* Author’s Note: I’ve decided to share my Western novel here on this blog. It was one of my favourite books to write, listening mostly to The Pretty Reckless while creating it. It was actually a mix of listening to this band and watching The Keeping Room (an indie flick) that helped inspire this story. I’ve pitched this story to a few publishers (and one liked it enough to ask me to sign a contract where I’d pay for a part of the marketing expense), but it’s a book I feel is better appreciated as an indie book. Most of the mainstream reading world can’t handle a genuine female outlaw, so I’m leaving this story here for anyone who finds the idea interesting. Gritty westerns aren’t for everyone, but if you’re a fan of Westerns and can view a female outlaw in an unbiased light, this story might just be for you.
* Trigger Warning: This story contains themes of physical and emotional abuse, prostitution, and murder. If you prefer not to read a story with violence, this won’t be the book for you. This is a true to life Western novel about a young woman who wants to brave the Old West on her own. I often saw women being used as props in Western films growing up, so I thought I would humanize a saloon girl and bring her to life as a fully fleshed-out character. This book is written to be real and gritty. Thank you for reading!*
I found an empty room and huddled beneath a pile of clothes next to a dresser. The floorboards creaked as he stepped down the hallway in search of me. I hugged my knees and thought of home, which only heightened my despair.
“Mary, Mary! Where did you go?” he called in a tone laced with merriment.
His name was Maximilian Grant, but everyone called him Max.
Every day, he dared me to outsmart him at his catch and release game and if I did, my prize was an evening free from his abuse. At half past ten o’clock in the evening, he gave me thirty seconds to run and hide. If it took him longer than half an hour to find me, I would win the game. The problem was that I never won.
The door flung open and slammed into the wall. Blinking back tears, I closed my eyes.
“Mary, what are you doing in my room?” cried Vivian, one of the other saloon girls.
I looked up into a set of angry brown eyes. Out of everyone there, I was certain that Vivian hated me the most.
“I-I’m sorry,” I stuttered. “I thought you wouldn’t be back for another hour.”
“Get outta here, you scrawny rat! Only reason you never hide good enough is ’cause your desire is to be his one and only whore. I’d mess up your face if he wouldn’t kill me for it!”
She took a step toward me and I cowered into the corner.
Max appeared behind her and pushed her aside.
“I had no idea she was in here!” cried Vivian.
“Of course not. Don’t worry. She’ll pay her dues tonight.”
As his thick fingers encircled my neck, I found his cold eyes.
His chuckle filled my ears and sent a chill down my body. My eyes met Vivian’s for a moment, and I thought that I saw a flicker of pity in them. She shook her head and looked away.
As he strengthened his grip around my neck, I grabbed his forearms.
“Stop,” I wheezed.
Stars flecked my vision as I attempted to pry his hands away. He let go and gathered me up into his arms. I gasped for air as he carried me out of the room.
“I got a customer making his way up here, Sir,” called Vivian. “I promise I didn’t come up here to be idle!”
Her hopeless tone deepened my despair. We all hated our lives there, but unlike them, I intended to escape.
“Hit her hard for me!” shouted Vivian.
She stared at me with a smirk before slamming the door shut. I fought to breathe as he carried me down the hall to his room.
The other girls attempted to make fun of my skinny body and freckled nose, but they despised me because I was more popular with Max than they were. If they only knew the cost of such popularity. No one in the world would trade places with me.
“Stupid girls,” I muttered.
“What was that?” asked Max.
He bloodied my lip with the back of his hand, hitting me so hard, I lost my balance and hit the wall. I licked the open wound on my lip as he grinned down at me.
“Please forgive me,” I pleaded. “I was only muttering to myself about the other girls.”
“You don’t want my forgiveness. You want to win the game or this will never end.”
“But you’ll always find me!” I cried.
“That’s the idea.”
His deep laugh rattled my throbbing eardrums and echoed in my memory, even as I wandered downstairs later to entice one of the saloon’s regulars. I guessed that he was a cowboy of some kind.
My head still spun from Max’s torture as the patron took my hand and led me upstairs.
