang of men in there who are expecting to be paid from this theft.”  


The partners exchanged a glance.  


“They ain’t gonna be happy,” the Kid shook his head ruefully.  “Newspaper cuttings don’t buy many...” he paused to muse on the general post-robbery expenditure and thought the better of finishing the sentence as previously planned in present company, “beers.”  He nodded firmly and scratched his chin.  “Yeah, drinks... and things.”


“Your manager is a thief, Miss Morris.”  Heyes fixed the woman with intense dark eyes.


“So?  Do you expect sympathy because he beat you to it?” she crowed.  


Heyes tilted his head.  “Hey, you’re in as much trouble as I am.”


The smile fell from Gertrude’s pinched face.  “I don’t see why, young man.”


“What would you lose if this bank failed?”


She carefully adjusted her mousey bun.  “Well, I do have a lot tied up in this bank.”


“I’m guessing you’d be ruined.”  Heyes narrowed his eyes.  “It’s got to be hard to start again, for an unmarried  woman...”


The little pointed chin tilted at him defiantly.  “That’s where you’re wrong.  We’re insured against theft.”


“Really?”  Heyes leaned casually against the safe.  “How do you insure against an inside job?  Do you really think they’ll pay out?”


Both outlaws watched the woman shift from foot to foot.  


“They ain’t gonna pay out if you steal it yourself, ma’am.”


“I haven’t stolen anything!” 


Heyes’ grin became infuriatingly broad.  “Yeah, that’s what we say when we get caught too.”


“How dare you?  If Michael Caruthers has stolen the money it is nothing to do with me.  I will make sure he faces the full force of the law!”


“That’s one option,” the Kid strolled over and stood beside his partner, “but then you lose everything.”


“No, I don’t.”


“Yes, you do.  The money’s gone and the insurance won’t pay out.”  Heyes shook his head ruefully.  “You’ve lost everything.”


“Not everything,” doubt played over the grey eyes.  “I still have my railway shares.”


“Yeah, that’s the spirit.  You’ll have some income.  What does respect matter when you have all your family and friends around you.”  The Kid rubbed his hands together and headed towards the door guessing that he’d hit a nerve.   “Well, let’s tell them.  Best get it over with.”


“She looks like she’s fairly comfortable too Kid.”  Heyes followed his partner to the door.  “It’s a crying shame she wouldn’t listen to sense.  Her life will be ruined, well, except for her shares in the railway.


”The sharp nose pricked up like a terrier scenting rabbits in the wind.  “Sense?”


The outlaws turned to face her in unison.  “Well, yeah.”  Heyes kept a hand on the door handle to drive home his message.  “You do realise that if we steal the money you’re covered by your insurance, but if Caruthers does...”


“But he did!”


Blue eyes met brown.  “Yeah...we know that, but when we walk out and announce that to everyone you’re done for.”  Heyes smiled but his posture was reminiscent of a serpent ready to strike, “However, if we’re known to have taken it, you’re insured.  The question is; what’s in it for us?” 


Gertrude paused.  “What do you mean?”


“It’s easy, really.  We’ll pretend to have stolen the payroll.”  Heyes smile became even broader, “but I need you to do something for us in exchange...”


Gertrude shook her head in confusion.  “What?”


Heyes turned to his cousin.  “Kid, lock the door.  Miss Morris and I need to talk.”  


oooOOOooo


The figure closed the door quietly behind him and quickly melted into the stygian murk of a moonless night.  Only the clatter of the heels on the boardwalk betrayed the sounds of the man scurrying down the board walk.


The footsteps suddenly ceased; an indication that the man had either stopped or stepped down onto the damp earth of the road.  The hunter following his quarry followed his instincts and pressed on.  If his guess was right, there would be no loitering on street corners tonight.


The covert pursuit continued, using the most minuscule sounds through the night.  There was no chance of seeing anything other than movement in the blackness, but the old tracking skills were invaluable in keeping up with the target and the hunt continued with stealth and patience until there were the undeniable sounds of a wooden bar being slid through slots. 


The Kid smiled to himself.  Yup, the doors to the stables were being opened.  The man slid inside the building and closed the door quietly behind him.  It took no more than a few minutes before the glow of light crept through the cracks around the door.  


oooOOOooo


Thick fingers fumbled with the leather straps and buckles, completely distracting the man from the outlaw leader who moved from the shadows with the grace of a cat.


“Hi.”


Michael Caruthers spun around, fumbling towards his holster for his gun.


“Nu uh,” Heyes shook his head, a casual smile gently warning the bank manager against the folly of underestimating the danger of his already drawn gun.  “Get those hands up and keep them there.”  The door creaked open.  “Hey, Kid.  Look who I found.  The manager of the bank we robbed today; heading out of town by the looks of things.”


“Yup,” the Kid walked over to the saddlebag and flipped it open.  “I guess we found the money from the payroll, Heyes.”  He picked it up and draped it over his shoulder.  “I’d have headed out earlier than this.  You must have known The Devil’s Hole Gang would have spotted that most of the money had been replaced by newspaper pretty soon.  Why’d you wait so long?”


The bank manager shuffled nervously in the straw.  “Nobody spotted it in the bank.  If I’d gone before dark, folks might have thought I’d helped you and arrested me.”


The two outlaws shared a conversation in a glance.  “Yeah, they probably would.  Well, I gotta thank you.  We got what we came for and they all think The Devil’s Hole Gang took the payroll this afternoon, so there’s no reason for you to hot-foot it out of town anymore.”  Heyes flicked up an eyebrow.  “Either way the bank stays robbed.”  


The Kid narrowed his eyes.  “Do I know you from somewhere?”


Caruthers averted his eyes, unable to hold the gunman’s cold scrutiny.  “No.”


“I do.”  The Kid strode forward and examined the banker more closely.  “Lose that moustache, take off about twenty pounds and the same amount of  years...”  He reached out and pulled off the man’s hat.  “Yeah, it is.  It’s Jake Cody.  You remember the Codys, Heyes.  His Pa was a friend of Soapy’s.  No wonder he hung back in the corner like that in the bank.”


Heyes’ eyes lit up with recognition, warming the smile which had previously been no more than artfully arranged.  “Jake Cody!  Yeah, it’s been years.  How are you doing?”


A nervous smile flickered over the man’s face.  “My arms ache from holding them up for so long; other than that, I’m good.”  


