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 Category:  Western Fiction
  Posted: February 23, 2020      Views: 53

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I've had some interesting years on this big blue dot in the solar system. Syracuse area for the past twenty years. Twelve years in Texas. Married for twenty six years. Five children and two grandchildren.

Since winning a publishing contr - more...

He is an accomplished novelist and is currently at the #14 spot on the rankings.

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Newlywed homesteaders arrive in Nebraska territory 1862
"Spirit in the Wind" by forestport12

My husband 'Josh Taylor' and I were wed in 1862. That same year we went west as far as the rail would take us. Under the Nebraska Homestead Act, we found a prized piece of ground where you could see for miles and have no eye on a neighbor. But then winter came early.

Our dreams were simple. We wanted a child, and we wanted to turn the land over until our crops reached the heavens. But in the dead of winter, my husband got stir crazy. We'd been a playful pair, and I never thought he wanted more than my company until he came sideways at me and said he'd like to get some shots of whiskey in town and try a few hands of poker.

Despite the drifts of snow and wind that howled, he mounted our only horse for town six miles yonder into the sandhills. He promised to be back before the sun broke like yolk over the horizon. There was no talking sense into him.

With his hat tucked low, collar turned up, he gave me his parting words. "Geez, Jane, I swear you like hibernation. Give you a den and you're in for the duration."

Despite the icy-sharp wind, I stiffened at the door. "I have a child inside to think of while you behave like one." Words that haunt me to this day.

The night turned black as ink, no stars. I was left alone with the wind to whittle at my worry through a sleepless night. When daylight broke and the yolk of the sun melted across the flatland, I finally tossed myself over and drowned out the worry with sleep. I convinced myself he was in town sleeping off a bender.

Jarred awake by the sound of wagon wheels on the crust of snow, I floundered about and spied through the frosted window of the afternoon to see two men riding in with my husband's horse tethered behind.

My heart knotted. My stomach squirmed. Unlatching the door with no shawl around me, I tripped over to see a casket in the wagon. Before the men could hold me back, I lifted the pine box lid and fell back from the wagon in crippling pain and a daze of disbelief.

The pair dragged me into the cabin and set me down from the biting wind as if I should be contained.

They introduced themselves as father and son, the McCord's. The father placed a bag of money in front of me on the kitchen table and cleared his hoarse throat. "Ma'am the sheriff asked our help. When they caught the killer in a barn outside town, they recovered his winnings."

With my stomach churning, I tried to speak, but my mouth went slack.

The elder continued. "It don't pay for your loss none, Ma'am. We have the sheriff's blessing to take you to confront the man and then watch him hang."

I shook my head. My life spun out so fast from beneath me, I'd forgot to breathe, let alone talk.

Shane, the younger one spoke up. "We aim to help with your husband to...to give him a place of rest on the homestead."

I looked down at my bulging mid-drift. They nodded shyly with an understanding. "Can't. I just can't. How'd it happen?"

The father turned up his hat. "The gambler was a card shark with winning hand, but from what we know, he didn't like the way your husband looked at him, with a boyish smirk than a smile."

I turned away and covered the tears on my face. I knew my husband's grin was oft mistaken for a boy with too much sand for his age. His was just a naive smile, a carefree look with blue eyes of a summer sky. I crumbled to the floor and clenched my fist over the thought of his death from a brazen smile than a cheating hand.

The pair admitted they were Johnny come lately to the scene and retold it from others. No matter, I'd spend my days thinking of all we do with free will and how the choices we make can snuff your life.

There was a gulf of silence between us until I swallowed enough bile to speak. "To see the scoundrel hang won't save my baby from a fatherless future or keep this farm. You tell him for me, I will be wearing a smile in my husband's place."

The wind brought a slashing mix of snow and ice, as the men took ropes and slid the coffin across the hard snow until we came near the old knotted oak tree. With the scrape of a pickaxe and shovel, they managed to dig deep enough to keep the wolves out. The elder prayed a simple prayer of how the grave can't hold the soul while the wind lifted my straw-like hair and cotton dress until I thought I would fly away.

