Western Fiction posted December 16, 2019

This work has reached the exceptional level
Because the call comes in many forms...


by Y. M. Roger

The author has placed a warning on this post for language.

“Hey! How’d I get here?!”
Jimmy jumped up from the front pew and looked around anxiously. He saw the daylight streaming in the church windows and felt panic rise within him.
The old priest just smiled warmly as he rose from the pew where he had sat beside Jimmy. He was taller than he had looked sitting down, and had eight or ten inches on Jimmy’s five-foot-eight frame.
Jimmy had seen him around Cooperstown to the south, but he had tried hard to avoid crossing paths with Father Middlesworth or just Father Worth as most of the folks around town addressed him. The man gave him the creeps – big as a war horse yet always so gentle sounding to others. But Jimmy knew the priest must not like him. He could feel the man’s eyes on him whenever he was in town on errands for his brothers…
“You came in through the doors, James.” His pointing motion toward the back of the church oddly disturbed the white collar that stood out in stark contrast to the black of his shirt. It drew Jimmy’s attention as did the use of his given name. Nobody called him that. He just assumed nobody knew it anymore. “I figured you’d know the answer to that question.”
Jimmy looked frantically around the old church. Yeah, he remembered sneaking in here a few days ago and on a number of occasions before that, but never with this much daylight. No, people would see…
“I gotta be gittin’ home.” It was not all people Jimmy was worried about though. Brothers. Jimmy was worried his brothers would see.
Shaking his head at his own stupidity, he turned to head up the center aisle, but Father Worth appeared in his path.
“Let me show you something first, okay, James?”
His name again. He looked up at the priest as if there was some sort of secret to discern there, but all that met his gaze was time’s etching on an aging face and those all-knowing pale blue eyes.
He was drawn to those eyes. Maybe there was a secret that could help him . . .
“Ar’right, but it’s gotta be fast or they’ll be lookin’ for me.”  He looked up at the windows again and at the double doors at the back of the aisle. He hoped Reid and Steve wouldn’t miss him...
Father simply grunted in understanding and brushed past Jimmy.
“Just remember to get out when the big wine bottle breaks.”
Jimmy nodded as if he understood, turned around and followed the priest. They went behind the altar and through the small door off to the back.
Stepping through the door, Jimmy found himself walking through the small mining camp that had been set up just beyond the outskirts of Cooperstown. He paused at first – his brothers had told him to stay out of here because the people were no-good thieves and weren’t worth their time. Ha! Well, now if that hadn’t been the pot calling the kettle black… But Father Worth motioned for him to continue to follow him.
He couldn’t help but notice the squalid conditions in which the people lived. The ramshackle accommodations – held together by no more than a hope and some twine – he’d seen only from a distance. Up close, they seemed as though they could hardly withstand the breeze. And not one of the people looked like they’d had a bath or even a dunk in the river in weeks. He tried not to get too close to anything, not to touch anyone.
His attention drawn to a woman who appeared to be trying to mend a shirt, he ran into Father Worth. The old priest had stopped to squat down and hug a dirty little girl who just glowed with the attention he gave her.  Jimmy could see the dirt she was getting on Father’s shirt and was about to say something when the priest pulled back and proceeded to play some sort of hand clapping game with the little girl.
The little girl’s mother emerged from the makeshift home, her face not much cleaner than her daughter’s. She performed an almost unnoticeable curtsy to Father and began speaking to him. How a woman of such filth knew anything about curtsying… Jimmy frowned and looked away.
Not wanting to intrude on their conversation, Jimmy tried to take in more of the conditions here in Mine Row as the people of Cooperstown had dubbed it.  As he was about to step away, he felt a substantial tug on his pants leg.
Looking down, Jimmy saw the little girl looking up at him with a look of consternation on her dirt-smudged face, as if she was expecting something. In a moment of uncertainty, Jimmy threw a panicked look over to Father and the girl’s mother, but they both just stood, silent, their gazes fixed on him. Then, Father smiled gently and indicated the little girl again.
Her tugging on his pants became more insistent. He glanced down again and saw that she was offering something up to him that overflowed her little hand.
Jimmy reached down and, just as his mind was able to comprehend what he now held, he felt his panic and need to escape rise again: his brothers could not see him with this!
The girl’s tugging began rocking his body even as he tried to hide the beautiful rosary in his clothes. He lost his balance and fell…

