It was these warm, breezy summer evenings when Jeb knew he was home. The purple sky was fading to black as Jeb brushed the dirt off his plow.
A bell rang from across the field. It was suppertime. He took off his old leather plow-saddle and made his way toward the farmhouse.
When he arrived, the smell of fresh cornbread filled the air. Mrs. Hardey was the best cook in all of Copper Falls and her scrumptious meals brought half the town to the farmhouse in the summer.
“Go wash up!” she commanded. “I don’t want none of you smearin’ yer greasy fingers all over mah place!”
Mr. and Mrs. Hardey owned the largest farm in all of Copper Falls. Its boundaries pushed all the way to the Tribal Grounds. The Indians had been spitting angry over this for the past ten years, and it wasn’t until last autumn that they had made a move. They’d come right up to the farmhouse’s front porch and pound until Mr. Hardey would show up. They’d threaten all sorts of nonsense about moving back the farmland. They said that the farm was encroaching on their sacred grounds and if they didn’t get their land back, they would burn the whole field to the ground. Time after time they’d walk up and bang on the old farmhouse door, and time after time, Mr. Hardey would show up in his long-johns and tell them to take a hike. Everyone in Copper Falls despised the Indians, mostly for their pagan rituals, spirit worship, and everything that didn’t agree with the church. But Jeb often wondered what would go on in their camp.
Jeb walked over to the trough to wash his face and heard the whinny of the horses and the sound of wagon wheels crunching over the sun-baked dirt. She was here.
He gazed up from the trough to lay eyes on the most beautiful girl in all of Wyoming, Holly Hardey. Yes, she was Mr. Hardey’s pride and joy. Before each harvest she’d take the wagon into town to set up for the crop sales. Jeb watched the dusk glow off her cheeks as she dismounted the wagon and walked towards him. Ever since Jeb had started work on the farm three years ago, there had always been something special between them.
“Howdy, Ma’am,” said Jeb.
“Howdy yourself, stranger,” said Holly.
She filled up a pail of water and headed toward the farmhouse. Jeb was in love, and she was the girl for him.
Jeb woke up the next morning to the sound of a deep moan coming from the field. He jumped into his overalls and ran out the door to the field.
“Well, shucks. Looks like Matilda’s twisted her ankle. Just our luck that it’s a week before the harvest sale, too,” said Mr. Hardey, shaking his head.
The cow, Matilda, was an old girl, but stronger than the other cattle.
“Pa? Pa?” called Holly from where the wagon was. “The wagon’s ready for town, Pa.”
Jeb was supposed to go into town with Holly, but he knew with a hurt cow he’d have to stay behind to mend the ankle. Perhaps at the end of the day he’d make the journey.
After telling Mr. Hardey he was going to stay, he went ahead and helped get the wagon ready.
“I wish you were coming with me, Jeb,” said Holly.
“Don’t worry, pretty lady. I’ll be there soon enough,” he said with a wink. She smiled and with a flick of the reigns, she was off. Jeb stared through the clouds of dust at the wagon until it was over the horizon.
Jeb walked back to the field, already missing his girl. She would be his before the harvest was over.
It wasn’t until high noon that Jeb started to feel the beating sun’s heat. He hadn’t yet eaten, and for the first time that day he looked up from the field at the sky. It was a beautiful July blue, cloudless. He followed the sky with his eyes to the tree line, the majestic Wyoming pines standing proud in the hot sun. But then he noticed the fade from blue to gray, and from gray to black. Thick, black billows of smoke rose through the pines. For a moment, Jeb was curious. His eyes narrowed. Oh no. The town.
Jeb raced to the barn where his horse was tied and mounted quicker than he had ever
done before. He rode hard toward town, never looking back. His only thought being on his sweet farm girl — Holly.
He prayed silently as he rode. Praying that she was all right. Praying that he would be able to hold her one last time, to cradle her chestnut hair in his arms.
As he grew closer, he heard the howls and war-whoops of the savages. His hate grew with every shriek.
