Prey by Jim Wilsky

Allen Fuller saw the girl up ahead, just as he was shifting up but by the time he passed her he was already slowing the truck down.He eased the big rig to the shoulder of the entrance ramp to I-35 and came to a complete stop. 

He watched her in the mirror.

Even from fifty yards back and the fading light of day, he could tell she was a looker. She tucked her long brown hair behind a near and put a hand on her hip. She didn’t move though, just stared.

Then finally, she adjusted the shoulder strap of her duffel bag and started towards the truck.

Watching her come, he’d always thought that there’s nothing better than a girl in a cowboy hat.

Her boots were worn and not for show, the faded jeans had a little rip in one knee. Her denim shirt was rolled up to the elbows and she had the walk of a ranch girl. Hard to describe that walk but it has its own slow,easy gait. Along with a touch of swagger. A little toughie, he grinned.

And she was short. Probably only went about a hundred and ten pounds or so. Damn cute and damn young. Maybe twenty. Maybe.  

Then she stopped, about ten feet from the back end of the trailer and Fuller was afraid she was going to change her mind.

He rolled down the window and stuck his head out. “You comin’ or not? I gotta get goin’ here. On a tight schedule darlin’.”

Sitting back in the seat, his eyes slid back to the big mirror on the door. She disappeared behind the trailer and a moment later the passenger door opened. She stepped up on the running board, giving him a solemn look.

“Yes ma’am?” he offered his best smile.

“Where you headed sir?”

He looked at that fresh, tanned face. Those pale blue eyes. His heart skipped then did a slow roll. “Small load in Austin, then up to Cowtown to drop the rest.”

She looked down.

He waited, staring at the top of her hat and hoping. It had been so long since the last one.

Looking up again she said, “Okay. Fort Worth is where I’m headed.”

“Then let’s go girl.”

They pulled off and merged onto the interstate. Miles went by without much conversation at all. The sky had gone totally dark now and Fuller had too. The urge was too strong.

He smiled at the green dash lights. Green means go.

“What’s your name darlin’?”

“I’m Kat, short for Kathleen.”

“Born in Fort Worth?” he asked. His eyes wandered to her denim shirt first, down to her jeans and then back up again.

She gave him a tight, nervous smile. “Yessir. Born and raised.”

“Shouldn’t be hitchhiking.”

“I know.”

“You’re lucky girl.”

“How’s that?” She asked, watching his eyes continue to float over her.

“Lucky I ain’t some crazy ass serial killer”, he lied with a soft laugh. “Yup…lucky all I’m gonna do is roll you around back there.” Fuller thumbed back at the sleeper compartment behind him.

Their eyes locked. Then he looked back to the road.

She didn’t say anything. Didn’t know what to say.   

“Just think of it as cab fare darlin’.” He reached over and stroked her arm.


“Shhh now. You’ll like it.” His voice was low and thick.

“Mister…please don’t do this”, she whispered pushing herself against the passenger door. 

He put his blinker on and she saw a rest stop coming up.

The door locks clacked. He had a cold, blank expression now. “I got an override on the locks sweetheart, don’t even bother.”

There was only three cars and one parked semi. He parked in the last place before cars got back onto the interstate. Fuller shut the truck down, killed the lights and then grabbed at her, snatching one wrist with an iron grip.

If it wasn’t for the heavy traffic noise, somebody might have heard her scream.

They also might have heard the muffled gunshot and if someone would have been looking, they might have seen the gun flash inside the cab. Then two more quick flashes.

Ten minutes later, a girl with a duffel bag on her shoulder walked down to the end of the ramp. A slow, easy walk. With a little swagger to it.

Nightcap by Jim Wilsky

Amarillo this time a year could be a real bitch and tonight was one of those nights. Cars and trucks were everywhere, in the ditch or half ass parked and abandoned from earlier tonight. Everything had at least a two inch coating of ice on it and Austin Parmenter was slipping and sliding towards his final destination. The wind was howling but he put his head down and kept walking.

Maybe a half mile to go, give or take. He’d decided to make this run after drinking everything he had at the house and that meant everything but the NyQuil. Including the last quarter of the Cuervo bottle he always kept stowed away for emergencies. Parmenter had a lot of emergencies these days.

Amarillo this time a year could be a real bitch and tonight was one of those nights. Cars and trucks were everywhere, in the ditch or half ass parked and abandoned from earlier tonight. Everything had at least a two inch coating of ice on it and Austin Parmenter was slipping and sliding towards his final destination. The wind was howling but he put his head down and kept walking.

Maybe a half mile to go, give or take. He’d decided to make this run after drinking everything he had at the house and that meant everything but the NyQuil. Including the last quarter of the Cuervo bottle he always kept stowed away for emergencies. Parmenter had a lot of emergencies these days.

While skating along, he ticked off the list as he went. Topping the list was Miranda the ex-wife and well hell, add her whole fuckin’ family. There was a son and daughter that hated him, getting a new job that just wasn’t going to happen, an old Silverado that wasn’t runnin’ – and hey, name the problem brother and Austin Parmenter owned it. He slipped then, wheeled his arms like a referee starting the game clock and fell smack dab on his ass.

“Fuck me…” he shouted into the wind and looked down the dark road. Power was off in half the town. He could only hope that ol’ Cesar was open.

A month later, or that’s what it seemed to Austin anyway, he made his way across the small parking lot with one leaning pole light. He had used it a beacon, a lighthouse to focus in on as he came. Yes, by God, it was lit and so was ROSA’S spelled in red neon in the small front window.

He only saw two cars. One was almost sideways, hugging the stone wall of the bar where it had ended its slide. The other was Cesar’s old F-150. Austin only had a crumpled up ten in his pocket but Cesar would take care of him for the rest, he always did.

He slipped again as he reached for the door and would have went down if he hadn’t caught the handle. Swinging himself inside the dimly lit bar, the heat hit him immediately. Cesar always kept it warm in the bar and it felt damn good on a night like tonight.

Rosa’s was always quiet and slow. That’s why Parmenter liked it. It was old school. There wasn’t loud music. Wasn’t any music at all. The old Wurlitzer in the far corner hadn’t worked since Carter was President. There weren’t ten screens showing every kind of sports you could think of. No chit chat bullshit with some guy reading a newspaper sippin’ Merlot. It was a bar, plain and simple. You sat your ass down and drank.

There was one other customer, sleeping way down at the other end of the scarred up bar. Head down sideways, arms splayed out and his drink spilled and puddled around him.

He sat down hard on a barstool near the beer taps and shook a little. Digging the ten out of his jeans turned into a struggle. The walk hadn’t sobered him up and he was thankful of that.

“Cesar! It’s Austin. Get out here amigo. I got cash money. Rápidamente!” He grinned into the mirror behind the bar. Squinting at the old clock by the register he saw that it was a little after midnight.

“Cesar, damn it son, c’mon now.”

Parmenter looked down the bar again. Guy was still sleeping. He craned his neck and looked through the doorway heading into the backroom. No Cesar yet.

What the hell. Standing up on the barstool footrest he reached over the bar and under it, taking a beer glass from where he knew they were. He flipped the tap and poured himself a ZiegenBock.

Half of it was gone before he sat back down.

He looked through the backroom door again, then finished the beer and poured himself another. Lighting a smoke he looked at the clock again, the lined up liquor bottles and the register. He blinked. Wait now…he hadn’t noticed that at first. The register drawer was partly open.

He got up slow with a frown and a voice whispering in his head. Heading for the man down on the end of the bar, he was only halfway there when he stopped. Even dead ass drunk he could see now that the spilled drink, pooled on the bar around the guy, was red.

