Rock Falls

Submitted into Contest #204 in response to: Set your story in a desert town.... view prompt


Romance Western Fiction

This story contains sensitive content

*Contains mild sexual implications and mild violence.

I always try to avoid the nauseating smells and obnoxious clamor of the desert town; places long forgotten by fresh air, leaving behind the essence of tens to hundreds of sweat covered people and the deification of their animals in the streets. That dry heat on those dusty streets allowing the breeze to kick up dirt and sand into your eyes and nose, turning your throat to pumice with only hot, stagnant water to give you any relief. No wonder everyone is three sheets into the wind when I pass through. If water won’t relieve it, whisky will numb it.

This particular town, Rock Falls, doesn’t seem to be any different, but it’s not without its charms. It’s a one-street town with a white steepled church at one end and a little red schoolhouse at the other. Lining the street are the mercantile store, a feedstore, a doctor’s office, a barber’s shop, a mortuary, a bank, and of course there’s an inn with a saloon. Every building is colorfully painted to match the personalities of the people on the street. Everybody seems to have an upbeat, perky spring to their step, like they’ve never witnessed a day of hardship in their lives.

I tie my horse off outside the local watering hole and head inside where the barkeep greets me with a nod as he dries a mug. “Whisky,” I say, and he stops what he’s doing to wait on me. “My name is Henry Murdoch, have you seen this man,” I ask him, unrolling an old wanted poster with a man’s picture on it. “His name is Lance Barnes, goes by Lucky, Lucky Lance Barnes.”

The barkeep shakes his head, “He doesn’t look familiar. The name doesn’t ring any bells either.”

“How about this young lady,” I ask, pulling a photo out of my duster.

“Why that’s Miss Sally. She’s one of our working girls. What do you want her for,” the barkeep inquires.

“Her daddy is a mayor back east. She was taken. He wants her back. Do you know where she’s at?”

“Hey, Birdy, where do you reckon Miss Sally gone off to?”

A red-headed woman all dressed in red and black frill and lace who was fanning herself at the window hollers back. “Who wants to know?”

“This gentleman here was sent by her daddy to bring her home,” the barkeep tells her.

“I’ll tell you what, mister, you come back tonight, and she’ll be working. You can talk to her then.”

“Ma’am, if you’d be so kind just to take a look at this poster and let me know if she is with this man here, I’d be much obliged,” I ask her.

Miss Birdy looks at the wanted poster and laughs. “No, she’s not with him. I shot that boy in the ass the first day they came into town. He was dragging her around like a ragdoll, slapping her around like a dog that just ate the chickens. No, I gave her work and Sheriff Bixby escorted him out of town. Now look, mister, I don’t know what that girl wants, but if she doesn’t want to leave here, she’s not leaving. But you can come back tonight and talk to her. She’ll be working.”

I tip my hat to the lady and exit the saloon. It’s midday with the high heat beating down on me, the light so bright I can’t see where I’m going; I just remember that the sheriff’s office is across the street. My eyes adjust to find Sheriff Bixby leaning against the door frame.

“Hot one today, isn’t it son,” he says, his thick grey mustache bouncing as he talks.

“It is that, Sheriff. If you got a moment, I have a wanted poster here I’d like you to look at,” I say as I unroll it and angle it for him to see. “His names Lance Barnes, kidnapper from Missouri. I was hired to bring this man in for justice. Miss Birdy said you escorted him out of town?”

“Yep, I remember him. Took him up north to Miller’s Pass and watched him head off northwest about two days ago. I doubt a fancy boy like that made it very far. Might be up around Yucatan.”

“Thanks, Sheriff. And how about this girl? Have you seen her around today,” I ask showing him the photo of Sally.

“Yep, but what do you want with her? Miss Sally is a fine young lady, a bit of a free spirit, but a good girl at heart.”

“She’s the one who has been kidnapped. Her father is paying me to bring her back home… if she wants to go, if Miss Birdy has anything to say about it.”

“She headed on down to old Birch Creek to do her laundry. I guess there’s no harm in taking you on out there if you’re just going to talk to the girl. Let me notify my deputy that I’m leaving for a spell,” he says, spitting a long stream of brown liquid as he turns to head inside.

