For the first time in a very long time, I actually wrote a short story that is… remarkably… a standalone.
Yes I know, I’m shocked too.
So a few things you should know about this story.
it’s western. Kind of…. Canadian western. But cowboys. So yeehaw.
This short story is not turning into a novel. And I have taken drastic measures to ensure that. (and I’m kind of trying out doing one of those “artistic to be interpreted by the reader” endings that I usually hate so that’s fun.)
There is a collage here:
Aaaand it’s based on a song. This song. The lyrics are kind of important, so here, you should have them.
There’s always something I miss from every town I leave. And this one, I’m really gonna miss the saloon.
For one, it’s actually a solid building without wind blowing through all the cracks in the wood. Squeaky swinging doors. A view of the white-tipped mountains out the windows. And the crowd’s nice. Not too snobby, not too seedy. I didn’t realize how much I liked being the seediest one in a saloon until this one.
Yeah, I’m gonna miss it.
Seeing as I’m taking the only other thing I’d miss along with me.
I smirk a little to myself, swirling my glass.
The conversation among the other man at the counter and the bartender that faded to just a thrum in the background while I was thinking comes into focus again right before a question is directed at me.
“… so, you coming, Jonah?”
I raise my eyebrows a little, lifting my head. “Hmm?”
Zach, the guy sitting next to me, snorts and shoves the back of my hat so it goes down over my eyes. “What’re you sittin’ here for anyway?”
“They’re going moose hunting,” comes another voice from the table in back of us. “Even I could tell that much, and I thought I was barely listening.”
“Yeah, thanks.” I call back to whoever it is sitting back there. I push my hat back far enough that I can see beyond the battered brim. “You’re going tonight?”
“Logan saw a real big one earlier this morning. So yeah, we’re going after him. Before he gets out of the area for good.” Zack puts his arms in front of him, leaning against the counter and pushing his empty glass forward a little.
I purse my lips thoughtfully for a second, then shake my head. “I’d love to, boys, really. But I’m actually getting out of town here tomorrow and heading further up north. I’m gonna need to pack up my things tonight.”
Zach frowns. The bartender, Logan, raises an eyebrow with a smile. One thing I won’t be very sad to get away from is old Logan. That’s something that goes with liking the saloon so much: the bartender knows a lot more about my personal life than I find comfortable.
“Still can’t find it in you to just settle down anywhere, huh, Harkman?” he grins at me, whisking a rag over a glass he just cleaned before turning it upside down and setting it in a row with the others.
I shrug, shifting in my seat a little. “Maybe I just don’t want to.”
Zach looks between the two of us. “You’ve only been here a month, Jonah. You up and leave like this often?”
“He’s a drifter,” Logan confirms, crossing his big arms over his chest. “New town, a new place he’s going with his life and a new woman. Least every few months.”
Zach lets out a low whistle.
An indignant feeling sparks in my chest. “Hey,” I point to Logan. “You can’t accuse me of getting a new woman this time. I’m getting married.”
I didn’t know his eyebrows could go that high until just now.
“Oh are you now?”
“I’m marrying Lily.”
Zach almost chokes on his drink.
“Lily? That missions lady, come up here to tell all us mountain men about the Good Lord Above?” Logan asks incredulously. “Big Jim’s Lily?”
“All you said except that last bit, yeah.” I try to not look as annoyed as I’m feeling, just holding my glass tighter in my hand. Why does everyone just label her as Big Jim’s girl, anyway? She can make her own decisions and she doesn’t seem all that keen on Jim in the first place.
And while I see Lily almost every day, I’ve never even seen Jim. How can she love a man who spends most of his life holed up in his ramshackle little cabin on the mountain by himself?
I’m about to say as much, but before I can open my mouth again, Logan bursts out laughing with his big rumble of a laugh that sounds like an avalanche.
“You’re…” Zach repeats slowly. “You’re… marrying Lily.”
I narrow my eyes at him for a second before tipping my glass back and finishing what’s inside.
Logan takes another few seconds to get his laughter under control. “Harkman, you run this past Big Jim yet?”
I turn my glass upside down and set it down with a clunk on the wood counter. “Planning on it right after I leave here.”
Their amusement fades into looking more than a little concerned. I try not to be too insulted.
“That’s the thing about big guys.” I spread my hands. “If you’re big, nobody ever even tries to fight you. They assume you can whoop their behind so they don’t even try. He’s probably the worst fighter in the country. And I’m not leaving town without Lily.”
“Jonah…” Zach starts.
I pull some money out of my pocket and slap it down on the counter. “That should cover my tab, Logan.” I slide off the chair and my boots clunk out a beat on the floor as I stride across the room, weaving around tables to where I hung my coat. The fireplace crackles and pops nearby. I rub a hand over the fire-warmed canvas before swinging the coat on over my shoulders.
Yellow-bellied cowards is what they are. Probably wouldn’t even put up any sort of fight for the woman they love if you gave ‘em the chance.
Logan calls for me again, but I don’t turn. Just give my hat brim a yank, straighten my collar and push outside into the cold. The doors swing and squeak in harmony behind me.
Big Jim doesn’t make it easy for a man to find him.
But before the sky was dark, I found the glow of lantern-light coming out from a sideways little cabin north of town.
I dismount my horse and walk up the last stretch of rough slope to get to the door. The powdery snow keeps dusting down, looking like flour shaken out of an apron and coating a thin layer over the ground. I scuff my boots through it, tie my horse to a post nearby, then walk up to the door.
