Short Stories

The Grave of Indian Bill

Morning frost still glittered on the autumn grass when I saddled my red roan gelding and rode away from the ramshackle ranch house. I took the trail south, winding through patches of broken granite boulders and gnarled aspen trees as we climbed ever upward toward the jagged skyline. Days like these, when I was alone, my heart still throbbed. The chill in the air, the bracing smell of pine and fir and mahogany on the wind, the sound of gravel snapping from the frozen mud of the trail-all of it reminded me vividly-too vividly-of the day I said good-bye to Indian Bill.

Welcome Back Christmas, Dowdy Branson

Gravel grated under Dowdy Branson’s tires as he slid the old Chevy to a stop at the curb. There he came, walking fast, the latest in a long line of vagrants Dowdy had passed before first arriving in Kalispell that morning and making his way out this December afternoon. Most of them held signs that said "Need money," "I Won’t Lie—I Need a Beer," or simply stated whatever their next destination was. This fellow’s sign wasn’t any more inventive, but Dowdy had a penchant for testing men at their word, and he had a hard time passing up any man with a sign that read, "Will work for food."

Black of the Swamp

The swamp engulfs the last blood-red vestige of the sun, and darkness falls over me like a vast sheet. In every direction, the sound of crickets chirping and frogs croaking creates an almost overpowering din. It rings in my head like death chants, like a million haunted, lost souls informing me in unison. . . . I will not leave the swamp alive.

Abilene

"There she is, boys. Straight ahead. Abilene."

Jordan Farley spoke with a voice as dry and dusty as the twelve miles of Kansas topsoil he and his Texas trail crew had eaten since five o'clock that August morning. He dragged off his broad-brimmed hat and wiped at the sweaty mud encrusted on his brow. The heavy dust coated every inch of him and his horse, from his faded blue bibfront shirt to his brows and trimmed mustache. It filled his ears, his nostrils, slid past his parched lips to form a permanent grit between his teeth. He felt sorry for his drag riders; he recalled those days at the rear of the herd all too well.