Tag Archives: Western

Under Your Skin

This one is a response to Mr. Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge (found here), in which my goal (after random selection, of course) was to combine the thematic/stylistic elements of Pride and Prejudice and Planet of the Apes. So yeah. This is what happened when I tried to do that. And I’m still not sure how I feel about it so feel free to let me know what you think.

*******

The sun rose, scorching and naked, as usual. It was another day, like any other. Life in this frontier town had turned out not to be as glamorous as Emily had imagined it, but now she was stuck here. Stuck. Stuck like her father had been stuck as a farmer, stuck like her mother had been stuck as his wife, stuck like the sun was stuck setting in the west. People get stuck. But she wasn’t going to stay that way. She had plans. First, though, she needed to get cleaned up. She stood, glanced down at her blood-spattered body, and started to walk back to the saloon. She needed to clean up and get everything ready for tonight’s show. Mr. Harkness was going to be there.

While Emily Harris made her way back to the saloon, Caleb Coburn made his way to the sheriff’s office. He was missing more cattle.

“You knew what you were gettin’ into when you settled here,” the sheriff said.

“I know, I know, but . . .”

“There ain’t no buts about it, Mr. Coburn. If it’s a problem, then go. Ain’t nothin’ keepin’ you here.”

It was a dismissal, plain and simple. Caleb stepped outside, his face expressionless, his fingers clenched. These people, this town. It got under your skin, but not in the way that made you one of them, in his case. In his case . . . well, things were different. And everyone knew it.

He walked down the road, the mud left by the storm last night half dried already, though it was barely eleven in the morning. There were the shoeprints, hoofprints, pawprints. And a whole mess of footprints left by bare feet. There was a train coming in at noon, as long as it kept to its schedule, so Caleb decided to grab an early lunch at the boarding house. It was getting too hot out in the sun, anyway.

Darlene Sharrock’s Boarding House was the finest eatery in town, mainly because the only other one was (technically) the Golden Spur saloon, which served simple fare, composed with all the care and technique of a mud pie.

The boarding house’s dining room was furnished simply, clean gingham tablecloths on the tables, polished (if scratched and nicked) silverware. Caleb walked in and sat himself down at a table facing the window. That’s when he saw his that his horse wasn’t tethered in front of the mercantile anymore. In fact, as he hurried outside, he saw it galloping out of town, in the general direction of Caleb’s ranch. He let a few coarse syllables fly out of his mouth. They’d done this.

He shouldn’t have been surprised; not really. People don’t like different; they want sameness. And Caleb was different.

The rest of the day went by in a mundane blur. The train came in, the passengers got off, crowded into the boarding house or trundled down to the saloon or headed home, carts drove through town, the blacksmith’s hammer rang with the rhythm of a broken metronome, and children roamed the streets like packs of wild dogs.

Night fell, and after numerous attempts to borrow a horse, buy a horse, covertly steal a horse, Caleb gave up and decided it was time for a strong drink.

Emily was singing beside the piano, every now and then glancing back at the door, waiting for Mr. Harkness to come through. Instead, she saw Caleb. She knew him when she set eyes on him, though she’d never met him before. Everyone in town knew him, the Son of Silver. She’d heard about how young John Thatch and his friends had scared his horse out of town; a joke in bad taste. He hadn’t done anything to deserve such treatment. She watched as he chose a seat at the bar. Bill ignored him, stayed at the other end of the bar and organized glasses that didn’t need organizing.

The singer finished her song, accepted the half-drunken appreciation of her listeners, and made her way to Caleb’s side. She caught Bill’s eye, ordered two whiskeys, and pushed one of them toward Caleb. He looked up at her. She smiled.

“Cheers,” she said, and downed the bronze liquid in a single, large gulp.

“Cheers,” he answered. He stared at her, confused and waiting for the other shoe to drop. To him, her niceness was the sugar glaze on the poisoned apple.

“I know what you are, beneath your skin,” he said. His voice radiated hostility.

“And I know what you aren’t beneath yours, Mr. Coburn, but you don’t see me treating you with contempt for it.”

She turned and went backstage to prepare for her next number, and did not see the surprise, consternation, and, finally, appreciation that flowered on his face as he watched her go.

“Mr. Harkness is out there.”

“Is he?”

“Well aren’t ya excited? You know he’s had his eye on you for months, Em.”

She nodded, her mind somewhere else.

The number was over, the night was winding down, there were only the town drunks and the poker players left. And Mr. Coburn. To all appearances, he was still holding the same whiskey that Emily had gotten for him. He watched as she walked to the bar, ordered another whiskey; only one this time. She watched him peripherally.

He walked to her. “Sorry. About earlier.”

“Maybe it’s not your fault.”

“You’re the first nice person I’ve met here. It threw me.”

“I just don’t see why we should treat you differently.”

“Well I’m thinking it’s for the best. I’m going to leave, find a place. Can’t raise cattle here anyway, you all just eat them.”

She was silent.

“You could . . . you could come with me.”

“I could,” she agreed.

Years later, she’d wonder what would have happened, if she’d gone with him instead of following her plan, which didn’t turn out anyway. If she’d gotten out of this werewolf town.