34 comments

Western

By the time I stepped outside, the leaves were on fire. Life in Texas has changed me from the woman I once was. Clearing brush involves eliminating leaves, so Mike burns them late every spring, when seasonal rain means the fire won't spread. This year he's off chasing someone on ranger business, so our nine-years-old son, Cecil, must take the part of a man.

"You're doing wonderfully, Cece." He grins at the complement. With school out for the summer, we are both at loose ends, though I am still weeping for a daughter, little Gloria, who died in February from chickenpox. Gloria's hair was the same orange-yellow color of the fire lapping at the leaves. Just three and the Lord took her from me. In ten years of marriage, I have borne five children and now lost two. I do not know if I can bear another. My greatest wish is to safeguard my remaining offspring.

We busy ourselves feeding piles of dead brush into the carefully positioned blaze. Tumbleweeds, pine needles, and oak leaves fill our arms as we carry them from heaps to their doom. The pine lends a sweet tang to the otherwise ghastly smoke. I shudder at the thought of wildfire. Just last week, a homestead burned down in the next county and three children died with their parents. Mike believes it arson and is investigating. I remain here, with fear etching into my bones. Acquaintances back east would laugh. They have municipal fire departments with modern pump tanks to ensure flames do not spread ruinously. I might point to the example of Chicago just fifteen years ago, but they would wave that off as irrelevant to them.

We are well started when Felicia, nearly eight, comes out to announce lunch is ready. Already sweating heavily, Cece and I are both ready for a respite. She's standing on the porch when a man rides up. Nothing remarkable about him save his fine horse; a bay gelding whose gait and build promise plenty of bottom. His garb is rumpled and just going to threadbare. He sports a week's growth of beard, and his sombrero once had a ring of tassels but only a handful remain. If not for the fine steed, he would seem another saddle tramp; a lonely man looking for work. Even the pistol at his side could be called standard, for rattlers are common and even I carry a lady's gun with snake-shot as a defense against them. More proof I am not the woman I once was, despite still fitting into the dresses I brought with me.

"If you are seeking permanent work, you must wait until the foreman speaks with you."

"No, ma'am. Just passin' through."

"If you wish to lend a hand with the burning, I can easily provide supper."

"I got a burnin' and I reckon you kin help me with 'er."

His crudity does not pass unnoticed, but I would spare Cece the pain of seeing what this ruffian is certain to attempt. Cecil has other plans. "My paw's Mike Carson. You git on or he'll come after you like hounds on coon trail."

"You are well advised. My son speaks truly." He looks set to pull his pistol. I will not watch my children slain. "Would you care for some picnic? Let me get my change-purse and we can take something for a private luncheon. Perhaps even pack a dessert."

A just one, were I to have the choice. I turn before he can react. Felicia runs inside, ready to slam the door the moment I am beside her. I hear him grumble, then shout, but I am inside and Felicia shuts the door. We throw a heavy bar across it, preventing him entering, though the windows are all open. Texas is beastly hot, even in May. "Felicia, get your little brother and go out the back way."

In a sane part of the world, I would have constables ready to stop this man. Instead, I must try to do it myself. The man yells, "Missy, you best git out her double quick lest I burn that nice house down arount your ears."

Hazarding a glance outside, Cecil is already gone. His father taught him to move like a Comanche, so this intruder can no longer threaten him. There remains a single option, one so foreign to my upbringing none would give it credence who knew me before; the gun case. Not a shotgun, the kick might spoil my aim and the spread is not enough for wildly inaccurate shooting. The best choice, a reliable Winchester. Fifteen rounds, hastily loaded while crouched behind the divan. Fifteen chances to kill or maim. Fifteen bullets to protect my little dears.

Smoke assails my nostrils. The cad did it. He set fire to our lovely home. The Winchester leads my march to the front door. Sliding the bar while keeping one hand on the gun. What would Melisande think, were we to gossip about my activities today? Loose brush is strewn along the porch. More fool this man. We wet it thoroughly from the pump ere we begin burning. It smolders, but does not ignite. The man has another load of leaves, ready to dump it on the existing flame.

"Drop that load and raise your hands."

"Yer yellah. You'd never fire." The way he says fire brings images to mind. Images of a badly burned couple. The Winchester barks, but the round passes by him without striking. A moment later, Cecil lashes out with a stone from his slingshot. It strikes the brute squarely in his back. I lever in another round and prepare to shoot again, with him caught in a crossfire between me and Cecil. I cannot allow him to bring that pistol to bear on my son.

