Fiction: Seeing With New Eyes

“This is my home. I’m happy here,” William said, but he needed a drink to wash down his words. He tried to glare at Buck, but felt unsteady and it hurt his head. William spotted his drawings in Buck’s hand. “I-I’m gonna send some drawings east when they’re finished—start working harder at that—so me and Ginny can live nicer …”

Buck looked at the papers. “Not these, I hope. They’re crap.”

William grabbed them and sifted through them. He scratched his head. “I’m out of practice.” William wiped his nose. “I’d give anything for a smoke.”

“I don’t smoke any longer,” Buck said.

“Yes, I’d forgotten—you’re God’s little friend now.”

“I’d like it if we could be friends.”

“Don’t do me any favors,” William said.

Buck turned to go. He shoved his hands in his pockets and felt a dollar coin he hadn’t realized he had. Maybe he could offer someone at the stable the dollar as a deposit for a ride back to the fort. His father would pay the balance. Buck took a step, then turned to William. “Listen, Willy, I have a dollar. Will you draw me my portrait?” he blundered. “I have no gift for Thankful’s wedding—it’s only a few days away.”

William laughed. “Why would she want a picture of you?”

“I don’t know, but it’s my only idea … will you?”

William rummaged around for a piece of paper and Buck wondered if he should just give him the dollar instead of putting William through any trouble, but Fred was making the most of it with Ginny on the other side of the quilt. Buck detected a small excitement from William though he did his best to hide it.

Without looking up once, William produced a quick, but accurate likeness of Buck—the old Buck—handsome, clean-edged and hard-eyed. He handed it to Buck. “Shit, William. How’d you do that?” The slight smirk, the confident eyes, everything was correct—and full of sneering superiority. “God forgive me. I’m just as bad as you make me out to be, William. I’m even worse. What a piece of shit I am and you’ve every right to hate me for all I’ve done to you. You never deserved any of it! You trusted me and you were kind,” Buck said. “It hurts me to see you here.”

“Don’t flatter yourself, Buck. You’re not responsible for me.”

Buck gave William back the drawing. “I want you to draw me again. Not from memory. I need you to draw me as I am now—ugly and wretched.”

“No.” William said. Old images were easy, well-practiced in his mind, but the present remained unfocused through his bleary eyes.

“You must! And I promise never to bother you again.”

William scratched his jaw and grabbed the paper back. “So you want to see things for real.”  He turned the paper over and picked up his pencil.

This time William had to look at Buck—could not rely on anything from before to capture the rough skin and the wrinkled mass above Buck’s eye. Buck insisted that he remove his bandages. His misshapen cheekbone torn by the bullet William deserved and the botched cut at his throat remained scarlet and unhealed. William considered another drink, but met Buck’s gaze and it unnerved him. He dropped his pencil and picked it up again. His hand shook.

The drawing was not very good and it made William angry. He found that he had to study Buck longer than he wanted and that no matter how he tried he could not make Buck monstrous enough. “That’s it. It’s the best I can do. Now give me my money.”

Buck flipped over the coin, but William missed and had to crawl on the floor to find it. Buck studied the portrait. “Land sakes, Willy,” Buck said. “Is this how you really see me?”

“I’m afraid so,” William said scratching his head.

“I mean, God, I’m one hell of a mess, but there’s something … I’m no artist …” The drawing comforted Buck. He didn’t know why. The cuts, the wounds, the disfigurement were there, but so was something else. Something new or maybe just discovered. “William, you see it don’t you? No one else has, but maybe Father …”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” William replied.

“You see what God’s done for me,” Buck whispered.

His scars were ugly and William had to drink not to let his heart go out to Buck.

“Thank you for this, Willy.”

“It’s nothing,” William mumbled, but felt sorry suddenly at how things had turned out between them. If only Buck hadn’t been such a sneaky bastard.

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Fiction: Gaming

“I want to make money and visit with real whores. As the teamster said, life’s short.” Fred gulped his last drink and down the road they went.

Quiet, almost sweet, music played somewhere within the gaming hall.

“I’ll wait out here, Fred.”

“Oh, no you won’t! Don’t be such a prig. Play one hand,” Fred urged him.

Buck had just a small amount of money saved from pawning his things and planned on buying Thankful a household trinket for her wedding, but if she was moving home there would be no point, he reasoned. Buck didn’t mind cards but hesitated.

“Say, Buck, you might win some money for the poor. Look, whatever you win tonight, I’ll match it and we’ll do a good deed with it,” Fred suggested. He pushed Buck along and sauntered in with a big smile.

