Coming of Age Fiction Western

My hands ain’t bled since I turned five years old, and my brothers all followed my lead. Bobby’s stopped ‘round six, Colton was ‘bout seven, even Dusty’s hands was hard as a rock by the time he turned eight. But Emma’s hands didn’t callous ‘til she turned eleven. Papa says it’s because Emma’s a girl, and she’s got different obligations than us boys do, but she and I both know her being a girl’s got nothin’ to do with it. 

See, ‘round here, you don’t get a meal in front of you if you don’t work for it. Age don’t matter and sex don’t matter. All that matters is if you do your job, don’t talk back, and wash the work off you before you sit down to eat.

Since Mama died, Little Emma’s done all the housework. My brothers tease it’s her women-of-the-house duties to look after us boys, but we all know she does three times our day’s work with less rest and no help. 

When we come in from a long day, Emma’s sweepin’ up the dirt behind us. When we sit down to lunch, Emma’s back prepin’ dinner. When we go up to bed, Emma’s washin’ the dishes, scrubbin’ our jeans, and makin’ butter for the next day. In the mornin’ when we get up to start work before the sun, Emma’s already been up for an hour makin’ breakfast. She cleans our wounds when we get hurt, all while puttin’ warm food on the table, and clean clothes on our backs.

We all got our jobs too, of course. Bobby manages the wheat. He preps the fields in the spring, lays seed in the summer, harvests in the fall, and grinds flour in the winter.  Colton handles the upkeep- always paintin’ the red barn, buildin’ a stronger fence, or greasin’ a plow. He’s got some talents with the electrics and plumbin’ too, but with the farm bein’ as old as it is, there’s not much of that that needs fixin’ like in them newer places across town. And little Dusty tends to the livestock. All day he collects the eggs, mucks the horse stalls, milks the cows, and feeds the pigs. The boys like their jobs, they like knowin’ what to expect from the day. Me, I never know what to expect. I’ve been trainin’ since ‘fore I was born to take after my old man. 

See, Papa runs things around here, makes sure everything’s in workin’ order around the farm, so he’s got to know how to do it all, which means – so do I. ‘Course, getting older’s done him no favors. Can’t hardly walk out to the field to check on Bobby, let alone get on a ladder to help Colton. All his years of smokin’s got him closer to death than he outta be, but hell, even the milkin’ stool is too low for him anymore. That’s where I come in.

Bein’ first born and all, I’ve known my job since I was old enough to walk. Followed Papa around the coop, rode with him in the tractor, even tilled the land with my own little pickaxe. When Bo came around, we split up the duties – I took the barn, and he took to the fields. Then Colton came to keep up everything in between us.

Dusty and Emma were born less than a year apart. Mama had one foot in her grave, and Papa wanted to make sure he got two more workers out of the deal before his supplier went out of business, so to speak. Emma got three years with Mama, which ain’t enough time to learn to tie your shoes, let alone take over the housework, but she was thrown into work just like the rest of us, and Dusty took over the livestock. 

‘Course I helped them all to make sure the work got done, but the work was easier back then. Bobby, Colton, and Dusty was all grown enough to help where it was needed, so, I spent that time in the house with Emma. Taught her to catch and pluck a chicken, lowered the linen wires so she could reach ‘em, and thought up old recipes Mama made so she’d have a jumpin’ off point in the kitchen.

Before a full harvest passed, Emma knew our workin’ schedule, eatin’ schedule, and cleanin’ schedule. She kept us boys in line – hollerin’ to wash up before supper or screechin’ when one of us walked in the house with mud on his boots. She let Dusty know when the chickens weren’t producing and told Bobby when the flour was low. She hollered for Colton when the electrics acted up, and hollered louder when Papa lit a cigarette near the silos.

‘Round eight she took up sewing. Told Papa it was shameful spendin’ a hard day’s work on new shirts or a trip to the doctor anytime we got a tear in our sleeves, so she taught herself to thread a needle and patch up our clothes and cuts. Nothin’ too fancy, just enough sewin’ to close it up so we could get back to work.

