Since I’ve recently posted about the time frame where I wrote The Broken & The Foolish in my memoir series, I thought it might be fun to post a snippet from this novel. I feel a lot of nostalgia when I think back to writing this moody tale in a few different cafes in Vancouver. I hope you enjoy the excerpt!
TW: Please be advised that this is a Western novel about an abused young woman who seeks revenge on abusers. If this ain’t your cup of tea, I advise you to ride on past this one.
As the horses and I travelled across the state, I felt a strong desire to treat someone else the way I had been treated. I longed to inflict justice on a man who really deserved it. A bastard needed to pay his dues that day and I would be the one to collect.
I followed a stagecoach at a significant distance for the better part of an hour. Surely there was some fancy man in there who mistreated women for his own pleasure. I could spot that type from a mile away.
To my annoyance, two riders emerged from the direction of the town and were riding toward me. I sighed loudly and willed for them to pass by me without any nonsense. Instead, the riders’ horses slowed to match the pace of mine. For someone who longed to be left alone, I sure seemed to attract people.
I met the faces of a black boy and girl. They appeared to be around my age.
The girl frowned at me after I stared at them for a little too long.
“Good day for a ride,” I said, forcing a smile.
“Where ya headed?” asked the boy.
I cleared my throat.
“What’s it to you?”
“We just be wonderin’,” said the girl.
They seemed far from predatory, but their eyes held a devious glint. It did not appear that they would be leaving me alone anytime soon. I slowed the horses to a brisk walk.
“Well, where are you headed then?” I asked.
“You’re not following that stage coach, are you?” asked the girl with a shrewd grin.
My jaw dropped open. They laughed.
“We were planning on robbing it,” said the boy, trying in vain to hide a grin.
“How about that! I’ve met two people as crazy as I am.”
“We’re not as crazy as you are,” said the girl. “Look at you, traveling all alone.”
“She’s right,” said the boy. “Ain’t no one rob a coach on his own unless you be Black Bart.”
“Who said that I was going to rob the coach?” I asked.
“Let’s stop beating around the bush when there’s money to be had,” said the girl.
I opened my mouth to protest, but the boy cut me off with another question.
“Are you a good shot?” he asked.
“My aim’s as decent as anyone’s. Mind if I join ya?”
The two strangers glanced at one another before studying me intently.
“You seem like a spoiled white girl running away from her parents, to be honest,” said the girl.
“Hardly someone who would rob a coach, right?” I asked, rolling my eyes.
“Well, she did say she’s a decent shot,” said the boy.
I eyed them.
“My parents are dead. I’m already a murderer and a horse thief. I may as well add stagecoach robbing to the list. I’m short on funds and I was planning to mug one of the male passengers once they got off the coach. I just don’t want to hurt nobody, especially not the innocent.”
“That so?” asked the girl, scrutinizing me.
I barely believed what I had done myself. My days of being a victim were long gone. I had become something else.
“If you don’t want to die young, you can’t be robbin’ people alone,” warned the boy.
“Spare me the lecture. Are you two with me or not?”
“You can join us if you agree to our rules,” said the girl.
I nodded. They seemed to have more stealing experience than I did.
“Right. Fair enough.”
“It’s more than fair.”
I pulled the red bandana from around my neck and pulled it to just below my eyes. I tied the knot tight against my head.
“Maybe ya ain’t so stupid, after all,” said the girl.
Her eyes sparkled with mischief.
“Time will tell,” I said dryly.
They covered their faces with bandanas as well.
“Like Jesse James,” I said.
“Only better,” said the girl.
“Let’s plan this out right before we ride blindly for that thing,” I said. “We need to all know what we’re doing.”
“We already had a plan,” snapped the boy, glancing at the girl.
We put our heads together for a moment to make a strategy for the best way to execute the robbery. Then they kissed one another like there was no tomorrow before we rode for the coach.
I prayed that the driver wouldn’t hear us approaching, but then I quickly realized that God wouldn’t heed the request of a criminal. He must have wondered why I kept trying to speak with him just before I did something stupid.
I took a deep breath to calm my nerves as the dark fella took the lead and rode ahead of us. He insisted that he was the leader, but the girl seemed to be the mastermind of the two. There was no way in hell I’d shack up with a boy who undermined me in that way. Not after finding my freedom.
The girl cast me a fiery glare, as though she could read my thoughts, and then rode ahead until she was on the boy’s heels.
He rode alongside the coach and yelled at the driver to stop. The girl rode just behind him and pointed the barrel of her shotgun at the driver while he cursed at them.
“If ya don’t shut up, I’ll blow your hands off!” she yelled.
The coach horses halted as the driver pulled on their reins. A new sense of terror filled my veins as I followed along with the robbery. It was not only sadistic to shoot someone’s hands into a bloody pulp; it would also prevent him from finding decent work for the rest of his life. He’d be better off dead.
