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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Larkspur: A Sidewinder Tale - 2. Chapter 2 Life and Death

First steps....


Life and Death



Turned out the newborn colt acted plenty smart once he figured out the walking thing. He was docile to Coy’s and the sheriff’s steering of him when he wandered, and he accepted their close presence as he followed his ma willingly. Daisy was a little frantic at first, but settled down once she cottoned on that they were headed for the barn and her foal was coming with her.

Even going through the big door into the darker interior didn’t spook him much, but his eyes went wide as they could get as he got coaxed toward the pen piled with fresh straw. The only time he balked was when Maysie the milk cow mooed in the other section of the barn, but Mitch used his body to keep him from backing up.

It was then Boone recognized just how much weight the man had lost, and his leanness had him pondering. It weren’t that he looked bad at all—a little gaunt in the face maybe—but the difference was a big one. Had food been scarce on his journey? Hard to imagine that was the case this time of year, but might be the sheriff had bad luck with his hunting?

Coy blew out a loud sigh of relief after the stall door was swung shut on its squeaky iron hinges, bringing Boone’s attention back to him. He chuckled at the man’s expression, but he was relieved too. Once the barn was shut up for the night, they wouldn’t have to worry about predators attracted to the smell of the birth.

“Now we both can stop fretting,” he said as they watched Daisy and Buttercup greet each other over the five foot wall. The little filly whinnied at all the excitement, peering through the narrow slats at this new stranger who was already the same height as her.

“Yep. Wouldn’t have slept a wink if they’d spent the night in the corral, and you would have taken a bedroll out there, sure and certain, if we didn’t have the barn.”

“Might have done,” Boone admitted. He smiled when the colt sank into the soft bedding, tiredness overcoming his uncertainty about the fluffy, noisy, yellow straw he’d been pushing his nose through. The short journey from the corral had wore him out. After he gave a short sneeze, Boone watched the colt’s eyes slowly shut. “He’s needing a nap. You think Daisy’s all right? She’s got some shivers.”

“She’s fine. Trying to pass the afterbirth is all. Seen it a few times before—it’s still hanging there and she don’t like that feel, but it should let go soon. Nothing to worry for.” As soon as the words were out of Coy’s mouth, it plopped to the stall floor. “See?”

“Yep.” Boone stepped back inside the stall and lifted Daisy’s tail as she sniffed at this previous annoyance. He’d seen one mother chew on the damn thing, but his mare soon lost interest and started licking her foal’s head instead. He jerked a few times but didn’t wake, keeping his nose buried in the soft bedding. “Ain’t no bleeding I can see… came out clean and whole from the looks of it. Foal’s eating and Daisy ain’t sweating no more, and that’s all we can ask for.”

Coy squeezed past him and Boone watched as he deposited the afterbirth in a pail after examining it closely. “Yep, it’s all there, thank the lord.”

“Nothing wrong with that mare or the foal,” Mitch said with clear confidence as they left the stall and latched the door again. “See all your stock is in good shape, and that’s a mighty fine stud I saw in the corral with Blue and your other two mares.”

“Yep, that’s these twos’ pa we told you about,” Boone said proudly, ignoring Coy’s loud snort.

“Ain’t hard to tell that already. The colt’s gonna be big like his sire, but he looks to be a much finer animal.”

“You reckon?”

“Well… ain’t seen the stud up close, but I did get a good look at him, and this fella appears to have a longer neck and longer pasterns, and he’s got that lower tail-set that tells me he’ll move right for a riding horse.”

“Suppose he does,” Boone said, feeling even prouder. “Daisy’s a fine mare, and he gets that rear from her, I think. She and Duke both have good length to their neck.”

Mitch nodded his agreement. “Nice filly you got too.”

“She’s Coy’s pride and joy. You remember Lee’s mare, Buttercup?”

“I remember the mare, course I do, but I don’t remember her having no fancy name like Buttercup,” Mitch answered with a teasing grin.

“She deserved a name,” Coy said, defending his choice with his chin thrust forward.

“Perfectly good name it is too. Never expected Lee’s mare could throw a filly this pleasing to be honest.”

