Sunday, October 28, 2012

Chapter 1- Bounty Hunter: The Beginning; A YA Western

The stallion stood high on a ridge, his sleek black body glistening in the bright sunlight.  His position gave him a clear view of the valley below where his herd lazily grazed.  The thirty or so horses were confident he would alert them should any danger arise.  A soft wind blew across the stallion’s powerful body lifting his long black mane off of his heavily muscled neck.  He was all black except for a stripe of white hair running down the middle of his forehead between his dark intelligent eyes.  As he stood above the herd, his eyes alertly scanned the valley looking for any signs of danger.
     Suddenly, a billowing cloud of dust appeared in the distance.  As the cloud drew closer, the stallion’s keen gaze spotted its source.  The dust was being stirred up by the hooves of a large group of horses ridden by men intent on capturing his herd.  Alert to the danger, the powerful horse reared up on his hind legs and let out a cry of alarm.  As he thundered down the slope of the ridge toward his herd, he continued to sound his warning.
     The herd responded instantly.  The sound of thirty horses’ hooves pounding against the ground filled the air as they turned as one and followed their leader.  The stallion glanced over his shoulder.  The men on horseback were closer than they had first appeared.  He quickened his pace.  His muscles rippled with power as he led his herd away from their pursuers.
     They fled across the valley.  The men on horseback relentlessly followed.  The stallion turned the herd toward the canyon that ran to the east of the valley.  The canyon was full of twists and turns that were dangerous even for those who knew them well.
     Confident the men on horseback would not be able to keep up with them, the big horse led the herd quickly through the canyon.  This was their home.  They knew the twists and turns by heart.  He threw another glance over his shoulder.  His confidence grew as he noted that the men pursuing them were falling farther and farther behind them.
     As the herd rounded the next bend, the stallion slid to a sudden stop.  Six men on horseback sat in front of them blocking their path.  His nostrils flared in anger at the sudden appearance of the men.
     “There they are boys!” shouted one of the men.  “I told you they would come this way!”
     The big black reared up, showing his intimidating size.  Then he brought his front hooves down hard.  The sound of his hooves striking the ground echoed through the canyon.  He snorted his frustration.  He abruptly turned around and headed back into the canyon.
     The herd had only traveled a short distance, when they spotted another group of men moving toward them.  The stallion glanced back once more and saw the men behind them steadily advancing.
     He stopped.  The herd danced around him nervously, as they looked to their leader to tell them what to do next.  The stallion knew they were trapped.  As the men drew closer, he pawed at the ground stirring up dust in a show of aggression.  He flared his nostrils and snorted his warning.  His eyes flashed in anger.
     A big man astride a large buckskin moved to the front of the group and met the stallion’s eyes.  The man’s eyes reflected his confidence as he drew out a whip and cracked it with authority.  The big black took a quick glance at his herd.  Their sides heaved and their heads drooped in exhaustion.  Flecks of frothy sweat clung to their hides.  The run through the canyon had taken its toll.  He glanced back at the rider holding the whip.  He was confident he could force his way through the group of men, but he also knew his herd was too exhausted to follow him.
     The stallion’s eyes met the man with the whip’s eyes once more.  He saw the man’s challenge and wanted to meet it, but he knew it was not the best choice for his herd.  He dropped his gaze.  The man flashed a victorious grin and shouted, “Okay, boys, let’s turn ‘em toward home!”
     The men moved the herd out of the canyon and headed them west back across the valley.  They drove the herd for several miles.  By the time they reached the ranch, fatigue had slowed their pace to a walk.
     The sprawling ranch covered several hundred acres.  Pasture land filled with about one thousand head of cattle and a few hundred horses took up most of the acreage.  The main house sat at the ranch’s center.  It was an impressive two story white house with green shutters and a wraparound porch.  Several other buildings including two bunkhouses, two large barns, and the foreman’s cabin radiated out from the main house.
     The men moved the horses into a large corral.  The man who wielded the whip moved his horse to separate the stallion from the rest of the herd.  He moved him into a smaller corral adjacent to the larger one.  The big black trotted around the perimeter of the corral.  He snorted and tossed his head in agitation.
     “That sure is one beautiful horse,” declared one of the cowboys who had gathered to admire the stallion.  Several of the cowboys leaned against the corral fence watching the big black as he trotted past.
     “Yeah, Mr. Spencer is gonna love him,” replied Sam Baker, the ranch foreman, as he replaced his whip and exited the corral.  Then he added, “Better call it a night boys.  Tomorrow’s gonna be a long day.”

