Chapter 1

False Starts

I woke up next to a wild bull, naked and hungover from binge drinking cough syrup home-brewed by an unlicensed physician, on the floor of a stolen train being driven by a feral seven-year-old one hot summer day in the middle of the American West, and all I could think to myself was, I shouldn’t tell anyone about this, but here I am all these years later, telling the entire story from the beginning. It all began weeks earlier when, one day while working my dead-end job at the slaughterhouse, it crossed my mind that I could probably go be a pretty good cowboy if I put my mind to it.

Once I made my mind up and decided I was definitely going to be a cowboy from now on, instead of staying being a regular guy or whatever, I knew I had some big challenges ahead of me: I had to get a cowboy hat, a horse and a gun. I bought my cowboy hat from a small shop in my hometown of Sulleyville. It was a beautiful navy green Stetson that fit my head well and nicely complimented the cowboy vest I had had my mom sew for me. I purchased my gun, a Colt Cloverleaf, from an arms dealer I knew from high school, John Sells-You-Guns. “John Sells-You-Guns” was a nickname he had given himself, despite everyone advising him to be more secretive about his illegal arms dealing. He kept the nickname anyway and I admire him for that but he was of course arrested for selling guns. My horse I purchased at a small farm out on Sunspot Mountain. I didn’t have a lot of money and wasn’t in a position to really “splurge” on a horse, so I bought the cheapest one they had. Penelope was her name, and she was certainly no prize. She was almost completely blind, had a rare condition known as “horse asthma,” and she couldn’t move any faster on her four legs than I could on my own two. I’m not sure what it was that drew me to Penelope. Maybe it was the twinkle of quiet dignity in her eye, or maybe it was that there were only two horses for sale on the farm and the other horse was $100. “$100 for a horse!?” I said to the farmer. “What, does it come with an extra horse!? Give me the wheezy blind one.”

To be totally honest, I didn’t have a firm understanding of what a cowboy’s job entailed, but I was pretty sure I’d be good at it. After I bought the hat and the gun and the horse, I wasn’t sure what to do next. Am I done? I thought to myself. I started to have second thoughts about the whole thing and I almost backed out completely, but all my life people had told me I was unfocused and that I lacked the drive to succeed, so I decided I was really going to commit to my new cowboy stuff. I had already blown my life’s savings on the hat and the gun and the horse. I decided I would figure out my duty as a cowboy as I went along. I hopped on Penelope’s back and I commanded her, “Take me west!” She started walking north instead and I decided that that was fine I guess. There was no turning back now. Then I turned back, because I forgot my gun at the horse ranch. No more false starts, I said to myself, before I went to go look for Penelope, who had wandered off into a big prairie and gotten tangled up in an old burlap sack.

Chapter 2

Provisions

I had of course brought provisions for my trip. “A good cowboy is always prepared” is the cowboy’s motto, for all I knew. I packed a big jug of water and six dozen loose hot dogs in my saddlebag. I packed some rope too, because “a cowboy always has rope handy” could also be another thing that cowboys say. About 20 minutes into being a cowboy my saddlebag fell open and all my hot dogs spilled out. “Aww geez, my hot dogs!” I said out loud. I dusted off my hot dogs and threw them back in there and kept riding, then my sack fell open again and my water jug fell out and spilled open. “Aww man!” I said. It was a bad start, I’ll admit, but I carried on. After a few hours I hadn’t really used the rope yet so I threw it off a big mountain. A good cowboy travels light.

That first day I rode until Penelope needed rest. It was a lot harder to ride a horse than I had anticipated. Even though Penelope only moved at a speed of roughly four miles per hour, I kept falling off her back. “Ooof!” I’d say, each time. I let Penelope take her nap and decided to practice my shooting while she slept. I couldn’t afford a holster for my gun because the hat was so expensive, and my bag was too full of hot dogs to put the gun in there, so I had taped the gun to the side of my face. At the time, I had no idea that when I taped that pistol to my face, I was making cowboy history.


I found an empty bean can in the dirt and set it up on a rock so I could practice my aim. I had never shot a gun before, but I had been shot at many times and those guys made it look pretty easy. I peeled the gun off my face, stepped back a couple yards and took aim, but then stopped myself: I didn’t want the noise to wake Penelope up. The rancher had explained to me that because Penelope was essentially blind, she had extremely acute hearing and was easily spooked by loud noises. I decided I would practice my gun later. For now I’d just hang out.