“You found an easier way to steal?” the Kid grinned.  “We knew there was some kind of flim flam goin’ on when Miss Morris told us all about the references.”  He strode over and removed the man’s gun before patting him down for concealed weapons.  “You can drop your hands, Jake.”


“There was no need to remove my gun, Kid.  I’d never try to outdraw you.”  Jake dropped his arms and shrugged.  “I’m a thief, not an idiot.”


“No?”  Heyes shook his head, ruefully.  “Replacing the payroll with newspaper?  Didn’t you think anyone would notice?”


“I’d have been outta here tonight but for you lot,” Jake sighed, heavily.  “What were the chances that I’d be robbed that very day?  I’d spent nearly a year planning this and then you lot waltz in and take the lot from right under my nose.”  His eyes widened hopefully.  “I don’t suppose there’s any chance you’d be interested in splitting it three ways?”


“Dream on, Jake,” Heyes holstered his weapon.  “You’ll find another mark.  I’m guessing your family provided the references?”


“Yup.”  Jake sighed.  “It was worth a try, I suppose.”


“Yeah, it’s always worth try.”  Heyes nodded.  “Now get out of here, Jake.  They’re onto you.  Miss Morris knows you’re a fake.  We found out that the newspaper was substituted at the bank.”


Jake’s brow creased in curiosity.  “Why didn’t you say anything?”


“Because she wouldn’t get the insurance money if it was an inside job, that’s why.”


“You’re getting soft, Heyes,” Jake scowled.  “I can’t believe you fell for that ‘little-old-lady’ act.  The woman’s a coyote.  That face of hers may be her own chaperone, but at least it gives a man a clue about her nature.”


“Her nature?” the Kid scowled.  “She’s a woman alone who’s had to make her own way in the world.  You’re a thief, Jake.  She had to protect herself against men like you.”  


Jake rolled his eyes.  “I might have guessed you’d be stickin’ up for her, Kid.  You always had a soft spot for the ladies.  I never pegged her for your type, though.  She’s a mouse studying to be a rat.”


“She’s better than any of us, Jake.  You’ve just gone too far to remember that she’s more than just a mark.”  The Kid gestured towards the horse.  “Get saddled up and get out of here.”


Jake moved nervously towards the horse and finished tacking her up.  “I never thought I’d see the day that Kid Curry would get so soft.”


Arctic blue eyes glowered across at the confidence trickster.  “That ain’t your problem, Jake.  What you want to worry about is seein’ me get angry and you’re headin’ that way real fast.”


Jake swung himself up into the saddle.  “I guess.  Good seeing you boys again.  Maybe we’ll meet again.”


“Let’s hope not, huh?”


The Kid flung the door open and the animal battered off into the darkness.  “I knew there was a reason we got outta that game.  Men like him make my skin crawl.”


“Lost your taste for flim flam, Kid?  Is that any more dishonest than what we do?”


“Yeah, it depends on the mark.  We only ever went for greedy; he goes for easy.  He destroys lives; ya gotta have standards or we’re no better than the kind who hit our folks.”


Heyes nodded.  “Yeah, we’ve played fair.  She got the evidence for a decent insurance claim, so her bank won’t go down.  We’ve explained to her how to choose a better manager and recommended a good safe; but none of that compares to the service you provided, Kid.”


“Me?”


Heyes grinned, mischievously.  “She had to be seen as the woman who stood up to The Devil’s Hole Gang to have credibility in this town and let’s face it, that’s all she had, apart from a little money, until she met you.”


“What’re you talkin’ about, Heyes.”


“You carried her back into the bank as part of the act.  I saw her face when you threw her over your shoulder.  She loved it.”


The Kid frowned.  “It made everything look real for folks when we took her into the bank.  I’d never manhandle a woman without her permission.  She asked me to do it.”


“Yeah, I know that, Kid.  All those years without human contact does something to a person; that was a special moment to her.  She gave us the schedule of payrolls being carried on other lines of the railway she part owns in exchange for us giving her the evidence for an insurance claim,” Heyes’ eyes danced with devilment.  “You on the other hand, gave her something entirely more personal.”


“Shut up, Heyes.”


“Why?”  Heyes chuckled and followed his partner from the stable.  “You’re one of life’s givers.”


“Yeah?  Keep this up and see what I give you.”


They wandered out into the darkness and disappeared into the shadows, bickering lightly.  


“What’s wrong?  Can’t you take a compliment?”


“The problem with havin’ a war of words with you, Heyes, is that you’re the only one who gets to use any.”


“Ow!”


“There was something on your shoulder, Heyes.  Honest there was.”
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PostSubject: Story 3 - Storm - Storm   Story of the Year Sept - Dec EmptyTue Jul 08, 2014 1:32 pm

Story 3 - Storm - Storm

The stars were shining bright in the clear crisp autumn night.  The two ex-outlaws sat propped on their saddles, around their campfire, coffee cups in hands, warming them.  You could see for miles and miles as the flat land ahead, behind and to the sides was void of any type of civilization.  There was barely a tree in site.  The two sat in silence, listening to the flickering of the flames and the various typical outdoor noises.


The blond one shifted, “Heyes.”  There was no response.  He cleared his throat and raised his voice a little, “Heyes.” He turned his head to stare at his partner.


“Hmmm,” seeing the glare, the brown haired man sat up.  “You talking to me, Kid?”
 
“No, I’m talkin' to the coyote in the next territory…who do ya think I’m talkin' to?”


Heyes contemplated a moment, “You could be talking to yourself.”


“I’m not you.”  Kid sounded indignant.


“Geez, no need to get all proddy.”


Kid sighed.


“What did ya want?”


Kid thought for a second, “I was just thinkin’, that, Storm lady, she hasn’t written anythin’ in a long time.  This new phantom administrator was real nice and made this month's challenge her name because it was her birthday.”


“Yeah.”


“Well, it’s September 30th and she still hasn’t written one word.”


“And how would you know that.”


“Because I’m not hurt, you ain’t been shot, we ain’t runnin’ from no posse, the gang ain’t here.  We’re just hangin’ in the middle of nowhere, havin’ a good cup of coffee.”


“So…”


“Well to start with…the coffee is good!”


“I always like my coffee.”


“You’re the only one.”


Heyes snorted.


“So why ya thinking about Storm?”


