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The Red Sunset by Olley

Word Count 1,307

My effort inspired by the picuture. Thanks to Margaret P for her help and suggestions.

The saddle creaked as Johnny adjusted his butt to get comfortable. Below him Walt and Jose were circling the herd of horses at the end of the day’s drive. He was satisfied with what he saw.

Scott rode up to join him. “Looking good Johnny. We should reach Fort Yuma tomorrow right on time.”

Johnny glanced at this brother and smiled, he was feeling a mixture of pride and relief. “There was a time I thought Murdoch would never agree to the horse trading.  Gotta thank you Scott for backing me on this.”

“No thanks necessary little brother. You just need to back me when I push for Lancer going into that wine business I’ve got an eye on.”

Johnny snorted “Nah Scott he’ll trust you and those there figures and contracts of yours. But I’ll go all Madrid on him if you want.”

Scott laughed playfully punching Johnny’s arm. “Don’t underestimate yourself. He trusts you too Johnny and he is proud of you. This deal was all your idea. It was you who worked hard to convince him horse trading could be good business for Lancer. And it was you who negotiated the contract with the army so the delivery would fit in with the cattle drive. I’m just here for the ride.”

Johnny turned to watch the remuda; the horses he and Jose had caught and broke were in good condition. The three day drive had been un-eventful. He had planned the route to make sure of decent grazing and water along the way. Even so, he knew he owed Scott his brother had supported him in this venture and had willingly taken on his chores while he had worked the horses.

It was just over a year since he and Scott had heeded their father’s call. It had been difficult settling down leaving his Madrid ways behind. Now he was working hard at being Johnny Lancer a son Murdoch Lancer could trust and be proud of.

The deal with the army to supply good quality mounts was a start. Support for the idea had been hard won. He had learnt from watching and listening to Scott that sometimes quietly discussing things with their father got results.

“Lancer is cattle,” Murdoch had growled when Johnny first brought up the subject.

“Good businesses don’t have all their eggs in the same basket,” Johnny had said softly, damping down his temper, “Having a back-up plan isn’t just for range wars. What if cattle prices drop?”

Murdoch had frowned. For a moment Johnny was afraid another head butting round was about to break out but then, miracle of miracles, his father had agreed to study the contract.  A few days later Murdoch took him to one side and discussed the contract details and gave his approval.  It felt good to have his trust.

Murdoch had watched him put in the hours rounding up and breaking the wild horses and one night in lay in his bed exhausted, ‘Dios being watched and weighed up to see if I had the grit to see it through was like when I first started out.

The sun was now low the sky turning brilliant shades of red as if on fire. The sunset lit up the scene below him. The dust from the milling horses caught the light to match the sky. Johnny stood in his stirrups. “Whoee ain’t that as pretty as any picture.”

Scott looked between the herd and Johnny.

Two riders moved slowly through the red mist, “You should write this up in that journal you keep Scott. Me I’m gonn’a keep this picture in my mind to think on.”

“Is that what you do Johnny?  Store pictures as memories in your mind?”

“Sure got a few good ones to think back on.  Haven’t you?” Johnny sat back in the saddle.

Scott pushed his hat back, “Like what?”

Johnny pursed his lips closing his eyes for a moment. “Along the borders, there is a lot of desert, but after the rains flowers come out and it’s like a blanket of colour. Changes the usual cruel dry places into something else. Sure is a sight to see.”

Scott nodded, “I can still picture myself sailing single handed off Cape Cod the sun shining on the waves the water glittering like diamonds. Sculling along tasting the salt in the air.”

Johnny looked into his brother’s face. Sailing was something Scott had spoken about before he must really love and miss that part of his old life. “Didn’t take much to the sea the time I was on a ship, but you could go sailing on the Pacific if you have a mind to. What else do you picture?” Scott was too quiet about his life in Boston; Johnny suspected he was reluctant to sound boastful about his privileged upbringing.

Scott grinned. “Before the war, I remember going to the balls and parties, all the pretty girls in their fine gowns and jewellery glowing in the lamp light. Thinking back on it, it seems like watching a play.”

Johnny smiled back; imagining his well-bred brother all smarted up flirting and dancing with the girls. “I picture me an’ Mama looking into a mirror. It was a bit cracked and spotted. She liked me to brush her hair, an’ she would look into my eyes in the reflection.” He stopped; it was all so real. He held these good memories close to protect him from the bad that nudged him unexpectedly.

He turned Barranca. “We need to make camp Scott.”

Scott turned his horse too. “Hey, Johnny I’ve got another picture. The first time I saw Lancer.”

Johnny let out a laugh. “The prettiest place in the whole world.”


Later that night the starts were bright in a cloudless sky, Johnny lay on the ground thinking they were like his good memories in the black of his life as a pistolero. He pictured Mama standing over him looking in the mirror her fingers brushing through his hair.

 “Scott, you still awake?”

“Only just.” Scott rolled over.

“You ever been called a ragamuffin?”

Scott chuckled, “No, little brother, I never have. Are you thinking of Murdoch saying you needed your hair cut before delivering the horses? You’re doing business as a Lancer partner, not some ragamuffin.”

“Yes, Scott thinking of that. You reckon that’s a Scottish word?” Murdoch had spoken it with humour and that accent of his had crept in.

“Well I know it is an old English word usually used to describe a scruffy urchin.” Scott yawned and closed his eyes.                                                                                                                                                                                                        

 Johnny let the night sounds surround him. Scott began to breathe slow and steady; he was asleep. Smiling up at the star, Johnny again pictured his Mama running her fingers through his hair looking at him in the reflection of the mirror. Her voice was sweet and low, “I shall have to cut your hair Juanito. You don’t want to look like a ragamuffin.” She had said it which such affection. She had loved him and he her and now he knew where she had come by the word.

Johnny slept well that night; dreaming of himself as a boy with a new hair cut – walking hand in hand with his brown-eyed Mama through desert flowers lit by a red sunset.

Maureen Olley
April 2017.


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