Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Smokehouse -- by Ben Hernandez

The sun still seemed high in the late afternoon and its heat weighed heavy on the ground baking the granite dust and sending up little dancing waves. It chased all the creatures into the shade except for the three riders out in front of the ranch house.

“McNeil, come on out and talk to us!” shouted one of the riders. “We need to finish what we started back in town!” shouted another.

Inside the house Frank McNeil turned to his son. “Out the back door now and get yourself in the smokehouse. Wait there until I come and fetch you.” Tears welled up in the boy’s eyes as his father handed him his army revolver. “C’mon now, do as I say.”

“Yes, sir,” said the boy. He looked down at his father’s gun. It was a dull charcoal color and smelled of oil. He wrapped his fingers around the smooth, walnut grip and felt the edge of the trigger. His father looked down at him. “Samuel, go now!”

The boy moved, quick through the house, turning back once to see his father jamming cartridges into his rifle, before he slipped out the back door. Up on a short rise was the smokehouse and he ran to it holding the revolver in both hands. He reached the weathered door of the brick building, rotated the iron latch and when he entered blackness overtook his sight. He stood in the cool room for a moment to let his eyes adjust then found a place in the corner on the floor and sat down against the wall.

Samuel set the pistol beside him and wrapped his arms around his knees. Tiny blades of light cut through the timbers of the rough-hewn door spreading out in broad stripes across the floor and walls.

There were the voices again, muffled and far off, the rough and ugly sounds of the men out in the front yard. His father called out from inside the house now and the boy slowed his breathing and strained to hear, but the blood beat too loudly in his ears to make out the words. He heard the horses chattering and beating their hooves in the corral. Again, the men in the yard. His father answering.

The report of a single gun brought the boy to attention. More shots followed. They were tiny firecracker pops in the distance. Glass shattered with each one. Then nothing. It was minutes before he heard laughing and sounds of things breaking inside the house. His mother’s piano was being played.

Then a voice called out clearer now, closer. “Look around for his boy!”

Samuel lifted the army revolver off the ground and held it to his chest as the lug, lug sound of thick boots came near to the brick smokehouse. The stride was too short to be his father’s and his father had no use for spurs. The boots stopped at the door of the smokehouse. “Boy, come on out,” said the man. He chuckled, “I won’t harm you.”

Samuel was motionless, his fearful eyes opened wide in the dimness of the room. The man outside shifted his weight and the grit beneath his boot ground against the hard-packed dirt. The door latch began to move then unlock and the door opened. The giant silhouette of the man filled the doorway. He ducked to enter and as he straightened up the end of his rifle barrel caught the meat hooks hanging from the rafters causing them to ring out like miniature church bells. The boy got to his feet as the man called once more, “Boy! No use in hiding in here. Come out where I can see you.”

Still in the shadows of the corner Samuel cranked the hammer of the Colt back with his hand and leveled it. The man paused upon hearing the mechanism just before the boy pulled the trigger. The gun roared inside the room as the sound of the blast slammed against the walls and now the boy heard nothing except a high-pitched scream inside his head. The man lay on his back across the threshold of the smokehouse with one hand clawing at his shirt and the other gripping the lower hinges of the door. His boot heels dug into the floor as he tried to push himself out away from the boy. The powder smoke hung in the air a moment before being drawn through the open door into the heat.

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