Firing another round at him, produces a second miss. He drops his load of brush to whip out his revolver. It snags on the holster just as Cecil strikes him with another stone. He manages to fire it into his own leg. Blood spurts and he falls to the ground, his pistol now ignored. His haste repaid to his loss- Mike has often regaled me with how patience works best in a gunfight. I lever one more round into my rifle, then advance to within ten feet. "I may be a poor shot, but I've a dozen more rounds. Do you think all shall fail to find a mark?"

"Nolan Jefferson, put your hands up." Mike has returned early. No doubt remains who shall emerge victorious, for Mike holds a coachgun ready for use. The short barrel assures a big spread, at this range it means a pattern the size of a dinner plate. With that attended, I lift the hem of my skirt, a scandalous action, then proceed to kick the debris off my porch. Work boots. No northern lady wears them. However, when planning to burn rubbish, no other choice can be made.

A pair of Mike's deputies take the man away. Mike, always a gentleman says, "You done enough holdin' that feller 'til I got here. I'll git this done. You feed the young'uns supper."

"Who was that man?"

"Feller name of Nolan Jefferson. Burned down the McMurty homestead over in San Saba county. I chased him all the way back here." Mike clears the porch with easy efficiency, while young Cecil rushes to aid his personal hero. "An arsonist. Doc says mebbe he got a hankering to set fires."

I decide to get in the last word. "One might call it a burning desire."

October 14, 2020 10:28

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34 comments

A.G. Scott
16:56 Oct 14, 2020

I see Mike's working from home as well! A fun ride. You clearly have a firm grip on this genre, and I was immersed the whole way through. 'This year he's off chasing someone, ranger business, so our son, Cecil, just nine years old, must take the part of a man.' - feels like too many commas to me This year he's off chasing someone--ranger business-- so our son Cecil, just nine years old, must take the part of a man. 'pack a desert' - dessert

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Charles Stucker
17:09 Oct 14, 2020

Thanks for those points. I'll rewrite that entire sentence.

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Howard H
11:07 Oct 18, 2020

I thoroughly enjoyed your story, Charles. There was a terrific sense of place and an intensity that gripped me from start to finish. In terms of pacing, I thought the timing was a bit odd. The escalation of events seemed rushed in my estimation. The intimidating presence of the stranger through to the threat of violence happened very quickly. However, I loved the son’s brave attempts to protect the household. Great stuff. I look forward to reading your future work.

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Charles Stucker
16:57 Oct 18, 2020

the culprit knew he had to work fast. Mike was trailing him all morning. He thought his better horse would let him grab some quick cash and supplies, then get out. He had no time for pleasantries. He just got distracted trying to light a fire (I thought of "Come on baby light my fire" as a title, but it was tooooo cheesy). Then got caught by his own rush to draw- something which did get recorded in the West, though less frequently than happens in fiction.

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04:04 Oct 16, 2020

Ba dum tsss. Not a dull moment. I do love me some of that dialect. Nice one 👍🏼

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21:18 Oct 16, 2020

I loved this, it's very different from your other works.

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Vameerah Darren
13:50 Oct 16, 2020

I loved this story, and I took your pointers on my story, I changed some things if you'd like to re-read it, I would greatly appreciate it :)

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L.A. Nolan
05:16 Oct 16, 2020

Each week I see a new side of you. I get the firm impression that you are using Reedsy to push your boundaries. I really enjoyed this, normally it takes me a while to settle into a 'period piece' but you got me there quickly. Burning Desire is filled with shrap prose and crisp dialogue, what I have come to expect when reading your work.

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18:28 Oct 15, 2020

Great story Charles! One of the best I’ve read. Good luck! Robert

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Shea West
07:10 Oct 15, 2020

The last line gave me good chuckle. Like someone threw my mind of smartass sense of humor back to the Wild West!

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Molly Leasure
06:22 Oct 15, 2020

You did a great job with this story, I was right there in the action--under fire. The strength of the main character is awesome, she's not one to be trifled with! You did well to produce the southern drawl, because now I find myself talking in it. I noticed a line: "Sliding the bar while keeping on hand on the gun." It's just the word "one." I've also been debating the comma in the line after, "What would Melisande think, were we to gossip about my activities today?" I'm not sure you need it? It's just a thought, haha! It makes it read s...