I woke up wrapped in the cowboy’s strong embrace. The darkness surrounded us as cold air streamed in through the window. He had left it open.
I slowly twisted out of his grasp. He groaned and shifted for a moment, but then returned to his deep sleep. Even in his dreams, he seemed to think that he owned me.
I stared down at his cruelly handsome face and an idea formed in my mind. I left the bed, keeping a close watch on him as he slept. My rare moment of freedom seemed too good to be true.
I covered my naked, shivering body with the silk robe that Max bought me. He had acted so kind on my first few days there.
Shaking my head, I stared out the window at the empty street and relished in my solitude. Max took every opportunity to ensure that I was always in bad company, yet there I stood alone in defiant victory. I imagined the wonderful things of my childhood as silence surrounded me. How I longed to be truly alone, even if just for a night.
A fire burned slowly in the pit of my stomach as I thought of what would become of me if I never left the hell hole. The mattress creaked as the cowboy stirred in his sleep again. I stared back at him and touched a tender bruise on my upper arm. I winced at the memories of the terribly long evening. He said that he liked skinny girls the best because they were easier to toss around.
I glanced at the knife resting on the nightstand and hesitated before picking it up. I stood over my sleeping tormenter with the knife still in my hand.
My Papa’s voice echoed in my mind. He told me that I was brave once.
“Am I brave, Papa?” I whispered.
I held the blade gently against the sleeping cowboy’s neck. I almost smiled at his helplessness. He was young like I was, but he had killed more men and beaten more women than he cared to count. Or, so he said. I decided to take his word for it.
Tears marred my vision as I held my breath. I quickly sliced deep into his neck. I jumped away from the blood-soaked sheets. His choking and sputtering ended within seconds. I backed into the wall, staring at the dead man. I was sure that he would thank me in hell for the mercy of a quick death.
I set the bloody knife back down on the table, got dressed, and took his hat and coins off the nightstand. I felt the hairs at the back of my neck stand on end as I opened the window fully and sat on the ledge. I secured the hat on my head then slid off. My feet slammed down hard on the street.
In a daze, I looked up at the window I had just jumped from. My room hovered above me like an evil spell.
Max would awaken in another hour. The cowboy’s horse was still hitched at the saloon’s post. Though I was relieved at the easy escape, I scoffed at his sloppiness. Only the lowest class of fellas tied their horses to the front of a building. He would not be doing that anymore. I jingled his coins in my purse. That time I smiled.
I untied the horse from the post and allowed the animal to sniff my hand. He snorted.
Cringing, I mounted the saddle in the clumsiest possible way, nearly falling off. The lantern at the front of the saloon brought light to the blood on my hand. I stared at the dark, sticky liquid against my pale skin.
“I’m a murderer,” I whispered.
Everything had changed with the slicing of a blade. I had been baptized with my victim’s blood. Rather than being horrified by my sin, I only felt the urge to flee.
I guided my new mount down the street with shaking hands. I had only ridden mules on the farm until that point; I had no idea what temperament the horse possessed or how he would respond to my commands. I urged him into a trot and hoped for the best. If I fell off and broke my neck, it would be a better fate than staying at the saloon.
As I grew accustomed to my new mount, I urged him into a canter. Riding a mule was much smoother than riding a horse, but riding a horse made me feel powerful. I began to feel like a dove released from its cage as we flew across the fields.
At the sight of my home on the hill, my heart fluttered. The barren fields of my family’s property mirrored the emptiness that encompassed me since the day that I stepped into the saloon.
When I arrived at the house that was once a haven of family, laughter, and warmth, I tied the horse to the post and travelled up the stairs to the front door. I turned the knob and was proud of Samantha, our hired servant, for bolting it shut. I went to the rear of the house and kicked in the shoddy back door.
When it opened, I met the wide black eyes of Samantha. She stood in the middle of the kitchen holding a knife. On the table behind her, a little flame flickered on a candle’s wick.
“Mary!” she cried.
She stared at me as though I were a ghost. It made me feel like I was already dead.
“Samantha,” I breathed.
“Oh my God, it’s really you.”