“Just wonderin’ what happened to her.  Maybe she forgot about us or somethin’,”  Kid said sounding a little hurt.


“She didn’t forget about us.”  Heyes forcefully stated.


“Whoa, that didn’t sound like someone who wasn’t worried about bein’ forgotten.”


“I’m not worried,” Heyes stated trying to convince himself as well as Kid.


Kid chuckled.


“I’m not!”  Heyes defiantly announced.  “Storm would never forget me, um, us!  She’s just been real busy and all.”


“Ha!  You’re worried one of your girls forgot you!!”


“AM NOT!”


As the words came out of Heyes’ mouth the stars disappeared.  The wind picked up, and a large clap of thunder echoed across the plains.


“Now you did it!”  Heyes exclaimed.


“Did WHAT?”  Kid yelled over another booming blast of thunder as lightening lit up the sky.


“You said, she didn’t write.”  Heyes placed his hand firmly on his hat as it threatened to blow off his head.  “You said she forgot about us!  You had no faith in her.  You basically dared her to write something…and she is!”


“Your point, Heyes?”  Kid snarled as his eyes darted around looking for some type of cover.


“The point is the prompt is STORM!!!  So Storm has to write about a STORM!”


Kid’s shoulders slouched as the torrential downpour started across the plains and was beelining straight towards them.


“We are in the middle of nowhere, no trees, no shacks, NO NOTHING for cover!”  Heyes bellowed as he sunk down against his saddle, hand still holding the ever so precious hat in place, resigned to take whatever Storm had planned for them.


“Heyes, she’s your girl, do something," Kid pleaded.


“I’m not the one who dared her.  I’m not the one who said she forgot about us…ME!!!  This is all on YOU.”


“Come on, Heyes.”  The waterfall of water was just inches away from dousing them and getting closer.  “Okay, okay…”  Kid yelled into the sky.  “I’m sorry!  You were just busy.  You didn’t forget about us.”  Droplets of water began to hit Kid.  “You would never forget about us…forget Heyes! “  The wind blew toward Kid and he got a nice spray of water in the face.  “I will NEVER doubt you again!!!”


With that the wind stopped, the rain stopped, and the stars reappeared.


Kid wiped his face dry on his sleeve and turned to Heyes.  Creasing his brow he stated, “You’re not wet!”


“Nope,” Heyes sat up and picked up his coffee cup.


Kid looked down at himself, he was wet.  Not soaked to the bones wet, but wet.  He looked at his coffee cup and it was turned over.  He looked back at Heyes.  “You were sitting right next to me.”


“Yep,” Heyes took a nice long sip of his warm coffee.


“How come you’re not wet and your coffee is still hot?”


“Like ya said, Kid, Storm is my girl and I never doubted her.”


Kid glared at Heyes.


A smile spread across Heyes’ face showing his dimples and he knew everything would be right in the world.
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PostSubject: Story 4 - To Laugh Often And Much - Gringa- The Letter   Story of the Year Sept - Dec EmptyTue Jul 08, 2014 1:37 pm

Story 4 - To Laugh Often And Much - Gringa - The Letter 

                                                                 May 1864


Dear Ma and Pa,




I do hope that you and all the rest of the family are well.  How are all my sisters and little Hannibal?




Things are pretty good here now that spring has come.  That was a hard winter, with the ground all churned up the way it was.  The freezing mud got everywhere, but that’s over now and the sweet, green grass is covering the residue of battle.  




We have been marching hard and we are now camped in a field outside of a little town.  The folks are supposed to be real, hard dyed-in-the wood confederates but the ones I’ve met seem like normal folks just like us.  They were a bit standoffish at first, but once they realised we weren’t rogues and villains they started speaking to us like we were human beings.  They’re still a bit cagey about their womenfolk and livestock being around us but they’ve gradually gotten used to us.  They were glad to see the sutlers arrive because it showed them that we buy and don’t plunder.  A few of the new boys have been a bit uppity but they were soon put in their places by Captain Brooke.  He’s a real fine man who won’t tolerate Sunday soldiers or hospital rats.  Everyone pulls their weight and treats the locals with respect or they answer to him.  He’s real good at making fresh fish feel like they can deal with seeing the elephant.  It’s amazing how a good leader can turn things around for a unit.  The locals know he won’t tolerate bad behaviour from his men, so give us an easier ride than some of the other units around here who aren’t so well run.    




It’s good to work for a man who really cares about his men.  I’ve read the newspapers and politicians saying we are fighting for our beliefs and our causes, but I wonder how many of them have actually met any of us fighting men.  I joined because my family and my town support our side, but I fight for my friends, comrades and unit.  We keep one another alive and that’s what’ll help me come home to you after the battle.  I know we all thought the war would be after one battle, but tomorrow’s should be the one that really ends this thing once and for all.




I’ll be home soon, Ma.  The day after tomorrow I’ll be on my way to you.  In fact, I’ll be on my way to you before you even get this letter.




We will all meet again soon.  I dream of riding a wild horse without bullets whistling about my ears and I can’t wait to give Hannibal a race.  I bet he’s growing like a weed!  Boys sure stretch at his age.




Anyway, I must go.  I will see you all soon in a much better place than this.  My love to all and especially to my pretty Elizabeth.  




Your loving son,




Alexander     






**********






Valparaiso Home for Waywards




The pinch-faced, hook-nosed man stared at the letter through hooded eyes before sitting back and tapping his fingers with it.  “What fool gave this to the boy?”




The uniformed guard shuffled his heavy boots around on the colourful rug.  “The matron at the orphanage, sir.  She’s always been too soft for her own good.  She thought he should have his brother’s last letter home,” he shook his head ruefully.  “He had nothing left.  The whole place was burnt to the ground.  She thought it would be a keepsake.  It only survived because it arrived after the...”  The man’s voice drifted off, “the incident.” 




The Chief Warden tossed the paper aside.  “Stupid, female, sentimental poppycock!”  He stood, the legs of his chair scraping against the floorboards.  “Look at the trouble she caused.  The boy went mad.  All he had left was the hope that his brother would eventually come back from the war and build a home for him and his cousin.”  He started to pace.  “Why couldn’t she have just let him have that?”




“Dunno, sir,” the guard shrugged.  “It would appear to have been the best course of action in light of what happened.”




“Best course of action?  The boy not only went on the rampage; he took his cousin with him!”




