The Good in the Badlands

Submitted into Contest #158 in response to: Write a story where the law plays an important role.... view prompt


Western Suspense Thriller

This story contains sensitive content

**This story contains violence and briefly speaks of suicide**

The fire glowed from the windows of the weathered wooden shack that nestled in the center of Breakers Canyon, only feet from the Missouri river that carved its way through Deep Valley, Montana. 

The rock face rose up on either side of the valley, speckled with shrubs and trees that thrived in the dusty dryness. Black tailed Prairie dogs scurried to their burrows as the moonlight caressed the nooks and crannies of the Montana badlands. 

The Henry Ranch homestead was a three bedroom shack, it was framed by two large horse rails that at this point, only held three steeds. When John Henry was alive it held the most horses in all of Montana. John was the best horse breaker in Deep Valley and his wife Mary could cook up a meal for twenty men. But all of that was different now. 

Colt Henry returned from the war last winter when he learned his father John was sick with cancer. He watched as his strong father was reduced to a small and fragile man. Colt was twenty when his father passed. His mother withered quickly after her husband died, they say she waded into the water one night after drinking a bottle of John’s whiskey, she was found a week later five miles down river, still clutching the bottle.

Colt continued breaking horses and running his father’s business to make ends meet. Colt was short for a horse breaker although “tough as coffin nail” his father would say, he was far from intimidating. Colt managed to keep a few of his fathers clients, including the Trinket boys, Colts war buddy Doc Smith and the Deep Valley town Sheriff.

It was a cold night, Colt Henry added another log of wood and stoked the fire. The fresh baked bread cooled on the counter for tomorrow's breakfast. Colt rocked in his fathers rocking chair, sipping at his whiskey.

“Colt Henry” a voice called out.

Colt stopped rocking.

“Wake up Colt, come out here”

Colt stood up and looked out the window. Sat on two horses were the Trinket boys, Neville and Stanley Trinket. Stanley had a shotgun shouldered pointed to the sky and Neville had his right hand resting on his revolver.

“I can see your face looking through that window boy, come out here.”

He was looking right at Colt.

“You best have my horse broken in, or I’m getting Stanley to break you in,” 

Stanley chuckled.

Colt opened the door.

Neville stepped off his horse and sauntered his way closer to the porch of the homestead. 

“That's far enough Neville, you don’t need to come any closer, I can hear you just fine from where you’re at.”

“Pretty rude to a client, a client who’s here to do you a favor.”

“You don’t need to do me any favors, just pay me what you owe, and be on your way,” Colt straightened up, trying to look a bit bigger in the door frame.

“Colt, I respected your father, best damn horse breaker in all of Montana” Neville smirked.

“But before your father died he disrespected me, you see he did me a favor, he broke in a few of my steeds and when I came to collect your father refused to give me back my horses.”

Colt glared under the brim of Neville's hat, straight into his eyes.

“Neville, it was no favor, my father broke those horses for you and he expected to be paid, you just showed up one night, uninvited, the same as you’re doing now and when you didn’t have the money he didn’t give you your steeds. The way I see it you owed my father fifty dollars and now he’s dead, you owe me.”

Stanley lowered the shotgun with one hand, pointing it towards Colt, “Watch your tongue, boy.”

Colt was watching Stanley’s trigger finger, but it never left the horse's lead.

“Fair enough Colt, that’s how you see it, well I guess I’m here to pay my debt by doing you a favor.” Neville removed his Cowboy hat. “I’m going to take those horses tonight and I won’t kill you.” Stanley chuckled.

“How’s that for a payment, Colt?”

Colt stepped out from the doorway to the edge of the porch, the glow of the lantern painted across his face. Neville and Stanley could see him clearly now.

Neville sucked his teeth for a second. “See Colt I was worried this would happen, you would act all noble and stand up for yourself like your father, yet we both know you’re nothing like your father. You deserted your battalion in the war and you couldn’t even fend for your mother and she knew it, that’s why she went and killed herself.”

Stanley chuckled again.

“The way I see it is there’s two of us and one of you, and boy, you’re the one with the gun pointed at ya.” 

Colt glanced over at Stanley, Stanley was off his horse and had both hands on the shotgun now and was pointing it directly at Colt. Colt stepped back out of the lantern's glow.

“See Stanley I told you, this boy doesn’t have the courage of old John Henry, he’s got the courage of his dead mother.”

The Trinket brothers both laughed.

Colt kept his eyes glued on Stanley.

Neville walked over to the horse rail and opened the latch, tied both steeds to his horse, mounted it and turned back to look at Colt.

Stanley had stepped up on the porch and was holding the shotgun to Colts back. 

“Never disrespect me again, boy.” Neville said.

With a “clunk” Stanley hit Colt on the back of the head, knocking him off the porch onto his face. His body lay there lifeless.

