#FridayFlash: Western-Fantasy Vignette 2

He stood under the salmon sky while the wind slapped denim, skin, hair. She faced away toward the road, skirt flapping over broken dust-colored boots. Her coat ruffled in the thin air. Her locks tattered as she held them captive beneath the hat she pressed onto her head with one hand. In the other she clutched their daughter’s hand.

He stared at grainy dirt, his lips dry and tongue swollen, boots caked in ashen dust. His calloused fingers rasped against his weary shirt when he wiped absently.

“I wish you’d say something,” he said, voice hollow and distant, the voice of a man speaking his last words on his last breath.

“It’s over,” she said, her throat tight. She turned her head, but didn’t meet his gaze. “It’s all been said. There’s nothing left.”

“I’m doing my best.”

“I know. So am I.”

He shuffled, squinted over the mesa ring to the east. The rolling ground swooped from the washes and canyons down into a flat which ran to the western horizon. Saline stung his eyes. He blinked.

“Please. Don’t.”

“I have to,” she said. “For me. For them.” She dipped her head toward the children. Beside his sister, their son’s eyes glistened under his straw bangs, lower lip quivering. “It’s … I have to.”

“It’s only been three years.”

“Only? You say that to me? Only? Three years. Three years of struggling, fighting for every moment, every inch, every sprout, every grain. Only three years. They deserve more than this. We left more behind. Better than this.”

“It’s going to come, just one or two–”

“Don’t. Don’t say it. You’ve said one or two more seasons for eight or nine seasons. It hasn’t happened. It might. I believe if any man can do it, you can. But I can’t take it anymore.”

Hooves pounding and the racket of wheels and rigging drifted against the wind. He snapped his head to the west, surprised. The coach. He didn’t realize it would come so soon.

He turned back to her. “I’m begging you. Please.” His voice croaked, broke.

“It’s not forever, you know that. When it happens, when you finally break this place open, I’ll come back.”

“I need you.”

“I need you too.” She looked over her shoulder at him then, and her fine, porcelain statue features took his breath away. Her soft, brown eyes, the smooth lines despite the harsh years, her firm, set jaw. His heart jumped in his chest. But the carriage drawing to a stop on the dirt pack in front of her shattered his moment.

The coachman looked down at her, dipped his head and touched his weathered hat brim. “These all the bags, ma’am?” His voice sounded gravelly and cracked as the road itself.

“Yes, thank you,” she said, and her voice danced on the wind into the western canyons.

“Ticket?” the coachman said, and dropped nimble as a sprite to the ground. His team panted and pawed, heads shaking, snorting. “Easy, now,” the driver soothed. “They be edgy this morn,” he said, and smiled through his dense dusty beard.

The man watched helpless as she fished into the bag draped on her shoulder and pulled out three paper rectangles. They snapped and rattled as the wind bent them over and broke them in her grip. The coachman stuffed them into a shirt pocket beneath his heavy jacket and stroked his beard. He nodded, gave her a practiced grin.

The coachman gestured toward the carriage, and pulled at a handle on the underside. A rusty metal step ladder groaned and shrieked outward. The wind tried to rip the curtains off the window when he opened the door.

The man stared with his throat too tight to swallow, to breathe. His son looked back again, a fat tear rolled down his cheek. “Bye, Daddy.” The words stabbed him like broken glass.

“I’ll see you real soon, son,” he said, but didn’t know how he managed to speak. “Real soon.”

He watched his wife lift their daughter into the dark of the coach. The coachman kept the door from tearing off, one of her bags hanging from his gloved fingers. When the man raised his eyes, the coachman offered a brief look of understanding and an almost imperceptible nod.

His daughter vanished into the coach without a sound.

His wife turned to face him. Her eyes shredded him with the pain, the ache they held. “It won’t be forever,” she said, and then kissed the tips of her fingers and blew over her open hand at him.

“No,” he choked, “Not forever. I promise.”

Her face broke. She stifled a sob, and launched herself into the coach. The driver closed the door, danced around the coach placing bags deftly on its top. A moment later he materialized in the driver’s seat and took the reins. The horses seemed more agitated still, but the coachman paid no heed. He stared down at the man for a moment, then gave him a somber nod with that same touch of fingers to hat brim.

The man didn’t respond, but the coachman didn’t wait for one. He prodded the team and snapped the reins, and the coach jerked and then rolled away.

He watched the carriage recede down the hill toward the flat to the east until it became a tiny speck.

