Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sunday Story Trilogy #4-A Man Down (Fantasy Western)

A Man Down

The smell of the cows was what done me in.

Ever since I was a little cowboy, watchin my pa drive other men's herds, the best smell in the world to me, was beef. On the hoof or on my plate, it don't matter. Their hides, their dung, their breath even, floating on a Big Sky wind. You see, cows mean money. And I meant to get me some.

I left home on my 16th birthday, couldn't wait no longer to start buildin my fortune, and I didn't listen to nothin my folks said. I was determined to be more than a hired hand. I tried cards first, cause I always beat my pa and his friends but after a night at the tables, I knew it wudn't for me. I played fair. No way I could win without cheatin and I couldn't shoot, didn't even have a gun.

Next, I tried hirin out to the farms and I made some fast cash from that one but their eyes called me a saddle-tramp despite my only being 17 and I turned to things that made me feel bigger. Like breakin horses. For some reason now, my love o' beef don't extend to those tall, jittery animals and I only stayed for a couple days before walkin back to town, rubbin my behind. Somethin they don't tell ya about filly's is that they like to bite after they throw ya off. I came away from that job with no money, bleeding, and a future scar on my shoulder. Coulda been worse, though. I think that buckskin mare was goin for my throat.

After that, I spent time working on the raillroad that the town was helpin to build. It was the hardest work I ever done and after three weeks, I'd had enough. The pay was real good but the work was drainin. I didn't even have the energy to visit the saloon no more!

Then, one of the dancehall girls suggested I try to be an apprentice and I convinced the blacksmithy to take me on. After the fire, I tried the general store and then the inn but I just coudn't do it. Things fell from my hands and mouth without me knowin they was goin to and I moved on quick, before they could fire me.

From there, I hired out to the saloon on weekends, then the newspaper opened up and I gave that a shot too but I couldn't get those tiny letters to line up straight enough! After I broke a finished edition, the owner himself asked me to leave. It just seemed like there weren't nothin I could do.

I wudn't givin up though and I stayed in town, mostly sleeping in the stables in exchange for helpin to clean 'em. I ate what I cooked and hunted in the woods. It weren't no easy life but it weren't bad neither and I reckon I could have went on strugglin through other jobs till I found somethin I could settle down and try to be good at. Except for those cows. They was my undoin.

The herd came within twenty feet of where I was settin up camp and the minute I spotted them longlegged steers in the moonlight, I was froze in place. There seemed like 500 head or better, prime beef with fat bellies and well cared for hooves, and I saw them with joy in my eyes.
Their scents came to me, like a wave 'o perfumes on the Montana wind and I inhaled sharply, smilin. Ain't no better smell.

There were riders keepin the herd together, long faced cowboys with hard eyes and even harder guns on their lean hips, and I watched them pass with a longin that musta shown on my face cause as the drag rode by, one rider broke off and headed my way.

Tall in the comfortably creaking saddle, the cowboy wore a faded black hat and his sharp blue eyes went over me from head to foot before settlin on my face. His skin was lined with weather and age but he was a strong man, I was sure of it, and when he spoke, I knew to listen.

"You a drover?" I shook my head reluctantly, recognizing the word even though none around here used it.
"No." The cowboy looked from me to the large herd that was starting to disappear over the hill and his voice was gruff, raspy.
"I'm a man down." Shock colored my face and I felt the sense that he was smelling it but pushed the strange thought away.
"Don't no nothing about herdin cept for what came from watchin my pa." With another foreman, I may have tried to lie my way in but not to this man and not ever.  The cowboy nodded casually.
"I reckon." His eyes swung back to mine, searching.
"You willin to learn?" I nodded immediately, thinking this was my lucky day, and he waved a huge hand toward my town, where the saloon music had started drowin out all the quiet.

