Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Boundaries Are Crossed

Undressed for bed.

Privacy Is Needed

 Ragtail heard enough of Rose’s declaration of innocence and waved away her excuses.
“You don’t need me anymore. Grind up those seeds, stir in water ‘til you make it like a runny oatmeal, and feed her.”

“OK,” Rose said, giving up on what must have been her favorite subject. “How much?”

“I don’t know. All of it, I reckon. I never heard of anyone using gourd seeds. It probably won’t work.”

Her stunned expression caused him to hurry the details along.
“An hour after she finishes the seeds, mix up the mud that Lark brung back into a thin slush. She should drink one good swallow or two little ones.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yep. Here, I’ll donate this.” Ragtail dug around in a pocket of Damn Donkey’s pack and pulled out a leather draw-string pouch. “Hold out your hand.”

“What is it?”

“Salt. A little flavor for the mud.” He placed a few coarse granules in her palm.
Then, swinging a finger a Rose and Lark, he invited them to leave. He and Damn Donkey wanted to bed down.

A matter of social pride for Ragtail was that he never slept with his boots on. Only the lowest desert-rats did that. Their argument went that you had to shake ‘em out in the morning for scorpions, so why bother taking them off?

It was true. Ragtail had to beat his boots together upside down, and often one or two of the ugly creatures fell out.

For Ragtail, removing his boots was the civilized thing to do. It honored mankind by telling the desert that all day he had to survive by its rules, but tonight he would show a little human dignity.

However, his human dignity went slam up against his personal modesty. How could he undress like that in the middle of all these wimmin? Civilization won.
#  #  #

The quarter moon’s position told Ragtail that he had only slept two hours before Damn Donkey’s restlessness woke him. He raised his head to listen. Sure enough, Lark was singing. If one of those high notes set his partner to braying, he’d get his shotgun and put some sting in Lark’s britches.

The sound of running feet heralded the arrival of a breathless Rose. “Come on. Something’s happening. It’s moving.”

Ragtail held up a blocking hand. “Please, I’m not fully dressed.”


Rose walked to Ragtail’s bedroll and inspected him to the point where he felt heat on his face.

“Don’t you want to be there to see if your cure works?”

“That’s one place I don’t want to be.”

“What do we do?”

“If you see it coming out, grab it and pull.”

Rose spotted them. “Your boots? Yeah, you’d be one of those. Okay, I’ll take your instructions back. Kettie’s so worried that she’d grab the devil. Anything I can do for you first, Sweetie?"

It was too much. Being caught undressed by a woman that refused to acknowledge his boundaries, and moreover called him by a name favored by dancehall girls sent his embarrassment over the pointed moon. Someone had to pay.

“Uh … I guess. Can you find a rock that’s comfortable in your hand?”

“Sure, one’s right here.”

“Fling it at the singer.”



“How hard?”


Ragtail heard a satisfying thud and yell from Lark.

Rose took off running.

Will Ragtail get to sleep? Leave a comment.

To read the series, click on September in the Archive list to the right and start with Tales Old Roy Told.

Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Rose Spills The Beans

And Borrowed A Horse

Ragtail Needs Solitude

Lark and Cecilia returned, laughing and swapping stories like old friends.

She presented the sack of gourds to Ragtail. “What do you want to do with these?”

“Get the seeds out and ground up. Save the hulls for Damn Donkey.”

“Mister, we ain’t got a grinder.”

“Got two rocks?”

Cecilia’s blank face confirmed her standing as an indoor woman. She may know how to use a scrub board, but she wouldn’t know how to make tortillas outside.

Rose snorted, Lark wiggled into his shamefaced shuffle like he did just before Ragtail started throwing things.

There were too many people, too much talking, and a limit to his patience. Ragtail glared at Rose. “Explain it to her.” He went to join his one reliable trail companion.

When Rose caught up with him, Ragtail had his arm around Damn Donkey’s neck, scratching his ears. “Kettie says I ought to stay with you,” she said.

Ragtail bowed up like a barn cat at a rattlesnake. “Ain’t nobody can keep me from going when I want.”

“I don’t think it’s like that, mister. She don’t want to lose you before she knows how to fix Cornelius.” Rose spread her hands. “You’re the only one that knows.”

Ragtail was studying her face for the truth in it when Lark arrived with gourd shells.
“All right,” Ragtail told her, “let’s see how accommodating you wimmen are.”

Rose took two full steps backward. “What do you mean?”

How About The Truth

Ragtail reached for the husks. “Tell me why all of you were prisoners that fetched up here.”

“Prisoners?” Lark echoed. “What's that about?”

“Shaddup and let her tell it,” Ragtail said.

