Currently reading: Novella: By The Fire (The Stranger) – Chapter 3
Novella: By The Fire (The Stranger) – Chapter 3
Posted on 22nd July, 2017 - By Jonathan Hezzlewood
The Stranger series is something I started purely to try my hand at writing and attempt to create a unique world, using the highly-underrated Western genre as the backdrop.
This is the third chapter in the series, and I hope you enjoy what awaits.
Dear Constant Reader, welcome once again, to the world of; The Stranger…
By The Fire (a tall tale of Stranger times): Chapter 3
As he stepped through the doorway the smell of decay hit him, the odour was unmistakable. He walked in the direction Amos had taken, following him through to the back room. Led on the bed was the body of a woman. He held his bandana scrunched up to his nose, in a feeble attempt to lessen the putrid smell.
“Mae, this the gentleman I were tellin’ y’bout. The one to come set things straight. Knew he’d come.”
The stranger looked on, stunned, as the old man held a conversation – a two-way conversation it would seem – with his dead wife.
“Tha’be right. Sent that Dalton son-o’ a hightailin’.”
Amos paused, listening.
“. . .”
“Uh-huh.” Amos nodded. He turned to the stranger and rolled his eyes, seemingly waiting for his turn to speak.
“. . .”
“The gentleman has my gratitude. Yes, and yours too now.”
Maggots fed on the decaying flesh, flies crawling around her orifices, laying fresh larvae where her eyes had once been; now sunken inward.
“. . .”
“Yes. He’s aware were unable to provide much as thanks.”
The skin had ruptured in places, purging fluids from the corpse. Mae Pickett lay there, surrounded by an accumulation of brownish fluid, with nature’s scavengers eating away at her flesh.
“. . .”
Amos crouched down beside the corpse. “Mae, there jus’bout enough for the two o’us. There be him’n two young’uns out back.”
“. . .”
“Uh-huh uh-huh okay…”
Amos stood straight again, wincing as his back twinged. “Missus Pickett and I welcomes you to join us for a meal, as way o’a thank you. You’n the children both.”
Transfixed at having just witness someone hold talk with a corpse, it took a moment for the stranger to realise he was being spoken to. His eyes darted from the body to the old man, widening slightly upon registering that they had just been invited to dine with a dead-body and a man crazy-as-a-loon.
“Ah, we have business up at White Venom Pass and need to be making tracks, truth-be-told.” He turned making his way back to the door. Before he stepped out; back into the delicious embrace of fresh air, he turned to face Amos, and asked. “You could extend me one good-deed as way of thanks.”
Amos smiled, clearly relieved at being able to return the favour. “What be it?”
“I couldn’t borrow me that pick y’have back in the barn there? Would come in mighty hand for the business I have this morn.”
The old man seemed to hesitate slightly before answering. “S-Sure thing.” He gestured with his hand toward the stranger, pushing it in the direction of the barn.
“I’ll return it on my way back through. Should pass by here a day or two from now.” The stranger stepped onto the sun-bleached wood of the porch. He took a few steps out on the dry, cracked ground and turned back to the old man. He tipped the rim of his hat slightly as way of good-bye and started back over to the barn.
“Then maybe we can chow. Mae and mysel’, you n’ the young’uns?” Amos added.
The stranger continued to walk, and – without turning back – muttered to himself. “Maybe.”
Ricochet was still stood outside, waiting. The stranger ran his hand down her side, watching her smooth black coat shine in the morning sun, then walked back inside, into the shade of the barn.
“Just toward the top of the hill.” Jayne pointed in the direction of her house.
They had travelled back up toward White Venom Pass, stopping off a little while after having left the old farmhouse – to share a few pieces of dried-buffalo from his saddle pack. Frijoles and coffee, that they had heated over a small fire that the stranger had built – after James let it be known that he was feeling gut shrunk.
They had happened upon a team of Bullwhackers on their otherwise uneventful journey. James had looked on with keen eyes as fourteen oxen had pulled along a train of two wagons, one of which couldn’t be seen inside of due to it being covered, the other appeared to be carrying sacks of grain, or perhaps vegetables. Both most likely carrying goods on up to the nearby town from one of the local ranches.