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B. W.
17:11 Oct 14, 2020

Oh good, i really enjoyed this story ^^ Out of all of this weeks prompts i think the fire leaf prompt is the best one so far, and you did a great job with it and it's kind of interesting. I also really liked the names you have for the characters like Cecil and really just everything about this story and your other ones. Though there are some of the small errors that the other one said in the comments so i guess i'd have to agree with those and i hope that you go and fix them. I'm gonna go ahead and give this story a 10/10 :)

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17:09 Oct 14, 2020

Pretty good. :) I liked the story (good description and flow throughout), though it did feel a bit deus ex machina right there at the end due to Mike's returning--not truly, as Cecil and his mother had it handled, but enough that it messed up the climax a bit for me. I don't know if you handled the climax like that just for the clever ending line, but to me it doesn't feel worth it.

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Charles Stucker
17:19 Oct 14, 2020

I changed it to show Mike had been chasing the guy a little better. He's the arsonist mentioned at the start. I had to have someone else or it would have required either Cecil or Elizabeth to kill him. But, I previously published a pair of stories set a few years later (Cecil is fifteen) in which it is clear neither Cecil nor Elizabeth has ever killed a person. I could have allowed someone else to show up, but since I put Chekov's gun in the opening (Mike is chasing an arsonist) I felt compelled to resolve it at the close.

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17:25 Oct 14, 2020

Ok, gotcha--you're fitting this into the previously established world. :) I can think of a way or two to resolve it without death, but none are super plausible. (Cecil knocks Nolan out with his slingshot. Elizabeth's gun jams, he rushes her, she ends up knocking him out.) And all the scenarios end with either Cecil or Elizabeth knocking Nolan out. 😂

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Charles Stucker
19:31 Oct 16, 2020

I managed to fix it- without being too heavy handed. I think.

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20:01 Oct 16, 2020

Yeah, it's definitely better. Mike still kinda appears out of nowhere, but it's less deus ex machina.

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Regina Perry
03:16 Oct 20, 2020

Hey, that's Mike Carson! I know that 'feller'! It was cool to recognise an old friend. I love when authors have overlapping characters. I noticed that everyone speaks in dialect except for the narrator. It gives this piece a distinct feel, making it easy to believe that she really came from and maybe even misses the north-west, where she used to live. The last line cracked me up. I know it's a too late for editing on Reedsy, but I get the feeling you still want these corrections: "I remain here, with fear etching into my bones." This...

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Charles Stucker
05:45 Oct 20, 2020

Thanks. Those can go into the main document and make it better if I ever do a Mike Carson anthology (I have just about enough from various shorts)

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B. W.
22:55 Oct 18, 2020

Heya Charles i made a new story a while ago ^^ "A strange place"

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Dalyane Deblois
13:45 Oct 17, 2020

First, I love how you used the title at the end of the story, fits perfectly! The story is great, the words flow beautifully, and the sentences are well written. The action keeps going at a steady speed. The fact that the family is close together is very touching! Great work, I enjoyed reading your story!

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Kendi Karimi
07:12 May 05, 2021

I love the plot and your characters really stand out. The narration is well done and my attention was fixed on the screen from the first line to the last. Truly enjoyed this masterpiece. 🤗🤗🤗

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B. W.
22:13 Oct 25, 2020

Hey, could you maybe help me with a couple of things?

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Charles Stucker
22:19 Oct 25, 2020

What do you need?

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B. W.
22:22 Oct 25, 2020

I need some more help with the whole romance thing, kinda like how ya were helping me with the Harlow and Willow thing but it's something different, ya remember my demi-god novel right?

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Charles Stucker
22:48 Oct 25, 2020

Yes. The one where the demigods are hated by both mortal and god, right?

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B. W.
22:53 Oct 25, 2020

Yeah, your correct about that ^^ Well I was kind of needing some more help on how i'd get Mika and Harmony or Ryder and Arren together, I still ain't entirely sure if one couple should get together or both should get together.

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Charles Stucker
23:14 Oct 25, 2020

That part is entirely up to you. If you want one book, have them both get together, but the romantic tension will be halved or one tale will be ignored while the other proceeds. If you want two books, just pick a pairing to explore in the first one.

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B. W.
00:37 Oct 25, 2020

"ghostly fun times" is another that i just made

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B. W.
00:49 Oct 22, 2020

I made two new stories a bit ago ^^ "Freya" and "The crossover: the final countdown"

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☆ Adrienne ☆
22:56 Oct 19, 2020

Love the way Mike speaks. Well done! I felt the pace of the story to be slightly too fast for my personal taste, but I understand that the characters had to work fast. All in all, this was a well-written piece. Love it! P.S. Mind reviewing my latest? Thanks!

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