This was originally going to be a submission for a flash fiction challenge over at Chuck Wendig’s Terribleminds. The idea was to steal a Stephen King title — I went with The Colorado Kid — and turn in 1,000 words. 

This is way over on word count. And, for a bunch of reasons, I think, the kids didn’t like it as much as the first two. Still, I like Rip Crowley and I like Jeremiah, so I figured I’d post it here. The first two Rip Crowley in Fox Osage stories are in the Stories link. 

Rip Crowley in Fox Osage: The Colorado Kid

Rain came down like a river. The tall pines of the Shivering Wood offered no shelter, only blew hard against the early spring storm. The brim of my hat, the one that had belonged to my grandaddy, was soaked and drooped low on my head. I pulled my coat tight again and checked to make sure the collar was still up. None of it much mattered. I was soaked right to the bone.

The horses slushed and slopped their way through the washed-out divots of the muddy trail. We were on our way beyond Harper’s Reach, the old, steep stone-faced mountain miles north of Fox Osage. In the distance, towards home, I saw bright lightning crackle to the ground. Still, I jumped at the clap of thunder that followed from the gray sky.

“It’s alright, Jeremiah,” said Daddy. I hated it when he talked to me like I was still a baby. Hell, if he thought I was old enough to go out to work with him, I figured I couldn’t afford to be scared.  

“I know,” I said and scowled at the ground, letting my horse fall behind a bit. I didn’t know if John-bird was smiling, laughing at me, or not. I was too mad to look up and see.

The truth was, it wasn’t the thunder and lightning making me nervous.

“They found ‘em, Rip,” Truck Morrison had said to Daddy that morning. “They say he’s near here. The Colorado Kid.”

My blood ran cold and I felt myself draw in a sharp breath. The world around me went silent, just a high pitched whine in my ears, like a mosquito buzzing.

The Colorado Kid. Deputy Marshals had swung through town weeks before, and put up old yellow, faded wanted posters. Plastered them all around the Tack & Canter, the drug store, the feed and grain store, down around Mr. Chilton’s barbershop. Even Mrs. Wigginton’s candy store, where Stella and I sometimes snuck off to when Daddy was in town for supplies, had a poster in the window.

Wanted, Dead or Alive. The Colorado Kid. Armed Robbery of a Bank, Armed Robbery of a Train — and, the last one always caught me somehow, caught me cold in its very ruthlessness, its plainspoken coldness — murder.

There was a hundred thousand dollar reward.

The Deputies had said The Kid might be riding with the Norton Gang, a band of four ruthless brothers from the Western Territories, each one a little nastier than the other.

I didn’t need any poster to tell me about The Colorado Kid. The Kid was the most notorious outlaw we’d ever known. The boys in town told stories about The Colorado Kid — shot a man just for looking at him funny; stabbed a man through the heart for cheating at poker; robbed a whole train of fifty people single-handed, stole near half a million dollars!

…Kidnapped a girl and is raising her in a cave, like a wolf!

Daddy told me not to listen to those stories, they were folly, silly. But I couldn’t help it. Those stories we told, no matter how outlandish, painted a picture of the meanest son of a bitch to ever pick up a gun. A cold-blooded killer, a ruthless man. A living terror. The devil himself.

We woke the next day to the sound of gunfire in the distance.

Daddy had made us ride through the night, a quarter the way up Harper’s Reach, a giant, rocky mountain that curved north, then a u-shaped turn back towards the south.

“Jeremiah, no time, come on!”

It felt like it took forever to mount my horse, a beautiful brown Quarter named Vollo.

We flew to the sound of the gunfire, fast as we could go.

Bang. Bang-bang. Bang-bang-bang. Bang. I lost count of the shots. A shoot-out, no question about it.

We rode up the steep, craggy rocks for what seemed like forever. I held Vollo’s reins tighter than I ever have, kept an elbow down on my side so I could feel the handle of the Smith & Wesson Model 3 Daddy had given to me for my tenth birthday.

John-bird, just ahead of Daddy, held up a fist — stop. He dismounted and pulled his rifle from the saddle holster and walked ahead, quiet as a hawk a mile up in the sky.

Daddy dismounted, too, and when he didn’t look back and tell me to stay, I dismounted Vollo and followed him, my hand on the handle of the revolver.

Daddy hadn’t drawn his Peacemaker yet. But I could tell the way he flicked his duster back, he would.

There was a clearing from some small scrub and pines up the stone and rock trail, and a flat patch around the corner. John-bird approached slowly, carefully. He looked back and Daddy, nodded, then he proceeded quietly, quickly. I don’t think Daddy would have let him go ahead, but I figured it was smart, anyway — John-bird would be quieter on the flat-slate path than Daddy would, and Daddy knew it.

I saw John-bird mount the rifle to his shoulder and quickly disappear around the rock corner. My heart jumped. Daddy drew quick and hustled to the rock patch to follow him. I didn’t want to, but I did the same.

To John-bird’s right was a hundred and fifty foot drop, probably more.

To his left was a figure crouched down against the rock wall. He was holding his gut with his left hand, a silver gun just laying in his right. His hat was cocked funny to the side, mashed up against the gray rock behind his head. There was a dusty red bandana covering his face.

He had young eyes.   

There was a big, brown bag to his right, a logo for the Western Carolina Freight emblazoned on it.  

“You can drop that rifle, Mister. I’m out.” his voice was high pitched, almost angelic. He was small, too. I could tell, even as he lay seated against the rock wall and the edge of the path.

John-bird slowly lowered the rifle. Daddy kept that Peacemaker low and steady.

“Used all my shots on those goddam Norton boys. Double-crossin’ sons-a-bitches. Shot me clean through, tried to take my money. You’ll find ‘em down there,” the eyes above the bandana looked towards the ledge, and John-bird took a step to the edge and looked down. He glanced at Daddy and nodded once.

“Lot of people looking for you,” Daddy said as he holstered his gun. I wanted to scream Daddy, don’t! but I couldn’t make my lips form the words. The Kid’s hand still on that gun. How’d he know it was empty for sure?

“They couldn’t just let us get on back to Colorado, huh? Well, damn. We’d ‘a made it, too.”

“You get back to Colorado, you think you’d ever take that mask off?”

“Wha’?” The Colorado Kid asked, almost laughing, looking up at Daddy. “Oh. You figure it out, Mister…”

“Rip. Rip Crowley. Sheriff down in Fox Osage, little ways from here. And, yeah. I figured it out, Kid.”

“Rip Crowley. Sheriff Crowley, yes. I heard ‘a you, yes sir.” The angelic voice behind the mask laughed.

And then the right hand left the gun, which clattered a bit to the stone. The Kid’s hand went up to the old, frayed bandana and pulled it down, then the hat got tossed to the ground.

I gasped.

The Colorado Kid was just a girl, young — hell, an actual kid — not much older than me. Her hair flowed long, like a brown ocean wave. Her face lit up against the sun in the sky, and her eyes sparkled.

“Fox Osage, huh? Ya’ll got a doctor there? Think he could patch me up?”

“We got a doctor there,” Daddy said. “He’ll patch you up. ‘Course, Marshal Overton may want to hang you as soon as he gets his hands on you.”

“Marshal Overton,” the young girl — the legendary Colorado Kid I had made out to be a towering villain — laughed a little and then winced. “He’s somethin’ else, ain’t he? Well. Sheriff Crowley, when you and Marshal Overton hear my story, you won’t hang me. You’ll give me one a’ them big, shiny medals.”

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© 2018 by Benjamin J. Kirby
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