“We didn’t neither,” Coy agreed. “It’s nice to see Duke puts his quality on them like he has, and I expect Mouse’s foal next spring will be just as fine.”

Mitch nodded again. “I figured that mare had been covered since she was in with your Duke. She’s a good one—always liked her—so I got no doubts you’re right about such. Blue’s looking took care of… nice and fat.”

“Yep,” Boone agreed. “He’s a pain in my ass, but does honest work when he has a mind to, especially in the tight places the team can’t fit.”

“That’s a mule for ya. Can’t say I was sad to see you take him from my place when you did. Know Wes loved him, but I got tired of his racket right quick after I brought him home from the old camp.”

Boone chuckled. “I expect you did, and to tell you the truth there’s been a few times I was tempted to shoot him dead. He’s pure mule for sure, and he’s fat because the grass here puts the weight on stock like nothing we’ve seen before. So… Mitch, how come you quit being sheriff? Thought you were good and settled in that town, and happy being a lawman.”

“Yep… yep I was.” He followed up with a long sigh, pursing his lips until the air ran out. “Accepted it would be my life till they buried me, but things can change when you got your head down and ain’t looking.”

“Was there trouble in Red Bluff?” Coy asked from Mitch’s other side.

Mitch kept his gaze straight ahead, staring into the stall. It took him some time to answer. “Nothing like that, no. Truth is, I got to feeling poorly….”

“Poorly about what? Being sheriff?” Boone asked after the words petered out.

The man sighed once more, and it sounded a serious one. The man was reluctant to speak, so he waited, giving him time.

“Suppose I have to tell you straight, seeing how lying to you boys just wouldn’t be right. Truth is… well… the truth is I’ve been sick.”

“Sick? Oh. What kind of sick?” he asked, now seeing the weight loss for what it was.

“The kind of sick what feels like a fire burning in your chest and up your throat, and turns your guts to water. The kind of sick that’s just a cough at first, one that won’t go away and makes you choke till you think you’re insides are coming out.

“Then… then it gets bad… puts you flat on your back and won’t let you get up for the pain what goes all the way through, like someone busted your ribs and pounded your back with a shovel. Was coughing enough I couldn’t get hardly no breath at all… felt close to death too many times to count. Wished for it plenty, I did, cause it’s hard to see much sense to living when every minute is like that. Only relief was to pass out, and that never lasted long. Was that kind of sick, to answer you honest.”

Boone searched out Coy’s face on the other side of Mitch, and could see he was just as shook by what he’d heard. He didn’t know what to say, so he left it to Coy to speak. Coy always had words.

“Lord above, Mitch. Sorry to hear such a thing. Damn sorry for what you went through—glad you didn’t get your wish for dying, though,” Coy said softly, reaching up to grip the man’s shoulder. “Got to say, you don’t look sick… ’cepting you’re a mite thinner than we saw you last.”

Mitch snorted. “More than a mite, I’d say. Ain’t been this thin since before I first rode into Red Bluff. Far as not looking sick, well, coughing’s eased some—got no red color to speak of coming up anymore—and I don’t know what that means to be truthful. Food’s got some taste to it again, which I’m mighty thankful for.”

“So, you’re getting better then?”

The man sighed, looking Coy straight in the eye. “That’s the thing, boys”—his gaze shifted to Boone before returning to Coy—“Doc Bailey told me I wouldn’t ever be getting better—might have a good spell here and there if I was one of the lucky ones—but there weren’t no cure for what ails me. Said… told me straight I had tumor disease in my lungs and that it would be my death. He’d seen it a bunch and it usually takes a body in half a year or less—while some few might make it to a year if they’re real lucky. None longer than that in his experience.”

If Boone was speechless before, he was even more so now. He was stunned at the sheriff’s matter-of-fact statement he was dying. His hand rose and did the same thing Coy’s had done on the other side, gripping the man’s shoulder gently.

A smile appeared briefly at the physical contact. “Doc mentioned something one time early on… something what stuck in my mind. Said it was possible I could live a mite longer if I stopped breathing in dust and get somewhere that didn’t turn my spit brown with grit.”