“Yeah, he was angry at the whole world.  It seems the two boys had a fiction built up in their heads that Alexander would take them out of the orphanage and give them a new life.  Nobody actually took the time to tell Hannibal that his brother had died in the battle.  The timing was bad, with what happened to their families and all; it seemed too much to tell them.  The boys seemed to think he’d gone off somewhere to build a new life and would come back to get them eventually.  You know how fanciful children get.  It gave them hope.  The thought of him was always there as unfinished business; as a person who could change their lives.”




“Yeah?  Well, in a strange kinda way he did.  The boy didn’t know his brother had been killed in that battle; hell, he was dead before the rest of the family were hit by the raiders; but look at what happened when he was told.  I don’t believe in telling children anything unless I have to.  Hannibal was a difficult child at the best of times, but robbing him of his last hope pushed him over the edge.  The brother’s death pushed him out of life in the orphanage and straight into the Valparaiso Home for Waywards.”  The Chief Warden flexed his calves and rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet.  “How many windows did they break?”




“Seven – well, ten if you count the big church window as four separate panes of glass.”  The guard’s lips firmed into a line.  “We’re not sure the younger boy did anything.  He might have been trying to stop Hannibal.”




“You know the old saying, ‘you fly with the crows, you get shot with the crows,’” the Chief Warden clasped his hands behind his back.  “He should have kept out of it.”  He nodded curtly as if to punctuate his point.  “I’m not going to accept that he followed that rapscallion all the way through town and did absolutely nothing wrong.  He should have stopped it or told a responsible adult what was happening.”




“Jed is two years younger than Hannibal.  He’s too small to stop a larger boy and he says he was trying to talk sense into him.”




The Chief Warden waved a dismissive hand.  “Rubbish, I know what boys are like when they get together.  They turn into savages.  They’ve had it too soft, that’s the problem.  They won’t find it so easy here.”  




“I guess...”




“So, has Mr. Morrison decided what workshops they’ll be allocated to?”




“Yes, the younger boy will be taught woodworking and metalworking; but he says Hannibal is bright.  He wants to teach him accounting.”




“A good steady job.”  The older man nodded approvingly.  “We just need to rein in his wild side.  I think sitting in silence, fixed on columns of numbers will be just the thing to calm him down.  I’d like to see him as a clerk as a grown man.”




“And the letter, sir?  What should we do with it?  It is all the boy has left of his family.”




The older man strode over to the desk and snatched up the paper.  “The letter?  It goes in the trash.  There’s no way he gets it back – not after all the trouble it caused.”




“But it’s his property, sir.  Maybe we should give it back to him when he’s older...”




“Are you questioning my authority?” 




The guard’s brow furrowed.  “No, sir.  It was just a suggestion.”




“Well, let it be your last one,” the Chief Warden gestured dismissively towards the door.  “Oh, and Watson?  I know how some of these children can get to you, but don’t let them get inside your head.  They’re bad’uns; pure and simple.  I’m not being hard by throwing the letter away.  It troubled a boy who was already angry at the world.  I’m protecting him by not giving him the chance to dwell on this.  Once you’ve been here a bit longer you’ll understand.”






**********






Hannibal Heyes turned onto his side and closed his eyes.  It was too dark to see anyway.  Why had he thought of that damned letter again?  He hadn’t thought about it for years.  Maybe it was that woman at the train robbery, the one who handed out the flyer about amnesty?  She looked a bit like the lady who had sat him down and told him Alexander was dead.  She had then sat with him gently mopping his tears through a barrage of spiked elbows and shrugging shoulders.  The lady had been so kind and patient, but he’d been too angry to appreciate it.




She had been right.  He did need to know the truth and he had to find a way to deal with the loss of his last shred of hope.  If something wasn’t there for him, he needed to know that and plan his life accordingly.    He was suddenly adrift and needed to know he mattered to someone; anyone - and the universe had delivered in the form a pleading, worried cousin who then found himself condemned to a home for waywards as an accessory to his delirium. 




He had searched through the trash at Valparaiso until he had found it and carefully hidden it away.  As the years went on he had read more and more into it; from understanding the impact a good leader can have on people, to the need for looking after your own.  He had read and reread the letter for years; every word burning into his brain until it stayed there as though branded until it eventually fell to pieces in his hands.  They were his brother’s last words to him; words of hope, love and the need for normality; echoing his own hopes and dreams.  The flyer popped into his mind again.  Maybe that little, old lady had a point?  Perhaps he did need think harder about trying for amnesty...
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PostSubject: Story 5 - Hunter's Moon - Bluebelle   Story of the Year Sept - Dec EmptyTue Jul 08, 2014 1:39 pm

Story 5 - Hunter's Moon - Bluebelle


"I told you before.  I was the champeen tracker of...”


The Kid cut Heyes off with a glare.  “You got tracked.  Ain’t anyone ever told you it’s supposed to work the other way round?”


“I meant that to happen.  I drew that lion out.”


The Kid rolled his eyes.  “Sure ya did, Joshua.  Right in the face.”


Heyes rode along in silence, quickly resorting to his usual tactic when the debate wasn’t going his way.  He changed the subject.  “Why’d you agree to this job anyway?  We usually talk it through before we take something on.”


“There wasn’t time.  He needed men to help them track and there was a lot of competition.  I had to strike while the iron was hot.  I heard they wanted men for a hunt and I got us signed up before the jobs went.  There were folks in line to do this.  I had to do some real fancy talkin’ to convince them to take us.”


“Yeah, but you still kept the job after you found out what he was looking for?  Have you ever heard of a sasquatch before now?”


“Nope.  I thought he was talkin’ about succotash, so I thought it’d be easy.”


Heyes’ forehead crinkled with curiosity.  “Why would anyone go hunting for succotash?”


“For ten dollars a day I’d go huntin’ for the Easter bunny.  It’s a job, Joshua.”


“But succotash.  That vegetable stew, isn’t it?  You always say that vegetables are what food eats.”  Heyes frowned.  “Is this thing a meat-eater?  It sounds real big.”


“Over eight feet tall, with burnin’ red eyes and teeth like razors, by all accounts.  Some say it’s a myth but the local tribes have been talkin’ an about a wild man of the woods for as long as anyone can remember.”


“How do they know it’s not a man?” Heyes asked.


“It’s covered in reddish-brown hair.  It’s furry.”