I found a small pocket notebook on the ground. It looked like it had been there for years. I picked it up and leafed through it. It appeared to be some sort of diary, probably kept by a fellow cowboy. It was pretty tattered up, which made the already hard-to-read handwriting harder to read, but I could make out a few sentences here and there and I pieced together small parts of the story little by little. The diarist had been on the move for a long time, looking for “safe refuge from the enemies from the Hill.” Whoever it was that had kept the diary sounded scared, and I bet they’d be pretty embarrassed if they knew I was reading their diary. I wished I could tell them somehow.


I tore out the used pages and stuffed the rest of the diary in my pocket so that I could document my trip, which would definitely be more heroic and less whiney than that last guy’s who used the diary. At this point Penelope had woken up from the sound of me making fun of the diary, so we kept riding north. I really wanted to go west, but I hadn’t yet learned how to steer a horse. I decided that that would definitely be next on my list of cowboy things to do, right after learning how to use my gun and taking my boots in to get spurred.


We rode for several more miles, traveling at a snail’s pace, before reaching a small town called Dust Trap Valley. Why do they call it Dust Trap Valley? I wondered, before a massive cloud of dust blew through the plains out of nowhere and knocked me off my horse. “Now I know why they call it Dust Trap Valley!” I joked to Penelope. She seemed to appreciate it.

Chapter 3

Don’t Shoot!

The first person I encountered on my cowboy trip was a man I presumed to be a gold prospector. The filthy, emaciated old man was digging in the ground with a shovel and sifting carefully through the dirt with his hands. As I approached him, I started thinking of hurtful things I could say to him in case he was mean, but he turned out to be fine. As soon as I met him, there was something that I instantly liked about him: he immediately dropped to the ground and “surrendered” to me.

“P-P-Please don’t shoot. I-I’m a good man,” he pleaded, as he fell to his knees and held his hands behind his head. I didn’t understand why he was already surrendering to me when I hadn’t even showed him what a good cowboy I was yet.

“I-I don’t have nothin’ for ya to take,” he continued. “I-I’m sorry. Just don’t kill me. I-I got nothin’ but respect for you boys from Desperation Hill.” The smell of whiskey on his breath was so strong that I felt like caught a buzz, which I really enjoyed.

“I’m from Sulleyville,” I told him.

“Oh. Y-You really ain’t from Desperation Hill?”

I was trying to remember if there were any cool cowboy words for “no,” when another massive, dusty gust of wind swept through the plains, knocking me off my horse again. “Now I know why they call it Dust Trap Valley!” I joked to the digger after the mini dust storm had passed. He didn’t laugh, which I thought was rude, so I said one of the insults I had thought of beforehand: “Nice shovel, four-eyes!”

“What’s your business here?” he asked me.

“Typical cowboy stuff, you know…” I told him, pointing to my hat. “Just kind o’ passin’ through.”

He seemed to ease up. “Well, alright then. Enjoy your visit. Watch out for the coyotes. They’re a problem ‘round here,” he said. He lowered his shovel and tipped his cap to me. He extended his hand for a handshake and said “It’s nice to meet you.” I wasn’t sure if he was being sarcastic so just to be safe I didn’t shake his hand.

Chapter 4

Go North

I rode past him and carried on into the town. I was still having a lot of trouble staying on Penelope’s back. I was starting to get frustrated. Out of all the animals I had encountered in my life, Penelope was definitely the one I had the most difficulty sitting on.

I didn’t really know what to do once I got into town, so I parked Penelope outside a small blacksmith’s and decided to go in and just see what happens? I was thinking it’d be cool if I entered the blacksmith’s by kicking the doors down, but I thought that was too aggressive right off the bat, so I opened them properly and I decided that if the blacksmith was mean, I was definitely gonna kick the hell out of those doors when I left.

I commanded the blacksmith’s attention: “You there! Tell me where’s the nearest saloon, before I smoke ya, hombre!” Then I got a little embarrassed, because I don’t think cowboys say “hombre.”

