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Eight battered and dusty Stetsons nodded in the orange glow of an autumn campfire. Bellies rumbled and eyelids drooped, but all the men were focused on a smooth voice at the head of the pit.

“His name was Alton Redgrave, but he soon enough came to be known simply as ‘Regret’.”

The old man poked at the fire with a long stick and sniffled in the chilling air. The men had spent a long day in the saddle, searching for little lost Billy McCoy. His mama said he had gone fishing at Shadow Creek the day before but didn’t come home for supper.

“Regret was a hard man who built his ranch with his own hands and the backs of a few men he drove even harder. On a night ’bout like this one but a lot colder, they finally had enough and walked out on him. With a blizzard fixin’ to settle in, Regret rode out to the south pasture to bring in most of the cattle … and he sent his nine-year-old son Buck north to fetch the rest.”

The storyteller looked up from the fire and caught the eyes of each man in turn.

“Boy never come back. Ol’ Regret never got over it, neither, and they say he still rides the range lookin’ for Buck.

A few of the men huffed their disbelief, but none moved from his seat.

“Legend says he’s doomed to roam the west, helpin’ lost souls in order to make amends. On cold nights, he’s even been known to sidle up to a fire.”

The searchers grumbled.

“Can you help me?”

Seven heads turned toward the dark void opposite the old man, where an eighth hat had stood minutes before.

“I think I’m lost.” Billy McCoy jutted his pale face into the breach.

Published inFlash Fiction

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