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Hard Peace

“The way I figure it, we oughta clear Layton’s Pass by midday tomorrow and then be ready to head down into Harkersville by sundown.” Jacob Sterns waved the hunk of charred venison he was munching on toward the western horizon.

Abe Wilson looked toward the sunset, where the two peaks that formed Layton’s Pass blocked out the last of dying orange light. He was afraid something like this would happen. He never should have ridden back into Potter County.

Nostalgia had got the best of him.

“You sure that’s our best route?” Abe asked, turning his eyes back to the campfire. He didn’t have to see Jacob’s face to know the old man was annoyed.

“What are you talkin’ about, son?” Jacob growled. “Why, we been plannin’ this job for months! You know as well as I do that pass is our best chance to get in and out of town without nobody seein’ us.” He spat in the dirt and tore off a hunk of meat. “Besides, the only other way in is by the main road, over to the west.”

Jacob was the best partner Abe had ever had. The first one, and the older man had taught him all the ins and outs of the rustling trade. They should have stuck to cattle.

“Well, maybe we should just head back, then. Find another herd to pick through.” Abe knew the answer before Jacob spoke.

“You’re talkin’ like a fool, boy,” The voice was softer now, worn. “We can make more money on one bank job than we can in a year of rustlin’.”

The old man’s swagger had always scared Abe, just a little, but the uneasiness creeping over Jacob as he settled in there by the dying flames was even more unnerving

“What if they catch us?” the younger man asked, even though he knew … knew that the sheriff and his men had caught them. Well, caught Jacob, anyway.

With a single slug to the head.

“They ain’t gonna catch us, kid.” Jacob sounded sad now, and Abe wondered if he remembered.

Abe pawed at the ground near their fire with his foot, watched the flame fade to embers. He should put another log on, but he didn’t want to move, to lose these fleeting moments with Jacob.

“Jacob?” he said after a couple minutes in silence.

“Yeah?”

“Do you believe in ghosts?”

Jacob stared into the pit. “You’re a fool, boy.” It was almost a whisper.

“I know.” Five years was a long time. Abe wished he’d have stayed away longer. He stood and walked toward his bedroll, unfurled on the ground. “Try to get some rest, Jacob.”

A hawk screeched in the distance just before the sun winked out.

Published inFlash Fiction

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