“Oh, damn, the apostle is here with a friend,” someone said through the smoky haze.

“He won’t be doing any talking, men. I can assure you of that. Now let us in on a hand and I’ll show you how it’s done.”

The men laughed at Fred’s bravado and made room when he flashed his money. Buck, more tentatively, placed his small savings on the table.

Fred whispered, “Here’s to the poor.” After a few lucky hands, Fred proceeded to lose everything they had, all but four dollars. “Oh, well. It’s only money,” he announced, throwing his cards on the table. “I have more at home anyhow!”

Buck stalked out. Fred soon followed. “Sakes alive, what a night! Those men are damned good card players. I’ll have to bone up this last year at school or I’ll be laughed out of the army!”

“Now what’ll we do, Fred? I’m tired.”

“A fellow in there says there’s a place down the road we could spend the night cheap,” Fred said.

“With four dollars?”

“Yep. Follow me, Apostle.” Fred whistled.

Buck cursed under his breath but followed with hands shoved deep into his empty pockets.

They came upon a ruin of an adobe building with a sooty candle-lit window at the side and a falling-down, rotted door at the front. “What’s this place?” Buck’s stomach churned.

“It’s cozy in a way,” Fred said flashing a charming smile before knocking.

The door opened a crack with a loud creak and the sound of a smoker’s cough behind it. “What you want?”

“Mr. Beadle sent me this way. You open?” Fred asked.

“You got money?”

“‘Course.”

“It’s a dollar a poke—extra for anything else,” the woman said.

Buck pulled Fred back. “You can’t be serious, Fred. A dollar’s cheap even for here—this is disgusting. We can’t do this!”

“Cheap is good—it’s why I came out here tonight. I’m getting some western refreshment like it or not. You jinxed us at cards—at least give me this thrill.” Fred shoved Buck out of the way. “Let us in then, ma’am!”

The door opened, almost falling on them. The woman pushed it back in place. “My name’s Miss Ginny, sir. Come in.” Her doe eyes went to Buck lingering in the shadows. “Are you comin’ or ain’t you?”

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Fiction: Blood Brothers

“The night is running along and I want a good time—for your sake—to educate you. I can’t stand you leading such a morbid, saintly life,” Fred groaned.

Buck was disappointed at the stables. With most of the army out looking for Geronimo, the stable owner feared for his safety and ordered that no one be let in after dark so Buck had to stay out with Fred.

“I’ve dreamed of this night, Buck. In the dream I come into town on a white mount and with an officer’s jacket after slaughtering a pile of Indians.”

Buck laughed at Fred’s childish notions. Fred, happy to make his brother smile, threw his arm over Buck’s shoulder. “Point us in the right direction, my boy.”

“There is no right direction here, but there’s the Buckskin.”

“Bully!” Fred ran ahead. “Come on!”

Buck followed, dreading their entrance. Fred dragged him into the noisy saloon. “Don’t be yellow.”

“I’m not!”

Fred met each hard stare with an arrogant smirk and pushed to the bar. “Give everyone a drink on me,” Fred ordered and turned to the small crowd of roughs, soldiers, and miners. “Gentlemen, I’m here for my sister’s wedding and would like you all to share in my happiness. You soldiers probably know my brother, Buck.”

The group of soldiers turned away.

“Well, anyway, Buck may look bad, but he’s all right. Let the next two rounds prove it.”

The men brightened at the promise, but Buck whispered, “Fred, how much money have you?”

“Plenty. Now take a drink. Even Jesus drank wine—God, I can’t believe I’m saying that. Go on, drink up.”

Buck threw back the whiskey and swallowed hard. Before long Fred played the best of friends with two surprisingly well-educated miners and a few well-spoken soldiers. Fred had no tolerance for stupidity and froze out any less than adequate conversationalists with his haughty manners and large vocabulary. Buck fell into his old role as quiet observer, waiting for something to happen.

A miner kept glancing at Buck. Finally he asked, “What happened to your sidekick? Looks like he’s been through a meat grinder. Isn’t there any way you can cover yourself?”

“You dare talk about my brother that way? You lousy piece of shit! My brother here was shot by an Apache so you thieves can scrape riches from Indian land!” Fred replied.

“Sorry, I didn’t realize …”

“What? That you’re an ignorant son of a bitch?”

“Hey, you better calm down, mister. I’ve got a gun and I’ll use it,” the miner said.