My thoughts travelled back to Alano. I had no idea if my clumsy shot had permanently maimed him. I would never know what became of him.
The driver stepped down with his hands over his head. He seemed more angry than afraid. The passengers, on the other hand, screamed and cried hysterically.
“Everybody out now!” shouted the girl.
“Do what they say. Give them what they ask,” said the driver.
That was where I came in. I fixed the barrel of my rifle on the wide-eyed victims as they lined up in front of the coach. Many of them were women and I hated being the cause of their distress. Some of them wept as though it would be their last day on earth. They were not the type of people that I wanted to rob. I longed to go after the types of men who used women after dark. I agreed to be a part of a despicable act with no justification.
My stomach tightened as the other two outlaws ordered everyone to take off their shoes and empty out their pockets and bags.
I mistakenly locked eyes with the driver. He looked like he wanted to kill me; he probably sensed that I was just a scared girl attempting to be a bandit.
I looked away feeling more like an idiot than an outlaw as the other two did all the work. Once they collected everyone’s money and jewelry, the boy ordered them to get back inside the coach and be on their way.
“You’d all best never show your face around here again if you don’t want to be hanged,” warned the driver.
“Kill him,” said the boy.
“No!” I cried. “Leave him be. These people need to be on their way. Let’s save killing for the real bastards out there.”
The boy looked at me like I was insane. The girl swiftly elbowed him in the ribs.
“Listen to Miss Kindness right here. We’ve got what we wanted, sweetheart. Let’s just get outta here as quick as we came.”
The three of us rode away like sly foxes who just devoured all the eggs in a henhouse. A gunshot chased us while the driver’s threat echoed in my mind. The other two rode ahead of me and I regretted my decision to keep the second horse. Two animals slowed a rider down considerably and that would not do for someone living a fast life.
We rode through the next town, leaving a cloud of dust behind us. The so-called leader and his accomplice veered off the road. I followed them into a forest, wondering for a moment if I should stop and ride in the other direction.
We rode through the thick trees until they drifted deeper into the woods. I imagined a scenario where they would slit my throat in the darkness, take my horses, and enjoy the bounty for themselves, but I took the chance. I needed some coins, even though it hurt my conscience to think of who they had been robbed from.
They slowed when a tiny log house appeared. I followed suit.
“Home sweet home,” announced the girl.
“Well, I suppose I should go,” I said. “Give me whatever money you think I deserve. I didn’t do that much.”
The girl laughed.
“Of course, you’ll be stayin’ the night with us,” said the girl. “It’s no trouble, Miss–”
“Too pure a name to be an outlaw,” muttered the boy. “Name’s Jeremy. My woman here is Lydia.”
“Pleasure,” I said with a tired smile. “What a day.”
“Robbing a coach full of screaming people is no small feat,” sighed Lydia.
I felt a sense of belonging with them, even though we barely knew one another. It was a nice reprieve from total isolation, but I did not want to become too accustomed to the feeling.
“I have to say that it’s intriguing to meet my first female rebel,” mused Lydia. “It’s rare to come across a lone female traveler, especially one so lovely.”
“You two are the real deal.”
She leaned forward with a hard look.
“Killing a man is probably the gravest crime anyone could commit. You’re an outlaw through and through, girl.”
I dismounted, unsaddled the gelding, and took the pack off the mare. I gave each horse a good pat down. They both deserved a good rest.
“Come on in and let’s make a group effort to whip up the outlaw special,” said Lydia.
“What might that be?” I asked.
“Hearty potato and squirrel stew,” grinned Jeremy.
“That sounds like the best idea in the world,” I sighed.
The thought of eating freshly cooked meat made my stomach grumble, even if it was squirrel. As we worked to prepare a meal in the small kitchen, we chatted about our birthplaces and our childhoods. All three of us were born in Missouri, but we grew up a world away from one another. Their parents were slaves, but both of their fathers fought for the Yankees in the war, so that they could be freed. They fell in battle just like my Papa had, so we shared some important things in common.
We were just trying to make our own way in the Wild West. I still somewhat felt like a little girl pretending to be a grown up, but Lydia was right. I was a criminal through and through.
“I wonder how many other deviants there are out there trying to survive on stealin’,” mused Jeremy.
“Probably a lot,” I said.
We all sat down at the sturdy oak table to steaming bowls of stew. It smelled delicious, despite the simple ingredients. I leaned close to my bowl as I devoured the meal.
“You have a man, Mary?” asked Lydia.
“I’m not interested in gettin’ hitched anytime soon. Maybe never.”
“You sure about that?” she asked with a playful grin.
I thought of Alano again, wishing that there was some way to forget him.
“I’ve had enough of men for a while. No disrespect intended to you, Jeremy.”
The couple laughed, taking a moment to kiss one another. I bit my lip as a blush reddened my face. I hadn’t seen a lot of genuine affection between two people in my life, aside from my parents. It seemed both sacred and elusive to me, but there it was right before my eyes. I felt unworthy to witness it after what I had done at the saloon.
