I’m coming in just under the wire with this one. The theme of this week’s Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge is A Random Scattering of Fresh Titles. As the name implies, Chuck just gave us a list on ten titles and told us to pick one and go for it. I chose “The Bridge and the Rose”. It’s right at 1,500 words. I decided to make it a Western, and used the eponymous character from my Stolen Titles/Stephen King story from earlier in the year, “The Colorado Kid”. I started off trying for the same goofy vibe that story had, but it wound up being more quirky than goofy. Not sure that makes sense, but you’ll see what I mean. Give it a shot, and read the other one as well for comparison. I’d love to know what you think of them. Please to enjoy!
THE BRIDGE AND THE ROSE
The Colorado Kid climbed down from the back of the big bay mare. He looked up at her, a slightly disgruntled look on his face. She wasn’t his usual mount. Sundance, the golden palomino known far and wide as the finest steed this side of the Abercorn, was laid up back at the Jenkins place with the lurgy. The Kid had never known a horse to contract this particular strain of lurgy, but he didn’t know what else it could be.
He’d planned to wait it out, taking advantage of Abel Jenkins’s hospitality (and hopefully his daughter as well) until Sundance healed. Then Shiny Pete Cromwell had hogtied Mertis Joyner and dangled her off the mail crane alongside the tracks east of the Johnstown railway depot.
Everyone had been surprised by this, to say the least. Shiny Pete and Mertis were a couple, and no one had heard so much as a cross word pass between the two of them in all the time they had been together. Pete was a scoundrel, a ne’er-do-well who had caused no end of trouble in the Johnstown commercial district in his day, but the general consensus was that Mertis had straightened him out and put him on the right path. It’s why he was called Shiny Pete. Since childhood he had always been known as “Stinky” Pete but since he’d been with Mertis he’d cleaned up enough that people felt like it was okay to change his appellation.
The sheriff made his way out to the ranch to speak to the Kid about the situation. The Kid came out and met him on the porch along with Abel Jenkins himself. They all shook hands and the sheriff laid it all out for the Kid.
“Which tracks are they on?” asked the Kid.
“Eastbound,” said the sheriff. “Not long after the trains leave the depot headed east they reach the mail crane, exchange the mail, then cross the bridge over Beggar’s Canyon headed towards Cranford.”
“And Pete’s put her on the crane?” Jenkins sounded as if he couldn’t believe it.
“Hand to God,” said the sheriff, holding up his right hand.
The Kid asked, “Is she hurt?”
“I don’t think so,” said the sheriff. “We haven’t been able to get close enough to see. Every time we try, Pete takes shots at us. He keeps this up much longer he won’t be shiny anymore.”
“Reckon that’s up to Mertis,” said the Kid. “She’s the one who changed his name in the first place. She’s got to be the one to change it back.” “Can’t see why she’d object,” said Jenkins. “It can’t be much fun hanging upside down from a mail crane by a rope between your ankles.”
“You never know,” said the Kid. “It could just be part of their relationship.” When they looked at him, he shrugged. “Some people do strange things to show their feelings for each other.” He thought about Abigail Jenkins and her pale yellow parasol and smiled a secret smile.
The sheriff shrugged. “Maybe,” he said. “Still, I’d feel better if you’d ride out there, Kid, and take a look. Pete respects you and he won’t be as likely to take you out if you come too close.”
“I’d love to do it,” said the Kid, “except my horse is laid up. Lurgy.” Seeing the stricken look on the sheriff’s face, Abel Jenkins held up a finger.
That was how, less than an hour later, the Colorado Kid found himself climbing off of a mare named Joanie. He was alone—he had insisted on it. “If you want me to get close to him, you can’t be there,” he’d told the sheriff. “He’s already run your men off more than once today.”
The sheriff had acquiesced. He had gone back to town to await further news. The Kid had ridden Joanie out to the mail crane. Mertis Joyner was hanging from the hook, swinging gently in the hot summer breeze. Shiny Pete Cromwell was sitting beneath her, his back against the crane. A shotgun lay in the dirt beside him. His horse was tied to a post on the other side of the crane.