Fred flashed his own weapon, resting it up against the man’s shining temple. “Try me, you little shit.”

“Fred, calm down,” Buck whispered.

“I am calm. No one’s going to get away with hurting you on my watch.”

“I’m not hurt. I’m fine.”

The man with the gun to his head fainted.

Fred shook his head. “What a jackass.” He kicked the man out of the way and ordered another drink for the soldiers, but they declined and soon excused themselves, dragging with them the humiliated miner.

“Bully,” Fred said. “This is just bully. See, Buck, see how it’s done? I’m teaching you valuable lessons.”

Buck sighed. “We should go.”

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Fiction: Provoking Talk

“Be on alert now, boys,” cautioned the teamster. “This is where the bandits cut my friend down not two weeks ago.”

“Be on alert,” Buck remembered. “Be on alert, stand firm in the faith, act like a man, be strong.”  He took a deep breath. He must try to have faith. The huge, dark sky terrified him. If there was no God then what did he have? He couldn’t go back to his old life. Maybe everything was just luck and happenstance or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe everything came down to behavior, or it didn’t.

Buck’s life felt different since accepting Jesus—but how could he be sure it wasn’t just wishful thinking? Maybe the stories were fake. Maybe there were no real men named Paul, John, or Peter … but Paul—how could he write so passionately, so compellingly about a fake savior? And all of those centuries after, filled with lives changed and artwork created and, yes, the very hope and peace that came to Buck, a nobody, traveling in the gloomy Arizona desert. Without God, he’d fall into despair. All else seemed shallow and worthless compared to the promises he was just now reading about and beginning to understand. Forgetting himself, he whispered, “I am so thankful, God, that you made them all write it down.”

“What are you saying, Buck?” Fred asked.

“Do you believe in God at all?”

“What? Well, sure, I guess. Whatever you say,” Fred said, the whites of his eyes narrowing as if to prevent an annoying light from entering.

“The things we did together in the past … we’re forgiven.”

“Great. Now what’s the name of the infamous watering hole in town?”

“The Buckskin. We should go back and spend time with the family,” Buck suggested.

“Are you joking? I rode all the way out here with them fools. I need a damned break and a good lay.”

“Oh, Fred, come on. You said I’d be home early.”

“My God, it’s like you’re an old lady. Listen, I do want to hear about your God thing. I admit I don’t understand it. I don’t mean to be aggressive with you, but it’s been a long journey and the last few months of school were very hard on me, having to get everyone sorted out so you could have a chance at success in life. One night out will make all the difference. I need to make some changes too, and maybe, just maybe you’re the one to help.” Fred took a sip of whiskey. “It just occurred to me that this whole conversion thing … well it could be that God is working through you to get to me!”

“I don’t think so.” Buck grit his teeth. What if the one and only purpose for Buck’s conversion was to influence Fred? God was his sanctuary. Buck worried that Fred, if converted, would be a better Christian than he was.

“Buck, are you all right?”

“I’m just thinking.”

“Oh, hell, you do too much of that. Let life play out a little on its own. You’d be surprised at how much fun it can be.”

The teamster laughed. “Yer brother’s right there. Life only gets worse as you get old like me. I got three marriages to awful jezebels behind me—very unaccepting women, schemers in their thinkin’—so I came west and I had me some very nice times.”

“See, Buck, listen to the old saw.”

The man snapped his reins. “Yep. Well, I can’t get it up no more.”

Buck glanced at Fred with a smug smile.

george elbert burr“Yep, I wouldn’t be surprised if I was dead tomorra. I piss blood. Have done for a while now. Old age ain’t no picnic, so live it up while you can.”

“How old are you?” Buck asked.

“Thirty-eight.”

Buck took a deep breath. “Have you accepted Jesus into your heart?”

Fred punched Buck’s arm hard.

The man chuckled. “‘Course. Many times, but it ain’t done nothin’ fer me. I’m fine on my own.”

Buck cleared his throat. “Well, you need to make peace if you’re going to die.”

“Look, kid, I don’t know if I’m dyin.’ I was just makin’ talk. I ain’t wantin’ any preachin’.”

“It’s just that God will forgive your adulterous ways if you believe!” Buck said.

Fred punched him again.

Buck shoved him back, explaining, “But in Ezekiel it says if I don’t speak out to the wicked they’ll die for their sin, and I’ll be held accountable for their blood.”

“I don’t have to take this no more. Get out of my wagon! The both of you!” the teamster cursed them.

“But, sir!” Fred begged.