He paused for an uncomfortable moment after clearing his throat. “No matter what, I need to be able to draw breath to live, and he reckoned he’d seen enough sickness just from the dust that’s kicked up in that town most every day. Thought of what you told me about Larkspur, Boone—the fresh, clean air—and so… here I am. Made it all the way to your neck of the woods, and you weren’t lying. It’s like a whole different world in these parts. Been a lot of places in my life, but none like this.” The approval in his voice was plain.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect either, Mitch, till I got here and saw I’d been told right.”

“Weren’t there nothing he could do?” Coy asked, obviously needing to know more. His voice revealed his distress.

Mitch stepped back a few paces, dislodging their hands in the process, and each of them turned to face him. He attempted a smile, but soon gave up. He spit down towards his feet, and Boone recognized it as a habit the man had for when he was thinking.

Finally, he met their gazes again. “Doc Bailey did what he could, I suppose, but after a time… well… I could tell he didn’t feel there was much point to anything more. Poulticed my chest at the beginning, for I don’t know how many weeks, with some godawful-smelling concoction… called it yellow dock root. Said it was an Indian medicine he’d used to ease breathing and help with inflammation, but unless I went back east to one of those fancy hospitals, there weren’t nothing more to be done. He’s not one to butter the biscuit.”

“Crusty old fellow he is, that’s for sure. You didn’t want to make the trip back east?” Coy asked.

“What for? Might be they can tell better what it is, but Doc told me straight if it was what he reckoned it was, them tumors would just keep growing till they killed me, and there wasn’t any chance a fancy hospital could help me that he knew of. Said folks with tumors on the outside, like cattle and dogs, pretty much always die from them, even if you cut them off… got deep roots that’ll just keep growing and spreading their poison.”

Coy looked ill, and Boone could feel his own stomach churn at all this information. “Did the Indian medicine do any good at all?” he asked, not liking the idea a strong man like the sheriff would be felled by such a sickness in his prime years.

“Not sure it did at the time, but the pile of rocks on my chest did seem to get smaller afore I set out. Once I sold my house and deputized Charlie Coyle, I got up from my bed—which weren’t easy—packed some supplies, and then rode my mare out of town with Old Paint following behind. Didn’t bother me like I thought it might… to leave that town behind. A few folks noticed me leaving, and they gawked some, but I paid them no mind.”

He pushed his hat back and scratched at his forehead, his sand-colored hair falling forward. “Funny thing is, still had me some terrible coughing fits on the way here, but they did get easier the farther I rode this way. Couldn’t take a deep breath for the longest time, not like I can now, and I don’t feel near as bad.”

“Doc Bailey thought it was fine to set out on your own?” Coy asked.

“Had nothing to say about it. Weren’t his decision and I didn’t ask, cause I know damn well he would have got all stubborn and insist I was in too bad a shape to ride out. He already had me dead and buried by that time and hardly even stopped by the way he did at first. Sent Mrs. Carruthers over once a day to check if I was still breathing. Way I saw it, if’n I died, I died, and I’d rather meet my end out on the trail than in a damn bed all by my lonesome. One last adventure,” he muttered with a short, sickly smile that didn’t fool either of them.

Boone heard pain in those words, and understood why Mitch’s eyes shifted down and away from him and Coy again. It must have been hard for a man like the sheriff to ponder day after day about such a sad end. “How long you been on the trail?”

“Took me seventy-one days to reach these parts—slow going at the first. Weren’t used to so many hours in the saddle, and truth be told, there were a few days I couldn’t get out of my bedroll. Laid for three days once—couldn’t get warm for the life of me—and expected that was going to be my end.” With knitted brows, he shook his head as if to get rid of the memory. “Damn good air here, Boone. You was dead right about that. I can fill my lungs better than I have for years.”

Boone nodded, struggling with a lump that had suddenly grown in his throat. “Noticed a big difference myself.”

“So, maybe it was all you needed then,” Coy said with a hopeful voice.

Mitch put his hat back in place. “I don’t know, young fella. Time will tell, I reckon, but got no hopes for a miracle just because I’m having a good spell. So, enough of such miserable talk… sorry for spoiling such a happy time for you both. Now, any objection to me setting up camp on your river for a few days?”

