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Poetry Magnum Opus

Dire Necessity


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The last shovelful of red clay slid down the mound as the boy flattened the top of the second grave. The cold had abated somewhat as the early morning sky began to clear. He wiped sweat and tears from his face, then stood for several minutes staring into the distance before throwing down the shovel where he stood.


Maybe whoever killed 'em will stop at old man Simms' place.

The sorrel mare took the bit easily as the bridle went over her ears. With the reins hanging, she stood fidgeting while the boy methodically saddled her without any haste in his movements. Even though the sun stood well up now, working on the thin mist and light dew, the chill morning air made them both shiver. He waited for the mare to let out the air she was holding before tugging the cinch tight around her belly. He slid a rifle into the saddle scabbard and checked his Pa's pistol one more time. Six rounds in the chamber.


To hell with one empty under the hammer!

Matthew Grady had returned soon after daybreak that morning. Riding fence being a lonely job, he was eager to see his father and sister. He let the mare pick up the pace when the ranch house came into sight. The black haired boy, tall and wiry, looked to be in his late teens. Already a man, by most accounts, he could handle any job on their small ranch. After unsaddling and turning his mare into the strangely empty corral, he walked toward the silent house, slapping dust from himself with his hat.


Awful quiet. Wonder where Pa took the horses?

Inside, the boy found his father and sister close together, lying on the floor in merged pools of drying blood. His father, who had fled the cotton fields of Mississippi to this empty land in Arizona, dead with a bullet in his chest. His sister—whose mother died giving her birth—dead with a crushed skull. Matthew fell to his knees near the bodies. With no mother since the age of three, and few creature comforts on a squatter's ranch, Matthew learned to stand on his own sooner than most, scant time in his life for tender care, but adversity only strengthened this family's ties. Now his world had collapsed into agony. He knelt there beside the bodies for more than an hour before reality began to seep through the shock and denial.


I got to take care of this—find whoever done it.

The mare kicked into a brisk trot. With no eagerness to get where he was going, the boy reined in her enthusiasm, holding to a steady walk. He rubbed her brown neck and gazed at the raw rolling hills and the now clear sky above a thin row of dwarf juniper threading along the creek. To the south, nothing but mesquite and greasewood showed for several miles before the stark, rocky silhouette formed the skyline.


They ain't even botherin' to hide their trail.

Matthew began practicing, needing to do something, anything. Yanking his pistol upward in a disjointed motion, too near the mare's right eye, he caused her to flinch left and buck her rear for two stiff-legged jumps.


I got to calm down. Can't be all nervous and jerkin' around like this.

He reined to a stop on a small rise, a full quarter-mile from the Spanish Mission ruins, but he could plainly see four horses at the railing in front of the only still-standing building. No other sign of life. It never had been a town, but some years back, a man called Simms rebuilt one room to be a trading post, where he mostly sold whiskey. Matthew sat for awhile, secretly gathering his courage.


You gonna sit here till it gets dark, then? They ain't no other way than just goin' on in there.

Matthew slid off the mare outside the windowless building. The saddled buckskin and the stolen horses stood tied to the single rail. The open doorway revealed only darkness and silence.


He eased up on the one adobe step to peer inside. He could just make out the forms of two men facing each other across the plank bar. There came a clinking sound, but no talk.


He took two small steps into the room. As his eyes adjusted to the dimness, he could see that the figure behind the bar was Simms. The boy swallowed twice before he spoke to the back of the stranger. "Mistah, you drivin' them tied-up horses?


Both men jumped at the sound; they had not heard him approach, and somehow that made Matthew feel less nervous. The two men stood still and stared at the boy framed in the bright doorway. Matthew silently focused his attention on the man's hands.


"Them's my horses, Boy. What you want to know for?" This man standing in front of the bar seemed not much taller than Matthew, but stockier, and likely twice his age, his face stony but flushed from the whiskey that had started his day.


Simms spoke quickly, nervously. "What's wrong, Matthew? Where's your Pa?"


"Mistah Simms, I tracked them horses from our place. Pa and my sister's been killed—by this man here, I reckon'." A lump formed again in Matthew's throat, but he continued to stare at the stranger.


"My name's Hodges, Boy. So what's a little niggah like you doin' with a pistol, anyhow?" The man laughed softly and set his glass on the bar. Simms quickly sidled a few feet to his left. Hodges let his hand fall beside the low hanging pistol, leather-stropped to his right leg.


Matthew suddenly felt cold with an intense loneliness. He held his breath and stared at the man, then managed to break the silence, his voice somehow steady. "Mistah, you come outside now, or I'm gonna fight you in here."


Hodges eased back against the plank bar. "Boy, you're just lucky I don't feel up to fightin' no more today. I'm still wore out from yer little darky sister. I 'magine she's pretty done in, too, huh? Now you get your black ass outta my sight 'fore I bust you too!"


The chill tightened its grip in Matthew's chest, then a hot rage surged into his head as he realized what the man had said. He knew then that he had to go for it now.


Hodges was faster. The slug tore through the boy's arm muscle, high, yanking his hand from the pistol even as he reached for it. He spun to the right, still trying to find the handle with a hand and arm that wouldn't work. His shattered arm hit the hard-packed dirt floor, and he rolled over on his back.


Can't feel nothin'. Gotta get up.

Matthew lay still for a few seconds before slowly gripping the pistol with his left hand. He rose by rolling over his dangling right arm, up and pointing the revolver when Hodges shot him in the left side, just under his rib cage. He spun around from the impact to face the light of the doorway and slumped to the floor, the pistol clutched beneath his chest. This bullet was in him, the burning pain intense.


You're gonna have to take it to him.

"You just ain't got no sense, Boy. You got some sand in you, though, I'll give you that." Hodges holstered his pistol and refilled his shot glass, calmly watching the boy sprawled in the dirt. He got the glass to his lips just before Matthew came up off the floor with his gun out in front as he came screaming.


"Goddam you!"


Hodges spilled the whiskey down his chin and chest, desperately trying to reach his pistol.


Matthew closed the short distance and rammed into Hodges with his useless right shoulder. Hodges grabbed him, and they were in a bundle as Matthew shoved the gun upward into the man's right side and fired. Dead where he stood, the man crumpled down against the boy's boots.


Matthew collapsed on top of him, the job done.




Edited by fdelano
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What a story, Franklin. Interesting southwestern setting.


It's left unsaid, but I hope Matthew survived. I tend to think he did.




Thanks, Tony. I may need Matthew again, someday. Hint, hint.

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  • 3 months later...
Larsen M. Callirhoe

nice character portrayal. i will read this a few more times to ingest this before making a more thoural remark. the story as is, is well presented and in neat format.




victor michael

Larsen M. Callirhoe

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