It’s TBP Online Writer’s Guild time! By now you know the drill, but to review: In 25 minutes, write a story inspired by the following three prompts:
They were seven when they left Abilene
It wasn’t as much fun as I had hoped
Maybe I’ll just stay here for awhile
Afterward, post “as-is,” or set the timer again and edit for another stretch of time (writer’s discretion). Then choose a number between 1 and 50 to select a prompt from the list of 50 held by Sir Kerr for the next week’s prompt. I choose 48.
This week I took the prompts literally, instead of implying, or “writing around” them. I wrote the story in the prescribed 25 minutes, but liked it well enough to want to edit for about another hour.
They were seven when they left Abilene; rough riders on their way to old Mexico to rustle cattle and horses.
For young Alfred, the journey was not as much fun as he’d hoped. Years of listening to his uncles tell stories of the adventures and dangers of the Wild West gave Alfred an all-consuming desire to be a rough-rider like them. But this trip—his first—was nothing like his uncles’ fantastic tales.
Instead of fierce battles with brilliantly painted and costumed Indian warriors, all-night drunken card games in a saloon with half-naked women fawning over him, and rowdy midnight raids to purloin a rancher’s livestock, Alfred’s days were filled with long hours of hard riding under a hot sun and nothing but miles and miles of barren prairie sprawled in front of him. The gang never went into any town they came upon, instead making camp on the outskirts, sending only one or two men in for provisions. And they encountered nothing more terrifying than small vermin and rattlers. Indian warriors no longer patrolled these plains. They didn’t even come across so much as a lone homestead with an angry dirt farmer and his buckshot rifle. The fiercest thing Alfred saw was a small scorpion that crawled up a rock next to where he was sitting one afternoon while the gang took a brief break to water their horses in a small stream. He toyed with it with a stick, trying to goad it into stinging, but it scurried off the rock and under the brush.
No, this drive was nothing like he’d heard about the others. All Alfred got for his so-called adventure was constant hunger, thirst, dust in his ears, eyes, nose and mouth, unrelenting heat during the day, freezing cold at night, mildewed clothing from the occasional downpour, a very irritable bowel, a broken finger because he had a horse that spooked easily and constantly fought its bit, absolute exhaustion and utter boredom.
The gang arrived in Corpus Christi after two weeks of non-stop riding and Alfred was relieved they were finally riding into town somewhere. He looked forward to a bath, a bottle of whiskey, a cool bed with clean sheets, and maybe a soft, bare bosom on which to rest his weary head.
As they rode into the town, the buildings gave way to a sight that took Alfred’s breath away. The blue ocean stretching as far as one could see was the most unbelievably wonderful and beautiful thing Alfred ever beheld. The damp salt air blowing up from the water felt like a soothing embrace that even the hot mid-summer sun could not penetrate. He was captivated.
They tied up to the first saloon they came by and took over a couple of tables in the back. The kitchen served up steak, but also fish that was nothing like the trout back home. This fish came in large slabs of pure white flesh so moist and tender, he thought he was eating soft dough with a generous swipe of whipped butter. And the liquor they served had the smell, look and feel of the Texas desert. Sharp, tan and pungent, like the smell of the cactus they said it was made from after a hard rain.
The joint didn’t have beds. The proprietor pointed the gang to the hammocks strung between the strangest looking trees he called palmeras. To his surprise, Alfred slept soundly through the night and well into the next day, never missing the cool bed with the clean sheets and the soft woman.
It was late afternoon by the time Zachariah found Alfred sitting on the beach, his bare toes dug into the sand, staring out over the bay.
“Old Martin says they found us a feller that can take us all the way cross the border undetected. Make it in ‘bout a week or so. Says there’s several ranches not far past, just ripe for the pickin’.”
“Yeah? That so?” Alfred asked.
Zachariah nodded. “We’re lookin’ to head out first light tomorrow.”
Alfred scanned the horizon. A calm, flat sea sent gentle waves up on the beach. Two young women walked slowly along the sand, arm in arm, parasols idly twirling, their occasional laughter carried aloft on the soft breeze.
“You fellers go on ahead without me,” Alfred said. “I think I’ll stay here awhile.”