Wednesday, January 20, 2016
Flash Fiction Friday, Week 21: Big Blue
This week's prompt was to write a story using the Old West as the setting. Even way back then, some families had skeletons in their closets, and secrets sometimes were revealed in unusual ways.
There’s a herd moving in just outside of town. The cowboys are getting set to bed down for the night. Most of them will come in to Rosie’s for a whiskey and some supper before heading out for a sleep under the stars. Ma used to tell me about those cowboys. She said her Pa had been one, and moved lots of herds out West. She said he died on the trail halfway across the county one day and she and her Ma got the word a couple of months later. She knew he died happy though, so neither of them cried too long about it. My Ma said when I growed up, I could be one of them cowboys and ride all over creation. I dreamed about it every night; that is, until the morning I woke up and she was gone. She ran off with one of the ranch hands, Pa said, and he told me not to make a fuss. She was never no good, he told me, so good riddance. I didn’t dream about being no cowboy ever again.
Pa’s been confined to his bed for months now and Doc says he hasn’t got much longer. He doesn’t know what ails him, but he does know it’s bad. He gives Pa this powder that takes some of his pain away and makes him sleep awhile. That’s when I go into town and make believe I’m free. Pa says I owe him and can’t go on my own until he’s dead and buried. Doc comes by every couple of days and the Sheriff’s Missus brings us both lunch and supper every day. She’s a good woman, and I’d be lucky one day to find a wife just like her. But it’s been hard these past months being around Pa and his sickness. Real hard.
My Pa’s always been on the mean side, but when he can’t get up or do nothing for himself, he’s gotten a lot meaner than he used to be. That’s why, after we’ve had supper and the powder makes him sleep, I put on his guns and ride into town. I talk to folks and have a whiskey or two, but I never tell Pa. He don’t want me wearing his guns or drinking whiskey. But, I’m not a boy anymore and have a right. Lately, I’ve had that dream again of being a cowboy, and whenever a herd comes close, I head into town so I can talk to some of them about joining up even though I know I can’t.
Pa fell asleep quick tonight and I headed to Rosie’s. One of them cowboys came right to my table, sat down, and said he’d buy me a whiskey if I could give him some information. He said his name was Jack and he talked to me respectful and all. I told him my name was Billy, and that I’d help him if I could and he didn’t even need to buy me the whiskey. He told me he was looking for a man folks called ‘Big Blue’. He said he’d been going from town to town trying to find him. I asked him why he wanted to kill Big Blue and he asked me how I knew. I told him I could see it on him like a shadow. He said I was preceptive, or something like that, and told me what had happened.
He had a small piece of land outside a town called Breezy Gulch. One day, he was in the house with his wife who was ailing. Three men came in with their guns drawn and Jack thought they were there to rob him, but they didn’t want money. Two of them held Jack down and made him watch while the third forced himself on Jack’s wife. He was a big man, and wore a blue silk scarf around the brim of his hat. When he was done, he told the other two to help themselves to the woman, but they refused. They said they wanted to leave, and one of them called that man Big Blue. Big Blue then shot the two men and the woman, and before Jack could get to his rifle, he shot him too, and then left.
Jack told me Big Blue must have believed he was dead because he never looked back. A neighbor came by to bring Jack’s wife supper, found him shot and brought the doctor. After he got back on his feet, he decided to hunt down this Big Blue if it took the rest of his life and make him pay for what he had done to his wife. He asked me if I knew anyone called by that name and I told him I did not. He thanked me and left Rosie’s. If he asked folks in town about Big Blue, they wouldn’t know who he was. I knew that because after Pa and I moved away from Breezy Gulch, he took that blue scarf off his hat and packed it away. Now I knew why. My Pa was Big Blue.
* * * * *
I sat with the gun pointed at Pa’s face until he woke up.
“What are you doing, boy? Put them guns away.” Pa was trying to sound hard to scare me, but no more. No more.
“I’m going to put a bullet in you, old man,” I said. “Or, should I call you ‘Big Blue’? Isn’t that what your two buddies called you the day you violated and killed that woman and them too near Breezy Gulch? I know all about it. Her husband is in town gunning for you.”
He looked like I’d knocked all the wind out of him.
“Can’t be,” he gasped. “I left him for…”
“’Dead’, right?” I said. “Well, he didn’t die, but you’re going to. But, not for that woman – for my Ma. I remember now what happened the night before you said she left. You thought I was asleep, but I heard the two of you. Ma told you she wasn’t keeping your secret no more and she was fixin’ to take me and leave in the morning. It got real quiet after that and I fell asleep. I asked you what secret there was the next morning and you told me I was dreaming and that Ma ran off with some man. She didn’t run off with anyone, did she? You killed her so she wouldn’t take me and tell what you did. That’s why I’m going to kill you myself.”
“Put the gun down, Billy,” Jack said.
He had followed me from town and was standing behind me in the doorway.
“The minute I saw you, I knew you was Big Blue’s son, so I followed you. I heard all you said, and I’m sorry about your mother.”
“You don’t talk about his mother,” Pa tried to sit up. “Billy, this man’s woman was a squaw, so don’t you see, it didn’t matter what I done to her. But your Ma was going to up and go and take you with her and tell everybody what I done. I couldn’t let her do that. Who would care for the land and the chickens if you were gone? And what would folks in town think of me then? I had to stop her. It wasn’t on purpose. I pushed her and she hit her head. I buried her out behind the house and moved us here. You see how it was, right? It wasn’t my fault.”
“I’ve searched a long time for you so I could put a bullet between your eyes,” Jack said. “But now, that I’ve caught up with you, I can see what a poor excuse for a man you are and have always been. If I kill you, I’ll hang. Taking your pathetic life isn’t worth losing mine. He’s not worth losing yours either, Billy. Holster up that gun and come drive the herd with me. I need to let the past be and stop looking for revenge. Seeing you with that gun in your hand made me realize there’s been enough killing. Get what you can carry and let’s go.”
I put some clothes in a bag and headed for the door. I couldn’t wait to hear Pa’s last words to me.
“You can’t leave, boy,” he said. “Who will fetch me my pain powder and whiskey to wash it down?”
“Doc will check on you and the Sheriff’s Missus will bring your meals. It’ll do you good to feel some of that pain. That way, you’ll know what it’s been like for all of us around you. Goodbye, Big Blue.”
“Don’t go, boy,” he started to cry. “You owe me.”
“You’re right about that, Pa,” I said, as Jack and I walked out. “And payback begins now.”
I am so looking forward to sleeping under the stars tonight.