A Fast Pony
by Sandra Hall
It was an insane nightmare. This was not happening to her! She wasn’t lying on the dirt floor of a filthy shack with two chickens that kept pecking at her bloody knees. Soon she’d wake up and her torment would end.
“Oh God,” she cried and tried to pray but the sound of horse snorts and hooves made her body freeze and her heart race in her chest. They were back! She scrambled to her feet ignoring the pain in her knees and feet. They weren’t going to catch her totally dejected and humiliated. She eased down in one of the rickety wooden chairs near the big table, which was the only other piece of furniture.
“Hey,” one of the other girls hissed at her. “Get back on the floor like he said.”
She looked at her swollen bare feet. He’d taken her shoes and stomped them until she cried like a baby begging for mercy. “That maniac,” she mumbled from scabbed lips, and tears spilled down her cheeks.
“Get back down and pretend you are asleep. He won’t bother you if you don’t talk back so much.”
“No, he has to let us go! I’m not living on the floor with chickens.”
“You want to die, Veronica? You want us all to die because you got too much pride to lie on the floor?”
“We aren’t going to die.” She was bound to think of some way out of that sick man’s aberration.
“Look what he did to your legs and feet when you tried to run. He did that so he wouldn’t have to kill you. People who ain’t ready to kill you will do awful things to control you.”
“What?” What did she know about criminals, and what they might do? “You saying give in and do whatever they want?” I was inconceivable! All her life somebody was trying to control her, make her weak. And she’d never given in, at least not fully.
“Well, what you going to do with busted legs? And your feet! Veronica, get back on the floor with the rest of us and keep your mouth shut.”
“Judy-” She turned sharply toward the noise outside the door. Drunken laughter and heavy feet. “God,” she whispered and looked at her dirty and bloodied skirts. She was in no shape to take another beating. Closing her eyes, she slipped her body down to the soiled floor.
The door flung open and two men stumbled in, they both wore six shooters. One pulled Veronica up, lifting her by the waistband of her skirt. “Girl, who busted your mouth?”
“Deke’s been at it again,” the other one snickered.
“When will these girls learn not to piss that fella off?” He laughed then pulled Veronica up against him. “You the one that tried to get away. What’s the matter, you don’t like it here?”
“Get your hands off me,” she said even as her body began to tremble.
“You think you too good to be touched by the likes of me?”
“What?” He slapped her face hard. Veronica screamed and grabbed her inflamed cheek. “What you say to me?”
“Hey, Sam,” his partner cautioned a bit uneasily. “Calm down.”
“You heard what she said, Leroy. How is trash like her too good for me to touch?”
“Maybe you should stop asking girls questions you don’t want the answer to.” Leroy shuffled over to the chair vacated by Veronica and let out a loud breath, stretching out his short thick legs. “You got that bottle on you?”
“What’s that bulge in your coat pocket?” Leroy asked. “I paid for half-”
“Hey!” A strong hard voice boomed into the shack. Sam’s hold on Veronica’s middle tightened, and they both stood frozen as the wide shouldered man stomped inside. He wore chaps with rough work britches. Veronica noticed the spurs on his boots were covered with blood. His eyes went from Veronica to the other three girls sitting on the floor. Only Veronica held his hard gaze. “Well now,” he said. His voice was even. “What do you think you’re up to?”
“I’m not up to anything,” she answered. “They just came in and-”
“She was trying to get out, Dick.” Leroy said. As if he suddenly remembered she was right there, he pushed her roughly away from his body. “Ain’t that right, Sam?”
Sam smiled and didn’t say a word.
“He’s lying!” Veronica shouted. “They came in and he grabbed me and hit me!”
“What!” Dick cast hard eyes on Leroy. On his belt was a bowie knife. His hand moved close to it.
“Dick!” Leroy moved toward the door. “She’s the one grabbed hold of me! Tell him, Sam!”
“Sam, you gonna tell me something or not?” His eyes remained fixed on Leroy. Sam made a short snickering sound. “Girl, did you lie to me?”
“No.” Her blood ran cold in her veins. What would he do to her if he didn’t believe her? “How can I escape when Deke just about crippled me?”
“Of course, you’d try to escape. It’s only natural,” he said.
