Cold Steel

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

The year is 1849, the hottest part of June. With the rising morning sun behind his back, Cold Steel's shadow had stretched before him. He was going to face his opponent, the evilest cut-throat who’d ever lived, the crooked Sheriff of Slap Out. He didn’t say a word, but somehow, he didn’t have to. The grimace on Cold Steel’s face as he strode through the town made other men run for shelter.

 The atmosphere of the place changed with his coming. The rumors spreading, gazes on his back felt like a knife blades. The noise from the Iron Shovel's bat wing saloon doors made Cold Steel jerk his head around. The Sheriff walked out into the street, and said, “I’m going to have to arrest you young man.” Then he went for his gun. As he’d anticipated, Cold Steel’s eyes showed neither rage nor passion, but with utter contempt. Cold Steel's hands moved faster than a striking viper, killing what has outlived its time. A thick spot of blood appeared on the chest of the Sheriff and grew with an ominous and frightening speed. The Sheriff's vicious lips compressed, his glittering evil eyes narrowed, heart pounding, knew that this was it. This was the day of retribution, he had so long feared. He tried to eye his killer one last time. As he lifted his head, blood ran from his mouth and down his chin. The man fell forward in a lifeless heap. The shooting brought more people out into the street, and this time they clambered along the shopfronts to get a better view of the unfolding dilemma. Then the screaming had started. More men and women came out of hiding to investigate the origin of the gunshots. Some indifferent, others with hate, and some with joy. The Sheriff wasn't well-liked by the law-abiding citizens of Slap Out, but a bully only has friends while he is alive. In death, no one will mourn him. A frightened child clung close to her mother. From his left, a man scurried off the steps to check on the Sheriff. In the rain, he could be seen shaking his head. No-one spoke. They stared aimlessly at the stranger. He cut quite an imposing figure, but he knew despite the shooting they were staring at his face. It was always the same. People were more interested in his appearance than they ever were in the man himself…

The cavern he chose to spend the night was better than being exposed out in the open. The hillside was riskier in the dark, and that was the only thought that made him take cover in the cavern on the narrow ridge. It was his inner mind. His inner mind dragged him to the cave, commanding him to take cover, to hide from his pursuers. This place was perfect, he thought, thinking of the layouts and hideouts where he had hidden from the law in the past, in other mountain ranges, in other states and territories. They had been good, but nothing like this place. He retrieved his horse and led it into the cave, after which he gathered from the crest some dry twigs to build a small fire. A sound of spatter echoed through the long, large cave. A dark lake was there at the back of the cave, tiny water droplets falling down into it from above. He let his horse drink from the small lake, as he stripped his gear off it. After a long adventure to the ridge, finally, he had found a safe place to hideout, isolated from the rest of the territories.

The stirring wind carried the scent of Cold Steel's campfire from the cave. Suddenly, a short old, gangly little man with slightly bent shoulders and graying hair that curled around his neck ambled into view. Jonas grinned and spat a stream of tobacco juice. “Mind sharing some of da' coffee I smelt passing by?” He asked. Cold Steel, the outlaw, assassin, thief for hire and currently a mercenary killer, watched while the old man sat down next to the fire. I beg you to allow me to share out what is left of my provisions if ya don't mind.
“Just who are you, mister,” asked Cold Steel. “You never told me your name.”
“You never asked.”
“Well, I'm asking now stranger, who are you.”
Cold Steel flipped his finished cigarette into the fire, which spurted upward. He watched the fine, red sparks rise up, ashes fluttered in the air.
The old man was a straight talker, he said, “the name is Jonas. I've been in the mountains for years now.” He was a prospector for gold, a hunter of solitude, a lover of the drear, rock-ribbed infinitude of the mountains, because he wanted to be alone.