"Catch up to us at the inn." I nodded again, too shocked to hold my hand out to shake on it, and when he leaned down and his big paw moved toward me, the wave of fear in the air slapped me hard. Somethin wasn't right.
"Shake on it, boy." I did it reluctantly, and with a premonition of doom that said he'd grab my neck instead and rip it clean off my shoulders, but his fingers felt like any other man's and when we shook, it was quick and then he let go.
"See you soon." It was a strange thing, his way of talkin. People round here didn't use those words and alarm flared in my mind as I watched him turn his solid black horse around without appearing to use the reigns. Nothin, I told myself. Indians do it all the time. I watched until he was gone and then got busy packin in my small camp. There was money in town. And cows.

I stepped through the swinging doors of the Inn and my eyes went over the filled seats and lined walls with growing concern. One position and four dozen men. There was no way I would get the job it but I settled in the far back and waited anyway, ignoring the snickers from those who knew my work history. The Inn owner, I didn't look at and was glad he let me stay.

 I ran my eyes over those nearest me, evaluating. Drunkard, wife beater, shiftless, too short, too fat. Most of these men had serious flaws and I stood a bit straighter as the office door opened and my cowboy came out. He still had his hat on and his hard blue eyes found mine first. How, since I was behind a dozen men, I don't know, but he motioned me forward and silence fell in the dusty room.
"Boss's waitin for ya." He ordered, hooking his thumb toward the door and my pride was huge as I moved through the grumbling men. The cowboy's words made the muttering go up another level.
'"He had a reservation. The rest of you will be called in by last name. Who's got A?"

I let the sounds fade as I opened the office door and the sight of an empty chair and open backdoor didn't ease my nervousness none. Why I was goin first was clear, he'd asked me to come but why only me out of all this town's fine men, I had no clue.
I closed the door with my boot, glad the movement looked as if I'd done it so well every time. The room was empty, a quick look told me so, and I stayed where I was, waiting. And looking at the money. It was on the huge, dark wood desk, an enormous amount of loot. Stacks of fives, tens and twenties and next to them a pile of randomly spread gold coins.

Herdin jobs were hard to come by unless you had connections. I had always refused to name my pa, wanting it on my own but as I looked over that stack of cash, very aware it was a test, I thought that before I left this room, I might drop more than a name if it got me this job. Normal cowboys, these were not. None made that kind of cash from smell of cowshit and dodgin indians.
And so the shock made my mouth fall open when that black woman stepped in from the back door and smiled at me. She had the longest, darkest hair I'd ever seen and her body! Those curves stood out inside that long black dress in ways that woulda made a saloon girl ashamed. She was tall, firm, stunning to my eyes and when she stepped toward me, the slit in her dress revealed a bare thigh that made me hafta shake my head.
And her eyes! Bright green cat's eyes, with the almond shape that sent a chill into my legs and then she was holding out a hand to me and I was touching her and I don't remember much after that.

I know we talked some. She told me she'd inherited the herd from her pa, who'd been a drover, like mine and from there, it all went kinda fuzzy. I remember askin her if there was a work period, where I could quit ifin it wudn't what I was up to and she told me a deal was a deal. Stomach went a bit queasy at that but then she'd smiled and said I had the look of a born drover and besides, Angel wudn't never wrong.

I got the job and left through the backdoor with a smile on my face and the scent of her fiery perfume in my nose. I was supposed to go straight to the stables, where the foreman, my cowboy, would put me to work. I couldn't believe I'd gotten the position but the only thought that crossed my mind as I neared the stables, was to wonder if the Boss Lady rode with the herd like one of the men.

The opening of the office door behind me made me turn automatically and I caught a quick flash that made ice run through my veins. The beautiful black woman was no longer a woman at all, but a devil, with sharp, gouging horns and a long, spiked tail that slammed into the man she was interviewing. Blood splattered across the door, a shadow slid to the floor, and then the devil switched back to the Lady right before me!

I gasped, couldn’t help it, and she turned. Those glowing eyes held mine for the longest minute of my life and when she dismissed me, I turned to run for help. And that’s when I saw those cows.