“Sure,” Rose said. “Ain’t no harm in it, I suppose.” She shrugged. “We was in a jail wagon headed for the territorial prison when Charlie, our driver, got to feeling poorly. Wasn’t no one riding shotgun. They said puny women in a lock-up didn’t deserve another law dog.” Rose gave a soft chuckle. “The thing with lawmen is that half of ‘em take a badge so the other half quits looking for them.” She looked at Ragtail. “Ain’t it so?”

“Go on, get to it,” he said.

“Well, Charlie’s in his twilight years, and he’s getting worsened, so he makes us a deal. He’s built a place in a hidden valley, and if we take care of him until his great getting’ up mornin’, he’ll drive us there and free us. ‘Course we agreed. That’s it.”

“I didn’t see no grave,” Lark said.

“It’s yonder, on t’other side of the oaks.”

“No jail wagon,” Ragtail said, looking around. “Wasn’t one in the barn.”

“Kettie said to tear it apart so if anyone came by they wouldn’t start asking about it.”

“So all five of you are convicts?” Lark had turned his shoulder to Rose. He looked like he’d run.

She laughed. “Sure ‘nuff. Almost six, but the judge didn’t sentence Yalla. He just followed along.”

“What’s the crimes?” Ragtail had his jaw set. He didn’t cotton to convicts making light of their status.

“Well,” Rose said, extending a finger and tapping it with another as she named her companions. “Anna, as I told you, is plumb crazy. There’s nowhere for her around decent folks.
Cecilia, who you seem to be smitten with,” she leered at Lark, “was a housekeeper and governess. Trouble was, the fancy people’s riches kept finding a way into her pocket.”
She counted on another finger. “Kettie, for the blunt of it, was a card shark and swindler.”
Another finger, “and Cornelius murdered her husband—”

“Whoa, wait!” Ragtail held up a hand. “That sickly woman is a killer?”

“That’s what they got her for,” Rose said. “Funny, though. She always acted like the tamest one of us all.”

Ragtail pointed at Rose. “How about you?”

“I never done nothing wrong.” Rose wore a deep scowl. “True love don’t often come about for a woman who earns her way in a dancehall. I only borrowed that horse to get to my handsome cowboy. I would have returned it as soon as I collected up with my man but they never gave me a chance. Said I stole it and jailed me. I’m what they call a victim of circumsticks.”

Who's innocent? Leave a comment and check a box below.

To read the series, click on September in the Archive list to the right and start with Tales Old Roy Told.

Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays.

Thank a veteran.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Say Please

A Couple of the Escaped Inmates

If It's Not A Farm, What Is It?

Kettie swung her gaze from Cornelius to Ragtail. “Oh, you saw our pumpkin patch, did you?”

“No, I didn’t.” Ragtail tightened his mouth. This female woman was a pain worse than a cactus sticker. “I was too busy walking in front of that there shotgun.”

“You didn’t see it because we ain’t got one, idjit. Does this look like a right prosperous farm?”

Ragtail headed for the door. She could shoot or let him go. He didn’t care.

Cecilia put her hand on his arm, not griping, just touching. “Please, mister. You’re the first sign of help Cornelius has had. Don’t go. Please?”

He stopped and looked her over. Thin and careworn, she showed a sense of dignity in herself and concern for Cornelius.

Did he deserve to be waylaid like this? No. He should be with Damn Donkey prospecting for El Dorado.
It was Lark’s fault. Ever since connecting with the screeching prospector Ragtail’s whole world was different.

Cecilia licked her lips. “We don’t have pumpkins, but there’s a bunch of buffalo gourds growing wild down in the wet—what we call the bottomland. The ground is dampish, tall grass grows, I bet your burro would love it. ... I’m sorry, I’m rambling. Would the gourds work? They’re mostly hollow. Will you help? Please?”

The Magic Word

He would regret it, he knew he would because he already did. But still. …. He glared at Kettie. “You should learn the word 'please' and use it like your sister here.”

Cecilia’s plea seemed to affect Kettie. She wiped a hand across her face. “We ain’t sisters but we’re as close as, so I’d take it kindly if you’d do what you can.”

“Well,” Ragtail said, “I don’t know about them gourds, but if that’s all you got we’ll try ‘em.”

Kettie nodded at Ragtail and Cecilia. “Go get ‘em.”

Ragtail didn’t budge.

“Please?” Kettie added.

Outside The Cabin

She followed Ragtail and Cecilia into the yard. “What happened here?”

Ragtail saw his packs in the dirt and hollered until he saw Damn Donkey grazing on acorns.

 “Crazy Anna was going to use the burro to plow up a garden,” Rose said.

Kettie stamped her foot. “I told you not to call her that.”

“What else would you call someone that was shipped off for living with goats and talking strange in Spanish?”

“What’s wrong with raising goats?” Lark asked Rose.

“She wasn’t raising them. She was living among them. She got declared crazy. It wasn’t me what said it first.”

“It don’t matter,” Kettie said. “Go get the gourds for Cornelius.”

