This story is by Judy Blackburn and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Punching the Clouds
Lucy knew she should listen to her parents and Marshall Con Evans, who was the law in their area, had been since 1887, two years earlier.
At fourteen, Lucy wanted to not only explore her world, but she was discovering a wider universe consisting of ancient lands.
Marshall Evans, deputy, and posse searched for the outlaw, Race Morgan while warning families to be on the lookout and take caution. Lucy decided no outlaw was going to stop her from enjoying her favorite daily activity, riding her horse, Dandy.
Lucy dreamed of riding camels in old lands she’d read about in the school teacher’s books. All that sand hiding secrets fascinated the young girl and she wanted to experience it. For now riding Dandy, was the best. After all, she and Dandy were the greatest friends. They were never far apart.
Lucy saddled her horse. The big chestnut nudged Lucy with his nose eager to be with his mistress. She was only supposed to stop in and feed Old Mrs. Carts stock while the old lady recuperated in town from her row with the outlaw, then get right home, no lollygagging and daydreaming as her mom liked to say.
Poor old Mrs. Carts looked kind of funny with her black eye and a huge bruise on her forehead. Her run-in with the outlaw, Race Morgan hadn’t turned out well. He’d wanted a chicken dinner. Mrs. Carts had refused. She wasn’t going to kill one of her prize hens to satisfy some man, especially him being an outlaw. His mistake was going after her chickens anyway. Her mistake was going after him with a hatchet. She’d gotten in one good swipe and put a gash in his arm. He’d hit her and grabbed a chicken and galloped away.
Old Mrs. Carts liked telling her story. “He got one of my best hens, but at least I have my life and that arm has to be hurtin’ a plenty.”
She thanked Lucy for feeding her animals but gave her a warning, “You just feed the stock and get home, no woolgathering,” she said and patted Lucy’s hand.
There it was again, the daydreaming. Lucy was forever getting told to quit staring at the moon and being dreamy. She sighed as she threw out chicken feed. Lucy watched the flock peck and scratch, wondering what they dreamed about.
A glimmer of guilt nudged her, but she couldn’t resist. The familiar trail leading to the high ridge was right there. Dandy naturally turned that direction. She’d be careful and head right home as soon as she looked the valley over again.
Lucy never tired of seeing the brightness of the blue sky and the pine green of trees as her and Dandy maneuvered the rugged trail, his sure-footedness skimming over the rough terrain with no problems.
Lucy pulled up at the favored grassy slope looking over the valley surrounded by bare hills with a snake-like river flowing the length.
She dismounted and took a sip of water from her canteen. She cupped her hands and gave Dandy a drink as well.
Lucy felt the dark presence before she saw him emerge from the stand of poplars. The man walked slowly towards her. She noted the bandaged arm and a limp.
Tan feathers blew in the slight breeze and stuck to tall grasses.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
Dandy nickered softly. Lucy knew she should heed the nicker and hop on her horse and gallop away, but the man grabbed her wrist with his one good, rough hand.
“Well, aren’t’ you the polite little thing.”
She tried to yank away. “I’m trying to be helpful. Let me go.”
“Yeah, you’ll be a big help.”
Lucy saw the clouds above her. She thought of the bread dough rising in ma’s bowl. She liked to punch it down and flatten it out on the board. She wanted to do that now.
Lucy felt the cold of the gun against her back. Her jaw tightened. The maniac was going to drag her into the brush and do what? She didn’t know, but she’d heard things, even in her young, protected life. She’d heard her parents in the dark nights when they thought she was sleeping. With them, there had been giggles and whispers. In the morning ma hummed tunelessly with a little smile on her face as she went around doing her household work. Pa whistled as he went out the door to the fields.
But this wasn’t anything like that. She didn’t feel like humming at all. Should she fight and try to run? Her horse stood close. He looked at her, ears forward as if to say come on let’s finish our ride. The gun put more pressure on her back, making her take a step forward, farther away from Dandy. He let out a frantic whinny, tossed his head, and stomped a hoof.
The man threw her on the ground. Lucy closed her eyes. A fear she’d never known took possession of her soul. Her mind went to clouds overlooking ancient lands and pyramids. Her dress ripped. She screamed. Scenes of her life flitted across her mind.
Lucy had never been farther than the small town situated about a mile from their farm. But now at fourteen, the world was getting bigger and she wanted to experience it. She loved the farm. It was familiar and family. It had been her home for as long as she could remember.
There were chores to do, weeding the garden, feeding chickens and even milk the cow on occasion, but for the most part, pa took care of that job.
Was ma baking bread today? She should be home helping. She liked to punch the soft dough when it rose above the bowl. Ma had taught her to sew too and in spite of the fact she’d rather be outdoors, she was quite the accomplished seamstress. Did she have some sewing projects she should be working on?
The man was ripping at her clothes, struggling with his own while she laid there, passive.
Lucy suddenly knew what to do. She wasn’t going to let this man take her away from her life, her family. He had no rights. If she died trying, so be it.
She kicked, her hands became like claws and raked his face. Her hand became a fist and slammed into his injury. He yelled, holding his bandaged arm. He slapped her sending her to the ground in a dizzy haze. Lucy fumbled to her feet, faked a trip and landed on her knees. The ripped riding dress made things a bit cumbersome, but she grabbed at rocks and sand and threw them into her captor’s eyes.
Dandy reared and a well-aimed hoof caught the man in the chest. Lucy saw Morgan slump to the ground, gun in hand. She reached for the reins and jumped aboard. She heard the shot.
Lucy felt a warmth on her shoulder. She kept riding, letting Dandy gallop home.
The barn came into sight. Her grip on the reins slacked. She tried to hang on to Dandy’s mane, but everything dimmed. Dandy stopped in the yard. Lucy’s hold let go and she sank to the ground. He nosed her, but she didn’t move.
Lucy woke, safe in bed. Her shoulder hurt. Doc Peters felt her forehead. “Fevers down. You stay in bed, Miss.” She nodded.
He showed her the bullet. Lucy took it in her good hand, fingered it back and forth.
Mrs. Carts shuffled into the room. Her bruise still coloring her wrinkled face. “Didn’t I tell you to get right home?”
Lucy frowned. “Yes, ma’am, you did. I’m sorry.”
“Well, guess we both have some recuperating to do.” The old lady smiled and patted the young girl’s shoulder. “That will take some healing. Did I tell you the story about how I axed that Race guy with my hatchet? Probably helped you. He didn’t have all his strength.”
Lucy settled back on her pillow and let old lady Carts tell her story. She’d probably been worrying the whole town with her tale. She’d take her medicine and listen as many times as the old gal wanted to share her heroics.
The bedroom door was open, she could see Marshall Evans. He was speaking to her parents, “She fought hard. My posse found Morgan. He’s alive, but barely. He won’t be any trouble anymore. Looked as if a horse had kicked him. Your daughter is quite a girl who has quite a horse,” he said.
Lucy smiled, yes she had quite the horse she was never going to leave. Dandy poked his head in her open bedroom window. She reached out to pet him on the nose. “We’ll go for a ride soon, boy.”
Those ancient lands? Well, they would still be there.