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This story is one I wrote in prison, as most of the Earth’s Survivors series and hundreds of short stories were. I was there because I needed to be, but I didn’t need to let that ten year stretch turn into a lifetime. I saw that happen to guys far too often in the first few years of doing my time, and even though us drunks and addicts are the hardest people to get something new into that concrete wasteland we call a brain, I was doing my time on my terms. That means fighting to get programs I needed, go to every AA or NA meeting I could, and not joining gang or putting myself in danger for stupid things.
There were times where I did step into things, because I just couldn’t stand to see what I was seeing, but those were calculated risks. I mean I had changed enough by then that I was not ever going to allow certain behaviors near me, and scary as it is to step to someone, or a couple someones in prison I did it.
I sit here sometimes and think about some of those times and wondered how I knew I would be okay. The truth is I didn’t, I just didn’t want to see someone hurt, used or worse and so I did something about it.
That doesn’t mean I was going to the yard or any sort of rec. looking to stick my nose in things, I wasn’t. I worked out hard 5 days a week, burned off a lot of the depression, fear, worries, and the rest of the time I stayed in my bunk and wrote stories or novels. I created a world where all the bad shit that was going on could be ignored for a few hours.
Other times I would go to the yard and walk laps and invariably a few guys would join me, including a couple of guys who were a sort of fan club, and I looked out for. They were mentally impaired, but also violent, so instead of a mental health facility they wound up in prison. Usually Wednesday and Saturdays, literally for years, I would meet them out there, walk laps, and tell them stories from my growing collections, or one of my series. And more than once when I screwed something up they would point it out to me, and they were always right.
I am not, however waxing romantic about prison. It isn’t romantic. I don’t watch shows that get too close to what it’s really like. I have enough memories and ten years worth of diaries (I have never once gone back and read in the ten years I have been home) to tell me what it is really like.
Before prison and working on myself I would never have admitted to fear, but I remember finally getting it in a class with a guy talking about how the root of almost all of our motivations is fear. My first thought was bullshit, I’m not afraid of anything, but a second later I realized that fear is not cowardice, or running from problems, and that it is something everyone either deals with or stuffs inside so that it comes out later, and hurts them, or others, or both. A turning point for me.
So, stayed in my cell and wrote. Later when I transferred to a medium I stayed in an open dorm in what we called a cube, and I stayed there and wrote, even with more freedom I knew better than to get loose.
I think I was there a week, wondering how instead of having a guard escort you everywhere, you could simply sign a list, get in a line, go through the metal detectors and Bang! You were in the yard, or at the library, or an AA or NA meeting, or Church, or Native services. It was like magic after six years in a Max facility. And then a guy who belonged to one gang went out to a smoking area off the dorm, where a guy from another gang had just swept all the butts up and scrubbed the concrete down, and this guys starts flicking ashes on his clean concrete. Words were exchanged and the next thing you know the guy who had done the cleaning leaves; goes back inside.
A handful of seconds later he’s back, with a plastic toothbrush with a razor blade melted into the handle. He doesn’t say a word just slices the guy’s throat. He didn’t live long enough to make it to medical, and when dinner was called a few minutes later we walked down that same walkway trying to avoid the blood as we made our way to chow, and I remember thinking this is just as crazy, or ‘off the hook’ as the young guys said, and so while I did enjoy more freedom, and availed myself of it, I wrote more novels and stories in my notebooks, made no close friends, occasionally put a stop to something I was sure was wrong, and tip toed around the craziness for four more years.
Here is one of those stories I wrote in my cell in a Max.
Collected Short Stories
BORDERLINE: Collected Short Stories is Copyright © 2016 Dell Sweet
Additional copyrights © 2010, 2015 by Dell Sweet
All rights reserved, both foreign and domestic.
Cover Art © Copyright 2016 Wendell Sweet
I rode slowly watching the trail side. There wasn’t much to see in the moonlight, but enough to follow if you knew where to look, and I did.
