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The Old Place


A Will Starr response to the Billybuc Photo Challenge:

The Old Place

For a long time, he sat his horse and regarded the dilapidated house. The sad upper-story windows stared blankly back at him over the sagging porch roof and the once carefully tended front yard was rank with weeds and brush. The front door was ajar, and he could see where a packrat had built his nest in the abandoned parlor.

Finally, he dismounted and led his horse to the pump and trough in front of the small barn. He worked the pump handle and was rewarded with loud complaints from long unoiled bearings. A little rusty priming water he’d found in an old pan had wetted the unused pump leathers and finally, water began to flow earnestly from the spout. His horse smelled it, gently nudged him aside, and began to drink eagerly. It had been a long ride and a long day.

He busied himself repairing the corral and cleaning out the stall so he could stable his horse. He also made himself a bed for the night up in the loft after sweeping it out. At last, he walked slowly out to the knoll where his beloved wife Martha and six-year-old daughter Carrie slept in their graves.

It was over thirty years ago when he came home from the fields and discovered their bodies. Martha had obviously been raped and Carrie beaten to death with a club. Maddened with grief and rage, he set off tracking their killers and almost immediately found one dead-drunk under a cottonwood.

In less than an hour, the screaming murderer had given Barnard Wilson, known to his friends as ‘Bandy’, the names of the six other renegades, their descriptions and where they lived. Then he shot the partially skinned killer between the eyes and went back to bury his wife and child on the knoll.

Two years later, all six remaining killers were brutally dead and Bandy Wilson was both a legend and a wanted man. The last one had turned himself in to a local sheriff in terror, only to be found the next morning, bloody and dead in his still-locked cell. His head was never found. Public sentiment was on Bandy’s side, but the law couldn’t allow men to kill other men, no matter how much it was deserved.

After seeing that justice had been done for his family, Bandy Wilson disappeared and became known only as Prospector. He revealed his true identity only once and that was to a man who had killed a small girl and dumped her body in a ravine.

Bandy had found the girl’s tiny skeleton and returned it to her grieving mother. Then he found and lured her killer, a man who had been elected sheriff, to his camp, where he told the terrified man that he was the infamous Bandy Wilson, made him drink coffee laced with knock-out powders, and then tossed him still unconscious into the same ravine he had used to dump the girl’s body.

He waited until the badly injured Sheriff regained consciousness so he would know how justice had been served and that Bandy Wilson had seen to it. Then he rode away contentedly, as the terrified, tormented, and hopelessly trapped sheriff began to wail.

All that was years ago, and the small, but once prosperous nearby town was now abandoned, along with the town marshal who had issued a warrant for his arrest, so Bandy Wilson decided to at last come home.

He found the overgrown rock-covered mounds on the knoll, but the hastily created wooden crosses were long gone. He made a mental note to order proper tombstones along with a wrought iron fence and gate. His days known only as Prospector had been fruitful because he was now a semi-wealthy man from more than one lucrative find of nuggets and flakes. He had done well, but Martha and Carrie would never be able to enjoy his success so this was the least he could do for them.

He went back down the hill to the homestead and got bacon, biscuits, and a frying pan from his pack, making himself an evening meal over a small fire built in the summer kitchen stove on the porch. Tomorrow, he would start cleaning out the house. Tonight, he would sleep in the loft.

“Good morning, Bandy. It has been awhile.”

“Morning Jimmy.”

Bandy Wilson yawned and stretched in his blankets, his hand reaching for his hidden revolver.

“It ain’t there, Bandy. I took the liberty while you were snoring away. Never thought I’d ever catch you out so easy. Reckon we’re both getting up in years. Just as well, though. I didn’t want to have to shoot you.”

Jimmy Dunn was seated on an old crate, quietly eyeing his old friend.

“I had to study on it some before it come to me who you are. Thirty years changes a man.”

“Thirty-three years. I reckon it does, Jimmy, what with you wearing a badge and all, but I knew that voice right off. It still sounds like a cow bawling for its calf.”

Jimmy Dunn was one of those big men with a high-pitched voice and it had always embarrassed him, so Bandy had always made the most of it which led to their first fight and subsequent friendship.

“I don’t recognize that law officer badge. What is it, Jimmy?”

“Federal Marshal. Me and Frank Henry are Federal Law for the entire Territory.”

“What do you want me for?”

“Hell, you know why, Bandy. Six men are dead by your hand, and while it may have been justice to your mind, it was unlawful and you know it.”

Bandy Wilson rose and pulled his suspenders over his broad shoulders. Then he rolled his blankets and pulled on his coat, all the while ignoring Jimmy Dunn. Then he turned to face him.

“I’m going to clean up my home, Jimmy. Then I’m going to ride to Prescott and get proper tombstones for Martha and Carrie.” He spat over his shoulder, never taking his eyes off Marshal Dunn. “If you don’t like it, I reckon you’ll have to shoot me to stop me and maybe that’s what ought to happen.”

