A Visit From Faye - a Western Short Story
A visit from Faye
Walt sat on the veranda in his rocking chair. He made the chair himself those three years past and he reckoned it just got more comfortable with time. He stretched his legs out and managed to get the heel of his boot on the rail and he crossed his ankles and sat with his legs straightened out in front. He decided to have a smoke, he favoured brown papers and dark Mexican tobacco, he rolled himself a cigarette and dragged a match across a wooden post and lit up. He took a long pull and inhaled deep into his lungs enjoying the smooth mellow flavour. He blew a slow cloud of grey blue smoke that hung in the air for a moment before it broke up and the rich smell was lost in the slight breeze. Walt picked a piece of tobacco off his tongue held the cigarette between yellowed fingers and rested his head back against the spindles of the chair back.
Walt was forty but had looked forty for over ten years, he was as thin and tough as old leather with a crumpled face lined with deep wrinkles, salt and pepper hair and a beard streaked with grey. His breath whistled like the down draught in a bunged up chimney. He sat with the cigarette in his mouth, his eyes closed and cigarette ash dusting the front of his blue check flannel shirt.
The sun was hot on the boards and the parched planking creaked with the heat. He could see the brightness of the sky through his closed eyelids. He decided to have a set down before he started on the land behind the barn.
The thud of shoed horses on the hard packed earth made him open his eyes, he saw three riders emerge from the shadow of the draw that cut through the hills and followed the trail down the long sloping valley where it fanned out onto the bluff above the river.
Walt crushed the last of the cigarette in his fingers opened his hand and let the breeze take the pieces; he sat up and rested his hands on his knees. He watched the riders come on up the slope through the dappled shade of the trees and then over the grass to the cut bank. They rode across the river. Walt could hear the horses splash through the water and clatter out onto the shale bank and start on the trail past the railed fence that marked the boundary of Walt’s land on the north side, maybe fifty paces away from where Walt sat.
‘Morning,’ said Walt and half raised a hand in greeting. The riders, two men and a woman, turned his way but did not speak. The men had sullen faces and eyes filled with arrogance and cruelty. They looked at him as if they hated him. Walt let his hand drop. The men were aged maybe twenty and forty and the woman nearer the younger mans age. They were all lean looking and all dressed in dark clothes. The woman was as thin as a buggy whip and wore a skirt and jacket that looked a tight fit on her compact hard body. She had white corn silk hair and pale skin. Her dark deep watchful eyes missed nothing and gave nothing away, like a shadow within a shadow.
The three of them looked as sinewy and mean as three hungry timber wolves. As they passed by the two men turned away from Walt, their eyes straight ahead their hands laid one on top of the other on their saddle horns. The woman kept her red rimmed gaze fastened on Walt even after she had passed the cabin. She glared at him with an evil malevolent light in her eyes
It was a stare that made Walt turn and look for his gun.
Her horse was a reddish-brown dun with a dark stripe down his back, his tail and mane darker than the body coat, he looked up swished his tail, shook his head and snorted. Walt saw her tighten her knees against the horse’s shoulders but she kept her eyes riveted on Walt while she did it.
Walt’s dog came running around the side of the cabin his tail whipping but he pulled up short, stood stiff legged and the hackles raised across his shoulders and the back of his neck, he bared his teeth and growled low in the back of his throat.
‘Quiet down Tucker,’ said Walt, he knelt down and patted the dog but looked at the staring woman from under the brim of his hat. She still watched him, her eyes as blue and empty as the hot sky. Finally as they moved on she turned away, her horse walked on swished his tail and snorted but the woman made no sound and sat like a tightly wound spring.
Walt felt like a cold hand had gripped his heart. He stood up and his knee cracked as he straightened his leg, he rubbed it absentmindedly. His head seemed as light as a balloon; he swallowed and ran his tongue across his dry lips. He felt like he had been rope drug through a patch of musk thistles.
