by Ken Dean

A criminal comes to a violent, unusual end alone in the desert of the Old West.

D I S C U S S I O N  F O R U M  |  R E T U R N  T O  S T  O N L I N E




Charlie awoke slowly, drifting in and out of consciousness. There was an extreme burning pain in his gut and an almost blinding pain at the back of his head. He took a look around once his eyes started to work. The ground he was lying on was a mixture of rock and dirt and not very comfortable. Not much he could do about it… his legs wouldn't work. It felt like they weren't there, though looking down confirmed they were still attached. The fiery pain in his gut kept coming in waves, getting worse. There was a lot of blood on his hand after he touched his gut… too much blood. He felt woozy, on the edge of passing out off and on. The baking sun was making him feel like over-cooked bacon in a frying pan. He looked around for his horse, but then remembered it was stolen by his betraying son of a bitch partner. He would give anything for his canteen and the glorious water that would be inside. His mouth felt like dry leather. There was something circling in the sky above. He didn't want to think about what it was.

* * *

His partner, Jeb, had thought it would be a good idea to rob the 2:10 payroll train out of Albuquerque. They had laid up a good-sized wooden barrier across the tracks and set it on fire with some thick pitch so it would be burning good when the train came into sight. The train had no choice but to stop. Charlie and Jeb had hidden behind some boulders nearby, waiting for the security detail to come out of the stopped train to check on the situation. Jeb was a crack shot with his Henry rifle. The distance from the boulders to the train was just right and he was able to take down all four security guards after they had hopped down; luckily all exited on their side of the train. Damn good shootin'. The guards had been stupid. They should have realized this was an ambush. There was no one left to protect the payroll cargo. They must have gotten away with at least at fifty thousand, easy. Yes sir, a lot of money. They rode off into the desert as quick as possible to put some distance between themselves and the train.

"Damn good takin's, Charlie."

"Amen, Jeb. We could live on our splits for several years, unless you get into the gamblin' and whores."

"Well, what the hell's wrong with that?"

"Nothin', but not me this time. Gonna lay low and just take it easy for a while. Might look into buying a ranch. See how it goes from there."

"To each his own, amigo."

"Let's go ahead and break for camp. We been ridin' for over a day now, and that across some rough ground. It would be hard for anyone tryin' to catch up to us to do any trackin'."

* * *

The sun kept beating down relentlessly. What parts of his body that had feeling were beginning to feel like overdone beef jerky. His hat was within arm's reach, so he grabbed for it and used it to cover his over-exposed face. Not that it would matte, anyway… Death couldn't be that far off.

It felt as if his life was draining into the rocky soil he was lying on, and the way his gut kept bleeding, it wouldn't be long. Yes… he realized that the shapes circling in the sky off and on were definitely buzzards. Damn bastard land sharks.

* * *

It hadn't always been this way, the way of the outlaw. He remembered playing civil war with his friends in the open prairie on the land behind his home. His mother would call him to come in to supper. They would all sit down to eat, his father always praying before the meal. Charlie always had an interest in going away to school and learning how to write and become a newspaper columnist. Every time his mother took him into town he would pick up the local paper from the general store. Thank goodness his mother had taught him how to read. Charlie would devour the paper, imagining the glamorous life and prestige that went along with being a newspaper writer.

But one evening outlaws burst into their home while they were eating supper and violently killed his mother and father. Charlie got slapped around some, but they left him with only cuts and bruises. They took whatever valuables they could find and left Charlie alone with his parents' dead bodies. It was up to him to bury them on the property out back of their home. His life was shattered. The only people he truly loved in this world were taken from him.

He sat around the house blubbering to himself for three days, then something changed. He felt his heart grow hard, and he put the grief down deep, where it couldn't be reached. After that, the way Charlie viewed the world changed drastically. It became a violent, volatile place where life could change in an instant of time. He packed up and left the home he had grown up in, taking along his father's prized, nickel-plated Colt six-shooter from up in the closet. The outlaws had missed it in their search of the house. His father had loved that gun, and so had Charlie. He remembered good times target practicing with his father shooting bottles off the wooden fence out back, the Colt jumping in his grip each timed he fired.

