A VISIT FROM FAYE A Short Story by John McNally
A Visit from Faye
by John McNally
author of Revenge at Powder River and A Gift From Crick
Walt sat on the veranda in his rocking chair. He made the chair himself those three years past and he reckoned it just got more comfortable with time. He stretched his legs out and managed to get the heel of his boot on the rail and he crossed his ankles and sat with his legs straightened out in front. He decided to have a smoke; he favoured brown papers and dark Mexican tobacco. He rolled himself a cigarette, dragged a match across a wooden post and lit up. He took a long pull and inhaled deep into his lungs enjoying the smooth mellow flavour. He blew a slow cloud of grey blue smoke that hung in the air for a moment before it broke up and the rich smell was lost in the slight breeze. Walt picked a piece of tobacco off his tongue held the cigarette between his yellowed fingers and rested his head against the spindles of the chair back, pushing his hat low over his forehead.
Walt was forty but he had looked forty for over ten years, he was as thin and tough as old leather with a crumpled face lined with deep wrinkles, salt and pepper hair and a beard streaked with grey. His breath whistled like the down draught in a bunged up chimney. He sat with the cigarette in his mouth, his eyes closed and cigarette ash dusting the front of his blue check flannel shirt.
The sun was hot on the boards and the parched planking creaked with the heat. He could see the brightness of the sky through his closed eyelids. He decided to have a set down before he started on the land behind the barn.
The thump of shoed horses on the hard packed earth made him open his eyes. He saw three riders emerge from the shadow of the draw that cut through the hills and followed the trail down the long sloping valley where it fanned out onto the bluff above the river.
Walt rubbed the last of the cigarette with his fingers opened his hand and let the breeze take the pieces; he sat up and rested his hands on his knees. He watched the riders come on up the low grade through the dappled shade of the trees and then over the grass to the cut bank. They waded into the slow river that eased its way through lichen covered rocks and Walt could hear the horses splash through the water and clatter out onto the shale bank. They started on the trail that ran past the railed fence that marked the boundary of Walt’s land on the north side, maybe twenty paces away from where Walt sat.
‘Morning,’ said Walt and half raised a hand in greeting. The riders, two men and a woman, turned his way but did not speak.
The men had sullen faces filled with arrogance and cruelty. They gazed at him with lidless reptile eyes that sized him up, took the measure of him and then dismissed him. Walt let his hand drop. The men were aged maybe twenty and forty and the woman nearer the younger mans age. They were all wiry looking and all dressed in dark clothes. The woman was as thin and tough as a buggy whip and wore a skirt and jacket that looked a tight fit on her compact hard body. She had white corn silk hair and pale skin. Her dark deep watchful eyes missed absolutely nothing and gave nothing in return, like a shadow within a shadow.
The three of them looked as sinewy and lean as three hungry timber wolves. As they passed by the two men turned away from Walt, their eyes straight ahead their hands laid on their saddle horns and their bodies rocking with the rhythm of their horses. The woman kept her red rimmed gaze fastened on Walt even after she had passed the cabin. She brought a lonely chill with her that made Walt shiver despite the hot sun overhead. She glared at him with a wicked malevolent light in her eyes.
It was a stare that made Walt turn and look for his gun.
Her horse was a reddish-brown dun with a dark stripe down his back, his tail and mane darker than the body coat, he looked up swished his tail, shook his head and huffed. Walt saw her tighten her knees against the horse’s shoulders but she kept her eyes riveted on Walt as she did it.
Walt’s dog came running around the side of the cabin his tail whipping but he pulled up short, stood stiff legged and the hackles rose across his shoulders and the back of his neck, he bared his teeth and growled low in the back of his throat.
‘Quiet down Tucker,’ said Walt, he knelt down and patted the dog but continued to look at the staring woman from the shadow under the brim of his hat. She still watched him, her eyes now as blue and empty as the hot sky. Finally as they moved past the cabin she turned away, her horse walked on swished his tail and snorted but the woman made no sound and sat like a tightly wound spring, taut with suppressed energy.
Walt struggled to breathe as if a cold hand gripped his heart. He stood up and his knee cracked as he straightened his leg, he rubbed it absentmindedly. His head seemed as light as a balloon; he swallowed and ran his tongue across his dry lips. He felt like he had been rope drug through a patch of musk thistles.
The three riders followed the rutted track until just before it entered the woods, where the thick tree canopy created a shaded tunnel and pine needles and dead leaves layered the ground, she swung in the saddle and glared at him again. Her skin looked as smooth and white as bone.