“You go,” Ragtail said, pointing at Lark. “You let her do this when I trusted you to watch my stuff. Now I have to put it back in order.”

It wasn’t exactly true. Ragtail never entrusted anyone with his gear, but he was tired of being told what to do. He was by golly overdue to give someone else orders.
“And if you find some real fine mud, no gravel in it, bring back a handful,” he told Cecilia.

Ragtail picked up his packs and placed them on the porch boards, giving Rose sidelong glances as she, in turn, watched Lark and Cecilia heading across the pasture.

Lark was swinging a sack as he gestured to accent his story. Or, he may have been singing already.

Ragtail cleared his throat. “What was it you said about the crazy one being sent away?”

“Oh,” Rose gave him a wide grin, “we were all sent away.”


“Yep. All five of us were prisoners on the way to the territorial prison. This place suited us better.”

What will happen to Ragtail and Lark among five women escapees? Leave a comment and check a box below.

To read the series, click on September in the Archive list to the right and start with Tales Old Roy Told.

Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays.

Thank a veteran.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Home Remedies

Prisoner's Valley

There's A Cure For That

Anna lifted the satchels from Damn Donkey’s pack saddle, unhitched the frame and dropped it on the pile that Yalla was sniffing.

“Ragtail’s not gonna like that,” Lark said. “He’s a real private person.”

The happy woman quit grinning. “Can you speak Spanish, mister?”

“My name’s Reathway Williams, madam. I surely didn’t catch yours, but I’m happy to make all of your acquaintances. Of course, I can speak the language of the Conquistadors. How will that help you?”

“Maybe with Anna there, Reamed-Away. She’s as American as any of us but rattles off in Spanish whenever she’s upset—which is all the time. Nobody knows how she learned it or even if she’s saying anything right, but it may calm her down to hear it.”

“Um, that’s ‘Reathway’ but Ragtail calls me ‘Lark’ if that would help you.”

The woman waved his words away and raised her voice, “What are you doing, Anna? Did Kettie tell you to do this?”

“Don’t nobody got to tell me nothing, Rose. This here sorry critter is the next thing to a plow mule we’re gonna git. Soon’s I git him into a harness, he’s gonna turn up sod for the garden. You just watch this hombre.” She pointed her chin at Lark. “You’re good at that.”

Rose turned to Lark and in a hurried whisper urged him, “Say something to her.”

Lark cleared his throat, hitched up his pants and strode to Anna in an upright, square-shouldered posture of authority. “Ortega! We’re having a quatro day. It is very Aguilar.” He smiled and nodded in agreement with his apparent success when Anna stopped.

¡Dios Mio! Está loco,” she said and led the bare-backed animal away.

Anna tied Damn Donkey near the gate to an overgrown pasture and fetched a harness from the barn.

Lark was still taking it all in, it happened so fast. Damn Donkey bit Anna and kicked Yalla. Then having scattered his tormentors, the shaggy little animal ambled to the shade of an oak.

Rose closed her gaping mouth and said, “I’ve never seen Anna back down from nothing.”

“Ragtail’s burro just claimed the yard,” Lark agreed.

#  #  #

Ragtail looked at the gaunt face on a gunny sack pillow. “Ought to have his hair scissored down. He looks like a woman.”

Kettie jabbed him with the gun, “Cornelius is a woman, and before you ask, No.She ain’t gonna have a baby.”

Ragtail rubbed his ribs, “Go easy with that proddin’, will you? I’m gitting sore and a little out of sorts. If’n you want help, you’d best be polite in the askin’.”

“All right,” Kettie said, “here it is. It seems Cornelius was always on the frail side, but then she took to losing her bowels and throwing up. I can’t figure out how such a small woman that can’t keep food down can still grow a nice round belly without it being bad enough to have killed her already.”

Ragtail studied the patient’s outline under the dirty bedcover. Her emaciated form was indeed bulging in the middle like a birthing mother would expect. Her sunken eyes circled with worry or pain lines—he couldn’t tell which—were nonetheless bright and fixed on him. Her gaze made him uncomfortable with a sensation he couldn’t name.

Ragtail mentally pinched himself, a trick he’d learned in the desert to bring his attention back from drifting.
“I reckon it’s a tapeworm,” he told Kettie. Fetch a medium-sized pumpkin. You’ll need seventy to seventy-five seeds.”

How will Ragtail cure Cornelius? Leave a comment and click a box below.

To read the series, click on September in the Archive list to the right and start with Tales Old Roy Told.

Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Women of The West

Crazy Anna's dog Yalla

Prospectors In The Valley

Ragtail studied the eroded remains of a wagon trail where it crossed the wash. “Ain’t much call for wagon traffic in the hills without a mine,” he said.

“That road’s washed away.” Lark pointed out the obvious. “If there was a mine hereabouts it’s played out by now.”