“Cesar…you back there man?” He pulled his eyes away from blood and scanned the small empty bar. His stare settled again on the open door behind the bar and he walked that way.

Just inside the backroom and to the left, he found Cesar’s body. His head and face half gone. The other half spackled the white cinder block wall above him. A little metal lock box that had been pried open was on the floor too.

“Realll bad timing pard. I’da been gone in another minute.” The voice came from the darkened storeroom on his right.

“Fuck me.” Parmenter weaved around and peered into the shadows.


Under the Bus by Jim Wilsky

The car stopped and he was pulled out, landing on his knees. Yanked to his feet, he was pushed forward. They stopped. Two pounds on a door and it creaked open. The door slammed behind him and he heard a bolt being thrown.

Forward again. Another door opened.

“Steps.” The voice on his left shoulder grunted. Bender tripped immediately and began to fall forward. And down. Hands tied behind him, his face would be the first to hit wherever he ended up.

A big hand gripped the back of his collar and brought him back just in time. “I said steps assface.”

“I thought you meant up, sometimes they go that way too buck.”

The hand gripped tighter and his head went sideways, hard against a wall. The wall had something hanging on it because his head found a nail. Whatever had been hanging there clattered down the steps.

“You want to take the quick way down smartass?”

The other guy had a much deeper voice and agreed. “Yeah, let’s just do it that way huh?”

Bender said nothing this time.

Down they went, a slow stilted walk down into the certain hell that waited for him. It was cold again as they descended and the basement smell got stronger. Mildew, cinder blocks and shit. A sump pump he guessed.

At the bottom he was shoved forward, a chair scooted and he was pushed down onto it. The blindfold was roughly removed. Glaring light made him squint at the figure before him. Bender leaned forward, “Hey, hey Dig, what uh…what’s going on?”

Digger Miles stood towering in front of him, feet apart. His fists were clenched. One was holding a baseball bat, a short one, like for a kid to use. Miles was grinning too, but it was the kind of grin you never wanted to see from him.

Bender glanced around the basement. The two gorillas stood like bookends at the bottom of the staircase. His mind raced. This was it. They knew. Knew about the skimming on the last few deals.

“Digger, listen, what’s going on here now?”

“Shut the fuck up Bender.”

“Okay…okay man, I – .“

“This is going on”, he stepped aside and waved behind him.

Bender’s gaze went from Digger to the figure seated across from him. It was Dee. Dee, who’d always been there for him.  The only way he could recognize him was by the LSU sweatshirt. The head was lolled backwards, chin pointing up at the unfinished ceiling. Broken wrists bound to the old ratty armchair. Legs tied down.

Bender’s heart was hammering now. Blood was everywhere, Dee’s face, body, floor. Every fucking where.

“His face is gone…too many bones to count…but he didn’t give you up.”

“What are we talking about here Dig?” He tried his best to act confused. Sincere.

“Out of everyone, I didn’t think you’d ever do me wrong. You motherfuck.”


Miles nodded to the muscle. “Bring her in.”

They opened a peeling wood door on the far wall and waved. Lisa Noonan came out slowly. Her shirt was torn. She had a purple orange bruise under one eye and a cheek bone that was swollen. They’d spent a few wild nights together a month ago. Despite everything, he thought about those nights.

Her eyes burned into him. Pleading.

“You did her.” Digger’s voice was low and dangerous.

“No I never. No sir.” Bender’s eyebrows went up and so did his voice.

There was a pause.

“Same thing she said. Said only Dee, and only once.” Digger stared at him hard. Silence again.

Then the sudden boom and rattle of the furnace as it started up. Bender’s heart leaped and he felt his bladder let go. 

“She’s mine.”

“Damn straight and I would never – “

“You remember that.”

“I will. Swear to you Digger.”

“This was just a test Bender… You passed.”

 Lisa’s eyes softened and he could feel the tension in the room ease. She’d thrown Dee under the bus for him.   

Digger sniffed and spit on Dee’s body, motioning to his boys. “Cut those plastic ties. Take him home.”

Bender walked to the steps and turned. “Digger, I gotta tell you something man. I’m your guy, and always will be. But man, I had plenty of chances…I mean well…you know?” He shook his head with sadness. Looked at her, then Digger. “I’m sorry man, but you needed to know that.”

“Liarrr!” Lisa eyes came to life again. Digger glared at her.

Before Bender reached the top of the steps, she had screamed liar at least five times.

Just Do It by Jim Wilsky

The man known as John Loomis stood in the kitchen, looking out the window at the rainy night. He’d have to mow again soon. That time of year. He swirled the two cubes and raised the last of his drink. He froze with the glass on his lips. Call it a sixth sense.

“I always knew this day would come,” Loomis said low and even.  

Ringing silence was the only answer coming from the darkened hallway.

There was no panic or fear when he realized he wasn’t alone. Maybe it was because he had always expected this. Maybe it was that he just didn’t care anymore.  

Jimmy Cobb didn’t turn from the window. He just stood there and sat the tumbler on the counter. There was a pause. Then there was a whisper of movement. He knew the guy was in the arched kitchen doorway now.

He closed his tired eyes, sad and slow. Sighed. Waited for the end.

“Keep your hands on the counter Jimmy. Don’t turn around.” The voice was young, rough, east coast … familiar.

“Sixteen years I had as Mr. John Loomis.” Cobb’s eyes were still closed.

“Long time. But hey, sooner or later, right? You always get found.” The man was closer now.

“Holy shit. Palmisano’s boy? Gio, that you?” Cobb’s voice was lighter, almost happy. “I remember watchin’ you crawl around on the living room floor, seein’ you play little league ball…Holy shit.”

No answer.

“Okay listen. Gio, hey, a drink? I got Makers here. We’ll both have one and then you can do this thing.” Cobb pointed at the bottle and shrugged.

“I shoulda just done it. No talkin’ like this. Just shoulda done it.” 

“Yeah, hey, relax kid. It’s okay. Hell, this is a relief for me believe it or not. My times up. I get that. We’re just having a conversation here? No problems from me. This is how it works…so, like, one cube or two Gio?” Cobb’s voice was smooth, calm.

There was no reply but he heard the kid farther to his left now, slowly circling around him. The reflection in the window told him what he knew already. Giovanni Palmisano, the youngest son.

“You’re old man was something son. He was the best there was. Like I gotta tell you that right? He was one of a damn kind,” Cobb said wistfully.

“One, yeah.” Gio still sounded uneasy. 

“When he finally went, half a me did too.”   

“I meant one cube. Let’s do this. One drink. Then I gotta take care of this business you and I got…and yeah… he always talked good about you too Jimmy.”

Cobb raised both his hands up slowly from the counter. “Just making the drinks okay kid?”

“Sure, sure. Just don’t do anything huh Jimmy? This drink is outta respect. Don’t make me regret doing that. I remember what my old man told me about you. I remember my uncle Jimmy watchin’ me play ball. I remember all that.”   

“No problems. You got my word.”

“Your word ain’t shit according to the people that sent me. You’re a fuckin’ rat.”

Cobb grinned, got another tumbler from the cupboard and dropped in a cube from the ice bucket. He glugged some whisky in both glasses and turned, sitting them on the counter.

“Tell you the truth kid, they’re right. Nobody’s word in this business is ever gonna be trustworthy. Including theirs.” Cobb’s tone had changed.

Palmisano took a drink with his free hand.

“Agreeing to a last drink like this?” Cobb looked disappointed, and shook his head slow. “No room for sentimental bullshit…rookie fuckin’ mistake. This is your first hit right?”