Along the jagged ridge of rocks where they lay. Jonas squinted at the searing sun beyond it, careful not to look directly at it. All around them was silent, but for the occasional moan of the wind. Jonas said, “Let's give them a taste of Cold Steel.”
“Cold Steel” he cursed quietly to himself as a large drop of sweat slid down from the tip of his stetson and plunked into his eye. Without thought, he twisted his hand up from the pistol grip below the rifle where he rested his cheek and wiped at the salty solution in his eye. “Shit,” he swore again, with more venom this time, as a few grains of sand found their way into his eye. He blinked rapidly to dislodge them, reluctant to show any more movement than necessary.

Dusk settled into the remote mountain pass. A chill breeze arrived, whispering among the stunted birch trees and silver-barked alders clinging to life amid the hard brown soil. The sole sign of civilization was an old road, its cracked paving stones overgrown with chokeberry bushes and knee-high spikegrass. Climbing out of a small wooded hollow to the west, it ran along the northern edge of the pass before turning southeast to head deeper into the mountains. Both men crouched behind a lichen-covered boulder thirty feet back from the road, their motionless forms blended into the rock; as one shadow among many in the deepening twilight. After all, that was their purpose: food for the coming winter months. It gets very cold in the mountains — winter is coming, you know. “I wish this rain and wind would let up,” said Cold Steel. It had rained for days; and, out of the dense forest, the giant trees no longer sheltered them. They wore their slickers over their heads and draped across their backs and shoulders, but the wind-driven rain still penetrated to their skin. The air had gotten cooler and the days shorter. Soggy, cold, and discouraged, they continued to hunt for game.
They climbed out of the foothills and onto the mountain. The vegetation was even thinner, trees were scarcer, and the rocky path was steeper and more difficult to climb. The forest below and coastal range beyond were spectacular sights from their vantage point, but the rugged mountain before them seemed daunting and ominous. Behind them, they could see clouds move across the western coastal range and descend the slopes in long cottony wisps of rain preceding them.

One night they were encamped at the head of a canyon. The day had been exceedingly hot, and long after sundown the radiation of heat from the rocks persisted. A desert bird whistled a wild, melancholy note from a dark cliff, and a distant coyote wailed mournfully. The stars shone white until the huge moon rose to burn out all their whiteness. And on this night Cold Steel watched his comrade, and yielded to interest he had not heretofore voiced.
“Pardner, what drives you into the mountains?”
“Do I seem to be a driven man?”
“No. But I feel it. Do you come to forget?”
“Yes.”
“Ah!” softly exclaimed Cold Steel. He always seemed to have known that. He said no more. Furthermore, he watched the old man rise and begin his nightly pace to and fro, up and down. With slow, soft tread, forward and back, tirelessly and ceaselessly, he paced that beat. He did not look up at the stars or follow the radiant track of the moon along the canyon ramparts. He hung his head. Likewise, he was lost in another world. It was a world which the lonely mountains made real. He looked a dark, sad, plodding figure, and somehow impressed Cold Steel with the helplessness of men.

“We ought t' break camp in an hour or so,” Jonas said. “It's time we figured on how we're goin' t' work it, eh? I wish t' the Lord it was daylight.”
Cold Steel was mild, gentle, quiet, mostly silent, yet under all his softness he seemed to be made of the fiber of steel. Faces haunted Cold Steel--a man's face. It was there in the dying embers of the campfire; it hung in the shadows that hovered over the flickering light; it drifted in the darkness beyond. And the lonely desert night set in with its dead silence, was one in which Cold Steel's mind thronged with memories of a time long past…
A sound disturbed Cold Steel's reflections. He bent his head listening. A soft wind fanned the paling embers, blew sparks and white ashes and thin smoke away into the enshrouding circle of blackness. The horses did not appear to be moving about. The quiet split to the cry of a coyote. It rose strange, wild, mournful--not the howl of a prowling upland beast baying the campfire or barking at a lonely prospector, but the wail of a wolf, full-voiced, crying out the meaning of the desert and the night. Hunger throbbed in it--hunger for a mate, for offspring, for life. When it ceased, the terrible desert silence smote Cold Steel, and the cry echoed in his soul. He and that wandering wolf were brothers.


Submitted: November 10, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Intoxcy8me. All rights reserved.

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