The Keegan Trail by Kurt James
Reaching over and taking a piece of venison jerky out of Sandy’s vest pocket to chew on, I waited for the eventual report of his rifle. Anyone riding within 200 yards of Sandy and his Winchester was as good as dead.
It was not more than a couple of seconds when I heard the crack of Sandy’s rifle, and he turned to me with that Sandy smile and happily reported, “Scratch one Redleg scum leaving five left including Captain Merna.”
Looking out my window, I saw the rider down and not moving with his flaming torch lying harmlessly on the ground. “I reckon that will give them boys second thoughts about trying to set the place on fire.”
Sandy got sort of excited and pointed toward the west side of the barn and said, “Hey Mac, I think I see Horse.”
I smiled to myself because this was an opening to a conversation that Sandy and I had at least once a week. “You mean a horse? Or do you mean your horse named Horse?”
Turning to look at me with no smile this time, Sandy said in a serious tone, “Why do you always have to do that? My horse -Horse – you dipshit.”
Trying not to smile, but failing – since this was a sore subject with my friend – I started in again enjoying the banter, “What idiot names a horse – Horse?”
Using the same old argument once again Sandy replied, “Well, your mare is named Sammy and that’s a boy’s name. Now, how stupid is that?”
Still smiling I said with half a chuckle, “Sammy is short for Samantha. How many times do I have to tell you that?”
The smile broke out again on my friend’s face. “Your Ma and Pa must have been brother and sister since in the part of Clay County that I grew up in Sammy is a boy’s name and not short for anything.”
I shook my head because that was a different response than Sandy had ever used before and he seemed mighty proud of it by the shit eating grin on his face. “That may be so my friend, but naming a horse – Horse – is about as senseless as naming a dog – Dog.”
That famous Sandy smile evaporated and in all seriousness said, “You know when I was seven, I had a dog named – Dog. My Pa named him.”
Shaking my head and smiling once again, “Oh my, that statement alone proves my point that idiots run amuck in your family.”
Laughing out loud this time Sandy replied, “That may be true because my Pa was none too smart, but he could sure throw rocks. He could hit a two pound squirrel on a dead run in the head almost every time.”
We both started laughing so hard the tears started to roll down our faces. A good friend knows all your best stories and your best friend has lived them right alongside of you. Sandy has been alongside me since I was six. Doing the deciphering in my head, that sum total came to a total of forty-two years. We were inseparable back then and the same was true today.
We were still laughing at our corny jokes when Captain Merna and the Redlegs started firing a volley from their Winchesters at the windows taking out any of the remaining broad glass, reminding the both of us this was one of those near death experiences we seem to have all the time. Ducking our heads and keeping low, we made a smaller target hoping that a ricochet didn’t find one of us. After a full two minutes of blasting away with their Winchesters, they suddenly stopped.
Sandy started smiling once again when the barrage of bullets ceased. “You think they ran out of ammo or just stopped to take a leak?”
Most times Sandy was the joker and I was the serious one. “More likely testing our defenses while they think of a plan to burn us out.”
Several minutes went by and the silence was thick as molasses as we both were staying low. Sandy slowly moved his way back to the window and inched his way up to take a peek. Soon as his eyes lifted above the window sill, one report from a rifle sang out and Sandy grabbed his head and fell back with a thump onto the wooden floor. “Son of a bitch, they shot me in the head!”
I moved quickly crawling across the floor toward Sandy, not wanting to stand and give the sniper who they now had in position a shot at me. Sandy was thrashing about on the floor still holding his head cussing up a storm. Finally getting along side of him, I could see a substantial amount blood flowing through his fingers as he held his hand to the side of his head. Grabbing his wrist gently, I said, “Quit hollering and let me take a look.”
As I slowly pulled his hand to expose the bloody wound, I looked him square in the eyes and I saw no fear whatsoever, but boy howdy he sure did look pissed off. Once the wound was exposed, I brushed some of the flowing blood away to get a better look, and I started to laugh. “Hell son, that bullet didn’t pierce your noggin, just took half your ear off. I think you will live.”
With a confused look Sandy said, “MY EAR!”