“I-I killed a man at the saloon tonight. I can’t stay here for long, but I came here to give you the money that I took off the scoundrel.”
Samantha set the knife down on the table and took a step toward me. Tears streamed down her kind face.
“It’s blood money,” she said.
“It is money all the same. It will last you the year.”
“Oh, Mary. They’ll hunt ya down like a rabid dog. Where in God’s name will ya go?”
“I don’t know, but I have a horse and some money. I can go find better work in a different city. One far away. Please, be wise with that cash.”
“I may have been born a slave, but I ain’t no fool, Mary.”
We stared at one another in the darkness and a chill settled over me. I was not much better than an intruder to her. My heart sank at the knowledge that we had become like strangers. I saw what I became in her eyes, even though I endured hell to provide for my sister and for her.
“I know you ain’t a fool, Samantha. I want to see my little Becky one more time before I leave.”
Samantha took the money and let me pass through the kitchen. She was the true lady of the house. I travelled quietly up the stairs leading up to the bedroom that we all shared once. Unspeakable grief broke through the numbness when I found my little sister sleeping soundly beneath thick blankets. I covered my mouth as I gasped.
Her dark, silky hair draped over the pillow. I longed to stay with her forever, but the monsters would find us there if I did. Max would make her and Samantha pay if he ever found out that they were hiding me. No one was safe when he needed to prove something to himself.
“I am so sorry, Becky,” I whispered.
I bent down and gently kissed her cheek. She would soon be twelve; I would miss an entire lifetime of adventures and misadventures with her. I stepped away, drinking in the sight of the little girl that I might never see again. My attempts to provide for her ruined me, forcing us further apart.
I made my way back to the kitchen where Samantha was wiping her eyes. I longed to hug her, but I was a cursed thing with the cowboy’s blood still on me.
“Thank you for being a good friend and for taking care of Becky.”
Samantha shook her head as she studied me.
“That there pretty dress screams saloon girl. The cowboy hat won’t make you no cowboy ‘neither. Wait here.”
She returned with a pile of my father’s old clothes. I winced at the painful memories of him. I had no other choice but to create a disguise if I hoped to survive, even if that meant resurrecting his clothing.
Samantha brought out a wet cloth so I could wipe off the blood and then she helped me dress. Papa’s clothes were ridiculously big on me, but they made me appear slouchy and boyish. It was the perfect disguise.
We tied my hair up into a tight bun.
“Don’t let it fall out of your hat, y’hear?”
“You’ll catch your death out there if you don’t pack blankets.”
She handed me a folded blanket.
“Papa did this for years and you were always sayin’ how much he and I are alike.”
She didn’t look at me.
“His pack is over there. Ya better take his pistol, too. I’ve kept it loaded with one bullet, but I reckon you’ll need it more than we will. Buy a shotgun down the road.”
“You still have the rifle loaded, right?” I asked.
“Yes, of course.”
She retrieved the pack and dropped it at my feet. She wrapped her arms around me and I backed away.
“I’m a murderer now.”
“I’m not letting you leave me without a proper hug.”
I embraced Samantha, savouring her comforting scent and the feel of her soft body. After months of being touched by rough men, her warm touch was like a moment in heaven.
“I wish I didn’t have to go.”
“We’re gonna miss ya somethin’ fierce, but we’d rather have ya alive than dead. I’ll tell Becky that ya came by to see her.”
“Tell her I love her.”
Samantha smiled sadly at me.
I took my Papa’s pack and stepped out of my home for the very last time. Samantha gently closed the door, shutting me out from all that was familiar. I stood under the black sky surrounded by cold air, like a soul cast out of heaven. Realizing that the pack was too bulky to ride with, I left it on the doorstep, only taking the blanket with me. I would worry about buying supplies once I was far enough away from Sallysford.
As I remounted my stolen horse, I realized that I was the farthest thing from a dove set free. I was fleeing prey.
…. to be continued
Don’t want to wait for the next chapter? You can purchase The Broken & The Foolish on Amazon in ebook or in print. Check it out here. Thank you so much for reading! ❤