The blacksmith dropped immediately to the floor and curled up into the fetal position, terrified by very my presence. Word must have already gotten around town about how mean I was to that digger back there.

“Please, hombre,” he begged, “don’t shoot. Take whatever ya want. Take everything. Just spare my life!”

"Hombre!?" I thought. What a dork!!!

“Listen here, hombre,” I told him. “I’m not from Desperation Hill. I’m from Sulleyville. Now, where’s that saloon?”

“Ya ain’t from Desperation Hill? Well hell, what the hell ya doin’ here, then?” he asked me. I pointed to my cowboy hat again, to answer his question.

“Oh, well, word of advice, hombre,” he said, “this ain’t the type o’ town that you wanna ’just pass through.’ But if ya don’t know no better,” he continued, “the nearest saloon is 50 paces north.”

I could smell on his breath that he was wasted on whiskey, just like the digger from earlier. I guess if I was a blacksmith I would show up to work wasted too, because even if you’re day-wasted on whiskey, how hard could it be to hit stuff with hammers all day? Seemed like a pretty easy gig—one that I might enjoy—but I had already chosen the life of a cowboy. Maybe, in a couple of decades when I was retired, I would take up hitting things with hammers as a hobby, but for now I had to focus on my cowboy job.

I tipped my hat to the blacksmith, thanked him, and began to see myself out. Since he had technically given me permission to “take anything” earlier, I grabbed a couple of his hammers on my way out in case I needed to hammer anything to death later. He was helpful, but… To be honest, I already had my heart set on kicking the doors down when I left. I gave them my hardest kick and they swung out on their hinges and then swung back in and hit me in the face and knocked me down and I dropped all my hammers. “Ooof!” I said. “I dropped all my hammers!”

I got up, apologized to the blacksmith, and saw myself out quietly. I hopped on Penelope’s back. “Go north!” I demanded. She went south. I fell off her back.

 

Chapter 5

The Saloon

I decided to just walk Penelope north towards the saloon, instead of trying to ride her. I felt self-conscious. I was worried the townsfolk would think that I didn’t know how to ride my horse, which I didn’t. Also, at this point I had been a cowboy for almost eight hours and I had yet to draw my gun on anyone, and I worried that I was failing to live up to my job title. I decided that if anyone in town made any jokes about me not knowing how to ride my horse then I would draw my pistol on them. I checked to make sure the gun was still taped to my face. It was. I needed to stop second-guessing myself all the time.

There weren’t many people out on the street. I saw a few townsfolk just sort of stumbling around, looking drunk and lost. None of them seemed to be up to any real “business.” Several people were passed out in the street. Everyone was visibly drunk. The whole town smelled like whiskey.

Eventually I found the saloon. I gave Penelope a hot dog to eat while she waited outside and I went in. The place was dead. At the end of the bar, a scraggly, over-served man wearing suspenders over a bare torso swayed side to side on his stool looking restless and queasy. As I was coming in, he eyed me down with careful suspicion, and the other patrons—two young men shooting pool in the back—dropped their pool cues in a panic and ducked down behind the table. The bartender, a burly redheaded man with an eyepatch, didn’t notice me come in at first. He was lying flat on his back on top of the bar, holding a keg above his face and emptying it into his mouth. When he finally noticed me, he threw the keg to the floor, hopped to his feet and pulled a shotgun out from behind the bar. I was pretty sure what he would ask next.

“Where you from?” he asked, his voice and hands trembling as he spoke. “Wh-Who the hell are ya?”

“I’m not from Desperation Hill,” I assured him. “Take it easy, hombre. I’m just a cowboy passin’ through town.”

He kept his shotgun pointed square at my face. I think he expected me to be more afraid than I was, but of course he had no idea how often I had had guns pointed at me over the course of my life. I didn’t want anyone in the saloon to catch on to the fact that I hadn’t been a cowboy for very long, so I put on my best poker face and shouted to the bartender, “Give me a shot o’ whiskey. I’m celebratin’ my 20 year anniversary of bein’ a cowboy!”

“You sure ya ain’t one o’ them Desperation Hill fellers?” he asked. I made a mental note to say “fellers” more often.

“No, feller, I ain’t,” I assured him. “Me and my horse feller are just passin’ through.”