“No, get out with your ugly friend,” the teamster ranted. “You promised me no trouble!”

“Jesus isn’t trouble at all,” Buck said, but Fred dragged him from the wagon.

The teamster dashed off toward town, leaving the two in the dark.

“God damn it, Buck. You’re plumb loco! Now we’re in the goddamned middle of nowhere!”

“You shouldn’t keep using God’s name in vain …” Buck said.

“What? You’re crazy!” Fred went to slap Buck’s face, but Buck blocked him and took hold of his arm.

“I will never allow you to touch me again,” Buck said.

“Oh, what will you do about it?” Fred asked pulling his arm from Buck with a confident sneer.

“I’ll stop being your brother. I don’t need you anymore. I don’t need you!” Buck followed the moonlit trail to town. It was too late to turn back. A friend at the stables might let Buck sleep there.

Fred trotted beside him. “Come on, don’t be so hard. Of course we’ll always be brothers. And I guess you did us a favor. The teamster didn’t take his fare so there’s more money for us.”

Buck marched on.

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Fiction: Sleeping Arrangements

“Mrs. Crenshaw, I want to apologize for my acid tongue earlier on,” Mrs. Markham said. “I was worried over Buck, as I’m sure you were, but that was no excuse.”

Margaret surveyed the plump, plain, little woman. “I accept your apology. We Easterners have high standards as far as manners go. I couldn’t possibly hold you to them.”

“I am from the East,” Mrs. Markham said, holding her chin a little higher.

“Oh. From where?”

“North Carolina.”

“Well, that’s not really east is it? It’s practically southern.”

“It is southern—where manners were born!” Mrs. Markham said.

“On the backs of the darkies,” Fred quipped.

Again there was a long silence. Thankful could smell Fahy’s perspiration and urine. She wondered if anyone else noticed.

Mrs. Markham took a deep breath. “Thankful and I have a few ideas for the wedding, Mrs. Crenshaw. I hope you don’t mind I’ve gone ahead and reserved the dance hall.”

Dance hall? Is my daughter to be married in a saloon? I know the lieutenant is Irish, but this is ridiculous! I’d prefer a Catholic church to that.”

“Mama, the dance hall is just here at the fort—for military celebrations,” Thankful explained. “It’s easily decorated—we thought some desert flowers and special lanterns from a friend of ours in town …”

“Desert flowers? Is that what I smell because, honestly, I’ll be sick if I don’t get air soon,” Margaret said.

Graham figured what the smell was and sympathized with the bitter, young lieutenant. “Margaret, we should walk the grounds and get our things.”

“Our things won’t fit in this tiny house, Graham,” she half whispered.

“Mother, Meg will sleep up with me, and Fred will share a tent with Buck. You and Father will stay in a nice wall tent.”

“A wall tent? Me? I’ve always told you that I’m afraid of tents—they fall down—and there are dragons and bugs creeping and crawling—oh no. I can’t! I won’t!” Margaret cried. “I thought at least after all the other disappointments Thankful might find us a proper roof to sleep under!”

“Mama, the tent is very nicely done up.”

Graham laughed. “It’ll be like old times in the army, Maggie. It’ll be fun.”

“I guess you forget that I was never in the army like the nurse you slept with last summer! Sleeping under canvas will only serve to remind me of how much you’ve hurt me!” Margaret sobbed, mopped her eyes, and stopped. “I will sleep with my girls.”

“But Mama, there’s no space.”

“We’ll make space,” Mrs. Markham said.

“Perfect then,” Margaret replied. “Tonight we can discuss my plans for my daughter’s wedding.”

“Of course,” Mrs. Markham said.

They stood for another moment.

“I’ll go get your things then, Margaret,” Graham said.

Fred and Buck followed him out.

“Well, this is some disaster, Father. I don’t like that Fahy a bit—seems angry.” Fred lit a cigar.

“Of course he’s angry—he can’t walk!”

Fred changed the subject. “So I guess you and Mama aren’t sleeping in the same room anymore.”

“That’s none of your damned business, Fred. Now just take these bags to your mother and leave me be.”

Fred shrugged and did as he was told.

Graham sat heavily upon one of their trunks.

“Father, are you all right?” Buck asked, suffering the same queasiness he had often experienced as a child when he worried about his father’s tenuous health.

Graham took out a cigar and offered one to his son.

“No, it irritates my throat now,” Buck said. “Father, are you sure you’re feeling well?”

