The Iron Writer Challenge #172
2016 Summer Open Challenge #9
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
D. Lee Cox, Harry Craft, Zac Moran, Amy Topol
A flaming spittoon
A herd of buffalo
An inscribed gravestone
A ancient gold horse bridle
Jim McLandry – Bronco Ridin’ Dandy
D. Lee Cox
He shuffled into the kitchen and flopped down into the chair, his arm draped over the table.
“I see you’ve spent the evening at the saloon?” Margaret said, turning to him, wiping her hands.
“Dear, the Flaming Spittoon is no mere saloon, it is a fine establishment for men of great character and daring.”
“Jim, its a saloon. Its a nasty, dank, smoked up saloon.”
“AAAAnnny way… so this fellah comes in, all dressed in black, bowler hat, little red feather stuck in the band. He comes up beside me and orders a scotch.”
“The Spittoon hasn’t had scotch in years.”
“I know, right? So I turn to the fella and inform him of his faux pas. He turns and smiles right at me – you know why?”
“I cant imagine.”
“He recognizes me from Bill Cody’s show! Can you believe it? Its been what, 20years? Says, ‘Aren’t you Jim Landry, The Bronco Breaking Dandy, from Buffalo Bill’s?’
“Now mind you I’m surprised, but I just stuck out my hand for a shake.
“So’s this fellow proceeds to tell me about how he followed the show for years and always wanted to meet me!
“We get to talking and he tells me this story about some Roman named Julius somethin-Tavius ridin’ broncs back in the day. Seems this Tavius fellah took a challenge from one of those gods they had and road this bronc, Abraxas, for 2 days. So’s this Julius somethin-Tavius fellah wins a golden bridle from the boss god.
“’Well, shoot,’ I says, ‘I once road a wild buffalo in its herd for seven days across the plains’
“Jim, you did not ride a wild buffalo across the plains…”
“Dammit, Maggie, I did, I tell ya!”
“Jim, you went on a bender in Sioux City and woke up in a livery car in Junction Flats.”
“AAAAnnny way… so’s this gentleman offers to by me a REAL whiskey and makes me a wager: that golden bridle against my soul says I couldn’t ride some pony named Phobos.
Margaret’s eyes got wide.
“Jim, you didn’t… I mean, surely you didn’t…”
“Why you know I did! I aint ever backed away from a wager!”
“Oh god, Jim…”
“Fella had me sign some paper. His pen musta had a burr in it cause it pricked my finger, got a little blood on the parchment.”
He trailed off, murmuring about saddles and beer.
Margaret put him to bed shortly after.
She sat down at the kitchen table and lit a cigarette.
She reached for the telephone on the wall.
“Laura? Can you get me Ted McLandry over in Brindly?”
A click, then a tin voice from the receiver, “Hello?”
“Ted? Margaret. Listen, remember how I went ahead and paid you for your cousins tombstone, just leaving the date blank? Yeah, well, go ahead and make it for tomorrow. I’ll explain later.”
As he sat on the porch, Luke lit his pipe. After the first couple of puffs, he tossed the match into the spittoon nearby. Instead of the match fizzling out in the spit, a spurt of flame shot upward. In a few moments, the spittoon was flaming. Another one of Zeke’s practical jokes, Luke thought. Zeke had probably poured whiskey into the spittoon to make the contents flammable. Typical.
After finishing his pipe, Luke walked over to the stable. He passed the family cemetery, filled with headstones of his grandparents and other kin. Luke arrived at the stable, saddled and bridled his horse, and rode off towards town. In the distance he could see a small herd of buffalo. Used to be lots more of ‘em. Shame.
After about an hour, Luke arrived at the trading post. He walked over to the counter to ask for some necessities when he noticed a gold-colored bridle hanging from the wall. “What’s that?” he asked the storekeeper.
“That, sir, is an ancient golden bridle, owned by Alexander the Great himself!” Luke glowered skeptically. The shopkeeper laughed. “Of course it’s not! It’s not even real gold—just cleverly painted. I keep it to dress up the shop a bit.”
Luke smiled slightly. “How much do you want for it?” At first, the shopkeeper was unwilling to sell it—“decorative”, he said—but finally after some haggling, Luke bought it for $2.50. He went out, placed the goods he’d bought in the saddlebags, and switched the bridle his horse was wearing for the “golden” bridle.
When Luke arrived home, Zeke was sitting on the porch, smiling. Luke knew Zeke was hoping the spittoon fire had annoyed him, but he ignored Zeke, instead slowing his horse down to make sure Zeke saw the shiny gold of the bridle. Slightly irritated that Luke hadn’t taken the bait, but noticing the bridle, Zeke said, “Hey, where’d you get that fancy bridle?”
“Ain’t nothing to speak of. Just saw it at the trading post and liked it,” Luke told his brother in a casual voice. Luke kept his face totally straight. He was naturally prickly and temperamental. Being low-key would immediate make Zeke suspicious. In fact, exactly this happened. Zeke came down from the porch and walked up to Luke as he took the saddle and bridle off the horse.
“Hey, is there something special about that bridle?”
“I told you—it ain’t nothing.” Luke hung the bridle on the wall.
“You’re actin’ funny, Luke. Is this here bridle something special?”
“Never you mind!” growled Luke in what he hoped sounded like real anger. He turned his back on Zeke and headed back towards the house. Zeke remained behind, staring at the bridle.
