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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Amanda Lynch

Black Ridge, Wyoming, 1861

The thoroughfare through town was a coursing stream of mud, cutting and forking as the clumps gained a foothold. The steady downpour had been feeding the soil for hours, and looked to continue well into the night. As the lantern lights flickered, so did the veins of lightning, washing the storm clouds above with a brilliant flash before the thunder crashed. Only eight buildings lined the street, each one connected by a series of longboards that bowed and sagged as they were traversed. The last trickle of nightlife scurried from porch to porch, heading toward the lights and the clamor that was building within McMasters’ Saloon. Two cowboys stumbled out the doors, followed by a tall lawman – the Sheriff.

We been cheated,” one of them spat, struggling to keep his footing on the slick boards. The rain was pounding, and the sky cracked with thunder. “You ain’t got no right, Sheriff. You hear?”

“I’ll tell you what I hear,” Sheriff Lynch replied, his hand hovering the worn hilt of his six-shooter. “I hear a drunk running his mouth. You’d do best to sleep this one off and come see me in the morning.” His eyes were piercing, and set.

“I ain’t goin’ for that, Sheriff,” he spat back. Taking a step back, he slipped, spilling backwards in the coursing mud.

“You may just wanna see about a dunk in the tub before you come see me tomorrow,” the Sheriff replied, his thick mustache hiding a smirk.

The second cowboy went over, pulling his partner from the muck. Sheriff Lynch turned back to the saloon, and was met with the cold steel of a Colt Revolver pressed to his forehead. “Now that’s not how we’re accustomed to things, Sheriff,” Kris Walker said. The sky flashed with a streak of lightning, and the thundering crack of a gunshot. Sheriff Lynch was thrown back – dead before he hit the porch.

Kris stood over the body, looking down with indifference as he placed his boot upon it, pushing it over the edge. It slid off the porch, hitting the muck face first. Mud belched and pooled as it slowly took him under, burying the Sheriff.

Dane pulled Jeb onto the porch, helping him to his feet before turning to Kris. “What the hell, Kris? You just killed a sheriff. They’ll hang us for this.”

“Murder is murder,” Kris replied. “We’ve killed before, and this ain’t no different. Now let’s get outta the rain so I can think.”

Jeb exchanged a look of concern with Dane. “It ain’t smart to stay here, Kris,” Jeb said, slipping as he followed the other two. “They’ll come after us in numbers.”

“They ain’t,” Kris replied, shooting Jeb a piercing look over his shoulder. “They’re farmers. I ain’t seen one killer among ’em. We’ll hole up for the night, and head out in the mornin’.”

“Where we gonna go?”

“The Sheriff’s place,” Kris said, pointing to a small house set behind the storefronts. “We’ll stay there for tonight, figure the rest out by mornin’.” Scurrying along the boards like rats up a mooring line, they descended upon the house, guided by a flickering light that shown from within.

* * *

amandalynchAmanda Lynch put another log on the fire, watching as the twigs curled back to ash. She was small, even for twelve, but she was well versed in keeping the house. A tarnished locket dangled from her neck, containing the only picture she had of her mother. It had been four years since she had passed, but the ache still burned. Amanda flinched as the fire popped, spewing a sparky dust as the husk of a log crumbled to coals; a vibrant glow that faded to black. She was transfixed by the glimmer of flickering heat – until the door crashed open, rattling upon its hinges.

Three men burst into the room, two of them leveling their guns on Amanda. Her eyes were drawn and wide; wild with surprise. She stepped back, retreating to the far corner of the room as they came, bolting the door behind them.

“Well, well,” Dane said, surveying the room. “Looky what we have here.” A distasteful lust crept into his eyes, raping the room of its former warmth.

Amanda eyed the iron fire-poke that hung beside the mantle, but it was too far, and already they were circling her.

Kris struck a crisp blow to the side of her head, sending Amanda spilling upon the floor. Standing over her for the briefest moment, he savored her terror before reaching down and picking her up by the scruff of her dress, tossing her towards the back bedroom. The door closed behind them, and they were upon her.

* * *

Jeb was the last to emerge from the back room, sweaty and short of breath. His hair fell over his face in clumps of oily curls, and his breath was stale and dry. “Boy, I sure needed that,” he said, strutting across the room.

The other two cowboys sat at the dinner table, having rummaged through the cupboards for some pickled beans and a dry loaf of bread. A pitcher of water sat at the table, cloudy from the well it was drawn from.

“Put another log on there before you sit down,” Kris said, gesturing towards the pile of split wood. Jeb strolled over and did as he was told.

“What are we gonna do with her?” Dane asked, taking a drink straight from the pitcher. “We can’t just leave her here. It ain’t wise to leave kin alive.”

“That little thing?” Kris said, chuckling. “What’s she gonna do? Besides, I already thought this through.” He paused as he heard something fall over in the back bedroom, and all three of them laughed.

“That little thing?” Kris said, chuckling. “What’s she gonna do? Besides, I already thought this through.” He paused as he heard something fall over in the back bedroom, and all three of them laughed.