Shiny Pete got to his knees and planted a kiss on Mertis’s cheek. Then he got to his feet, picking up the shotgun as he rose. He looked across at the Kid. “Almost didn’t recognize you,” he drawled. “Where’s that gold horse of yours?”
“Laid up at the Jenkins place,” said the Kid. “Lurgy.” He looked at Mertis and tugged his hat. “Mertis,” he said, nodding his head.
Her mouth wasn’t gagged. As she hung, spinning slowly on the crane’s hook, she made fleeting eye contact. “Kid,” she said, then she was facing the other way as her rotation turned her around.
“So what’s going on, Pete?” asked the Kid. “Why are you out here?”
“Mertis wanted to go to Cranford,” said Shiny Pete, “but I could only afford one ticket. We decided to disguise Mertis as a mail drop so she could ride for free. Once they pull her on I’ll board with my ticket.”
“I don’t believe you,” said the Kid. “The next train to Cranford isn’t running passenger service. You couldn’t possibly have a ticket for that train.”
Mertis gasped as she came back around. “What?” Her voice was indignant. “Peter Cromwell! You son of a goat! You said we were going to Cranford!”
Shiny Pete sighed. “Dangit, Kid,” he said, suddenly plaintive, “you’ve gone and ruined my surprise!”
“What surprise?” asked the Kid.
“Yes,” said Mertis, her voice muted due to her facing the other way as her rotation slowed, “what surprise?”
“I put you up there, Mertis, because I knew the Kid was in town. I knew they’d go to him for help, and I knew he would come. He’s too good a man not to come when needed.” He looked at the Kid and gestured at the horse. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know your horse was sick.”
“Laid up at the Jenkins place,” the Kid said automatically. “Lurgy.”
“Tell Abigail hello from us,” said Mertis, her spin now stopped completely. She was facing the Kid. “She’s such a dear. You two deserve better than that parasol of hers.”
“Thank you,” said the Kid, tugging his hat again. “You’re too kind.” He returned his attention to Shiny Pete. “The sheriff’s unhappy with you, Pete.”
“I know, but I needed you to come,” said Shiny Pete. “I didn’t trust anyone else to stay with Mertis.”
“Stay with me for what?” asked Mertis.
“You’ll see,” said Shiny Pete. “Kid, will you stay with her until I get back? It won’t take long.” The Kid nodded. Pete turned and knelt and gave Mertis another kiss. “I’ll be right back,” he said. He got on his horse and rode eastward down the tracks.
The Kid moved to stand near Mertis. He watched as Shiny Pete rode a few minutes, until the railroad became a bridge over Beggar’s Canyon. Pete dismounted next to the rim of the canyon. He knelt down and did something—the Kid couldn’t tell what—then got back on his horse and rode back toward them.
He was gone for almost fifteen minutes. When he got back he was holding something in his hand. He nodded to the Kid. “Thank you, Kid. Will you get her down now?”
The Kid untied the rope, and Mertis fell to the ground with a thud, landing on her shoulder. “Sorry, Mertis,” said the Kid as she stood and dusted herself off.
Shiny Pete got down from his horse and extended a hand to his lady love. He held a rose, a yellow rose so pure and beautiful it hurt to look at it. “This is a Beggar’s Rose,” said Shiny Pete, and he knelt in the dust before Mertis. “I’m giving it to you now,” he said, “and I am begging you to take me as your husband.”
Mertis gasped. “If I say yes,” she said, “will you really take me to Cranford, and also promise never to hang me from a hook again?” As he nodded, she looked back at the crane. “Actually, it was kind of exciting,” she said. Her face was flushed. The Kid had to look away.
“I’ll marry you, Pete,” Mertis said. He leaped to his feet, gave her the rose, and hugged her, inadvertently crushing the rose between their bodies. Yellow petals fell to the ground.
“We’ll go get you another one,” said Pete anxiously. When she nodded, Pete turned to the Kid. “Come with us, Kid, and get one for Abigail. It’s time she made an honest man out of you like Mertis here has done for me.”
“I might just do that,” said the Kid. He climbed back onto Joanie. Pete mounted his own horse and pulled Mertis up behind him. As they rode down the tracks toward the bridge, the Kid found himself wondering if Sundance and Joanie would get along. He hoped so.