Flash Flood

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Westerns  |  House: Booksie Classic

Featured Review on this writing by Celtic-Scribe63

Western justice when the Law fails.


 

After the sparse spring rains of 1892, the twins, Heat and Drought, dug their heels into July, August, and September as if they’d planned to stay all winter. By the first week of October, the Oklahoma Territory surrounding Silver Rock City was baked hard from months of unrelenting sunshine and no rainfall. Water was scarce and at a premium when it could be found.

But Homer White was more fortunate than most: the small spread on a plot of land he’d purchased two years ago from Ralph Murphy, a rancher, bordered Whistle Creek, where it joined Canyon Creek.

Homer was a thirty-one-year-old man with a receding line of curly black hair. Behind his back, some townsfolk described him as a greenhorn-easterner, who “didn’t know nothin’ ‘bout farmin’.” His bank-clerk attire, wire-rimmed spectacles, and tall-drink-of-water physique did little to dispel this impression.

Homer had supervised constructing a farmhouse, a bunkhouse, a barn, and a couple of outbuildings despite what they thought. He had a corral erected for two horses, a bull, and a half dozen cows. He was hell-bent on building up his farm, so he could send for his fiancée, Mary, next spring.

October 8 broke as hot and dry as they come. The brilliant sun beatdown on the farm with nary a cloud in the sky for protection. Fields of corn and wheat Homer had planted near the creeks whithered; their leaves turned brown from the lack of rain.

In contrast, the farmyard was very much alive with activity. The two horses frolicked in the corral, the bull eyed a heifer coming into season, and a small flock of chickens was scratching and feeding on a cache of seeds. Out of nowhere, an old hound dog ran across the barnyard, chasing the rooster.

Homer was hot on its tail. “Leave that rooster alone, you worthless hound,” he yelled, brandishing a willow switch.

The hound ducked out of reach of Homer’s switch, ran, and hid. Theo Robbins, the short, stocky hired hand with blonde hair and a beard to match, stepped out of the barn just in time to watch the fracas.

“Get ‘im, Homer,” he said with a chuckle.

“One of these days, I’m gonna get a proper dog, not a flea-bitten mongrel, the likes of him,” said Homer.

“Keeps varmints in check, Homer. Ya otta give ‘im a break.”

Homer tossed the switch aside and wiped his brow. “Gits my dander up, chasing after chickens like he does. We’ll never get no eggs at this rate.”

“Ya got him all wrong, Homer. He only chases that old rooster.”

“But he scares the hens out of laying, no doubt,” said Homer.

“If that old rooster was flogging him, he got what he deserved.”

“You’re probably right on that one,” said Homer. “Don’t know which of the two is the worse.”

Theo turned back into the barn, and Homer went into the farmhouse.

###

The farmhouse had a combination of great room and kitchen with modest furnishings. A round table and four chairs were arranged with two place settings and two glasses. At noontime, Theo entered and went to a washbasin.

“Smells good, Homer,” said Theo. “Ya out did yerself this time.”

“Something simple, I threw together.”

Theo pulled out a chair and sat. Homer served a helping for each of them.

“If’n ya ever give up farmin’, ya could open a restaurant with this good cookin’,” said Theo.

“Eat up,” said Homer, ignoring him. He took a seat as well and poured a glass of milk for each of them. “What’s the water situation?”

“Both creeks are down to a trickle.”

“Hope they last,” said Homer.

“They will... They’d better.”

“Says who?” asked Homer.

“They wouldn’t dare dry up.”

“Playing the Almighty’s hand?” asked Homer.

“‘Tain’t that bold,” said Theo, shaking his head. “Just hopin’ ‘n prayin’ more than anythin’, that’s all.”

Without further conversation, both men ate their meals.

###

Sheriff William Duggan, a mid-40s, stout, and balding man, closed up the Silver Rock City Jail and started his afternoon rounds. He met up with Sam Peterson, a twenty-nine-year-old, tall, gangly man with bushy red hair and freckles.

“Hot enough fer ya, Sheriff?” asked Sam.

“You ask me that same question every day, Sam. Don’t you ever think of anything else?”

“How can I?” asked Sam. “‘Tis the longest run of heat-filled days I can recollect, ever.”

“Well... I see your point, but askin’ me every day gets old.”

“Where’s we’s goin’ first?” asked Sam.

“Down Main to the end of town. Like we always do. Why you askin’?”

“Can we’s walk on the shaded side?” asked Sam. “Ya know, I’m kinda sensitive...”

Duggan cut him off. “How’s that, Sam?”

“Well... I done got sunburned, and even my freckles hurt a might bit.”

“All right,” said Duggan, suppressing a chuckle. “We’ll keep to the shade, just for you.”

