June 1st, 1869
Somewhere in the Canyon
Edward peered mutely over the hill at the covered wagon at the foot, the untended fire giving off a faint glow. The vehicle lay in the bottom of a bowl-like depression where they had stopped after wandering through the deep canyons. His gaze swept to the right, where two figures slowly traversed the darkness toward the camp, their drawn guns glinting in the mixture of starlight and firelight. His mother inched up next to him, her shotgun pointing down over the ridge.
“So who are these ones?” she asked Edward out of the corner of her mouth.
Edward squinted in the dark. One of the shadows, the taller of the two, swept some hair out of his eyes. “That’s Stretch, and…” the other shadow stopped to wheeze a bit, holding the arm of the shadow called Stretch, “that would be Stumpy.”
“Sound like a lovely pair. Feel like you can take Stretch?” She asked, feeding shells into her shotgun.
“Of course,” he said. “What are you going to do?”
“Bo and I will take Stumpy.”
“No offense, Ma, but what on Earth are you and the ox going to do?”
His mother smiled. “Don’t underestimate the power of the beef.” Then, suddenly, Edward was alone.
“How does she do that?” he muttered.
“Shut up and fight,” her voice came from the shadow, followed by the sound of a spit. “Wipe off your shoes.”
Edward did with a shake of his head, and then set off down the ridge of the hill to cross behind the two. He shook his head again as he glanced to his right. The two thugs had even left their horses clearly silhouetted against the stars at the top of the bowl. He spat and avoided the foul beasts, creeping after the pair and deftly cocking his revolver.
Stretch and Stumpy had reached the wagon. Stumpy was looking under the wagon while Stretch looked inside.
Edward hit Stumpy in his copious posterior with a thrown rock. He straightened with a yelp and fired wildly into the dark, far off to Edward’s left, the sound of the shot echoing weirdly in the canyon. Stretch yelled at him and ran to the other side of the wagon. Stumpy stood confused for a moment, and then scrambled to drag his bulk into the wagon where the walls might give him a modicum of protection.
Edward quickly moved away from where he had thrown the rock, again to his right. From his new position, he could see Stretch crouched behind a wagon wheel, peering into the darkness. Edward heard him swear, and then yell at Stumpy that they had to get out of the camp site.
“Smart one, him,” Edward remembered to himself.
“Shut up, fool,” His mother said to him, materializing next to him.
After he had pulled his skin back on from where he had jumped out of it, Edward hissed “Don’t do that.”
His mother shrugged and put up a hand to her right as Bo also materialized from the night. The grizzled Longhorn nuzzled her hand and looked toward the camp at the copious rump of Stumpy stumbling about in front of the wagon, his foot entangled in Bo’s harnesses. He snorted and pawed the ground, once.
“Remember,” she said, “The fat one is ours. Go right and fire. I’ll toss some rocks on the left; we’ll see if we can’t get Tubby to go one way and Slim there to go the other.” Then she and Bo wandered into the black once more.
“Well, a plan is a plan,” Edward murmured, jogging in the other direction. As he moved, he pointed his gun across his body at the camp and fired, kicking up dust a few feet to the side of the wagon. Despite the inaccuracy, Stretch jumped and crouched once more, but held his fire.
Then the rocks started. One fist-sized stone struck Stumpy on his copious thigh. He yowled as he finally disentangled himself as Stretch seized his collar. “Come on!” Edward heard him yell, and then the two ran straight out from the camp, both firing to either side to attempt to cover their retreat.
“Well that didn’t work,” he growled as he ran, the earth to his right leaping as Stretch’s shots struck the rock. He crouched and squinted down the muzzle of his revolver, trying to line up a shot on the front of the pair.
He pulled his revolver up again, his mouth opening in surprise as he saw what his mother had been alluding to.
Prudence Robertsson was riding the massive ox, but that was nothing – she had placed lassos on both of Bo’s wide horns, their open loops dangling down. After just a moment’s pause in the far, dim firelight, Prudence gave a whoop and Bo charged.
Watching the elderly ox charge was a thing which took on a tone of inevitability, like watching a landslide beginning. It started slowly. First the wide head leaned forward, as his mighty muscles bunched, before he began to bound, slowly, but faster and faster as he charged down on the pair.
Stumpy and Stretch froze as Bo began to charge - the huge, angry bull generally had that effect – but shook themselves quickly out of it. Stretch leaped aside, narrowly avoiding the wide sweep of the bull’s lasso-clad horns. Stumpy fired an inaccurate shot from the hip which pocked the great animal’s hindquarters, drawing a bovine bellow. The enraged ox’s next swing of the head struck Stumpy high in the shoulder, throwing him like a rag doll. One of his feet became ensnared in the lassos, and so, yowling with surprise, Bo dragged the struggling thug into the night.
Edward smiled as he spotted Stumpy’s gun in the dirt, but jumped as Stretch fired after the enraged beast.
“Son of a-,” Edward growled, then opened fire at Stretch, popping off two shots in quick succession. One missed altogether, and the other cut a hole through Stretch’s sleeve, barely skimming his arm.
Stretch, almost machinelike, rotated and fired at Edward.
“I really need to practice my accuracy,” Edward yowled as he ran. It was not quite enough, though, to avoid one bullet to the shoulder as Stretch fired again. Edward’s shoulder exploded into screaming alarms and he face-planted into the rock. With a moan, he rolled over, clutching his shoulder.
The barrel of Stretch’s gun loomed large in Edward’s vision.
“Big Tom says hello,” Stretch growled.