Walt took a step backwards and even as the gloomy shadows of the trees swallowed her up it seemed that she still looked at him from their thick darkness. A flock of birds rose like ashes from a fire caught on a breeze and the horse snickered beneath them. The solid dark trees gave nothing away but the leaves rustled and whispered some bleak secret amongst themselves.
Walt never did make a start on the land behind the barn he felt too on edge and unsettled. In the end he set back down on the porch and started to clean his rifle, he figured it was the sort of day where he needed a gun in his hands. Tucker his dog seemed more relaxed as he stretched out and slept at his side.
A few hours later when Walt had just started to unwind Tucker’s head came up and three horses loomed out of the woodland and followed the track back the way they had passed him that morning. Walt cussed. His hands felt thick and stiff as he fumbled with a box of cartridges and started to feed bullets into his yellow boy Winchester rifle. He glanced up, his head began to throb like a Shoshone war drum.
He saw that things had changed some, the older man sat slumped in his saddle holding his arm. His right arm hung useless at his side and the sleeve of his jacket was stained dark with blood. Behind him the body of the young man lay across the horses withers, Walt assumed it was the younger man all he could see was a head hanging down by the stirrups and bobbing with the motion of the horse, his hair ruffling with the slight breeze.
Behind them rode the woman on the dun, she sat up in the saddle as straight and rigid as a gun barrel. Walt tried hard to swallow but his mouth felt like it was filled with dust. He could not speak and he could not move. Tucker sank to the floor and started to whine but Walt did not have the energy to tell him to quieten down.
The riders moved steadily forward but this time as they reached the railed fence the wounded older man did not look Walt’s way, he kept his head down tucked into his bony hunched shoulders.
The riders and horses slid by, the only sounds the jingle of a bridle the creak of saddle leather and the powdery thud of hooves on the dusty trail. Walt dropped his eyes and figured he would try and sort out his feelings while they passed him by.
His heart lurched with the sound he dreaded most of all, silence. He forced himself to look up, it felt like someone had tightened a band of wire around his head – the woman had stopped her horse right by his gate and sat staring at him again. The dun’s muzzle was coated in dust and his mane roped with sweat and dirt. The woman looked as still and cold as ice, her eyes did not move, stray or blink they locked on his face and stayed put. They bored into him until he could hear his own pulse throbbing in his ears and feel the sweat prickle across his back. Now Walt had fought at the Battle of Manassas Gap and the Battle of Appomattox Station but he had never felt as afraid as he did today standing on his porch in the sunshine. He knew absolute terror.
He looked on in fascination while she drew a rifle from her saddle holster. Her movements were slow and deliberate he felt completely at her mercy and she knew it.
She sat on her horse and swung in the saddle towards him as she levered a cartridge into the chamber, she raised the gun and aimed at him. He just knew it was plumb centre of his chest, that she could shoot real well, that she had killed before and that he was as good as dead. He was frozen with fear, he felt like his body was wrapped in chains, he could not breathe and his arms felt heavy and locked to his sides. He saw her finger tighten on the trigger and waited for death to come hurtling towards him
‘Faye,’ the older man said without turning around ‘Leave him be …please, you’ve done enough.’
Faye paused and Walt felt an intense tension that could have lasted a second or an hour. Faye lowered the rifle although her eyes still said I’ll kill you utterly and you know it. She slid the Henry back into the saddle holster
‘It’ll work out different next time Mister, why I’ll go through you like a shortcut,’ she said in a clear confident voice, she turned and slid away like the shadow of a wild cat.
Walt started to breath loudly through his mouth, he heard Tucker take off around the back of the cabin like someone had just put a boot up his backside.
He watched them ride away, the scorching sun fixed on him like an unblinking eye. He waited until they faded from sight up the draw and into the hills then he dropped his rifle and let it clatter to the floor. He slumped down heavily in his chair. His shirt was soddened and the sweat still ran down his back like a warm hand, he felt totally wrung out. He lifted his Stetson and ran his sleeve across his forehead letting the breeze cool his damp hair, a drop of sweat rolled into his eye and he wiped it away with the palm of his hand.
Walt slept in the barn for a week with his dog and his rifle in the stall and his horse saddled next to him. He never did set out at the front again.
John McNally lives in Bronte country in West Yorkshire, England. He has written two Black Horse Westerns, Revenge at Powder River and A Gift from Crick which is to be released in October 2018.