“Maybe there’s some left for us to find.”

Lark lowered his pack and wiped a sleeve across his brow. “We don’t know which way to follow it.”

Ragtail dropped his hand from Damn Donkey’s neck and gave Lark his full view. “Your smart gear got a tooth broke off, don’t it? Why would anybody live in the hills and go down-country to mine? If they lived up there they’d still be there and the road would be worn.” He kicked gravel from the wash bed toward the other miner.

Lark turned his nose up and giving his back to Ragtail sang:

     Oh, Lord show me the way
     Don’t delay, do it today.
     We need to find some ore that’ll pay.

Damn Donkey’s pack shook, his bray echoing up and down the canyon. Aaaah-EEK, Aaaah-EEK, Aaaah-EEK.

Ragtail sent a rock sailing past Lark’s neck.

On Up The Road

Alerted by Damn Donkey’s twitching ears, the prospectors inched to the top of the hill, moving behind boulders and brush until they could lay on their bellies and see the valley beyond.
It was the road’s destination. An old shack, barn, and empty corrals battled time near a copse of mature oak. Something moved down there.

“I seen a dress,” Lark said. “Them’s fem-uh-neen wimmin!”

Ragtail squinted hard and thrust his head forward like it would get him closer to the view. “What would wimmin be doing out here?”

“Protecting our privacy,” said a voice behind them.

Both miners whirled in the dirt. Ragtail looked into the open end of a shotgun held by a tall middle-aged woman. She wore a dirty bellowing black skirt. Evidence indicated that her blouse was once white.

Next to her was a shorter female of the same indistinct age that women drift into after they’re girls and before old crones. This one had hair the color of a haystack and her hand was on a large black dog.

When Lark moved to rise, the dog growled, showing teeth.

“Anna, why don’t you take Yalla and fetch that donkey,” the tall one said. “We’ll have company for supper.”

Lark cleared his throat. “You call that black dog Yalla?”

The shotgun moved in a lazy swing between Ragtail and Lark. “That’s what Anna calls him and the dog’s hers. She also thinks the dog’s a ‘she’. It doesn’t do to upset Anna."

“Uh, you mentioned supper,” Ragtail said. “What are you having?”

“Whatever you brought.”

It's Not A Mine

The little group made their way to the worn cabin. Two more women waited for them.

One was thin with refined features, her hair groomed back in a bun.

The other wore a threadbare racy dress that allowed the buxom bulge of her upper chest pulchritude to sport a tan that could only be acquired by days of exposure to outdoor life. She broke out in a grin.

The thin one spoke to the lady with the shotgun.

“Kettie, Cornelius is worse. Really bad.”

The short woman leading Damn Donkey, Anna, emitted a burst of Spanish.

Kettie poked the gun at the men. “Do either of you know doctoring?”

Both prospectors shook their heads.

“Come on now. You’ve never took care of nobody?”

Ragtail said, “Just Damn Donkey here. Then mostly his feet.”

Lark raised his shoulders. “Don’t look at me. My burro came up lame and I turned her loose.”

Kettie pointed the barrel at Ragtail. “You’re it, then. Cecilia, get Cornelius covered proper. Call when you’re ready.”

Thin Cecilia disappeared through the cabin door.

Lark asked, “Is Cornelius your father?”

Anna mumbled in her cursing language.

The happy woman slapped Lark across his back and said, “You’re a spur to the funny bone.”

Yalla growled.

Ragtail took on a sweat. What had he got into?

What's wrong with Cornelius? Can Ragtail be a doctor? Leave a comment and click a reaction box below.

Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Placer Age

Lark Explains Geology

Ragtail stopped at the edge of a gulch and shaded his eyes with his hand as he looked uphill and down.

“Going down will be the easiest way around it,” Lark said.

Ragtail’s response was a grunt.

“Don’t make no sense, you being difficult.” Lark swung his arm in a wide loop. “The quicker we reach the outcroppings in the foothills, the sooner we strike color.”

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

“What do you mean?”

Ragtail put his arm around Damn Donkey’s neck. The beast liked to have the base of his ears scratched. It was a routine the pair had developed when Ragtail needed to cogitate.
“First off,” he said, “we can follow the wash to the foothills. We might find water and good spots for some placer mining.”

Lark shook his head. “You gotta have a running stream for placer mining.”

“Shows what you know.”

“I know a lot.” Lark dropped his pack and tapped on the palm of one hand with the forefinger of the other. “If’n you knew the fine science of geology, you’d know that the dust settles through the dirt in layers. Been so since the beginning of time. They call the layers “ages” like the Iron Age or the Bronze Age. Those are the layers you dig in to git iron or bronze.”

Lark paused to shake out his kerchief and wipe his face. “Now if you want placer gold, you gotta dig for it in the placer age layer.”