The sun beat down on Silver Rock’s dusty, nearly-empty streets while Duggan and Sam kept to the shade as much as possible. Finally, they reached the end of town and stopped at the windmill. Its rotor click-clacked in the wind, and its pump dry-scraped up and down but didn’t pump any water.

Duggan shielded his eyes and looked southward.

“If’n we’s don’t get rain soon...” said Sam, watching the windmill’s futile attempt to pump water from the dry well.

“Sam. Aren’t those clouds on the horizon?”

“Where?”

“There,” said Duggan, pointing. “South.”

Sam shielded his eyes and took a hard, long look in that direction. “Well, I’ll be danged if they’s ain’t.”

###

All-day long, rain advanced toward Silver Rock. When the first band of showers came, the townsfolk danced in the muddy streets, and beer was free for the asking. There was plenty of hooting and hollering, but when a second, more intense wave of rain fell by the bucketfuls, all except the foolhardy ran for cover. By evening, the downpour was torrential.

The wee hours brought the severest downpours yet. At first light, Theo awoke to the sound of rushing water, cows mooing, and horses whinnying. He went to the bunkhouse door to see the creeks’ waters spilling into the barnyard.  He ran to the farmhouse and banged on the door.

“Homer! Homer, get up. We’re floodin’ sumthin’ fierce.”

Homer opened the door in his nightshirt and stood on the porch. He watched in horror as the bull and cows struggled but were swept away. He felt some relief as he watched the horses escape to higher ground.

Homer was so stunned at the sight of the destruction, he couldn’t move. All the while, the floodwaters kept rising around the farmhouse. When water lapped over the porch, Theo grabbed Homer by his shoulders a shook him.

“Get hold of yerself, Homer, or the water will take us too.  Climb!”

Homer and Theo scurried to the farmhouse’s roof. They sat on its shingles throughout the day while the rain kept falling—hour after hour.

###

Two days later, Sheriff Duggan was at the Lavender Rose saloon, enjoying a beer and talking with Sally Higgins, late-30s, its owner. John “Shorty” Perry was tending bar, but he was anything but short. He stood six-foot-one and was a force to reckon with if you caused any trouble. Rusty Thorsten, a thin, mousy man, plunked out a tune on the piano. A couple of customers hung at the bar, two men were playing Black Jack, and Ralph, the rancher, sat at a table in the corner.

“Quiet for a Friday,” said Sally.

“For a change,” said Duggan.

“Can’t keep the lamps burning at this rate.”

“You do all right for yourself. Once the cowpokes get the herds under control, your place will be bursting.

Rusty quit playing and approached Sally. “Sorry to interrupt, Miss Sally, but there ain’t much use ta keep playin’ ta nobody. So if’n ya don’t mind, I’d sure like ta check how’s my place’s a-farin’.”

“All right, Rusty. Help yourself to a beer on your way out.”

Rusty nodded and stopped by the bar.

“You were saying?” asked Sally.

“This place is a gold mine,” said Duggan, looking around and waving his arm right then left.

“And just as hard to work: long hours, can’t remember when I took a vacation. I need a strong man to help out.”

“Have someone in mind?”

Sally slid her hand toward Duggan’s. “Got my eye on a man, but he’s not ready to settle down yet.”

“Well... Uh... Sally... When he does, be sure to let me know who the lucky fella is.”

“You’ll be the first to know, Bill.”

Duggan gulped the last of his beer and slid his chair back. “Uh... Should be making my rounds.”

“Don’t drown,” said Salley with a chuckle.

“Right... Not if I can help it,” said Duggan as he stood and started toward the bar.

Homer pushed open the swinging doors and stepped inside the Rose. Looking around, he caught sight of Ralph and moseyed over to his table. He stood looking down on him.

Ralph knocked back a whiskey and looked Homer in the eye. “Homer. Homer White. Fancy seeing you. Have a seat... And a drink.”

Homer yanked a chair backward and dropped into the seat. He leaned forward. “You swindled me!”

“What?”

“Flash flood took my house, barn... everything I had... All my livestock’s gone too.”

“Heard you flooded, but it ain’t my fault you greenhorn sodbusters don’t know nothin’ ‘bout land and water.”

“See here, Ralph...”

“Should’ve built on the higher ground, but you didn’t. Reckon you wanted to hear the creek bubblin’ past your window while you slept. Well, la-di-da. Now you’re payin’ for your ignorance,” said Ralph, pointing his finger in Homer’s face. “Besides, our deal was a fair one.”

Homer slammed his fist on the table. “You knew that land would flood when you sold it. You cheated me. I want my money back.”

