Note: This was the first full story I wrote as an adult. It’s dated April, 2010. It was written for my creative writing class. The assignment was to write fiction, and take the character as far away from my own reality as possible. So I went with a western. I’d never written a western before, and I was not a big fan of the genre. What this story did was to force me to illustrate a character through his actions, past and present. I also had to use enough description to put the reader into the story.
What you read here is the post-workshopped version. I’ve also re-edited it recently making it even shorter, and correcting a few mistakes.
Lucky Sherman crested the desert ridge and looked down towards the wash at the base of the box canyon. He tilted back his hat to better view the cabin that sat to the rear of a mesa half way up the opposite ridge. It looked abandoned and beaten by the wind and sun. More important to Lucky was the absence of smoke coming from the chimney. He clicked his tongue twice and nudged his horse into motion. Lucky rode down into the wash and up the other side of the canyon where he dismounted his horse. After tying the horse to a fallen tree he carefully made his way to the old cabin keeping to the blind-side, which was easy seeing as it had only one window next to the front door. It had built by miners. The old mine entrance marred the side of the hill sixty yards away. Lucky’s partner, Heath Gibbons, reckoned that there had once been a flowing stream where the wash is now, and he’d heard a story about the Army dynamiting a spring not too far away to drive away the Indians. There were no tracks around the cabin; still he moved carefully to the side and put his ear to the wall. Hearing nothing he moved around to the front and carefully stepped upon the porch and leaned slowly to look into the window. The sunlight on the back of the cabin streaked in through the gaps between the planks of the walls, and dust sparkled in the golden beams. Nobody was home. Well nobody that was still breathing in any case. Lucky pushed hard to open the door and then stepped inside.
Dry, hot, stale air sucked all the moisture from Lucky’s mouth and made him cough. “Salutations, Heath” he said to the shape slumped over the table.
The mummified corps used to be one Heath Goodwin Gibbons; veteran of the War Between the States, and one-time stagecoach robber. “Don’t git up, buddy” Lucky joked as he walked to the table. The skin on Heath’s face had dried stretching over his skull. The lips had long ago pulled away from the mouth giving the eyeless face a grimace. A red and white checkered shirt hung loosely over the skeletal frame; brown dungarees lay almost flat against the chair with a dark spot in the seat where his bowls and bladder had released upon his expiration. Heath’s left hand still held a shot glass, and an old whiskey bottle lay empty on its side. Lucky could see the distinctive web work of a Black Widow Spider that had taken up residence inside the bottle. The back of Heath Gibbons’ head was bare bone as the skin had withdrawn due to the bullet hole from Lucky’s first Colt.45. Lucky paused a moment to admire his handiwork; then he turned to the corner where another body lay on a cot. Cletus Jones, another one-time stage-coach robber, had not fared as well over the years as Heath had. His skull was askew, jawbone over where his ear had been, and there was none of the dried flesh that was holding old Heath together. Lucky briefly wondered if the whisky had something to do with Heath’s preservation (such as it was). Once the reunion of sorts was over Lucky went back outside to his horse. He unbuckled the saddle; the horse shifted in relief, and put the saddle up near some shrubs before digging into his saddle bags. Lucky pulled out a hammer, chisel, and a pry-bar then made his way back up to the cabin.
A lantern still hung just inside of the door. Lucky lifted the globe and could see that the wick was in good shape. He lifted it off the hook and walked to the table placing the lantern down, and pulled a box of matches from his breast pocket. He struck the match against Heath’s dried out forehead and light the lantern which filled the corner with a pleasant light. The spider in the whiskey bottle scurried around to a darker corner of its web to escape the unwelcome glow on the table. Lucky looked at Heath and then at Cletus with a grin. “Sorry I took so long to git back.” Taking the lantern over the the fireplace he set just inside with his tool.
Lucky crouched to enter the fireplace. He picked up the lantern and held it up near his face. With the light he then scanned the back wall of the mid-chimney searching for his tell-tale handy work. He soon found what he was looking for: the slightly askew river rock. Placing his left hand on the rock he bent down to return the lantern to just next to his feet, and then he picked up the hammer and chisel with his right hand before resuming his semi-crouch. As Lucky tapped away carefully at the rock he marveled at how everything was going according to how he had planned it as he lay in his cell in the Yuma Territorial Prison for five years, four months, and twenty two days. He pictured the stealing the horse. He pictured the ride back to the Nevada desert to this lone canyon. As the chisel dug into the wall Lucky thought about the Wells Fargo stage coach with its red doors and gold trim, and how the guards didn’t even try to defend the loot. He remembered how heavy the gold $20 pieces were and how they filled six large saddle bags, and how he had admired Heath Gibbons’ forethought to bring a mule along to carry the extra weight. He thought about how easy it was to kill two men.
As the stone began to come loose Lucky started to believe that his incarceration at Yuma Territorial Prison for the murder of a Mexican ranch-hand was fortuitous because his trail had long since gone cold, and anyone who had been looking for him had given up. As he worked the chisel to loosen the stone he realized that nobody would come looking for Lucky Sherman ever again.
The stone came out and Lucky was instantly blinded by bright sunlight. It shocked the backs of his eyes and made him gasp. At the same time he heard the sound of mortar crumbling just above his head so he dropped to his knees, and then he dove-half fell out of the fire place onto the cabin floor. The crumbling sound grew louder as stones began to fall into the fire place from above filling the cabin with an ashen dust cloud. From the ceiling came a clap of thunder and Lucky was slammed against the floor by the top half of the chimney.
He couldn’t see a damned thing through the dust. He lay there trying to inhale but could not get a full breath. At first he thought that this was due to the dust, but as it settled he could see that most of the chimney was on his chest. He gasped for air and tried to move and a jolt of blinding pain came from his back and his legs and he realized that his right arm was pinned underneath him.
Lucky was trapped, and nobody was ever going to come looking for him.
Lucky tried to scream but the weight upon his chest would only allow a whimper. He turned to his right to see old Heath lying beside him. When the chimney came down it must have kicked the table forward knocking the bone-sack across the floor to where it now lay next to Lucky. The force had knocked his jaw open and now it seemed to Lucky that Heath was laughing at him in a frozen guffaw. The pain was awful, and while Lucky tried to be angry he soon ended up crying like a baby there on the floor of the wrecked cabin. As his sobs continued he could taste a little more blood in his mouth and knew there were ruptured organs inside of him. For a brief second Lucky marveled at how much the blood in his throat smelled like a wet horse. Then he heard the sound of a loud snort and looked straight upwards through the open door to see his horse standing just outside. The sound of the chimney crashing had spooked the horse and had torn itself loose from the tree. Lucky looked at the horse and the horse looked back at Lucky. The horse could smell fatal blood, and walked away.