Finally, when the two men in the back were sure I wasn’t there to cause trouble, they reluctantly came out of hiding and returned to their game. The old drunk at the end of the bar continued to stare me down. The bartender put his shotgun back and poured me a shot of whiskey. He was wasted, like everyone else I had met in town so far. I hoped to be joining them all soon enough.

“Listen feller,” I said to the bartender. “What’s all this stuff about Desperation Hill? It seems like every feller I meet in this town has some axe to grind with them Desperation Hill fellers.” I worried I was overdoing it with the “fellers” thing, and I decided to use it more sparingly.

“Desperation Hill… It’s a couple o’ towns over,” he explained. “Once upon a time it was a nice little town. Good place to go settle down and retire. Then a couple o’ outlaws came in and took it right over. Ran all the decent folk right out o’ town. Every couple o’ weeks them outlaws ride into Dust Trap Valley and raise hell. Ransackin’ saloons and homes and whatnot, takin’ women and horses, shootin’ any man dead who give ‘em any trouble.”

“Well, what in the hell are y'all doin’ about it?” I asked. In that moment, I felt like I was really, truly nailing the cowboy thing.

“Not much we can do. We’re outnumbered and outgunned. For every one feller livin’ here in Dust Trap Valley, there’s ‘bout 10 o’ them Desperation Hill fellers, and each one of ‘em got 10 guns. Anyway, my name is Charlie. Welcome.”

“Well god damn,” I said, shaking my head. I took a small sip of the whiskey. “Damn good whiskey,” is what I should have said, instead of “Yum!”

Chapter 6

A Feebly Constructed Town

I stepped outside to check on Penelope. She was asleep in the middle of the street. I wondered if I was going to need a better horse if I really wanted to be a good cowboy. “A cowboy is only as good as his horse,” is another possible cowboy motto. Penelope was a hard to love creature. Nothing about her appealed to any of the senses. She seemed sad, and just by being around her, you couldn’t help but feel kind of sad too, but she had this sluggish charm to her that I couldn’t resist. I wondered what had happened to her in the past that made her like this. I decided in that moment that I’d never abandon her.

Another huge dust storm started to blow in through town so I ditched Penelope to go find some shelter. I crawled into a large barrel I found—literally just a big empty barrel lying in the middle of the street—for cover. The storm lasted for over three hours, and it blew even heavier than the first two. “Now I know why they call it Dust Trap Valley!” I yelled out from inside the barrel, in case anyone was out there. The wind and dust together were like a living, breathing monster from an alien planet, tromping through town, flipping carriages and taking bites out of homes and businesses. Then I felt extra scared, because then I was thinking about the general concept of monsters. “Ahhh!” I screamed, from inside the barrel, thinking about those scary monsters.

Dust Trap Valley was a feebly constructed town. Most of the buildings were sunken and rickety. They looked like they could be knocked down with the flick of a finger. I couldn’t imagine how they survived the dust storms. But somehow the town had stood up to nature against all odds and persevered for a long, long time. I felt like the town was special in that way. Nice town, I thought to myself. The kind of town an honest man could be proud to call home.

When the storm finally passed I decided to get the hell out of there. The wind had blown the barrel—and me with it—at least a mile and a half out into the plains outside of town, but I decided to go back for Penelope. If she had survived the storm, I could still take her along with me on my travels and maybe, over time, I could train her to be a better horse. If she was dead, then I’d eat like a king that night.

Chapter 7

Picking A Side

It was a long walk back into town. On the way, I came across a man who looked like he had been hit pretty hard by the storm. He was unconscious on the ground and his hair was all blown back and his head was bloody. Right next to him, I spotted a bloody rock which he must have hit his head on. I slapped him across the face to wake him up and he finally opened his eyes and came-to. I slapped him around a little bit more, just to be safe. When he woke up, he seemed confused. The blow he had suffered to his head must have knocked all the memory out of him, because he immediately asked, “What year is it!?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

I finally made it back into town and found Penelope exactly where I’d left her outside the saloon. Not even the massive dust storm storm could move big, lazy Penelope. She looked pissed off, but she was otherwise unharmed by the storm. She was like a big rock buried firmly in the ground.

