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Fugitive's Trail, The
The only thing I ever really keered about in my whole life was my ole dog, Farty, and he really was, too. That's how come him to get that name in the first place. Me and Maw and Paw had us a little ole place out on the dry prairie in West Texas. It weren't nothing to brag about, and, hell, I never did figger out just how it was that ole Paw was trying to make us a living. We had us an ole muley cow and some scrawny ole chickens. Paw had a swaybacked nag he rid into town ever' now and then. But we sure as hell weren't making no money off a the place. From time to time, ole Paw would go off by hisself for a few days or maybe even longer, and then he'd come on back home with some groceries and some money in his pocket and most always those times a jug or two a good whiskey, but I never knowed where the money come from. I don't know if Maw knowed or not neither. If she did, well, she didn't seem to keer none. Reflecting back on it, though, I reckon that he must a been up to no good.
And we wasn't exactly what you'd call a happy family. Things was most pleasant when Paw was off somewheres, 'cause then him and Maw wasn't yelling around at each other. Most often, whenever Maw yelled at Paw and got the best of him, why then he'd turn on me. Neither one a them two seemed to give much of a shit about me, and that's probably why I keered so much for Farty. He keered about me. Me and Farty was like best friends.
Well, it was one a the days Paw was going into town, and I whined around something fierce till he agreed to let me go on along, but I had to walk alongside him riding on that ole swayback. Ole Farty, he just naturally tagged along. When we got into town, Paw headed right straight for the saloon. But he give me a dime first and left me out on the street. Me and Farty. I flipped that dime a time or two feeling right well heeled, and then I walked across the street to the general store what was owned and run by ole Andy McFarland, and I went right inside there and bought myself some hard candy. Then I stepped outside feeling like a real big shot, with a chunk of that candy poking my jaw way out. I was sucking on one, and I had some more down in my pocket. Why, if any a them snotty town boys had come around a-looking for trouble, I was sure in the right mood to whip their ass.
Ole Farty, he was just laying there right smack in the middle a the board sidewalk, and here come a damned ole bastard what looked to me like he was up to no good to begin with. He was a big fella, rough-looking, and he sure needed a shave real bad. I couldn't tell if he was a farmer or a cowboy or what by the way he was dressed, but he was some kind of a working man, I guessed, and he stopped right there by Farty like he didn't want to have to step over no damn dog.
"Get out of my way, you goddamned mutt," he says, real gruff like, and ole Farty, well, he done what he was best at. He farted. And it was a right smelly one too. Well, that ole boy tuck offense at that gesture of Farty's. I guess he tuck it personal, and he went and kicked poor ole Farty in the side. Kicked him hard, knocking him cleàn up in the air and off into the street. Farty yelped at the kick, but he soon recovered from it, and he turned on that bastard and bared his teeth and snarled real menacing like. The bastard pulled a little sissy pistol out a his pocket and shot Farty dead. Just like that.
"You old son of a bitch," I shouted. I was genuine horrified and outraged. There was some ax handles in a barrel right there by the door into the general store, and I didn't take no time to think about what I was doing. I just grabbed one a them ax handles, and I swung it as hard as I ever could. I hit that ole boy across the back of the head, and it sounded for all hell like I had hit a watermelon and split it, and he dropped down just like a sack of grain. Then I went and picked Farty up and started walking out of town heading home with him. I was bawling, too, like a damn baby. I told you I keered about Farty.
And, oh, that was a long walk, I can tell you that. My arms was aching from the dead weight of poor old Farty, and I was running tears that was making muddy river streaks down through the dirt that was caked on my face. My legs was okay, 'cause I was used to walking, and even my bare feet wasn't bothering me none. Old Farty's blood was on my shirt belly and on my arms, and I think that it was even on my face where I had hugged him. I wasn't even thinking none about that shit I had hit. I had hit him and forgot him. All I was thinking about was just only Farty and nothing else.
Well, I fin'ly got back out to the house, and Maw come out to see what was the matter with me. First thing she asked me though, she asked me, "Where's your Paw?" I told her that he was still in town, I guessed. "How come you to come back home by your own self?" she asked me then, and I told her that I didn't rightly know. I guess I hadn't even thought about Paw whenever all that had happened. I'd just hit that bastard and then picked up poor dead Farty and headed for home. The last thing I knowed about ole Paw, I told her, he'd gone into the saloon.