“‘Tweren’t no cheatin’ in the deal! You got the land. I got the money, and I’m keepin’ it!” Ralph rocked his chair back on two legs. He had a smug smile on his face. “‘Tain’t my fault this once-in-a-lifetime rain came and wiped you out. ‘Tain’t responsible for the weather no more than you are.”

“But...”

Ralph slammed his chair forward, hard. “Give it up, Homer. The courts will back me.”

“This ain’t over.”

“Yes, it is, Homer. Drink up. It’s on me.”

“Take your drink and drown in it for all I care. But mark my words, this... ain’t... over...” Homer shoved his chair aside, tipping it over. He stormed out into the rain.

Duggan leaned toward Shorty. “What’s that all about?”

“Seems, Ralph Murphy sold that there sodbuster, Homer White, a piece of land near Whistle Creek, where it bends and joins Canyon Creek.”

“Never expected Ralph to sell any of his lands, especially there,” said Duggan.

“Story is Homer paid top dollar fer it, and you know Ralph, he never passed up a chance fer another dollar.”

“I’ve been there,” said Duggan. “Nice piece of land, good soil, plenty of water, and room for raising crops. Both high and lowland. Ideal setting under normal conditions. Ever hear of it flooding before?”

“Ain’t never heard of most places flooding that are flooding now.”

“I see Ralph’s point. He can’t be responsible for the weather or Homer’s foolishness. But I see Homer’s frustration of losing everything to something he can’t control.”

“Maybe, he thinks he can change Ralph since he can’t change the weather.”

“Knowing Ralph, the way I do,” said Duggan, “Homer has a better chance of changing the weather.”

###

Later that evening, Sam ran up to Sheriff Duggan just as he left the Rose’s dining room. “Sheriff, you’d better come quick. Homer White and Ralph Murphy are fixin’ to have a gunfight at the Nugget.”

“What happened?” asked Duggan as they hurried to the Nugget.

“Seems Homer came in with a rifle whiles Ralph was having a drink at the bar and called him out. But Ralph wasn’t armed. Homer told the cowpoke next to him to put his shooter on the bar. That’s when I come to get ya.”

Sam and Duggan stepped through the swinging saloon doors. Homer was facing the bar, and Ralph was facing Homer.

Homer waved his rifle at Ralph and then to the gun on the bar. “Pick it up.”

Ralph shook his head. “No, I won’t.”

“You’re yellow-bellied and a cheat.”

Ralph extended an open hand to Homer. “Not gonna gunfight over a piece of land I sold fair and square.” Ralph took hold of a crucifix that hung around his neck. “I swear by this, it was a square deal. I’m no cheat.”

Homer put the rifle to his shoulder and sighted on Ralph. “I said pick it up, you yella-bellied land-cheater, or I’ll drop ya where ya stand, with or without no gun.”

Duggan stepped to one side of the men and drew his weapon. “Put the rifle down, Homer.”

Homer turned his head toward Duggan’s voice. “What’s that?”

“I told you to put the rifle down, Homer, or I’ll end this my way.”

Homer lowered his rifle and pleaded. “Ain’t there nuthin’ the Law can do, Sheriff? Can’t I get my money back?”

“Listen to me, Homer. Seems like the deal was a fair one. Both of you were satisfied, shook hands on it, and signed a deed. How long ago was that?”

“Two springs ago.”

Duggan eased off on his weapon but kept it ready. “Don’t you see, Homer? Ralph had no idea the storms would be as bad as they are? I tell you; the courts will back him on this.”

“But, Sheriff.”

“The Law’s on his side. There’s nothing I can do.”

Homer left his rifle hang on his arm. “I don’t like it, but you’re right. Nothing left to do, but wait for the bank to open tomorrow, withdraw what I got left, and take the train back east where I belong.”

Duggan holstered his gun and approached Homer. “There’s good folk around these parts that’ll help you rebuild.”

Homer shook his head. “No. I’ve had my fill and don’t have enough to rebuild. I’m just not cut out for this life. Back east is where I belong.”

“Do what you think best, Homer.”

Homer, in tears, walked out into the rain.

Ralph took off his hat and wiped his brow. “Thanks, Sheriff. I didn’t think Homer would back down so easy.”

“Maybe, too easy.”

“How’s that, Sheriff?”

“Oh, never mind.”

“Drink’s on me, Sheriff.”

“No, thanks, Ralph. Maybe some other time.”

“Suit yourself. Barkeep. Make mine a whiskey. A double whiskey.”

###

The following morning, the rains let up for a spell. Ralph Murphy mounted his horse for the long ride back to his ranch. He reached Stoney Creek, which was now a small river and rising. Ralph cautiously crossed the surging waters.

As he reached the other side, Ralph felt the sharp pain in his shoulder just as the sound of a rifle shot reached his ears. The impact knocked him off his horse, and he fell, hitting his head.

