Short Story Fiction
Hellfire
Scott A. Gese


He owned a horse that couldn’t be broke. After attacking one of the hired hands, a decision had to be made. Release him or put him down.

“Yahoo, come on Sam, you can do it.”

The men of the Circle B lined the corral fence to watch the spectacle. They were all hooting, hollering and waiving their hats in approval as young Sam Perry rode upon the back of the meanest, orneriest and rankest horse ever to leave its mark on Circle B soil.

HellfireErik-Jan Leusink/Unsplash

There was no doubt among the men lining the fence. Sam Perry was just the man to take the wild out of this beast.

The wild mustang had been on the ranch for the better part of two months. He was part of a dozen horses that had been brought to the ranch to be broke. Tom Breeden, the ranch owner wasn’t too keen on feeding something that didn’t earn its keep and was anxious to get this last one of the bunch ready to ride. So the challenge was laid down. Whoever broke this horse would own it.

Several men tried their luck. Every last one of them had failed. Sam was the last of the willing challengers and the one with the best chance of claiming the prize.

Sam was the ranches best hand at breaking horses. When Tom had laid down the challenge, Sam was all over it. The challenge was short and sweet. Up until now it seemed impossible to win.

~~~~

Sam had turned out to be quite the young man considering the way he had been treated as a child. At the ripe old age of eight years he was abandoned at the front door of the ranch with nothing more than a note in his hand and the clothes on his back. The woman who dropped him off was a big dreamer with big plans on her mind. Apparently Sam didn’t fit in.

The ranch must have made quite an impression on her as she passed by. On a whim, she stopped her carriage in front of the house. She dug into her handbag and handed the boy a note she carried with her for just such an occasion. She then made up some foolish reason to have the boy take the note up to the door and hand it to whoever answered. As soon as he knocked she rode off in a cloud of dust never to be seen again.

When Tom came to the door, the boy was half way back to the gate and in tears. Tom caught up to him as he stood at the gate. The dust still hung heavy in the air. The boy didn’t say a word as he handed Tom the note.

It asked the reader of the note to care for the boy whose name was Samual Perry.

Tom couldn’t believe that a mother could abandon her son just like that. He happily took Sam in and treated him as one of his own.

That was ten years ago. Sam was now eighteen. He had been at the ranch for more than half his life. From that very beginning he repaid Tom’s kindness by working hard at whatever task he was given. Breaking horses was the task he loved the most and the one he excelled at.

~~~

Sam was holding his own on the back of the beast the men had named ‘Hellfire’. They continued their robust calls of encouragement. That is until Hellfire came directly toward the fence they were sitting on. There was a mad scramble of boots and hats as the men jumped and tumbled to the ground just as Hellfire raked the top rail where the men had been sitting.

“That was intentional! That bronc has the devil in him,” exclaimed one of the men as they all cautiously climbed back up onto the rail.

“Well he’s rank, that’s for sure,” called another.

Hellfire continued kicking up dust as Sam did his best to hang on. Before the dance was over Sam lost his grip and rolled out the back door. He landed in a heap in the middle of the corral.

The men roared with laughter. “I told you he was rank, didn’t I,” came a shout from one of the men on the rail.

It seemed Hellfire would not be his on this day. Sam stood up and began to dust himself off. He was finished with the beast… at least for now.

Sam paid little attention to the horse that had just thrown him as he turned his back to it and headed for the fence. Hellfire on the other hand was not finished. He had other plans. He lunged forward slamming his head into Sam’s back knocking him to the ground. He then stomped him with his front hooves.