The horse rail gate swung open and jolted the rope tight around Colt’s wrist. The sun was up now, Colt opened his eyes, squinting through the sweat and blood that had run into the creases of his eyelids. Colt’s shoulders and arms burned from being tied to the horse gate ,like Jesus on the cross. The wind kicked up, swinging the gate back and forth like a rocking boat, slamming hard every time it settled. The ropes around Colt’s wrist would tighten with every wind gust, but the ropes around his ankles would loosen. Colt kicked his feet like he would do when he was kicking off his cowboy boots, loosening the rope around his ankles just enough to kick his left foot free. The wind blew hard again, blowing dust and dirt into his eyes adding to the searing pain of the sweat and blood. The gate swung harder this time, screeching at the joints and slamming to a stop on the dirt. The jolt tore Colt’s left wrist free but dislocated his shoulder in the process. Colt wreathed in pain, slumping to the left as his entire body weight hung from the gate by his right wrist and ankle. Colt didn’t move for a minute, his left foot resting by the toes on the ground. He swung the dislocated arm around the horse gate bar tucking the bar into his armpit, with the little strength he had left he gripped the bar below and waited. The wind kicked up again and the gate swung hard, coming to a stop on the dirt, popping Colt’s shoulder back into place with a "crunch”, causing him to black out. Colt blinked his eyes open again, he kicked his right foot free of the rope and was able to stand now, wincing from the pain in his left shoulder Colt untied his right wrist, freeing himself and falling to his knees. Colt crawled to the water trough and splashed the blood and sweat from his eyes, he used his sleeve to dry his face. He ripped off a strip of his shirt and wrapped it around his head, stumbled inside and took a shot of whiskey, but it didn’t help. Stanley and Neville were gone, and so were the horses. It was a long walk to town, to the Sheriff's office, Colt would rest, then make his way later in the day.

Deep Valley was a small town in Montana that sat on the south side of the Missouri River that snaked its way through the Badlands. The walk was 3 miles from Breakers Canyon up the steep slope of the valley, a hell of a walk in his condition. Sheriff Hand was standing on his office porch with his morning coffee as Colt stumbled up. 

“Morning Colt, one of those steeds got ya good, eh boy?”

Colt shook his head. “It was the damn Trinket brothers, they came down and stole the horses.”

Colt had a bag slung over his shoulder and the bandage wrapped around his head was dripping with blood.

“Come inside Colt, careful how loud you curse the Trinket boys.”

Colt leaned against the porch post, “I don’t care who hears me, I’m here to report those boys for horse theft.”

The Sheriff turned around and walked through the office door, Colt followed.

“Close the door and sit down,” the Sheriff said sternly.

“Boy, your father was a strong, intimidating man who could break a person as easily as he could break a horse. But you, well there ain’t no easy way to say it, you’re like your mother, small, weak and sure as hell not intimidating. Those Trinket boys are a handful but they pay good money for their “pleasures” in this town.

The Sheriff took off his hat.

“I feel bad about your mother and father Colt, I do, they were good people, and bad things happen to good people. If your father was alive he wouldn’t have let this happen, but since he isn’t the Trinket boys took advantage, consider this a lesson.”

Sheriff Hand put his hat back on.

“So, I won’t be charging those boys with a crime, we need them more than we need your breaking business, and frankly, those horses were theirs so ain’t no crime, you can’t steal your own horse.”

Colt didn’t bring his head up, he was looking at his bloody hands.

“Now unless there is something else, boy, I have to get ready for my Sheriff candidate speech.”

Colt brought his eyes up to meet the Sheriffs, “ You’re right, I’m not my father, but what those boys did was wrong, Sheriff. Listen, I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I just want you to do your job, do what this town pays you to do, uphold the law, or you’re not worthy of that badge that’s pinned to your chest.”

Sheriff Hand leaned forward in his chair glaring at Colt, “Don’t write cheques you can’t cash boy, you’re not your father.”

Colt looked down at his hands.

 “It’s time for you to slink away Colt Henry and pretend like you never came here, I sure as hell don’t like being threatened, but I’ll chalk that up to the lump on the back of your head. Now leave my office.”

Colt leaned on the chair as he stood, being sure to mind his revolver and picked up his bag.

The Sheriff smirked, “Git boy, before you get broke.”

Colt turned and walked out the office door. 

Doc Smith was sitting at his desk when Colt walked in. 

“Jesus Colt, what the hell happened to you?”

Colt dropped his bag and slumped down in the closest chair. “Doc, those Trinket boys stole from me and left me for dead, tied me to my horse rail.”

“You go to the Sheriff?” Doc asked, as he was collecting his medical supplies.

“He said sometimes bad things happen to good people, and I should take what they did as a lesson.”

Doc Smith grabbed the bottle of whiskey underneath the counter, he walked over to Colt with a handful of bandages, the whiskey bottle and a stitching needle.

“Colt, remember what your mother said to me about the war before we left?”

Doc dipped the needle into the bottle of whiskey, then passed it to Colt.

“Sometimes good people need to make bad things happen to bad people, and Colt, those Trinket boys are bad people.”

It only took ten minutes for Doc to stitch up Colt. Colt went through the door, slung his bag, then patted Doc's horse Stitch on the muzzle before stepping up and swinging a foot over the saddle.

“Are you sure I can borrow Stitch?” Colt said to Doc.

Doc nodded and stood there watching Colt as he rode off. 

Colt didn’t even turn his head as he passed by the Sheriff's office, he just kept riding.