The thing was, this fella was not no kind of careful anyways. And he was not no horse man neither.
I rubbed my geldings rump, patted a time, and silently promised him a little extra rest time once we caught up to this fool sometime later in the night.
Mister Johnson was a good horse. More used to plow than saddle, but circumstances dictate those positions more’n I do. And this man I was trackin’ had dictated tonight’s circumstances clear and straight.
I turned Mister Johnson down a short chute of a canyon, keeping him to the side so as not to mark the trail, and to keep his iron shoes from ringing out on the stone. We come to a little stream that cut the canyon and I stopped, rolled myself a smoke. I sat, hand cupped and smoked. Listening to the surrounding night.
If this was a smart fella, no way would I have lit no smoke. But this was no smart man at all. This, from what I could see, was a desperate man. Desperate or dumb. Or, possibly, both. I’d know for sure before dawn.
I finished the smoke, flipped it into the crik and went on my way again, following the trail of my own other horse, Mizz Johnson.
I had, had her as long as I had, had Mister Johnson. Truth be told I thought Mister Johnson might be even more pissed off about the situation that I was. He just didn’t know how to use a rope, if so I’m sure he’d a been out for a hangin’ too.
I worked my way sideways down a gully, leaving the actual trail behind me where it out and did a loop back onto itself. The direction was clear enough, and he was far enough ahead that I wouldn’t come up on him, and the shortcut would save me time considerable.
I had me a farm, a good woman and two boys old enough to help a little already. A girl child who made me feel like crying ever time I looked at her. I don’t figure how that is: That a girl child can do that, ‘cept I can see she will have to live her life, and it’s a hard one, and I wisht better than what I got to give her.
Men is men. The boys will grow up rough and tumble. That’s boys. That’s boys comin’ to be a man. But a girl child, seems to me, looks out at the world all pretty and hope, and then the world sort of breaks her down. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow.
I’d seen that truth in the eyes of a whore down in Dodge several years back. A young pretty whore, but resigned to be a whore. I’d paid my dollar and stayed for a little conversation as it was a slow night. I don’t never want to see that look in my Melissa’s eyes. But I can’t see that my Janey would ever let her go down that path. We learn from our mistakes, we do: If we don’t we don’t last long in this world.
I made the trail and walked Mister Johnson on the up-slope at a steady pace. He didn’t need much help or pointin’: I figured he could smell ol’ Mizz Johnson at that point, and he was, as I said, a might upset himself.
I was two days out from home. Me out from home meant that Janey had to do it all with no help from no man. Plow what she could with that goddamn, son-of-a-bitch mule we had. Be lucky if it didn’t kick her bad is what I’d be.
This life don’t slow down for no horse thief. The kids got to be fed. The chicks fed too. The cows milked. The other things a woman’s got to do. Cook, and clean, what all. But she’s got to do all the things a man’s got to do as well. All piled in there. No break at all. That was this life out here, how it had to be. How it was.
I caught the smell of fire and meat roastin’ on the air. Fresh, green wood. Not much of a woodsman either, I opinioned. But, considering the horsemanship, the theft itself and all of the rest of it, I’d say I was not too surprised. I stopped, rolled another smoke, kept it cupped to hide the flame, didn’t worry about the odor even though I was close now. The wind was at me after all, and his own, smokey fire would hide all other smells if the wind did shift. Chances were he had no idea of smells on the wind anyways.
I let my eyes travel the sky, lookin’ and I spotted a few stray sparks as they rose into the night sky not far away. All kinds of dumb. But I bet he considered himself some sort of woodsman just because he could light that fire.
Some figure if they can build a fire they’s a woodsman. I laugh at that. I have slept in snow banks and stayed warm. I tracked snowshoes in dead winter and got them. I have been lived in the wild with just a knife for two months while I was working out of the back country and my first horse dropped a leg in a chuck-hole and I had to shoot him.