Graham looked at him differently now, almost as a friend. “No, son. I’m not all right. When have I ever been? I married a woman I never loved and in avoiding her I neglected the needs of my children.”

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Fiction: The Invalid

The front door opened in the hallway. Mrs. Markham called in, “Everything all set in there? We have eager visitors, so stop your sparking!” Her voice was high and nervous.

Before Thankful or Lieutenant Fahy could respond, the Crenshaws stepped in from outside and crowded the hallway. Fahy grabbed his blanket and Thankful threw another over his useless legs. Without considering his feelings, Thankful took a small bottle of flower water from her pocket and poured it between the layered blankets to hide the smell of urine.

The door opened. “Mr. Fahy, are you all right?” Mrs. Markham asked when she saw his miserable face.

The lieutenant nodded, unable to speak. The Crenshaws filed in, looking at Fahy as if he were a curiosity in a freak show.

Thankful stood just behind the couch.

Graham extended his hand. “Mr. Fahy, good to meet you. Thankful says you make her happy.”

“Well, she’s a liar then,” Fahy said.

The family turned to Thankful. “Oh, he doesn’t mean it! He’s joking,” she said.

“Good thing you poked my sister before this happened,” Fred said, laughing.

“Fred Crenshaw, stop it at once!” Margaret demanded.

“Sorry, Mama.” Fred glared at Fahy.

Margaret sneezed. “Oh, it must be that smell of flowers—I suppose desert scents don’t agree with me.” She wrinkled her nose at Graham.

“Buck has told us all about your troubles, Mr. Fahy,” Graham said.

“Oh, has he? I guess he told you I was a thief and debtor—but those charges were dropped. Bloody scoundrels!”

Graham’s color rose at the sides of his thick neck. “I was meaning your paralysis. I’m sure you know I’m a doctor, and I believe we’ll be able to help you.”

“Do you know something the doctors here don’t?”

“No, but Thankful has mentioned that you might like to stay with us. There is a wonderful hospital in New York that I am associated with, and new cures are found all the time.”

“I need a miracle—got one, Buck?” Fahy asked before looking up at Graham. “No, I don’t want to live with you, sir.”

“But Thankful will need help and we can do that,” Graham said, anger slipping in now. “After the wedding, you may decide—once you know us better.”

“I don’t need to bloody know you. I want to be left alone. I told Thankful to call off the wedding, but …”

“But nothing!” Graham shouted. “Thankful will not have a bastard child! Never! If I have to drag you to this ceremony at gunpoint, I will!”

Everyone stared at him.

Fahy softened.  “Dr. Crenshaw, how will it be for Thankful? You realize the life I’ll lead. You understand. What about your daughter, sir?”

“If you had cared about her yourself, you wouldn’t have knocked her up, you bastard,” Fred said.

Graham replied to Fahy, “It’s because I love my daughter I don’t want her reputation sullied further. She needs to leave here and you may come and be well-cared for the rest of your days.”

Thankful cried. Fahy took her hand, and she came from behind the couch and sat beside him. “Sir, I always intended to marry your daughter. Maybe someone from above knew that we wouldn’t be able to have children if we waited.”

“Oh, don’t use God to defend your disgraceful behavior. God is decidedly opposed to having relations before marriage,” Fred said. “Isn’t that so, Buck?”

Buck looked out the window.

“God or no God, Thankful is going to have a baby. It’s too late to discuss morality and ethics,” Graham said.

“Of course,” Fahy said. “I will marry her, but I refuse to live as an unwanted guest in your home. Maybe I’ll go back to Dublin.”

“Dublin?” Thankful cried.

“Oh, I knew a soldier would be the death of me somehow!” Margaret moaned. “And he’s not even that handsome,” she whispered to Meg.

Fahy heard and Meg blushed. She went to him, her every movement proclaiming her disgust for invalids. Meg tried a smile, but could not look him in the eye. “Mr. Fahy, do you have a proper chair? Maybe then you could come to the dance. Thankful wrote how much you loved them … I mean … well, you can still listen to the music and get pushed around and all.”

Silence now prevailed until Mrs. Markham brought in cool tea. They gulped it down and stood waiting, each in their own thoughts.

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Fiction: Into the Gloaming

“So now you give up and hide behind your little Bible studies and weird friends? You heap embarrassment upon the whole family. What will our friends at West Point say?”

“You’re no embarrassment, Buck,” Graham said. “It’s only that you’re lost in there somewhere behind those bandages. And you’re right to say I was never with you as a child. Please, after the wedding, come home to stay.”

