Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Once in a Blue Moon (01/06/11)
TITLE: Neath the Western Skies
By Anita van der Elst
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Cornerstoneâs foreman chuckled as he anticipated an entertaining evening later at the saloon in Dry Gulp.
That townâs gonna have to change its name one of these here days. Ainât no way none of us is goinâ thirsty no how. Everyone there knows they owe their success to me and my boys out here on the ranch. We bring âem all the business they can handle.
All the same, a small shudder rose from some locked down place in his middle when he looked out the window. The weeping willow at the edge of the gully whispered an oft-repeated accusation. Murderer.
Clayton flapped his hat at the window dismissively. Ainât nothinâ but the breeze in that durn tree. He sauntered out of the ranch house and saddled his horse. Time to survey the little kingdom he considered his own. It had been many years since Cornerstoneâs owner, a gentleman who lived on the eastern coast, had visited. All the time and effort Clayton had put in gave him cause to believe he was more owner than Mr. Eastern Fancy Pants would ever be.
Clayton spit a stream of tobacco juice onto the corralâs hard packed dirt. Itâd be a blue moon thatâd see Mr. Fancy Pants settinâ foot here again. To top if off, them âmessagesâ I sent by way of Mr. Fancy Pantsâ agents as well as that son of his, oughta be enough to scare those fancy pants right offa him. Heâll stay away for good.
The weeping willow stirred again and a shiver went up Claytonâs spine. That consarned son of his shoulda never left home. I told him to skedaddle before he ended up gettinâ tangled in my rope. I was just protectinâ whatâs rightly mine! Ainât nobody gonna take it from me! He spurred his horse out onto the range and left the willow far behind.
Squinting his eyes against the glare of the midday sun, Clayton peered across the high chaparral. Was that a plume of smoke he saw just beyond the ridge leading to Santiago Peak? He removed his hat and wiped the sweat off his face with the red bandana he wore around his neck.
Nah, mustâve been a cloud of deerflies. Itâs gone now.
Fire was an ever-present threat at this time of year. He was real strict with his cowhands about leaving fires unattended or tossing smoldering cigarette butts. To be on the safe side, heâd send Little George out to investigate.
After dinner Clayton put on a clean shirt. âHey, Willy,â he called to his lead ranch hand, âIâm headed into town. Youâre in charge. Most of the boys are goinâ with me.â
âOkay, boss,â Willyâs bushy eyebrows waggled up and down as he pictured the fun theyâd be having. Then he remembered something, âOh, hey, boss. Little George ainât come back yet from scoutinâ out that bit oâ smoke ya seen. Ya reckon heâs alright?â
âShucks! You know the manâs part Juaneno Indian,â Clayton rolled his eyes. âEvery so often he takes it into his head heâs gotta observe some ceremony to the moon or somethinâ. Yeah, I ainât worried âbout him.â
With that Clayton and the boys, whooping and hollering, galloped off to town. Several hours later, bleary-eyed, they let their horses navigate through deep midnight shadows. Slim and Whitâs harmonizing about not being buried âneath the western skies on the lone prairie prompted Claytonâs gaze upward. He let out a gasp. âWhat in tarnation is that?â
âWhy, thatâs a blue moon,â Slim replied, his higher education kicking in. âAnd I believe I smell smoke, through which we are viewing that celestial orb.â
Fear surged through Clayton, dispelling the whiskey-induced stupor. Little George! Fire!
As they passed the weeping willow and neared the ranch, complete soberness hit. A horse-drawn buggy waited at the gate, a tall immaculately dressed figure alongside. In a long line to either side, mounted soldiers stood firm, fire reflecting in their drawn sabers.
âBoss,â Slim said, âIt appears Mr. Eastern Fancy Pants has returned and intends to avenge his heir with flame and sword. Adios, Clayton.â
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