She learned a couple more tricks along the way – gluing skin to stop the bleedin’, spreadin’ mustard on a burn, ice on a snake bite, or alcohol on a fever. Just caught on to what worked for us over the years, and between our hard work and harder play, she had a lot of testin’ to catch on with.

That’s why I find myself inside with her now.

Papa’s had us out back workin’ on the main silo all mornin’. Found damn thing’s got a leak somewhere when it failed Colton’s pressure test yesterday, so us boys been climbin’ around with soapy water lookin’ for the hole leakin’ air into the chamber. Wasn’t ‘til I was on the inside, slicin’ my finger on a rusty nail, that we found the source of the leak. Papa sent me inside for Emma to check it, and the rest of the boys left to finish their usual mornin’ chores.

Like I said, my hands ain’t bled since I was ‘bout five years old, they’ve been callused so long, I’m not sure what skin’s left. So, a scratch from a little nail’s nothin’. Usually, I wouldn’t even bother with washin’ it out ‘cause I ain’t got nothin’ to wash, but it’s the rust that’s got Emma worried, so, while she preps the alcohol to clean out my flesh wound, I sneak a handful of fresh cookies from the counter and pop one into my mouth.

“Asher! You better let me wash that hand off before you get blood all over the cookies.”

“Come on, Em, you know I ain’t bleedin’, and a little dust never hurt nobody.”

She arranges her medical kit, a basin of water, and a washrag ‘round the counter.

“Maybe not for you boys out there breathin’ it in all day, but I’ve got the burner on in here, and you know as good as me, one big gust of wind’ll have you up in flames before you can get a second cookie. Now sit.”

“Yes ma’am.”

I shovel another cookie into my mouth, and she smacks the back of my head with the washrag and shoves me in a kitchen chair to wash off in the basin. I dunk my hands into the clear water, dirtying it so bad I have to lift them back out to see if they’re clean.

Emma walks back over and swaps my dirty basin for a clean rag. Once dry, she wipes the scrape with alcohol, and glues my skin back together, suggesting we take another look after supper.

“Thanks, Em.” I kiss her temple, sneaking another cookie off the counter behind her back, and race outside before she notices it’s missin’.

“You ain’t sneaky, Ash, that’s your last one for the day.” She hollers out the door. “And don’t let me catch you sneakin’ one before bed!”

But just as I turn around to rebuttal, a loud BANG knocks me to ground.

When I come to, Emma’s flippin’ me over and yellin’ something I can’t make out. 


Still nothing. My ears are ringin’ too bad to understand what she’s askin’, so she starts pointin’ towards the barn.

When she helps me to my feet, I turn back to find the once towering silver silo, up in flames. 

I rub my ears to catch her sobs over the uproar in the barn- chickens screechin’, horses neighin’, cows wailin’, and someone screamin’.

Emma runs off towards the screams, and I can’t get my feet under me fast enough to keep up with her.

“Emma! Get back!”

I barely make out the words when, BANG! Another silo, then BANG! Another. 

The rooftops of each silo blows off with new explosions. One lands so close to Emma she topples over, and I have to move it out of the way to check if she’s okay.

“Go back to the house.” I pull her up and push her away from the barn.

“But Papa!”

“I need you safe so you can help them. They’re gonna have a lotta burns, and you gotta be the one to treat ‘em. Get inside and gather anything you can.”

She darts back to the house as I pull my shirt up over my nose and inch closer to the flames and smoke.

I hear Colton’s screams before I see him. He’s been blown back from the blast but doesn’t seem to be hurt, just in shock.

“Where are the others?”

“I don’t know – I – I came lookin’ for them when I heard the first silo blast.”

“Were they still there when it blew?”

“I don’t know – we were just headed back to work when-”

“Get back in the house, I’ll find Bo and Dusty.”

I push farther into the smoke, hollering for my brothers, but all I hear are their cries.

“In here.” I finally hear through muffled coughs and wheezes.

Dusty’s releasin’ chickens from their coop while Bobby searches for somethin’ on the ground, both of them doubled over and coughin’ from the smoke.

