Wild Cowboy Ways(2)

By: Carolyn Brown

Shooter’s ears shot straight up and he growled down deep in his throat. Blake looked around for a pesky squirrel taunting him, but there was nothing but the north wind rattling through the dormant tree branches. Blake gathered his tools and headed back into the house for another cup of hot coffee before he started his first day of dozing mesquite from the ranch.

Clear the land. Plow it. Rake it. Plant it and hope for a good crop of hay so they wouldn’t have to buy feed all winter. His brother Toby would bring in the first round of cattle in early June. Blake had promised to have pastures ready and fences tightened up by then. Meanwhile, Toby would be finishing his contract for a big rancher. His cousin, Jud, would be joining them, too. But he was committed to an oil company out in the panhandle until Thanksgiving. So it was up to Blake to get the groundwork laid for their dream cattle ranch.

He shucked out of his coat and hung it on the rack inside the front door and went straight to the kitchen. Sitting at the table, he wrapped his big hands around the warm mug. He was deep in thoughts about clearing acres and acres of mesquite when he heard the rusty hinge squeak as the front door eased open. He pushed back the chair, making enough noise to let anyone know that the house was no longer empty, when he heard the shrill, muffled giggle.

Surely folks in Dry Creek knocked before they plowed right into a person’s home. Maybe it was a prank, kind of like an initiation into the town or a bunch of wild kids who had no idea that the ranch had been sold. Whatever was going on, his instincts had failed him or else his neck was still too damn cold to get that prickly feeling when someone was close by.

Shooter, who had been lying under the table at his feet, now stood erect and staring at the doorway. Blake would give the joker one more chance before he let him know he was messing with the wrong cowboy.

“Who’s there?” he called out.

“Don’t play games with me, Walter.” The voice was thin and tinny and definitely not a teenager.

“And who are you?” he asked.

“Don’t be silly. You know who I am, Walter.” The voice got closer and closer.

What the hell was going on?

Back in the summer when the Lucky Penny went on the market, Blake, Toby, and Jud decided that they didn’t believe in all that folderol about bad luck. The Lucky Penny’s previous owners clearly just hadn’t put enough blood, sweat, and tears into the land, or it would have been a productive ranch. They hadn’t understood what it took to get a place that size up and running and/or didn’t have the patience and perseverance to stick it out until there was a profit. But now Blake was beginning to question whether the bad luck had something to do with the supernatural.

He scooted his chair back and stood, Shooter close at his side, hackles up and his head lowered. Blake laid a hand on the dog’s head. “Sit, boy, and don’t move unless I give you the command.” Shooter obeyed, but he quivered with anticipation.

“Walter, darlin’, where is she?” If it wasn’t a ghost, then whatever mortal it was with that voice should audition for a part in a zombie movie.

Before Blake could call out a response, a gray-haired woman shuffled into the kitchen. The old girl was flesh and blood because no self-respecting ghost or apparition would be caught anywhere looking like that. She wore a long, hot-pink chenille robe belted at the waist with a wide leather belt, yellow rubber boots printed with hot pink flamingos, and her thin hair looked like she’d stuck her finger in an electrical outlet. The wild look in her eyes gave testimony that the hair wasn’t the only thing that got fried when she tested the electricity that morning. He felt a sneeze coming on as the scent of her heavy perfume filled the room.

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