Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Empty and Full (06/04/09)
TITLE: Not Quite Deserted
By Rachel Rudd
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He stopped in front of a clapboard building with a low hanging cross. As he slipped down he called out into the stillness, “Hello, preacher? Are you here?”
An old man with more hair on his ears than on his head appeared in the doorway. “Hello, son, what you still doing around here? I thought everybody up and left months ago. I han’t got any place to go so I stayed.”
“Well, mine’s a long story. You got time?”
“That’s about all I’ve got. Pull up a chair and get started, uh…”
“Bill. Just plain Bill.” He sat in a chair that looked older than him.
“Well, I guess I’ll own up and say it.” John sighed, “Momma was right. She had a bad habit of doing that. ‘Son,” she told me, ‘ain’t nothing good ever come of no money fever. It gets at ya’, tears at ya’ soul and all. Ain’t what the good Lord intended.’ I was a mite fool-headed and didn’t listen to her warning. I took off for Idaho Territory to strike it rich. Merely loaded up my wagon and set off.”
“Yeah, you and half the country. ” Bill commented.
“Tell me about it. I was one of the first to get to this town. In one month the city swelled to three times its size. Saloons and general stores grew in front of my eyes. The town filled up with men like me. We all hoped to hit pay dirt. That promise of wealth made us leave our farms and homes. I even heard tell of men that left their wives.”
“I heard something like that, too.” The old man shifted in his wooden chair. “But I didn’t get here until about two years ago.”
“Well, at first we set off each morning to pan the stream and when we didn’t find a lick of yellow dust before sundown then we hit the saloons. Filling ourselves with rotgut gave us relief. That is until the fighting broke out. It almost always was about some lady. I remember that night that Cody and Henry got fighting. Now I never trusted Cody one bit. He was a piker if ever there was one. His eyes shifted when you talked to him.”
“Anyhow, that night Cody had a painted lady he was trying to get to know, if you know what I mean. I haven’t been one to mess with them myself, just too much trouble.” John cleared his throat. “See, Henry knew this lady, too, and he started talking to her. Cody got real mad, took out his six-shooter and shot him square in the heart.”
Bill nodded his head, “I remember that night and the next day myself.”
“Yeah, I’ve seen plenty of men die with throat trouble, but Cody was the first. The memory of his empty eyes haunted me for a week. Well, it’s five years later and I still ain’t hit pay dirt. “This town is dead anymore. The doors of the Five Star saloon don’t swing like they used to. There isn’t much left to go in there for anyway.”
John looked out of the window. “I guess I didn’t want my momma to be right so I stuck around. This town is about empty, just like my pockets. I’m leaving now, but I wanted to see you before I left.” John cleared his throat. “See I found out that money wasn’t what I needed. There’s this empty place inside I need to get filled. I’ve been hoping the ol’ preacher man I’d heard about could help me out. So, how about prea…Bill, how do I fill it?”
The old man smiled and whispered, “Now I know why, Lord.”
Two men rode east down the dusty street. Their hair blew listlessly in the wind like the tumbleweed passing in front of them. Their bodies swung from side to side as their horses clomped on bare hooves. They stared at the road in front of them as if seeing plenty. The screech of the rusty hotel sign made them smile in readiness.
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