Hey everyone! :) Today I bring to y'all a short story a wrote, a short story that placed second in Willowy Whisper's recent contest. The theme/prompt was a place called lonesome and this is what I came up with. Hope you enjoy! :)
P.S. If you want to read the story that place first, you can find it here.
As the sun slinked low along the horizon, making its nightly descent and dazzling the prairie in peachy-orange rays of splendor, one lone rider cantered across the vast plains. His mount was a fierce black stallion that stood out in sharp contrast to the bland brown grasses. The large man in the saddle rode tall, straight, and solitaire.
It had always been evident Travis Atwood was born to be a cowboy. Ride the range. Stick around a town until trouble arises, then gallop off to the next two-bit establishment. It was his way of life.
A reminiscent smile flitted over his tanned face as he recalled the memories. How thankful he was that he no longer lived that way. Sure, the cowboy life had been fun sometimes. But, like with all things, the good times came to an end all too soon – leaving you alone in a desolate land.
Travis raised his eyes from the path ahead to scan the prairie all the way around him and Sierra – his faithful mount, named for the area they called home. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, he prepared to wind up his work for today, namely the drudgery task of riding fence.line.
Stopping in an ideal location, one he could easily return to when it came time to complete the task of checking the fencing, Travis dismounted and yanked a stray cloth from his saddlebags. Sierra’s reins held secure in one hand, he looped the bright-colored bandana through a low limb of the juniper tree and knotted it.
“Our work is done for today, ol’ boy.” He spoke softly to his steed as he swung a leg across the saddle and directed the horse’s head in the right direction. There was no need to tell Sierra where to go, though. He would take Travis home in the middle of a Nevada snowstorm.
On the ride home Travis saw the prairie through new eyes. He would never feel at home anywhere else, yet he seemed to just then be noticing how lonely it was. It was desolate space, filled with nothing but void emptiness. The land was so flat and barren, going on endlessly until it met the distant horizon. Only it didn't meet the golden sky where it looked like it did. Travis had ridden towards it countless times. For every one of Sierra’s powerful gallops towards it, the line where the land met the clouds was that much farther away. One could often ride for days without coming across another living, breathing soul.
About an hour and a half had passed when, with a few powerful strides, the horse crested the hill and the Atwood Ranch spread out before them. A good, solid fence, sturdy and proud, marked the perimeter of the yard and enclosed the house and the outbuildings.
The house was small and quaint, but large enough. A adequate sized stable sat off to the side, with a cellar, outhouse, woodshed, and smithy scattered about between the two larger erections.
The lone horseman gave the equine his head and he trotted across the field, through the opening in the fence, and up to the closed stable doors. The stallion whinnied and tousled his head.
“Yeah, I know,” Travis muttered, sliding to the ground. “This is where I get off.”
He tromped into the stable, rolling his shoulders as he walked. A long day in the saddle made for stiff limbs and sore muscles, even for the most seasoned horseman.
Travis had left home two days prior to journey to Fresno and purchase fifty acres that was adjacent to his already owned spread. He had then spent the latter part of the day checking the fence-line along the northeastern pasture on his way back to the ranch, just as he had did with the northwestern stretch on his ride to Fresno.
Hefting off the saddle and saddlebags off the horse’s strong back, Travis slung it across the stall divider. Whistling softly to himself, he appreciated the methodical, repetitive motions as he brushed and curried Sierra’s sleek coat.
Noting that all the other chores were already nicely completed, a sense of deep appreciation swelled within Travis. He placed the brush on the shelf, nudged a crooked pitchfork in line, and turned towards the open barn door.
The top of a blonde head peeked around the bale of straw, inching out until large brown eyes looked back at him. A pigtail that had once been neatly braided but was now ragged and sloppy, flopped down and swung about carelessly.
A tired grin stretched across Travis’ face. “I see you, sugar.”
A pair of twinkling brown eyes emerged fully and a toothless smile beamed back at him. “Hey, daddy!” The young girl vaulted over the prickly bale and scampered to his side. “I missed you. You were gone two whole days! Did you miss me much?”
“Of course, I missed you, my Annie.” Travis sank down to his daughter’s level and plucked a stem of straw from her flaxen hair. “But I got all my business settled up with Mr. Myers and I won't have to be gone from home overnight for a good long time.”
“I’ll like that,” the little girl nodded decisively.
Travis jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “Did your brothers already take care of the stock?”
She nodded, braids flopping and eyes sparkling. “They even let me help!”
“Really?” Travis asked, surprised. Benjamin and Samuel, at ten and nine, were usually frustrated with their younger sister’s desire to assist them with chores.
“Yep!” she replied enthusiastically. “They let me feed the chickens.”
Travis snickered to himself. Now that made sense. The Atwood’s cocky rooster, dubbed King Charles by the children, was Benjamin and Samuel’s greatest nemesis. But, then again, there wasn't much of anything that would be friendly to you if you hurled rocks in its direction at random intervals and dunked it in a watering trough for no reason.
Travis stood, lifting Annie into his arms and swinging her up to his hip. As he crossed the barn, he tugged more straw from her braids. He almost left it – she was so cute with stuff sticking out of her hair – but Sarah would appreciate it if he brought a clean child back into the house for supper.
Annie’s grin dimmed and she ran her lower lip our at the sight of the straw in his fingers. “Mama tries to keep my hair clean and out of the way, but it doesn't work out too good. I like it loose and free. I do try not to get too messy though.”
He smiled and tenderly kissed her forehead. “I know you try, sugar.”
“Why do you call me that?” the little girl asked, her inquisitive eyes inches from his own.
“What? Sugar?” Travis stopped to close and latch the barn door behind them.
She nodded, studying him.
“Hmm,” he tapped his chin in a teasing way. “Maybe because you're as sweet as sugar?”
She giggled. “Nope, that’s not it. Mama says I have a meanness streak – just like you.”
“Oh, she does, does she?” Travis laughed, wondering what the young girl had done for Sarah to tell her that. The possibilities were endless.
A movement caught his eye and he lifted his gaze to the house. The screen door slammed shut behind Benjamin, Samuel and Eli – the youngest. The three tow-headed boys bounded off the porch and across the yard to greet him. Grinning, Travis knelt down for hugs and talked which each of the kids. It was difficult to decipher who was saying what with them all jabbering excitedly.
Travis stood and they all started on across the yard and up the porch steps. Another blonde head appeared through the doorway, following my Travis’ bride sweet smile and enlarged stomach. He had worried about leaving her alone with the children for the two-day jaunt to Fresno, but they must have fared alright. Everyone was accounted for and lacking life-altering injuries.
“We missed you.” Sarah smiled up at him. She stood on tiptoe for a kiss and Travis obliged. “You're just in time for supper.”
Laughing, chattering, and teasing one another relentlessly, the children gathered around the table and slid into their usual spots on the low wooden benches. Travis washed up at the basin near the kitchen door and took his seat at the head of the table. After placing the bowl of mashed potatoes and a basket of biscuits on the table, Sarah sank to the bench directly to his right.
The children joined hands with each other and with their parents and Travis led his family in prayer.
“We thank you, Lord, for this food which you've set before us and the loved ones you have set beside us.” His thought during the ride home flitting back through his mind, Travis added, “I thank you for this lonesome land that we call home, Lord, but I thank you that we’re not lonely in it. You have given us each other. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
The prayer over, little hands were released and food quickly consumed as supper-time chatter filled the room. Travis noticed that Sarah held his fingers a moment longer and caught his gaze with a sweet smile. “I'm thankful we’re not alone here too.”