The sun beat down on the Nevada plains. The open sky held a vision of an orange sunset. Mustangs roamed the grasslands, while birds soared, dominating the sky. Every now and then, they would coast gently down to earth. All was peaceful.
In town, people wandered, some aimlessly and some not, up and down the dusty streets. Horses were tied outside storefronts, wagons hitched behind them. Every now and then, respectable women would walk by with friends or husbands, frowning at the uproar in the bar.
"Shame what the town's come to, isn't it?" One woman remarked to her sister.
Her sister nodded.
Inside the saloon, yet another fight was breaking out. Two cowboys stood face to face, one a little taller, one a little smarter . . . in a way. In Roy's eyes, they were evenly matched, with him having the advantage. He considered himself the smarter one.
"I don't think you can do it." Bart taunted. Bart wasn't the smartest cowboy around, but he was the biggest. At Six feet, seven inches, he was the tallest man in town, let alone the most arrogant cowboy in Bull's Eye Saloon. He stared down at Roy. "No one can."
Roy wanted to hit Bart right in the gut, except he knew he'd be killed right on the spot. "It's easy. I could ride that thing all day and all night." Another shot of whiskey and maybe he could throw the first punch, too. He grabbed the glass from the round wooden table, and drank it down in one gulp, slamming the glass on the table for emphasis. Another man refilled it for him, knowing he'd soon need more.
"You're an idiot, Roy. If anyone could ride that thing, it'd be me." Bart swallowed the contents of his glass even faster than Roy had, and slammed it on the table. The man refilled his, too. Bart picked it up and drank it down once more, and slammed his glass on the table again.
"Guess what," Roy said, almost halfway drunk. "I've done it before."
"Tell you what. You meet me at Kessman's, noon tomorrow. You ride that bronc for twenty second, don't die, and don't jump off, in the process, and I'll give ya fifty, cash. I ain't givin' it to ya any other way."
Roy shook Bart's hand. "Done!"
Bart swung his other hand around and smacked Roy right in the jaw. "I felt like that."
Roy straightened, fire burning in his eyes for being insulted by the drunk cowboy. He punched Bart right in his beer belly, and laughed.
He wasn't laughing at Bart. He was laughing at his misfortune at having this awful day. First, he had arranged for himself to ride some bronc. Second, he was about to die for picking a fight with the meanest cowboy in the bar.
Bart straightened, infuriated. He reeled back, and hauled Roy off the ground, pinning him against the wall.
His breath stank. Roy tried not to breathe. "You picked the wrong cowboy, little man." Bart taunted. "And now you're gonna pay."
"Oh, I ain't payin'." Roy said. "You are. But first-" He called to the whiskey refilling man. "Can I get some whiskey for the man with the reeking breath?"
"Whiskey!" The man called, smashing the bottle over Bart's oversize head. He let go of Roy, and Roy slid to the ground, landing on his feet. He pulled a chair out from under a man, and used it to club Bart as he came after him. Bart tore a wooden leg off the chair, and tossed it behind him, positively seething.
The leg hit an innocent bystander, who just happened to be so drunk, he couldn't see straight. Assuming the man next to him had delivered the blow, he stood up, grabbed his whiskey, poured it on his head, and then took the bottle and broke it on the man's head. The man retaliated, angrily, and soon, fights erupted all over the bar. Men provoked each other, then retaliated by throwing each other over the bar counter and back again. Several were dragged up the stairs to the rooms above, and then thrown off the loft, and then getting up to fight back. Glass bottles flew, shattering upon contact on walls, stairs, and people.
Roy drew his pistol and used it as a club to attack Bart. He got in a good hit before Bart came back at him and slugged Roy with his fist. Roy had a slight disadvantage in the fact that he was both shorter and thinner, but where Bart had flab and a beer belly, Roy had pure muscle. But where Roy had two six shooters and happy-go-lucky aim, Bart had two six shooters, a throwing knife, and decent aim.
"Come on, Roy, you got this one . . . oh no you don't. You're gonna die." Roy whispered to himself.
Roy managed to club Bart one more time with his pistol, then had to pull out another chair as Bart furiously charged toward him. He could barely hold him back.
Bart came toward Roy slowly, letting the chaos around him add dramatic effect. He wrenched the chair from Roy's hands, and snapped it in half. Grabbing Roy by the arms, he hauled him off the ground once more.
Roy bit his lip as Bart cast him toward the window.
This was really going to hurt.
He hit the glass face first, crashing through as if in slow motion. He landed rolling off his head and onto his back. Standing up, he shook some dust and shards of glass off of him, preparing to go back in.
Another window shattered as another man tumbled through it.
"John?" Roy asked the Chinese man on the ground beside him. "You were in there? The whole time?"
John, whose real name was Chon Wang, grinned. "Yes. I saw you get beat up."
"I ain't done yet, John. I'm goin' back in." Roy yanked open the door to the saloon and found Bart amidst all the chaos. He slugged him in both his eyes, and slammed his fist into Bart's jaw. He ducked as Bart lazily swung back. The man was almost out of steam. He clubbed him with his six shooter one last time, and watched as he fell, awed that he had won the fight.
"I almost pity you, buddy. You'll be feelin' that in the morning." He tipped his beaten black hat. "See ya at noon. Bring the fifty."
Roy slept late the next day, waking up around ten. He crawled out of bed and pulled on some clothes, and went to find John.
"What bet did you make this time?" Chon asked as he saddled his paint stallion, Spirit.