“But I wasn’t doing anything, I swear.”
“I’m talking about why he had hold of you.” Dick kept his mean gaze on Leroy.
“I was on the floor like you said when they burst in. He snatched me up and hit me.”
“Hit you?” Dick turned from Leroy to study on her. “Where he hit you? “Across my face.”
“Dick, you know me. I been with you for years! How you gonna listen to this slut? She was the one pressing up on me.” Sam began to laugh and got to his feet. “It’s the truth!” Leroy watched Dick’s hand move to the grip of the bowie knife. “Tell him, Sam!”
“You hit her.” Dick stated as if he accepted it as fact. He touched her face with gentle fingers. He acted like he didn’t notice the fear and repulsion rippling through her body. “Is that all he did?” he asked her. “Tell me.”
“Dick! You crazy old fool!” Leroy pulled his gun and fired. Dick drew the knife and advanced on him. Rather than shoot and miss again, Leroy ran toward the door. Dick caught him as he yanked the door open and put him in a belly to back cross face hold. “No! Dick, don’t! Plea-” Dick cut his throat from ear to ear and let him bleed to death on his chest.
“Oh my God,” Judy uttered before she fainted. Her head thumped hard on the floor. The other girls continued to lie still on the floor.
Sam began to laugh again.
Dick let the body fall to the floor and stood back to stare at it. After cursing and spitting on the floor, he dragged it outside. “Sam, get out here and bury this carcass.”
“Get it done now,” Dick said entering the shack again. He had the half bottle Leroy attempted to hide from his partner. He slammed the door shut and locked it after Sam strolled out to do as ordered. He sat at the table and guzzled down the whiskey. He burped then rose from the table. The eyes he cast on Veronica were bright and he was smiling. He walked slowly over to her and took her hand. “Veronica,” he said and dragged her reluctant, cold body to his.
“Oh God,” she choked and felt weak at her sore knees. He held her, supporting her in his arms. Veronica’s heart caught in her chest, and found it difficult to breath. It was just a nightmare, she told herself, and soon she’d wake up.
He’d made her light the first bundle of dynamite with his rifle. He threatened to cut her belly if she refused him again. He sent the rest of the gang to board the derailed train. He stayed back to make sure she appreciated his handy work.
She felt weak at the knees and collapsed. She wanted to puke as she tried to cover her nose against the awful smell of smoke.
“Get up.” He sounded angry. “Get up and watch.”
“No, Dick. I can’t.”
It wasn’t like rustling cattle, or robbing banks. Wrecking a train was too much destruction. There was no way someone wasn’t dead. And if they weren’t dead, Deke and the others were going to kill them for fun. He’d made her a killer. Didn’t matter that she prayed to God. He’d chosen to ignore her and let Dick triumph over her again. She was truly in hell. She sobbed pounding on the rocky hillside which was their vantage point, where she expertly fired his rifle to blow up the tracks. A sharp rock pushed painfully into her knee, somehow that stopped the flow of tears and her mind began to focus. The rest of her life wasn’t going to be dynamite and carnage. She turned her head to look at the old lunatic that was trying to take her life, the precious life her mother had given her.
“What are you crying about? Just a bunch of soldiers. You did good work, sweetheart. I knew you were the one when I first laid eyes on you. But you gotta stop all this weak stuff.”
“You’re the devil,” she told him rising to her feet. He laughed throwing his head back like he always did when she got angry enough to dare call him names. With a rock she clutched hidden in her fist, she hit him in the throat. “Devil!” she screamed bringing her knee up to his crotch. He went down groaning and started making gagging sounds. She went to take his gun but he managed to fight her for it and squeezed off one shot. It was sure to bring at least Deke or John back up the hill. She had to move fast. With her elbow she punched his windpipe, he dropped the gun. He still had the bowie knife and he went for it. She shot him in the chest then ran to the horses. She considered running them all off but thought it might take too long, instead she just rode off maniacally on her pony, her heart pounding in her ears.
She was fleeing for her life, her sanity. She was riding a fast pony right out of hell.
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An independent novelist who lives and writes in her southeast Missouri hometown. She dabbles in historical westerns, paranormal, and adult contemporary love stories.