“I repeat; how do they know it’s not a man.  I’ve seen some men who look like they’re wearing a pelt.  Remember Horace White?”


The Kid’s brows knotted.  “Yeah, the fur seemed to curl out of his sleeves and collar, but this is no hairy man.  It’s got six toes.”


Heyes arched a brow.  “That doesn’t prove a thing.  You knew the Rolf brothers.”


“Joshua unless the Rolfs got together with Horace and had freakishly large offspring there’s somethin’ weird runnin’ about these woods.”


“Thaddeus, that thought’s weird enough for me as it is,” Heyes shuddered.  “Six toes, huh?”


“Yup,” the Kid nodded ahead to their new employer.  “He showed me a cast of it.  I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”


“Where did a New Yorker get a cast of a wild man’s foot?”


“Somebody was hawking it around museums and interested groups.”  The Kid gestured ahead towards their new employer.  “Mr. Brampton’s interested in these things and insisted on takin’ a party out here to track the thing down.  He’s a rich man with time restin’ heavy on his hands.  He’s got time to chase imaginary beasts.  All I’m interested in chasing is a wage.” 


“You should have wakened me before accepting this job, Thaddeus.  I don’t like it.  Men don’t travel for thousands of miles to follow an elusive six-toed bear.”


“They reckon it might be some kind of ape.” 


“Thaddeus, I don’t care if it’s half-man, half-horse and whistles the Battle Hymn of the Republic.  It all sounds too far-fetched to me.  Are you sure he didn’t target you?”  Heyes eyed their fellow travelers cautiously; two more hunters, a bespectacled manservant driving the wagon, Philip J. Brampton and his friend, Joseph Morello.  


The Kid shrugged but dropped his voice.  “Why tempt us all the way out here?  They’d turn us in back in town, wouldn’t they?” 


A scowl flickered across Heyes’ brow.  “Yeah, you’d think they would, wouldn’t you?”




oooOOOooo




Heyes sat cross-legged by the fire and pushed his beans around the tin plate as the Kid poured everyone a top up from the fresh pot of coffee he’d brewed.  “So tell me Mr. Brampton.  How did you get involved with this big, hairy fella?”  The pot hovered over Heyes’ cup but he shook his head in refusal.  


The New Yorker smiled at the ex-outlaw leader.  “I’ve been interested in crypto zoology as long as I could remember.”


“Crypto...what?”


“Crypto zoology, Mr. Smith.  It’s the science of animals which are mysterious and beyond our ken.  Think of dragons, unicorns and sea monsters.  People have been talking about them for centuries but they seem to remain hidden from science as we know it.”


Heyes eyes glittered with incredulity in the firelight.  “Unicorns?”


“Well, yes.  That’s a great example.  Many crypto zoologists think that these stories are actually a conflation of two different species.  There is an animal called a Rhinoceros which has one or two horns growing out of its nose depending on species; there is also a whale called the narwhal which has a long horn on its head too.  Combine stories about both creatures with people finding a narwhal’s horn washed up on the beach and the stories quickly build in to myth.  That’s the kind of thing we look for; the truth behind the myth.  You could call it the flesh and bones behind all those stories.”


Heyes’ eyes narrowed but he nodded pensively.  “So these animals exist, but are real creatures; but based upon real ones?  So what do you think this sasquatch really is?”


The Easterner shrugged.  “I’ve no idea.  It could be a bear; it could be some yet-to-be discovered primate.”


“Huh?”


“An ape, Mr. Smith.”


“We don’t have apes here, Mr. Brampton.  Not the kind you’re referring to anyway.”  Heyes smiled.  “I’ve been around plenty in my time, though.” 


“Maybe none which have been discovered to date.  I believe my quarry to be both cunning and elusive.”


Heyes chewed quietly on his beans.  “How cunning?”


Brampton looked deeply into Heyes’ eyes.  “As cunning as you are, at the very least.”


“Really?”  Heyes glanced over at the Kid who was heading surreptitiously towards the empty wagon.  “That clever?”


Brampton nodded.  “I specialize in looking for the tricky and sly.  The wily is more of a challenge.  What’s the fun in hunting for something anyone can find?”


“That depends on whether you need to eat what you catch, Mr. Brampton.”


“Eat it?”  Brampton shook his head.  “I never eat my quarry, Mr. Smith.  It’s the chase which thrills me, not the prize.”


Heyes drank deeply from his tin mug.  “So, what have you caught before this hunt?”


“Oh, I have searched out tigers from the back of an elephant in India, shot a charging lion in Africa and adorned the walls of my home in the mounted heads of more animals than you can count.  I grew bored of ordinary hunting and decided to turn my attention to less mundane creatures.”


“Like wild-men?”


Brampton cocked an eyebrow. “I don’t like that description.  They have managed to evade capture for a very long time.  I think they have a great deal more intelligence than people give them credit for.”


“Yeah, probably,” Heyes toyed with his drink.  “Why not just leave them in peace?  They’re not hurting anyone and probably want to live their lives their own way.”


“Oh, Mr. Smith,” Brampton chuckled, lightly.  “You don’t understand the motivations of the great hunter.  It the thrill of capturing that elusive, unobtainable prey; the target nobody else can bring in.  Do you know the kudos that comes with a coup like that?  Money can’t buy that kind of credibility.  I have a need to be the best at what I do.”


“Hmmm, or is it a need to be seen to be the best?” Heyes asked.


“I suppose one could put it that way,” Brampton replied.  “Every kind of diversion is available to a rich man, but they get tedious.  I need a new challenge’, one which nobody else has managed.  Think of the tales I’ll be able to tell in my club, or in tours!”


“So it’s all about you?  What about the poor beast?”


“It's individual life may be over, but I can’t worry about that.”


Heyes gulped back a ‘harrumph.’  “The sacrifice is worth it if it adds to our knowledge?”


“Well, yes.”  Brampton’s lips stretched into a cold smile.  “Among other things.”


“Financial gain?”  Heyes tilted his head in question.  “You don’t need the money.”


The man’s eyes narrowed.  “No.  I don’t.”


“So for the fame?”


Brampton nodded.  “I want to be able to say I can catch something nobody else can.  I want to be the best hunter in the world.”


The ex-outlaw’s dark eyes glanced at his partner sliding out of the wagon.  The Kid’s search was clearly complete.  “I guess it’s important to prove yourself when so much comes easily to you.  What if we don’t find anything?”