     The next morning, the cowboys gathered around the large corral eager to begin the day.  The sun was already beginning its climb into a cloudless sky.  It was going to be a great day for breaking horses.  The men’s faces shone with good humor and excitement.
     Two of the men stood a little apart from the rest of the group.
     “Look at that stallion, Jim.  He’s somethin’ ain’t he?”  The man who had spoken was tall and thin.  He wore a beat up old cowboy hat pushed back off his forehead revealing a shock of almost white hair.  His eyes were following the stallion as he pranced around his enclosure.
     “Yeah, Whitey, he’s somethin’ all right and I mean to make him mine,” answered Jim.  Jim stood a head shorter than Whitey.  He had coal black hair and a handlebar mustache.  The feature that set Jim apart was his eyes.  They were emerald green and they gleamed with an evil glint that made even the toughest of men give him a wide berth.
     “How you plannin’ to do that?” asked Whitey.  “You know Mr. Spencer’s gonna want him for his own.”
     “Mark my words.  That horse is mine,” replied Jim with a determined glint in his eyes.
     Whitey had been Jim’s partner since they pulled a bank job together as kids.  He knew that if Jim set his mind to having the stallion, then nothing was going to stand in his way.
     Just then, a tall broad shouldered man who carried himself with the air of a man accustomed to giving orders stepped up to the corral.
     “Okay, men,” the man said, addressing the group of cowboys gathered there.  “Go ahead and pick your mounts.  You can have any horse you can break, except for the big black.  He’s mine.”
     “Yes, sir, Mr. Spencer!” the men shouted.  Then they let out whoops of excitement as they clamored up to sit on the top rail of the corral.  Each man scanned the group of horses spotting the ones they hoped would still be available when their turn came around.  The men would choose their mounts based on seniority.
    Sam Baker stepped into the corral first.  He tossed his lariat around the neck of a big bay mare with four white stockings.  A murmur of approval went up from the men sitting on the fence.  The mare was a fine looking horse.
     Several men leaped into the corral to help Sam get the mare saddled.  One of the cowboys worked to get a rope halter around her head.  Another one threw a bandana over her eyes.  The two cowboys held her steady while the foreman threw a saddle on her back.
    The mare bucked and danced as the men worked to steady her.  After several minutes, they calmed her enough for Sam to vault onto her back.  As soon as his butt hit the saddle, the men jumped out of the way of the bucking horse.  The mare bunny hopped straight into the air and came down hard.  She immediately spun around and then kicked her back legs into the air.  The men shouted their excitement as they watched from their places on the fence.
     “Rider ‘er, Sam!” hollered one cowboy.
     “That’s it!  Keep ‘er movin’,” yelled another.
     Finally exhausted, the mare settled into a smooth trot.  The cowboys applauded the success of their foreman.
     “Okay, Jasper,” said Sam as he slid from the mare’s back.  “You’re up.”
     One by one the cowboys selected their mounts.  They spent the day breaking the horses.  Shouts of encouragement, grunts of pain, and dust filled the air as the horses kicked and bucked trying to dislodge the cowboys who rode them.  By the time darkness fell, both the men and the horses were exhausted.
     The stallion had relentlessly trotted around the corral throughout the day.  As the cowboys made their way into the bunkhouses, he finally came to an exhausted halt.  For several minutes, he stood in the middle of his small enclosure with his chest heaving from his exertion.  As the night grew darker, the stallion’s head dropped in sleep.
     “Now’s our chance, Whitey,” Jim whispered into the darkness.  “Crazy horse finally wore himself out.”
     Jim unlatched the corral gate.  He and Whitey crept slowly toward the big horse.  When they were within a few feet of him, the stallion suddenly jerked his head up.  Jim quickly tossed a rope around his neck as Whitey tossed a bag over his head.  The black stood frozen in terror by his sudden blindness.
     “We got ‘im, Jim!” Whitey exclaimed in excitement.
     “Shhh!” Jim responded angrily.  “You want to get us caught?”
     “Sorry, Jim.  I didn’t expect it to be so easy.  A stallion like this is usually a mean son-of-a-gun,” answered Whitey.
     “Let’s get ‘im outta here before someone hears us.”
     Jim led the big horse out of the corral.  As soon as they cleared the corral gate, Jim mounted his horse and tied the end of the rope holding the stallion to the pommel of his saddle.  Jim spurred his mount into a gallop as he and Whitey fled with the stallion in tow.
     With the bag over his head, the big black was helpless to do anything but run blindly alongside Jim’s horse.  Jim and Whitey rode through the night before finally slowing to a trot.  The sun was already high in the sky when they pulled to a stop at the edge of a small stream.  Jim reached over and pulled the bag off the stallion’s head.  He blinked rapidly as sunlight momentarily blinded him.
     “Hot dang, Jim!” exclaimed Whitey.  “We did it.  How long do you think it’ll be before Mr. Spencer comes lookin’ for us?”
     “I’m sure he’s discovered the horse’s missin’ by now.  He’s probably already after us,” replied Jim.  “The sooner we can find a buyer for this here stallion the better.  Now, the way I figure it, our best bet is to head toward Beacon.  I hear there’s some real money flowin’ through that town.  It’ll take us two days of hard ridin’ to get there, but I think it’s our best move.”
     “Okay, Jim.  You’re the brains of this outfit.  If that’s what you think, then I’m with ya,” replied Whitey.
     “All right, then, let’s water the horses and let ‘em catch their breath.  Then we better get goin’.  If Mr. Spencer catches us before we get rid of this stallion, he’ll hang us for sure,” said Jim.
     After a brief rest, Jim and Whitey remounted and spurred the horses back into a gallop.