Palmisano frowned and took a big swallow this time. He was bowed up and feeling challenged now.

“Promise me you won’t do this half ass shit again. No thinkin’ next time. Just do it. Why didn’t you just shoot me like you was s’posed to?” Cobb sipped and swirled, staring at him hard. “What the fuck?”

“Because you’re you. My old man, all that.”

“And so, this’ll be easier now that we held hands?” Cobb gave him a look of disgust.

Palmisano was seeing red now. “Finish that.”

“That’s more like it.” Cobb finished his drink. “Remember tonight. I just gave you a valuable lesson. Only because of your old man. I don’t want you ruining his legacy down the road. Now do it, before you pussy out, or piss your designer pants.”

Palmisano clunked his glass down. “Okay, you old fuck.”

The gun came up but it was shaking and Palmisano was gritting his teeth. Cobb didn’t trust him, so he pushed.

“Check the cupboard afterward sonny. I had your little punk ass if I’d a wanted it.” He glared at Palmisano and took a step forward.

There were two quick shots and a third for insurance. And then another, before he could stop himself.  

Palmisano was too pumped up and forgot the spent casings like he’d been told. He had a gloved hand on the back door before he remembered.

Heart hammering and rushing now, he only found three of them but he had to get out. He shot a glance back at the cupboard. Didn’t need to look. It was there and he knew it.

Thin Shafts of Light by Jim Wilsky

Abilene, Texas 1888

Lost somewhere in memory and place, he was staring in a daze at the thin shafts of sunlight coming in through the slitted windows of the small saloon. These spells came over him every once in a while and he still couldn’t explain it.

He had no idea this time how long it had been when he came around, but it had been awhile. The bartender dropped a glass behind the bar, shattering it on the floor. The sound of that must have brought him back from wherever he’d been.

He shifted his weight to the other leg and pulled his hat down even further. Gently knocking twice on top of the bar with the glass tumbler, he held it up slightly.

“Another Mr. Parker?” the portly bartender with heavy sideburns asked him politely and then quietly added, “Don’t worry ‘bout this one. On the house sir.”

The bartender knew exactly who he was dealing with here. He knew the life story of Ty Parker like almost everyone else around these parts. Knew this famous Texas Ranger well, the living legend that he had become.

“Sure Ben…another” he said, glancing around the saloon as if waking up from a deep sleep. “Sure”, he repeated.

He flipped another coin on the bar for Ben anyway, winked at him and then looked over his right shoulder, sideways down the bar. There were two men standing about halfway down and they hadn’t been there the last time he looked.

Turning his body casually he looked straight down the bar and stared at them openly, almost bored. They glanced back over at him and then looked away, trying to act indifferent and casual too.

Well I’ll be damned, but he kept a straight face and looked at Ben instead. That was his boys all right. His two train robbers from over El Paso way. Tommy Ponders and Jeb Tanner had hit four trains in less than two months already and killed five people in the process.

Ty carried their wanted poster in his saddlebag and had studied their likeness many times, so there was no mistake that this was the right two.

He had been trailing them for a month steady now. The hunt had taken him all over west and south Texas.

Most of the time, they had stayed out on the plain and out of any towns. He would usually find their old campsites a day or two later. Found one yesterday about five miles east from here. Looks like they ran out of whiskey.

Ty Parker considered his options. He was either taking these two back to old San Antonio in shackles to stand trial and hang, or bring them back dead. He actually preferred to do the latter but that might make for a helluva mess being made and some innocent people might get shot or killed.

He had no interest in shooting up a saloon in Abilene unless he had to. So, that left dragging them back halfway across Texas. Trouble with that was, if they made any kind of problem or tried anything with him – anything at all, he’d shoot both of them. With him being a Texas Ranger and common decency being what is, he’d probably be required to bury the buzzards. Shallow graves to be sure, but buryin’ is buryin’.

He’d just as soon not do that either. He had a particular distaste for it. Not in killing bad men of course, Lord knows he’d done plenty of that. No, his distaste was in digging the holes for them and putting them in that dark ground. He never could explain why that was.

Parker didn’t think he’d have any trouble with the one closest to him. Skinny, young little runt. Wore his pistol way too low to be fast. The other though, the much older one on the far side would be different.

He knew that look and that breed. He couldn’t see him as well, and had only seen a flash of dark dead eyes, but it was enough. They were the kind of eyes that show not only guilt but more, much more. He’d seen it before in some of the other men he’d brought to justice.

“Ben, be seeing you.”

“Yessir. Anytime.”

Ty finished his whiskey, sat the glass down and walked towards the front swinging doors. He kept the two outlaws at the bar in the corner of his eye as he went. When he reached the two steps that lead up and out of the saloon he stopped and turned.

His gun was already out and so quickly pulled that it seemed he’d had it drawn the whole time. It was his Colt Peacemaker. The one Billy Battson had given him as a gift. He’d used it ever since.

He took several steps, weaving through some empty tables to within about 15 feet of the bar and the two men. Ben stood down where he had just picked up Ty’s glass. The bartenders eyes were wide with surprise. Another man, just a ranch hand who’d been in there all afternoon, slid his way down to the other end of the bar. He was watching the two men close.

Since Ty had walked towards the two men neither had turned around, but they were staring at him in the big saloon mirror behind the bar. They looked grim. The young one scared too. They had figured he was leaving and then frozen in place as he had walked up behind them.

“I’m Tyler Parker, Texas Rangers” he said to the backs of the two men almost as if he was in a quiet, private conversation. “And you two, are train robbers.”

The bartender’s arm slid under the bar.

“Ben, you had better be meanin’ to help me. If so, that’s much obliged. You ain’t no gun hand though, so drop what you’re pawin’ around for and walk out of here. Do it now.”

“Yessir.” The bartender quickly clunked something back down under the bar and raised his empty hands to make it clear. He raised up the little section of bar at the end and walked towards the swinging doors in front.

Several other onlookers either backed their way to the door or froze at the tables where they were sitting.

Jeb Tanner, the older man who had been shielded from his view somewhat said, “Ranger, we mean you no trouble. We’ve got no quarrel with you, or you with us, now leave us be.”

He was staring at Ty in the mirror. The dusty old hat he was wearing was pulled down low but Ty could still see those eyes.

“Both of you unbuckle your gun belts and drop your holsters, then raise your hands.” After a short pause, they finally did so but Tanner took much longer. The gun belts were pooled around their feet now.

Both men still stared at him in the mirror. With the Colt held rock steady there was a tense moment of hushed silence in the saloon.

“You boy, with the red hair, keep your hands up and turn around slowly…Slow I said…. ‘Member boys, I’d just as soon shoot you than have to take you all the way back to old San Antone.”

Tom Ponders slowly turned as ordered and finally looked squarely at him. Ty could see then just how young he really was. Old enough to rob and kill he supposed, but young all the same.

The boy’s face was drained of all color and he looked as if he was going to feint dead away. He started to say something to his partner but only got a few words out.

“Jeb, I don’t think….

“Keep your yappin’ mouth shut Tommy” his older partner growled quietly.

“Okay Captain, you’re next, hands raised and a slow turn”, Ty ordered in a low menacing voice.

The man didn’t move and his hands had come back down, still in the air, but just above the bar. Tommy Conner stared wide-eyed at Ty, even more nervous now.

“Now I said. And get your hands higher in the air. I won’t ask again,” Ty stated plainly.

Still the man didn’t move and Ty thought he saw just a slight twitch in the man’s upraised right hand.