His voice softened. “I’m tired of it all. I’m bone weary, Jimmy and I can’t fight anymore. I’ll do what I must and you do the same. If that means killing me, so be it. Just lay me up there with my family.”

The old Marshal sighed. “Well then, let’s start by weeding your yard. How many scythes do you have?”

Three months later, the old farm glistened under two coats of paint bought in Prescott along with proper tombstones for Martha and Carrie. The foundation under the house was rebuilt and the porch roof no longer sagged. New shingles kept it dry and the packrat lost his nest in the parlor. Martha would have been pleased at how neat and clean it was, even if it was two men doing the cleaning.

Several breed sows were in the hog pen and a nice-sized flock of chickens were searching the yards for unwary insects. The new barn boasted two coats of bright red paint with white trim and a heavy pole corral with a watering trough stood on the east side.

A team of plow horses along with another saddle horse cropped grass in a nearby field and mown hay was curing under the sun. Two crops were in and it looked like a good year.

Supper was over, so Bandy and Jimmy Dunn sat on their front porch chairs smoking their pipes and enjoying a last cup of coffee.

“I’m beholding to you Jimmy for all you’ve done, and I’m asking you again to give up your marshaling job and go on the halves with me.”

Jimmy Dunn rubbed his chin-whiskers and shook his head.

“It’s a nice enough farm, Bandy, it surely is, but there’s only room for one and I have plans of my own.”

Jimmy nodded and they watched as the sun sank below the horizon and lit up the clouds in a breathtaking display of crimson and gold. Only the Almighty could do that.

The next morning, Bandy took a cup of coffee to the porch and looked around for Jimmy Dunn. The old Marshal was an early riser, often up and around well before dawn, so it wasn’t unusual to find him gone, but this morning seemed different and Bandy felt a vague uneasiness. He finished his coffee and made ready to do his morning chores.

He found Jimmy behind the barn where he had dug an obvious grave in the barnyard. In it was a crude box made from leftover barn siding and the lid was on the ground. Jimmy walked out from inside the barn with his revolver in hand.

“Figured the barnyard was the best spot for a grave if it was never to be found. Once it’s filled in and the critters walk on it for a day or two, it will disappear.”

He glanced over at Bandy.

“I sort of hate to do this to you Bandy, but there’s a big price on your head, dead or alive, so I can’t take any chances.”

He bit his lip and raised his weapon.

“I have a cancer and it hurts me something awful. If I get delirious with pain, I might say something since I’m the only one left who knows who you are, so I hope you’ll understand the why of it and forgive me. That and I just can’t stand the pain anymore.”

With that, he stepped into the grave, gave a final nod to his old friend, put the gun to his temple, and pulled the trigger.

Two days later, the filled-in grave had indeed disappeared, just as Jimmy had planned. The note he left told of a visit to the doctor in Prescott and the hopelessness of the situation. It also spoke to what a good friend was willing to do as a last gesture to make Bandy Wilson forever disappear. Bandy was to mail a letter to the Prescott Journal Miner newspaper from Sheriff Jimmy Dunn, explaining the reason and manner of his death by his own hand and that he wanted his gravesite to be forever anonymous.

Bandy Wilson took two cups of coffee to the porch. He placed one by Jimmy Dunn’s chair, sat in his own chair, and watched the sunset. Somewhere, a covey of quail bickered over the best roosts. Then all was still.


Barb Johnson from Alaska's Kenai Peninsula on September 02, 2020:

It's been awhile since I've read one of your stories. Another enjoyable story. Put together right down to the unexpected twist.

WillStarr (author) from Phoenix, Arizona on February 28, 2020:

I responded to you Doris James but it disappeared! In any case, thank you!

WillStarr (author) from Phoenix, Arizona on February 28, 2020:

Thank you, RM!

RoadMonkey on February 28, 2020:

That was a great story. Kept us guessing as ever to the end. True friendship.

WillStarr (author) from Phoenix, Arizona on February 28, 2020:

Thank you, Devika. It was my response to a photo challenge posted by Bill Holland. ^-^

WillStarr (author) from Phoenix, Arizona on February 28, 2020:

Thank you, Brenda!

Devika Primic on February 28, 2020:

You are a great story teller. I like the old place that you made a focus of your story.

Brenda K Krupnow from Ravenden, AR on February 27, 2020:

I just read your story and thought it was awesome. I especially liked the unexpected twist of events at the end. Thank you so much for a very well written story.

WillStarr (author) from Phoenix, Arizona on February 27, 2020:

If you can even smell the story, I've done my job, Eric! ^_^

WillStarr (author) from Phoenix, Arizona on February 27, 2020:

Hi Peg and thank you!

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on February 27, 2020:

Well I could smell that horse to start with and then the dirt to end with.

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on February 27, 2020:

Love this tale of western justice. You've painted a clear picture of the old run-down farm and its renovation by two old friends. As always, the ending was fitting and proper for such friends as these.

It's great to see a story from you out here.

WillStarr (author) from Phoenix, Arizona on February 27, 2020:

Hi Susan and thank you!