At long last, she seemed to notice that I was a-standing there with tears all down my face and my dead dog in my arms, and she come on out to me, and she said, "What happened, Sonny?"
"Farty's dead," I said.
"I can see that," she said, "but how'd it happen?"
"A man shot him," I said. "For no reason. The son of a bitch."
She slapped me hard across my face then, and she said, "Don't never use that kind of talk in front of me. You know better'n that."
I didn't say nothing. I just shut up and stared at her.
"What do you mean for no reason?" she said. I told her what it was that happened, and I didn't leave nothing out, not even old Farty's fart. I told her the whole story. Then she said, "You hit that man with a ax handle?"
"Yes'm," I said.
"You hit him hard?" she asked.
"Hard as I could," I said.
"How bad do you think you hurt him?" she wanted to know.
"I don't know," I said. "I think maybe I kilt him. I don't keer neither."
"Oh, Lordy," she said, and she went to wailing and pulling her hair. "My only boy's done a killing. Lord God A'mighty, what did I ever do to deserve this?"
I turned and walked away from her, still carrying Farty, and I walked away out behind the house till I found a good spot for a burying. I laid him down there real gentle like, and I knelt there beside him for a spell. I could hear Maw still caterwauling from way back there where I was at. It begin to come on me then that what I done was some serious, but I was still a mourning so for Farty that it didn't really bother me none. Not just then. Not yet.
I fin'ly got up and walked to the shed behind the house and got me a old rusty shovel with a broke handle on it, and I walked back to where I had left Farty. I dug him a good deep hole there, and I put him down in it and covered him up. Then I got two sticks and tied them together in the shape of a cross to make a marker for him, and I jobbed that makeshift cross into the soft dirt that I just covered old Farty up with. I didn't take the broke shovel back to the shed. I just tossed it aside. I stood there and mopped the sweat off my brow with my shirtsleeve, and then I fin'ly realized that there weren't nothing more I could do, not for Farty and not for me. I walked back over to the house. Maw was setting at the table just a staring at the tabletop real blank.
"Did you burry your dog?" she said.
"Yes'm," I said.
I heard the plodding of a slow horse, and I went to the door and looked out. "Paw's coming," I said. Maw just set there. Outside, Paw slipped down offa the back of old Swayback. He turned to face the house, and he seen me a standing there in the doorway. He just stood there for a minute or two just staring at me. Then he said, "You look a mess, boy. Go wash your face." I walked out to the pump while he went on inside. After I'd washed myself up some, I went on back in. Paw was setting beside Maw by this time. He looked up at me. "He's deader'n hell, boy," he said. "You kilt him."
"I don't keer," I said. "He shot Farty." I didn't know if Paw would jump up and beat the shit out of me or what for saying what I done, but I was feeling that it just didn't make no difference to me no more. He didn't even get up though. He just set there.
"They'll be coming out here for you," he said. "Andy locked up his store and rode for the sheriff."
"They going to hang me?" I asked him.
"I don't know, boy," he said. "I don't know if you're old enough yet for hanging, but there's some as would say if you're old enough to kill, you're old enough to hang. I just don't know. But one thing I do know for certain. If they don't hang you, old Pigg's kin'll be after your ass. One way or another, you're done for."
Maw sobbed at that.
"Who's Pigg?" I asked him.
"Who's Pigg?" Paw said, and he shuck his head kind a slow. "You kilt a man dead, and you don't even know his name. The man you kilt was named Joe Pigg, and he comes from a whole family of real bad ones. Brothers and cousins. They won't let it go. When they hear about it, they'll be a looking for you. You can bet on that."
"Well," I said, "I reckon they'll have to ketch me, before they can do anything to me."
