Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Boy who Tampered with Saddles

Every town in the Squinty-eyed West had at least one scruffy-haired boy who liked to tamper with saddles. They were the hackers of their time, gifted yet bored, and could no sooner quit saddle-tampering than fly. You double-checked your straps in those days or risked a face full of mud.

And of all the boys to ever tamper with a saddle, Claudio was the boldest.

Claudio was the sort of lad who in broad daylight would swap the metal cinch rings to which the girth strap fastened, with loops of licorice painted gold. It would hold for a moment, just long enough for a cowboy to forget there was mischief in the world. Then as his right leg swung across, all his weight in the left stirrup and a center of gravity still perilous at best, the licorice loops would separate with a mushy sigh and the cowboy would get to learn how gravel tastes.

Most men chuckled and dusted themselves off, dismissing it as just scruffy-haired boys being scruffy-haired boys. But Snarlin' Ben McClintock wasn't most men.

Snarlin' Ben McClintock stood six foot five and must have weighed upwards of three hundred pounds. He crushed puppies beneath his boot heels for sport and bathed with sand and turpentine, when he bathed at all.

Snarlin' Ben let it be known around town that he'd eyebrow-scalp any scruffy-haired boy who even so much as glanced at his saddle. And then he proved it twice the very next day. (And the second boy was blind from birth and didn't even know where he was glancing.)

*************************

Two towns over, young Claudio heard the news. Chills raced up his spine and tingled the roots of his scruffy hair. He stood and set aside his work. (A saddle horn he was rigging with springs to fly up and bonk noses in a trot.) Claudio took a deep breath and closed his eyes. When he opened them they flashed with the steely glint of fatal resolve. He strode off to fetch his pony, and by the time he reached the barn, every other child in town walked with him--lock step, faces down--grim as a funeral dirge.

"So you'll be goin' off to tamper with Snarlin' Ben's saddle then?" Whispered one of the Allen Twins--the one who didn't walk with a limp.
"I reckon so." Claudio replied.
The other Allen Twin limped up to Claudio.
"Watch out for his knife hand." He said, placing a trembling hand on Claudio's shoulder. "He holds his knife in that hand."
"Thanks, I will." Claudio replied with a solemn nod.

Without a word Claudio turned and kissed Sally Ann on the cheek. She couldn't have been more astonished if he'd sprouted wings and bayed at the moon. In all the years she'd been tagging along, he'd done little more than throw dirt clods and call her things like "Squishy Face".

Claudio leapt up on his pony's bare back and gave them all a little wave.
"Don't go Claudio." Sally Ann cried, finding her voice only now at the end. "I don't want you to be eyebrow-scalped."

Claudio flashed her a crooked smile that turned sad even as it began.
"Sweet Sally Ann. That's what he does to boys who just glance at his saddle. I plan to do so much more."
Then he nudged his pony and was gone.

*******************************

Claudio was buried the next day, two towns over and without a name. The head stone read:

Here lies a boy who tampered with saddles.

One week later, in a child-like scrawl, this postscript appeared at the base of the stone:

He was beautiful and he was our friend.

12 Comments:

At 1:50 AM, Blogger Helga von porno said...

Damn this wind, it's blown dust in my eyes and made them water.

 
At 5:51 AM, Blogger Isaac said...

Never have I read a more perfect epitaph.

Claudio, Sally Ann, The Allen Twins. As far as I'm concerned, people such as them are the only kind worth a damn.

 
At 1:26 PM, Blogger Teaspoon said...

Served the brat right if you ask me.

You don't go round mess'n with a man's saddle. t'isn't right if you ask me.

 
At 2:08 PM, Blogger Monkeypotpie said...

Claudio was a punk-ass little bitch and deserved what he got.

I don't like clowns.

 
At 7:43 PM, Blogger Amandarama said...

I think I had Claudio (or his reincarnation) in one of my classes. Now I know why he was absent all the time.

 
At 8:50 PM, Blogger Ari said...

I can't believe you made me laugh at crushed puppies. I feel dirty.

 
At 11:57 PM, Blogger Lightning Bug's Butt said...

This was among your finest work, LF. I'm richer for having read it.

Oh, sorry about panicking a while back, you know, because you hadn't posted. Don't worry. I'm not queer or anything. I just like your work and stuff.

 
At 7:18 AM, Blogger Ghost Dog said...

What the legend doesn't tell you is what happened the day after Claudio was buried. Some say he rose from the earth as a zombie and terrorized all manner of about-to-be-seated persons by nearly sawing off chair legs, putting thumbtacks or glue on wagon seats, and shortening the legs of the barstools at the saloon. But then the other local zombies got all pissed off and lopped off his head.

 
At 4:58 PM, Blogger greta said...

Stunning.

That is all.

 
At 5:26 PM, Blogger ThePaula said...

They say that what distinguishes art from entertainment is that art elicits an emotional response. And that made me rather emotional.

 
At 1:33 AM, Blogger Latigo Flint said...

Dust is sneaky Helga Von Porno--cowboys and gunslingers have known it for some time now.

They're all dead now Isaac. Claudio sooner than the rest but identical ends in the end.

"T'ain't right." TSP. The word you're looking for is "T'ain't."

We all float down here Monkeypotpie.

Makes sense Amandarama. Boys who tamper with saddles tend to meet with tragic ends life after life.

I am the Grin in the Dark Ari. This is a well-documented fact.

It was the moist sludge at the bottom of a well about to run dry LBB--you were right to fret. Straight or no, at this point I certainly wouldn't refuse any offer to be held, hair-stroked and told everything is going to be alright.

Indeed Ghost Dog. Those darn mischievous undead.

Thank you Greta. I stunned an Australian. (That's going on my headstone.)

I ended up very proud of this one Paula, for reasons I can't explain. Thank you for that validation. I write wretched and sneer the entire time. It's such a brutal way to not make a living.

 
At 4:47 PM, Blogger Trevor Record said...

I sorta stole this ending for one of my stories, once.

 

Post a Comment

<< Home