I was green then. Used up one of my last four bullets on the horse, when I could’a used the knife and saved that bullet. Packed some out with me, dried over the fire, and et better those two months. I was young, dumb and life to come. And for me I was goddamn lucky to have lived through it that time. But, as I done said the one time, you learn or you die. Life, it don’t forgive a lot out here.
I finished the smoke, crushed it out between my thumb and forefinger, then angled Mister Johnson down toward the fire I’d seen. I could be, maybe, cocky and ride right up on him, but I don’t like to misjudge. I tied Mister Johnson to a tree to keep him out of it in case there was gun-play, which I intended there might be. I’d just have to hope there were none that got Mister Johnson. But he’d fare better hidden away. A man will always try in shoot a man’s horse at first sight if he can.
I walked the last hundred or so yards into his camp. My old sprung boots was so mushy and soft they was like walkin’ in Indian mocs anyhow. He never heard me comin’.
He had a chuck spitted over the fire, and probably ever cat, wolf, bear and wild dog for two miles around was sniffing on the air. He was stupid alright. I’d seen some green eyes, and two sets of red eyes as I had made my way into his camp.
He sat before the fire. A fat man: I’d knowed that from the depth of the hoof print though. And a stupid man just as I had guessed, as he had allowed me to walk right up to him, too busy tryin’ to twist the cap off’n a store bought bottle of whiskey he’d got from somewhere.
I decided on the spot to save the bullet: Put my gun away and pulled the rope that I had bought with me free from my shoulder. If a man ever works with cattle, branding, he don’t forget how to rope. And, as a younger man, I done my share of that. I had him in on one toss, and cinched it tight as I walked up on him face to face like.
“Hey,” he says, but me, I go about my business. I got me a limb picked out. We wrestle a little while I drag him to the limb, shift that rope quick like to his neck, and haul him up. He don’t say nothin’ after ‘Hey’, he tries to though.
Folks think hanging a man is easy. And, it can at times be easy, but this wasn’t no easy time: This was one a them hard times. A fat man, a thick neck, and me being plain tired out. He kicked and thrashed for all of ten minutes before he slowed. Me hanging on the end of that rope to keep him stretched, but I could not get him to swinging. And then, me being tired as I was, I looped that rope around Mizz Johnson’s saddle horn, the dumb bastard didn’t know enough to take a saddle off’n a horse, and walked her a bit to get him swinging free. Goddamn if he didn’t kick some more at that. I waited ten more minutes, ticked ’em off on my Elgin. I seen men come back if they neck ain’t broke, and I was sure it was not.
I let him down after that time, rope don’t come cheap to me, and left him laying there for the coyotes, wolves, bear and cats the damn fool had called down. Fat man might not be their favorite, but when times is tough it will do I’d bet.
I gathered up Mizz Johnson, went back and got Mister Johnson. They was happy to see each other. Blowing and touching noses to necks.
The fat man had two pair a saddle bags. The first had a food store, no surprise there, except why he’d been about to eat chuck when he had bacon. The second was a surprise: Gold, and not a little. I will tell you it was enough to sit me right down there by the fire to look it over.
I can count, but there’s a limit. What I knowed, I did, and then I had reached the limit and there was a long ways to go yet. A very long ways. And the trouble was I did not know for absolute what each piece was worth. Coin, stamped, but I could not read none. I could only say there was five times of counting to one hundred and a way to go after that.
Janey could read and write too. And she could cypher figures a sight farther than I could when it come to that. Whoring had taught her that. No whore could afford to get cheated.
I looked at it there in the moonlight for a piece, then put it all back in the saddlebags except a few pieces I kept for my pocket. Janey could count it; whatever it was we were a huge sight better off than we had been. It almost made me want to thank the fat man. I didn’t though. He stole my horse, and he got what a horse thief is supposed to get.