Stanley Trinket was stumbling in the dark, drunk, towards the out-house. Colt pulled a bow out of his pack and nocked an arrow, he was aiming for Stanley’s leg. He released the arrow and Stanley dropped to his knees as the arrowhead sunk into his left calf, he squealed in pain, Colt could see urine was saturating Stanley's pants. Three men ran out of the house towards the sound of Stanley’s squeals. They stood around, straining to see in the dark with their pistols held out at the hip, blinded by a combination of the darkness and the whiskey. Stanley wasn’t making a sound now.

“Stanley, where ya at?” One of them called out.

Crickets chirped in the quiet.

After a few minutes the silence was broken by a horse galloping across the yard and the hiss of a rope sliding across a wooden fence as it stretched tight. One of the men pointed out a body hanging upside down from the twenty foot ranch sign, the body wasn’t making a sound, just swinging back and forth from its feet. A horse was tied to the other end, standing on its hind legs, pulling and neighing, trying to free itself, the body kept bouncing up and down like a child's yoyo. 

“Stanley is that you?” A gang member called out.

Colt drew back and sunk an arrow into one of the gang members shoulder, dropping his pistol as the strength sapped from his shooting hand. “I’m hit.” the man called out in pain as he grabbed the arrow with his left hand, slowly falling to his knees.

Colt sunk another arrow into the man closest to him, into his left hand, the shooting hand, the gun fired as it fell into the dirt. The man was so close to the horse rail that the arrow sunk into the post, his hand slid up the arrow to the fletching, the man vomited as he was pinned to the wood.

The third gang member took off in a full sprint towards the badlands, not even stopping to grab a horse. 

Colt stood still in the darkness waiting for a few minutes to pass by, watching for movement but there was nothing, except for the third gang member still running in the distance. Whether the gang members Colt had shot had passed out because of the pain or they were whimpering ,there was only silence now. Colt made his way over to Stitch.

Stitch was tied to the man hanging upside down. Colt guided Stitch to the closest fence post and cut Stitch free of Stanley, hitching the end of the rope securely, leaving Stanley suspended five feet off the ground. Stanley opened his eyes, swinging there, his face was red with the blood running from his calf to his head. 

“You’re making a big mistake, boy, it was just fifty dollars.”

Colt flicked the arrow at the fletching still sticking out of Stanley’s leg. Stanley squealed again. “It ain’t about the money, and watch your tongue boy,” Colt said.

Colt pulled out his revolver and brought it to his hip, walking up to the Trinket Ranch house. The door was open and Colt could see a fire burning in the fireplace, he could see a man’s cowboy boots resting on the table as if the man was leaning back in a chair. Colt stepped in and could see it was Neville sleeping soundly, or passed out from the empty whiskey bottles strewn about. Colt holstered his pistol, unslung his bag and pulled out the lasso.

The sun rose in the town of Deep Valley as everyone gathered on main street to vote for the Sheriff, although an election was pointless, Sheriff Hand has run unopposed for the last two terms. Doc was standing on his office porch watching as men were setting up the podium and the Sheriff shined his badge.

He turned to the East, as the movement of his horse Stitch kicking up a lot of dust galloping down Main Street caught his eye. Stitch was riderless.

Stitch galloped to about 100 feet from the crowd and stopped. Doc and a few others could see there was a man tied to the back of Stitch and one hanging over the horse with an arrow sticking out of his leg. Both men were gagged and tied tight at the wrists and ankles.

Another horse came into view behind Stitch and this one had a rider.

Colt rode up through the crowd, he was riding Neville Trinket's horse. Doc smiled.

Colt stepped down from Neville’s horse and guided Stitch to the porch of the Sheriff's office. He took Stanley off of Stitch first and carried him over, dropping him on the porch with a “thud,” then he took Neville. 

He turned to Sheriff Hand and said, “Sometimes good people need to make bad things happen to bad people.”

August 08, 2022 20:11

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Aeris Walker
15:23 Aug 14, 2022

Very fitting title! I enjoyed your story, especially the setting descriptions. I could so vividly picture of this beautiful mountain town in my mind. Great character growth for Colt— sometimes it takes learning something the hard way to overcome the fear and step out of your comfort zone. The whole tone of the story was perfectly western, and the dialogue was great. These were a couple of my favorite lines: “The wind kicked up, swinging the gate back and forth like a rocking boat, slamming hard every time it settled.” —great imagery “Sh...


W.E. White
17:01 Aug 14, 2022

Thank you for the amazing compliments, I am venturing out of my own comfort zone writing and posting my stories. I really appreciate the constructive criticism, that’s one of the main reasons I’ve chosen to start this adventure, it’s a lifelong goal to be a writer and any advice that can help me do it well, is heeded and welcomed.


Aeris Walker
17:30 Aug 14, 2022

I’m glad to hear that! I’m always hesitant to give critique and crush anyone’s spirit. It truly is a step out of the comfort zone to share your stories with the world. The first one I ever submitted here was corny and laden with typos, but every bit of constructive criticism has only helped me learn what to do differently. This is a fantastic community and a great place to hone your writing skills :) look forward to more from you!


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