“You ain’t spoiled nothing for us—and no objection to that at all,” Boone answered.

Coy shot Boone an annoyed look. “No need for that. You’ll stay in the cabin with us.”

“Don’t want to put you boys out. Got everything I need in my packs.”

“Maybe so, but I reckon we owe you—”

“Hold on, young Diamond. You don’t owe me nothing. That gold was yourn, plain and simple. The law was clear on that, and like I told you at the time, I got no doubt it’s what Wes and Lee would have wanted.”

Coy moved over and pressed his side against Boone’s. “Wasn’t just talking about the gold,” he said, his hand resting on Boone’s shoulder.

“Oh… I reckon I get your meaning now. Suppose I did get in your face some about making tracks this way.”

“And I’m thankful you did. Found everything I wanted right here on this land.”

“Looks like you both did,” Mitch said as he gave them one of his measuring stares they’d seen a time or two before, but there was a happy smugness in his expression.

Boone met it openly, his arm making its way around his man’s waist. “Coy’s right. Got a spare room with a mattress you can sink into—better than a seventy-second night on hard ground for sure. Happens there’s a nice window in that room too, and a cool breeze comes through at night, but it’s for you to decide.”

“It’s a nice offer, but—”

“You’d be our first guest, Mitch, and a welcome one. We can’t exactly invite folks into our home since we shouldn’t be having a spare room at all,” Coy said.

“I reckon you do have to be careful, though it shouldn’t be no one’s business.” He blew out a long breath as he stared from one to the other. “I’m obliged to you for the invitation. Got to admit these old bones could use some comfort, but I’ll get out of your hair quick as I can.”

Boone almost laughed at Coy’s pleased expression. “No need for rushing. You can stay as long as you want. Got some plans?”

“Wouldn’t say that, no. There’s need for a sheriff and deputy in a place called Bear Lake, though. I’ve been thinking on it some lately, seeing how I made it this far.”

“Bear Lake? You mean Bearpaw Lake?"

"Could be that's it. Yep, I reckon that's the place, now I think on it."

"I've heard folks call it by either, but that’s a good long ride east of here—lots of thick forest to get through, and you wouldn’t want to cross the rivers after a big rain. You fixing to be a lawman again?” Boone asked.

“Can’t rightly say, Boone. Don’t know anything else, but don’t expect I’ll be around long enough—even if I am breathing better. I reckon it wouldn’t be fair to take a job like that. I inquired after the judge mentioned their need afore I got sick, but never committed either way. Pay’s fair for a small town, but that’s all I know. Fact is I wasn’t really expecting to make it this far, but if’n I got some life left, I best be finding something to do.”

“Bearpaw Lake is a small town,” Boone mused, “and I understand a man’s need to keep doing the work he likes. Larkspur’s growing fast, so might be there’s a place for you here while you’re still… healthy.”

“Guess I’m in no rush to make any decision. Nice barn you’ve built here,” Mitch said, clearly wanting to change the subject. It had to be hard for the man to chart his path when death was promised in the coming months.

“Doubled the size back in the spring. Got plans to add on again either next spring… or maybe even this summer or fall if we can find the time,” Coy said proudly. “Just need to pile up more materials, but we got most of what we need already.”

“Beam work looks strong. Suppose you get your lumber from Larkspur?” Mitch asked as he looked upward.

“Yep. You probably saw the mill when you came through town?”

“I did. Couldn’t miss that big sign. You know that fella who owns it? William Merrick?”

“Sure do. Good man, and he does a fine job of milling whatever we need.”

“I see. Fair, is he?”

“Couldn’t ask for fairer. He keeps half whatever logs we bring him and mills the rest for us.”

“That sounds a fine deal. So these were milled from your trees?” Mitch’s gaze continued to wander around the barn’s interior.

“The wood we used for the house, the barn, and the fence boards all came from our properties, and we ain’t hardly used any of the trees we got.”

“Properties? Oh, that’s right, y’all have two separate farms here. Any buildings on the other?”

