"The Fastest Rockslinger in the West" by Leslie Muzingo
It was the land of big sky. It was a harsh land without trees for summer shade or protection from winter’s blizzard winds. The white man dared not forget that the Sioux was King. David understood this rule of royalty and even agreed with it. Nebraska was his heart’s home.
His father left for California with others who dreamed of gold. He sent a letter by way of a stranger traveling east. He’d made it to a Jesuit Mission in San Luis Obispo. The priests were kind and promised to direct him to a place to mine for gold. He’d write when he could.
Two years passed without another letter.
David decided to find his father. He packed his kit and kissed his weeping mother.
His kiss awoke something within her. Her eyes flashed.
“Stay! If your father didn’t come back, neither will a young man like you!”
“You know how good a shot I am?” His mother nodded. David pulled a sling out of his coat pocket. “Did you know that I’m even better with this sling than I am with a gun?” A melancholy smile filled his mother’s face.
David continued. “I was a child when you gave me this sling. I remember you saying, “Guns run out of bullets, but you can always find rocks.” Mother, because of you I can do this!” He mounted his horse and left.
David quickly understood how the Badlands got its name. It wasn’t merely because there was no water, it was because the wind blew with such evil intent that it seemed to sing Satan’s song. David was glad to move on into Utah Territory where the breezes crooned a cheerful tune so melodious that it almost saddened him to turn south into California.
He came upon some miners resting around a fire. One was picking a lonesome refrain on an old guitar. They welcomed David until he asked about San Luis Obispo. As if in one voice, they let forth a cynical laugh.
“What’s so funny?” David asked, his eyes narrowed.
The oldest miner sighed. “Nothing. We laugh so we do not cry. You will not find whomever you seek in San Luis Obispo.”
The miners all spoke at once.
---The bandits make the priests trick these men!
---They could stop if they tried!
---Priests cannot fight bandits!
---What they do is a great sin!
---They will rot in hell!
David left. He had heard enough.
David pressed southward until he found the Jesuit mission. He stayed out of sight and waited.
His wait was short. The next day he saw a band of Mexicans ride toward the mission. Their horses’ saddles were decorated with silver. The Mexicans wore large hats unlike any David had seen, and their ammunition was strapped across their backs.
The priests introduced several white men. One bandit’s laughter echoed through the air. “Si! We take you to mine for gold!” The white men mounted their horses and joined the Mexicans. David briefly waited before he tracked them across the dusty landscape.
At twilight, the bandits stopped at an adobe hut. The white men were taken away by one of the bandits while the others went into the hut. Soon David heard singing, and he smiled remembering the men in the saloon back home.
In a few hours the Mexicans, who had ridden all day in the hot sun, were drunk off their tequila and asleep. David inched his way to the bandit’s horses. He gently took their reigns, led them far away, and tied them securely so neither the horses nor the bandits could bolt when the shooting started.
The only company David had that night was from one lone rattlesnake. He’d stuffed the snake in a leather sack thinking it might make good eating later.
By morning, David was ready for the gunfight to begin. He smiled when he heard the cries of, “Jefe nuestros caballos se han ido!” All this meant to David was that it was time to aim his rifle at the door.
Men, still in their underwear, poured out into daylight. David fired and two men went down. He picked up his other rifle and aimed for the fully dressed man running as fast as his short, fat legs could go. One shot, and the man ran no more.
David waited. He watched a tumbleweed bounce pass him and, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a bandit trying to escape from the back of the hut. He let the man make his dash, then David let go with the other barrel of his rifle. David watched the man twitch in pain as he reloaded. Death ended the bandit’s twitching by the time David’s rifles were full of bullets once more.
By David’s count the only bandit remaining was the main boss, the one who’d laughed so loudly while at the mission. David waited several hours, but the door did not open a crack.
The sun rose high in the sky. David figured it must be hot in that hut now and that the bandit was probably sitting right under what served for a window. With extreme care, David loaded the rattlesnake into the sling. He swung the sling high over his head and aimed for the opening. The snake flew in a high arch and landed with a heavy thud inside the hut. The bandit screamed like a girl and ran out the door, across the dry dirt, and stood not fifty feet from where David sat on his horse.
The man must’ve planned on waiting until dark to escape because he was still in his underwear and had no gun or boots. He fell to his knees. “WHO ARE YOU?” he screamed. His cry, like his laugh, echoed.
“A boy who seeks vengeance for his father,” David said. “Now run.”
David twirled the sling over his head.
The bandit zig-zagged across the dry terrain. Whether his movements were an attempt to dodge the rock or he was frightened of the spiders and scorpions that ran across the cracked earth, David neither knew nor cared. As always, David’s aim was true. The rock, after flying in a perfect arch, hit the bandit in the head so hard that it was as if he’d been shot with a bullet. He was killed instantly.
David found his father and twenty-two other men chained together and mining for gold. The bandits always took all the gold they found, but one man knew where it was stashed. They loaded the gold on the horses, and together they walked to the nearest village.
David and his father were glad to head back to Nebraska, the land of the Big Sky.
David couldn’t get word to his mother, but she learned of her son’s victory. Someone had shown her a San Francisco newspaper. Blazed across the front page, it said: “Fastest Rockslinger Thwarts Corrupt Priests, Kills Bandits, Saves Dad!”
She prayed a thank-you to heaven and asked God to save her from pride.
Then, the woman in her began making a list on how she’d spend her husband’s gold.
©2017 Leslie Muzingo
About Leslie: Leslie Muzingo grew up in Iowa but relocated to the Deep South some years ago. She has recently begun spending her summers in Prince Edward Island and finds great similarities between PEI and the rural Iowa of her youth.
She was published in last year's Iowa State Writers Guild, The World Retold, (2016). Her stories have also been found in 'Literary Mama', (2015) and Puff Puff Prose Poetry and a Play (2015). She considers herself an emerging writer. Her emergence is a slow one as she has so many things she likes to do, and there are only so many hours in a day.
She recently had a story published in the anthology, "Two Eyes Open" by MacKenzie Publishing.
Another story of Leslie's will appear this spring in “The Forgotten and the Fantastical, IV” by Mother’s Milk Books.
Follow Leslie on Twitter @sootfoot5.