When Ralph came to, Homer was standing over him with a rifle pointing in his face. Ralph’s arms and legs were tied to stakes sunk in the ground at the water’s edge.

“No use struggling.”

“What you doin’, Homer?”

“Letting nature take its course. I’m no more responsible for the weather than you are.”

“Listen here, Homer. We can work this out.”

“No! We’ll let the Court of the Almighty decide this.”

“Homer, listen to me... You seem reasonable. We... We can talk and... And come to an agreement of some kind. Can’t we?”

Homer looked skyward. Rain fell in buckets and beat on his face. “Saw my prize bull struggling. Then he went under. My whole herd got swept away. Didn’t have a chance.”

“I... I’ll give you a bigger herd and two prize bulls. Just turn me loose, Homer, and we’ll talk this through.”

Homer ignored him. “My Mary was coming next spring. Now I got nothing... Nothing to offer her. Yer greed swindled me out of everything I had.”

Ralph trashed about to free his hands, but he only tightened his constraints. “No, Homer. No, I didn’t.”

“You did, plain and simple.”

“Believe me. I had no idea that land would flood. It never did before.”

Homer pointed the tip of the rifle between Ralph’s eyes. “Liar!”

“Oh, my God, I didn’t know.”

Homer turned away. “Try to convince God when ya see Him face to face.” He mounted up and led Ralph’s horse through the torrential rain to higher ground.

Ralph squirmed and struggled. “Don’t leave me this way! I’ll give the money back... I’ll buy the land back... Double the price you paid... Homer...! Homer!”

Homer disappeared over the crest of the hill.

The downpour continued for most of the day and evening. Stoney Creek rose three and a half feet by morning. In time, the surging current loosened the stakes and swept Ralph’s body downstream until it snagged.

###

After several more days of rain, the clouds finally gave way to sunshine and drier air. Flooded creeks and rivers began to recede, and folks returned to their everyday activities.

Sheriff Duggan stuck his head in the Rose and yelled, “Shorty.”

“What ya want, Sheriff?”

“Has Ralph Murphy been in here lately?”

“No. He frequents the Nugget. Maybe they’ve seen him.”

“No... They haven’t seen him neither. Nobody’s seen him since the rains, and it’s been nearly a week. You willing to join a search party?”

“Sure, Sheriff. Just say where and when.”

###

Duggan organized a search party to locate Ralph. At noon a group of twelve gathered at the trail to Ralph’s ranch, crossing Stony Creek. Half the group went upstream while the others went downstream, searching both banks. Stoney Creek’s waters were still very high, which made the search a slow and dangerous process. At 5:15 PM, the sun was about to set, and the search was called off. They agreed to meet at noon the following day.

Overnight, the waters of Stoney Creek had finally receded, and the search for Ralph was making better progress. About three-quarters of a mile downstream, a townsperson shouted, “A body. Somebody, get Sheriff Duggan. I found a body over here.”

The waters of Stoney Creek had entangled Ralph Murphy’s body in a tree’s roots. His legs were dangling and flopping in the current.

“It’s already decaying, so it must be nearly a week old,” said another townsperson.

The search party crowded in for a closer look.

Sheriff Duggan and Sam arrived on the grim scene. “Where’s the body?” asked Duggan.

“Over here,” said Henry Barnes, the wainwright.

“Stand back, everyone. Give us some room.”

“Ya reckon that’s Ralph?” asked Sam. “His face is messed up, mighty bad.”

“Yeah, it is. The crucifix. Ralph had one like it.”

“Didn’t do him much good,” said Sam.

Henry said, “And someone bound his hands and feet with bailing twine.”

“Lemme see,” said Duggan. “Well, if that don’t beat all.”

“‘Tain’t that the same twine Homer White hunged hisself with?” asked Sam.

Duggan nodded. “Yep, it is.”

“Reckon Homer ended his dispute with Ralph the only way he knowed how.”

Duggan removed his hat and scratched his head. “Sometimes, I don’t understand what drives a man. Ralph valued money and land above everything else... In the end, look at what they brung him.”

“Reckon the least we can do is bury him on his land,” said Sam.

Duggan put on his hat and got up to leave. “Two lives wasted over a piece of land that’s not worth a hill of beans to neither of them now.” Duggan turned and walked away.

The End

 

 



Submitted: January 01, 2021

© Copyright 2021 DRayVan. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Celtic-Scribe63

Your dialogue brought this piece alive.
The banter between characters was excellent.
This was a piece of the old West brought to life and as welcoming as a slice of apple pie and cream.
Professionally presented and a polished product.
great work
Regards.
CS63

Fri, January 22nd, 2021 10:17am

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