Two Bits
S. Copperstone
Centaurs in the Old West. Things aren't always as they seem when a hunter shoots what he believes is ... Show More
Genres:
Adventure, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Sci Fi Western
Tags:
Greek mythology, old west, centaurs, bounty hunter

Chapter 1

A swirling wind sandpapered the exposed skin on Old Man Billy's face where his beard did not cover. The damp cold bit through the thick layers of clothing he wore. Half-frozen snow drifts bit at his ankles and snowshoes like a pack on mangy, ice-toothed hounds. 

    "Damnable weather."

    What else could a man say? Cursing Mother Nature was a losing proposition. She was a hard and bitter mistress.  

    More snow whipped up, and covered elk tracks he had been following for the past hour or so. What few drops of blood were also being covered up. It was as if the blasted elk had some kind of supernatural assistance to escape. Usually a true shot, his gun barrel had been struck at the last possible second by, of all things, a falling twig out of nowhere. Just enough to deflect the bullet so that it grazed the elk.

    He leaned against a tree to adjust his left snowshoe and immediately spotted something odd in the snow. He knew every animal print in these parts. Even when the snow melted and mud covered the land, he could identify an elk, bear, cougar, wolf or coyote. This imprint looked different from the elk's he stalked. He bent closer, wiping some of the snow away with his mitten. The elk prints were there, but on top another print resembled that of the one toe of an unshod horse. Peculiar, yes, but horses occasionally escaped the townsfolk's paddocks, sometimes threw a shoe, but this one... this print was different. He was certain that was what happened until he thought about it longer. He had chased wild mustangs, trained ponies, even saw those big European draft horses in a circus once, but never had he seen a print like this. There was something strange about the angle and curve of the toe.

    "Strange, haven't seen a horse out here, though. Should've seen the bugger."

    He pushed it to the back of his mind.  It was distracting him from the elk.

    Billy took his right mitten off, shifted his weight, and worked on the other snowshoe with just his wool-gloved fingers. Snow slipped down from a tree across from him, and a bare spot on the bark caused him to pause.  Short, dark brown hairs stuck to the quaking aspen’s white bark where it looked as though something had rubbed against it. More hair than fur, it seemed like the winter coat of a deer or horse. He pulled his glove off for a precious few moments to feel it. Oily, gritty and course, not elk or deer. He sniffed the hair and couldn't come to a conclusion on exactly what kind of animal it was. If he had to guess, he would say, sheep. He put his glove back on before frostbite sank its nibs into his skin.

    A slug of Arbuckle would be good now, but it was not the time to start a fire in the open like this. There would be time for coffee later, though, once he had some elk strung up. 

    He loved the outdoors, knew every inch of the land in and around the pioneer town, but even so it was always changing, always different, always dangerous.

    A frigid wind slammed against the mountainous landscape. Trees created their own drum forest music as weakened, decrepit branches cracked and fell to the earth. 

    A sixth sense tingled, and Billy leaped aside in time to avoid being pummeled by a tree branch. He stared upward at the swaying tree tops, waiting for more branches to fall. They did not come. He scanned the hilly landscape for more signs of the elk's presence. Traces were almost gone. Driving snowflakes blanketed every tree. Iced-over, evergreen branches bowed from the added weight. Frost coated tufts of prairie grass, brome, and even the nine foot tall turkey foot blades fought against the winter snow. Burned seed pods poked their spiny heads as they pushed their scorched, but lightened weight to the top of the deep snow. The cycle of life. Fire and ice, death and life.

    He stepped around an ancient pine and used it to block the wind. A blizzard swept in with horizontal snowflakes temporarily blinding the view of his quarry's trail. He blinked flakes from his eyelashes and squinted through the scraped paper-thin goggles of pig bladder to prevent against snow blindness.  

    All traces of the elk had disappeared. The elk had escaped? How? Then, a whiff, a fragment of elk excrement odor and urine rode the wind. He looked at the horizon and saw a brown dot moving away at a fast clip in the deep snow. The elk!

    The animal wasn't far and probably sought shelter as he should. He removed his mittens again, blew on his gloved fingers to warm them, and wiggled them, trying to get the blood circulating. He pushed his beaver skin hat back from his forehead then stepped away from the tree. Billy yanked off his goggles, readied his muzzleloader (and the spare Winchester shotgun in case the black powder was damp) and took aim at the partly camouflaged reddish brown elk just as it attempted to hide behind the dismal-looking tangled mass of twigs and brush beside a scraggly pine.

    He cocked the hammer and squeezed the trigger of the muzzleloader.

    Ka-boooom. 

    The sound echoed off the mountains. Black smoke drifted away from him. The muzzleloader kicked back into his shoulder, but he hit his target squarely in the chest. He was sure about this, although he did not see. He had shot enough times to know where the heart was. 

    He pulled on his mittens with his attention never leaving the elk. 

    The elk backed out of its hiding place, away from Billy and made its attempt to escape. 

    Billy stalked the weaving animal's blood trail several yards until it dropped to the ground with a thud and puff of snow. He carefully approached at an angle in case the elk tried to kick him in its panic to escape.

    "What in tarnation..." He felt each beat of his heart as he took a cautious step backward. How could I have mistaken this creature for a bull elk?
 
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Log in to add a comment or review for this chapter Chapter updated on: 3/25/2017 10:43:43 PM
  • Edwin McRae commented on :
    8/3/2016 8:44:02 AM
    Hi! I do like your organic description of Billy through action and the odd bit of self-talk, and the end point is an interesting one. Was it enough to entice me to keep ... Show More
  • anna brown commented on :
    3/31/2016 2:08:04 AM
    Hello good day, i will like to meet you in person, am miss Anna, am from France and am leaving in London, please contact me on my email id at (annh1brown@hotmail.com), ... Show More
  • Ryan Watt commented on :
    7/28/2014 3:57:33 AM
    I love the setting. A lush forest in the snow. Not what I expected from the cover image. I think I would have liked the reveal to be the end, as opposed to just us ... Show More
    • S. Copperstone Thanks.
      8/2/2014 6:48:52 PM
    • Ryan Watt I'm still playing catch up. Is your story still going?
      8/2/2014 8:27:01 PM
    • S. Copperstone It is, I just got behind for a few months.
      8/3/2014 1:24:13 AM
  • Nathaniel Tower commented on :
    2/21/2014 11:56:25 AM
    Great pacing here to build up the mystery. I will definitely read the next chapter!