Margaret interjected, “But leave this fanaticism behind, Buck. What would they say at First Presbyterian—and your father on the board! It’s nice to read the Bible now and again, and I’m proud of your memory work, but still, Buck, this is too much—it’s creepy even.”

“Buck was always creepy,” said Meg, but came over and kissed his hand. As obnoxious as he was, he was still family.

“I want to become a missionary,” Buck began.

Thankful interrupted. “Save that talk for another day.”

The family turned to her, staring in silence. Thankful embraced her sister and then Fred. She came to her father and looked up at him. “Forgive me, Father.”

“My pet, what have you let happen?” Graham said. “I so wanted you to do things before starting a family, but I love you as always.”

Thankful burst into relieved tears and turned to her mother.

“You stupid girl,” Margaret said repulsing Thankful’s attempt at embrace. “You don’t understand how much you’ve sacrificed, and your father’s health has suffered greatly. Don’t you realize how weak his heart is? I knew you’d disappoint me!”

“Margaret,” Graham said. “Stop.”

“No! I’ve raised a zealot and an adventuress—why can’t my children be normal?” Margaret cried. “Well, I guess we won’t be seeing much of you—being in the army.”

“Mother, we won’t be in the army,” Thankful said. “I was hoping to come live with you for a while.”

Margaret stepped back. “Oh, our house is so crowded.”

“There’s plenty of room, dear,” Graham assured her.

Thankful wiped a tear away.

“It’ll be all right,” Graham said. “We’ll help you with the baby. Where’s your sweetheart?” He was unable to hide his dislike for the unknown soldier. “We heard he was shot like Buck.”

“Oh, Father!” Thankful cried. “The army can’t keep him!”

“Keep him? What did he do?” Fred asked.

Thankful turned to Buck, who answered for her. “Fahy’s a—well, he’s a decent fellow, but he’ll never walk. He’s injured badly.”

“Thankful, shall we call off the wedding till you’ve had time to reflect?” Margaret suggested.

“Take us to him,” Graham ordered.

The doctor recommended that Buck stay at the infirmary, but he wanted to be with Thankful, so the family tramped off to Captain Markham’s home. Lieutenant Fahy, though officially discharged from the army, was staying with the Markhams until he decided where to take his bride. Mrs. Markham led the way and stopped in the barren front garden. “Thankful, why don’t you go in and see if Mr. Fahy is ready for visitors.”

They all stood, complaining in the heat. Mrs. Markham offered Buck the only cool spot in the yard. He politely refused.

Thankful entered the neat, little home afraid of Fahy’s mood. She tip-toed into the parlor decorated floor to ceiling with Captain Markham’s citations and framed photographs taken on his many military travels. Fahy sat where he’d been put, staring at the soldier’s life he no longer could enjoy. Thankful tapped on the door before entering with a hopeful smile.

“What the hell took you so long?” Fahy yelled.

“My poor thing, I’m sorry,” Thankful said with a kiss. “It’s just Buck was hurt again.”

“Is he dying?”

“No, his face …”

“Damn it, Thankful! I needed you!”

“Please, dear, tell me what’s the matter?”

“Are your parents here?”

“Yes, outside. Don’t be nervous.”

“Shit—the tube—it’s been leaking all the while you were away. There was nothing I could do. Oh, blast it! I can’t go through with this!”

Thankful lifted the blanket covering his urine saturated legs.

“I wish I were dead,” Fahy said.

“Don’t say it!”

“I can say anything I damn well want! That I can still do!”

Thankful wiped his forehead. “I’ll just clean you up.”

The front door opened in the hallway. Mrs. Markham called in, “Everything all set in there? We have eager visitors, so stop your sparking!” Her voice was high and nervous.

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Fiction: Revelations

The Crenshaws followed the men to the camp hospital and waited as Buck sullenly had his face bandaged yet again. Maybe God was punishing him. He’d handled his family all wrong. In a matter of a few hours he had managed to insult his sister, annoy his mother, hurt his father, and fight his brother. What had he really learned?

Thankful, a pile of children, and Mrs. Markham pushed into the crowded room. Thankful’s belly bulged, and in her hurry she had forgotten the handsome blue shawl Mrs. Markham made for her to hide what was nobody’s business.

The family understood her condition right away and huddled in the corner aghast. Thankful pretended not to see them, her face flushing with humiliation. “Poor Buck, you must be in terrible pain.”

