Thursday, October 25, 2007


A few years ago I started on a story -- maybe it was going to be a novel. I want to share part of it with you. Feedback would be greatly appreciated. It's called "Billy."

“Billy, ain’t we ever gonna get to Tascosa?” asked the skinny, blonde-headed kid on the boney mule plodding along the dry wash.

Billy didn’t answer. He just touched spurs to the sorrel’s sides and trotted out ahead so he wouldn’t have to listen.

It had been a long day. The dust caked on his face was streaked with little muddy rivers where the sweat ran down from beneath his hatband. His shirt was heavy with the sweat and dust that clung to him. July in the Texas Panhandle wasn’t his idea of a holiday.

The little mule hurried to catch up to the sorrel and in doing so, tried to beat the tailbone off the kid clinging to his back. He couldn’t have been more than twelve…the kid that is. The mule must have been going on twenty. It was hard to tell. There wasn’t much left of him but skin and bones.

Billy had found the boy wandering in a draw on the south side of the river four days back. He was scared and hungry. He had tried to give him to a Mexican sheep-herder a couple of days later but the pastorale wouldn’t take him. Well, at least he had traded that old pistol he had found for the mule so Tad wouldn’t have to ride double anymore.

That’s what the kid called himself, Tad. Said it was short for Tadpole. He didn’t know what his given name was. He’d been called Tad as long as he could remember. Until Billy quizzed him about it, he had thought that was his only name.

“Hey, Billy, wait up!” called Tad. “This ole mule’s gonna kill me if you don’t slow down.”

Billy pulled up and waited for him. He couldn’t help but like the kid. He wasn’t that much older himself. His nineteenth birthday was just last month. But, it seemed like he’d been on his own for most of his life.

If they could keep the pace up, they should be into Tascosa sometime before noon tomorrow. He wanted to make Juan’s place by nightfall though, so he was a little impatient with Tad. The boy was cramping his style. He planned on ditching him in Tascosa. Too bad that old sheepherder wouldn’t take him.

“Tad, if you don’t hurry up I might just leave you out here,” said Billy. “Old Juan has a daughter that oughta be ‘bout grown by now. I’ve been hankerin’ to see her since I left here last year. Besides, Juan owes me a favor or two for getting’ him out of a scrape last time I was here.”

“But, Billy, I thought we were going to Tascosa. I don’t want to stay with some Greaser!” griped Tad.

“Just you hush. Me and Juan go back a long time. Why he’s been about as white to me as any man I ever met. Don’t you go bad-mouthin’ him like that again!”

Billy turned and headed off down the wash. He was thinking about the possibilities that a pretty little dark-eyed senorita presented when Tad piped up again, “Billy, you wouldn’t leave me would ya? I ain’t got nobody I can turn to. What would I do?”

Billy thought on that one awhile and then said, “I guess you could get a job or somethin’. Some store clerk or saloon keeper could use a boy like you.”

“I don’t want to work for no saloon keeper Billy. The last one like to have killed me,” said Tad. “I want to be a cowboy. I can’t live in no town!”

Billy laughed at that. A cowboy on a twenty year old mule. Hah! That would be the day. He could just see Tad riding up to Bates at the LX telling him he wanted to cowboy.

“What you laughin’ at Billy? I ain’t said nothing funny,” growled Tad. “I’m old enough to chase cows. Why, if I had me a real horse I’d show you what kind of cowboy I was. I bet I can out cowboy you!”

That got Billy’s attention. “Tad, if you’re such a hotshot cowboy, how come you to be afoot out in the middle of nowhere?” asked Billy.

“I told you what happened,” Tad said. “My horse broke his leg and dumped me. Then I had to walk. I was looking for the river ‘cause I knew there’d be someone along sooner or later to give me a ride. Just my bad luck it was you!”

“Well,“ thought Billy, “at least he was consistent.” He’d stuck by his story for four days now. Although he knew in his gut it wasn’t true, he humored the boy. He figured it more likely he’d escaped from some trader.

“Tad,” said Billy, “you’d better quit cussin’ your luck. If it hadn’t been for me you’d probably be starved or dead by now. Who’d you say you were working for?”

“I didn’t,” said Tad. “I’m between jobs right now. My last job was for Charlie Goodnight.”

“Tell me about Charlie,” said Billy.

“Did I tell you about Dodge City?” asked the boy. “I seen Bat Masterson himself shoot up a whole passle of trail hands one night. Didn’t even break a sweat!”

“I didn’t ask about Dodge City, I asked you about Charlie Goodnight.” The boy was exasperating Billy. He never could stick to a subject. He didn’t figure on ever getting a straight story from him.

They rode on awhile in silence. The clump of horse hooves in the sandy soil was the only sound. A hawk circled high overhead riding the currents. Nothing but skimpy grass and sage between them and the horizon.

Occasionally they could glimpse the red and silver snake of the Canadian river off to their left as they wound along and through the little draws and gullies that sloped off toward the river. Sometimes the scenery was broken by a few scrub cedars clinging to the red hills but, even those were sparse.

If it wasn’t for the water, this could barely be called cow country except down in the bottom and in some of the bigger draws. The real grass was up on the Llano. Too bad there weren’t more creeks up there. This would be some kinda cow country. Grass as far as you can see.

“They say people used to get lost up there and wander for days in a circle before some Comanche would find ‘em and scalp ‘em,” Billy said.

“Huh?!” said Tad. “What are you talkin’ about Billy?”

“Never mind, I guess I was just thinking out loud.”


i beati said...

it's clear to me now You lived in the old West ..this is Sandy by the way used to be daisyville had a glitch changed the name to happy spirits and the blessed in italian ..follow the little blue road not the yellow one and come by from time to time ..sorry for the trouble but had to be ...

Plowing and Sowing said...

I read it to WD and he thought it was good. I believe you may have to continue so we will know if Billy dumps the kid.

WomanHonorThyself said...

ah yes...what happens next indeed!

Incognito said...

Very descriptive... like the way you are able to transport us back to that time. I can easily picture the surroundings, which is the sign of a good story.

The only thing I was a tad confused about (at first) was the sentence : "well, at least he had traded for the mule...". but when I re-read that part I assumed you must have been referring to the fact that Billy traded something for the mule.

You have a knack for dialogue.

Looking forward to the next installment.

Panhandle Poet said...

Incognito: Thank you my friend. I also got hung on that sentence in a couple of "re-reads." I will see what I can do with it.