Ragtail balked at being lectured to, especially from the likes of Lark, but the man was making sense. “How do you know if you’re at the placer age?”

“Well, it’s hard, ain’t it, gold being a bashful metal. But they say there’s supposed to be bones from long-ago critters buried in it.”

“You ain’t making sense. Do you see any critters, new or old stampeding around here?”

“I had to think on that,” Lark admitted. “They was supposed to have big buzzards in those days. I reckon those huge birds flew out to the desert to dry their wings. They probably brought a bone along to chew on while they aired out.”

Ragtail had to give Lark credit. It sounded like an educated assessment. “Okay,” he said, “but I still want to follow the wash and look for gold droppings on the bedrock where running water would pool up.”

Lark shouldered his load. “Fair enough.”

Ragtail watched a Turkey Vulture gliding on air currents. The large bird roamed in wide circles, coming back over them with a casual flip of its wide-spread wings. How many critters had fed the scavenger? What did he do with their bones?
Ragtail guessed it didn’t matter. Man or beast had to leave his bones somewhere. Maybe something ought to come from them.

Why was he thinking like this? Doggone that Lark. Putting the science in was taking the fun away of being in the desert with Damn Donkey and the excitement of discovery ahead of them.

He should have shot the yodeling interloper when he first saw him.

Will Ragtail find the Placer Age? What do you think? Leave a comment.

Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Ragtail Meets Lark

Reathway Williams AKA Lark

Ragtail Renames Reathway

Ragtail hid behind the juniper and steadied the long barrels of his shotgun against the tree.

He pointed toward movement on the ridge as a figure came into view waving a kerchief and singing: “HELLO hello, HELLO hello” his voice lilting up and down in rhythm with his steps. He broke out into a full nasal song, “I’m a fellow you want to know.”
His round shadow glided smoothly over the boulders and across the dirt even though his overhanging belly jiggled and sashayed with each step.

It wasn’t a pretty voice or much of a tune. Ragtail gritted his teeth. His shotgun held steady on the stranger who continued singing as he approached:

     I’ve got a song that’s pleasant to hear
     One that falls softly on your ear
     You’ll want to invite me in today
     My music will chase your cares away.

The stranger stopped, removed his hat and bowed. “Good day sir. I’m Reathway Williams: conservator, entrepreneur, prospector, and among other things I create music.” He slapped on his hat, spread his arms and hit his high notes: La La LAAAAAAA!

Damn Donkey went chin up again: Aaaah-EEK, Aaaah-EEK, Aaaah-EEK.

“Shuddup, shuddup, shuddup!” Ragtail yelled. “Dern fool. I should’a shot you but it would’a added to the noise. Then I’d had to clean and reload the gun.” He returned his weapons to the pack on Damn Donkey. “As it is, that’s one Tommy.”

The newcomer hooked his thumbs under his galluses. “Oh, no my fine fellow mineralogist, you misunderstood. My name is Reathway, not Tommy. Whoever Tommy is, I doubt he could sing like a lark.”

Ragtail spit, not bothering to wipe his chin whiskers nor concerned that it landed near Reathway’s boot. “A Tommy is a count agin you for messin’ up. A guy gets three and you already got one. I’d advise you to git on back over that ridge, Lark.”

Reathway’s face darkened as he pointed a finger at Ragtail. “Now see here Mist—”

Damn Donkey bit his finger causing Reathway to stomp and holler.

Ragtail laughed and slapped his leg. “I see you dance too, Lark. Ain’t no end to your talents, are they?”

Lark pressed his skinned finger in his other hand, pumping them while filling the air with deprecations and curses.

Ragtail clapped his hands. “Thanks for the entertainment, Lark. Your singing’s improved mightily thanks to Damn Donkey.”
He made a back-handed shoo-away wave. “Now how about leaving me in peace?”

“Okay, lookee here,” Lark said. “My burro drug up lame three days ago. I set him free.” He kicked a stone and shrugged. “Ain’t no one to talk to.”

A queasy hot flash went through Ragtail. He never considered being without his companion. The idea hit him for the first time how lost he’d be in the expanse of the southwest desert without Damn Donkey: a blind man in a rowboat in the middle of the ocean.

“Besides,” Lark continued, “if’n we team up for a while it’d save you from botherin’ where I’ve already been. Ain’t no color on t’other side of the ridge neither.”

Ragtail parceled out his visitor. “Where’s your poke?”

Lark hooked a thumb over his shoulder, “Back yonder. I can fetch it pronto.”

“Got any coffee?”

“Flour and beans. Got any bacon?”

“Jerky. Could you keep from caterwauling and setting off Damn Donkey?”

“I’ll gather my stuff.”

As Lark disappeared over the skyline, Ragtail asked Damn Donkey, “Should we wait for him or not?”

Should Ragtail and Damn Donkey wait for Lark? Leave a comment.