I took a hot dog out of my saddlebag and fed it to Penelope as a reward for surviving the storm, and I ate one too as a reward for doing a good job at being a cowboy so far. I petted Penelope’s head and tried to put her at ease. The bartender from the saloon called out to me from the front steps: “Hey! Ya didn’t pay for your whiskey!”

I didn’t have any money to pay for the whiskey, so I went back inside the saloon to drink more whiskey to stall for time until I could think of a good way out of paying for all that whiskey. Everyone in the saloon was back to business as usual. They seemed to have been accustomed to the storms.

A man waddled into the saloon in a sheriff’s outfit. I wondered who he was, and then he introduced himself as “The Sheriff.” I was pretty sure that, traditionally, cowboys had a difficult relationship with sheriffs, so I was prepared to butt heads with the man. He was short and fat, which I pointed out to him, and I felt like his whole life story was written on his face. He seemed like a gentle man who had lived a long life of letdowns; a life of being constantly crushed, spiritually and physically, by the cruelty of his fellow man and of nature. I was excited to be enemies with him.

“What’s your name, fella?” he asked me. His breath stank of a mystery liquor.

“None of your beeswax!” I said. I wanted to say something better than that but, ugh, that’s just what came out. Everyone was looking at me. Oh my god I was so embarrassed I wanted to DIE!

“Hey now, friend, don’t be a stranger,” he said. “Strangers ain’t always so kind to us here in Dust Trap Valley.”

“I’m the best damn gunslinger to ever park his horse in your shithole town!” I told him.

I was proud of that line and I did a little fist pump after I said it. Then I made a mental note to not pump my fist every time I said a cool line around here.

The Sheriff tensed up. “Well hey now, you sound like one o’ them outlaws from the Hill,” he said.

I still hadn’t really picked a side in this whole Dust Trap Valley versus Desperation Hill thing. It sounded like the Desperation Hill guys had a lot more fun raiding and pillaging than the Dust Trap Valley guys did doing their thing. So far, the people of Dust Trap Valley seemed to spend all their time just wandering around, drinking, and waiting for the next awful thing to happen to their town. But I felt like I had already made big waves in the local cowboy scene in Dust Trap Valley and was already kind of “established” here.

“I ain’t from Desperation Hill,” I told The Sheriff.

“Well alright then. That case, maybe ya oughta stick around Dust Trap Valley! We could use some more good gunslingers 'round here, what with the Desperation Hill outlaws comin’ in all the time. We only got one good shooter in town, and that’s Georgie Yates. He could shoot the leg off a no-legged squirrel from a mile away!”

The whole bar laughed at The Sheriff’s joke. I tried to resist, but I chuckled a little bit, too. It was a good line. Just a funny, weird combination of words. I don’t know, it was really good.

Then I got a great idea: I should go challenge Georgie Yates to a gun battle. I figured it would be easy enough: even if Georgie, the town’s fiercest gunslinger, was half as cowardly and quick to surrender as the rest of the town, then probably all I’d have to do to beat him was explain to him that I knew how to shoot a gun and he’d drop to his knees instantly and tell me I could take all his money or whatever.

I was excited to finally use my big gun, because I still hadn’t shot it at all yet. Once I beat Georgie Yates in a gun battle, I’d be the new number one gun in town and, honestly, at that point, I’d probably feel like I had “done” the cowboy thing, and I could move on to something else. I had always dreamed of the sea, I don’t know. I was getting ahead of myself. For now, I had a cowboy’s reputation to live up to.

“Take me to Georgie Yates!” I barked at The Sheriff.

“K.”

Chapter 8

Don’t Mind Frankie

As we were leaving, the old drunk at the end of the bar stepped in front of me and put a hand on my chest. He breathed his stinky breath into my face as he spoke: “I use to… Be the number one gun arou-… 'Round here. I use to…” The words just dribbled out of his mouth and dropped to the floor and made an awful sound. He trailed off and his eyes glazed over and then he passed out onto the barroom floor. What a colorful character, I thought. The town drunk in a town full of town drunks.

“Don’t mind Frankie,” The Sheriff said to me.

I gave the drunkard a little kick as I stepped over him because I was pissed off that he had made me listen to his whole life story like that. The Sheriff led me and a begrudging Penelope down the main road towards wherever it was that Georgie Yates lived. I was excited for my first gun battle. I may not have known who this Georgie Yates feller was, but I could not have been more certain that I could beat him at guns.