“Get up, let’s go. We don’t have time for this.” I scream over the fire and rushing animals. “You gotta get outta here!”

“I can’t leave ‘em!” Dusty hollers back. He opens another stall, and the horses race quickly out of the fog.

“Forget them, get Bo, and get outta here!”

Dusty swoops under Bobby’s arm and together they hobble back towards the house. 

“Papa!” I scream as loud as my throat will let me.

I suck in dark clouds of smoke, and shout again, “Papa! Where are you?”

I cough so forcefully I can taste the blood and ash in my throat. 

I hear another cough in the distance and push my way closer.

“Let’s go!”

He shakes his head and lets out another long cough.

“I can’t!” He points to his legs, which I now see are crushed beneath a long slab of concrete. 

I push as hard as I can, coughin’ up blood and diggin’ my feet into the clay below me. When his legs release, they are covered in tears, burns and blood.

I lift him over my shoulder and he lets out a long scream, but I ignore it and push back toward the house.

The flames are up higher now by the first silo, and the other two grow stronger by the minute. As the grain spills out into the field, the wind blows the dusty flames, catching the wheat and setting the stalks ablaze. I keep pushing on, walkin’ and coughin’ til my chest aches and my lungs are covered in soot.

The smoke thins the closer I get to the house, and in the distance, I hear Emma screamin’ out for us.

“We’re here.”

Colton runs out and takes Papa’s weight, and it’s all I can do to crawl back to our front porch. Emma jumps right into action, rippin’ off dad’s jeans and cleanin’ the burns. Dusty and Bo cough red spots into white rags, blowing thick masses of mud from their noses.

“Get that ointment!” Emma barks at Colton, who stares at the fire in a daze.

I pull myself up to see the smoke blowin’ over the fields now, animals runnin’ off the land, and the red barn painted in orange flame and smoke.

Bobby shrieks out the window, finally seein’ what the explosion has done to months of preparation and work. Dusty’s cryin’ in the kitchen, knowin’ he couldn’t save all his beloved creatures. Poor Emma’s sobbin’ over Papa, knowin’ there’s not much more she can do, and Colton’s in shock. Sure, we been through hard times, but nothin’ like this.  

The fields of our profit are burnt. The livestock and our livelihoods went up in flames. All we got left is the house and each other, and if we don’t get moving outta here soon, the fire might take that down too. 

I feel a pinch of pain in my right hand and look down. There, swirled between burns, ash, and wounds, is blood. I can’t tell if it’s my blood or Papa’s. All’s I know is… My hands ain’t bled since I turned five years old, that is, until today. 

June 24, 2022 22:46

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Mike Murphy
11:48 Aug 09, 2022

This story leaves the reader craving more Awesome job Writer


Hilary R. Glick
18:04 Aug 09, 2022

Thank you so much!! Leaves me craving to write more on the subject!


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Carolyn Brown
04:57 Jun 29, 2022

Such a tragedy... You have a style that is easy to read and captured my attention all the way through. I didn't even realize how many hints there were about what was going to happen. The characters were all likable because they worked so hard for each other's sake. It was a nice moment when Emma tender Asher's small wound and I'd been so fascinated by the descriptions of the work that had to be done every day that the silo blowing was as much a surprise to me as to your characters. Poor Emma- It was she who was in charge of yelling at h...


Hilary R. Glick
19:39 Jun 29, 2022

Wow! Thank you so much! I am glad you picked up on some of the foreshadowing and character hints, I was worried they might be too subtle! HAHA! It's fun to see where our imagination can take us with the right prompt.


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05:39 Jun 27, 2022

I loved your vivid descriptions of the family members, especially Emma. Maybe I'd know this if I knew more about farms, but what's in silos that makes them explosive? I enjoyed the story!


Hilary R. Glick
00:07 Jun 29, 2022

Hi! Thank you so much! The silos are extremely combustible because of the flammable grain dust, when combined with air and flames it can explode!


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Mike Murphy
11:48 Aug 09, 2022

This story leaves the reader craving more Awesome job Writer


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