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on February 27, 2020:

Bill, what a great story! Doesn't surprise me though, all of your stories are wonderful.

WillStarr (author) from Phoenix, Arizona on February 26, 2020:

Hi John, and thank you!

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on February 26, 2020:

Wonderful story, Will. You are a master storyteller. I always enjoy your stories and look forward to seeing more.

John Harper from Malaga, Spain on February 26, 2020:

Another good story, thanks Will...

WillStarr (author) from Phoenix, Arizona on February 26, 2020:

Thank you, RM! Good to see you again!

RoadMonkey on February 26, 2020:

What another great story Will Starr. I always look forward to reading any story by you!

WillStarr (author) from Phoenix, Arizona on February 26, 2020:

Thank you Shauna for those very kind words!

WillStarr (author) from Phoenix, Arizona on February 26, 2020:

You flatter me Bill, but please don't stop!

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on February 26, 2020:

Will, I always love your stories and this one did not disappoint. You're a master story-teller. You weave words in a way that paints a picture in my mind and puts voices in my head. Voices of your characters, that is.

I really enjoyed this. I hope you keep entertaining us, Will. You have a gift.

WillStarr (author) from Phoenix, Arizona on February 26, 2020:

We may just do that, Becky. We have friends who want to explore Tombstone.

Thank you for the kind words!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 26, 2020:

A master storyteller, you are! It is always pure pleasure reading your stories. You understand story construction. You understand character development. But beyond the technical aspects of writing, you just know how to spin a yarn.

Becky Katz from Hereford, AZ on February 26, 2020:

Wonderful story, as usual. I really enjoyed it, and remember the one that started it. I loved that one too. It would be awesome if you started writing more. I have missed your stories. I have all 3 of your books on my Kindle and read them when I need a throwback book.

I hope you are enjoying your wandering lifestyle. I know of a nice campground you could stay in, if you come this way. It is halfway between my house and Tombstone, so they would both be convenient. Not too far from the town of Bisbee either, which is always fun to go to for the day.

WillStarr (author) from Phoenix, Arizona on February 25, 2020:

Thank you Chris! Some of the real old west characters went even further than Jimmy Dunn. Loyalty and friendship were very important.

WillStarr (author) from Phoenix, Arizona on February 25, 2020:

Thank you Genna. Good to see you again!

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on February 25, 2020:

I love the old style justice and the loyalty of good friends. Outstanding story, Will.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on February 25, 2020:

Loved the opening, Will. And your descriptions and pacing throughout the story are so vivid and compelling. They say Justice has no name. Perhaps it is one of those ghosts of time, as in this wonderful response to Bill's challenge, with the twist at the end in the inimitable style of master storyteller, Will Starr. Just a perfect complement to Bill's photos. Wow.

WillStarr (author) from Phoenix, Arizona on February 25, 2020:

Hi Pamela and thank you! I'll try.

WillStarr (author) from Phoenix, Arizona on February 25, 2020:

Hi Joe Abrahamson, and thank you! I need to come to breakfast soon at the airport. :)

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 25, 2020:

This is an excellent story as always from you. I wish you were here writing stories more often as your stories are alwys unique and well-written.

WillStarr (author) from Phoenix, Arizona on February 25, 2020:

I published two e-books of short stories, Paula, but no one, including those who asked me to publish them, actually bought them. Go figure!

I did sell a book to a UK publisher. It's called 'Empire' by Will Starr and it's available on Amazon.

Joe Abrahamson on February 25, 2020:

Another great one Will!!! I sure miss these and need to go back and re-read your collection! Thanks again! Joe A

Suzie from Carson City on February 25, 2020:

WILL STARR.....The BEST damned Story-Teller in Town!! Hands down!

You need to write a big thick BOOK with tale after tale, chapter after chapter. I guarantee a BEST SELLER! Cheers, Paula

WillStarr (author) from Phoenix, Arizona on February 25, 2020:

Hi John and happy to see you again! I hope the fires left you unscathed?

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on February 25, 2020:

You are the true master of this genre, Will, and this was a wonderful response to Bill’s photo challenge. It is great to see you back writing at HubPages.

WillStarr (author) from Phoenix, Arizona on February 25, 2020:

Thank you Ruby (still love that name) and I hope to get back in the habit of writing.

WillStarr (author) from Phoenix, Arizona on February 25, 2020:

I was hoping you'd comment Bob, and you didn't disappoint. I'm also hoping to meet you if you venture across the pond anytime soon.

I'll contact you on HubPages messaging.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on February 25, 2020:

Another great story, and that signature twist at the end made it yours. You met the challenge head-on. I hope you're back to write on HP regularly?

diogenes on February 25, 2020:

Wonderful, Will. Your usual surprise ending. Your stories really bring these times and the people who lived them back to life. Well, perhaps few were that inspired and occupying such moral high ground as the old sheriff. Good writing like this is like great portraiture, much is hidden from sight and much is emphasized that warms and pleases us.

We would like to have the strength of character of the protagonists herein but we fall short.

Loved it


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