As we walked, The Sheriff began to tell me a little bit about the town’s history. I asked him to please stop, and the story remains a mystery to me to this day.

Chapter 9

Georgie

Finally, The Sheriff led me to a small shack behind a butcher shop.

“Here we are,” he said.

“What the hell is this?” I asked.

“This is where Georgie Yates stays. He don’t like to be disturbed at home. If you’re plannin’ on knockin’ on that door, then, well… I’d prefer not to be here.”

What a coward, I thought to myself, and then said out loud: “What a coward!” The Sheriff looked hurt, which I enjoyed. I started to understand why Dust Trap Valley was in such rough shape. Their sheriff was a paunchy, slouched, weak little wimp. I bent down and tied his shoelaces together and he just stood there and watched me do it. Then I extended my hand for a handshake and when he went to shake it I pulled it away real quick and brushed my hand through my hair. I accidentally knocked my hat off and the sheriff went to go pick it up for me and when he went to take a step he tripped onto his face because of my shoelace gag.

Georgie Yates’ horse lay sleeping quietly next to Yates’ shack. It was a beautiful creature that exuded courage and vigilance even as it slept. It woke up as I approached the shack and watched me closely. It seemed to be on the defensive, like it would trample me in an instant if I tried any funny stuff. I was slightly intimidated. The horse’s eyes looked stormy and its muscles bulged, but I wasn’t too scared because I still had one thing the horse didn’t have: a pistol taped to the side of my face. I took a moment to admire the horse. It made me wish that I had a horse like this one—one that I could show off and be proud of and could trust to always have my back. I looked back at Penelope. She was asleep on the ground and a bunch of little kids were pokin’ her with sticks and puttin’ dirt on her.

“Well, do whatever it is you intend to do here,” The Sheriff told me. “I reckon I’ll go take a walk 'round town to make sure everyone’s holdin’ up alright after the storm. Best o’ luck to ya, partner.”

I realized I should say “partner” more. I thought for a while and made a mental list of all the Wild West words I should say more: “Partner,” “City slicker,” “Balmy,” “Calamity,” “Yokels,” “Cactus,” “Yeeeeeee-hawwww!!!”

I pounded on Georgie Yates’ door and I yelled, “Hey Yates, listen here, partner! I’m new in town, and I certainly ain’t no city slicker! I say to you on this balmy day: there’s gonna be a lot o’ calamity if you don’t come out here right now! These yokels 'round here tell me you’re the best shot this side o’ the cactus, and I’m itchin’ to prove 'em wrong. Come out and fight me! Yeeeee-haw!!!!!!”

Seconds passed and nothing happened before I heard Georgie Yates’ grizzled voice bellow out from behind the door. It seemed to shake the whole shack.

“Run along, stranger. I ain’t got no business with you.”

“Coward!” I screamed. It had felt really good when I called The Sheriff a coward earlier, so I had been wanting to yell it again. It’s definitely one of the most satisfying words that you can scream at another person. Go outside right now and try it and tell me I’m wrong.

“Coward! Coward! God dammit, come out here and fight me, coward!!!”

All was silent and still for another moment, and then—BANG!—a bullet whizzed through the front door and flew directly through my hat! I dove behind a nearby cactus for safety. I took off my hat and inspected it. There was a big smoking hole right through the top of it! I thought it only made the hat looker cooler, but I kept pretending to be pissed off.

“Now listen here! Quit hidin’!” I yelled out from behind my cactus. “Come out here and put your damn guns up!”

The door of the shack swung open and I got my first look at Dust Trap Valley’s handiest gunman. I admit he was a striking man who carried himself with staggering confidence. He was 6'2” with blonde hair and a thick, dark beard. His giant cheekbones looked like they were going to tear right through his face. He was barrel-chested and his vest looked like it was about to burst open any second, being stretched so tightly over those giant muscles and all. His eyes were dark and cold. In all honesty, Georgie Yates was a lot like how I pictured myself in my head when I first decided to become a cowboy.

After a long, tense staredown, he finally spoke: “So you reckon you’re a good shot, partner?”

“I’m the best,” I told him, really believing it for some reason.

