Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Little Flash Fiction for Halloween

The Cattle Rustler.

The sheriff slipped the noose over my head and tightened the knot. “Do you have any last words?”

The coarse fibers of the heavy rope cut into my skin, making me wish I was in another place. “Yes. Yes I do.” My hands were bound behind my back and my heart pounded in my chest. “I’m not guilty.”

The mob below booed, threw rotten vegetables and cattle dung, striking me in the face and body. Frontier justice. It was swift, and not the easiest way to go, as I was discovering.

The sheriff nodded to the executioner.

“Wait. I have more to say.”

He scowled and gave me a nasty look, anxious to get on with my lynching as the rest of them.

“I want to explain what happened. I know you are not going to believe me, but I don’t want to meet my maker as a liar.”

“Okay, but make it quick. My wife has supper on the table. Fried chicken and apple pie. My favorite.”

It was nice knowing I took a second to the fried chicken and apple pie. In a matter of minutes they were going to stretch my neck and watch as I jerked and spasmed from being strangled by the rope. If I was lucky - the rope would be short and it would snap my neck. But since I found myself in this predicament, I figured that my luck had run out.

“Four nights ago.” I said. More booing and cow shit. “Wait; let me make my peace here.” They stopped, and went silent. “As I was a saying – four nights ago I was on this drive to Kansas City, just outside of Ogallala Nebraska. It was a quiet night, the kind that makes cowboys nervous. I could see every star in the sky and the prairie was as still.”

“Hey are you writing a book!” A heckler yelled and hit me with a tomato.

“Do you mind?” I said. “Anyways, there wasn’t a hint of what I was to find.”

“You’re a thieving rustler. Just hang em Sheriff. We’ve enough of his lies.” A particularly plump woman in her forties started yelling and whipping the mob up again. From where I stood, I could see the lack of her teeth, and her cheeks bore a little too much rouge for a respectable woman.

“Shut up, you whore,” I spat. “These are my dying words.”

The Sheriff raised his hand to silence the crowd. “The sooner you good folk let this here man finish his tale, the sooner we can hang him and leave him for the buzzards. My supper’s getting cold. So let him make his peace.”

“Anyway – I decided to check the herd. I hobbled my horse and walked. It was such a pretty night, and I’d been in the saddle all day. Your bones get sore when you get to be my age.” I was thirty five. It was the only way of life I’d known since I was fourteen, orphaned and left on my own with my father’s only possessions, his horse and saddle. I followed the family tradition. Wrangling.

But, you can only do so much wrangling, gambling, boozing, and womanizing, before you want something more. I wanted my own spread, a wife, a couple of kids, and some livestock of my own. Driving cattle for another outfit wasn’t going to get me what I wanted.

That’s when I turned to rustling. Just a couple of head, here and there. Nothing that would be missed or so I’d thought. I carried a traveling iron, and would change the brand to my own, driving the cattle off till I came back through. I’d pick them up and corral them in a hidden spot.

Open range made it real easy to find cattle, whose brand could be changed. I often didn’t need to rustle the cattle from the outfit I worked for. There were plenty of other strays running around, just ripe for the picking. Of course, it was the traveling iron I carried, that put the proverbial nail in my coffin. But this time, I wasn’t guilty of the thievery.

“I was walking along, scanning the horizon for trouble. The herd seemed edgy, nervous – more so than was normal.” I paused and glanced around the crowd. I could see, I now had there attention. That was good, I was tired of having cow shit flung at me. “Usually they only get like that when a predators around, or it’s storming or Indians are nearby, planning to raid.”

Several of the town folk nodded their heads in agreement. If they hadn’t been there out on the prairies, one time or another themselves, they knew someone who had. Ranching was a way of life in these parts. People around her were born to it. They took the thievery of their livestock quite seriously.

"Anyways.” I said. “I walked around this bend; we had camped down in this valley, it had a small stream that ran through it and a few cottonwood trees for the cattle to rest under. It was real peaceful. That was, it should have been. But something was spooking the herd.”