The three riders followed the rutted track until just before it entered the woods, where the thick tree canopy created a shaded tunnel and pine needles and dead leaves layered the ground, she swung in the saddle and glared at him again. Her skin looked as smooth and white as bone.
Walt took a step backwards and even as the gloomy shadows of the trees swallowed her up he felt she still looked at him from their thick darkness. He heard the horse snicker inside the trees. The solid dark trees gave nothing away but as the leaves rustled it seemed they whispered some bleak secret amongst themselves.
He never did make a start on the land behind the barn he felt too on edge and unsettled. In the end he set back down on the porch and started to clean his rifle, he figured it was the sort of day where he needed a gun in his hands. Tucker his dog relaxed, stretched out and slept at his side.
A few hours later when he had just started to unwind Tucker’s head came up and three horses loomed out of the woodland and followed the track back the way they had passed him that morning. Walt cussed. His hands felt thick and stiff as he fumbled with a box of cartridges and started to feed bullets into his yellow boy Winchester rifle. He glanced up, his head began to throb like a Shoshone war drum.
He saw that things had changed some, the older man sat slumped in his saddle holding his arm. His right arm hung useless at his side and the sleeve of his jacket was stained dark with blood. Behind him the body of the young man lay across the horses withers, Walt assumed it was the younger man all he could see was a head hanging down by the stirrups and bobbing with the motion of the horse, his hair ruffling with the movement. Behind them rode the woman on the dun, she sat up in the saddle as straight and rigid as a gun barrel. Walt tried hard to swallow but his mouth felt like it was filled with dust. He could not speak and he could not move. Tucker sank to the floor and started to whine but Walt did not have the energy to tell him to quieten down.
The three riders moved steadily forward, this time as they reached the railed fence the wounded man did not look Walt’s way, he kept his head down tucked into his bony hunched shoulders. The riders and horses passed in silence the only sound the powdery thud of hooves on the dusty trail. Walt dropped his eyes and figured he would try and sort out his feelings while they passed him by. He heard the horses move on but as he looked up it felt like someone had tightened a band of wire around his head – the woman had stopped her horse right by his gate and sat staring at him again. Her eyes did not move, change, stray or blink they locked on his face and stayed put. They bored into him until he could hear his own pulse throbbing in his ears and feel the sweat prickle across his back. Now Walt had fought at the Battle of Manassas Gap and the Battle of Appomattox Station but he had never felt as afraid as he did today standing on his porch in the sunshine. He was absolutely terrified.
He looked on in fascination while she drew a rifle from her saddle holster. Her movements were slow and deliberate; it seemed she was absolutely sure he could not react. She sat on her horse and swung in the saddle towards him as she levered a cartridge into the chamber, she raised the gun and aimed at him. He just knew it was plumb centre of his chest, that she could shoot real well, that she had killed before and that he was as good as dead. He was frozen with fear, he felt like his body was wrapped in chains, he could not breathe and his arms felt heave and locked to his sides.
‘Faye,’ the older man said without turning around ‘Leave him be ...please, you’ve done enough.’
Faye lowered the rifle although her eyes still said I’ll kill you utterly and you know it. She slid the Winchester back into the saddle holster
‘It'll work out different next time,’ she said in a clear confident voice, she turned and slid away like the shadow of a wild cat.
Walt started to breath loudly through his mouth, he heard Tucker take off around the back of the cabin like someone had just put a boot up his backside.
He watched them ride away, he waited until they faded from sight up the draw and into the hills then he dropped his rifle and let it clatter to the floor. He slumped down heavily in his chair. His shirt was soddened and the sweat still ran down his back like a warm hand. He lifted his Stetson and ran his sleeve across his forehead letting the breeze cool his damp hair, a drop of sweat rolled into his eye and he wiped it with the palm of his hand.
Walt slept in the barn for a week with his dog and his rifle in the stall and his horse saddled next to him. He never did sit out at the front again.
© 2018 John M McNally