“I won’t go back empty handed, Mr. Smith.  I know what I’m doing.  I will go back with a capture and a great story.”


“You sound very sure of yourself, sir”


“Well, I didn’t just fall into this you know,” Brampton’s eyes glittered strangely in the firelight.  “This was been something I have planned for at least a year.  I could have captured my prey before now but I am building up to a spectacular; the culmination of strategy, tactics an intelligence.  I don’t just want to get the catch of the century.  I have to be seen to do it.”


Heyes stood, his mouth firming into a line.  “Yeah, I can see why that’d be important to you.  I think it’s time to turn in.  We have an early start in the morning.”




oooOOOooo                         




They rode hard; rested, then pushed on as far as they could until they and the horses needed a proper break.  The Kid leaned against a rock and bit into some jerky.  “I reckon the horses will need about four hours before we move on.”


Heyes nodded.  “Yes.  Our friends will be out cold for about six hours judging by how much of that drugged coffee they downed.”


“Yeah, they didn’t seem to notice you refused the second pot, but they all drank it.”  A smile twitched at the Kid’s lips.  “I accepted that job in a hurry.  None of those guns would have been used as a hunter’s rifle; not to bring down something the size of a bear or bigger.”


“There was something ‘off’ with Brampton from the start.  For someone who was hunting a mythical beast all he could talk about was bringing in the uncatchable,” Heyes agreed with a sigh.  “We make sure we see nobody until there’s at least a couple of hundred miles between us and that group.  They can’t know what way we’re headed.”


They paused drinking in the dawn painting the world with somber grey tones.  


“D’you think they were after us, Heyes?” the Kid asked.  “Was it all a trick to draw us in?  Why not just corner us in town?”


“Who knows?  There was all that stuff about ‘the thrill of the chase,’ but all I know is they went hunting for something at least the size of a bear with the wrong caliber weapons, no traps, no cages and no nets; yet they claimed to have spent months planning this trip.”


“They had handcuffs, though, I found them when I searched the wagon,” the Kid murmured.  “I’ve never seen a hunter with them.  Why’d you think they didn’t corner us in town when they had the chance?”


“They probably aimed to take us in dead with a big story about how they outgunned and out-witted us, which they couldn’t claim with too many witnesses.  Out in the wilderness they could be big heroes; or at least they’d only have their side of the story heard.  The drugs you found were probably intended for us.”  Heyes shot a glimmer of a smile over at his cousin.  “Only a fool would try to outdraw Kid Curry.”    


“D’you think they were after us, Heyes, or have we just over-reacted?”


Heyes shrugged.  “Who knows?  Probably, but we’ll put at least a whole state between us and them before we relax.”  


The pair stared off into the trees, listening to the sounds of nature shaking itself awake to face another day.  


“Yeah, and if that big, hairy fella’s got any sense he’ll do the same thing.”  The Kid turned to Heyes with a grin.  “His coffee’s probably about as good as yours, so he sure couldn't depend on usin' that to escape.” 
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PostSubject: Story 6 - Glad Tidings - Insideoutlaw - Glad Tydings    Story of the Year Sept - Dec EmptyTue Jul 08, 2014 2:01 pm

Story 6 - Glad Tidings - Insideoutlaw - Glad Tydings 




“Hold on, Heyes, it’s just a few more miles,” said the Kid.  His frozen fingers held the reins to his partner’s sorrel gelding.  Curry could barely see the slumping form next to him.  The heavy snow storm had become a blizzard and the visibility was near zero.  




What had started out as an easy two-day’s ride to Tin Cup had turned into a nightmare.  They’d left Gunnison in clear skies.  Not a cloud on the horizon.  Pitkin had been reached in record time, and they’d hoped to overnight there, but the town was flooded with disgruntled railroad workers laboring on the construction of the new Alpine Tunnel.  Work on the tunnel had begun the previous January and had been scheduled to be completed within six months.  Numerous delays had the workers facing another rough winter and had soured the town’s mood.




A brief stop at the local saloon for a beer had been a mistake.  Four fights had broken out while the boys downed their suds and the sound of gunfire punctuated the brawls.  Before the sheriff had arrived, the Kid and Heyes had ducked out the back of the tattered tent building and retrieved their horses.




The papers they were delivering to the mine at Tin Cup had to arrive by the close of business the next day or they wouldn’t be paid.  It was Christmas Eve and the mine was shutting down until after the New Year.  They couldn’t afford to be stranded in the remote town without money.  The Kid was down to his last dollar and Heyes only had a few cents more rattling about in his pockets.  They needed this paycheck.  So instead of risking trouble in Pitkin, they’d chosen to climb the long, arduous route up Cumberland Pass as the clouds had begun to move in and a strong wind picked up, driving a chill through their heavy winter coats, and roughly swaying the firs and spruces lining the trail.




They’d stopped for the night just short of the summit.  It had been brutally cold and, this morning, they’d awakened to a light snow dusting their bedrolls. 




The trail had become treacherous as the snow had begun to fall in earnest and it became covered by a coating of soft powder.  Hidden beneath the fresh snow, the newly moistened mud had turned slippery.  Heyes’ horse had lost its footing, gone down hard, and had rolled on him.  As the horse madly scrambled to its feet, the Kid had leapt off his own animal and hurried down the trail, half-sliding and falling in his haste to reach his partner.  Heyes had sat up quickly and cussed a blue streak.  He’d been clutching his sides by the time Curry reached him.  




The Kid had argued for stopping right then and there, but Heyes had stubbornly refused to give up on the job.  He had insisted he was fine and had demanded his partner’s help in mounting.  It had been a struggle.  The spooked, mud-caked horse had jumped away nervously several times before Heyes was able to pull himself painfully up and into his saddle.  That had been three hours ago.




Heyes was no longer cussing, and the only sounds he made were a hiss of labored breathing and an occasional groan.   Curry was worried, but they had to go on.  The snow drifting across the trail was several feet deep and the blizzard showed no sign of abating.  If they stopped now, they’d freeze to death in no time.




It’d be just their luck to die on Christmas Eve, thought the Kid.  He couldn’t remember the last time they’d had a normal holiday.  No, that wasn’t true, he could; he just didn’t want to.  When the Preacher had been with the gang, they’d attempted to observe Christmas.  Had even put up a tree a few times and read the scriptures, but outlaws don’t have much self-control and what would start out as a day of feasting and goodwill always devolved into a night of drunkenness, morose regret for the life they had chosen, and a dawn of remorse.  Heyes had given up on it years ago.  Now it was just a reminder of how far they had fallen.