* * *

Amanda stooped in the far corner of the room, cowering in the darkness. She had pulled a sheet over her flesh, but had otherwise remained still. She listened to them rant and boast, but their voices were muffled and distant. She was within herself, retracted and wounded. Her thoughts were stilted, and every thought was heard in her mother’s voice. Soft and soothing, it ran over her like water down a leaf. You’ve got to be strong, Amanda, her mother’s voice cooed. You’re Pa will need you now more than ever. Men are such untamed creatures, but without a woman to look after them, they fall prey like sheep – although your Pa is a handsome sheep at that. The memory faded with her mother’s warm laughter, and the clattering of dishes. Scooting over to the door, Amanda pressed her ear, and listened.

“We gonna head back down to the Saloon, and drink our fill, ya?” That voice was linked with the scratch of coarse whiskers and the stench of stale liquor. The sound of chairs scooting back was followed by footsteps leading away. “And after we’ve killed ‘em all, we’ll return here and have another go at that one, and then we’re gonna ride on outta here. Sound good?” The other two voices eagerly agreed before the room fell silent in the wake of a closing door.

The tears began to fall as soon as the burning shame took hold. Her left eye stung, nearly swollen shut, and her legs were weak and bruised. Amanda slid up to a crouch, nearly falling forward before catching herself on the bedpost. And she heard it, the creek of a loose floorboard. She thought back to all the nights she had sat surrounded by these very walls, listening to her father speak about his deeds. How he had to shoot Opee Douglas for a killing up in Kansas. “There are times when the law just doesn’t work out here,” he had said, “and a man’s hand was forced to do what needed to be done to keep others from harm.” He had never let Amanda touch a gun, but she had seen him handle a revolver countless times, cleaning them in the dark hours after supper while she pretended to be working her needlepoint. She had seen, and she knew what to do.

Squeezing the locket, Amanda buried her mother’s warmth, replacing it with a burning rage. She looked down upon the floor, and the clean edge of a loose board. She rolled to her knees, sliding out from the sheet and pushed the bed back, and reaching down, she ran her hand under the lip of the board, pulling it back. There within the small hole was an oil soaked rag, draped over the dull finish of cold steel, and she reached in. As she stood up, she felt the weight, and the large revolver dwarfed her little hand. Her eyes were cold and lethal, and she set out for one thing – another go.

* * *

The rain was still pouring, and Jeb and Dane were seated around a card-table, guns resting on the green felt while a man was forced to deal under the threat of death. Kris sat at the bar taking pulls off a whiskey bottle that was nearing drained. A pair of boots peered out from behind the bar, toes pointed up, and another body lay face down in the corner, strewn amongst the shards of a broken table.

“Hey,” Kris shouted, slamming the bottle upon the bar. “Can’t a guy get some service ‘round here?” His chin dripped, and his words were sprayed more than spoken.

Dane and Jeb both erupted with laughter, downing the last of their whiskeys. The dealer’s hands shook as he cycled through the deck, and a card flipped over as it sailed to Dane. Jeb’s face twisted with anger and his hand flew back, launching his empty shot glass at the dealer. The man’s eyes pressed tight as he took the blow, scrambling to retain the pile of cards.

“Whatcha say there, Dane my boy?” Jeb said, leaning back in his chair. “I think you ain’t got shit in that hand, you lousy bastard.” Kris erupted in laughter, spraying the bar with spit whiskey.

richosburnRich Osburn set out into the world in desperate need of direction, and the US Navy provided just that. After traveling the world many times over, he transitioned into the Coast Guard, where he enjoyed many years of honorable service. As the joy of fatherhood settled in, he bid farewell to the life of a sailor, embracing a new one – that of a writer. Seeing his first story come to publication on this very page, he has much to be thankful for, and many more stories to tell. So it can be said that at his heart Rich is a father, a sailor, and a writer, and most of all, a damn lucky husband.

The laughter was cut short as the doors to the saloon flew open, and a thin little girl walked through them, dripping wet. Amanda’s hair was matted to her face, soiled with mud – and her piercing eyes were set upon Kris. “Hey, women ain’t allowed in the Saloon,” Kris said, erupting in a fit of drunken laughter that sent him spilling off his stool. Before anyone could react, Amanda put the revolver to Jeb’s head and pulled the trigger, spraying Dane with chunks of skull and brain. The dealer threw himself back from the table and crouched into a ball. Dane was stunned, and he hesitated. Amanda kicked the table, knocking the wind out of him as it slammed his gut. With her eyes still on Kris, she leveled the gun and fired, killing Dane where he sat. He fell forward, sliding onto the floor. Kris went for his gun, but his drunken fingers pulled the trigger and he shot himself in the foot. He fell to his knees, gripping his leg in agony.

Amanda strolled forward, looming over Kris Walker who was now frozen in a crouch, and she kicked his gun with the side of her boot, sending it skidding into a far corner. He flinched as it struck the wall, stealing the predatory component of his gaze. He met her eyes, and he knew he was looking upon the last face he would ever see – his killer’s. Amanda leveled the revolver, aiming at his pooling crotch.

“Now just hold on a minute,” Kris slurred, his hand raised before him. “Please–” Amanda never took her eyes from his, even as she pulled the trigger, spackling the floor with his manhood. He screamed in agony, rocking forward and groping his wound. He scrapped and clawed, trying to collect the spatter of his pecker, and looking up one final time, it was not her eyes he met, but the dark barrel of her father’s gun.

A brilliant flash streaked the sky, followed by three thunderous booms as Amanda Lynch had another go.