Short Story

What follows is a story that I am working on. At the present moment it is merely an sketch of what I hope will turn into something grander. Please let me know any thoughts you might have. Thanks ~ MJ

He awoke in a cold sweat his face twisted in agony from the white hot licks of fire he still felt in his chest. His eyes adjusted to the dark, forehead streaming with moisture that enveloped the wrinkles of his brow with a sticky film. He could feel the frigid air of the mid-western plains sweep over his bare shoulders as his surroundings came into focus. His weathered frame was outlined under his cotton blanket that he had stitched together far too many times to count.

Nothing had been taken overnight as far as he could tell, his tanned moccasin boots still hung over the long winchester rifle that stood in the corner, it’s brass trigger and hammer gleaming in the dark. A thin slice of sunlight shone in through the canvas of his makeshift tent and twinkled with every small breath of wind. He took a deep breath, slicked his damp hair back with the cuff of his arm and climbed out of his cot. His back creaked and crackled like autumn leaves underfoot and he groaned with the slightest discomfort. The dream, which had been so vivid not ten minutes before was now slowly drifting from memory. He recalled no names or faces but rather dark fluttering shapes as black as oil and a booming voice in the distance who’s words unknown, echoed into the abyss of the characterless realm that had enveloped him. There had been a cocking of a hammer that reverberated in his skull and fell scream of a woman or an infant, he wasn’t sure, that pierced the air and rippled through his body like a hot iron. The memory stopped there and he winced with frustration as he tried to recall what his mind, for whatever reason would not permit.

He suddenly shivered as the cold air which had been oblivious to him, swept over his wiry frame. He snuck over to his belongings that lay at the end of his bedding and threw on his jacket which hung around him further accentuating his gauntness. It had been a few days since his last meal as meat had gotten scarce and the hopes of finding herbs or trout from the river that winded through the countryside had long since frozen over with the coming solstice. He sat down upon the hard, cold earth and pulled on his boots, making sure they were snug and exited his tent.

The white light blinded him as he looked out onto the distance. The ground held about a foot of snow that caked the grassy plains of the American midwest that lay before him the wind tossing puffs of powder into the air, that danced in the sunlight before finally disappearing into the shadows of the mountains beyond. His licked his lips, tasting the cold air that crept into the cracks of his mouth and every orifice of his face. It had been a year and two months since he had been home. ‘Home’, the word almost seemed foreign to him as he had never quite considered any location familiar enough to be considered permanent. If he were to be asked where it was he had set out of from the answer would be vague and thinly described. Somedays it would be an inn on the corner of 52nd and 3rd in the heart of metropolitan Boston where he went by the name of Thomas Ford, a successful banker up from the Louisiana Bayou. Other days it would be a small town in the backwoods of Tennessee, where he was known as William Murton, a bachelor who didn’t mind talking politics with the local shopkeepers and drunkards.

He could go anywhere unrecognized and held a quiet disposition that mystified and hushed rooms to a mere chatter when he would enter them. His hands were slight and grainy with a nub for his right pinky that he had lost as a boy. He had a sandy hair that hung over his ears which he frequently brushed away when he was irritated. He considered himself a southern rebel and backwoodsman, who regretted none of the his slights upon society. Nor did he carry the burden of the ten lives he had laid down into the earth that he laid claim to. His faith could be best described as fleeting, although he occasionally quoted scripture when it best suited him. He cared not for foolishness and carried out a form of justice that treaded the line of morality in a reckless way. Those beneath him knew little about his past and shuddered when he past them on his morning walks. The jobs that he had pulled were known almost universally west of the Mississippi as word of his reputation grew. It had been another summer in ‘a world of avarice’, as he liked to call it and had lined his pockets with silver which delighted him. In the end he was merely a man, and humbly carried himself with quiet dignity at all times, which awed and frightened all that knew him.

The sun crept over the mountains in the distance, it’s light dancing over the lonely cliffs that hung over the frozen country below. He would wash his face in the basin by an oak tree and make his way down to the rest of his company. The dying flames of campfires in the distance blinking through the row of pines beyond. A small feather of a red-tailed hawk blew in the wind over the snowy drifts, a good omen, he smiled to himself, the corner of his mouth raising ever so slightly, he closed his eyes and put the oily shapes of his dreams away for another day.

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