Ah, at last. I’ve finally written something fictional, it seems ages since the last one. Thanks to Morgen Bailey and her Story Writing Exercises I found myself writing this at half past midnight, using the keywords: need, leave, Nebraska, pick, song. I went slightly over the 15 minute limit – 17 to be exact. Then I left it, went to bed and came back to touch it up this morning. So, thanks for that Morgen. Great exercise! So, let’s see how this little 550-worder stands up in the warm light of a summer morning shall we?
My back is sore, my legs cramped and my coat can’t be pulled any more tightly around me. My breath fogs and my fingers and toes seem to have left me for warmer climes, but my ribs, hard against the hard cold wood, jolting and jerking, are the worst.
I’d taken a beating before leaving Summer Creek. Panning for gold in them hills can make you feel like a king, but it can make others feel like killing you, make them envious. I’d gotten away as best I could I suppose, considering the kicking I got. Still, I kept my gold, or most of it. They only found a few nuggets and the rest was well-hidden. It was the gold I’d promised not to touch: Janie’s gold. The gold I wanted to win Janie back with, the gold I need to win Janie back. As I move I can hear her letter rustle in my coat pocket, a crinkled reminder of a love gone bad, and a love now gone.
The hell was she doing in Nebraska anyhow? What, or rather who made her leave? I knew the answer to that; she couldn’t live alone for long, she needed company and preferable the male-type. The Lincoln postmark was the first thing I saw when I received the letter, two months ago now. It made my heart sink, then I panned just that little bit harder, worked just that little bit longer to bring her some gold from the Black Hills, to get her to come back to St. Louis. I’m a fool, I know but this is no fool’s gold in my possession. She’ll see that, when we meet. I still can’t believe she’s gone even now. I can think of nothing else as I sit, freezing my ass in this slow, empty cattle wagon, shunting and bumping through the South Dakota night.
I lay my head back, close my eyes and listen to the movement over the tracks, each cross-tie and rail joint out to get me. I’m sure I can taste blood now; punctured lung? Could be, 6 pairs of boots can do damage to a man already weakened with a broken heart. I begin to hum an old song; The ship that never returned, one of our camp side favourites. Billy would take that banjo from the sackcloth and pick like an Appalachian angel. Billy. Billy bust flat this autumn, running up debts and making enemies. They took his banjo, then they took Billy. Mountain justice. No one said anything, we all had debts but most of us were panning enough for our need; except Billy.
All this gold weighing down my pocket and I’ve not eaten in almost a week; feels like my stomach is touching my backbone: it probably is. At least I’ve Janie’s gold, hidden good. I would write her a letter or a note but my fingers couldn’t hold a pencil. I’ll just sit here all quiet. I wish there was at least a cow for company.
I feel so weak, so tired, it’s getting colder. I can taste the blood good now, getting stronger with every jolt of the train. I think I’ll just close my eyes a bit. I know I shouldn’t but just for a short while, I’m so tired. And so damned cold.