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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

On The Way

Young Damn Donkey

Searching For Lost Gold

Ragtail deliberately worked his way down an arroyo, picking at each piece of quartz, but the only color he found was in a dollar-sized fire agate that went in his pocket.

Where the gulch opened up to a valley, Ragtail led Damn Donkey to the shade of a juniper.

His lunch-time ritual, which was lunch only because it could happen between sunrise and sunset, was to loosen Damn Donkey’s pack cinch, give him some water, and share a piece of jerky. It kept the animal occupied over the break trying to chew the tough string of meat with flat teeth meant for grazing.

Why the critter would even eat the staple of all desert travelers was a mystery, but Ragtail once saw Damn Donkey chewing on a Spanish Dagger. The thought came to him that the plant was pretty much Nature's jerky. Ragtail got a kick out of his companion eating the meat and apparently so did Damn Donkey.

They both heard the sound.

It wasn’t the breeze through the branches. Damn Donkey’s ears were up and twisting, a sure sign that something or someone was close. Ragtail decided it was human and tensed up. He crouched behind the tree trunk for secrecy when Damn Donkey raised his long nose, widened his eyes, and spread his jaws.

Ragtail had wondered where the term “braying” come from. A word like that could almost be whispered. It sure didn’t pertain to donkeys. They get a belly full of air and blow it out hard through a windpipe lined with cactus. It’s about as smooth a sound on the ears as a washboard is to skinned knuckles.

Aaaah-EEK, Aaaah-EEK, Aaaah-EEK.

Ragtail pulled Damn Donkey’s head down. “Shut yer fool mouth and listen.”
Damn Donkey turned toward the ridge and locked his ears forward. That was enough warning for Ragtail. He pulled a .36 caliber Colt Navy Revolver out of the pack and stuck it in his waistband. He followed that by unsheathing a Greener side-by-side 12 bore muzzle-loading shotgun.

What's heading their way? Leave a comment and check in next Wednesday to find out.

Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017


Ragtail and Damn Donkey


They reckoned it was the dirty, tattered snot rag fixated on his belt that got Ragtail his name.
But it could’a been because the seat of his britches had long since amalgamated into something done and done over, scraped clean through from sliding down hillsides when his footing gave way. Patches turned this way, and that way covered his modesty like a crazy quilt. They was all sewn on with a long, looping stitch, so that may have been where his name come from.

Ragtail didn’t seem to mind. He spent his time alone except for Damn Donkey, and that exasperating beast didn’t care for looks or if Ragtail had a few gray hairs creeping around under his hat or on his chin.
In any case, Ragtail accounted he would clean up and even get a proper horse as soon as he found a lode with the right color.

He lived high once when he pushed deeper into an abandoned drift and collected a nice little haul of galena that assayed high in silver. He lodged into a hotel so fancy that they made him take a bath before allowing him to stay.

But he didn’t enjoy it.

For one thing, the bed was too soft. However, the floor was clean, so he bunked down there. City noise relentlessly pierced his skull with high tones blended with clomping feet coming from every direction. So many people on the move drove him to keep his shotgun handy.

He endured his luxury for a week then used the last of his windfall to pay the stable for taking care of Damn Donkey. The only good feeling he left with was he got his fill of steak and bacon.

Broke and on a grub-stake again, Ragtail needed to find new territory. As soon as he showed up at the Assayers Office the vultures that preyed on the hunting skills of hermitic prospectors knew what he had and where he likely got it. They left town before he finished his check-in bath.
The scavengers were on the carcass. No sense in going back that way.

But there was a tugging at him to follow the siren call of a lost mine. The story went that an aged Spaniard stumbled out of the desert years ago. He said that he was a young man when his company marched north and ran afoul of local tribesmen. Only several of the armor-wearing invaders survived the encounter and they were used as slaves by the people with the strange language.

Once a year the women of the tribe journeyed to a valley where they picked the pods from the trees growing there. The slaves went as burden bearers. The old man said that when he was the last of his kind, on the annual trip to the valley he simply walked away.

Somewhere on his escape south, he had passed a gold field where nuggets lay for the picking. He showed the evidence. Two thumb-sized beauties - almost pure.

Men had disappeared trying to locate that gold. Ragtail reckoned it was time for him to try.

Next Wednesday Ragtail prospects new territory. What will he find? Leave a comment.

Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays.

Thank a veteran.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Tales Old Roy Told

Hooping in a pinafore.

Finding Old Roy

I was ten years old and wanted to do something different. “Nah, I don’t want to do that,” I answered Warren. “All we ever do is roll hoops. It’s getting too hot anyway.”
The town was dusty but blessed with an itinerant cloud shadow. Nothing was going on but an occasional rider or buggy passing by in the dirt of the main street.