I untie my horse and Miss Birdy steps out front looking annoyed. I tip my hat and mount my horse as the sheriff rides up next to me. We head towards the church, dust easily flying up behind us, and turn towards a rock outcropping in the distance. It doesn’t take long before the dry dirt and sand give way to some fertile soil and shade trees lining the creek. Down off that rock cropping comes a steady flow of crystal-clear water into a pool below before wandering its way down southwest. It is such a breathtaking oasis in the middle of a barren land that I almost didn’t see a more exquisite site before me. There, sunning herself on a rock, was Miss Sally Hartfield in all her bare skin glory.

“Did you boys come to give a girl a ride home,” she asks playfully, rolling over to make eye contact with us.

The photo doesn’t do this girl justice, or maybe it was all the clothes, either way she is majestic beyond anything I have ever seen. She’s petite with an hourglass figure that is firm but voluptuous in all the right places. Bronze skin with light brown hair, highlighted by the sun, that frames a lightly freckled face with piercing ice green eyes. She knows how to work her facial expressions and body language to her advantage while her childlike voice is disarming.

“Hi Miss Sally. Not one for clothes are you,” Sheriff Bixby says, unfazed.

“Clothes are constricting, Sam,” Sally says as she gets up and approaches us, “you know that’s why I come out here, to free myself, to be one with nature and bask in its beauty,” she says as she twirls with her arms outstretched, her hair loose in the wind.

“Mr. Murdoch here says he has business with you; that your daddy sent him to take you home,” Sheriff Bixby says with immunity to her charms.

Sally walks silently and gently towards me, stopping to pet my horse. “Is that right Mr. Murdoch? Are you here to take me home,” she asks, not once looking up from my horse.

I watch Sally with the horse, the way she gently strokes its face and lightly kisses its nose; and the way the horse reacts to her, giddy in her presence. “I don’t know, miss, how do you feel about that?”

Her eyes dart up at me in surprise. Then her expression relaxes, and she smiles. “Come, Mr. Murdoch, get off this poor animal and let him rest for a spell. Join me at the water’s edge. Sam, do you mind if Mr. Murdoch and I discuss our business in private?”

“If that’s what you want, dear, and if Mr. Murdoch can find his own way back to town, I’ll take my leave.”

I find it bizarre that he is leaving a young woman with a man unattended, especially one he doesn’t know while she’s naked. Then again, he did not once demand of Sally to clothe herself. Slowly I climb off my horse, unsure what to make of this situation, and let him graze. The sheriff tips his hat and rides off.

“Now, ma’am. If you’ll excuse me, that water is calling my name. We can talk business after I cool off,” I say walking past her shedding articles of clothing all the way to the pool and hop in. The momentary silence under the water brought me a little clarity to the matter. This girl is right where she wants to be. My head breaks the surface of the water just as she leaps in next to me.

“You’re cheating,” she says to me with a giggle and a splash.

“What do you mean, I’m cheating?”

“Your undershorts, take them off. Free yourself. You’ll thank me.”

I pull them off and throw them on the shore. She swims around me as I tread water. “So, what do you think about going home,” I ask her.

“I’m already home.”

“Surely you don’t want to spend your youth selling your body and defiling it.”

Sally lets out a boisterous laugh. “It’s more like renting it, and I’m no more defiled than the men who sleep with me. Why is it okay for a man to satisfy his urgers at his own desire, but women must remain pure? And if we don’t, what makes us defiled? Do you not still find me beautiful? Men and women both agree that I am. And are you not enjoying my company; perhaps even more than that of the proper ladies you have courted back home? My body is mine and I am free to give it to whomever I please. If I choose to be compensated for the pleasure of my company, and someone is willing to pay for it, then why not take advantage of a prosperous opportunity while I am young?”

“What of husband and family? Do you not yearn for these things?”

“Dream of them I do but not at the expense of my freedom, Mr. Murdoch. I dream of a house, right over there, with a porch where I can sit and read and listen to the water. That dream I will make a realization for myself. As for husband, there are many suitors, but none who care to partake in, let alone tolerate, my whimsical ways. They love how I look but love me very little. They look to change me, suffocate me with their hideous dresses and bore me with their pretentious ways. You are the first man, even around these parts, that has asked me what I thought. Do you know how liberating it is to share your thoughts with another human being without being ridiculed and shamed?"

