This for Wednesday Write-in #53. One year old!
Way back when, those many decades ago, three rough men sat around a small camp fire eating their eggs and beans and slaking their cattle-drivers’ thirst with firewater purchased from a small band of roaming, dispossessed Indians.
“Gloom and doom.”
“It’s the apocalypse.”
The Pony Express rider had relayed the news to the nearby town late last night. It had been a special delivery and the Company had asked for volunteers for this particular assignment. There had been no shortage of man and boy stepping forward and so the Controller had selected his best and held a lottery amongst this group to decide who should handle the final leg, the delivery itself.
Curly Webster had drawn the longest straw and as the others gathered around to congratulate him, he thought just how good life was for him. He hadn’t yet, none of the riders had, learnt what earth-shattering news was carried in the sealed envelope that would grace the saddle bags of the seven chosen riders over their five day journey from the big city on the eastern seaboard to the dusty plains in the untamed mid-west.
What these proud and tough weather-beaten men of the horse hadn’t realized was that the selection process had not only covered honesty, skills with a gun and the ability to sleep in the saddle, but also an inability to read – they were all to be illiterate. The existential content of the message they carried was, for their own sakes, not for them.
After all, who would want to be the bearer of the news that the Creator was dead.
Curly had only two miles to go when Black Girl collapsed throwing him onto the dirt. Curly brushed himself off and stared sadly at his faithful steed. Then mouthing the word ”Amen”, – the closest to a prayer he ever could get – he fired two bullets into the mare’s brains. He stood silently for a few seconds before unbuckling the saddlebag and its precious contents. With a deep sigh he turned and made off down the uneven track in the direction of Deep Dust Gulch.
The town was in darkness when he arrived but in the light of the full moon he made out the word Sheriff crudely painted onto a door next to the jailhouse.
Half an hour later he was fast asleep in a locked cell having agreed with the sheriff that nobody should know who he was or why he was in town. Sheriff Dickinson needed to handle this his way. Carefully.
Alvin Dickinson made sure he ate well on eggs, bacon, sausages and grits that morning. After all, he didn’t know when, if ever, he would next get the chance to eat breakfast. This could be his last. And he needed to be at his peak when he called the emergency town meeting.
The good citizens of the town were startled when they heard the courthouse bell ringing at around eleven o’clock that Tuesday morning. Surely there isn’t any lynching scheduled, they thought to themselves. And then the shouting and the running brought them all out doors, out of the schoolhouse, and the smithy and the carpenter/undertaker’s yard and the barber shop and the general store and the livery, and out of the nearby fields and vegetable gardens, and everyone gathered in the small square between the jailhouse and the saloon, and looked up at the sheriff who was standing on a large packing crate dressed in his best court-room suit with his ceremonial star pinned to his chest, watching and waiting. (Ceremonial he may appear, thought some, but he still carries those two six-shooters on his belt.)
The dust slowly settled and all was quiet. “Well, you all know me”, he said. “And I don’t call meetings like this very often. In fact it’s only my second as a sheriff and my first as sheriff for this town. So you know this is serious.”
He paused, partly for effect, but mostly because of the momentousness of what he was about to impart. “Alright”, he said, “I’ll come straight out with it – Elmore Leonard is dead. Yes, dead.”
There wasn’t a sound from his listeners. Even the stray dogs were still. And then murmurs, getting louder, some shouting, a scream or two.
“You mean Elmore Leonard, the writer, the person who made us, who blew life into our lungs, who gave us spirit and soul?” asked one of the crowd, a young man in a shiny suit, probably a hotel receptionist. “And if so, where does that leave us all?”
“Yes, it’s Elmore Leonard, the Creator. That’s the one. Who lives, or will live, or lived in Detroit. He’s handed in his pen, spilt his ink, torn up his blotting paper. Paid his last visit to Boot Hill. And, yes, it does raise the question as to what happens next”, and he nodded in the direction of the shiny suit, “Where does this leave us all?”
The crowd went quiet again before voices started to be heard.
“We’ve been okay for some years without him. We’ve done okay.”
“There’s nothing that says we can be unwritten. It’s not happened elsewhere.”
“We eat, we breathe, we bleed.”
And, “We are”.
And the crowd roared, “We are, we are”.
And at the campfire the three cowpokes reflected their fate. Always out on the range, weather fair or foul. Always in the saddle. Always eggs and beans. Why didn’t that Elmore Leonard write a lucky gold strike for them. Or silver. Or something. Whatever happened to free will?
Learn about Elmore Leonard here.