Here’s the second half of the short story for which I posted Part 1 yesterday. It picks up where yesterday’s installment left off.
Beyond the Horizon
by Walt Shiel
I eased out of the saddle, slipping the Henry .44 rifle out of its scabbard. I hoped the soft creak of saddle leather wouldn’t alert whoever it might be. I dropped the reins, leaving Charc ground-tied only. As quietly as I could, I worked around the low brush and past a couple of scrubby mesquite trees. With less than 10 yards to go, I stepped on a bit of mesquite branch I’d missed in the gathering dark.
The guy rolled to his back and tried to draw his sidearm.
I levered a shell into the chamber and hopped to my left behind a couple of scraggly mesquites. “Don’t do it, Hutchins!”
He’d heard the round being chambered and froze with his hand on the butt of his pistol. “That you, Ranger Ross?”
“I ain’t going back to Abilene, Ranger.” He still hadn’t moved.
“You’re either going back to face that jury or you’re going back draped over my saddle.” I brought the rifle up to eye level and drew a bead on him. I waited for him to decide. Seconds ticked by. “It’s your choice, Hutchins.”
“All right, Ranger. I’m getting up.”
“Just keep your hand clear of that forty-five while you do it.”
I watched as he sat up, leaned over on to his hands and knees, and started to stand. I kept the sights on the center of his chest, but watched his right hand as best I could in the fading light.
His right elbow jerked back.
Damn fool! I squeezed the trigger. The rifle bucked against my shoulder. Its roar split the twilight quiet.
Hutchins groaned. His body snapped backwards, twisted left, and fell into the shallow water beside him.
Charcoal chuffed, and I heard him pawing the ground. I didn’t move for five or ten seconds, waiting to see if Hutchins was down for good. Not that any man being hit by a shot from a .44 at that short range was likely to be getting up again.
Hutchins didn’t. The slow-moving water swirled around his head.
“Easy, Charc,” I said soothingly without looking back at him. “Everything’s all right.”
With the rifle trained on the body, I walked slowly up to the edge of the riverbed. I kept trying to control my breathing and slow my heart. This was the third man I’d shot in four years as a Texas Ranger. Every time set my heart pounding as though trying to break free. I nudged the body with the toe of my boot, holding my finger poised over, but not quite touching, the trigger.
He didn’t move. A smear of blood had spread across his chest. More dark tendrils of blood snaked downstream with the water. A .44 makes a fair-sized hole going in, but an ugly, gaping wound going out. I set the rifle down on the bank and reached out to check for a pulse. There wasn’t one, nor was he breathing at all.
Now came the really bad part—dragging the lifeless body of a man, with bullet holes and blood stains, to Charc and wrestling it across the saddle. Which, of course, meant I got to walk.
Oh, I suppose I could have perched up there behind the saddle, but that seemed even more distasteful than the long walk back to what passed for civilization out here. Before proceeding with the nasty little chore, I refilled my canteens and let Charc have a long drink. I considered laying out my bedroll for a few hours, but I didn’t much like the idea of camping with a dead man.
I’m here to tell you that getting the dead body of a barrel-chested man, who stood something over six feet tall, off the ground and onto a horse is no mean feat. Charc didn’t seem too happy about it, either. But I finally did it.
As I finished, my shirt was soaked in sweat and caked with the wet dirt from dragging a water-soaked dead man across the ground. About that time, the limping gelding caught up with us and took a long drink from the river, if it’s fair to call that trickle of water a river.
While I mopped my brow on a shirt sleeve, I looked around in the deepening darkness. That’s when I saw it. Lights shining through the window of a house. On the flat desert in the dark, they could have been two miles away or ten, but they were a lot closer than the last little town between us and Abilene.
“OK, Charc, that’s where we’re going.” I picked up the reins and started walking towards those lights. I wasn’t real sure those folks would be pleased to find somebody, Ranger or not, knocking on their door in the dark with a dead man in tow. Hospitality in those situations can get a might thin.
The gelding limped along behind us.
While we walked, I thought about that flying machine. Life up there in the sky sure as hell seemed a lot better than mine down here on the ground. I remembered some storekeeper in Austin telling me he’d read a fanciful book, written by somebody named Wells, that had some scenes about flying machines battling each other in the skies. His description reminded me of books I’d read about knights in armor trying to unhorse each other with long poles. It was hard to imagine the frail-looking machine that had flown over us being able to do much damage to anything, unless it just crashed into it.
I sure hoped that fighting wasn’t going to be the real fate of flying machines. But, given that man seemed to always find a way to fight with whatever he invented, the idea probably wasn’t all that farfetched.
I gazed up into the clear, dark, star-spangled skies and wondered just how one could go about getting to fly one of those flying machines. I decided, right then and there, to find out. Me. Everett Ross, driver of a flying machine. The idea improved my outlook. I grinned.
Somehow. Sooner or later.
Copyright ©2012. Walter P. Shiel. All Rights Reserved.
I hope you enjoyed this short story, which will soon be published in a collection of Everett Ross short stories, prequels to Once A Knight.