He drifted around for a few years, finding a few odd jobs or stealing what he needed. That's when he had run into Jeb, who convinced him that there were better ways of stealing that would bring in a lot more money. Charlie and Jeb had fallen into a form of partnership, robbing and stealing what they needed. They eventually graduated up to banks and train robberies. Charlie had no problem with any of this. His world view was now one of violence and theft. His parents' murder had started him on this eventual path, and he wasn't willing to veer away from it.

* * *

Charlie and Jeb broke for camp, tying the horses off to a lone, scrubby tree. Charlie looked up into the night sky. It was always a treat for him to look up on a cloudless night and see the countless pinpoint lights. How could there be so many? It was warm enough out in the desert to not have to use tents… bedrolls under the stars would do. They started up a campfire and cooked up some beans, bacon and coffee. After dinner Jeb said, "Let's count this money out… see exactly how much we took them for. Then we can divide it up." He threw the money satchels at Charlie's feet. As Charlie reached for the satchels, Jeb struck him hard on the back of the head with the butt of his pistol. Charlie blacked out momentarily. When he came to, Jeb was in front of him, pointing the .45 at his belly.

"Sorry, Charlie, but this is too much money to be split up, and I aim to keep all of it. And I don't want you following me, so this is where we part ways, so to speak."

He punctuated his speech with three .45 slugs fired into Charlie's midsection. Charlie must have blacked out for a while after that. When he came to, Jeb, the money, and both horses were gone. Most of the night had passed, and the dawn was just starting up.

* * *

Two gunmen were riding along the trail through the desert, edging along a large washed out, rocky area. They had just pulled off a successful bank job in Albuquerque and were making their way to the next state. They were the gunmen who had killed Charlie's parents several years back. One of the men saw a glint of metal in the noon day sun out in the desert area.

"Hey, I saw something shiny out there. Could be valuable." Both of them, being greedy, turned their horses off the trail and headed towards whatever had flashed.

They rode for about five minutes, stopping when they saw what looked like a body lying in the desert. Both of them stopped their horses, raising up some dust from the arid soil.

They dismounted and walked towards the figure. The sun was offset just enough for their shadows to fall over the figure on the ground.

* * *

Amazingly, Charlie lasted two days and nights in the desert. It was around high noon on the third day, and Charlie felt that this would probably be the last. He had managed to keep the encroaching buzzards at bay with a stick that had been within reach, but he was so weak that he couldn't keep it up much longer. His vision and hearing were going.

Charlie had just enough life left to feel horse hoofs striking the ground coming his way. He couldn't see very well, but he could feel shadows pass over his body, blocking out the sun. He managed to barely croak out, "Strangers, please help me."

* * *

"There, that's what must have kicked up a reflection." One man pointed towards a nickel-plated revolver still in the holster around the decimated body.

"Definitely worth takin'." He reached over and pulled the pistol and entire holster up and through the now loose bones.

"What do you think happened to him?"

"Dunno, can't tell if he was shot or killed by something else."

Looking closer through the tattered clothing, he saw some mangled lead slugs mixed in with the bones.

"Yep… he was shot and left for dead."

"As long as it was him and not me. Be a helluva way to go, dyin' alone in the desert. Let's get outta here; we still got some distance to git quick as possible."

"Yeah," the other man said, "let's go."

He kicked the skeleton and scattered bones over the desert floor before getting back on his horse.






Copyright © 2008 Ken Dean

A B O U T   T H E   A U T H O R:

Ken Dean: Living in Columbus, Ohio with my wife and daughters. Working in IT/Tech Support for the Hilliard City School System.

Previous Pubs: Silverthought, Scars Publications, Bewildering Stories, The Written Word.

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