Off his sleeping palette onto the hard, barn floor, Steve’s boot connecting with his hip before his mind could catch up to where he was.
“Wake up, ya useless git!”
Jimmy scrambled to his feet, running his fingers nervously through his hair, as he frantically searched for his hat.
“S-S-Sorry, S-S-St-Steve … I, uh, I m-m-musta … I sh-sh-shoulda b-b-bee–”
Steve smacked him upside his head.
“You shoulda been up afore now! We’s ready ta git movin’!” Steve spat at Jimmy’s feet and narrowed his eyes at the younger man. “You been hittin’ the bottle, Jimbo?”
“N-N-No!”  Jimmy looked around to locate his boots. He could tell by the height of the sun that he had, indeed, overslept. Again. “I-I-I d-d-don’t d-drink, S-St-Steve!”
Steve laughed out loud and turned away as Jimmy bent over to grab his boots.
“Course ya don’t – you wuz aw-ways perfik asides lernin’ ta talk, huh?”
Something fell out of Jimmy’s shirt and hit the floor. Luckily, Steve had already turned away. Jimmy quickly kicked it under his sleeping palette as he sat down to put his boots on.
“I-I-I ai-ain’t s-s-said n-no-nothin’ li-i-ike th–”
“Stop talkin’! Dang, Jimmy – folks agit old waitin on ya t’finish sayin’ sumthin!” He reached the barn door and pulled it open. Not stopping his forward progress, he hollered over his shoulder. “An’ git them horses ready!”
The barn door slammed shut, and Jimmy quickly got on his hands and knees to find the item that had fallen. It had looked like…
His searching hand located it and pulled it out. Yep, it was the rosary from his dream! Jimmy looked around him in wonder as if to find the answer to his dilemma. That is, how in the world had it gotten…
The barn door slung open. Jimmy looked over his shoulder to see Reid storming toward him. Jimmy froze as his mind and body prepared for the beating that both knew would be coming. He’d gotten his eyes closed about the time Reid grabbed one of his upper arms and yanked him to his feet, the rosary still in his grasp. The dangling strand caught Reid’s eye, and he grabbed it, holding it up threateningly to Jimmy’s face.
“What the hell is this?!”
His anger this morning was palpable. Compared to other mornings, though, perhaps it wasn’t so bad. Still, Jimmy looked down and relaxed in Reid’s hold – resistance only made Reid angrier. And more aggressive.
“I-I-Its-Itsa rrr-rr-rosss–”
Reid gripped his arm tighter, shaking him once for emphasis.
“I know it’s a damn rosary, Jimmy! What the hell are you doin’ with it?”
Jimmy swallowed hard. He was such a bad liar. It was times like this that he wished he was like his two brothers. They did ‘bad’ so good – he’d seen them con so many people. Use so many people.  If he didn’t resemble the two men physically, he’d swear they weren’t even related.  But this wasn’t really lying, was it?
“F-F-Found it th-theeere o-on-on–”
Reid released Jimmy’s arm and pulled the rosary apart in a number of different places, growling as he tore. He threw the pieces against the wall, scattering them throughout the hay and muss lying about.
“Well, now it’s gone.”