Mrs. Markham and her children cried over the patient. “It was the meanest thing the children have ever seen,” Mrs. Markham said, “to have someone hit you when you’re already so sore. Very cruel, indeed!” The captain’s wife glared at Fred.

Margaret took offense. “Whoever you are, you’re in no position to judge my son!”

“I’m the captain’s wife, Mrs. Crenshaw, and I’m in a position to spot an injustice when I see it and to defend dear friends—Buck being one of them. He’s been such a comfort to my husband and me since the death of our daughter—every night reading to us—tracts he thinks might be soothing. The Spirit is working through him—truly.”

“Buck?” Graham asked in astonishment.

“I’ve heard about you western Bible folk,” Margaret said. “You’re crazy and you’ve gotten my son under a spell.”

Kenyon arrived with an Apache scout Buck had befriended over the gospel.

“For heaven’s sake, Buck, what’s happened now?” Kenyon asked, pushing his way past the Crenshaw family.

“I’ve failed, Seth,” Buck said, throwing his hands up in despair. “I’m no use to God or anyone and didn’t turn the other cheek.”

Kenyon saw the bandage. “Well, you should have,” he joked.

“I’ve prayed a lot,” Buck continued, “but still I’m so weak. I hoped to start things new with them, but it’s much harder than I imagined.”

“We talked about this, my friend,” Kenyon said matching his tone to the gravity expressed by Buck. “Sometimes God brings us into the valley to prepare us, to teach us. You’ve been enjoying the summit for a while now—that’s the easy part. But God is working in you. You are already forgiven, remember?”

“What the hell is this?” Fred cried. “God is working in Buck? Is that code or something? What is he, some new savior? This whole thing is scary.” He turned to his parents. “I hope you both see how frightening this is!”

“Fred, be quiet,” Graham said curious and jealous of the intimacy between Buck and this man.

“Buck,” Kenyon said, “remember what the Lord said to Paul: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for strength is made perfect in weakness.’

Buck nodded and continued. Therefore most gladly I would rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak then I am strong.”

“Father, he’s been hypnotized!” Fred declared. He pushed Kenyon aside and grabbed Buck’s shoulders. “Get a hold of yourself, boy. Take pleasure in weakness? Are you mad? Are you satisfied being pathetic—the world will tear you apart!”

“It already has,” Buck replied.

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Featured Image: Mary Turner Austin by John Singer Sargent

Fiction: Battle-tested

“No,” Graham said. “Buck can and should stand on his own. He’s struggling lately. It’s why he needs the crutch of religion, but it’ll pass when he’s stronger.”

“Father! How dare you pretend to know me when all you’ve ever done is overlook me! Don’t make excuses for me. Don’t belittle my faith. God doesn’t disappoint like everyone else does—especially you!”

“Where was God when you got shot?” Fred asked. “Does God get you nice things like Father does?”

“I don’t need nice things.”

“Oh—then why don’t you hand over that watch Father gave you?” Fred coveted it.

“I sold it!” Buck said, his eyes flashing at Fred. “I sold it to buy food for the poor Indians.”

“That’s what the government is for!” Margaret cried.

“You thought so little of me, son, that you sold my brother’s memory?” Graham asked, his voice shaking.

So the inscription, the hope filled inscription engraved into that watch had been meant for his father’s brother—not Buck. “I didn’t think the watch was all that special. I thought I’d help people in need—something you never did for me!”

“I thought you wanted to be friends with Father?” Fred laughed. “I guess this Christianity thing is only skin deep. Too bad—I was getting inspired.”

Buck grabbed for Fred, but Fred punched him first, landing a shot in the face—on the sore side. The pain sent Buck reeling. He dropped to the ground. The family stood still. A few soldiers, passing by, joined them. “What’s happened to Buck?” one of them asked.

In a second they had him on his feet, blood sneaking between the fingers Buck held to his face.

“Let me see,” Graham said.

“No. Get away from me. I can’t stand any of you. You ruin everything that’s good.”

Margaret said to the soldiers, “He is suffering under some type of nervous complaint.”

“Hmm. Well, Buck was all himself yesterday,” one of the soldiers said. “A real good example to the other young men. He’s started a Bible study and all. What would lead him to fisticuffs, I don’t know.”

The other, noting Fred’s strong resemblance to Thankful, said, “Family is what led him.” He stared at Fred. “When someone goes and clobbers a feller of our own, it doesn’t sit well with us. Buck may be a bit queer, but we’ve grown to like ‘im. You had better keep that in mind, sir.”

Fred stood, furious but silent.