They had reached the grasslands just off to the left of White Venom Pass. One structure stood, toward the top of the hill; it’s location most likely to avoid the battle with flood waters when the rains came, but as a result was an ideal target for anyone of ill-repute.
As they approached the sod house, the stranger dismounted and told the children to stay with the horses. Grass, root and soil could be seen through the gaps between the crudely fixed wooden panels and poor render-work that made up the exterior. The stranger looked through the nearby window and pushed open the door – taking note of the hole caused by a shot gone stray – as he stepped inside.
Considering that the plains hadn’t seen rain for several weeks, he was surprised at how damp the air felt inside. The stranger looked around the room to the right. The rough plaster walls acting as home to patches of mould. As well as the strong earthy smell of the house, he also had a tangy taste in his mouth. Stepping through to back room, he found what he had come for.
Led slumped against the wall was the body of a man. The face badly disfigured as a result of having been hit repeatedly with a heavy blunt object.
A rifle lay across his legs, the butt matted in blood and skin. He picked up the Henry Repeater and propped it against the corner, before making his way back outside.
Both of the children were stood just outside of the doorway. Fresh tear streaks had run down each of their faces.
He walked past them back toward Ricochet, and removed his long-coat; placing it over her saddle.
Muffled sobs and cries came from within the house. Fully understanding their pain, he untied the pick-axe from the saddle of the spare horse, and made his way around the back of the house, toward the top of the hill.
Jayne couldn’t really tell what was going through the stranger’s mind. It looked like a confusing mix of anger, frustration, upset and exhaustion all bundled together. The pick-axe reached skyward before crashing down into the dirt once more. The man stood in a hole that reached just above his waist. His face flush, beads of sweat clinging to his forehead.
The stranger hadn’t noticed that he had company. The pick continued to rise and fall. Skyward-ground, skyward-ground, skyward-ground.
She cleared her throat, breaking him out of his trance. His eyes darted to her. Cool and grey, and sad.
He broke the gaze and slumped back against the wall of the grave, placing the pick just outside of the hole. He met her eyes again, noticing that James had joined her.
Her eyes welled with tears. “Thank you.” She said. Before covering her mouth and turning away to sob – bending over with the physical pain she felt deep within; as grief took over once more.
The heat of the sun hit her bare neck, the warmth quite soothing. James did his best to console her, holding her in his arms. Her neck cooled suddenly. She turned; wiping at her tears, as the stranger held out a canteen.
“Drink. You both must be dry?!” He questioned rhetorically.
Jayne took the canteen and drank – gulping down water as warm as the air itself – then passed it to James, who took three long gulps before handing it back to the stranger. He took a mouthful and fastened the canteen, dropping it back to the floor.
Removing his hat, he wiped the sweat from his brow using his bare forearm, then ran his fingers through his damp hair – pushing back a few strands that had crossed his vision.
“We need to lay your Father to rest.” He paused, upon seeing the realisation hit their faces. “Then make our way to the nearest town, in hopes o’findin’ a proper place to cool our heels for the night.”
James followed the stranger around to the front of their home. “M-mister. I-I ne…” He took a deep breath and started again. “Mister, I need t’be of help. My Pa always said to be helpful. Always to return kindness.”
“You owe me no kindness.” The stranger replied, placing his hat on the horn of Ricochet’s saddle.
“You saved my life. Me n’ my sister both.”
The stranger began toward the door of the house.
“We don’t even know your name.” James finished, his voice cracking.
He stopped in the doorway.
“What is your name?” A softly spoken voice asked.
“Names are for those with purpose. Those that have a meaning to live on this earth.” He turned to face Jayne, now stood with James.
“I lost mine a long time ago.” He stepped into the shade of the house.
The stranger had carried the dead man out of the house and stepped down into the grave, carefully placing him in the ground.
Before covering the man over, his children had wept for him, wishing him peace and comfort in heaven.
The grave had been marked using a piece of wood that the stranger had removed from the outer walls of the sod house. Using his knife, he inscribed the words:
KILLED OCT 19. 1884
LOVED. GONE. NEVER FORGOTTEN.
To Be Continued…