"Easy fifty. All I have to do is last twenty seconds on some bull at Kessman's." Roy placed the saddle on the back of his midnight black stallion, Sparrow. He slid it back about an inch so the horse's hair would lie flat and not be irritated during the ride.
"How drunk were you when you made that bet?" Chon asked, sliding the bit into Spirit's mouth and the bridle over his ears.
Roy shrugged. "Only about halfway. Why?"
Chon grinned, grateful his face was hidden behind Spirit's broad neck and Roy had his back to him. "No reason."
"Let me guess." Roy walked around his horse to face Chon. "You're about to tell me that Kessman's horse is tougher than the tough stock. You're gonna tell me I'm gonna break my neck. You're about to say something like, oh, I don't know, Roy you're crazy?"
"Yep." Chon replied. "My advice - no gumbai before ride."
"John. You know I don't speak Mandarin." Roy put the bridle on Sparrow, tightening it a notch.
"No drinking games before the ride."
"Why? How bad can this bronc be?"
"When you fall and cut yourself open on a rock, you don't want to spill good whiskey all over the ground."
Roy and Chon arrived at Kessman's after a half hour ride. Once dismounting, Roy set off to find Bart. Chon was by his side as always.
"Anybody gives you a strange look, just say 'Howdy, partner.'" Roy reminded him.
"Right. Howdy, partner." The words sounded awkward in his Chinese accent.
More than a few people had come to Kessman's ranch today to see Roy ride the bronc. The news had spread over the little town. Some waved a hello to Roy, and snickered at his hard-headed stupidity.
"That bronc's gonna kill ya, Roy!" One yelled across the field.
"Not if I kill it first." he muttered, aggravated by all the haters.
Wind picked up. Dust devils swirled over the grass. Men stood by the fence, drinking whiskey, flirting with te bar women who had come out to Kessman's. Horses snorted, pulling on their ropes.
Roy felt a hand clamp down on his shoulder. He looked, and saw the face of Bart, with two black eyes and a swollen lip. He didn't choke back his laughter. "You look ridiculous."
Bart glared at him. "You should see the other guy."
Roy frowned. "I am the other guy."
He pulled Roy's face closer to his big, sweaty one. "Listen, if you stay on and I lose my fifty, I'm going to kill you."
Roy gulped. Bart was better at duels then he looked. With a confident swagger not at all reflecting how he really felt, Roy looked Bart straight in the eyes and said, "I'm gonna take your fifty."
Sweat poured off him. He was stranded on the back of this wild, crazy bronc. It thrashed in the air and spun. He clenched his teeth and hung on tight, his legs clamped to the animal beneath him. The horse bucked, throwing his hindquarters up in the air. Roy flew off and spun. . . . and spun, landing face first in the ground.
Everything got fuzzy all of a sudden. It was as if he was coming to the surface of a lake. Someone was shaking his shoulder.
"Roy! Wake up!" Chon splashed Roy's face with cold water. "Get out there and ride Dakota's Judge!"
Roy rubbed the sleep from his eyes and prepared his will, just in case. If reality was anything like his dream, he'd end up needing it before the day was over.
The horse stood tethered to a pole. He looked nothing like Roy's horse, Sparrow, yet he didn't look like the devil horse in his nightmare. He was a tall, dark bay, with a black mane and tail. White streaks decorated his hind quarters. He even had a sweet expression.
He flicked off a few flies with his long black tail. He didn't even bother to look at Roy.
"Yea." Bart said suddenly, nearly scaring Roy to death by the way he had crept up on him. "He looks sweet, but he's a heck of a devil." He grinned a grin that never reached his eyes.
"He looks easy." Roy said in a cocky tone.
Bart laughed. "Then go on and mount up."
Roy took a running leap at the horse and jumped on. He wasn't even on all the way when the horse threw its first punch, so to speak. The bronc reared up, pawing the air wildly. He then landed and hit the ground running. Roy gave a yell and clamped his legs on tighter. He let his beaten black hat fly off his head and get trampled by the wild-eyed steed. The horse snorted, and bucked, spinning and twisting in the air. He tossed his entire body up and violently reared. He spun on his front hooves and madly dashed across the open fields, causing birds to scatter in random directions. They screeched in protest, angrily flocking to another part of the field. The horse just responded by practically stomping on the ground where the birds had been.
Roy was tossed around, sick of riding that monster bareback. He dug his hands into its mane, and held on with all his might. He began to feel a bit dizzy, wondering if the twenty seconds were over yet. In the distance, Chon held up ten fingers. Roy groaned inwardly. Time was only half over.
The horse, which was named Dakota's Judge like in his dream, spun around madly, attempting to actually kill Roy. He flung his hind legs into the air, performing another series of impressive bucks. He basically wanted to kill him. Roy silently swore he'd shoot the horse if he made it off alive.
Chon held up one hand. 5 seconds left.
The horse bucked a few more times, then reared and spun violently. He reared, and trampled the innocent grass beneath his hooves.
Chon held up two fists. Time was up.
Roy jumped off Dakota's Judge and almost landed on his feet. He managed to stand and track down his hat.
Bart walked up to him, looming menancingly. He took a drag on his cig and blew the smoke into Roy's sweaty face. The smoke made his sweaty face streaked with black. He shoved the fifty into Roy's tired hand.
"Here. If you try to even consider doing it again, I will hunt you down and shoot you one bullet at a time." He jabbed his finger in Roy's face.
"Sure thing." Roy agreed.
Chon grinned as Bart left. "You got lucky, huh?"
"Sure did, John. I sure did."