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Fiction: Family Shots

“Merciful heavens, Graham, look at Buck’s face. It’s worse than ever!” Margaret cried.

“Mother, you look well,” Buck said and kissed her cheek.

“You look terrible.”

“Well, I was shot.”

“What?” Fred cried in disbelief. “Who shot you?”

“An Apache.”

“Damn, you were in a shoot-out with Indians?” Fred asked in jealous awe. “You lucky son of a …”

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Buck said.

“Tell that to the girls back home,” Margaret said.

“Mother, there’s more to life than girls,” Buck replied, failing to hide his disappointment.

“And what’s more important, Buck, than girls?” Meg asked, fanning her round face.

Buck coughed. “Well … God, I think.”

The Crenshaws laughed. Graham stopped first. “Seriously, we’re tired and in no mood for jokes. Let’s go to the coach now.”

They moved off, but Buck stood still. Graham turned and stared.

“Father, I hoped you might be pleased,” Buck said.

“Pleased?” Graham mopped his face.

“Yes, when I got shot I met a missionary who told me all about—well, Jesus and such. It’s meant a lot to me.”

“That’s nice, Buckie,” Margaret said. “I suppose a little religion is a good thing. Though you act like we never sent you to Sunday school. Is it my fault you always skipped out?”

“Mother, I didn’t say …” Buck began, but no one listened. They hopped into the waiting coach, complaining of the heat and dirt.

Fred lingered taking Buck aside. “So you forgive me my sins? What’s all this religion rot? I don’t understand the angle you’re playing. I’ve already got you off the hook over Streeter. And that big show for Father was appalling.”

“It was no show, Fred.”

“Oh, I see, you don’t want me stealing your thunder. I’ll play along then. This should be entertaining.”

Buck took a deep breath. His new found faith was nothing on Thankful’s surprises. Maybe they’d overlook the changes in her as much as they had overlooked his.

The family jostled and complained over seating as the coach set out. Graham adjusted his weight and said, “Buck, tell us how you were shot.”

Margaret sighed and dabbed her eyes. “A son of mine shot over a no-good Indian. The savages should be sent from this earth—every last one of them.”

“That’s what the army aims to do, thank God,” Fred said. “Survival of the fittest. I like Darwin.”

“No, Fred, you’re wrong on that count. The army—the men I’ve met here—they just want to keep peace. That Geronimo just makes trouble for the rest of his people. They don’t even like him.”

“What? Who told you that? The savages’ll tell you anything—but you’re still so naive,” Fred said, shaking his head. “I don’t understand it, after all I’ve tried to teach you about people. Don’t bring your sympathetic attitudes back to the academy or it’ll be another hard year for us.”

“If the Indians are so great then why did they shoot you?” Meg asked, her eyes darting out the window at the hidden perils.

“It was my own fault. I was drunk and went after William,” Buck said.

“Weldon?” Fred leaned in, full of interest.

“We were drunk on Father’s spirits—with Lieutenant Fahy too—and things went sour and I was shot, but it was no one’s fault. And as I’ve said, it brought me to … the Lord—God—I mean,” Buck explained. “There was a court-martial proceeding, but everyone felt sorry for Fahy so … well, a note will be sent to school concerning my part in it all.”

“Why sorry for Fahy?” Graham asked.

“Well, I’m not supposed to tell, but I feel I should warn you that Fahy was shot too.”

“In the face?” Margaret asked.

“No! Not in the face, Mama! Gosh, you’re so shallow. Thankful will need your support,” Buck said.

“It’s not Christian to judge Mama,” Fred quipped.

“What’s happened to Lieutenant Fahy?” Graham asked. “A court-martial decision based on sympathy?”

“Thankful wants to tell you about it. I only wanted to prepare you. Thankful is a good girl. Everyone loves her at Fort Grant and they’ve all been very supportive over everything.”

“Everything? What else is there to tell us?” asked Graham.

Margaret waved her fan. “All I can say is I’ll be rightly annoyed to have come across the country if there’s no wedding.”

“Thankful’s convinced Fahy to go forward with it,” Buck said.

“Thankful had to convince him?” Graham asked. “Buck, I hope you weren’t trying to soften me up back there before telling me of a terrible disaster you and your sister have created.”

“No, Father. I’m genuinely happy to see you,” Buck said.

“I don’t like the sound of this Fahy one bit,” Margaret said. “Thankful has brought this all on herself.”

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FEATURED IMAGE: The Old Stagecoach of the Plains by Frederic Remington