Gunsmoke: Blood Moon

Chapter 1

The woman thought it was the raw, piercing cold in the house that woke her up. Her numb nose and feet told her that either the fire was out or well on the way. Only the knowledge that she would freeze to death finally made Deborah Hensley crawl out from beneath her tattered quilts and hurry across the bitterly cold floor to put more wood in the stove. She didn't need to waste the kerosene to light the lamp. The house was only one room, and the moon was nearly full anyhow.

She wished for the thousandth time that she had enough money to move out west or down south where she'd heard that the winters weren't so bitter. That dream was never going to happen unless God put a man with moneybags on her doorstep or some unknown relative left her a fortune. It was only due to her egg money made during the warm months that she had enough to buy necessities from Mr. Jonas, at the general store. Her garden and hens produced well in the summer, and that kept her going through the winter, too. Her husband, Frank had died two years ago, and it had been rough without him. Dang rough with him, too. He was a big man and ate his fill. At least she'd had a chance to gain a little weight since he'd passed, plus she didn't have to put up with his unwashed body and his stink around the place. Even her old dog had died; she didn't like having to feed him either. He had been company though, and that she did miss.

Bending down, she opened the stove door and shoved the broken pieces of wood inside. She used one stick to poke the coals and watched little red embers puff up like tiny stars. Deborah grabbed her rocker by its broken right arm, pulled it close to the open door to make sure that the wood caught, while she waited for a tiny morsel of heat. Within minutes, the flames were licking around the wood, and she'd dozed off in her chair.

Deborah jarred awake. It wasn't the cold that roused her this time. She reached over and shut the cast iron door of the stove and rose, standing very still, waiting. She heard the sound of snow crunch under footsteps on her porch. Fear made a knot in her stomach, and she couldn't move. Although she was fairly close to the road to Dodge City, she felt isolated and very alone at night.

Listening intently, she heard nothing else and wondered if maybe the sounds she'd heard had been caused by the wind lifting the loose porch boards up and down, for it had been blowing powerfully lately. She crept to the door to make sure that she'd dropped the wooden bar across it. She released a sigh of relief when she found it securely fastened. Feeling safer, she went to the window to peep out through the curtains.

Deborah barely had time to sense movement in the corner of her eye before something reached swiftly through the window, shattering the glass. Shrieking from fright and pain, she tumbled backwards onto the rough wood floor, instinctively grabbing her injured shoulder. She felt the end of a shard of glass stuck deep into her shoulder and felt warm blood on her cold fingers.

In spite of the pain, she scrambled backwards to where Frank's old .20 gauge was hidden under the bed. She tried to hold the gun with both arms, but the glass stuck into her shoulder prevented her from gripping it. She was going to have to pull it out in order to hold the big gun.

Using the bottom of her dressing gown as a cover for her hand, she tentatively reached up, felt the end, and yanked it out as fast as she could. She thought she was going to blackout from agony. Blood poured hotly through her fingers as she tried to put pressure on it to ease the pain. Unable to remove her hand, Deborah wasn't any better off with the glass out, in fact, she had only made things worse, she thought. Using her one good arm, she tried holding the shotgun, but it was heavy. Her aim was unsteady as she tried to point it towards the broken window where threadbare muslin curtains twisted in the icy wind. The opening allowed frigid air inside and sucked her precious, meager heat back out.

The temperature was dropping in the house. She felt weak and tired, but that didn't keep her heart from beating frantically against her chest like a bird flying into a glass window, trying desperately to escape. She felt safer now that she had the gun beside her, until she remembered with dawning horror that it wasn't loaded. Shells had been on her list of supplies for her next trip into Dodge. Only three shells lay in a wooden box on the shelf above her bed.

Deborah tried to stand, but her legs were too weak. She pushed herself up the wall as quickly and quietly as she could. She felt for the box with her good arm, keeping her eyes on the window and door and was forced to rest the weapon on the floor, barrel down. Her fingers finally closed around a shell. Sliding back down, she awkwardly broke open the shotgun, inserted it, and snapped it shut.

Maybe if she could stay where she was until daylight came then she'd be all right. There were only two windows on the front of the house, and she could watch those easily enough. The wound in her arm was agonizing, and she could feel the blood running down her arm. Deborah didn't have the courage to get up and grab a dish towel to wrap around it. The pain was bearable, if she lived til morning; maybe it wasn't as bad as it felt.

She didn't know how much time had passed. It was freezing inside, and she caught herself before she dozed off. Maybe whoever it was had just gone away, she thought. Maybe it was someone who came to the wrong house. Her heart had slowed to an almost regular rhythm, when she again heard movement on the porch. The door started to groan and crack, but it stubbornly refused to give because the cross beam kept it secured. She fired in blind fear at the door in the darkness, and pellets flew across the room.

Now she needed another shell! Why hadn't she just taken all three shells at once? She cursed herself. Pushing herself back up the wall, Deborah managed to get both shells this time. Drowsiness and exhaustion caused by blood loss and cold made her weak and she fell hard on her ass, her back against the wall.

A faint scratching noise against the outside of her house got her attention, like someone dragging a branch along a fence. She struggled to listen and determine its location outside. Suddenly there was a massive thwack against the side of the house. It reverberated through the wall close to where she sat. She screamed and crawled backwards across the room. Heavy blows of an axe fell quickly and ferociously.

Deborah had dropped the shotgun shells in her panic, and they'd scattered, rolling away in the dark.

The old thin walls couldn't hold up under the formidable blows. Chunks and splinters of wood flew out from the ever-widening opening. Deborah was paralyzed by fear as the furious and violent hewing continued. All she could see was a dark shadow swinging an axe, backlit by the moonlight.

When the thuds and thwacks finally stopped, she didn't realize if for a few seconds because the blood was pounding in her ears. Was he going away? No. The woman saw something obscure the opening outside. It was now large enough for him to get inside.

"No! No! Get away from meeeee!" Deborah Hensley's shrill, terrible screams echoed across the wind-swept indifferent prairie.