Luke could barely suppress a grin. He knew Zeke. Tomorrow he’d surreptitiously take the bridle to town, convinced it was worth a fortune. Luke could imagine his face when the shopkeeper laughed at him. Finally a payback for all Zeke’s jokes!
He Always Had a Plan
We found the horse bridle next to a poisoned pond. We knew it was poisoned because a kerchief hung on a tree branch over the pond. Also, the dead horse was a giveaway. The bridle was still attached to its bones, but Joe was never squeamish about these things. He just took it off and held it up to let it catch the sun.
“It’s pure gold, Bill. We’ve got to sell it,” Joe said as we walked back towards town. Joe always had plans, mostly bad ones, but this seemed to make sense.
We went to see a short, squat toad of a man who bought and sold things. He looked over the bridle. “Fake,” he said and spit into a brass spittoon that had a herd of buffalo engraved on its side.
“Not,” said Joe, as if he knew. Right or wrong never mattered to him. He chose his side and stuck with it.
The toad raised an eyebrow and stared Joe down. He wasn’t going to give in to a kid. I saw a bead of sweat slide down the toad’s brow and that’s when I knew. This time, Joe stood on the side of right.
“Ten,” said the toad.
Joe put out his hand, “We’ll take our business elsewhere.”
The toad gripped the bridle tighter with one hand and put his other hand on his holster and said, “How about you move along, boy.”
You know that queasy feeling you get right before things go bad wrong? Well, right at that moment, I had it.
On account of Joe’s bad plans, I always had a backup. In this case, a kerchief tied around a piece of wood and some dry leaves in one pocket and a match in the other.
I lit my makeshift smoke bomb and tossed it into the spittoon. It worked fine, ‘til the toad messed it all up. The idiot stumbled through the smoke and knocked a kerosene lamp into the spittoon. The whole thing went up in a flaming mess.
I ran for the door and screamed for Joe, but Joe ran for the bridle. The last thing I saw was Joe and the toad in a tug-of-war with the bridle. The room filled with smoke as someone snatched me out of the store by the back of my shirt.
I went back after the crown left but before the ashes had a chance to cool and dug out what was left of the bridle. No one paid attention to a kids like us…well, like me.
Joe ended up in a potter’s field, since he had no family. I took the bridle and buried it on top of Joe while the dirt was still fresh and loose. Joe deserved better than what he got in this life, so I made a new plan. A better plan than Joe or I ever had, I think.
When I get older, old enough for people to take me seriously, I’ll dig up that bridle and sell it. Then I’ll get him a real headstone that says “Here lies Joe. He always had a plan.”
Valriya slipped on the virtual reality helmet, encasing her head in total darkness.
Screens in front of her eyes lit up. Images of blue skies filled her vision and the sound of wind harmonized with the grass around her. There was a snort nearby. She stood up and found herself surrounded by a herd of grazing buffalo.
“Menu,” she said.
A screen appeared in front of her. She tapped a button labeled “See Others.”
Ghostly images of her friends and the other people in the auditorium shimmered into view. They were all interacting with the scenery and buffalo.
Valriya tapped the button again and they faded away. Another button and the menu vanished as well.
“Two thousand years ago, in the year 1843, bison hunting was a booming trade,” said a disembodied voice.
Shots rang out and two buffalo toppled over. The herd didn’t react.
“Bison hunters could earn enough to retire after just a couple years of work,” said the voice, “Of course, they had plenty of help from the Sham’Kon. Our great leaders from Heaven.”
A large metallic ship flew into view above Valriya and the herd. The ship’s belly opened. Valriya and the dead bison flew up into the ship and the doors closed beneath her feet. She peered around and saw a painting on the wall of a golden horse bridal draped over a gravestone. Below the painting was an inscription.
PRETTY FALSEHOODS ENSLAVE YOU TO THEIR WILL
“What the hell?” said Valriya
“Well hello there little lady,” said a voice behind her.
She spun around to see a man leaning against a nearby bulkhead.
“Hello! This is a beautiful Sham’Kon vessel!”
The man shot a mouthful of brown liquid into a nearby spittoon, which then caught ablaze.
“Um, should that be on fire?” Valriya asked.
He walked over to her.
“You wanna tour?” he asked, his head twitching sporadically.
“Aw, man,” said Valriya. “The helmet must be glitching. Menu.”
The menu popped up, but the only option available was “See Others.” She tapped it.
The buffalo lying on the floor of the cargo hold shimmered as their shape changed to that of her friend’s corpses.
The hunter grabbed her shoulders.
“We were not meant to be slaves!” he yelled.
Valriya struggled against his grip.
“The Sham’Kon are false gods! Wake up!” yelled the hunter, “Wake up!”
The helmet came off Valriya’s head.
“Val, wake up!” yelled Erixa, shaking Valriya’s shoulders.
“What’s wrong?” asked Ryliea, holding Valriya’s helmet.
Other people in the auditorium were murmuring.
Valriya grabbed onto Erixa and hugged her, tears streaming down her face.
“The hunter shot the bison, but you guys were the bison,” Valriya said between sobs, “And there was a painting and he said the Sham’Kon are false gods.”
“This helmet is clearly malfunctioning,” said a voice behind the girls. They looked to see a gray humanoid figure towering over them.
“We, the Sham’Kon, have been your benevolent caretakers since the dawn of time. Now, may I have that helmet so no others will be traumatized?”
“No,” thought Valriya, but Ryliea was already handing it over.