He took a drag off a cigarette, and he looked great doing it. After I finished gunfighting Georgie Yates, I was going to go find a store to buy some cigarettes. That was a major oversight on my part, becoming a cowboy without buying cigarettes first.

“Eagle,” he said.

“What?”

“Behind you. Watch the eagle.”

I turned around and saw an eagle perched in a withering tree about 75 yards away. Then, I heard Yates’ gun cock, and then I heard it shoot. I covered my ears and dove back behind the cactus. You just feel really safe behind a cactus, I don’t know. That’s something you just have to be a cowboy to understand. I looked back at the tree and watched as 10,000 smoking eagle feathers rained gently down upon the ground. Georgie Yates had hit the eagle square on.

I definitely still wanted to do the gun battle, but I remembered I had plans with my friend, so I had to go. I left the shack and went and wandered around for several hours.

Chapter 10

Lookin’ For A Good Time?

I found a general store and went in to trade the drunken clerk a hot dog for a pack of cigarettes. The clerk was terrified of me, just like everyone else in town had been, especially Georgie Yates. He put his hands behind his head and pleaded, “Don’t kill me! I don’t want any trouble with you Desperation Hill fellers!”

Again with the Desperation Hill stuff, I thought. It was always, “Desperation Hill this, Desperation Hill that!” with these guys. Hey Dust Trap Valley, I thought to myself, I’m “desperate” for you guys to shut up about Desperation Hill! I thought that that was a pretty good joke so I went outside to go find someone to tell it to. I found two young boys playing catch with a rock and I told them the joke. They were confused. “I guess you had to be there,” I told them. They stared at each other for a minute and then quietly returned to their game. I felt pissed off.

At that moment I noticed that right across the street was—oh boy!—a whorehouse!!! “Oh yeah! We’re in the Wild West now, baby,” I yelled to a nearby cow. I decided to go in. I wasn’t actually interested in buying a woman—I’d never really been a “hook-up” guy. At this stage in my life I was definitely looking for something serious and I knew I wouldn’t find it in that whorehouse, but I thought it would be good for my brand as a Wild West guy to be a known face around the whorehouse.

Once I got in there I reconsidered my stance on hooking up and I had a hard time deciding which one to have sex with. The women were beautiful, and they were walking around with—and really try to picture this—very little clothing on! They crowded around me.

“Lookin’ for a good time, handsome?” one asked.

“How much money you got to spend?” asked another.

I decided to play hard-to-get. “Sorry ladies, but I’m focusing on my career right now,” I said, pointing to my hat once again. But then, I saw her.

She was a breathtaking woman, frail-looking and petite—you could pick her right up and put her in your pocket, if your pockets were real huge. She had a curly head of fiery red hair that you could just get tangled right up in, like if you were an insect or a small bird or something. Her eyes looked innocent and mischievous at the same time, like a baby holding a gun.

“I pick you,” I said to her. She smiled.

“Okay,” she said. “Come on upstairs, to my room.”

“Do you take hot dogs?” I asked.

She giggled. “I sure do,” she said, winking. I think she thought my question was a euphemism.

She took my hand and led me to her room and we small-talked a little bit. “Why is your pistol taped to the side of your face?” she asked.

“No room in my damn saddlebag,” I told her. I opened up my bag to show her all the hot dogs I was able to cram in there. She seemed impressed.

“A man’s gotta keep his energy up,” she said. “Can I have one?”

I gave her a hot dog and she took a few small nibbles out of it, then tossed the rest of it in the garbage. “Thanks,” she said.

I was pretty pissed off that she threw out almost a whole hot dog!? but I let it slide. We kept chit-chatting for a little while. She told me that she had lived here in Dust Trap Valley her whole life. She’d seen it go from a quiet, cozy little faraway spot in The West to the beaten down, punching-bag-of-a-town it had become.

She started talking a little bit about her family and stuff. I got bored and started thinking about all the stuff I wanted to do during my cowboy adventure. GOTTA rob a train, I thought to myself. I thought about the train thing for five, ten minutes before I started listening again.

“…and then they killed my whole family,” she said.

“What!? Who?” I asked.

“The outlaws! From Desperation Hill!”

Suddenly the tears spilled from her eyes and she buried her face in her tiny hands and began to sob. At this point, she definitely didn’t seem like she was still in the “mood” to trade sex for hot dogs.

