“Gladys! Gladys! Goddammit Gladys if you don’t get your ass back here right now I’mma put you in the ground!” Dusty’s boots trudged across the burning sand, pounding out a repetitive, monotonous beat.
Godammit Gladys. Get back here before I die in this goddamn desert.
“You hearing me Gladys? I’mma slit your throat and leave you for the buzzards. The buzzards Gladys!” The threat finished in a croak, a squeak.
Holding his hand up to block out the midday sun, he could see Gladys up ahead, a silhouette against the bleached whiteness of the sands. She looked a million miles away. Impossible, he thought, she only had a couple of hours head start. She couldn’t be no more than a few miles off.
“You could’ve left me some water Gladys.” Sullen now, muttering. Yelling was pointless, Gladys couldn’t hear or wasn’t listening, and the sun stole moisture every time he opened his mouth. “You could’ve left my goddamn hat Gladys. You could’ve left the hat.”
Who the hell takes a man’s hat?
But he knew the answer to this.
Someone who’s been hurt, that’s who.
I’m so sorry.
“I’m sorry, Gladys.”
Dusty marched on for another hour. Or was it two? As far as he could tell, he wasn’t making any ground. Gladys never appeared to move, but he might have well been walking on the spot. Time had stopped; the sun was nailed in place, the purple mountains painted at a fixed distance that never got any closer.
Her shadow heat-rippled like she was underwater, diving away from him.
“Don’t go down too deep Gladys.” Delirious, Dusty’s head swayed, last night’s half-bottle finally conspiring with the heat to bring him down. “You stay near the shore, you aint a good swimmer.”
The world spun and Dusty stumbled, tripping over his own boots, smashing face first against the ground and groaning in pain. It was like getting belted in the nose with a dirty frypan.
A dirty, hot frypan. Dusty thought he heard a sizzle, imagined he could smell his cheek-meat cooking on the desert sands. He rolled over, throwing his arm over to block out the blinding sun.
“Goddammit Gladys. I don’t deserve this… How the hell did you even find out anyway?”
But of course she found out Dusty, he thought, you were hardly discreet were you?
Dusty’s head was a broken bottle of piss, it didn’t hold much and what it did hold was useless. But whilst normally his scotch-addled skull could not be counted on, shameful memories dug deeper wounds than most, and he kept picking over these like a scab, keeping them fresh. He wondered if his brain held on to these thoughts as revenge against its constant poisoning, or whether he was just being punished by a higher power. Either way, the sordid images of his guilt flashed in front of his minds-eye to torture him yet again…
He’d left Glady’s out the front of the saloon, promising he would be no more than a few minutes at most; just long enough to find out about any work going. No big deal. In-and-out. I swear.
Gladys had known though. Dusty was nothing if not consistent. The saloon was almost empty; it was too early for the workers, the farm hands and the regulators had yet to finish up for the day. It was just him, the barkeep and a old-timer asleep in the corner.
Hell, its been a dry old day, and if I have to hang around waiting anyway… Just a little something to wet the whistle.
The memories cracked here, a shattered mirror, fragments reflecting jumbled images…
…conversations and laughter…
…losing at poker…
…getting thrown out on his ass into the dark….
His brain found traction in the memories, a solid base from which to start the remembrance again.
It got dark? Hells, how long was I in there?
It wasn’t dark but it was close. Damn, he’d been in there for hours, and Gladys was gone. He remembered cursing her, loudly and profanely, enough for two ladies walking by to cluck their tongues and cross the street.
That’s when he saw her. Young she was, hair so blonde she was almost white. Her eyes were a deep, mysterious brown, she seemed to be laughing at him. She wasn’t clucking her tongue. She didn’t cross the street. She looked him in the eye. Bold, direct. He liked that in a woman
Gladys was nowhere to be seen…
Ah, Gladys, dammit I’m sorry.
Again his memories fail, split, whorl around looking for more solid ground. More images, more guilty torture…
…running his hands through her hair…
…leading her behind the saloon, into some privacy…
…the lights and the laughter as some late farmhands come round back, finding him pants around his ankles, hand on her ass…
…drunkenly bolting down the street, stumbling into Gladys and the two of them hightailing it out, as the taunts of the town echoed around his ears…
You’re a drunk Dusty. An idiot and a drunk, and now you’re going to die in the desert because you couldn’t keep your pants on…
Something landed next to him with a flop. Expecting a buzzard, Dusty threw both arms up to cover his face. When no attack was forthcoming, he opened his arms a little, and peeked through the gap.
His hat sat on the ground, dusty, a new bite mark in the rim. Gladys stood a few feet away, with all of his equipment, his supplies.
With energy he didn’t think he had, Dusty leapt up, throwing his arms around her and burying his blistered and sunburned face into her chestnut flank.
“I’m sorry Gladys, I’m sorry.”
Gladys flicked her mane, and snorted.
Dusty opened up a saddle bag, took a long draught from his canteen. When he felt ready, he mounted her and made another promise. One he meant to keep.
“No more Palominos for me sweetheart. Blondes are nothing but trouble.”
Word count: 1,000
A cheeky little response to Chuck Wendig’s challenge for this week: Must Contain Three Things. Chuck provided us with three tables of ten items, and we needed to randomly generate one item from each list. Our 1,000 words story then needed to contain each of these three items.
I rolled (using this tool) the following:
- 3 – Betrayal
- 9 – Public drunkenness
- 4 – A horse
Needless to say the basics of this story jumped, Athena-like, fully formed out of my head, and onto the page. Is it good? Is it funny?
I don’t know. (You tell me – in the comments!)
I do know that once I had the idea, nothing else was going to come my way, so here we are.
Thanks for reading.