When the Colt went off inside the small saloon it sounded as if a small cannon had been fired. Ty had lowered the gun and shot the uncooperative man in the calf of his left leg. A whelp and a hiss came from the man as he slumped but didn’t go down.

“I said turn…” Ty said with no emotion. Gun smoke hung in the motionless air.

“Jeb, you gotta turn around right now” Tommy said quickly, nervous as a cat and clearly wanting for this to just be over.

But just after Ponders spoke and Tanner was struggling to turn, Tommy surprised Ty and rolled to his left.

“Mr. Parker!” Ben yelled out from somewhere behind.

Despite the quick move, Ty fired his second shot at the scrambling Tommy Conner. The boom of his Colt echoed inside the saloon again.

This was immediately followed by another gunshot that brought a hot stab to Ty’s left side. Jeb Tanner had whirled with another gun he’d pulled from his waistband and fired off a wild shot that grazed Ty.

Ty fired a third time and Tanner’s hat flew off as he was flung violently back against the bar and he crumpled to the floor. He came to rest leaning against the foot rail of the bar, facing Ty in an awkward sitting position. Tanner’s gun had clattered to the floor and skidded out of reach.

Ty glanced over and through the tables at Tommy who was lying still. He’d been hit in the neck. A lucky damn shot. There was a large pool of blood already forming around his body. Ponder’s face was turned towards the Ranger and the young man’s eyes were open but glazed over. His expression bore the frozen look of the dead.

Turning back to the other outlaw, he walked forward and looked down at Tanner.

“Godddamn you Ranger. I’m gut shot,” the man groaned as he held both of his shaking hands to his bleeding stomach. His body was slumped forward slightly. Kicking the dropped revolver even farther away, it skidded across the saloon floor. Ty continued to stare at the wounded man.

“You want to die now, or just keep bleeding out? Might take a day, hell maybe two – I’ve seen it happen, and I’ll make damn sure no doc works on you, so it’ll be a hard go. Your dead either way, slow or quick, what’ll it be?” then Tyler added,

Ty glanced once more over to where Tommy was laying and like he thought, the man hadn’t moved and his blank eyes stared at nothing. He was dead.

Tyler swung his gaze back at Tanner once again, cocked his gun and leveled it at the man.

“I said what’ll it be?”

Time stood still in the gun smoke filled saloon. The wounded man hissed and sat up a little straighter.  Ty waited five feet away with his gun pointed right at the man’s forehead.

“Shoot. Shoot me Ranger. Do it.” Tanner coughed out a small amount of bloody foam.

Ty kept the gun leveled and then brought his thumb up, releasing the hammer gently back into place and holstering his revolver.

“Ben, can you get my horse and another one from over at the livery stable?” he said it over his shoulder, not looking away from Tanner.

He heard Ben start to shuffle out the front doors.

“Tell ‘em I’ll pay good money but I don’t need no dang thoroughbred.”

“Yessir. Yessir I’ll have ‘em bring ‘em out front right away” Ben hurried out.

Jeb Tanner hissed with pain again.

“Ranger, you said you’d shoot me if I wanted….” yelping painfully on the last word. “Please put me down. I, I can’t tolerate no more of this fire in my belly. Please.”

“Changed my mind. Didn’t remember you at first and still don’t all the way,” Ty said it slow and almost to himself. “But things are coming to me.”

“Don’t know you, never seen you ‘fore. Heard about you though” Tanner hissed the words out through gritted teeth.

“Cavalry hat your wearing looked familiar and seemed like I’d heard your bellowin’ before, but I still couldn’t place you”, Ty said solemnly, remembering as he went.

“Kill me, please. Hurts bad.”

“When I shot you in the leg though, I saw that knife tucked in your left boot. That’s what did it for me. That’s when it all, or most of it, started coming back.”

“Crazy talk. Loco. What the hell are you talkin’ about Ranger?” Tanner wheezed.

“I’m talkin’ about one day my mother brought out the gun I hold now and the knife you have in your boot because there were three bad men bangin’ on the door of our little ranch.”

Ty bent down and looked Tanner straight in the eyes.

“This was years ago when I was just a boy. You were younger too but just as bad then as you are now I reckon.”

“Where…when?” Tanner spit more blood on the floor.

“Slide that knife over to me you son of a bitch. There’ll be carved initials on the bone handle of that knife and they’ll be ‘JP’, for Jared Parker. My Pa.”

As he went along, Ty’s voice had a growing anger.

Jeb Tanner stared up at him, very afraid now. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Couldn’t believe there had been another boy that day.

But Ty would make him believe it on the ride back to San Antonio. Oh yes he would. A long, slow bumpy horse ride that would take days. He knew Tanner would never last that long but he would do everything he could to make him live as long as possible.

He’d bury him too, in a shallow dark grave. About four feet  deep would be about right.

Those thin shafts of light had widened for Ty Parker.

Thin Shafts of Light by Jim Wilsky

Tyler had done what his mother had told him and there he sat, down in that dark dirt, silent as a graveyard. For almost two days. Even long after the footsteps stopped he waited for his mother to come back from wherever her, pa and Seth had run off to.

He was worried that maybe the bad men were still waiting, trying to trick him. Last night had been the worse. The darkness and the silence had scared him so bad.

Finally though, in the late afternoon of that second day, he was so thirsty he just had to get out of the hole. He pushed up slowly on the trapdoor and hoped it wouldn’t squeak. His ma might be mad at him for coming up without her saying so but he just had to.

The rug was only half covering the trapdoor and the table had been knocked on its side. The scene that greeted him was so horrible that he couldn’t even cry. So unimaginable for him that his already scarred mind just shut down. He didn’t recognize things for what they really were.

He sat by his broken and battered mother for a while, patiently holding her stiff hand and hoping she might wake up. She just kept sleeping though. The only thing he could think of was to cover her up with a wool blanket because she felt cold.

His Pa’s bullet riddled body was still leaning against the wall and he wouldn’t get up or talk to Tyler, which meant he was just too tired or still mad at the bad men. He was stubborn that way, so Tyler left him alone.

He saw his brother Seth’s butchered body over in the corner but it didn’t matter. He sat a cup of cool well water next to him in case he got thirsty.

He paid no mind to the two other men that were lying sprawled on the cabin floor. He walked around them, never looked at them.

After trying everything he could think of, he thought he better go get help. His family must be sick and they weren’t getting any better. So, seven-year-old Tyler Parker had started off for the Battson ranch, the closest place there was to the Parker’s place. He didn’t know it, but it was at least eleven miles away.

He did know the way though. His family had taken the work wagon to visit them on occasion. Their horse, Rio, was nowhere to be found though so Tyler started off. He trudged up the low hill, the same one the three riders had first appeared on. Heading west into an already dropping sun, he only looked back once. At the top of the hill, he turned when he thought he heard something. But there was nothing and no one back there.

He made the Battson’s place that night. The last light had bled out of the sky over two hours earlier. It was an amazing feat by such a young boy, a third of it in the dark. Billy and Sarah never could quite imagine how he did it.

Tyler hadn’t said a word when they opened their door, but he did finally cry. A sad quiet cry, and one that didn’t stop. No words though. In fact, as it would turn out, Ty Parker would not say another single word for another full year.

Sarah Battson had just hugged and hugged Tyler that first night. It was the only thing she could think of to do. He wasn’t hurt on the outside as far as she could tell, but he was batty and empty headed.

She softly cried with him too and sang low and sweet to him. Songs she used to sing to her own children. At sunrise the next morning, Billy saddled up and rode over to the Parker ranch. He went alone and well-armed, expecting the worst but had no idea how bad it would really be.