He seemed to calm somewhat. For that alone, Jimmy breathed a sigh of relief – he was glad the inanimate strand had taken the brunt of his brother’s wrath this morning rather than himself. Still, he wondered where the rosary had come from…
“We leave for Braxton soon as you can git them horses ready, ya hear?”
Jimmy’s head shot up as Reid was walking away.
“B-B-Br-Braxton? B-B-Bu-But B-B–”
“I know it’s two or three days' ride – dammit, Jimmy! It ain’t no wonder we cain’t bring you on a job!” Reid just kept walking, talking more to himself in exasperation than to Jimmy. “The damn Marshall’d ride in from the next territory afore you finished tellin’ folks to put their damn hands up!”
As the barn door slammed again, Jimmy turned to the three horses they’d put up in Old Man Jones’ barn. He hoped his brothers hadn’t hurt Mr. Jones – he had seemed like a nice enough fella, maybe even a bit lonely and resigned. In fact, Jimmy’d been up late helping to fix a few things for him while his brothers had run into town ‘to visit the ladies’. Jimmy snorted to himself at the sound of that expression even in his own mind.
Jimmy set about his task, speaking to the horses as though they were friends interested in what he had to say. It was a coping mechanism of sorts, and he lost his worries in his tasks. Today, those worries included the rosary.
Jimmy lay on his blanket, eyes fixed on the sky, replaying the day as he often did. His introspection gave him something to do rather than interact with Reid and Steve – limiting those interactions to when they chose to humiliate him or when they needed something. Their conversations were usually one of two things: too crude for him to even pay them attention or centered around the planning of their next job which, of course, he was ‘too stupid’ to be a part of.
Jimmy shook off those thoughts and tried to relax amidst the grinding cadence of his brothers’ snoring. He’d often considered leaving at times like this, but those thoughts had died with the results of the one time he had left: the doc in the small town where they’d been staying told him he couldn’t survive another beating like that. Hell, he still couldn’t hold things tightly in his left hand – probably never would be able to – and his right eye had trouble focusing much past arm’s length.
But the ride today had been a good one – they’d made it much further than they’d expected which was always a good thing. Mr. Jones had stuffed some extra jerky in his shirt when he’d stopped to help the old man haul a few last buckets of water from the well. It had been a nice treat he’d kept hidden from his brothers. Perhaps they could stop on their way back through to visit him…
No. Jimmy immediately abandoned that thought as he’d learn to do with any others like it that included hope in the future. That hope had been taken away along with his mother. He focused instead on the present, on the stars, on the horses. Those things didn’t hurt nearly so much. Eventually, the stars blurred away as the cool breeze and the rhythmic snoring pulled him into slumber.