“I’ve never been in your shoes, Miss Sally, but I assure you I would never ridicule or shame you, or anyone, whether man or woman, for speaking their mind.”

“But you are a rare find, Mr. Murdoch. A rugged gentleman, a free spirit. I assume that is why you do what you do; to be free of the social construct that limits our behaviors to the expectations of others. I fancy you spend more nights at places like this than I can imagine.”

“You are correct and because of that I can relate to you, and I’m finding it difficult to insist upon you that you return home when it sounds to me such life is no more than captivity to you,” I say to her as she climbs out of the water onto the rock upon which I first saw her.

“I’m glad to hear that you understand my reasoning for staying, but now I feel I must persuade you to stay. Kindred spirits are terribly hard to come by, and I would hate to see one go before I get to know him proper.”

I pull myself out of the water and lounge by her side. “I agree with that sentiment, but I have a proposal for you. Instead of staying here, you come with me. You are more than capable of learning to ride and shoot. Together we can bring in our bounties and come back to this spot and build our home.”

Sally enthusiastically kisses me, pressing her naked body into mine. “I must work tonight and talk to Birdy, then yes, in the morning I shall leave with you. The sun is getting low, and my shift will be starting soon. Let’s dress and head back into town.”

Back in Rock Falls. Sally takes me as her first customer, at no charge of course, giving me two hours with her. I reentered the saloon by way of the stairs. Still feeling her on me, I cannot wipe the ridiculous look off my face.

“Murdoch!” I turn to the bar and see Mr. Hartsfield with a few of his boys. “If you weren’t galivanting with whores all the time you would have found my daughter by now. The O’Day Brothers stumbled on Barnes in Yucatan. He said he last saw her here in Rock Falls. Any luck?”

“No, sir. I was actually going to head over to Yucatan tomorrow to go after Barnes.”

“You’re giving up on finding my daughter just like that,” he says as his boys surround me. “You don’t think anybody in this horse’s asshole of a town has any idea where she went?”

Before I can answer the piano changes tunes and an angelic voice rings in my ears. I close my eyes knowing damn good and well who that is singing. I turn towards the piano and open my eyes. There, clad in garter belts and black lace, is Sally Hartfield casting her spell on a room full of men. I turn back to face Mr. Hartfield, and he nods his head towards the door. His boys grab me and drag me from the saloon as I try to fight my way free. I hear the piano stop playing and Sally yelling inside as two guys hold me and one roughs me up. I look up to see Sally being dragged from the saloon covered by her father's coat. She pleads for me, pleads for them to stop. Then I hear the hammer cock on a revolver.

“If that girl doesn’t want to leave, she’s not leaving,” I hear Miss Birdy say, but in a more threatening tone than when I first heard it.

Mr. Hartfield’s boys drop me and reach for their guns. Mr. Hartfield reaches for his too, but the sound of a dozen clicks comes from that porch just outside the saloon as every patron is determined to have their say in this matter. I stand up and Sally rushes into my arms and buries her face in my chest.

“I think it’s time you gentlemen be on your way,” Sheriff Bixby says from behind Mr. Hartfield, flanked by his deputy.

Mr. Hartfield and his boys reluctantly made their way to their horses and rode off as the town looked on, standing over us like guardian angels.

Some towns aren’t without their charms. Sally and I stayed in Rock Falls. It just so happened that I had enough saved up to build that little dream house of Sally’s with the front porch and we were married within the year. We bounty hunt often, setting out for unknown adventures, enjoying people and places wherever we go, but we always find our way back to Rock Falls, we always find our way home.

June 29, 2023 11:56

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C.F. Biemer
02:02 Jul 06, 2023

Hi Ty, I enjoyed reading your story. I think the biggest problem I had reading it was that it felt almost like wish-fulfillment. I just didn't buy that what was happening would really happy. Like I can't see a father giving up on his daughter, at the least he would come back with some kind of posse. Even if not, I found that when Sally spoke in the pool, I didn't really see anyone actually speaking that way. It was a long set of monologues. I understand that it is kind of made okay by her pointing out that no one else asks for her opinion ...


Ty Warmbrodt
03:33 Jul 06, 2023

Thanks for the feedback. I appreciate that.


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