"You'd best run far and fast, boy," he said. "And you'd best get started right now. Don't waste no time." He stood up then, and he shoved a hand down in his pocket, and he come out with ten dollars and give it to me. It damn near astonished me, for Paw had never in my life give me more'n a dime or a nickel at one time. Then, "Take the horse," he said. I stared at him, but all he done was to just set his ass back down. Maw never looked up at me. I turned around and went outside. I looked back once. Then I crawled up onto old Swayback, and I turned her and headed her west. And that's the whole story a me leaving home, and that's also just about everything I know about my own maw and paw, 'cept to say that Paw's last name was Parmlee, and so, a course, that's my name too. I sure don't know much more than that.
Old Paw had said that I'd best move far and fast, but I don't know how in hell he thought I could move fast with just ole Swayback under me. That poor old thing should ought to a been put out to pasture a long time before that. I hoped that no one would come after me too soon, 'cause for sure they'd ketch up with me the way that old horse was a moving. And I never had the heart to whip her up or to even try to get her moving no faster than just her own ordinary plodding along pace. I was thinking about my own self too, for I figgered that if I was to run her, it might kill her, and then I'd be afoot. So I plodded west.
I knowed that we didn't live very far from the New Mexico border, but I didn't know how many miles that meant, and even if I'd knowed that, I wouldn't a knowed how many miles I could cover in a hour on old Swayback, and I didn't have no way a knowing whenever a hour had passed neither. The only thing I knowed, or at least I thought I knowed it, was that the sheriff wouldn't be able to come after me if I was to get across the border into New Mexico. 'Course them Piggs wouldn't give a damn about that.
So anyhow I just rid along headed west. I didn't have no destination in mind. I didn't have no idea where I was going nor what I was a going to do. All I knowed was that I had left home, and I wasn't never going back. I had me a swaybacked horse, ten dollars and a pair of overhauls, which I was wearing. I had one tore and bloody shirt. That was all. I didn't have no boots or shoes. It come to me that I sure wouldn't be hard to spot riding along like that, and after I had rid for a while, I commenced to looking back over my shoulder ever' now and then. After a while, too, I begin to feel hungry, and I et all them pieces a hard candy that was in my pocket. Well, that made me thirsty, and I realized then that I had made a bad mistake. I had rid away from home without no water. Nary a drop.
I was sure in sorry shape, and there was a part of me a saying that I'd ought to turn around and go right straight back home and get myself better prepared for this here journey to wherever it was I was going, but a course, I knowed that I couldn't do that. Likely the sheriff was already on my trail, and maybe so was them other Piggs. I hadn't tuck off right, but there just weren't no way I could go back and start it all over again. I was stuck on the trail just the way I was. I kept going, and I felt like I wanted to cry some more, but I never, and what's more, I told myself that I would never cry again. Never. And I ain't neither. Well, hardly ever.
But I fin'ly got to thinking that I was just too damn easy to spot. It wouldn't take much of a description a me to set a posse or the Piggses on my trail. I was moving along slow, and the land all around me was just as flat as a griddle cake. They'd be able to spot me sure from miles away. I got to thinking then that I had ought to do something about it. Several somethings. I had ought to get me a good horse for one thing, one that would look better and move faster. The other thing I had ought to do was to get me some new clothes. Some boots and a shirt and a pair a regular britches. I had to get them things for myself so I wouldn't stand out on the flat prairie like a sore thumb a looking like old Parmlee's runaway kid. I had me ten dollars, but I didn't have no idea a how far it would go. Hell, I'd never seed that much money at one time, much less worried about how much it would buy. I figgered though that I wouldn't be able to buy myself all a them things with it.
I also had to find me and old Swayback some water, and I figgered I had to do that pretty damn soon. I didn't have no idea where nor how to look for it neither, but I was pretty damn sure that we wouldn't neither one of us get much farther without it. Then, a course, the next thing after that would be food. And even if I was to find myself a place to buy me some clothes with my money, then I wouldn't have none left for food. Hell, it seemed like I was on a dead end trail.
I even thought a little farther on than all that. 'Course, plodding along like we was, I had all kinds a time to think. But I thought that eventually I was going to have to find myself some kind of work, something to do with myself to make me some money, 'cause my ten dollars sure weren't going to last me my whole lifetime. I'd thought that ten dollars was a whole lot of money whenever ole Paw had give it to me, but with all the thinking I was doing, it come to seem like just a little bit after all. Hell, it had my head a swimming with all the thinking.