Father Worth turned from his task of cleaning the altar and smiled that warm smile.
“Oh, good!” He placed the dust cloth on the altar and stepped down from the raised area. “You’re just in time, James.”
Jimmy stood in the center of the main aisle, the empty church draped in the shadows of a distant sunset. He looked around wildly, feeling more than a bit off-balance as Father Worth approached from the front.
Jimmy frowned, again at a loss for how he’d arrived here. 
“In time for what?”
Father Worth just chuckled as he leaned to grab his hat from the front pew.
“Oh, you always did like games, didn’t you, James?” Father patted Jimmy’s shoulder knowingly as he passed by on his way to the double doors at the back of the church. “Just remember to get out when the big wine bottle breaks. Now, come on, son.”
Nodding in compliance, Jimmy still felt the panic rise inside of him. He couldn’t walk through those doors with a priest! What if...?
“I can’t go nowhere with you, Father. I need to git ba–”
Father Worth interrupted as he stopped, his hand resting on the door handle.
“You sound like Reider and Stephen, James.” Jimmy startled at his brother’s real names and stared into Father’s eyes. Briefly, time had no definition as he marveled at the intricacies of the age lines surrounding those youthful blue depths.
Father nodded and smiled. “Grab the bag there,” he ordered gently. He turned and pushed open the door, obviously expecting Jimmy to follow.
Jimmy glanced over on the pew nearest him. There was a large canvas bag with beautiful pictographs painted all over it. One of the larger ones featured a big star surrounded by other smaller stars of varying sizes. But, right underneath that and comparable in size, was a blue horse with a black mane and tail. On the horse’s hindquarter was a small yet very distinguishable letter ‘J’.
In his periphery, Jimmy saw Father disappear through the door, so he gathered the bag’s substantial handle and ran to catch him.
But he stepped out not onto the end of Main Street but into the middle of an Indian* village. Father turned and motioned for him to follow. As he did so, it occurred to him that this was not a typical village: it could not have been, as many of the Indians seemed to be suffering with some skin malady and, perhaps, a fever.
An older female approached Father, her face alight with happiness at his presence. Father reached his hand out toward Jimmy, and he hung the strap on the priest’s hand, allowing Father to hold it.
A frown encompassed Father’s face at the action, and he gently shook his head, offering the bag back to Jimmy. Confused, Jimmy took the bag back and looked at the Indian woman. She smiled and took him by the hand, leading him to a small group of adults all in some state of physical decline.
Jimmy was reluctant at first, but, after a reassuring pat from Father, he went. Following the old woman’s lead as she worked on an elder female, he knelt beside an ailing man. He removed a container of salve from the bag and applied it generously to the sores that covered the man’s lower leg. He then gently wrapped the limb in one of the clean linen cloths from the bag.
Leaving the bag for a moment, he stood to retrieve a cup of water from the large bucket at the center of the encampment and returned to aid the man in drinking one small sip at a time. When the old man smiled at him for his efforts, he felt as though he would explode with joy. He couldn’t help but smile back as those old eyes closed, and the man slipped into a peaceful sleep.
He tended to a few others alongside the woman, watching contentedly as each of them fell asleep. He had just finished giving the last man a drink when he glanced up to find the old woman and Father looking at him intently, a soft smile on their faces.
Re-packing the bag for Father, he started to smile back when the old Indian beside him nudged him and reached his time-worn hand out, palm down. There was obviously something held in that shaky grasp.
Jimmy stopped and looked to Father again…for reassurance? For permission? He wasn’t sure, but Father simply nodded, his smile never wavering, so Jimmy offered his open hand to the man.
The rosary seemed heavier this time or maybe that was just because of Reid’s reaction this morning and Jimmy’s own fear. Either way, Jimmy’s heart rate spiked, and he felt the panic return in full force as he remembered Reid’s anger.
But before he could object, the old man started choking. Out of habit, Jimmy shoved the rosary into his pants’ pocket to free up both hands to assist the man. Jimmy sat him up straight and pounded decisively on his back to clear the airway. The action caused the man to cough and spew water, the large drops landing on Jimmy’s face.
“It’s just water,” Jimmy said, continuing to methodically hit the man in the back, “Come on–”
The water again splattered on Jimmy’s face. And again.

