Archive for wild goose chases

Hanging On: Chapter Eighteen

Posted in short stories with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2009 by Keith Alan Watson

After Mark had made his big discovery, Sam grudgingly walked his horse over to him, and took a look for himself. Sam was tired, confused, and somewhat disappointed. The first half of his hunch had been correct, but it looked like the second half of it was dead wrong. Sam wasn’t expecting this new development. He wasn’t ready for it. He hadn’t prepared for it, and that made him mad. Whereas, before he had feigned anger and enthusiasm, his anger had now become tentative, and he was truly concerned. He was mad at that murderer, because it seemed as if he’d changed his mind, and now Sam would have to change his plans. He’d been thoroughly ready to go on home, get warm, and go to bed. On the other hand, Mark was just beginning to find himself. He was coming into his own. He’d accomplished two feats, one daring, and one investigative. Mark’s confidence had been revived, and he was raring to go. Now that he had the guts that he’d been lacking, he was able to get up the nerve to ask Sam a question.

“Why is he going back, do you think?” He’d caught Sam off-guard. Sam had been probing his own mind for his next hunch, for some other possibility, for the one that wasn’t quite so obvious. Sam returned the favor by saying this to Mark. “I don’t rightly know, Kid. I’m thinking the worst. I’m thinking there’s something he didn’t finish doing last night. I’m thinking, perhaps, he didn’t complete his mission. Maybe, he had intended on murdering the pastor’s entire family. I’ll be damned, but I’m afraid he’s going back for those two kids, if he isn’t going after Luke. He’s the only one who saw him leaving the place.”

“Oh, my God, Sam! I sure hope not. I was wondering, if maybe he hadn’t forgot something else. Something he needed really, really bad to make his trip. Like a map, or something. Money, maybe.” Sam quickly shot back, “I highly doubt it, Kid. That sonuvabitch is a maniac! It’s hard to guess what he’s up to. Those kind of people don’t just blatantly disregard the law, they rule it out altogether, and then they do whatever it is that suits their purpose. He’s at least two hours ahead of us. He could already be back in town doing whatever it is that he’d planned on doing, and we may be too late to do anything about it.” Just then, Sam’s second hunch finally came to him, giving him new hope that his first hunch might still be the correct one. But the high-strung kid had gotten excited, and blurted out, “We better high-tail it outta here then, huh?” “Yeah, Kid,” Sam said, ignoring his words.

Sam turned to the rest of his posse, and filled them in. “Hey, you guys, listen up! Our murderer might be headed to the river to take a different route south. He knows someone’s on to him, or else he’d be riding over yonder on the road. If he does know we’re after him…well, that’s what I would do. He can walk his horse up the river for a ways and lose us. We wouldn’t have a chance. We’ll head on up to the river. If he’s going back to town, his tracks will be straight across on the other side. This weather’s gonna slow him down same as us.” Then Sam reached back into his bag, and grabbed the bottle of whiskey. It was practically empty. He tipped it up real quick, and killed it off, which instantly set him off into a bout of coughing, and gasping for air. After Sam had come back to his senses, Mark gave him a funny look. “It’s okay, Kid. Don’t you worry about me. I know what I’m doing. That stink back in the cave left me with a bad taste in my mouth.” Sam tossed the bottle off into the brush. Mark felt himself compelled to ask one more question, before they took off, so he continued to put up a fuss. “What about all that stuff back in the cave? You don’t think…you don’t believe…I mean, what was that all about?” Sam looked Mark right in the eyes, “I ain’t worried about that idiot’s hocus-pocus! He can cast spells all he wants. The world doesn’t work that way. Wishing will you only get you so far. Don’t you know that?” Sam reared his horse around,”Okay, men. Let’s ride!” The Kid was beginning to get on his nerve, and it ticked him off.

The manhunt was once again underway in that miserably cold rainy weather. Mark fell in line and behaved himself, as a good soldier should. Sam had gotten him to thinking the worst, too, but he was hoping Sam was right, and if that man had cast a spell on them, it wouldn’t work. Mark really did want to believe that, but his old self and his old ways wouldn’t let him. The Kid wished he could make his old self magically disappear, but like Sam said, the world doesn’t work that way. Mark was shivering, and feeling pretty darn miserable himself. He took it out on Sam by wondering why he was going so slow, and cursed him under his breath. There was no trail to follow, so the ride was naturally rough-n-tough. Sam was having a difficult time seeing and following the man’s tracks. Right then and there, he promised himself he’d go and get those damn spectacles his doctor had been recommending. But he was able to follow the tracks, all the way to the river. Before they crossed, Sam got off his horse, and led him to water. His men took the cue, and mimicking Sam, followed suit. After a few minutes of stretching their legs, they crossed on over, and picked up the murderer’s tracks. He was still headed north. This frustrated Sam to no end. They hadn’t gone far before the tracks headed back west. After they’d reached the road, the tracks continued northward. By that time the rain was sticking, and freezing to every single thing it touched. It was a half-hour ride from there to Bedlam, and another hour from Bedlam to their town. Sam already had a headache, and the impending doom wasn’t helping matters at all.


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