As he stormed into town, he saw that the cowards had gone, taking their spoils and leaving without admitting to their deed.
The old rugged town hall building was coughing and spitting smoke as the contagious fire attacked the stables. This place that he had loved, that he had called home, now stood in shame.
His rage against the Indians grew with every step he took through the rubble. But he didn’t have time for that now. He had to find her.
He ran through the center of town to where he knew she would have been selling the crops. His heart raced and sweat fountained off his chest, as it was now extremely hot amongst the flaming mess.
He staggered up toward the porch of the store, a barrage of arrows sticking out of every wall and window.
And then he saw her. No–it couldn’t be. There she lay, an arrow clean through her chest. A pain Jeb had never felt before coursed through him as he held her precious body close to his. She was gone. His one true love in the world. And to think he was going to ask her to marry him at the end of the harvest.
He wrapped her in the linen drapes from the window and brought her out of the building before it collapsed. He set her in the wagon and cried. Tears dripped onto the dusty ground and turned to steam.
“It’s all their fault,” he whispered.
Jeb reached into the wagon for his rifle. He wiped the sweat off his forehead and set off for the Indian’s camp.
The loud crack of the reigns echoed through the burning wreckage of the town as he maneuvered the old wagon to safety. He left it in a shady patch of deep green pines and set off for the tribal grounds with a handful of bullets, and a heart full of hate.
He stood tall and looked through the smoky forest at the dusty old trail. Revenge would be served.
Jeb headed down the trail, unsure if he would ever return. He didn’t care. This world had nothing left for him. It was as if all emotion and feeling had left him entirely.
The sun began to grow closer and closer to the horizon every time Jeb checked. He was getting close.
Sweat dripped off his brow and onto his rifle as he made his way into the edge off the camp. Braves were dancing around a ceremonial fire, celebrating their “victory”. Small children painted horses with bright blue paint. The laughter ceased as the Jeb’s target walked into the circle. The chief had come out of his tent. An elaborate headdress ran down his back, feathers and beads adorning his forehead. He was the one who would have orchestrating such a scheme, and he was the one who would pay for what he did. The best way to kill a snake is to chop off the head.
Jeb slipped a bullet into his gun and steadied his hands into position. He watched as the chief performed some ritual. The braves who were involved in the massacre approached the chief as he placed his hands on their chests. Jeb couldn’t watch them celebrate their evil any more.
Jeb lined up his sights with the chief’s head. It was time to end this. Jeb’s finger was set on the trigger when something walked between him and the target, blocking his view.
It was a white mustang. As pure as the mountain snowfall. Not a blemish on it.
Jeb fell on his back as the beautiful creature stood majestically in the Wyoming dusk.
“It’s a sign,” Jeb thought to himself. It was as if Holly herself had been communicating with him from above, telling Jeb not to avenge her death. The day had already seen enough killing.
A tear trickled down his face. He dropped the gun out of his hand and looked down at the camp below. The fire had dwindled now, and most of the Indians were gone, including the chief. Jeb though for a second to be angry. He had missed his chance. But no regret returned the thought. He seemed to be content with what had just happened. He missed Holly more than words could describe, but deep down he knew that no amount of killing could bring her back.
“This must be what Holly wants,” he whispered softly.
He stood up, grabbed his rifle and turned around. He hoped to never see the camp again. He waited long enough to watch the horse disappear into the trees. Jeb found himself mouthing the words, “Thank you,” to the horse. The mustang felt like the only friend that Jeb had.
He was not even five yards from where the horse was when a sharp pain shot up in his back. Jeb fell to the ground and wiped the blood from his mouth. He caught a glimpse of the brave who had thrown a tomahawk into his back.
The last thing he before he passed saw was the puzzled look on the brave’s face. What must have puzzled the brave was the smile across Jeb’s face. Yes, Jeb was smiling. It was the last thing he would do in his life on earth, but it didn’t matter. He would see her again.
Copyright Sam Sprichwörter, 2012To read more stories, go here. Or vote for Sam’s story below. (Poll will close May 19, 2012.)