It was then that my fear of being followed returned.
“This isn’t the hardest place to find,” I said warily. “Do you think anyone might have followed us here? Another bandit might spot us and try to rob us. Or worse.”
“If we do hear anyone approach, we’ve all got guns and horses. We can shoot them and run if we feel our hiding place has been compromised.”
“Voice of wisdom,” said Lydia with a wink.
“Where are ya goin’ from here?” asked Jeremy.
“Well, I haven’t quite figured out where I’m going just yet, but I have some ideas.”
“Living by your own terms. That must be something,” breathed Lydia.
She leaned forward as a childlike interest widened her hazel eyes. She was a beautiful girl. She made me feel like a scrawny, pale rat in comparison.
“I will probably make my way out to the Ozarks. It will be easy to hide out there for a while. I’ll pick up a few supplies and do a lot of huntin’ while I stay there all summer. Maybe longer.”
“Sounds awful lonely,” said Jeremy.
He stood up and fetched a tall pitcher, bringing it over to the table with a grin.
“Just a little for Mary. We don’t want her ridin’ out tomorrow mornin’ with a sour stomach.”
I smirked at the subtle hint that I was expected to leave early the next day.
He poured each of us a half glass of the potent liquid. I took a sip and wrinkled my nose as the strong fluid rushed down my throat and burned it.
They laughed at me again.
“Still getting used to this drinking business,” I confessed.
“You’ll need to drink more if you want to be able to live with yourself,” said Jeremy.
“Ain’t that the truth,” agreed Lydia.
Our conversation grew livelier as we told one another about our most embarrassing moments and then about some of the most memorable folks we met along our travels.
Another thing we had in common was that we all killed someone. It was a gruesome connection, but we told ourselves that we did what we needed to do to survive. Though Jeremy’s reasoning for killing seemed to be a little less about survival and more about the sheer pleasure of it. I would pray that his violent streak never turned on Lydia, even though they seemed every bit the pair of love birds in the moment.
As they drank more and began talking nonsense, I sat back and thought about everything I had done over the last few months. I was not a seasoned outlaw yet, but I had done enough to separate myself from God. I didn’t regret killing the young cowboy, but that didn’t make me feel any less dirty for doing it. I could not deny the way that my mind drifted to murder the moment that Alano tried to stop me from leaving. God seemed to enjoy putting people like me in situations that forced them to act out in violence, only to be plagued with guilt for the rest of their lives. It made no sense to me.
I longed for an in-depth conversation on the matters of God and spirituality, but my new companions were in no condition to have a conversation about anything as they sipped more of their moonshine.
“Thank you both for your kindness,” I said with a smile. “I know life hasn’t been the easiest for either of you, and yet you invited me inside to share a meal. I’ll never forget this.”
“Oh, it’s our pleasure,” drawled Lydia. “We don’t get guests too often and you’ve been a doll. There’s a blanket on the rocking chair that will keep you real cozy tonight.”
Jeremy tossed me a few coins.
“You’ll need those,” he said with a grin.
I felt warm and light-headed by the time I stood up and made my way over to the chair. I unfolded the blanket on the seat and wrapped it around my shoulders.
Jeremy and Lydia retreated to their bed across the room. I heard kissing and heavy breathing as I watched their shadowy forms move from the doorway to their bed. I looked away to avoid being an even worse person than I already was. Then, I rocked myself to sleep and dreamed about days past on the farm with my baby sister.
The sun’s first rays streamed in through the open window the next morning as I woke up with a contented smile. I savoured the feel of my cozy cocoon before standing up to face the day. I longed to say good-bye to Jeremy and Lydia, but when I peered into their room, they lay together in a tangled embrace.
A pang sliced into my stomach as I folded the blanket, gathered my things, and left the house. I hoped that they would be careful, but even if they weren’t, I was sure that their quick wits would get them out of any bad situation.
I saddled up my chestnut gelding, deciding to leave the bay mare behind. Lydia’s horse was on the older side; she would need a younger mount in the coming months. I kissed the bay’s soft muzzle and then climbed onto the chestnut’s back. I rode through the woods back toward the open road.
Do you want to read more? You can purchase the whole story here!
I enjoyed reading the excerpt. It reminds me of a video game I play called Red Dead Redemption.
That’s really cool! And thank you so much for reading. 🙏
Quite interesting excerpt. I enjoyed reading it. Have you published this book?
Thank you so much for reading! It was certainly a crazy era for those who lived in the wild west. yes, I have published it! 🙂 It’s on Amazon.
The link is here! if you’re interested. 🙂 https://www.amazon.com/Broken-Foolish-Sara-Kjeldsen-ebook/dp/B076G9FSP2/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1677420839&sr=8-1
Ok, thanks for sharing the link.
You’re very welcome. 🙂