Warren acted like he warn’t too upset ‘cause he never made a move to git up. We were at the end of the boardwalk. The only building in town past us was Jones’, the blacksmith who usually supplied the wheel hoops we played with. Warren kept right on throwing pebbles at a pile of horse apples, trying to knock the top one off. “Well, what then Noah?”

Good-looking Jessie Beauchamp came up with the idea that turned on our imaginations. Jessie, whose mom tried to pass her off as a genteel little lady by using a hot curling iron to put springy curls in Jessie’s hair and tucking her in starched white pinafores to keep her dresses clean. The Jessie that Warren, Elijah, and I all secretly loved.
She said it. “I heard my daddy mention that Old Roy would tell anybody a story for a drink.”

“That’s probably true.” Elijah nodded in agreement because he always agreed with everything.

“How come it's true?” Warren poked a finger at Elijah roping him into the middle of attention.

That was a ritual in our group. Elijah agreed, and Warren tried to make him justify why.

Eli cast about, looking for someone to help him and finally come through on his own. “Have you ever seen Old Roy at the water barrel? I bet he’s plumb thirsty.”

I thought about that and figured Eli had it. You’d see Old Roy here or there, but no one ever saw him move. He just was in his place. Or somewhere else. I ruminated on it while they watched me. Them and Cora, Eli’s little sister.  For some reason, I seemed to be our leader, so I had to think it through.

I made a decision. “Cora, fetch a pint jar. We’ll go see.”

She ran to the blacksmith’s and returned with a stained jar that smelled like turpentine, but it was empty. Warren filled it at the horse trough, and we marched off to find Old Roy because he wasn’t behind the smithy’s, one of his usual abiding spots.

We reconnoitered him reclined on a bench in front of the cooper store on the shady side of the street. Old Roy had his hat pulled over his eyes, his hands tucked under his round belly that reminded me of lump jaw settled onto his stomach, and his fatigued boots crossed at his ankles. That wasn’t no problem because Old Roy didn’t wear spurs. Couldn’t use ‘em if he did. No one saw him walking, much less riding.

We arrived at the same time Mrs. Lambert stopped to admonish Old Roy. She tapped him across his knees with her parasol until he moved his hat back, uncovering his bearded face. She drew herself up, arms akimbo, and demanded to know, “Why are you lying there like that?”

Old Roy brought her into focus and in his dark whiskey voice rumbled, “So we can look into each other’s noses. I can see tadpole jerky in yours. What do you see in mine?”

Mrs. Lambert went cherry, with the seed jerked out the way her lips puckered. She placed her hand in front of her face and took off, pumping her laced-up city shoes against the boardwalk like hail on the roof.

I felt kinda bad for her since she always made sure we got some cookies when she baked, but jiminy whillikers, it was funny.

Old Roy took our measure while wiping the rheum out of his eyes with the backs of his thumbs. “What do you kids want?”

Mrs. Lambert once shooed Warren out of the way so he may have been feeling some kinship with Old Roy. He held out the jar. “Here’s a drink. How about telling us a story?”

Old Roy squinted at him. “Got a chaw?”

Warren’s face said he had something of value he didn’t want us to know. He pulled out a half-inch length of black twist and held it to Old Roy. “Got this licorice,” he offered.

Old Roy waved it away. “Ain’t got the teeth to eat that and it don’t soak up like a good chaw,” he said.

Warren popped it into his mouth before any of us could say a thing. Old Roy dug around in his shirt pocket and found a small plug of tobacco that he set to half-chewing, half-gumming. He took the drink, threw out the water, and spit in the jar.

“Well,” he said, “there is the matter of Ragtail and Lark.”

Who or what are Ragtail and Lark? Come back next Wednesday and Old Roy will begin his story.

How do you think it will go? Leave a comment.

Writing Fiction is published Wednesdays.

Thank a veteran.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Loving Your Writing

Never a wrong word.

Are We Rushing To Publish?

Last week we talked about being our own worst critics. When that misconception grabs us, we hold on to our work and never let anyone read it.

At the other end of the pendulum swing is where we imagine our story and it so enthralls us that we can't see that it didn't transfer to the written word very well.

The ability to self-publish has seen the market offer a lot of books that are subpar in punctuation, character development, plot, and ... you get the idea.

Let's not be that guy

How do we know our work is ready for the market? One person I heard of uses her retired English teacher to proofread her work. When the teacher gushes over the story, it's rushed to print. Let the marketing begin.

We need English teachers. We need to learn all we can from them. We also need Creative Writing teachers if we're going to write something to hold someone else's attention.

The difference is between learning how to spell success and how to achieve it.

But more than that

Let's say that we've typed "The End." Now what?

Here is a post from Brian Klems Writer's Digest blog hosting Steven Gillis about rewriting.

Yes, it's necessary and here's how you find out.

