Actually… uhm… this time I didn’t have a prompt. I just sat down and started writing. For the sake of it, let’s say:
Mistakes catching up with someone.
A group of grim-looking armed riders and a coach with a steel cage mounted in the back instead of a standard cabin stopped just at the front gate. He had seen enough scenes like that play out in his lifetime to know it only meant trouble.
“Katie, take your brother inside.”
The girl who was playing with his little sister on the front porch looked up. Her curly hair was hacked short, and her simple clothes were dirty from climbing the big tree in the back earlier.
“But we’re in the middle of our game, pa!”
“Get inside. Now.”
His tone left no room for debate. Katie looked at the stranger who just had passed the gate, then at her father. Her face went serious, and she nodded in silent understanding. He gave her a cheerful smile and patted her on the head as she went inside with her brother. Smart kid. Gonna be someone when she’s grown up…
He stood up and groaned. His legs were stiff from sitting and watching the children all morning. A faint pain lingered in his lower back. Age was catching up with him fast. He couldn’t imagine that just a few years back, they had spent most of their days on a horse’s back. He grabbed his old weathered hat to protect himself from the blazing afternoon heat. A lone vulture circled in the cloudless sky above the farm. The dirt crunched under his boots as he went to meet the unexpected visitor halfway.
“You’re not welcome here. You better get out as fast as you can.” His right hand rested on the gun in its belt holster underlining his threat.
The man stopped a few steps away and lifted his hands in a gesture of goodwill. Nevertheless, his companions pointed their rifles at him. “I’m afraid I cannot do that.”
He sucked on his teeth, visualizing his options. He pushed his lower lip forward and spit to the side. For now, he would have to play along. “What do you want?”
“You’re Jamie Callahan?”
“Depends who’s asking.”
Jamie cocked an eyebrow in surprise. He refrained from glancing back at the house to not call unwanted attention to his wife and the children.
“I’m Samuel Davis.” He pointed at the shiny batch on his jacket. “I’m acting on behalf of the government of this glorious and beautiful country.”
“Awfully nice of you.”
Jamie didn’t try to hide the disgust he had for Mr. Davis. He could twist the words as much as he wanted, it wouldn’t change the fact that he was a bounty hunter — a dog on a leash that lived off the mistakes others had made in their past.
“The famous Jamie Callahan. Can you believe it, boys?” Mr. Davis looked over his shoulder. His men had a savage grin in their faces. “They say no one ever survived meeting you.”
“How does anyone know about me then?”
“Well,” Mr. Davis shrugged and crossed his arms. “Folks exaggerate, I guess. It wasn’t easy tracking you down, I can tell you that much. There is a price on your head, Mr. Callahan. You do know about that, don’t you?”
“Heard rumors about it. But I couldn’t believe that a humble farmer like myself would end up being a problem for the government.”
Mr. Davis lifted his hat up, his gaze fixed on Jamie. “It’s not about what you’re pretending to be now. But you already know that.”
When Jamie was just a small boy, his father had always told him that life was what you made it. To Jamie, that meant joining a gang as soon as he could to get out of that backwater shithole. That’s where he met his wife. After a lifetime on the road, he had seen enough friends die to know they needed to get out of that life. She wanted the family to stay together and keep moving. In the end, she came along. They vanished just at the right time and started a new life.
But the past had caught up to them, and Jamie had been waiting for it to happen. Times had been changing. The wilderness had been tamed. Civilization may have changed the rules, but when it came down to it, it still played the same dirty game. Jamie snorted at the thought.
“Maybe,” he said.
Mr. Davis smiled. Jamie knew that the man must have had a similar past. But the sly weasel of a man had switched sides just at the right time. “You’re wanted dead or alive, Mr. Callahan. The choice is yours.”
The faces of his men spoke of the bloodlust they felt. They were waiting, wishing for the smallest reason to riddle him with bullets. Each of them was eager to tell the story next time at the saloon how they were the first to survive meeting the infamous Jamie Callahan.
“What about my family?”
“They cannot stay here. You bought the land with illegally obtained money. Therefore it is seized by the state. But they are free to go wherever they want as long as they live their life as good, upright citizens.”
Jamie nodded slowly. Then he unbuckled the weapons belt and let it together with his revolver fall to the ground. He put his hands up. “Then let’s take a ride, gentlemen.”
A groan of disappointment came from the bounty hunters. One of them jumped forward and tied Jamie’s hands up. Mr. Davis thanked him for his civilized cooperation. He went on a tangent about the merits of justice, but Jamie stopped listening. He climbed on the cart, and one of the henchmen locked the cage door behind him.
He sat down and the coach bumped into motion. Their house grew smaller in the distance. His wife rushed outside a rifle in her hand. She would have taken them all on, alone, if necessary. She had always been fierce like that. But it wouldn’t have mattered, he knew that. They wouldn’t relent until they got what they wanted.
Even though he knew too well that he would hang by sundown, the man in the cage smiled. No one would ever know that the real Jamie Callahan got away scot-free.
I have stopped working on the prompt series for a while now. There are a lot of reasons for that, and each is better than the next. At least to myself, when I’m looking for excuses. But this week, I found myself sitting down with my notebook again.
I had no prompt or anything that guided my writing this time around. I just scribbled away, put down some kind of story that had been lingering in my mind for a while.
It was the first time that I put one of my stories in a western-like setting. I’m not leaning too heavily on the setting for the most time, but I’ve wanted to write some kind of showdown.
The situation ended up as basic as they come. We have our outlaw in hiding that tried to start a new life and on the other side, their pursuers who finally catch up to them. But there is a twist. First, it doesn’t end in a shoot out. I like to rely on tropes as much as the next, but it didn’t feel right to let the protagonist go down in a blaze of glory. Instead, he hands himself in. It’s only in the last paragraph when we get to know the double twist that in reality, he isn’t the person they are looking for.
Wait. Whaaaat? Does this even make sense?
Well, don’t look at me! I don’t know. My thoughts were something along that line: “Isn’t it funny how they always assume in a situation like that that the man is the bad guy? Maybe it’s interesting to play with that.”
So, I crammed an unreliable narrator in there. I haven’t had much experience with it before, and I’m not sure if it worked out well. I tried not to name the character before his antagonist identifies him. And he rolled with it. Only in the last sentence, the narration goes back to referring to him as ‘the man’ instead of Jamie like it did for the interaction.
What made him sacrifice himself? Love sure played a part in it. He definitely has some guilt, too. He might not be the person they’re looking for, but he rode with the same gang. How are the chances that he is a good guy? But, in a way, he also feels guilty for making Jamie settle down, and he takes the blame on him for letting the bounty hunters catch up on them. So, he makes that decision.
Maybe he didn’t want to deal with things anymore. He is tired of getting older, and in a sort of hero complex, he thinks the best way of action is to end it with this noble gesture to make himself feel better about his choices.
I do not like that guy, but I do like how his motivations change depending on the point of view you take for looking at the situation.
Well, that’s it for now. I hope you like that story! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
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