“Indians?” One child in the crowd shouted.

“No.” I said. “Something much worse. Something from the devil himself.”

"He’s a liar.” The fat woman screamed again.

“Look, I’m not going to my maker a lying. This is the God’s honest truth. Shut up and let me finish.” I stared her down for a second and she went silent. “As I was saying – I’ve never seen anything like this before. I was around the bend of the stream and out of view of the rest of the my party. And since I had watch that night, they was sleeping anyway. I can’t prove that I what I say is true. But I will swear on the good book that it is.

“Blasphemy.” The whore screamed again.

“Now aren’t you the pot calling the kettle black miss? You’re nothing but a cheap whore. Now shut up and let me finish.” She glared at me, but went silent.

“At first I thought they was rustlers, you know on the account that there was light, like a fire – but brighter. I pulled my pistol and proceeded to sneak up on em. Every cowboy is responsible for the herd. If we had rustlers down in the valley branding our livestock it was my task to make sure they didn’t finish what they started. But as I drew closer – I realized they were not rustlers. They was something unholy, not human.”

“The devil is among us.” A preacher yelled out in the background.

“Yes he is Reverend. I saw him myself. Him and his minions. They was a cutting parts off the cattle. It was ghastly. On one cow, they removed the eyes, the other just the heart, and one they even took the hole that the cow shit from. It was the sickest thing I’d ever seen.” I paused and trembled, remembering what came next. “I say, I was never so scared for my life as I was then.”

“Not as much as you should be now, you thief.” A man laughed from the back.

“You can laugh, but they is out there. When I tried to back away – that’s when they saw me. They glowed this strange green color and had large black eyes and silver skin. I did not see a nose on their face.”

Some of the crowd started laughing but I continued on. “I was so scared; I tripped over my own spurs, just trying to get out of there. They was funny, these unholy demons. They spoke to me in my head, saying not to be afraid, that they were gathering information on our world.” I paused and caught my breath. “But I was terrified. Was they going to cut me up like the cattle? Before I could move this slimy net dropped down on me and sucked my limbs to my body like I was wrapped up real tight in a blanket. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe, I was sure I was going to die. I stared up at the sky though the film that wrapped me, and saw a bright star. Except it was moving and coming closer. I think I must have wet myself. But things kind of grow foggy at that point. I don’t remember much, till I found myself on their star.”

“He’s a liar. Lynch him now. He wants us to believe that demons took him to a star?” Another man in the crowd piped up.

“Let him finish.” The Sheriff said.

"Well it was the scareiest thing I’d ever seen. Next thing I know, I was strapped down to this table naked and they was running a long metal rod up my nose. I couldn’t move or scream or anything. They told me to relax, in my head, that they only wanted a sample of my tissue. I was not sure if tissue was brains or boogers, but it scared me. I thought they were going to kill me like the cattle.”

“We didn’t find any cattle cut up like you say.” A woman hollered from the back. “Where were the cattle?”

"I expect they took them up onto their star like they did me.” I paused and thought back. “Yes, there was jars full of parts and pieces and cages, some with strange animals in them, ones I’ve never seen, one even had three heads.”

“He's lying. Hang him now.”

"I’m not. I swear on the Good Lord Jesus that this is the truth.” I shook my head. “It was like they was collecting stuff. Next thing I know I was laying on the bank by the stream with the other cowboys pointing their pistols at me. Claiming I stole some cattle. They found the iron in my equipment with my horse. They would not believe me, as you don’t believe me.”

“Do you have anything further?” The sheriff asked.

“Yes, one last thing. They gave me a message. They said they would be back.”

The Sheriff nodded to the executioner and he pulled a lever that dropped the floor out from under me. For once, my luck had not left me; the rope was short. At least I was going to my maker with a clean conscience. Let them deal with the Devil and his minions.

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