     The next evening, Jim and Whitey slowly picked their way through a thick forest.  Dusk had fallen casting a gray haze over everything.  Whitey kept twisting in his saddle to cast quick glances back and forth.
     “What are you doin’?” asked Jim in irritation.  “You’re drivin’ me nuts with all that fidgetin’.”
     “Sorry, Jim.  These woods are spooky.  I keep thinkin’ I’m seein’ things.”
     “Well, cut it out, will ya?  You’re makin’ me edgy.”
     “I’ll try,” responded Whitey as he took another quick glance around.
     Jim growled in agitation and Whitey snapped his head back to the front.  He recognized the threat in that growl.  In this mood, Jim was more dangerous than anything that could be lurking in the shadows.
     Just then, they stepped out of the trees into a clearing.  A small cabin sat about fifty yards in front of them.  A creek ran around the back side of the cabin.  A small tendril of smoke drifted up out of the chimney.  Lamplight illuminated the small windows on each side of the front door.  At the sight of the cabin, Jim pulled to an abrupt halt.
     “Let’s go around,” whispered Jim.  “I don’t want to have to answer a bunch of questions about how we got our hands on such a nice lookin’ stallion.”
     Whitey nodded in agreement.
     Jim started to turn as the door to the cabin flew open.  A shadowy figure holding a rifle filled the doorway.  “Who’s there?” the shadow called.
     Jim took a moment to answer, indecision clearly written on his face.  Finally, making up his mind, he called in a friendly tone, “Hello!”
     Jim spurred his horse into a walk and slowly approached the cabin.  Whitey did the same.
     As they stepped closer, they could see the person framed in the doorway was a boy.  He wore clothes that were much too small for his large frame.  He stood about six feet tall and had the muscular build of someone accustomed to hard work.  His dark blond hair fell past his collar.  Wariness swam in his blue eyes as he watched them approach.  The boy looked to be about 16 years old.  He stood with his feet spread wide, his hands tightly gripping his rifle.  He glanced quickly from Jim to Whitey and then back to Jim, his gaze finally coming to rest on the stallion.
     Wanting to draw the boy’s attention away from the horse, Jim asked, “Your ma or pa around?”
     The boy swung his gaze back to Jim and tightened his grip on his rifle.  “No,” he replied, his eyes narrowing with suspicion.  “I don’t want any trouble, so why don’t you two just move along.”
     “Who said anything about trouble?” replied Jim in a shocked tone.  He flashed a friendly smile and continued, “We’re just lookin’ for someplace to bed down for the night.  If it’s all the same to you, we’ll throw our bedrolls down over there by the creek.”  Jim gestured toward the small creek that ran along the back of the cabin.  Flashing another smile, he said, “See, we won’t be any trouble at all.”
     The boy hesitated.  He clearly didn’t like the idea of Jim and Whitey staying on his land.  Finally, he gave a curt nod.  “All right, but I expect you to be gone by mornin’.”  He turned back into the cabin and closed the door.  They could hear the sound of a board sliding into place barring the door.
     Whitey and Jim exchanged a look, and then with a shrug walked the horses toward the creek.
     “We ain’t gonna let this chance slip through our fingers are we, Jim?” asked Whitey as they untied their bedrolls.  “A kid alone, that’s easy pickin’s.  There’s bound to be somethin’ of value inside that cabin.”
     “We’ll catch a few hours rest and in the mornin’ we’ll have us another talk with the youngster” replied Jim with a sneer.
     Whitey snickered in response.  Then they threw their bedrolls on the ground and settled in for the night.

1 comment:

  1. Gonna read this book for sure. I like the idea of your writing a western and for older kids. Looking forward to getting "The Bounty Hunter: The Beginning".