Still laughing, “Not your whole ear, just half of it.”
The smile once again appeared on my friend’s face. “This is not funny, Mac. You would not think it was so funny if it was your ear that got shot off.”
A tear started to form again from laughing so hard. “Quit your whining; it is just half your ear. You’re acting as if your whole damn head got shot off. Besides that if they had shot at me, they would have missed because my head is too skinny.”
Sandy, still holding his bleeding ear, crunched up his face and said, “Too Skinny? What is that supposed to mean?”
Holding back the laughter that wanted to come out, I said as seriously as I could, “Yes, my head is skinny and not fat like yours. If your head had been as skinny as mine, that bullet would have missed by a good two inches is what I am saying.”
Sandy’s face went blank as he was studying my face, and then his smile broke out again. “Oh, bullshit, your head is just as fat as mine.”
We both started to laugh again as only friends can do when just outside there were men that wanted to harm us both. If that is not the meaning of true friendship, I don’t know what is.
Sandy pulled his hand away and leaned closer to give me a better look. “Seriously, how bad is it?”
Taking a long gander at the wound on my friend’s face, I tilted my head as if I was in some sort of deep thought before I replied, “Actually Sandy, I think they might have done you a favor by shooting off half your ear?”
Sandy scrunched up his face once again and responded, “A favor? Have you lost your mind, Mac?”
Trying to sound serious, “All I am saying is that when a man has elephant like ears and someone shoots half of it off, they might have done him a favor. Makes you more handsome I believe.”
Sandy had his smile again when he said, “You are always digging at me Mac, always jabbing me with your “observations” and talking out of your ass. Besides, you have never even seen an elephant.”
Looking as if his comment had hurt my feelings, “I have too seen an elephant. Well, sort of anyway. I saw one in a picture book that ole’ Miss Eldridge had in second grade. I even remarked to her at the time how its ears resembled yours. We just never told you because she said it would hurt your feelings, so I kept quiet all these years watching them things flap in the wind. I got used to them, I guess, because I hardly notice them anymore.”
Before Sandy could reply, another round of 44 slugs started hitting the siding on the old farm house and the walls inside as the slugs found their way through the broken windows. The air was full of wood chips from the barrage that was not letting up. Having to keep low to make a smaller target, I knew this round of fire was cover for someone sneaking up with a flaming torch. It was how those dirty Redlegs went about doing their murderous work. Just as that thought crossed my mind, I heard not one thump, but two thumps on the roof, which I was sure were torches landing up there.
Sandy heard the thumps also. Still down on the floor and holding his bleeding ear, he looked at me, “That didn’t sound good, my friend.”
The situation went from bad to worse as the flames from the torches caught hold of the wooden roof and smoke started to fill the old house. It started to look as if Sandy and I had two choices, and both it would seem would get us killed.
Either choke on smoke and burn to death or take our chances on the outside where a hail of bullets from those Kansas Redlegs would fill us full of holes.
As the flames on the roof started to lick underneath at the support timbers, I could see hot orange and yellow flames rolling like waves in an ocean across the wooden timber. I could taste the burning ash that was dancing in the heat as dark rolling smoke filled the house as I looked to my friend. If I was to die today, I could not think of a better send off than to die with my best friend. Being lifelong friends was no accident; it had been our fate, our destiny. It seemed only fitting I guess that we should die together.
Sandy had scooted up with his back against the wall next to me, and his bleeding shot to hell ear had been forgotten with the more pressing matter as the house was burning down around us. The starving and hungry flames had now taken hold of all four walls, and the smoke was abundant.
I started pulling cartridges out of the loops on my holster and quickly started to reload first my Colt and then my Winchester as I was choking on burning ash and smoke. Sandy saw what I was doing and that famous “Sandy” smile crossed his face as he quickly followed suit and started loading his weapons.
Still sitting on the floor, we both looked at each other with shit eating grins as we jacked a live round into the firing chambers of our Winchesters and pulled back the hammers on our Colts. Sandy spoke first, “Hell yes, let’s do this!”
We stood as if we were one person and started our surge for the door.
Kurt James © 2018
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