The stable doors were just opening and at first, all I could see were those glowing eyes and then their beautiful long legs and I forgot all about the killin going on behind me.  

Them steers was the prettiest things I ever saw. In the darkness, without the light to conceal their true form, the cows were a vision of mystery. Horns made of gold wound about their heads, sharp points gleaming in the moonlight. Their red eyes were lit up, searching hungrily and their smell! Beef cooking was what came to mind and I moved toward them without another thought of running for help. Those cows pulled at me, and as if they sensed my complete adoration, the entire herd came to meet me, greet me. I held my gloved hand out to the lead steer, a huge male that musta weight three times what I did.

"I'm your new Drover." I wasn't sure why I used those words but they worked and when I put my hand on that hide, their scents makin me drunk, I fell to my knees in pleasure. I would keep this job. They would never get me to go.

"You sure know how to pick 'em, don't ya?"
Angel nodded, hard blue eyes watching the shadow of a tail strike that signaled another unclean soul being removed from the earth. Another beautiful, long horned steer appeared in the herd.
"Yep. One Drover per town or twenty souls added to the herd. Gettin both here."

Here’s a couple other stories I found last year. The Apocalypse and Horror. What more could a reader ask for?

The Flu by Jackie Druga
$7.99 Kindle Edition

Throughout history there have been several thousand different strains of influenza. Each year hundreds are active. Chances are, this year, you will catch one of those strains. You will cough, sneeze, and your body will ache. Without a second thought, you’ll take a double dose of green liquid, go to bed, and swear you’ll feel better in the morning.
Not this time.

In 1918 forty million people succumbed to a particular strain of swine flu. It appeared out of nowhere, and just as quickly as it surfaced, the Spanish Flu vanished. Gone for good. Or so we thought. Though mankind has anticipated its resurfacing for some time, mankind is ill prepared. Mutated and with a vengeance, the Spanish Flu returns.

In a world blackened with plague, a glimmer of light exists in the small town of Lodi, Ohio. They shine as a sanctuary because they are ‘flu-free’ In the wake of the reality that they are spared, the spirit and strength of Lodi is tested. It becomes a fight against what is morally right or wrong in an increasingly difficult battle to stay healthy and alive until the flu has run its course.

Dark Crux: The First Tome
By Omar Carbona and Rob RodenParker

$0.99 Kindle Edition

Dark Crux: The First Tome is the first in a series of horror/paranormal short stories that will shock, frighten, and excite you!

This first book has four short stories that involve ghosts, evil spirits, an assassin, a demonic wraith, magical creatures, and zombies. In space.

The Bad Place - Kristen has lived through the death of her son and is now back on her feet, continuing with her life. She still misses her son, but is comforted by the presence she can feel in her house, a feeling of ghostly essence that she believes is her son come back to her. Until it starts to hurt her. She has to run from her home to save her life. Now, with help from her next-door neighbor, an ex-priest, she will confront the presence and ask it to leave. But when it doesn't want to go, she finds herself fighting for her life again. And this time she may not win.

Shadow Child - Members of a small southern community are being murdered by a mysterious killer. A mystery unfolds as it is discovered that the spirit of a young African boy has been unleashed onto a community of racist socialites.

Wayward Blade - A mysterious black-cloaked assassin finds himself fleeing the local townsmen when he takes refuge in some dark woods. In those woods he encounters an evil force that summons an elemental monster to stop him from going any farther. As the battle rages, the assassin discovers that this evil force holds secrets. Secrets that could destroy him. Forever.

No Home To Return To - Six astronauts aboard the International Space Station witness the entire Earth go black. With no communications from the planet, they have no idea what went wrong. And if they'll ever survive the plague that now threatens to kill everyone on the station.

So grab a copy, get cozy, and be sure to leave the lights on as you read through the four stories of terror and the supernatural.

 Next Time: To be announced

"This is Safe Haven Refugee Camp. Can anyone hear me?
Hello? Is anyone out there?"

The Survivors
*Free on all retailers

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