Western Fiction posted January 28, 2012


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Quitin' time ...

Sunset In Sheridan

by Realist101

Sunset came fast in December. Sometimes so fast there wasn't time to beat the dark to the door--and tonight was like that. Dark as black velvet on a whore's bed; an endless abyss that a man could fall into and drown.

Charley Clendenning was tired. Plain flat out tired. And getting old to boot. He rubbed his gelding's steaming back and tossed the currycomb down, too pooped to put it up. It was pert near all he could do to get his saddle stowed away. "Night, ol' hoss. Good days work." The old gelding snuffled in agreement and pushed his nose deep in his hay. After maneuvering for the tastiest stems, he would sleep standing alongside the other saddle horses ... waiting for another day.

Charley limped into the place he'd called home for nearly sixty years, and his nod told the others he was glad to see them inside. The woodstove blazed hot and thawed weary bones as the hands gathered to down the stew and biscuits. And sleep would come easy too.

For just a short time, there was talk of the coming weekend. How they'd go to Sheridan and see what they could see. Charley laughed. He always stayed and held down the fort, but reminisced with a twinkle in his blue eyes, about the lady he had loved. The lady with the long auburn hair and ruby red lips. The little spitfire named Lauralie. The one he never married, but always wished he had.

~~~~~~~~

Charley sat on his cot, trying to straighten his legs, but pain said howdy, and he cringed, wondering if there was any aspirin left. His thin legs were bowed from a lifetime in the saddle; they'd held him fast to horses, and even some wild bulls back when he was young. But now, after almost seventy years, they were in the throes of rebellion. His whole body was. And no amount of prayin' or cussin' helped either. He laid back, wishin' for one more day. One last ride. He didn't dream and outside a coyote sang its songs to the prairie ... and told the old man good-bye.

~~~~~~~~

There was little fan-fare for the burial of Charley Clendenning. Good words for him were spoken soft and low. But sincere, respectful. Each cowboy who stood by his box, secretly wished for such a death; one peaceful and calm after a life of little regret.

The Wyoming wind played tag with the jackrabbits and as the hands rode slowly away from the ranch, the little sorrel horse that had carried Charley Clendenning for so many years, cantered frantically up and down the corral fence; asking where his master was ... and why they couldn't go.


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