Much later in the day, he returned pale and shaken. He talked to Sarah briefly and then walked to their small barn shaking his head slowly. Billy Battson didn’t return to the main house until very late that night.

Tyler would spend the next eight years with the Billy and Sarah. They were good, solid people who had cared for and raised him like a son of their own.

He went east towards Fort Worth and signed on as a hand at the Brazos Trail Ranch at sixteen. A month later, Tyler had chased down, shot and killed a rustler. The man had taken a shot at him while Ty was standing watch over the BTR herd.

Amory Bean, an older ranch hand was the first to gallop up on Ty who was still looking down at the man he’d shot out of the saddle.

“I seen him shadowin’ us earlier.” Amory looked over at Ty. “Looks like he missed, you didn’t.”

“Yessir.” He spat on the man. “Got no use for rustlers.” Ty said quietly. He nodded at Amory and rode slowly off. That was the last anyone saw of Ty Parker for a long time.

Thin Shafts of Light by Jim Wilsky

Earlier that day around noon his Pa and Seth had been working on a harness. His mother had been outside too, scrubbing some clothes in the wash tub outside. Tyler had been assigned to sweep the floor of the cabin.

“Ma, we got some visitors comin’ to call on us” Seth said loud enough for Tyler to hear him from inside the cabin. “Up on the hill, see ‘em?” He said it with a little excitement in his voice.

Tyler had kept sweeping but he moved to the small window that looked out the front of the cabin, due west. He peeked out and followed to where Seth pointed up on the hill. There were three men on horseback and they had stopped, silhouetted against the cloudless blue sky.

He glanced over at both his folks as they stared at the three horsemen. A small smile, which had started up on his mother’s face, quickly faded.

His father’s arm slowly dropped after his wave went unanswered by the three riders on top of the hill. His Pa’s usual stern expression got even more serious as Tyler watched him closely. There was a tense minute or so when the riders and his family continued to study each other.

Finally, Seth broke the silence, “Pa, what do you think they…“, but he didn’t finish when he saw one rider casually begin to make his way down the hill to them. The other two riders fell in leisurely right behind him.

“Seth, get inside with your little brother. Ma, you too.” His father had told them that without taking his eyes off the three riders.

“But Pa.”

“Git boy…go on Seth…now” Tyler’s father said it low and serious, while he continued to tighten a strap on the plow harness.

His mother dropped the shirt she’d been washing back into the metal tub and walked steadily over to Seth, taking a handful of the boy’s shirt when she reached him.

“Seth, inside with your brother… goan now” she whispered, tugging hard on his shirt. She walked with Seth a few steps up onto the short porch, ushered him inside, then stopped at the cabin door.

The riders kept coming at a slow pace down the hill towards them. They were close enough now for Tyler to see how bedraggled and scruffy looking they were.

“Jared…” His mother’s voice was hesitant.

“Git inside Mary, take care of the boys. I’ll see what these boys need.” He said it quietly as he continued to stare at the approaching horsemen. “Inside now, hurry.”

She did as he said and came into the cabin quickly. Tyler and Seth were over looking out the small dirty window and she went to an old standup cupboard in the corner. She grabbed something covered in burlap, turned and walked to their small table.

His mother had pa’s big pistol and the bone handled, big blade hunting knife. She looked at Tyler and tried to give him a reassuring smile, but couldn’t deliver one, her gaze going back to the shut door and out beyond it to the approaching riders.

Ty looked back out the window at that lead rider, who looked to be younger than his Pa, but not by much. He had on what looked to be a brand new U.S. cavalry hat but was wearing an old greasy buckskin shirt and pants.

He was within about thirty feet of his father when he reached across his waist and pulled a revolver, all in one swift motion. Bringing it over and up quickly, he aimed and fired, without warning or a word spoken.

The rider’s horse reared up and the man briefly struggled to bring him steady or he would have taken another shot. His pa, reacting to the sudden movement, began to duck and run for the cabin before the shot had even rang out. The bullet grazed his left shoulder spraying a mist of blood up in the air.

The other two riders behind also fired and his pa was hit again, this time in the right arm between his elbow and wrist.

Seth slammed the shutters closed on the window and barred it. Tyler stood frozen and couldn’t seem to move.

His father threw the door open and stumbled and almost fell rushing through the door. His mother slammed the door shut again, swinging a heavy wood slat down to bar it. Grabbing the big Colt pistol from his dad’s army days, she gave Seth the hunting knife.

His father snatched his Winchester rifle hanging on the wall and chambered a bullet, backing up from the door until the far wall stopped him.

“Mary, take the boys down in the hole”, his father said through clenched teeth. He was bleeding bad from the arm wound and it hung weakly at his side. He held the Winchester one handed with his left arm and stared at the closed door.

She quickly scooted the table and floor rug out of the way, opening the little hatch that was cut into the floor. She grabbed Tyler and pushed him halfway down through the hole, motioning for Seth to come as well.

But the door to the cabin buckled inward with a loud bang and the shuttered window where Seth stood was splintered, cracking in from the outside. Ty saw his brother back up and stick the big knife out in front of him. He was scared but he was ready.

“Rancher!” the voice roared from outside. “We mean to have whatever we want in there and by God, we will. You better git on out here quick like. Now, you do that like I said and we’ll think about sparin’ you and yourn.” That was followed with some murmured talk between the three riders that Tyler couldn’t quite hear.

“Get off my property now and I’ll think about not killin’ all three of you sons a bitches!” Tyler’s father yelled back at them. Then he fired a round from the Winchester about waist high through the weathered cabin door. There was quick howl and blood-curdling scream from outside.

“Gawwwd DAMMIT Reed! He caught me one a good one in the leg. Damn it Reed, hurts bad Reeeed!” the screaming man wailed out his pain.

His pa worked the lever action swiftly despite his lame arm and leveled the Winchester again while painfully leaning back against the wall.

Mary looked over and saw that Tyler was still only halfway down into the hole, watching the whole thing unfold.

Rushing over she gave him a gentle shove down. She motioned at Seth again, but he had backed his way over to the far corner and shook his head violently. It was clear he meant to stay up here with them and help. She turned her attention back to Tyler.

She somehow managed a grin this time “You stay down there now my sweet Ty, you stay down there quiet as a mouse and don’t you be coming up till we tell ya to okay?”

He stared at her with big solemn eyes.

She smiled again at him and held a finger to her lips.

“Goan now Ty. Do that for mama.”

And he did. She gently pushed his head down further, dropping the little door at the same time.

Tyler couldn’t see it, but above him she had drawn the heavy rug back over the hatch quickly and had begun to scoot the table back in to place when the front door was shattered inward, all the way this time. Across the room, the window shutter was splintered open too. Seth started to come down with the big knife on a hand that suddenly shoved through the small window with a pistol.

A split second before the knife found flesh, the pistol fired and Jared was hit again. More shots followed. Jared Parker’s Winchester cracked once more at a man charging through the splintered front door. The man was firing too. The third rider was right behind him.

From below Tyler heard the Colt Peacemaker his mother had been holding with two hands. It boomed twice and then stopped. Then his mother let out the first of her angry and long screams.

Thin Shafts of Light by Jim Wilsky

West Texas 1864

The small boy shook uncontrollably as he squatted on cool dirt in the dark space on cool dirt. Smelling the musty dampness of this dirt that never sees the sun, he felt like this might be what a grave would feel like. That got him thinking about his little sister Nattie. She’d come down with the fever and then gone to be with the Lord, after only a few days of being sick.