I square my shoulders and wait for the cloud of breath to drift away from in front of my face before whacking my fist three times against the knotted wood of the door.
No noise from inside.
I frown and knock again.
Then I hear footsteps crunch in the icy grass behind me and a rumble of a voice that makes Logan sound like a soprano.
“What’re you doin’ at my cabin?”
So much for getting the first word.
I tip my head back a little as I turn, expecting to be looking level at the man’s face. Instead, I’m looking at his chest. One that’s easily as solid as a tree trunk.
My lunch turns into a rock in my gut.
I tilt my head back further, looking up into his glowering, bearded face. Smiling a little, and wrinkling my nose as a few snowflakes fall on my face.
“Come for a man named Big Jim.” I cross my arms in a reflexive attempt to make my own, non-barrel-sized chest look a little thicker. “You know where I could find him?”
As if there were ever really any doubt. My heart’s beating out a gallop rhythm in my chest.
A scowl is the response. At least I think. Who knows what goes on beyond that thick of a beard?
“You’re lookin’ at him. And who’re you?”
“Ahhh you’re the unlucky sucker then.” I prop my hands on my hips, smirking. “Jonah Harkman. Lily’s future husband. I’m leaving town tomorrow so we really need to settle this whole mess of everyone thinking she’s your girl.”
His eyes narrow. “Say what?”
“Me and you, big guy. This has to be settled sometime and I’m on a tight schedule.” I take my hat and toss it off to one side.
Big Jim just stares at me for a second more.
I decide that I’ve given him enough warning and that I need to act fast if I want to work my advantage. I go for his legs. He lets out a surprised “oof” and goes down like the big tree he is.
That’s the important bit about fighting with big guys. You gotta get the upper hand first. And I did it beautifully.
I reposition as quick as I can, getting on top of him and pulling back one fist to hit his face.
At least I get one hit in before one of his ham-sized hands comes up and clamps around my throat. Then decides to return the favor of a hit to the face. I taste blood.
“You don’t hit half bad,” I grunt out.
He growls at me.
I barely manage to yank myself loose and we’re back to tussling on the snowy ground again. After my fair share of fights, I’m pretty good at taking a punch and outlasting whoever the other guy is. But I’ve never fought someone who’s just this… big before. I’m tiring out a lot quicker than I thought. And my hands are about to freeze off. I’m sure I lost a tooth.
Looks like I’ll have to resort to my backup.
I grunt and swear as Jim lands another punch.
Lily. Think of Lily. This is for her.
I bring the image of her face up into my mind, making a silent prayer as I reach for the icy cold handle in my boot. As religious as she is, maybe she’d be proud of me. I jump forward, knife in hand.
Jim’s fist comes out of nowhere. There’s a crunch that knocks Lily’s face clean out of my head. I feel my face smash down into the icy cold ground, and then nothing.
My knife isn’t in my hand anymore when I wake up. I’m flat on my back, with a bunch of snow stuck in my eyelashes. The sky is darker now. Big Jim is nowhere in sight.
I blink hard a couple of times. Did I win?
Somehow I can’t find the energy to sit up and check. I’m tempted to just close my eyes again and go back to sleep, but something hurts. Something really hurts. Sleep should help that, right? I need rest before getting out of town with Lily anyway…
My eyes start to close again.
“Jonah!” a frantic, familiar voice cuts through the air, sounding far away. Footsteps crunch. Heavy breathing and a thump as someone comes next to me. “Oh no, no, no…” the voice is choked with tears.
I pull my eyes halfway open as she brushes the snow away from my face and lifts my head a little. A blurry outline with a blue coat and blonde hair hangs over me.
She hiccups out a sob.
Why is she crying?
Then I see where my knife got to. Blood pools around my snow-covered body, leaving the white painted red.
So this is what I get for finally trying to settle with one woman…
I groan quietly. “And Big Jim’s still alive.”
I guess he won the fight for the girl then.
I mentally cuss him out as my eyes close again.
Lily squeezes my hand, “Jonah? Jonah, please stay with me.”
I half-cough, half-laugh. “Most you’ve got is a couple minutes with me.”
“You’re not saved,” she responds in a desperate whisper. “Please… you only need a minute.”
I’m insulted for just a second. But all the God stuff is really what she thinks is most important. Now is no exception.
“Please,” she chokes.
I can feel myself drifting away, fading like my breath in the cold air. But one last thing for Lily… I have enough time for that anyway.
“I…” I swallow a little, trying to remember the magic words. “I accept…”
Her grip on my hand tightens. “…Jesus as my Lord and Savior,” she finishes breathlessly.
This is ridiculous.
“Say it, Jonah. Please.”
Stubborn woman. Apparently I can’t even have my own last words to myself.
“… accept Jesus,” I grumble out, barely any breath behind my words.
Lily relaxes a little, smiling through her tears. Like she actually knows where I’m going after this, like she says with everyone she snags in with the church stuff.
Like that’s gonna work.
I take in a shallow breath, “Hey, I…” The words won’t come. Not even sure what I want to say. My last breath goes out in a small cloud of icy air and I drift away to… I’m not sure where.
Yaaayy don’t you all hate me now? xD
Tell me what you thought below! I really need to get back into doing standalone short story stuff.
Happy Monday, everyone!
The original music video for this song is slightly less tragic and I really like it. Kind of funny + the main guy gives off some Wolfgang vibes and I appreciate him.