#FridayFlash: Shy Cowboy

This is another exercise in character study; this time, I’m attempting to portray awkwardness and embarrassment, shyness and nerves. Please feel free to let me know how you like it, what works, what doesn’t, etc. Thanks for the read!

UPDATED: I’ve made some changes based on the feedback on 18 Dec 2009. I hope this is an improvement over the previous piece.

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He scrutinized his image in the rearview mirror and turned his head from side to side. His hat spat his hair out in tufts, and stubble crept over his cheeks, chapped lips and jaw. He sighed. It would have to do.

The pickup’s door screamed when he opened it. The wind knifed through threadbare denim as he seated his tired hat lower and zipped his jacket. He stuffed his hands in his pockets, sniffed, and headed for the general store’s entrance.

The wooden building seemed as brittle as the winter. His heels thumped a hollow cadence as he went up the stairs and crossed the porch. The bell over the door jangled as he stepped into the warmth. The figure behind the counter fluttered his heart and made his knees quiver.

She turned and beamed. “Hi, Jake!”

He thought he’d faint for a moment, then recomposed himself. “Hey there, Ellie. How’re you?” The moment he said it he felt phony. A blush burned his cheeks.

“I’m good!” She moved to the end of the counter. “Not used to seeing you in so much. It’s nice.”

Another burn in his cheeks. “Oh, well … you know. I keep needin’ stuff, so … um ….”

He felt stupid. He never knew how to talk to her. He’d been watching her, pining for her, for more than a year. She always made him feel special, even when the store was crowded. He couldn’t figure out what to say, how to say it, and he felt like a schoolboy with his first crush. He hoped he didn’t resort to pulling her hair.

She giggled. “Yeah, I guess we all keep needing things.” She leaned over the counter on her elbows and he panicked. He thought he might see down the collar of the T-shirt she wore, but the neck stayed closed. He didn’t realize he’d looked away until he glanced at her again.

“So, I … I … was just out an’ around, an’ thought maybe I’d stop and pick up a few … things.” He cleared his throat and ripped the hat from his head. He’d forgotten his manners and gritted his teeth in self-loathing.

“Oh, well it’s always nice to see you. I guess you know where everything is.” She winked at him and started to turn away.

“Y-yeah, yeah, but … um ….”

She perked a brow and turned back. “Need some help?” She smiled again and he froze, a rabbit in a coyote’s gaze.

He dropped his eyes and his stomach fluttered. “I-I … I wanted to … I think I wanted to ask you … Ellie ….” He swallowed but the lump wedged in his throat.

She leaned on the counter, her face curious and open. “Yes?”

He squeezed his fists to marshal his courage before he remembered his hat in his hands. He relaxed and stared at the crumpled brim and tried to find words, testosterone, and his voice. He smoothed the softened felt.

“Jake? Are you all right? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Oh, yeah! Yeah, I’m … I’m good! Really!” He spoke too loud and too quick and it sounded forced to him. He inwardly cursed his clumsiness and drew a long breath. “Ellie, look … I’m shitty – sorry, I mean I’m bad – bad at this. I know you got things to do and all, but I wanted to ask you somethin’ and I ….”

She tipped her head and offered a small grin. “It’s okay, go ahead. I’m listening.”

“But … I don’t want you thinkin’ I come in here today just for stuff … I ain’t … I mean, I’m dumb an’ all, but not so I can’t remember supplies more’n a day ahead, y’know?”

She smiled and nodded. “I know that.”

He stared at his shoes. “I sorta … sorta come in to talk to you today.”

“Oh?” She kept her voice even. He couldn’t think straight enough to figure out what that meant.

“So, I was thinkin’ … maybe, if you ain’t opposed ….” Again the lump choked him. He clenched his jaw and eyes shut, then popped them open before he looked her in the eye. “I wondered if you’d–”

The bell jangled and he jumped. His hands stung with adrenaline from the start and he bit his tongue. Bill Wahler and five or six ranchers from up Wildwood way tromped into the store, slapping their arms and rubbing their hands together.

“Woo! Cold out there!” Bill called, and tipped his hat back. “Hey, Jake! How you been, cowboy?” Wahler patted Jake on the back. “Ain’t see ya in a while.”

Jake forced a smile. “Hey Bill, good to see you, sir. Ray, Davey, how you boys doin’?”

The ranchers huddled around him while Bill stepped to the counter. He pulled off his hat and swept his silver hair back. “Miss Ellie, how’s the sweetest thing in the county this fine day?”

Jake heard her laughter tinkle as she spoke with the flirty old man. He chatted another ten minutes or so with the ranchers, walked silently out of the store, climbed into his truck, and made the long, cold ride home.

 

 

All original content © 2009 J. Dane Tyler
ALL rights reserved.