Tyler remembered watching his Pa when Nattie was buried. He’d been tight lipped and solemn, shoveling the dirt onto that small wooden crate down below. On that day almost a year ago it had been very still, with not a spot of wind. He remembered looking down and watching the dust billow up out of the hole with each shovelful. It would hang in the air stubbornly until it settled back down into the rough grave.

All the while his mother had swayed back and forth. She moaned low and cried softly with her rough hands over her mouth. His older brother Seth, who was thirteen then, had stood bravely just behind her. His face was all twisted up and there was tear streaks on his dirty cheeks. His hands were jammed into old trousers held up only by threadbare suspenders. Like Ty, he didn’t really know what to do or how to act. They just knew their little sister had died.

Just as their Pa had finished, Seth had caught Ty looking up at him and shot him a mean scowl. His older brother had quickly wiped at his face and then looked away at the gradual hill that rose off to the west of the cabin. Seth’s chest had hitched a couple of times after that but he’d been silent and strong. Tyler had never forgot that either.

There was a loud scrape of wood above and the boy’s memory of that sad day melted away as quickly as it had come. The heavy walking above him had brought him back to the here and now. He stared at the wooden trapdoor. His dirt smeared face was upraised, with white wide eyes full of terror looking straight up.

It was the first sound he’d heard for a long time. Another long minute or two went by and then he heard the thump of boots walking back and forth again. He was waiting for that little door to swing open in a rush, waiting for those bad men who were sure to find this hiding place. He imagined them up there grinning at each other while moving the rug out of the way. They were going to yank that door open, reach down and pull him up by the hair, dragging him screaming out of the hole.

All the fighting noise from earlier had stopped a long time ago. There had been quite a tussle for sure. The screaming had scared him the most because it had to be his mom. Men were growling and cursing, someone broke some glass. His Pa had been yelling something fierce.

Then, his mother’s angry cries had started to die out, fading like she was walking away from the cabin. He’d heard Seth yelling earlier too but not anymore. There had been some gunshots at the beginning of course, maybe six or seven big booms, but he didn’t really know how many.

He just wasn’t thinking too straight. Tyler was past being scared, a long ways past that. He had retreated to a place that was darker than this space he was crouching in.

Pulling his wide eyes reluctantly away from the trap door, he looked slowly around the dark space he was in, which wasn’t entirely black.

There were thin shafts of light coming down through the wood plank floor above, some cracks were only paper thin, some a little wider and these gave him just enough light. There was still dust particles floating around from all the commotion up above and they swirled and floated, in and out of the lines of light.

He leaned against a wood beam as he crouched in the rough square shaped area that was about four feet high. Pa and Seth had dug it out after a bad storm took half the roof three summers ago.

The Parkers had never had to use it since, but Tyler had played in it before. He would only do that with the trapdoor open and his mother or pa around, because he didn’t like it down here when it was dark like this.

Seth had told him the hole was also a hiding place from the Comanche or a Kiowa raiding party. Or, just plain bad men. Like the ones he was sure were above him right now. It could hold all the Parkers, but he was all alone now. There just hadn’t been enough time.

Hell’s Belle – Pell Mell by Jim Wilsky

State Trooper Olan Miller is headed home in his cruiser. His shift is over, finally. Five more miles and he’s got a cold one in his hand.

Up ahead, very dim headlights of another vehicle slowly come into view. There’s a figure too, standing to the side of the road. As he nears, he switches on his light bar and just gives it one quick yelp. No need to raise hell out here.

He glances at his dash computer and sighs, but then he recognizes the smoking truck. It’s Spider Poe’s old pickup. Back in the day, when they were both still alive, Spider’s daddy and Olan’s dad used to be buddies.

As he rolls up closer, he coasts right past the spot where Luke had crawled into the corn and then passed out. Miller takes a closer look at the civilian and realizes he knows the civilian.

It’s Spider’s girlfriend. The name’s not coming yet but she waitresses at Big Bill’s Diner over in Springtown. The girl waves and walks toward the cruiser. He watches her and mutters to himself, Oh man, her name is missing, but everything else is sure in place. Whoa now.

There’ll be no calling in this stop, no more paperwork. He’s got tomorrow off and that starts right the hell now. He angles the cruiser on the side of the road and puts it in park. His headlights light her up.

She stops about ten feet from his car. Hands on her hips. Nice hips too.

Miller exits the Tahoe cruiser and puts his resistol on. Bang, just like that he remembers. Alexis, Alex for short. He gives her his best smile.

“Alex, what on earth do we have goin’ on here?”

She shakes her head and forces a smile, “I’m so pissed off at Spider right now I could just spit.”

Her expression is pure anger but there’s another edge to it too. Excitement. Those fiery eyes rove slowly up and down him. Twice. Like a cattle buyer looking at a prize Angus. Her smile gets much warmer.

“Yeah, that Spider is a rascal.” Miller grins, tips his trooper cowboy hat back on his head and hooks his thumbs on his service belt.

“Told him to have that truck serviced a thousand times Officer…” She looks embarrassed now. “I’m so sorry, I can’t believe I forgot your name!”

“Oh that’s alright, I only come into Billy’s for dinner ‘bout three times a week.” He offers up his best aw shucks laugh. “Olan…Olan Miller, at your service.”

She takes a few tentative steps towards him. “That’s right. How I could have forgotten that, I have nooo earthly idea.” She takes a strand of her long hair and tucks it behind one ear. Those eyes are still blazing hot and if it wasn’t summertime she’d be freezing with the little she has on.

Miller put the brakes on right there. It’s fun to do this every once in awhile. Hell, he’s not married. Just flirt it up a little and all that, but you can’t let it go any further. He’d been warned him many times about this kind of fooling around. Sooner or later it would bite you. Hard.

“Well, alright then Alexis. Let’s shut those lights off so the battery don’t die.” He pulls his hat back down in a subtle sign of getting back to business.

“Sure, sure Olan. Thanks, I didn’t even think abo –“

Out of nowhere, like a bull waiting at a rodeo gate, Miller hears a pained bellow. He glances up and down the ditch and standing corn. Nothing.

“Alex, are there cows loose around here?” Miller looks back at her.

She blinks at him with confused big eyes. “I don’t know Olan, maybe a few got loose from the Coleman place…”

“GET…get away.  She’s got a ….”  The voice from somewhere in the corn started strong, but ended weak.

Miller looks again down the dark road, taking a step toward the corn. “Who the hell is that Alex? What ‘d he say?”

“He said,” She was smiling bigger than ever. “She’s got a …”

Miller turns back to her and sees her arm coming around from the small of her back. Then, a blurred shiny reflection.

She loops a big roundhouse with the butcher knife, tearing his neck open like a ripe watermelon.

“Knife”, she finishes the sentence in a hissing whisper.

Miller watched in wonder when the first gout of blood splattered laterally across Alex’s tight shirt. He staggers back a step, loses his hat, then feels the waterfall of dark red coming from the long deep slash. His hand reflexes for the strap on his gun but quickly goes to his throat instead.

She babbles something incoherent in a deep voice. Miller drops hard to his knees.

Leaning low this time, she comes up and in with the knife, burying it into his chest all the way to the handle.

She kisses the top of Miller’s bowed head but then pushes savagely with a foot on his shoulder to dislodge him.

It’s silent for a moment and she raises her beautiful, awful face to the cornfield. “Luke? Honey love? Is that you moanin’. Whatever are we gonna do now darlin?” Her laugh is insane but cut short.

She whirls at the sound of the Miller’s cruiser door closing.

That’s Luke’s answer for now.