Critique groups. Listen with an open mind and be prepared to find out that there is only one Shakespeare.
Critiques work both ways, give one, get one. This is good. It's another part of our learning experience.

Beta readers. They will read the whole manuscript at once and give an overall report, or we can ask for specific feedback such as how well the dialog flows.

Professional editing. The best, most effective, and most expensive solution to polishing a story.
There are different levels of editing that we won't go into here. This is an area for a whole post.
There are many sites regarding the types of editing services available, search for them. But approach with caution.
Anyone can hang out a shingle and say that they're an editor so be sure and check out their credentials.

Then publish your story

And rest assured that you gave your baby the best start in life you could.

What did you do to get ready for publication? Let's talk about it. Leave a comment.

Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays.

Thank a veteran

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Our Worst Critics

There's that critic. Always watching

The Critic in the Mirror

I know that guy. He's the one telling me that my writing is no good, I'm wasting time and resources, and I have nothing new to say. There's a ring of truth to that.

Especially the part about nothing new to say. How many romances can be written, how many westerns, how many mysteries? You get the idea.

So why are thousands of books published each year?

We each have a voice, we are unique. We do the same things differently and we have a story.
Take bicycle riding for instance. I recently read a moving story where bike riding was a central theme. The tale wasn't about a bike, but couldn't have happened the way it did without one. No bike, no story.

Another bike rider, my son Charlie, got his pants leg caught in the chain, hit a rock, and catapulted into a sticker patch. According to his mother, the story is about mending scrapes, pulling out stickers, and sewing pants. But again, no bike, no story.

So, are these stories worth writing? Absolutely.

What's stopping us?

I think it all comes down to fear. Fear of rejection, of course, fear of being the object of ridicule, and lots of our own particular reasons.
However, fear can be overcome by gaining information and confidence.

Let the reader decide.

We don't know what readers will like or dislike. Believe me, we'll find both kinds for anything we write.

We need to gain information from writing courses, critique groups, and blogs from authors who graciously share their knowledge.
Here's just one to get us started from K.M. Weiland.

Only one person is stopping us.

Yep. As Pogo Possum said, "We have met the enemy and they are us."

Your voice is different even for a similar story. Only you can tell it. Do it.

What's your hangup and how do you overcome it? Leave a comment.

Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays.

Thank a veteran.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Drenching Texas

Unprecedented Flooding in Texas Gulf Coast

I like to have fun on this blog but today is different. Today, people are crying. Therefore, I'm giving this week over to re-posting DiAnn Mills. You will be moved.
Visit DiAnn's page and sign up for her blogs. She's an excellent writer and shares her knowledge.

Hi Burton, in the 08/29/2017 edition of DiAnn's Desk:

Houston, We Have a Problem

By DiAnn Mills @DiAnnMills
Houston and most of the Texas Gulf Coast has a problem, and it’s called Harvey. On Friday night, the category 4 storm slammed into Port Aransas and Port O’Connor, Texas. According to the National Hurricane Center, Harvey brought winds of 130 mph. Here’s how it looked, courtesy of NOAA/NASA, when it was approaching. At the time this image was taken, it had maximum sustained winds of only 110 mph.
Much of the media coverage has been about Houston, the fourth largest city in the country and my home. We’ve been pelted by catastrophic rain bands, breaking records and hearts with its devastation. Fifteen trillion gallons of water have been dumped onto our city, and it will not recede for days. Seems like a record number of Tornado warnings have been issued, one after another urging those in the whirlwind path to take shelter.
In this writing, I’m looking out my kitchen window watching the incessant rain. My husband and I have been blessed with only minor issues, and we are looking forward to helping others if only in a small way. None of us wanted the distinction of experiencing the worst flooding in US history. This article gives the stats:
Houston, We have a Problem
Where do people flee when they’re unable to leave their homes due to water-filled streets? How can victims be helped when 911 appears non responsive as the emergency service is experiencing unprecedented calls? The answer is the many brave men and women, both local and those from outside the region, who are able stepped up to the challenge arriving with boats in tow. This map shows just some of the road closures as of this writing. We’re near the blue dot in upper left-hand corner.
The countless heroic stories surfacing above the dirty water confirm my faith in humanity. Although I could never list the thousands of heroes emerging from their circumstances to help others, I invite you to see read some of their stories here.
Otis, the dog who left his home near Corpus Christi has become a symbol of the Texas Spirit.
The Red Cross, the National Guard, food banks, many churches, and individuals are working around the clock to assist victims. Here’s a partial list of those organizations who are accepting donations. I encourage you to explore the various entities.
Southern Baptists are well known nationally for their Disaster Response teams. Our church is partnering with the state level Disaster Relief team. You can partner and make a donation with them here.

Most of all, we thank you for your continued prayers for all those impacted by the storms.  May God’s peace be extended in a powerful way.

DiAnn Mills