This is a complete story that evolved from the Genre Challenge. Each line represents one of the following genres: Obituary, Angst, Biography, Mystery/Crime, Advertisement, Humour, Fantasy, Romance, Crossover, Horror,
Hurt/comfort, Fable/fairy tale, Diary/journal, Poetry, Drama, Action/adventure, Western, Death, Horoscope, UST and a Finale, in that order.
“I didn’t love him - I didn’t even like him - but he was the only father I had.”
It was all Johnny could do to just hang onto his hat and stand there and stare down at the hole in the ground while she stood there, dry-eyed and proud, and told the townsfolk who showed up that there were plenty of reasons why they needn’t have bothered.
“He came to this town thirty years ago and let my mother work herself into an early grave not four weeks ago, while he spent all his time at his newspaper office trying to right the world with words instead of guns; only somewhere along the way he…” and right there her voice stuck in her throat, “he…lost his way.”
It was that crack in her voice that did it - even if he had to go hunting under every rock and floorboard in Laramie he was going to find out who shoved a knife in Finley O’Malley’s side and twisted it until his guts spilled out on the sidewalk.
He’d only met her yesterday when he’d seen her advertisement at the stage depot:
Laramie Rest: Room and Breakfast, Clean Sheets, Hot Water and No Noise.
By the time he’d got off the stage, his head was about ready to burst thanks to that little kid sitting opposite him who hadn’t shut up the entire trip with his, “Mister-mister-you-a-cowboy-mister-mister-you-a gunfighter-mister-mister-you-seen-a-buffalo-mister-mister-look at my frog…” and the scab on his knee and the blot on his book and then he started in on the dude next to him, asking about the big knife he was using to clean under his nails - and all without the kid taking a breath.
After the dust and noise and cracked boards and peeling paint in the main street, when he stepped inside the hotel he could’ve been in another world, like in that book Teresa was reading, only he’d gone through a door and not some rabbit hole; it was the sort of place Murdoch liked to stay in - real classy.
He had to wait his turn to register but that gave him plenty of time to watch her behind the desk while he leaned on the counter; plenty of time to notice that the only freckle she had was a tiny one on her nose and that the left corner of her mouth lifted more than the right when she smiled (only she didn’t smile often enough and that was a shame) and before he knew it, when it was his turn to sign his name he just came right out and asked her if she wanted to have dinner with him later on - after he’d had a bath and a shave of course.
She liked the idea – he could see that straightaway – but you didn’t need to be a mind reader to see her thinking that he was a stranger and she had a reputation to think of; so he crossed his fingers and told her that he was a good friend of Jess Harper’s, then jumped in quick and added Slim’s name too when Jess’s didn’t seem to be going down so well, and he was just about ready to give up when she said, “Yes, I’d like that, Mr - ?”
They never did get to have that dinner: they were walking along the sidewalk towards the cantina when a drunk stumbled out of the alley and latched onto her shoulders – only it turned out he wasn’t a drunk, he was her pa, and as he slid to the ground his hands left streaks of blood all the way down Lily’s pale pink dress and that was when she started screaming.
After the prayers at the graveside were read, he took her back to the boarding house and made her sit down in the little parlour while he made her coffee, but when he kneeled down beside her and tried to coax her to take some she was too ripped up inside to even look at it, let alone drink it.
She just stared straight ahead and said, “I want to stay mad at him only all I remember is the man who slew dragons under my bed when I couldn’t sleep and rescued me from the castle tower when I was stuck in the apple tree and who was brave and good and true.
I believed that for a long time, Johnny, until I saw the last entry in my mother’s diary and saw the words smudged with tears and read how he’d been coming home late from the newspaper office with wine on his breath and the smell of lavender on his shirts.”
Well, it wasn’t easy to find out that someone you loved had been living a lie but all he could think of to say was, “I read some words on a headstone once:
‘If I should die when my heart quakes
I hope none remember my mistakes,
But just the things I tried to do
To make this a better world, for you.’”
“Johnny, my father spent his time making the world a better place for everyone except my mother; he wasn’t even there when she died because he was writing some stupid story for the people in this town that half of them wouldn’t even bother to read because they were too busy struggling to put food on their tables let alone worrying about Belle Pryor and her crooked gambling rooms.”
He got to his feet, not knowing what else to say, and that was when he noticed the curtain on one side of the archway moving, but it was the strong whiff of lavender and the dark blur of a man’s shape that made him run out the door and down the street and hell, he had to dodge wagons and horses and people and dogs and…and damn it, once he got down by the livery stable there was no sign of anyone in a black suit.
He drew his gun and stuck his head around the door and whoa, he nearly lost an eye when a bullet took out a chunk of wood in the post next to his head, so he threw himself down and twisted and rolled and fired and fired and fired at the spark he’d seen in the dark until all he could see was a livery full of smoke and a man lying in the dirt with a fancy shirt full of holes.
Plenty of people came running with the sound of gunfire but Johnny only had to take in a whiff and hear a rustle of silk to know who stood behind him as the dude grabbed hold of Johnny’s shirt front and croaked out, “Well, looks like you euchered me…but you…you tell that Miss Lily that she got it wrong; O’Malley was …he was a good mm…”
“Last week I visited Madame De Laroche,” Lily said as they headed to the stage depot after watching the sheriff nail a ‘closed’ sign to the door of Belle’s saloon, “and she told me that a dark stranger would come into my life and show me something that I needed to know – thank you, Johnny.”
Lily kissed his cheek and then he lost track of how long the two of them stood there staring at each other - and just when he tried to step forward and find his voice again, two kids with a dog yapping at their heels ran between Lily and him and then a fat abuela with a bird in a cage did the same and then the driver yelled at everyone to board and before he knew it he was squished into the window seat with the cage digging into his ribs and watching Lily’s face as the stage pulled out.
But maybe one day
Murdoch’d want to buy some stock this way again and he’d come back. After
all, he never did catch up with Jess.