Until Jimmy awoke on his back, the rain shower just beginning. He sat up, sputtering and wiping the rain from his face.
Coming back to his senses quickly, he jumped up and ran for the horses; they needed to be untied and led into the nearby copse of trees for some semblance of shelter. He was vaguely aware of his brothers’ slow stirring, figuring the whiskey they’d shared over the campfire earlier was causing their sluggishness. He tried to ignore their cussing that carried above the thunderstorm.
Jimmy methodically rotated through the horses, patting and murmuring to each in turn to calm them, to reassure them through the building wind and thunder. When Steve’s horse insistently nudged his hip, he knew what the mare was looking for. Reaching into his pocket for the bits of sweet branches he kept there, his hand instead encountered something else.
No, it couldn’t be! Jimmy pulled the rosary out to full length and just stared, his mind trying to wrap itself around the rosary’s presence here. In this place. The horse nickered its impatience at the beads, even nipping them with its lips, and nudged his hip again.
He heard some rustling behind him, and, suddenly, his brothers’ voices were way too close. He threw the rosary into the darkness and dug into his pocket again, this time finding the horses' treats. He continued talking to them as he gave them their treats, all the while trying to calm his panic that had tried to claim him again.
“Thanks, ya damn git!” Steve knocked Jimmy’s hat off as the two of them passed by. Jimmy simply bent to pick it up and put it back on.
The horses became restless with the brothers’ presence.
“I-I d-di-dint cause th-the ra-a-ain, S-S-Stevvve!” Jimmy retorted as he tried to calm the animals. Reid’s mare had always hated thunder and each rumble seemed to unnerve it further.
Reid did his best to help the rain wash the dirt from his face, and Steve followed suit. It was obvious the two of them had fallen into some mud or some sorts – probably still a bit drunk and unsteady on their feet.
“No. But you coulda woke us when it started, ya fiddle-headed mule!” Reid spat the words more than spoke them as he continued his cleaning efforts.
Jimmy paused and realized that, perhaps, he could have. But would they have done the same for him? He didn’t even need to take time to think about that answer…
“S-S-Sor-Sorrrry, Rrrrreeeid.” Jimmy wasn’t sorry a bit, but he knew the words were necessary to diffuse any anger that might be directed his way. “Y-You t-t-t-tooooo, S-S-Steeeve. I-I-I sh-sh-shoul-should h-h-haaav–”
“Awww, jis shettup!” Steve bellowed, “Ya can’t say a goddam thin’ whittout spittin!”
Jimmy just looked away. The words had stopped hurting some time ago. Now, they just seemed to weigh him down a little heavier each time they were hurled at him.  
Reid seemed to finish up right then. He shook his head wildly to release some of the water and placed his hat on his head. He turned his annoyance back on Jimmy.
“Look at me!”
Jimmy turned to look at Reid’s face, but even in the dark, he knew not to look him in the eye.
“You make sure those horses stay safe. We’re gonna see if we can find some shelter, ya hear?”
Jimmy nodded his understanding as he instinctively stroked the two horses he stood between, breathing a sigh of relief that he’d be left alone for at least a little while. Even in the rain.
Jimmy sat, leaning against the damp saddle blanket he’d propped against the tree so the bark would not irritate his bare skin. He had been designated as ‘first watch’ and had found a fairly comfortable position where he could see their horses as well as all of their clothes they had hung in the lower tree branches to dry.
They had ridden as far as they could in their damp clothing and such. Reid had called stop near this watering hole with a number of small trees around it. They’d stripped off their ‘heavier’ clothing and unsaddled the horses, hanging all material in the trees so that everything could dry in the warm desert breeze. It was an easy spot to defend as they were the only ‘things’ for almost as far as the eye could see in all directions. In fact, as the sun sunk low behind the far hills, Jimmy guessed that the group of smoke trails streaking up the sunset from the other side of them was probably Braxton, their destination this time.
Reid and Steve hadn’t told Jimmy what they were planning there, not that they ever told him anything. It was Jimmy’s job to tend and ready the horses. Period. Sometimes they’d come running from ‘a job’, hop on their horses, and the three of them would ride as fast as the horses would carry them. Jimmy never looked back either – he was always too afraid to see what it was they were running from.
There was the one time Steve had been shot and Reid was madder than Jimmy had ever seen him. But, even then, even as it was Jimmy’s job to tend the wound, he didn’t ask any questions. And Reid certainly hadn’t offered any explanations.
He took a deep breath and listened. The night was warmer than last, thank goodness, and the open plains were anything but silent as the stars claimed their places for the next few hours. Jimmy began drawing his usual pictures in his mind using the stars as his guide – the images appearing with increased clarity as more and more stars became visible in the fading light.
He’d gotten mostly through his mental-sketching of a big horse among the stars when his brothers’ snoring began. Even with nearly no clothes on and the thought in his mind that he needed to be alert, Jimmy finally acquiesced to sleep’s summons.