#FridayFlash: Western-Fantasy Vignette 2

He stood under the salmon sky while the wind slapped denim, skin, hair. She faced away toward the road, skirt flapping over broken dust-colored boots. Her coat ruffled in the thin air. Her locks tattered as she held them captive beneath the hat she pressed onto her head with one hand. In the other she clutched their daughter’s hand.

He stared at grainy dirt, his lips dry and tongue swollen, boots caked in ashen dust. His calloused fingers rasped against his weary shirt when he wiped absently.

“I wish you’d say something,” he said, voice hollow and distant, the voice of a man speaking his last words on his last breath.

“It’s over,” she said, her throat tight. She turned her head, but didn’t meet his gaze. “It’s all been said. There’s nothing left.”

“I’m doing my best.”

“I know. So am I.”

He shuffled, squinted over the mesa ring to the east. The rolling ground swooped from the washes and canyons down into a flat which ran to the western horizon. Saline stung his eyes. He blinked.

“Please. Don’t.”

“I have to,” she said. “For me. For them.” She dipped her head toward the children. Beside his sister, their son’s eyes glistened under his straw bangs, lower lip quivering. “It’s … I have to.”

“It’s only been three years.”

“Only? You say that to me? Only? Three years. Three years of struggling, fighting for every moment, every inch, every sprout, every grain. Only three years. They deserve more than this. We left more behind. Better than this.”

“It’s going to come, just one or two–”

“Don’t. Don’t say it. You’ve said one or two more seasons for eight or nine seasons. It hasn’t happened. It might. I believe if any man can do it, you can. But I can’t take it anymore.”

Hooves pounding and the racket of wheels and rigging drifted against the wind. He snapped his head to the west, surprised. The coach. He didn’t realize it would come so soon.

He turned back to her. “I’m begging you. Please.” His voice croaked, broke.

“It’s not forever, you know that. When it happens, when you finally break this place open, I’ll come back.”

“I need you.”

“I need you too.” She looked over her shoulder at him then, and her fine, porcelain statue features took his breath away. Her soft, brown eyes, the smooth lines despite the harsh years, her firm, set jaw. His heart jumped in his chest. But the carriage drawing to a stop on the dirt pack in front of her shattered his moment.

The coachman looked down at her, dipped his head and touched his weathered hat brim. “These all the bags, ma’am?” His voice sounded gravelly and cracked as the road itself.

“Yes, thank you,” she said, and her voice danced on the wind into the western canyons.

“Ticket?” the coachman said, and dropped nimble as a sprite to the ground. His team panted and pawed, heads shaking, snorting. “Easy, now,” the driver soothed. “They be edgy this morn,” he said, and smiled through his dense dusty beard.

The man watched helpless as she fished into the bag draped on her shoulder and pulled out three paper rectangles. They snapped and rattled as the wind bent them over and broke them in her grip. The coachman stuffed them into a shirt pocket beneath his heavy jacket and stroked his beard. He nodded, gave her a practiced grin.

The coachman gestured toward the carriage, and pulled at a handle on the underside. A rusty metal step ladder groaned and shrieked outward. The wind tried to rip the curtains off the window when he opened the door.

The man stared with his throat too tight to swallow, to breathe. His son looked back again, a fat tear rolled down his cheek. “Bye, Daddy.” The words stabbed him like broken glass.

“I’ll see you real soon, son,” he said, but didn’t know how he managed to speak. “Real soon.”

He watched his wife lift their daughter into the dark of the coach. The coachman kept the door from tearing off, one of her bags hanging from his gloved fingers. When the man raised his eyes, the coachman offered a brief look of understanding and an almost imperceptible nod.

His daughter vanished into the coach without a sound.

His wife turned to face him. Her eyes shredded him with the pain, the ache they held. “It won’t be forever,” she said, and then kissed the tips of her fingers and blew over her open hand at him.

“No,” he choked, “Not forever. I promise.”

Her face broke. She stifled a sob, and launched herself into the coach. The driver closed the door, danced around the coach placing bags deftly on its top. A moment later he materialized in the driver’s seat and took the reins. The horses seemed more agitated still, but the coachman paid no heed. He stared down at the man for a moment, then gave him a somber nod with that same touch of fingers to hat brim.

The man didn’t respond, but the coachman didn’t wait for one. He prodded the team and snapped the reins, and the coach jerked and then rolled away.

He watched the carriage recede down the hill toward the flat to the east until it became a tiny speck.

His heart spiked when the black form rose just as the sun pierced the horizon, a winged blot of death on the pale sky. His heart froze completely when the dragon spewed wyrmfire in a blazing geyser pouring earthward. A blinding explosion blasted the coach on the road beneath the wyrm. The sound came seconds later as he raced screaming their names until his voice tore loose and flew away in the constant howling wind.

He knew then it would be forever after all.

All original content © 2009 J. Dane Tyler
ALL rights reserved.