“You’re telling me them Desperation Hill guys—I mean 'fellers'—killed your whole family?” I asked.

She wiped the tears from her eyes and took a second to regain her composure. “Yes, they did,” she said.

“Well listen here, darlin’,” I told her. “Them outlaws ain’t gonna raise no more hell in this town! Not if I got anything to say about it! And I do!”

She flashed me a real sweet smile, and then she burst into laughter. But not happy laughter. It was… devious. “Wow, what a sweetheart,” she said. “Sorry, I can’t keep a straight face no more.”

She pulled a gun out from underneath her dress and aimed it at my head.

“Your money. Give it here, now!” she insisted. She reached forward and ripped my gun off my face, and some of the tape ripped off too and took a little bit of my skin off. “Yowww!”I screamed. “When you ripped my gun off my face, some of the tape ripped off too and a little bit of my skin ripped off! Yowwww!”

She had two pistols pointed at me now: mine and hers. I froze up, and then began to stammer, “But… But I… I was gonna let you have sex with me for hot dogs.”

 

“Just give me your money and get out.”

I explained to her that I didn’t have any money, but I’d give her my hot dogs and my horse.

“I don’t want your damned hot dogs and I ain’t interested in your horse,” she told me. I begged her to please reconsider taking my stupid horse, but she wouldn’t budge. “You’re tellin’ me you ain’t got so much as a dime on ya?” she asked.

“Not a dime.”

She dug through my saddlebag, keeping a gun on me the whole time. There was no money in there, which I already tried to explain to her. She looked angry.

“Take your hot dogs and get the hell out o’ here,” she said. At gunpoint, she walked me downstairs and out the front door. As we passed through, all the other girls pointed and laughed. “Tough luck, stranger!” one of them squealed.

“I’m telling the sheriff!” I yelled back, which only made them laugh harder. I got embarrassed, because I shouldn’t have said that. Cowboys don’t tattle.

Before The Redhead shut the door behind me, I asked her, “Was all that stuff about Desperation Hill a lie?” She laughed in my face and then spit a loogie at the ground.

“I’m from Desperation Hill!” she revealed. “All of us girls are! We were there before the outlaws took it over. They ran us out o’ town, and we settled here. We rip off tourists like you all the damn time!” I appreciated her explaining that to me so clearly. “And if you’re thinkin’ of comin’ back here later for revenge," she continued, "you oughta think twice. We’ll stomp your balls into the dirt.”

Stomp my balls into the dirt!? I had to admit, that was a pretty good line, and I wondered which male cowboy she must have stolen it from.

She pushed me out onto the street and slammed the door behind me. I could still hear the other girls laughing inside. I hoped, for the sake of my own dignity, that they were laughing about something else, like maybe one of them made a funny joke that was completely unrelated to the situation, or one of them fell down or farted in there, but deep down I knew they were laughing at me.

I went to go find Penelope so I could get the hell away from there. I was humiliated, and then as I was walking over to Penelope, I slipped on a rock and fell right onto a big cactus! “Yowwww!!” I screamed. “I fell on a cactus!” I hopped around in pain and I accidentally fell right into a big hole in the ground! “Oooof!” I said. I crawled out of the hole, and then a coyote zipped by and knocked me right onto a red-ant hill!“Yeeeoowww!!” I dusted the ants off my clothes and took a deep breath before I started walking again, and then I tripped on an old lasso in the street and fell back down and got run over by a covered wagon! “Aw geez!!” I was so frazzled when I got up that I stumbled around for a minute, and then I fell down a huge hill!! “Ahhhhhhhh!!” I finally hit the bottom of the hill, and then a huge rock came rolling down behind me and landed right on my head! “YOWCH!!!

I just lay there for several minutes, sprawled out in the hot sand, baking in the sun. I heard the soft patter of footsteps in the upper distance above me. I looked up. Penelope was slowly making her way down the steep hill, baby step by baby step. She lost her footing a few times and fell to her stomach with a big thud, but she slowly got back up on her wobbly legs and continued to putter her way down the hill. When she finally reached the bottom, she wheezed her horrible wheeze for a few seconds, and then lay down beside me. She rested her head on my chest, and drifted off to sleep.

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