I wondered how tough it would be to find me a job somewheres--whenever I got to somewheres. Then it come to me that I didn't even know where the next town was at. The closest one could be in any direction. The only reason I was riding west was 'cause I knowed that New Mexico was thataway, and I'd get myself into a different jurisdiction, and then I'd only have the Piggses to worry about and not the law too. I was headed for no town that I knowed of. I was just hoping for one was all.
And so I started in to putting a whole lot a energy into them hopes. I kept hoping that I'd see me a town just any minute, and whenever I rid on into it, I'd find out that I was already in New Mexico, and then someone would see me and say something like, "Oh, you poor boy. Come on and let me get you something to eat." And I'd eat me a good steak dinner, on that person, a course, and then that same kind person would say, "Come on along with me, sonny boy, and we'll get you some nice new clothes." And I'd get myself all outfitted up real smart like, and then that person would offer me a good-paying job that would start that very next morning. I wished for all that as hard as ever I could, but I just kept riding along and seeing nothing but the same old brown flat up ahead and all around me.
But it come to me along about then that likely nothing like that would ever happen to me, and that maybe the only way I'd get me some new clothes would be to buy them, and then I'd be broke, and I'd still be needing me a horse and food, so what all that meant was that the only way I'd ever get ever'thing I needed would be if I was to steal it. It tuck me a little while to even really form them words, even in my mind, but once I had done said it to myself, I thought more and more about it. Then I said to myself, hell, I'm already wanted for a killing. How much worse could it get if I was to steal something?
Then I thought that if I was to go to stealing, I might ought to get at it right away while I'm still in Texas, 'cause I'm already trying to run for the border to get out of the reach of Texas law. So if I could just get me a good horse and a good suit of clothes, a good meal and a canteen full of water, maybe even a little more money in my pockets, why, I could head for that border in better shape and style. What I didn't know was where I was going to find me anything to steal, and even if I was to find it, how was I going to steal it? I didn't have no gun.
That was the other thing I needed me. I needed me a gun. I thought that I'd sure like to have me a good Colt .45 in a rig where I could have it hanging down on my right hip. That's what I'd like to have. And I'd like to have me a real Texas hat with a star on its crown, a nice red shirt and a good new pair a jeans tucked down into a pair a black, high top leather boots. That was what I had begun to dream about. Then I'd come back out of the dream and get to wondering just how I was going to make any of this come about.
Well, by God, I fin'ly come to a stream a not badlooking water, and I couldn't hardly believe my own good fortune. I got offa old Swayback and let her drink her fill while I done the same thing. I tried to drink enough water to make my belly forget that it was hungry, but I learned pretty soon that I couldn't do that. I did drink so much that I was sloshing inside. That weren't none too comfortable, but I didn't know how long that drink was going to have to last me, and I didn't have no canteen nor nothing at all to tote water in. Damn, I felt stupid. How could a man take off horseback for New Mexico outa hot and dry West Texas and not even tote along some water?
I seen some game too along about then, and a course I didn't have no way to bring any of it down. I told myself it didn't matter none, 'cause I didn't have the time to stop and build a fire and cook nothing anyhow. I just crawled back on ole Swayback and started in a plodding west again. But the more I rid, the harder I got, and I quit a wishing for that kindly reception I had imagined, and I started in a wishing more harder for a gun so that I could steal me the things I needed. I started in thinking more a myself as what I really and truly was and that was a fugitive. Hell, I was on the run.
I was a wanted killer, and that made me an outlaw, and I forced myself to think hard, and to accept myself for just that. If I was to be an outlaw, I told myself, I'd be a hard one, and I'd be a good one. I'd be the goddamnedest outlaw that ever come down the pike. I had my jaw set hard, and I was riding along trying my best to look tough and mean, and I reckon that the truth was that I looked pretty damn silly, riding old Swayback in my bare feet and my old overhauls, but I was developing the right attitude, I can tell you that. I knowed that much. And just then I seed a house a setting all by its lonesome off to the north a the trail.
Copyright © 2000 by Robert J. Conley.