Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Flash Fiction Friday, Week 55: For the Principle
The prompt this week was to write a story set in the Old West. The story also had to include the following words: Stagecoach, outlaw, bank, railroad, and cabin. Please enjoy.
For the Principle
Name’s William Maddox, and I’m pleased to make your acquaintance. I have time to tell you a bit of my story, but I can’t sit for too long. Reason is, I got the law after me. Truth be told, it ain’t quite as bad as it sounds. I mean, there’s no posse huntin’ me down, with each one been deputized, and all anxious to slip a hangman’s noose around my neck. All I done was rob a bank in Moose Falls, but I ain’t killed nobody. Not never. Killin’ is what they hang you for these days. Money will buy you drink and a fine woman or two, but spendin’ it can be mighty hard from six feet under.
I remember that day long ago like it was yesterday. Rafe and me heard talk around town that when the next stagecoach came through, there would be bags of money in it for the bank. We knew we had to wait till the money was inside the bank before grabbin’ it because tryin’ to rob one of them coaches would get you dead for sure. There were guards on the outside and guards on the inside who all had guns, and any of ‘em would shoot you down before your hand made it to the latch on the door.
Let me take a minute to tell you who Rafe is. Was. He was the son of my ma’s cousin’s uncle’s somethin’. Anyhow, we were family. His ma and my ma used to do some sewin’ for the folks on the big ranches, and Rafe and me would clean the barns, and when we growed up some, the ranchers let us mind the cattle and feed the cows. Now, Rafe wasn’t too bright because he never had no schoolin’. I didn’t neither, but my grandma taught me how to read the Bible, so my head wasn’t as empty as Rafe’s.
I know what you’re thinkin’. If I had any sense, I wouldn’t be robbin’ banks. But you see, I did it for my folks. Don’t get it in your head that I’m tryin’ to make myself look like one of those do-gooders that comes through town with their preachin’ and such. It’s just that when I was a boy, I was real sickly all the time, and one or the other of them was always at my bed keepin’ my head cool and gettin’ me through the nights. I wouldn’t be here today if it hadn’t been for my ma and pa, and that’s a true thing.
When my folks got sick and couldn’t work no more, it was up to me to make it right. When Mr. Giles over at the bank said they couldn’t stay in the house unless he got some money, me and Rafe made a plan. Rafe’s folks were livin’ then out on the Tolbert’s spread, where his ma did the cookin’ and his pa tended the horses, so they didn’t worry about a roof over their head. My folks had lived in that same house in town from when they were married until now, and they been payin’ the bank every month faithful like, until their troubles came.
Pa’s horse spooked one day when he was checkin’ on some fences, and he fell hard. He couldn’t walk after that and had to be in one of those chairs folks push you around in. Ma couldn’t keep sewin’ because her hands crumpled up. Doc said that happened to ladies when they got old and nothin’ could be done. Rafe said he’d help me get money from the bank. Then, we’d take my folks away and we’d build ‘em a cabin and use the money to buy what they needed.
All we were plannin’ on takin’ was one bag because I knew there’d be enough in there to care for my folks for some time. We had our guns out, but we had no plan to use ‘em. Killin’ was never supposed to be part of it. After the money was taken into the bank and the stage left, Rafe and me went in and told Mr. Giles to give us one of the bags. We had kerchiefs over our faces, but Mr. Giles knew my voice and asked me why I would do such a thing. I just waved my gun around in the air and told him to be quiet and just give me the bag. Don’t you know, he pulled out a pistol from his vest pocket and aimed it right at me. To this day, I can’t figure out why he would do such a foolish thing. Rafe got scared and shot Mr. Giles in his face. I do believe he meant to shoot him in his hand, but Rafe never could hit what he aimed at. Before I could grab him, one of the customers pulled his gun and shot Rafe in the back of the head.
I did all I could think to do, and that was to run. My horse was outside and I rode like Death hisself was after me. I ended up with no money, and my friend was dead. Now what was I to do? I bunked in overnight at old man Dan’s small spread a half days’ ride out. He knew me when I was a boy and took in any and all, and never judged. He knew every man needs a meal and a bed no matter what. When his son Nathaniel came by and saw me, he said he’d been to Moose Falls. They had a new Sheriff, name of Frank Howard, who swore in right after the killin’ at the bank. Sheriff James Banner had stepped down, sayin’ he weren’t goin’ after a man who didn’t take nothin’ and didn’t kill no one. Nathaniel said Frank was goin’ after me just the same. Said it was for the principle. I didn’t know what the principle was, but I did know Frank.
When we were boys, we would run in and out of Mr. Sodder’s General Store and make him chase us with his broom. His ma and my ma weren’t friendly, but she was a good person. Frank’s pa had passed, and his ma sang in the saloon. Ma said bein’ a good Christian, she couldn’t be seen talkin’ to the woman, but her son and me could be friends. Now my friend was comin’ for me.
Through the years, I’ve traveled from town to town, territory to territory, and Frank was always close behind. There was one night I was up on a ridge and watched him sleepin’ down below. I camped a short distance away, and at sun-up, I rode on. Nice and slow. Wouldn’t want him to lose me.
It’s been many a year since that day, and my hair and beard’s both gone white. If Frank’s got any left in either spot, I expect they’ve turned the same color. No one pays me much mind when I ride into a town. I sweep up to earn my supper and a bed and go on to the next. Times sure have changed it seems. Always a bit of excitement goin’ on. Cowboys ridin’ the herds come in lookin’ for strong drink and a good time and a chance to raise up some Hell. Never thought the day would come when I was on the watchin’ end of such, but I know where their path’s headed.
These young ones nowadays, name themselves outlaws, they think drinkin’ whiskey, bein’ loud, and shootin’ folks makes them strong and tough. What it does is make ‘em dead before their time. I learned over the years that what makes a man strong and tough is knowin’ how to survive to a ripe old age in this Godless land. All it takes to do that is mindin’ your business, not botherin’ nobody, and keepin’ your gun on your hip. I’m not goin’ say nothin’ about the whiskey since I, myself, do take a sip now and again.
I follow the railroad line these days since most of ‘em run through a town now and again. I always am watchin’ my back though as I know Frank won’t never give up. It’s one of life’s constants, you know? Ma always told me that it’s life’s constants that keep your heart beatin’. What would Frank do without me to hunt down, and what would I do without Frank behind me comin’ round every bend? The years go on and we go on. Funny what life makes up its mind to hand you sometimes.
What’s to come from all this wanderin'? Well, I expect that I’ll keep on runnin’ away and Frank will keep on chasin’ after, even though he gave up Sheriffin’ years ago. Someday though, we both might be feelin’ a bit tired. When that day comes, maybe I’ll let the old coot catch me.