“Here take this one. “Sheriff Paul pulled a Winchester from the gun rack and passed it across the desk .
Noah reached out and accepted the rifle, holding it in the crook of his arm.
“You sure you can do this? These dogs are mean.”
Noah gave his head a quick nod. It was always easier to nod than to sort through all the words tumbling around in his head.
From the other side of the room Deputy Reese laughed. “I don’t think you oughtta give him a gun. He’s too dimwitted.12 Likely he’ll miss those wild dogs and shoot some kid instead.”
The sheriff pulled open the bottom drawer of his desk. “He’ll be fine. Remember that scraggly cream10 colored mongrel hanging around last month?”
“That one who used bite everyone’s horses?”
“Yup.” Sheriff Paul straightened and slid open a small cardboard box, withdrawing a handful of ammunition. “Lassiter here took care of that menace with only one shot.”
Noah held his tongue as he pushed the bullets into the rifle. Just this morning he’d sat on the front step of his cabin with that same dog beside him. Noah had sipped his coffee while he’d fondled11 the dog’s silky ears.
Reece shook his head, “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Noah ignored him as he placed his hat on his head and stepped outside. Not too many people were on the street as he looked toward the morning sun. Turning the opposite way, an ominous wall of steel gray storm clouds rose from the line where the prairie met the sky. Behind him, the brilliance of the sun shone against the approaching storm. Three groups of geese streaked across the expanse. Their nacreous14 wings shimmered in the light.
He started toward the livery where he left his horse whenever he came into town.
A man and a young woman stepped from the mercantile. He recognized John somebody from the bank, who like everyone in town, ignored him. Emmeline Carter, though, was the only one who ever said hello. Today she smiled at him before she turned to walk beside John from the bank.
Emmeline Carter, looking as pretty as ever, wore her shiny red8 hair gathered on top of her head, beneath a flat round hat with feathers. Her dress, which matched her eyes, was the color of trees, or thick ferns, or the deep green16 moss which coated the rocks and earth, as soft as a sponge2 beneath his bare feet.
He frowned. Where had that image come from? Then kablooey7, it was gone. He rubbed his temple, his fingers brushing the end of the thick scar that ran beneath his hair almost to the back of his head.
“…and Mr. Foster was pleased with my recommendations regarding the serial1 numbers on all the bills as well as my thoughts on investment diversification15.” John from the bank continued talking until they reached the front doors of Broken Straw Savings and Trust. Before going inside he handed over the basket he’d been carrying and wished her a good day.
Rather than interrupt them or step into the street to go around, Noah stopped beside one of the posts that supported the roof over the walk in front of the bank. Most of the bark had been peeled away as though a rutting4 deer had been at it. He tried to pick off a loose strand of bark, but the fingers of his left hand did not work as well as his right.
Emmeline continued up the street then stopped at the corner and turned. She smiled again. “Are you following me, Mr. Lassiter?”
He thought she was teasing, but sometimes it was hard for him to tell. “N-no, Mmm-iss Em—Emmy—li-line.” He closed his eyes for a moment and breathed deep. The words came so easily in his head, why couldn’t he make them come out of his mouth? “G-go—ing l-liv—ry.”
Sunlight reflected in her eyes and lit her whole face. He wished that special smile was only for him, but he suspected she smiled like that for everyone.
“You have a good day, Mr. Lassiter.”
She turned and started down the street. He watched her for a few moments as she walked away. She lived with her family in a big blue house at the end of the street. He rode past it whenever he came to town. He turned and continued toward the livery.
He stopped and swung around. Emmeline Carter had just screamed his name—his first name. He raced back to the side street, his boot heels thudding against the wood. Tearing around the corner he skidded to a halt.
Halfway down the street Emmeline stood with her back against the wall of Mrs. Whitney’s dress shop. In the street were the two black dogs, their hackles9 raised, their lips curled back like some weird specious5, no that wasn’t right, species6 of wolf, and their menacing yellow eyes were focused on Emmeline.
He stood, his heart pounding, unable to move or think. He’d felt almost the same way when he first woke up a few years ago, in what Doctor Baumgarten called, a state of narcosis13.
He tried to organize his thoughts, to formulate a plan. Emmeline had called out to him. He had to save her. Cocking his rifle, he raised it to eye level and aimed at the dog closest to Emmeline.
In rapid succession he pulled the trigger, cocked the lever to ejaculate3 the spent shell and drop another round into the chamber. He pulled the trigger as the second dog lunged for Emmeline’s throat. She screamed.
Noah didn’t move and he wasn’t sure he was even breathing. As the haze of smoke cleared he saw the two animals lay where he’d dropped them and Emmeline remained frozen against the wall.
His stomach began to quiver and his knees shook. She lifted her head then and met his gaze. Dropping her basket, she ran straight toward him and launched herself against his chest.
His left arm came around her shoulders and he held her close as she cried against his chest, her tears soaking through his shirt to warm his heart.