The Magic Badge by Rolf Luetcke
Stupid, stupid, stupid, Mom!
I’d show her. I would see dad even if she forbade me to see him.
“Dad, I’m comin’,” I called out as I ran down the dusty road.
I didn’t believe mom! Dad never did all those things she’d accused him of.
She said he was in jail in Texas for robbing a store. She also said he didn’t care about us and that was why he had left.
We had been living in cheap motels for two years now and I had to go to that awful school. Nobody liked us cause we were poor. Only Bobbie Joe talked to me and we became friends. We both dreamed of being in the old west and loved watching the westerns on Sunday morning TV.
Dad had told me of his youth in Texas and how his grandpa had known some of the cowboys who worked the ranches in the days of the Indians. I loved those stories. I loved my dad and wanted to see him and ask him about what mom had said about him not caring about us.
I didn’t know how I was gonna get all the way to Texas but I had to try.
I headed for the fort. Bobbie Joe and I had found the place a couple of months ago, when I was real young. We hauled all that old lumber over half a mile into the woods along the wash and built us a fort. It was a place we went when his parents would fight. It was a safe place and they hadn’t found it, neither my mom nor his folks.
We played cowboys there. We even had a couple of horses in the coral out back. Our horses didn’t eat much since they were wooden but they were the fastest horses in all of Arizona! We’d caught every bad guy we’d ever gone after on them!
We’d had a lot of fun there but now I needed a real horse I could ride to Texas and they’d never catch me.
The brush was dense and I was crawling on my hands and knees. It kept all the adults out!
Another couple hundred feet and I’d hit the little wash where the fort was and I could stand up again.
There really had been cowboys here in the old West, and Indians!
Bobbie Joe had found an arrowhead once and I found the old bullet. They were our prizes!
As I neared the fort, I saw a bit of silver sticking out of the sand at the edge of the wash. Maybe another bullet and I jumped down on my knees in front of it.
“Wow wee” I yelled as I picked up the old badge.
It had five points of a star and in the middle it said ‘U.S. Marshall’, below that it said ‘Tombstone 1882’. “Wow Wee!” I said it again as I held the badge in my hand. It was the neatest, the best the coolest!
Even my ten-year old mind wondered why it was so shiny and new looking. I carried it in my tightly clenched fist as I walked the last fifty yards to the fort.
I crawled through the kid-sized door and I was safe.
I was thirsty and I pulled one of the plastic bottles out of the sand. The water was nice and cool and I drank deeply.
I dug up the cookie can and brushed off the dust. I popped the lid and took out a bag of M & M’s.
Bobbie Joe and I had stashed a lot of food and water here in case of an emergency and this was an emergency!
I was finally full and I started getting sleepy. I grabbed the old sleeping bag and set it down.
I stuck the old pillow under my head and tried to figure out how I was gonna get to Texas.
I took the badge I had found and twirled it in my hand.
“I wish I was a Marshall!” I said out loud and pinned the badge to my shirt. There was an odd tingle as I put on the badge, like a little electric shock. It felt like a tickle. I giggled softly as I drifted off to sleep.
When I woke up it was daylight but the sun was low. I must have slept through the night.
I yawned and stretched. “Aahh” I yelled out as I saw someone’s hand reach around to grab me and I jumped up and bumped my head on the ceiling of the fort.
I rubbed my sore head as I looked around. There wasn’t anyone else in here with me.
How, what! Why had I bumped my head? The roof was always above my head!
Suddenly it was there again and I just stared at it. It wasn’t mine but it was on my body! The hand was that of a man but I was a ---.
The other hand was the same, tanned and strong, the nails short and ragged.
My feet had on an old pair of leather boots. I didn’t own any boots!
What in the heck was going on here? I wore a pair of cotton pants and a flannel shirt. I had a leather vest and on the left side was a badge, a Marshall’s badge.
There was the creak of leather as I moved and I felt something heavy at my waist.
I was wearing a wide leather belt with bullets in the back. I pulled one out and it was shiny and new. At my right hip was a gun and I stared at it with all kinds of strange thoughts running through my mind. What was going on here?
I looked for a way out of the fort. The tiny door just wouldn’t do. I sat on the floor and kicked out the sideboards.
As I stood and looked around I sensed something was different. I walked to the little creek, which ran clear with several inches of water. The wash had never carried water before! I was truly puzzled!
I bent down to get a closer look at the water. It bubbled and gurgled over the rocks in the bottom. I scooped my hand in and it was cool. I raised a handful to my lips. The water was as pure as any I had ever tasted. I kneeled down and sipped right from the creek.
As I stood and turned I got a real shock. There was a horse tied to a tree a few yards away. A leather saddle lay on a big log. There was an Indian blanket rolled out next to a campfire ring, smoldering just a little.
There was a leather scabbard lying on the log, with the butt of a rifle sticking out. An old cowboy hat lay on the log next to the rifle.
I reached up to my face with my hand and gasped. It wasn’t my face at all. My chin was all prickly and hard as leather. My hair was long and curly.
I turned back toward the creek and found a calm spot of water. I stood above the water and looked in. I saw my mouth open and I raised my hand toward my face and touched my nose and brushed the hair from the side of my face.
It was me but it didn’t look like me. My mind and my heart were me but my body was somebody else!
The horse started making a lot of noise and I heard a horse ride in form the east. I quickly went back up to my camp and I didn’t know what to do next. I sat on the log next to the hat and watched as a grizzled old man rode across the creek.
