Here's another Flash Fiction Friday story. It's a little late but preparations for an early Christmas, plus a book launch, got in the way.
My story is just over 900 words.
"Dad, am I old enough now to learn to shoot?"
I reached over and tousled my son's hair. "I'm not sure, Cody. It's a big responsibility.
"But you taught mom, didn't you? And she got them Injuns, right?" He grinned at me in the light of the campfire.
"Yes, she did, son."
I'd been a veteran of the war, wounded and forced to retire. I'd tried a number of jobs: busting broncos, then riding herd on cattle drives, then gun for hire, then working in a saloon. Nothing seemed to stick, until the last one, and that was mainly because of the cheap beer. I'd sunk pretty low until the boss set me up with a friend of a friend—a pretty little thing named Sara, visiting from back east. She had become enamoured with the west and apparently saw something in me she liked. Before I knew it I'd swore of drinking, got married, and started a nice little homestead just a day's ride west of town, in a bend of the river. We had a couple of horses, a cosy cabin, a small barn, and a few dozen head of cattle. All paid for with Sara's inheritance - she insisted.
She lasted three years, before the isolation and the cold winters got to her. I thought a baby might help, but she never really took to poor little Cody.
“She was pretty brave, wasn’t she dad?”
“Yup, she sure was, all to protect you.”
More foolhardy than brave, actually. She was always worried about the Injuns, I guess from all the stories she’d heard back east. Truth was, they weren’t that bad, and kept pretty well to themselves. But when one dropped by, likely just to water his horse, she’d panicked and downed him with one shot from my Winchester. Her second shot. The first one had missed and hit his young son, riding the horse with him.
“But his friends were there to kill mom, too.”
“No, Cody, that was after. A raiding party came, while we were all in town and set fire to everything. It was too much for your mom, so she went back east to her parents."
Cody sniffed. “I miss her, dad.” He slid over and snuggled up to me. “But then the army took care of them, good, right?”
“Right.” I stirred up the coals in the fire. “But it’s getting late, son. Better set up your bedroll. Tomorrow is a big day.”
The army had cleared the Injuns right out of the district, and we finally had it to ourselves. I’d spent the winter in town with Cody, doing odd jobs, but come spring I’d rode out here to see what I could salvage. It didn’t look too bad, and the army had some sort of fund they’d given me cash from.
I decided to rebuild, just a small cabin for starters, get a few cattle, maybe even a dog for Cody. This morning I’d loaded a wagon with supplies and we’d headed out. There’d been a brief rainstorm Supper had been simple, just some beans and some bread toasted on the fire, but we were both looking forward to a new start.
“What’s that?” said Cody. He sat up and peered into the dark. “A coyote?”
I’d heard it too, just over in the woods. It was a common sound in these parts – the Injuns used to use it too, as a signal. But they were long gone. It called again, closer.
“He sounds closer,” I said. “But once he sees the fire he’ll keep his distance.”
Cody looked at me quizzically. “Closer? Sounds fainter to me.”
Must be the way the wind was carrying it. I heard another yip, then the sound of a breaking branch. I eased my six shooter in its holster. “Hello?” I called. “Who’s there?” I could hear the soft clomp clomp of a horse, not a shod one either.
Cody looked worried. “Dad? Who are you talking to? I can’t hear anything.”
“I thought I heard a horse,” I said. “Hello out there. You’re welcome to join us, no need to hide.”
I could see a faint figure materializing out of the shadows, as the sound approached. “There”, I pointed.
Cody stood up and looked behind him. “Dad, there’s nothing there. Stop it. You know I don’t like ghost stories.”
It looked like a man, leading a pony. I squinted through the smoke. An Injun pony, with a small boy on its back, led by a young brave. I could see the feathers in his hair now, the spear in his hand, the warpaint on his face. I gasped. It looked like the same Injun Sara had shot at – but that was impossible. I’d seen his body, and that of his son.
I was on my feet now, my gun ready. “That’s far enough, we don’t want no trouble with your kind.”
But he still came closer.
I was backing away slowly, gun cocked, when the brave paused, letting the pony keep walking toward me. He gazed at Cody for a moment, shook his head, and then smacked the pony on its behind. With a sudden whinny, it leaped the fire, straight at me. As I fell back I shot at it, once, twice. Cody gave a little cry as I fell back to the ground.
I scrambled to my feet but our visitors were gone. My son lay there, so very still, in a spreading pool of blood.
There was a faint whisper in the wind. “Now we are even, white man.”