The church seemed eerie in its emptiness – a heaviness hanging in the air and all around him. He looked to the windows, trying to decipher whether it was day or night, but couldn’t do so. Shadows fell about the walls and across the pew, but they appeared to have no rhyme or reason to their being. In the distance, he could hear gunfire. Straining his ears, there was the occasional muffled explosion blended with the shooting.
Then a loud, heavy sigh echoed about the room, and he looked toward the altar. It was empty, the shadows dancing there the same as throughout the remaining church area. Another sigh.
His eye was drawn to the front pew. It was the same pew where he had sat beside Father Worth days ago, but only Father Worth sat there now. Alone.
He moved to head in that direction, but Father stood to speak, although he didn’t turn from the altar. Rather, he spoke toward it.
“Hello, James.”
Jimmy could tell Father’s mood was more somber this time, and, still, the man did not turn to face him. He’d always seemed so steadfast, so upbeat…
“Is everything okay, Father?”
Not acknowledging the question, the old priest started walking toward the door to the side of the altar.
“We’d better go.” He walked with the confidence that Jimmy would follow. “They’re going to need us.”
Jimmy ran to catch up, but Father stopped short of the door and wheeled around.
“Don’t forget the bag, James.” His eyes were a brighter, more intense blue and there was more of an authority to his voice.
Jimmy halted and turned around. There, on the front pew where Father Worth had sat, was the canvas bag with the horse and stars. He jogged back, and, as he reached for it this time, he noticed that the blue horse was larger than the stars, the ‘J’ brand  more prominent. He did not have time to ponder the differences as Father beckoned.
“Let’s go, son!”
 Jimmy reached Father’s side again just as the priest opened the door to the loud and smoke-filled arena of a battlefield. The shouts of orders and of the wounded mingled with the gun and cannon fire to bombard Jimmy’s senses and turn his stomach.
Father walked straight to a line-up of small cots not much higher than Jimmy’s sleeping platform in Mr. Jones’ barn. There were men in uniform lying on them, some covered in blood while some wore bloodied bandages. At the end of one of the rows, a lady – her hair pulled into a scarf or veil, her clothing splattered with blood – knelt beside one of the beds and worked feverishly on a young soldier.
There were so many wounded…
Suddenly, the soldier began yelling and fighting, and, even though she fought valiantly to hold him down, it was obvious she was losing the struggle to help him. Jimmy stood – feet anchored in place with the horror and the pain that surrounded him – as Father rushed over to thrust most of his body weight onto the soldier’s arms and legs so that the nurse could continue her aid.
Just then, another older soldier – definitely an officer – appeared with a younger one. The young soldier had open wounds across his head and upper leg, and he was draped partially over the officer. The soldier hopped to keep up as Jimmy saw a bit of resemblance to Father Worth in the officer’s facial features. He shook his head as such could certainly not be the case.
“You!” The officer pointed at Jimmy. “Come, help me with him!”
Jimmy felt his heart leap into his throat again as he looked for some direction from Father Worth, but the priest was too busy to recognize the visual plea – the soldier on whom he worked with the nurse still fighting and yelling.  So, Jimmy dropped the bag to stride toward the officer.
The officer’s face drew into a complete facial frown.
“Not without your bag!”
Jimmy frowned in confusion at the officer’s exclamation, but, not wanting to anger the officer, picked up the bag and carried it with him.
“Never without your bag,” the officer chided, albeit much gentler this time.
Nevertheless, Jimmy nodded compliantly – head down in his usual submissive stance – as he reached the two. But before he could offer a hand to help, he saw the officer standing directly in front of him and the noise that raged around them subsided, if but for a moment.
“James.” The officer’s voice was placid, compassionate and sounded just like…  “James?”
Jimmy looked up then, only to find the officer’s eyes a perfect match to Father Worth’s – only the officer’s face was considerably younger. A son perhaps? But that didn’t make sense since priests didn’t have sons…
“Remember, son” – the officer reached to grasp Jimmy’s shoulder tightly though not painfully – “you must get out when the big wine bottle breaks.”
Although the officer smiled at Jimmy, he looked past the officer to find Father Worth and the nurse just standing there, slight smiles on their faces. Yes, he would remember.
“Here, James.”
Jimmy’s focus was drawn back to the officer, back to those same blue depths.
“Here,” the officer repeated.
Jimmy looked down to see a Bible in the officer’s grasp. He looked at the offering and then back behind the officer to Father again. Both Father and the nurse nodded their heads.  Jimmy reached his hand to take the Bible when…  Crack!