“Howdy Marshall!” the old man said. “Mind if I join you? My horse can use a rest.”
I just stared at him and didn’t know what to say.
He dismounted and just kept right on talking.
“---others done got yer man down by whiskey holler. Supposin you kin head on back to town tomorrow, now’s they got him. You spend the night by the krick? It ain’t suppos ta rain, so’s you won’t need a slicker---“
He just kept rattling on as if he knew me and I figured I might learn what was going on if I just listened.
“----at the OK coral. Them boys is up to no good agin. Doc done said you and yer brother are gonna hafta run em out.
“They done shot some poor Injun over towards Bisbee and there’s a hell of a worry bout the Injuns goin on the warpath agin.”
The old man had gotten the fire going again and had an old pot he went to fill at the creek.
I watched as he threw in a handful of granules and put on the lid. He walked to his horse and led it to where the other horse was tied and tied his to the same tree. He grabbed something from his saddlebag and came back to the fire. He handed me a biscuit and some jerky and never stopped talking except to draw a breath once in a while.
I didn’t know how but I was back in the old West, with cowboys and Indians.
I had always dreamed of the old West and even wished I ---
That was it! Just before I lay down to take a nap after eating the M & M’s, I put on the badge and wished I were a Marshall.
It worked! I did it. I really did it! I was a Marshall and I was in the old West!
The old man had gone on talking while we ate the food and drank that awful brew. Maybe I’d get used to it!
He went right on talking as he got on his horse and headed off toward the west. I never said a word but he never seemed to notice.
I saddled the horse, not easy for a ten year old boy in a man’s body but after a while I got it on. I headed east and rode into Tombstone by late afternoon. On the ride I checked everything in my pockets, the saddlebags and the gun I was wearing. It was a heavy gun but my older body handled it easily. It felt kind of good in my hand and I pretended it was using it to shoot bad guys. I hoped that I really didn’t have to use it because I didn’t think I could.
There were no highways, no houses and no cars. I knew where the San Pedro River was and headed along it the whole way. I had practiced on the way just what I would say and do when I ran into people. I know I was not a Marshall but a ten year old boy. How I was going to figure everything out was still ahead of me.
As I rode into town I checked out the money in my pocket to see if I had enough to pay for a room. There were only coins and I had no idea if they were enough. I figure I would get a room at the hotel and try and sort things out.
A lot of people said hello as I rode by and I tipped my hat back in salute. I figured that was a way to say hi without seeming rude.
I remembered that in the west a man always took his horse to a stable to have him fed and housed. I rode down the street and saw saloons, stores and a hotel. At the far end of the street was a stable with horses tied outside. I rode over and tied my horse to the post and asked a boy at the open door to take care of my horse. I would come back for it later. He took the reins and headed the horse into the barn.
I went to the hotel and went inside. Several people looked at me as I walked in.
The man behind the counter asked what I wanted today.
“Just a room please” I said and was surprised at the deep tone of my voice. The man had a puzzled expression on his face but after a minute he turned and got a key and tossed it to me. “On the house” he said and turned to other duties.
I walked past the tables and up the stairs as I looked to see what number was on the key.
In the room I sat on the bed for a long time and just thought about what a situation I was in. On the one hand I had wished I was back in the old West but on the other hand I was scared of all the new things I needed to know. How was I going to deal with everything? I was getting tired after the long day on a horse and I didn’t even bother to take off my clothes. I took off my boots and gun and my hat and lay down on the bed. Just before I went to sleep I took off the badge and laid it down on the small dresser by the bed and drifted off to sleep.
When I opened my eyes I looked up at the roof of the fort we had built in Benson. I sat up with a start and saw my hand was that of a boy again. I felt my face and it was smooth and not hairy. My feet had tennis shoes on.
What had happened? Was it just a dream? I crawled out the door of the fort and was back in the dry wash. It was early morning and I must have been here all night.
I went back inside the fort and next to the old sleeping bag lay the shiny badge. Had it been only a dream or was there something real going on with that badge. I picked it up and felt the slight tingle of the badge as I held it.
I got into a lot of trouble when I got home. Mom had had the police looking for me and was sure I had been kidnapped. I was grounded for a month and had a lot of time to wonder if it had all been just a dream. In the time I was grounded I did get to go to the library and checked out several books about the old West. I read about the cowboys and their lives, the old days in Tombstone and the life there. When I looked at a couple of the pictures I got a real shock when I saw the stable and hotel I had been in.
I couldn’t wait to get back to the fort and when my mom finally let me go out again, I headed right for the wash.
It was not the same anymore. There had been rain, lots of it and the wash had run. The bushes I had to crawl under were gone and there was debris of wood in several of the trees roots as I walked along. A bit farther on was what was left of my old sleeping bag.
When I finally got to the place our fort had been, it was gone, washed away by the flood. I wished that I had taken the badge along when I went home but thought it would be safe in the fort.
Now at thirty five years old, wife and kids of my own, I would often visit the wash in Benson to see if a flood had washed out the badge.
I visited my mom often and we talked about the old days and how hard I had made it for her at the beginning, after dad had gone to jail.
She said that after that time I stayed out all night I had changed and from then on I had accepted things as they were and had been such a good boy.
I had often told my kids the story of the magic badge and it had finally gotten to the point that they wanted to hear new stories. I had made them up after that and they loved the stories I came up with about the old west.
To this day I believe that I actually had traveled back in time but the badge was lost and I would never know if it was real of had just been a dream to deal with the loss of my father.
Copyright by Rolf Luetcke