Mary had a little lamb.
Its fleece was white as snow …
Oh, wait! That’s not original, is it?
When I wrote THE GUNSLINGER (below) a reviewer said that it was reminiscent of John Ford's movie “Stagecoach”. He was right. That’s because people thrown together behave in predictable ways. Whether the action is played out in castle, a stagecoach, a foxhole, or a space ship, people are going to ask questions, form a hierarchy, create and resolve tensions. It’s what people do.
But just because the circumstance is universal, doesn't mean the story must be unoriginal.
“… and everywhere that Mary went
That lamb stepped on her toe!”
THE GUNSLINGER ~ N.K. Wagner
“You haven’t told us why you’re traveling to Yellow Springs, Mr. Coffee,” the calico clad, buxom Mrs. Hargrove shouted above the stagecoach’s mechanical racket. It wasn’t the first time the gray haired matron had pointed that out.
“No, ma’am,” the black-suited Mr. Coffee replied. John Coffee had never been comfortable in crowds, and he was feeling right crowded just now. Four days stuffed inside this bone-rattling box-on-wheels enduring the well intentioned prying of the Reverend and Mrs. Ezekiel Hargrove was enough to turn a peaceful man violent—and John Coffee wasn’t a peaceful man. He’d made a game of polite non-answers to impertinent questions for the past three days. It’d kept him reasonably amused when he wasn’t busy being annoyed. But the game had worn thin. “I have an appointment”—he tucked back the right front edge of his coat, revealing a plain, worn holster and the equally worn grip of a .45—“with the sheriff.”
“Violence is never a good thing, Mr. Coffee,” Reverend Hargrove said with a tremor in his voice. Mrs. Hargrove’s expression had turned wide-eyed. She clutched her husband’s arm for comfort.
“I agree.” Coffee smiled. He tried to make it reassuring, but he didn’t have much call for reassuring smiles in his line of work. He suspected his effort failed. “But it makes me my livin’, Reverend. I ‘preciate it’s not your way, but some folks just don’t know any better. An’ when a man can’t defend himself from folks like that, he hires me.”
“Will you be helping some poor soul in Yellow Springs?” Mrs. Hargrove asked.
“That’s not my intention. No, ma’am.”
While the Hargroves digested that bit of hard-won information about their traveling companion, the gunslinger braced his booted foot against the opposite bench to keep from being thrown into his companions’ laps. He hadn’t seen Yellow Springs’ sheriff in close to ten years. They hadn’t parted on friendly terms, and he didn’t know what kind of reception to expect.
The stagecoach bounced down the familiar, sun-bleached main street of a town he’d never seen before. Dust, fine as talcum powder, coated every inch of the jouncing, creaking vehicle and its passengers as the driver hauled the four-horse team to a stop outside the Stage Depot.
“Yellow Springs, New Mexico, folks,” the driver sang out.
Across the street, Coffee saw a familiar figure push his way past the saloon’s swinging doors and step out onto the raised, covered boardwalk. A flash of sunlight reflected from the badge on his chest as he stepped down into the street.
A tumbleweed blew across his path and rolled out of town.
“Why’re you here, John?” the sheriff demanded as the gunslinger’s boots touched the ground.
The gunslinger held out his hand. The sheriff was slow to clasp it, but when he did, Coffee pulled him into a hard hug.
“Momma’s sent me to fetch you home—to say goodbye,” the gunslinger murmured.
“One hour,” Bob Coffee told his brother. He glanced up at the stagecoach, raised an eyebrow. “I own a couple of horses. We’ll ride.”