One More Spring by Jim Wilsky

The old cabin creaked and shuddered in the harsh winter wind. It was late November, 1857 and Jess Bender sat slowly rocking in the big pine chair he had made years ago. He was wrapped in an old buffalo blanket, but was still shivering. The one room cabin was warmed by a fire burning in a small stone and rock hearth darkened by the soot of winters past.

The fire was burning down, but Jess made no move to feed or rekindle it. His breathing was rattling and uneven. He was stoved up real bad this time for sure. Sam, his old trapping partner was sitting across the room staring at the fire and he wasn’t much better off. Both of them had been sickly since the big blizzard two weeks ago. Spring couldn’t come too soon.

He glanced back over at his trapping partner for all those years and it saddened him a considerable bit. Yessir, they had been through heaven and hell together but more and more he had a hard recollecting those things. Almost like it had never happened.

The glorious life and times of the Mountain Man had come and gone in a damn blink. The peak that is, they were still out there, but there number was dwindling fast. It was an all too short of a time. Damn shame.

When you tallied it all up, the two had walked and rode a thousand of miles together. Hell, two thousand miles most likely. They’d seen harsh bitter winters, blooming warm springs and blazing summers. Both had stood dumbstruck and awed by the beautiful shades of autumn in these mountains and plains. They had hunted and fished and trapped. Some folks might have considered their lives peculiar back east, but that’s the way they liked it. Isolated, free and alone.

Neither of them had much use for anything this world had to offer other than just being up here in these mountains. Other people, and civilization on the whole for that matter, was something they preferred to live without. Those things seemed to only bring trouble with them.

Jess Bender had chosen this route at the age of fifteen, after his father had decided to settle the family in Denver. Jess knew that he couldn’t just stop there, not with so many places west, places yet to be seen. His family was done traveling, bone tired, disappointed and broken in spirit. Jesse on the other hand, felt he had to keep going and not necessarily just west, north or south. He just had to keep going.

It was a lucky thing for Sam that they met that last day because he was in poor shape, hungry and tired. Jess had cottoned to him right off. Being the older by far and much more experienced, he had offered to take Sam on as help.

He left in the middle of the night on Buck, the big black horse, one of three the family had. In his saddle bag he had some biscuits, jerky and a bedroll. He took the old Remington that his father had never shot. It was a poor hunting gun but it was all he had back then. Never saw his folks or siblings again.

His partner had left his family in much the same way. There was a certain wander lust they both shared no doubt. Sam had run away from his family near the border of Nebraska and Colorado, as they struggled their West in a doomed, bedraggled wagon train. He had struck off one night without anyone knowing.

Sam had been on his own for about a month when the two had met at the rendezvous on the South Platte River. Jess had always enjoyed the yearly meet but they lasted too long for his tastes and he was always anxious to leave.

It was a lucky thing for Sam that they met that last day because he was in poor shape, hungry and tired. Jess had cottoned to him right off. Being the older by far and much more experienced, he had offered to take Sam on as help.

After trading in Jess’s furs and re-supplying, they had set out, heading back into the mountains.

Jess looked at the dark cabin ceiling and thought that rendezvous might have been ten, twelve years ago. Hell he wasn’t even sure what year this was.

For the years that followed, they had enjoyed high adventure, dangerous times and grand scenery. Landscapes that took your breath away. They had crossed paths with Blackfeet, Comanche, Utes and the Crow.

There was peace, war, friendships and enemies. It had been a quarrelsome life at times and not just with the tribes. There were men of ill repute, men with no souls and rogues of all kinds to be dealt with. Jess and Sam had cheated death on more than one occasion to be sure.

onemorespringThey had traversed rivers such as the Columbia, Snake, Colorado, Green and Platte. They had enjoyed the brief acquaintance of famous trappers and mountain men, such as Jim Bridger, Henry Fraep and even Captain Bonneville one summer. Also came to know men that no one knew then, or ever.

Jess slowly closed his eyes. He could hear the wind blowin’ outside and it seemed to take him with it.  Drifting him now, slow and easy, like a slow moving stream in summer. His memories were flowing like they hadn’t for quite awhile.

He remembered at one point a few years back, him and Sam had even enjoyed a little notoriety themselves. They was mentioned by name in a pamphlet book published back east somewheres. Imagine that.

There had been a woman once. His woman. Little Feather, a Ute girl. She had been hard and soft, mean and gentle. She was a mystery, like all women were to him. He’d loved her and mourned her all in a span of a single year.

He smiled to himself now, thinking of him and Sam walking and riding the damned Overland Trail. A hundred other trails with no names and many steep mountain passes too, by God. He’d always thought that a man hasn’t really lived until he looks down on the clouds. Looking down at tree lines from peaks so high they seemed to have touched heaven itself. Mountain lakes that were so clear that a body couldn’t distinguish the real landscape from the reflection.

Season after season, year after year, it had gone on and it had seemed like it would never end. That it would last forever. But that was foolishness and he knew it, even back then. Now, it was coming to an end. All of it.

Jess had no regrets though and as he opened his eyes again to look over at Sam. He knew his partner didn’t either. Hell, they had lived spectacular lives when you came right down to it. He stared back into the dying fire and nodded to himself. He thought that was right, in fact he knew it was. Damn it all though, he’d take just one more spring.

Across the room, Sam looked over at Jess and it was as if he could hear the man’s thoughts. What a prize that would be, but he didn’t think there was another spring coming. The wind shrieked a little stronger outside and he turned toward that noise for a second, but then shifted his gaze back to the fire. It popped and cracked from time to time but it was going out.

A short time later, he heard Jess take a sharp breath in, causing him to look over again at his old partner. He watched Jess’s head fall slowly to one shoulder. The rocking chair creaked to a stop and Sam stared at him hard. He waited for him to rouse back up but Jess didn’t move. He never took another breath.

He was never far away from Jess, never far off at all and he sure wasn’t going anywhere now. Jess had taken him in as a partner, had always made him feel wanted and given him years of loyal friendship. He wasn’t about to leave his pardner. Not now, not later.

jimwilsky Jim Wilsky has had a lifelong passion for writing and storytelling. His short story work has appeared in some of the most respected online magazines such as Shotgun Honey, Beat To A Pulp, All Due Respect, Yellow Mama, A Twist of Noir, Rose & Thorn Journal, Pulp Metal and Plots With Guns. In addition, he has stories two recent anthologies; Both Barrels – Shotgun Honey and All Due Respect – The Anthology.

His first novel, Blood on Blood, co-written with Frank Zafiro and published by Snubnose Press, was released in August 2012. Two WO He is supported and strengthened by a wonderful wife and two beautiful daughters.

Sam got up stiffly, looking around the small dark cabin, lighted only by the fire and a small grease candle by the wash pan in the corner. Scanning the room slow and sad, he looked at the familiar sparse contents. A worn out bunk, small table, guns on a gun rack made from antlers, two wood plank shelves, an ancient cook stove, some old pots and pans. He walked unsteadily over to the fire as if to do something about it, then paused and looked back at his old companion.

This was the end he thought simply. His head was low as he hobbled slowly over to Jesse’s chair and put his paw softly on the old man’s boot, letting out an almost silent whine. For a minute or two he stared into Jess’s face, intently looking and hoping for any kind of reaction, any small trace of life.

Finally convinced of what he knew already, Sam painfully shifted around and rested his head on his old friend’s lap. He whined softly just once more, which was his way of saying a sorrowful goodbye. The big pale yellow dog slowly sunk down to the floor and he leaned heavily against Jess’s leg. His eyes drooped and his head sank to rest on his paws. It wouldn’t be long now. He had been waiting and trying to hold on but now Jess was gone, so he could go too.

