I’ll just leave this here. . . .
Another #BlogBattle for you! If you haven’t done it yet, what are you waiting for? They’re fun! You can find the rules here.
The moon hung low in the sky, impossibly large and shining like a majestic pearl in the heavens. Light almost as bright as noonday sharpened shadows into distinctive lines which alternately illuminated everything or nothing. Muted colors shone in the light, if not with their original pigment, then with the same fervor. All these things Cheswick Horn noticed absently, his mind on the three men working their way through one of the fenced off pastures near his barn.
Several days ago, word had spread to his farm of strangers lurking about nearby ranches. At the same time cattle, sheep, horses, they’d all go missing. It wasn’t some isolated event. And, if Cheswick was right, he was next. Well, they wouldn’t succeed here.
Cheswick waited long enough to see the three men move up to the barn before standing up and pulling on a pair of pants over his nightshirt. He moved silently though the house, slipping on his boots before grabbing the repeating rifle he kept loaded by his side of the door. There wasn’t any fear of waking anyone else up—he lived alone—but he didn’t want to warn the trespassers that he knew they were about. Only the slapping of the closing door behind him gave anything away.
The barn door stood open as he made his way across the yard, a black maw that stared off into the abyss. Grass rustled in the distance—whispers that almost failed to reach his ears—muffling the crunch of dirt under his boots. He moved slow, carefully putting one foot in front of the other, avoiding any detritus. Some animal yipped in the darkness; once, twice, then it was silent.
With a sudden cry, the three men burst out, riding reckless on two mares and his prize stallion. Two were as white as the moon, the third hidden under a wide brimmed hat. Each waved a pistol in the hand that didn’t hold the reins. One pointed his gun at Cheswick and fired.
He dived aside, the bullet hitting the ground a foot in front of where he’d been standing. It took a moment for Cheswick to roll into a position that brought his gun to bear on the escaping thieves. A deep breath and he leveled the rifle at the nearest back. The sights shook but he pulled the trigger before waiting for them to steady.
Luck guided his bullet. That was the good news. The bad was that he missed the man he was shooting at. Instead the bullet took the mare of the lead rider. Horse and man tumbled end over end. Neither of the following men were far enough back to avoid the grounded animal, and Cheswick saw the other two drop in a tangle of horse and limbs. Dust obscured his view as he popped to his feet and charged toward his quarry.
Bare bushes snagged on his flapping nightshirt as he raced forward. More than once he felt a tug and heard a ripping sound over the thudding of his heart. Air came dry and hot through his mouth and his chest heaved. His throat burned. Ahead, the dust was settling, but it was still too far away. He pumped his legs faster, doing his best to avoid rocks and hidden holes.
A sudden, sharp pain bloomed in his chest, as if someone had shoved a knife between his ribs. He staggered as the gunshot reached his ears, collapsing as another flew by his ear. The ground came up to meet him and dirt filled his eyes and mouth. For the third time, a gunshot rang out. Cheswick only noticed it absently. Rolling on his back, all of his attention was focused on his chest. Blood—bright and red and sticky—stained his shirt. Shaking, his fingers tore the nightshirt and exposed a fountain of blood to the air. Pain wracked his body and he let his head hit the ground. Beside him lay his rifle, and the hand not clutching his chest gripped it. His finger traced the trigger before coming to a rest beside it.
Crunching reached his ears in a staggered and stuttering manner. Whoever was coming his way was hurt themselves. The footsteps came on slow. They hardly registered. Pain was everything. There was nothing else. But a face forced itself into his consciousness, a rugged thing with thinning hair and moustache. Its eyes were filmy themselves, but they focused on Cheswick.
It said something, but he couldn’t catch it. Wasn’t it obvious he was in pain here? That he was dying? The face disappeared and the barrel of a gun replaced it. Black and all consuming, the death stared down at him, set on speeding his journey to an already certain destination.
“Albert and Johnny broke their necks in that tumble you gave us.”
A gunshot rung out and the pistol disappeared. Cheswick’s hand slid away from the rifle and the suddenly hot barrel. Only stars were above him now. Stars and that beautiful moon.
Silence descended on the Oklahoma prairie.