“Not yet, but we plan on building a cabin one day, on what folks think of as Coy’s land yonder. They know this land as mine, and we don't say nothing different.  Got a home site picked out over there on the east side, and we got a nice big corral started too. Fact is we got enough work to keep us going till we need rockers.”

“That may be, but you fellas got a passel of building done in the short time you’ve been here. It’s a spread to be proud of. So what’s this Merrick fellow look like?”

Boone’s eyebrows rose at the strange question, but Coy answered right away.

“He’s a big man, tall with wide shoulders. Strong built for sure—big hands used to hard work—thick, dark hair combed back, and maybe forty-five or even fifty… hard to say. Sometimes he looks younger. Why? You know him?”

“Might be I do if it’s the same William Merrick,” he said with a frown.

He was looking a mite confused to Boone… maybe the description didn’t match with the fellow he was thinking of? “He’s most always at the mill if you want to see for yourself.”

Mitch shook his head quick. “No need for that. What… ah… what color eyes he got?” he asked with a slight hitch to his voice.

“Definitely blue—hard to miss ones like them—lighter than mine, Boone says—and they’re kind ones once he knows you,” Coy answered, his glance sliding Boone’s way. Coy had caught on the man was acting a mite jittery.

“Deep voice?”

“Yep. That’s him. Good-looking fella for sure with a big smile… and good teeth,” Boone added, curious as to why the sheriff was looking everywhere but at them as he asked his questions. He was shook up if Boone was any judge, and he didn’t know if that was good or bad.

“Must be him… imagine that,” Mitch finally uttered with another frown. “Son-of-a-bitch Will Merrick, here in Larkspur. Don’t that beat all… thought he was clear out to the west? Go figure I’d end up in the same place as that man, just when I was finally feeling some peace.”

His gaze eventually settled their way after a few head shakes, and Boone saw that unreadable expression the ex-sheriff was so damn good at, but there was a second or two when he saw through it. Still, it was hard to be sure if what he saw was anger… or fear.    




Thanks for reading. Any mistakes you find are mine alone. :)  If you are enjoying this story so far, could you be so kind as to leave a story like and recommendation beneath the story description box on the front page? These things help bring in new readers, which makes me happy. As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on this chapter. Cheers!

Oh! This chapter has pushed me past the one million words written mark. :D 

Copyright © 2021 Headstall; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

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1 hour ago, Wesley8890 said:

Ooh theres got to be a story there! Shame about mitch being sick

I reckon there is a story there, pardner. :cowboy:  Hey, Wes! Yes, it is a shame Mitch is sick, and sad what he's gone through to get to Larkspur. Still, he gets to see the boys, and it's pretty obvious he cares about them. :)  Thanks, buddy. :hug:  

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28 minutes ago, Albert1434 said:

Man I love this story so well written! I am wondering if Mitch and the Sheriff had something going on, on the side we will have to see. I think the Sheriff should spend the end of this days with his good friends:yes: 

Wonder story Gary :thankyou::worship:

Thanks, buddy! It would appear Mitch knows Will, but that's all I'm going to say at this point. :X  And yeah, it's good that Mitch found Coy and Boone once he arrived there. He had no way to be sure they ever made it to Larkspur, but they did, and now they share the connection with Wes and Lee, and Dan. He isn't alone anymore. :)  Thanks for the kind support, Albert. Cheers... G. :hug: 

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19 minutes ago, KayDeeMac said:

I will also add my congratulation to your milestone!!!!  

I too suspected cancer but like you mentioned - there was so much unknown during this timeframe.  Mitch and Will obviously have a history!  Can't wait to see this drama unfold!  Great chapter!  :)

Thanks, David. It's just a number, but having reached one million words means a lot to me. So does the support I have received along the way. :) 

Cancer has been around pretty much since the beginning of time, but it was known as many things. It wasn't until the twentieth century that medical advances took a leap. Back then, it was often a guess as to what ailed a person. Now we have names for everything. 

It would appear Mitch is not happy that Will lives so close. We'll see what that's about at some point. :) Appreciate the support and the kind words and anticipation. Cheers... G. :hug: 

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