Just a minute later the fire died out to just embers, the weak blue flame finally sputtering out. As it went, Sam started to go with it.

His last thought was of him and Jess walking through a lush green valley. The South Platte was running high with the thaw. There were exploding clumps of wild spring flowers everywhere. The mountains peaks still draped in snow were off in the distance.

The last sound he heard was the hungry wind that whistled with a vengeance now, forcing its way through the cracks of the old cabin walls.

The cold crept in claiming its dark victory, but the old man and his dog were already gone.

They were walking through that lush green valley together now, warmed by a spring sun.

Hell’s Belle by Jim Wilsky

Luke comes roaring down the dark lane like Dale Earnrhardt Jr. after a quick pit at Daytona. He bangs through and over an old cow gate without even thinking about the brakes. Sneaking a look in the rear view mirror he sees nothing but swirling dust.

The high weeds are lit up by the bouncing headlights and they blur by. A tilted mailbox up ahead signals a black top country road coming up fast. Downshifting now, cranking hard to the right, he fishtails onto the main road. Loses it to the left, gets it back and then flirts with the ditch on the right.

Winding out second gear, he grinds it into third and stands on the gas pedal. The dark road ahead is arrow straight. The land is flat as grandma‘s pancakes, lit only by a crescent moon in a cloudless sky. Spider’s truck is shivering and shaking, but he coaxes it up around sixty.

He’s beat all to shit. Bruised bad from being clubbed. Bleeding from all the cuts she did and the deep gash at the hairline is the worst. Flowing blood keeps getting in his eyes. Swiping at it with his forearm, he shouts out in pain. He’s got to have some busted ribs. His breathing is ragged, wet. The only thing he’s wearing is jeans and those are soaked in blood.

His Katy is gone. They’d messed with him plenty but made sure he stayed conscious to see what they were doing to her. He wasn’t sure how long this shit had been going on, his head wasn’t right, time was screwed up. Could have been two days down in that dank ass storm cellar. Maybe three. They tried to make it last. Make her last.

Spider had been bad enough but Alex, his crazy bitch girlfriend, was the one he feared most. She looked like a homecoming queen and had a smile that would melt you, but the girl was the devil’s own. The things she’d done. The chants and language he couldn’t understand. Her dancing eyes. He could still hear the echo of her deep husky laugh.

He looks in the rearview again. Nothing but darkness and the single pole light at the old farmhouse. Spider has to be dead, he’d caved his head in with a spade, took his keys and split. Alex though, he didn’t know where she was.

The engine coughs, pauses, coughs again and finally roars on. He’s still doing 50, but his eyes click over to temp gauge. He’s blown a hose or some fucking thing. Ten seconds later and the old Silverado sputters out for good. It rolls to a smoking stop only about a mile and a half away from hell.

Luke falls out of the truck as much as he steps out and doubles over after a lightning bolt in his ribs. He stands bent over, weaving in the middle of the road.

It’s around ten miles to town. He’ll never make it, but hey. He starts down the road with a painful shuffle, as fast he can go without falling down or passing out. Clearing the fading arc of headlights, he just keeps gimping along in the dark.

Then he hears it. Way off. Not a scream, more like a whoop.

There it is again.

Like a goddamn war cry.

He veers like a drunk over to the shallow ditch and goes down to a knee, looking back towards the truck. He’ll go into the corn rows if he has to.

Time stops.

Then the truck taillights light her up in red. An Olympic track star. At least that’s what Alex looks like as she comes busting ass down that blacktop. Really pickin’ em up and puttin’ em down.

Slowing to a trot at the truck, she stops dead just past it. Short-short cutoffs, tennis shoes and an old ZZTop t-shirt. She has that large butcher knife and it reflects a quick sliver of light. She doesn’t move.

The crickets and night bugs drone on.

Finally in the dying headlights, her head swivels slowly up the road. She looks right at where he’s hunkered down. He swears he sees that gleaming homecoming smile.

He struggles toward the corn with clenched teeth.

Yella Haired Girls by Jim Wilsky

“Not a whole helluva lot of time left Missus Jupe.”

Bev waits like she should and then finally turns the key again. The car whines, sputters and coughs twice. She taps the pedal in and out with an even rhythm. Her eyes are closed and she’s gritting her teeth so hard I think she’s  gonna crack’em.

“You flooded it.”

“Fuck Me!” Bev lets off the key and her chin drops to her chest. One hand starts pounding the steering wheel but the other stays on the keychain. “Don’t you say another fuckin’ word to me Colt.”

She slides me a look sideways that freezes me for a second. Her eyes are all bugged out and her wet hair is hanging down in her face. It’s almost dark now but there’s enough light from the gas station to make her look like the crazy bitch she is.

So by God I don’t say another word, but I didn’t look away either. I just thumb sideways and shift back in the seat of the old Silverado to where she can look past me out my window. It’s rainin’ like a bastard, but you can still see those two headlights comin’ from the south.  Way off and all, but comin’ hard.

Her eyes go to the two tiny dots of light and then back to me. Nostrils flared and mouth a tight thin line, she bangs on the dash. Bev is hard edged and rough, but a damn good lookin’ woman when she wants to be. Right now, right here, not so much.

Harlan Jupe, who’s probably sittin’ behind those two distant lights and gritting his teeth too, isn’t really after me. Now Beverly Ann here, his cheating wife, well she’s a different story. And that briefcase of Harlan’s in our backseat, well that’s a real game changer too. There is no doubt though that I’ll be going down for this anyway. Collateral damage if nothing else. I pat all the pockets of my hunting jacket to check for any more shells.

“Colt, whatta we gonna do?” the small voice behind me is quivery scared, like it should be.

I look into the back of the extended cab and smile at her. Carly is Bev’s much younger sister. Nineteen years old, golden haired and hotter than a three dollar pistol. A yella haired girl, as my dad used to say. She’s the only real reason I’m even here.

“Everything’s fine darlin’.” I count five slugs for my Remington. The Ruger on my hip still has a full clip.

We’d had a little dust up with Harlan about fifty miles back. Came up on us at a deserted rest stop just as we were pulling out. He was hanging out of his truck just firing away and I was doing the same. He shot our back window out. I shot out his right front tire.

That had put some needed space between him and us. We were in good shape until Bev realized we were runnin’ on fumes. We’ve been sittin’ here trying to start this truck since we stopped. Guarantee you Harlan changed that tire quick. Time is getting short. Real short.

I look at the headlights coming down that arrow straight road. I can just tell by those lights.

“Get out. Both of you girls, goan now, git.”

“You ain’t ordering me out of my own truck Colt.”

“You’re gettin’ out Bev.”

“I ain’t.”

I lean over and bust her a good one, right on the chin. Hard edged or not, she’s out of commission for now.

“Carly, help her now! Head inside the station. Go into the far back, restroom, office or somethin’. Tell that old boy in there to hide you, cause there’s trouble comin’.”

A half minute later, the lights pull in and roar up to the pump right next to ours.

The black Camaro still has a quarter tank left. No time for gas right now. Her name is Kim, Kim from Durango, Colorado. Going to see her momma in Lubbock. She’s got golden hair too. Asks me if I’m gonna hurt her. I tell her a’course not. Asks me what’s in the briefcase. I tell her a vacation on a beach somewhere , do you want to go? Be damned if she don’t say yes.

As we pull out nice and easy, I see headlights coming in the rear view mirror. I can just tell by those lights.