OOOOOOOOOO




The Kid wiped the ice from his caked lashes and blinked several times as he rode into town.  Soft, diffused light from the buildings glowed through the heavy snow as the horses waded through deep powder that tickled their bellies.  Huge snowdrifts half-hid the sturdy log cabins sprinkled among the businesses that lined the street.  Great, thought the Kid, the whole town’s closed up tighter than a lady's corset.  




Heyes moaned softly and the Kid turned to check on him.  He was hunched over his saddle horn clutching it tightly.  His face was covered with frost and his battered, black hat had been dyed white in the storm.  Pulling up, the Kid dismounted.  He had to get Heyes inside even if it meant barging in on some poor family’s celebrations.  He trudged to his partner’s side and reached up to help him down.  As Heyes half fell into his arms, he heard a voice muffled by the blizzard.




“Hello, there, let me help.”  A reddened, chapped face appeared out of the curtain of snow and hands reached out to steady him.  “What the hell are you two doing out in a storm like this?”




Curry turned to thank his helper and stopped short at the sight of the tin star pinned to the lawman’s chest.  He tried to hide his shock, but the man had seen him flinch and the Kid knew it.  “Much obliged, Marshal.  Uh, my partner took a bad spill coming off the summit.  I think he busted a few ribs.  Is there a doctor in town?”




“There is, but he ain’t here.  Doc took off this morning to visit his family in Taylor Park.  Here, let me take him.  Jail’s four doors down on the left; I’ll take him there.  There’s a corral and a lean-to out back; you can put your horses in there for the night.”


There wasn’t anything the Kid could do but nod.  He snatched up the horses’ reins and followed the marshal as he tugged Heyes through the snow.  





OOOOOOOOOO




Each of the two empty jail cells had two cots.  The marshal gently sat Heyes down on a cot in the first cell and propped a pillow behind his back.  “Hold on, son.  I’ll get you settled in a minute.”  He hurried into the next cell, pulling the thin, threadbare mattress off one of the cots, rolling it up, grabbing both pillows, and carrying it all back into Heyes’ cell.  He unrolled the mattress on top of the empty cot’s mattress making it thicker and softer.  




Fluffing up both pillows, he put them on the doubled-up mattresses before turning to help Heyes up.   The Kid plowed through the door, a swirl of snow following him in, as the marshal eased Heyes onto the cushioned bed.  “Easy now,” said the gentle marshal.




The Kid rushed into the cell to help and together they laid Heyes back.  He was barely conscious and shivering as his body began to warm.  Curry pulled the extra blankets from the other cells and piled them upon his partner.  




The marshal walked out of the cell as the Kid waited for the door to clang shut in his face.  Instead, the man went to the woodstove behind his oak desk and poured two cups of hot coffee from the pot resting atop it, and carried them back to the Kid.  “Here, this ought to take the chill off.”  He held out a cup.




“Thanks, Marshal…?” said the Kid, taking the coffee.




“Rivers, Harry Rivers.  You can call me Harry,” said the genial man.  “I’m Thaddeus Jones.  My partner there is Joshua Smith.”




The lawman surprised the Kid by laughing, “Smith and Jones, huh?”




Trying to stay nonchalant, Curry smiled, “Yep, Smith and Jones.”




“Well, Jones, you and your partner can wait out the storm here.  I reckon it ought to let up in a day or so.”




“I’m grateful, Harry,” said the Kid.  The marshal sat down on the bunk opposite from Heyes as he sank carefully next to Heyes.  




“So what brings you and Mr. Smith to Tin Cup?” 




“We’re delivering some papers to the mine from a lawyer fella down in Gunnison.”




“That so?  What lawyer?”




“A Mr. Winkoop.”




“I know Art Winkoop.  Good man,” said Harry, blowing on his coffee, but watching the Kid over the rim of his mug.




The Kid wondered how long it would take for Harry to check his story.  Not long, he bet.  He stood.  “I reckon I ought to get the job done.  Mine’s closing tonight, right?” he asked.




“Yes, son, it is.  Tell you what.  I was on my way out there myself.  I can drop off those letters for you,” said Harry.  He’d like to take a look at those papers just to make sure that Mr. Jones wasn’t lying to him."




Curry knew he’d look at the papers, but he didn’t hesitate at all. “Sure, Harry, that’d be right nice of you.”  He pulled an envelope from his jacket pocket and held it out.  It would be far worse to leave Heyes here with the marshal while he was half out of his head with the cold.  It was a known fact that his partner was likely to blab in that condition. 




“No trouble, son,” said Harry, tucking the envelope into his own coat and standing up.  “I’ll send someone around with some food for you.  I ought to be back in an hour or so.  Help yourself to the coffee if you’d like.”  He wasn’t worried about leaving these two loose around town.  His gut told him these men weren’t dangerous and he relied heavily on instinct.  Besides, where would they go on a night like this?




“Thank you,” said the Kid.




OOOOOOOOOO]




Curry had just fallen asleep in the marshal’s chair with his feet propped up on the desk.  His heavy sheepskin coat was draped over the back of the chair and the odor of wet hide permeated the small jail.  He’d wrestled Heyes out of his gray jacket, wet boots, and pants before retreating exhausted to the warmth of the woodstove.  The wind was still howling through the eaves of the building and he hadn’t envied the marshal his trip to the mining office.




The sound of the door opening aroused him and he dropped his feet from the desk.  A small, gray-haired woman stepped into the office, brushing the snow off her buffalo-hide coat.  A floppy old Stetson drooped on her head failing to conceal the wide grin on her face.




“Hey there, sonny, Harry said you could use some vittles.”  She held up a small Dutch oven, bustled over to the desk, and plunked it down in front of the Kid.  Digging into her pocket, she pulled out a bandana filled with warm biscuits.  “Damn, boy, you look like hell.  Are you daft or something wanderin’ around in a blizzard?”




“No, ma’am…”




“I’m Gladys, who are you?”  She held out a wizened, arthritic claw.  The Kid took it gently and smiled.  She was hard not to smile at.  




“Thaddeus Jones; pleased to meet you, Gladys.”