Once again the fence was cleared but this time it was to the center of the corral. Hellfire was forced back as the men gathered around Sam. He was unconscious and bleeding badly from a nasty gash on his head. Some of the men carried him to the house as a couple others saddled up and headed into town to fetch the doc.

~~~

After the doctor arrived and Sam had been properly tended to, Brody Tanner, the ranch foreman headed for the door.

“I’m going to put a bullet in that horse,” he declared.

“You touch that horse and it will be the last thing you do on this ranch,” replied Tom Breeden.

“That horse has the devil in him,” replied Brody. “He needs to be put down.”

“No matter,” answered Tom. “You take Hellfire and put him in the North pasture, next to the barn. Sam here will be the one who decides that animal’s fate. No one else, is that clear?”

Brody wasn’t happy. “I’ll do it, but only because you told me to,” he replied as he headed towards the back door in a huff. “But that doesn’t mean I have to like it,” he murmured under his breath as he stomped out of the house and off the back porch.

Brody headed straight for the barn and grabbed up one of the rifles stored in the tack room. He quickly walked over to the window that overlooked the corral where Hellfire stood. He slowly lifted the rifle to his shoulder and took aim at the horse. He held a steady bead to his head right between his eyes. Hellfire stood motionless. Almost daring Brody to pull the trigger.

“If it were up to me,” thought Brody. “You’d be drawing your last breath right about now.”

Brody lowered the rifle. As soon as he did, Hellfire reared up on his back legs and pawed the air. He neighed long and loud, dropped back down on all fours and walked to the far side of the corral where he stood with his backside toward Brody.

Brody replaced the rifle and headed to the corral. He threw open the north pasture gate and chased the horse out.

“This grass is too good for the likes of you,” growled Brody as Hellfire trotted off into the pasture.

~~~

Sam was in a coma for two days. He suffered a broken shoulder and a severe head injury. It took him nearly two months to fully recover from his injuries.

One evening as Sam and the rest of the men were enjoying their supper, Tom Breeden entered the room carrying a rifle. He walked up to Sam and handed it to him.

“It’s time someone made a decision concerning Hellfire, and I’m leaving that up to you. The way I see it, you have three choices. You can shoot him, break him or turn him loose. In any case, I won’t feed that horse another day unless he earns his keep. After supper make your decision.” He turned and walked out the door.

The men all weighed in as they give Sam their ‘expert’ opinions. Some advised him to get even and “shoot that worthless animal.” Others advised him to get back into the saddle and break him once and for all. One thing’s for sure, they were all in agreement that Hellfire deserved either death or servitude for what he had done to Sam.

After supper Sam took the rifle and headed out toward the barn.

“How about a couple of you men round up Hellfire for me and put him in the corral?” he asked.

Several of the men went after the horse.

Once Hellfire was securely in the corral all the men lined the fence and began to wager among themselves. Hellfire, sensing something was amiss, impatiently paced about in the corral. Sam stepped through the fence rails with his rifle in hand. He raised it to his shoulder. Both man and horse stood motionless as they looked each other in the eye. Neither one attempted to move.

Some of the men began to chide Sam. They cried out, “Pull the damn trigger. What are you waiting for?”

“Stop thinking about it and just do it,” shouted others.

After a full minute the staredown was over. Sam brought the rifle down.

“Yee Haa!” shouted some.

“I’ll get a saddle,” offered another.

Sam leaned the rifle against the fence and slowly walked out to the center of the corral as Hellfire stood in the corner nervously pawing at the dirt.

“What the hell is he doing?” Grumbled Brody. “That kid’s going to get himself killed.”

He walked over to Sam’s rifle and grabbed it up. He took aim at Hellfire. Before he could pull the trigger a voice from behind him called out a warning.

“What I told you earlier about touching that horse still holds, Brody.”

Brody turned to see Tom Breeden standing behind him. He lowered the rifle and walked back over toward the rest of the men.

Sam stood in the center of the corral looking straight at Hellfire. The men talked amongst themselves trying to figure out just what Sam was up to.

“What the hell is he doing now?” They wondered aloud.

“I think that kick in the head has done something to that boys brain,” commented one of the men.

Finally, Sam walked over to the one gate that would set Hellfire free and shoved it open as far as it would go. Hellfire trotted through the gate and up toward the top of a small rise.

Once he reached the top, as he had done before, he reared up on his hind legs and pawed the air. And as ha had done before, he neighed long and loud before dropping back down to the ground. He turned and disappeared over the rise.

The disappointed men all stepped down from the rail fence and headed back to the bunkhouse. Only Tom remained. Sam stepped out of the corral and Tom put his arm across Sam’s shoulders as they walked away from the empty corral.

“Good choice, Sam,” stated Tom. “Good choice.”

© Copyright 2023 by Scott A. Gese All Rights Reserved.


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