Nebraska Center for Writers

by Marcus Galloway

IT WAS AUTUMN. Not only that, but it was far enough into autumn that the wind carried the steely edge of winter upon its breath as it raced over the withered weeds and through the barren branches that stuck up from the Nebraska plains like uneven stubble on an old man's chin. The sky was wide and gray, streaked with clouds that hardly seemed to move no matter how long he stared at them. Instead, they hung like cobwebs from the rafters of his father's woodshed, only stirring occasionally when a big enough wind rolled through.
That wind tore through his body as well, chilling the blood in his veins and causing his muscles to tense. Gritting his teeth, he clenched the reins in his fists and gave them a little snap, causing the two mismatched horses to quicken their pace toward the distant town. Adjusting naturally to the bumps in the road, Nicolai shifted as the wagon jostled beneath and around him. The clattering of the wheels upon the rocky trail had combined with the rattle of his equipment in the back to form a constant flow of noise that he'd stopped hearing long ago.
Looking up, he saw the Nebraska plains stretching out in every direction like a drabcolored quilt that the good Lord had laid down in front of him. Nicolai grinned as his father's words drifted through his mind.
"There isn't much," Stasys had said when referring to the American prairie. "But at least there's no sea."
Nodding, Nicolai snapped the reins and thought about just how true that was. To someone who didn't like the sea or even the coast, Nebraska was something close to paradise. The land was flat and in some places barren, but it was as far from the seacoast as a man could get. The only thing to break up his view of the rolling prairie was the town that lay directly ahead of him.
That town would be Jessup, Nebraska. Either that, Nicolai thought, or he owed a good beating to the man who'd given him directions to the place before he'd left Iowa. Supposedly, Jessup was a nice enough place. Not that it mattered, of course. His visit there wasn't exactly for pleasure. He had some business to tend to in Jessup. Some of it was new, and some of it was so old that it had started to rot in the back of Nicolai's mind.

Reprinted with permission
from The Man from Boot Hill
Copyright © 2004
by Marcus Galloway

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