The noise startled Jimmy from his sleep and had him on full alert, drawing his rifle to bear at any intruders. But all that greeted him was the desert breeze and the shadowed darkness of the moonless night in the open.
And even though Reid relieved him some time later, Jimmy could not find sleep again after such a disturbing dream. At least there was no appearing rosary this time.
Jimmy hated riding into a town where the brothers’ reputation preceded them, and that certainly was true here in Braxton. He sighed. The animus directed at the three of them took not his predicament into account – he was guilty by association, a charge he probably deserved. Whereas his brothers’ rode with their heads held high, relishing the looks of loathing and, perhaps, hatred, Jimmy hung his head, choosing instead to whisper soothingly to his horse while stroking her neck and mane.
The sun was on the verge of setting again, and Jimmy simply wished for their ‘business’ to be finished. It was the one thing about the future he’d always dare to hope, that this job – whatever one happened to be at hand – would be done.
As Reid and Steve pulled their horses to a stop at the saloon, Jimmy followed suit. He never drank whiskey, opting instead for water, but he never wanted to be left outside with so many people eyeing them. Approaching the swinging door, Jimmy realized he’d been handling the horses when his brothers had visited the bushes after their lunch, and, therefore, he’d not had the opportunity to pee. He stopped short of entering, and looked around.
Reid paused before ducking through the doorway, the rowdy noises from inside already emanating over them.
“W-Wh-Wheeere’s th-the b-ba-bathr-r-rooooom?”
Reid squinted at Jimmy as if he was the stupidest person he knew, and Jimmy let his gaze fall away from that glare.
“Pro’lly out back,” Reid scoffed, taking a tertiary glance up and down the street, “Come in and git your water when you’re done, Yeller, unless ya wanna stay out and keep the horses company.”
Nodding, Jimmy followed Reid in, fully intending to continue out through the back to relieve himself.
Wow. The place was busy, although it did hush somewhat as they entered. That, however, was quickly overcome when some saloon floozy jumped up on the bar and started whooping and hollering, her skirt held up for all the ‘gentlemen’ to see. Then everybody started clapping in time to her high-kicks, a few guys off to the side playing some sort of rhythm on the tables.
The bartender just rolled his eyes in exasperation as other folks started some sort of silly dance. Having momentarily forgotten his destination, Jimmy found his feet start to keep time with the tabletop beat as he slowly inched toward the back of the saloon. Then, everything seemed to happen at once.
Steve, who had already sidled up to the bar and was holding a beer, pushed another patron aside and reached up to grab the dancing girl’s thigh really close to her lace-covered crotch. That set off some really big guy in the back to bellowing curses at Steve who ‘dared touch his goddam woman’. Not listening to bellowing guy, Steve climbed up on the bar to pull her up against him, his hand disappearing under her skirt. As she fought Steve, bellowing guy muscled his way through the rows of cheering men and silly dancers to get to them. The bartender then reached toward an upper shelf to retrieve ‘the bell’… the one that was supposed to quell a rowdy saloon.
Apparently not wanting the chaos quelled, some random guy at the end of the bar near those shelves jettisoned himself across the bar to stop the ringing of the bell; however, he also managed to knock pretty hard against the shelves, and a number of whiskey bottles and a huge bottle of wine came crashing to the floor.
Remember to get out when the big wine bottle breaks…
As Jimmy’s heart rate spiked again, his feet began moving of their own accord. The entryway behind him was packed from others who had come in off the street to see what the hollering was about, but he had almost a clear path to where he knew the back exit must be. And he took it.
He shoved a few people out of the way – his panic setting in hard – and he thought he heard Reid holler his name as he collided with the back door, its latch giving way under the impact. Even as he hit the ground, he heard the first shots ring through the air.
Picking himself up, he heard the cursing and the shots increase, and he started running. He didn’t really know to where he was running, he just knew it was away from there. As far away from there as he could get. Past the main buildings of town. Past the small stagecoach and wagon repair place on the outskirts. Past the stables…