During the prayer, I caught Shane looking at me with pity or dumbstruck love. I knew then the wind leaves us all scratching for someone to hold and makes us all yearn for comfort on empty and barren land. But it drove me to fall on my husband before he was covered until the men had to carry me back to the cabin.

The men took to covering the grave under the cold and gray. Before they bid farewell, I argued with them over fixing a meal before they left. When they saw my pride was greater than my grief they relented. But after the cornbread and stew, it was time to bid farewell.

Shane stood first and looked at his father and then me, "If you don't mind we'd like to look in on you from time to time."

The elder McCord added. "My wife makes a good midwife. I'll bring her along when the time comes."

I watched the pair part into the unforgiving wind and turn into a speck as the sun went down and darkness crowded the sky.

It was then when I was far too alone, I wailed like a cat caught in a claw trap. I fell into a restless sleep, as the ghostly wind mocked me. At times, I stirred and thought I heard my husband's knock at the door.

By morning, my child kicked like a mule. The fire had gone to coals in the night. With a shawl wrapped around me, I slipped across the cold floor in my bare feet. At the hazy window, I caught a view of my husband's fresh dug grave in the deceptively cold sun. The old oak tree created splinters of shade and a way to mark time on the land. Indians must have rallied around that oak tree once upon a time.

I traced the bulbous shape of my stomach and talked to my child. "This is your land, child. I will see to it. And you will grow like a mighty oak."

I felt a thick tear slip down my face. And there was no one near to make me care to hide it.

Through the dead winter, father and son would visit. The stipend I had from the gambler who found the end of a rope was able to pay for the staples they brought. I came to find comfort in their company. And through all the darkness, my healthy son, Joshua, brought me light and respite from the evil. There'd be times when Shane would play with the babe on his knee and make him laugh. He even whittled him a rocking horse that early Spring.

In silent moments, Shane's eyes caught mine. I knew what he wanted, and he'd not worked up the nerve to ask me. I could see us together, hands in the soil, the laughter of children, a life once meant only for my first husband.

I was able to do more than survive when I cared for my infant son. He had his father's kind blue eyes and an honest grin. Goldenrods blanketed the prairie and the ground begged to be tilled. But with the offer of help came a warning. Sioux had been seen, and reports of ransacked cabins on what was once their ancient land. I took a shine to our flintlock and kept it to close to my hip.

Josh was in his crib when I struck around the corner to fetch a pail of water from the well. First, I saw the rainbow of their headbands like giant peacocks high on horses. A crippling fear made me crouch and pray they hadn't spied me first.

I slipped into the cabin, removing the rug over the trap door. I bundled my son in one arm and a flintlock in the other and ducked under the door where table and rug could keep us a secret.

I gave Josh my finger to chew on, as I crawled into the darkest corner and prayed mightily.

I watched shadows slip around the house and heard footsteps tap along on the clapboard floor above. Furniture crashed to the floor. Pots and pans fell off their hooks. I prayed they would be happy with my meager possessions and not want to carry us away too.

It got quiet. I heard the footsteps fade. I heard the horses trot off.

My heart pecked like a trapped bird, as I crawled toward the trap door until my nose curled over smoke. I heard the crackle of a fire. The smoke choked us. I covered my son best I could and kicked out a loose board at the bottom's edge. As I crawled out, I feared they waited for us.

Falling into the fresh air, fiery debris rained down. My cabin was going up like a torch. I retreated to the outhouse where I might not be seen if the Indians lingered. Then I heard someone circle it. I feared I may have smothered my own son. I was about to plunge into the crapper with my gun at the door. I would not be moved no further. Then it grew silent. No wind.

When it was safe I unwrapped my son, wiped the soot from his face. He smiled that smile, like his father. I sighed and shifted us over to the old oak tree. I laid him down beside his father's grave with my shawl as a blanket. With smoke billowing from what was left of the cabin, I craned my neck to see the McCord's racing toward us from the sandhills.

I took my son into my arms. "Don't fret yourself none, my son. We didn't come all this way just to inherit the wind."

Story of the Month contest entry

Author Notes
I wanted to use a stand-alone story like this to see if it is worth delving into a more extended western/historical-maybe a novella. I'm hoping it feels like a worthy plot.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

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