Flash Fiction: Dusty Cowboy!

Even by the river, the dust was incredible.
It got into everything. Your boots. The tip of your hat. The lapels of your coat.
The dust was a part of everything, but after a while, you just didn't really notice it anymore. That was the Valley. And the dust was part of it. It was part of you. It was part of home.

Clarence brushed off his coat and along the Ake River bank. He'd worn two of his best Colts for the occasion, holstering them in the Smith-Worthington holster his Daddy got him when he turned 10 all them years ago.
Daddy'd been the one who'd taught Clarence how to shoot, but it was his mother who taught him how to steal. It was tough being a kid in the dustbowl. Sometimes you had to steal to survive and hope that the more fortunate would simply look the other way.
Clarence's Momma didn't like stealing, but sometimes it was just necessary, she'd say. A harsh reality of life, as it were.
So as a kid Clarence sometimes snuck onto old man Godfry's farm and lifted a chicken or a few ears of corn. It was nothing major. His Momma needed it, after all.
But raising a child to steal can be a dangerous thing. And it didn't take long for young Clarence to fall in with the wrong crowd.

Clarence spent three years with the self-proclaimed "Wild Boys" before his first duel. The Wild Boys were a rag-tag group, made up of a bunch of teenagers from the Valley who were just getting their first shadows of beards. They weren't bad kids. In fact, some in the valley, called them heroes. It was the Wild Boys who weren't afraid to rob a bustingl farm and give the spoils to a hungry family.
It didn't take long for people around town to have an idea who'd done it. The crops would disappear at almost the same time every month (and always at night, after the dust settled) but most everyone just looked the other way. The harsh reality of the Valley was many did have it better than others. So why not share?
Besides, farming was a matter of dumb luck. Just because Mother Nature decided to throw Old Man Godfry a little extra rain meant that Clarence's mother had to go hungry? Not likely.

Fadius Hiker moved into Godfry's plot in May, after the old man finally died.
It didn't take long for Hiker to develop an acute aversion to the Valley's "Wild Boys." Hiker was a stern man and a fastidious businessman who counted every last penny. But more importantly, he was an outsider.
And having come from New England, he wasn't used to the dust.
"It gets everywhere," he'd tell whoever would listen. "I just can't get used to it. A man can't even steal a yawn out in them fields without getting a mouthful."
So Hiker wasn't here for the scenery, that was sure. He was here for the money. And while old man Godfry might have tolerated Clarence and the Wild Boys' occassional thefts, Hiker did not.
The first time the Wild Boys hit the farm Hiker was in Sheriff Jenkin's office the following morning, blazing mad.
"It's them boys, it's gotta be," Hiker said. "What do you call em? Them Wild Boys! I tell you, I heard voices out in the fields last night. Laws, I shoulda know it was them! But here's me half asleep and dreaming, thinking I'm hearing the ghost of old man Godfry or something like that. I didn't pay it no heed. Then I wake up this morning and guess what? Three chickens gone missing! Whadda you say to that? That's robbery, plain and simple. That's what it is. Now you gonna see they get caught for this, right Sheriff? You gotta punish them boys, show 'em what's what!"
Of course Sheriff Jenkins wasn't about to arrest the Wild Boys, the Boys were a mennace sure, but they were widely ignored. Heck, in some circles, they were even liked. But Hiker wouldn't never understand. And Jenkins didn't expect him to.
So he just kept nodding.
"Three chickens, you say? No! Well, we'll take care of it, Fadius, don't worry none."

Next month Clarence and the Wild Boys snuck back on Hiker's farm, lifting four corn stalks and three more chickens.
The following morning Hiker gave the same dog and pony show to Sheriff Jenkins, who greeted the man once again with the same smiling nod.
"We'll take care of it, Fadius. Don't worry."

The following month Hiker was ready when the Wild Boys came. He'd has his gun at the ready, but of course that was more just for a scare. Hiker wasn't no murderer. He wasn't about to shoot anyone on site, but the thefts of Clarence and the others had gone to far.
Those were four of my best chickens! Hiker thought. Think of all the eggs I coulda had!
So Hiker made his stand. When the Wild Boys came he casually walked out, eyed Clarence and challenged the shocked young man to a duel.
"Bring your friends if you like, but I only challenge you. Old man Godfry may have turned his eyes away from your treachery, but I won't. I don't care who you're stealing for, fact is you're stealing. And that ain't going to crackle. Meet me at the Ake riverbank, tomorrow, 1 o'clock."

Clarence adjusted his Smith Worthington holster and walked down to the river. With a strong swat he kicked up some of the residual dust clinging to his poncho and gently scattered the arid cloud with his cold breath.
Hiker was waiting with his flask.
"A drink before it all, son?"
"No, thank you."
"Right. Well then, let's get to it, shall we?"

The other Wild Boys where there, but Clarence told them not to bring any weapons. If things went bad he didn't want a war on his hands. Sure the Wild Boys stole when necessary, but they weren't killers. Clarence told them they needed to remember that, no matter what happened.

The duelists met on the riverbank. Hiker was mumbling something about the dust, which was choking the cool breeze coming off of Ake.
Both men had agreed it should be Sheriff Jenkins who should call the draw. Clarence had known the sheriff for years and trusted him. Hiker was just happy Jenkins was finally helping to take care of the Wild Boys problem, like he'd always promised.
The Sheriff cleared his throat, tried one last time to talk them both out of it and when neither relented, reluctantly called the draw.

"On three boys ..."
The dust stirred and Clarence suddenly felt an awarness of the entire valley creep into him.
The mesas, the Ake River, old man Godfry, his mother, his home. The dust ...
Clarence sighed and thought of the Wild Boys. They'd done good work and he was sure they'd continue to do it. His thoughts turned back to flashes of his mother and then the Valley, his home ...
Which he never saw again.
Even by the river, the dust was incredible.

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