Jimmy came up short at the sight before him.
There, directly in his path, was the officer from his dream, although Jimmy could honestly say he’d never seen a uniform quite like the one he wore now. It was almost royal-looking in its appearance, having a slight radiance of its own beyond that of the setting sun. More importantly, however, was the horse that stood next to him: a gorgeous Blue Roan Stallion – his black mane, cannons, and tail a brilliant contrast against that honed grey-blue body.
Jimmy just stood and stared, his entire body still shaking in fear, his breaths coming hard and heavy from his run. He tried to find words, but they just wouldn’t come.
“We’ve been waiting on you, James.”
The officer took the few necessary steps to put them nearly face to face. The horse leaned his muzzle forward to nicker in Jimmy’s face, the soft muzzle comforting him.
“W-We?” He reached up to rub the stallion.
The officer smiled and James could see Father Worth’s resemblance there again. Jimmy caught himself smiling at that revelation, although, to be honest, he wasn’t even sure what it meant.
“Yes, we.” The officer winked and handed Jimmy the reins and stepped back. “All yours.”
Jimmy took the reins in a trancelike motion, unable to completely comprehend what was going on. Firmly holding the reins as if they would be stolen away at any moment, Jimmy began murmuring and patting the proud and fully-saddled animal. But when he walked around to the side, he raised a fisted hand to his mouth and bit his own knuckles with the emotions that coursed through him.
There, in addition to a fresh bedroll, the large canvas bag from his dreams complete with all the beautiful pictographs sat behind the saddle and just above a large letter ‘J’. Running his hand gently across the letter so as not spook the horse, James realized that it wasn’t a brand, it was actually black horsehair that defined the ‘J’.
Shaking his head and wiping his eyes with the back of his sleeve, Jimmy looked back at the officer, who simply nodded in indication to the horse, his silent permission for Jimmy to mount.
The saddle was comfortable, as if it was made for him, and he leaned over to whisper to his horse.
“I believe you forgot this.” The officer reached up, handing Jimmy a Bible. “Father says you’re gonna need it.”
Jimmy frowned somewhat as he took the proffered book. He hadn’t even cracked open a Bible since…
“Don’t worry,” the officer continued, “you’ll have lots of time for reading on your way to California.”
“O-Okay.” Jimmy really had no idea what else to say at the moment, so he quietly stowed the Bible in one of the saddle bags. In doing so, he noticed the rosary hanging from the saddle horn. Smiling, he figured the officer must have left it there accidently, so he lifted it and turned…
But the officer was gone. In fact, Jimmy and the Blue Roan were quite alone on the open land just beyond the town stables.
“T-Third time’s a ch-charm, huh, b-boy?” Jimmy shrugged and stowed the rosary in the same saddlebag as the Bible.
Nudging the stallion forward into an easy canter, Jimmy headed toward the sinking sun. California was West, so that was their path.
“Th-Think I’ll call ya B-Braxton,” he began, “you know, s-since it’s w-where we started out.”
Jimmy reached down into the saddle bag and pulled out the rosary. Holding it in his left hand, he squeezed hard enough that he could feel the beads leave an imprint. He smiled, nodded, and, glancing heavenward for just a moment, took a deep breath.
“And I-I’m James from now on, ar’right?”
Braxton nickered in response, the sound music to James’ ears, as they began their journey together.
Father had already shown him what he needed to do.


Objects of Desire? contest entry



Contest Designations: Object for the story: Rosary --- Genre of story: Western

Fiddle-headed -- inane; lacking good sense; 'possessing a head as hollow as a fiddle' The term arose as American slang around 1854.

Yeller -- or Yellow meaning coward or cowardly; 'Yellow fella can't even stand his ground'

Nickered -- The best and most welcoming horse sound in the world. It's a low, rumbling sound that is made in the horse's throat. You might hear this sound when a horse greets another horse or you!

Cannons -- the areas on a horse's legs below their 'knee'.

*The word 'Indian' is used here in lieu of the present-day, culturally correct 'Native American' because Jimmy would have called them Indians.

Thank you so much for your time in reading me. 'Western' is certainly not my genre of choice, so I do hope you enjoyed 'Father James' story. ;)

Image of Blue Roan Stallion from Google Images.

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