“So Harry said your partner got hisself busted up; I ain’t no doc, but I’ve bound a few ribs in my time.  Is he awake?”


“No, ma’am…”  A soft moan belied his statement, and the covers over Heyes started to flop about.




“I’m awake,” said a deep, sleepy voice.  Gladys followed the sound to the lumpy form lying in the cell as the Kid got up and trailed after her.


“Well, sit your butt up, boy, and I’ll get you fixed up in no time,” said Gladys, yanking back the covers as Heyes tried desperately to hang onto them.  She smiled into the wide brown eyes staring up at her, outraged.  “Come on now, good-lookin’, don’t be shy.  You ain’t got nothin’ I ain’t seen before; though I’ve seen more.”  





Heyes blushed, beet red, pulled the covers back up over his long johns, and frowned when his partner chuckled.  “Hey, I’m cold!” he growled.




She helped Heyes up gently until he sat on the edge of the cot, his feet dangling above the floor because of the second mattress.  Looking over her shoulder, she snapped at the Kid.  “Don’t hover over me, son, fetch me that coffee pot.”


“Yes, ma’am,” said the Kid.





Turning her attention back to Heyes, she gently unbuttoned his shirt knowing he would be too sore to raise his arms if his ribs were busted.  He sat there passively, too tired and too sore to resist.  She whistled at the heavy purplish bruising that covered his chest.  “Aww, you bunged yourself up right proper now, haven’t you?  But nothin' seems broken.  What’s your name, son?”




“Joshua.”




“Joshua what?”




“Joshua Smith.”




Gladys cackled harshly, “You two don’t have a lick of imagination, do you?!”




The Kid heard her as he walked into the cell and stood over them, holding the hot coffee.




“Thaddeus, put that down and fetch me some towels.  I think Harry has some in the back room,” she ordered.  He put the coffee on the rough table between the two beds and hurried away.  




“You,” she said to Heyes, “stop squirmin’!”




“Yes, ma’am,” said Heyes, passively watching as she pulled out a small jar from her hairy coat.  She unscrewed the lid and laughed again as he wrinkled his nose.  




“It smells bad, but it works real good,” she assured him.  Heyes tried to cringe away, but she liberally slathered him with the unguent.   Finished, she buttoned up his shirt, and left him sitting on the cot unable to avoid the pungent aroma.  His stomach lurched at the smell, but he could already feel a strange, tingling sensation spreading across his chest.




“What is that you smeared on me?” he asked.




“That’s my secret recipe.  Learnt it from an old chinee fellow who passed through these parts a few years back.”




“What’s in it?” asked Heyes.




“If’n I told you what’s in it, it wouldn’t be a secret, now would it?” she snorted.  “Never you mind.”  She pulled out a small bindle from her other pocket and put it on the table.  She could hear Thaddeus banging around in the back room and chuckled at his curses.  Grabbing one of the two tin cups resting on the table, she filled it halfway with coffee.  Her gnarled finger stirred the concoction while she blew on it until satisfied it was cool.  She held it to Heyes’ lips.  




He pulled away from it.  “What’s this?”




“You’re just full of questions, ain’t you?  It’s plain old white willow bark and a little sleepin’ powder.  She pressed it on him again.  “Now, drink it all down fast like.”




Heyes did.  




“Good boy.”  With infinite gentleness, she eased him down and covered him with the blankets, tucking them in carefully.  She brushed his forehead, sweeping back the hair, and smiled.  “You get some sleep now, Joshua.  You’ll feel better in the morning.  Who knows, if’n you been good,” she chuckled, “Santa might just bring you something.”  She sat next to him and held his hand as he drifted off.




He was asleep when the Kid came back.  




“I couldn’t find any towels.  Are you sure they’re there?” said the Kid doubtfully.




Gladys stood up and smiled, “I don’t need any towels, son, I just hated you hoverin' over me while I took care of your friend here.  Now, c’mon, let’s get out of here and let him sleep.”  She shooed the Kid through the cell door.  “You sit down and eat.  There’s enough stew for tomorrow, too.  I reckon you can set it on the stove to stay warm.   I’d best be goin’ now; I’ve got a passel of kids to feed.  Don’t you worry about your partner none; he’ll be right as rain in no time.  Merry Christmas.”  She waved good-bye as she hurried through the door before he could say good-bye. 




The Kid sat down at the desk and lifted the lid on the pot.  The stew tasted as good as it smelled and he ate eagerly.   He’d just put the leftover stew on the stove, leaned back in the chair, and wiped his mouth with one of the unused towels as the marshal came in.




“I see Gladys made it over here,” said Harry, knocking the snow off his hat and putting it back on his head.




“Yes, she did,” grinned the Kid.  




Harry dropped an envelope on the desk.  “Here’s your pay.  There’s a little extra, too.  I made sure the manager knew what it cost you to make the delivery.”




“Thanks, Harry.  Want some stew?” asked the Kid, gesturing to the pot.




“Nope, I ain’t staying.  It’s Christmas Eve and I’m spending it with my missus,” said Harry, his tone less friendly and more businesslike.  “Now, I’ve got a little tradition going here.  I make it a point to have my cells cleared out of prisoners by Christmas.  I don’t hold with locking a man up on the Lord’s birthday and that’s my day to spend with my family.  You’re on your own tomorrow.  I won’t feel the same come the day after.  Understood?”




The Kid gulped and nodded, “Yes sir.  Can you give our thanks to Gladys?”




Harry smiled again, “Will do.  Miz Tydings is a gem, ain’t she?” he said as he opened the door and went out.




“That she is,” said the Kid softly, getting up to join his partner in the cozy jail cell. 

Author’s Note: In the 1880 census, Tin Cup, a mining town at an elevation of 10,157 feet, had a population of 1,495.  Harry Rivers was the Town Marshal until 1882 when he was killed in a gunfight.  His replacement, Andy Jameson, was shot to death in 1883.
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PostSubject: Re: Story of the Year Sept - Dec   Story of the Year Sept - Dec EmptyWed Jul 09, 2014 8:10 am

Thanks for putting all the stories here in one place, it makes everything so much easier!  Very Happy

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PostSubject: Re: Story of the Year Sept - Dec   Story of the Year Sept - Dec EmptyWed Jul 09, 2014 9:16 am

You are very welcome, Javabee. I aim to please.  Very Happy 
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