I tied Mizz Johnson to the saddle horn of old Mister Johnson’s saddle by a longish lead and we rode out of there. I did put that fire out before we left. I left the chuck where it was, dug me out a piece of jerky my own Janey had made. I chewed thoughtful, thinking about the money as I rode. I was gonna stop at Abilene, which was on the way, and buy Janey a dress. She’d always had such pretty dresses when I’d met her, but times being as they was there weren’t no money for pretty dresses.
I smiled to myself thinkin’ about Janey’s eyes when she saw a new dress or two and then a saddlebag full a gold pieces. It made me feel good inside. I looked up at the moon, sent a prayer to God above up there somewhere, turned Mister Johnson for the next ridge and headed towards Abilene.
Borderline: Collected Short Stories from Dell Sweet #Crime #scifi #murder #undead and more! https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/borderline-collected-short-stories
I hope you enjoyed the short story. These are some of my book links. Enjoy the holidays and your family, loved ones… Dell
Addiction Conversations with my fathers. I tried suicide for the first time the year before at about twelve, or just turned twelve. The time before that had been accidental. Sniffing glue and I passed out and stopped breathing for a few minutes.
Mister Bob: Collected Short Stories. FIREFIGHT: Private Johnson finds himself in the middle of a firefight in the jungles of Vietnam. He has no idea how he got there, or why he is there.
AMERICA THE DEAD
America the Dead Survivor Stories One. The public had known that there was a meteor on a near collision course with the Earth. The spin doctors had assured the public it would miss by several thousands of miles.
AMERICA THE DEAD Book Two: Donita’s Notebook March 1st (Night) Quakes, at least three. Warmed up fast, and all the dirty snow that was piled along the streets has melted. Torrential rains. Thunder and lightning in the snow.
America The Dead Survivor Stories Book Three. It’s the night before the six will leave to go back to the outside. I think of it that way… The outside. This place overwhelmed me for the first little while. That and having to kill a man.
AMERICA THE DEAD Book Four: America The Dead Survivor Stories Book Four. Contains Books 7&8 (8 was unreleased) Due June 30th 2016
America the Dead Survivor Stories Five. The city is a refuge… Until they try to leave it…
The trucks stopped a half mile away, and for several minutes there was absolute silence. Just as the sun began to sink, the first shots came. The battle began.
Walking Earth Book One. He had not been able to feel the ground beneath him. Molten rock had been flowing over his feet, and more molten rock; had spewed up into the night air. The ground beneath his feet had been trembling.
Knock Kindle Edition. Beth had stopped at the edge of the housing development. It was dark, lit only by the headlights of the truck. The streets were empty. Heavy dust seemed to blanket the whole scene. Little trails cut from place to place.
TAU CETI e
Tau Ceti e Kindle Edition. “I grew up on Mars one… A child of an inmate; I had a hand out of that or… I don’t know what would have happened.
CITY OF THE DEAD
City of the dead Kindle Edition. I was so caught up in wondering about the sparrow, that I paid no attention to the old man wandering slowly up the path behind me. The grit of a footstep at nearly the last second was all that alerted me.
White Trash Kindle Edition. Jimmy West looked at his watch, 3:15 AM. He had been in the sleeping city of Glennville for two hours. He had spoken personally with Murphy’s man in the Sheriff’s department, and another he had in the city police department.
CRIME TIME COLLECTED SHORT STORIES
This is the 3rd book I have read from these authors. They never disappoint. This was a great collection of stories that kept me interested and I do believe that one story may tie in with another book that I have read which also kicked ass!
Yellowstone Kindle Edition. “Yeah. We all think that. Except it is not true at all because the Yellowstone caldera is not extinct, it is active. There have been several warnings,” he shrugged.
Necro Kindle Edition. His face came away from the asphalt with a wet sucking noise and he nearly stopped. Expecting pain to come. Expecting the sky to fall. Expecting something, but nothing happened. The sucking sound stopped when his face finally pulled free…