His heart spiked when the black form rose just as the sun pierced the horizon, a winged blot of death on the pale sky. His heart froze completely when the dragon spewed wyrmfire in a blazing geyser pouring earthward. A blinding explosion blasted the coach on the road beneath the wyrm. The sound came seconds later as he raced screaming their names until his voice tore loose and flew away in the constant howling wind.

He knew then it would be forever after all.

All original content © 2009 J. Dane Tyler
ALL rights reserved.

29 thoughts on “#FridayFlash: Western-Fantasy Vignette 2

  1. Very good stuff, I really felt for the characters and the decision that was being made.

    I think it would stand up just as well without the fantasy element.

    Thank you Al! I appreciate that. The fantasy element in the piece becomes sort of a “Moby Dick” style element for the MC; this is a triggering event for that. I’m very glad you enjoyed it though, and thank you for reading and commenting! Much appreciated. 🙂

  2. Woah – good piece! Heartbreaking while they’re waiting for the coach/saying goodbye, and then the twist!

    Thanks, Mazzz! I’m very glad you liked it. I always get a little nervous doing emotive scenes; I worry about overdoing them. Thank you for the read and the comment, I greatly appreciate the time and effort! 🙂

  3. I almost cried! This was a horrible senario of a family being torn apart, and was heartbreakingly well written. I suspected the coachman of being a harbinger of death or some sort of ferryman…but I never saw the dragon coming!

    Amy, thank you so much for such a wonderful comment. I’m so flattered. It’s an honor to know a reader connected so deeply with something I wrote. Your time is valuable and I appreciate you spending it with my work and letting me know how you felt about it. Thank you so much. 🙂

  4. Great job setting the scene, as usual. I didn’t expect the dragon, since the foreshadowing indicated the horses might bolt over the edge, so good misdirection. I agree with Al, though, it would work without the dragon, too.

    Well, thanks Sher! Actually, I don’t know if it would or not. I’d have no driving force for the MC without the dragon. This is part of the same cowboys-‘n’-dragons story I’ve mentioned to you and wrote about before (remember the first western-fantasy vignette I did?). But I’m glad you liked it. This particular piece is clipped just a hair at the end, but in the book the scene would be slightly longer and there’d be more with the dragon before it closes.

    Thanks for the time hon. Your input means so much to me. I really appreciate it. 🙂

  5. steve

    I had to come here first to get my Friday dose of fiction. I was put instantly in touch in a personal way with each character, hoping for the best …

    Wow, Steve, thank you! I’m honored. I hope you enjoyed this entry. It’s a little different than most of what I do, but I had some fun with it and this scene has been pounding to get out of my head for months now. Enjoy all the #fridayflash pieces and thank you so much for taking the time to read mine and let me know your thoughts. I’m deeply flattered you find mine worth reading first. 🙂

  6. KnytStalker

    Okay YES this is awesome! The line about the words stabbing him like broken glass. Heart-wrenching. And the last line!!! Ohhh my God. Killer, absolutely killer. Here’s my heart, thank you for sticking it in the Dane blender. Literally.

    Oh, KS, you always know just how to make my day and explode my ego while busting my gut laughing! YOU’RE awesome! You’re MADE of awesome! Your comment couldn’t hold any more win. Thank you so much for being such a wonderful, unflagging supporter and for taking the time from your hectic day to read my stuff and let me know you enjoyed it. You are a genuine blessing. *hug* Love you doll-face!

  7. I’m somewhat torn about this piece. It was very enjoyable and engrossing, but I found myself wondering about women’s rights in this period and if she would have even had the option of leaving him. Then the dragon – very unexpected, though I guess the title should have given it away. I agree with Al, it would stand up just as well, maybe better? – without a fantasy element.

    Hi Jared, thank you for coming by. I appreciate the honest feedback, and maybe what you’ve said here helped me understand the comments Al and Sherri made a little better. Yes, the dragon’s an unexpected element, but it’s a major portion of the plot and the driving force from the main character. This is a vignette from a book-length work about this man and his life following this event. While the western aspects are cool, this is NOT the west you read about in history class or watched on TV. This is a future, not past, piece. Does that help clarify it a little? And I hope the dragon didn’t hurt things TOO much.

    Thank you again for reading and commenting. I’m very grateful for your time to give my word a read and let me know what you thought of it. 🙂

  8. Sniff.

    Heartbreaking all over the place.

    He’s begging his wife to stay…and I’m thinking, “Don’t do this! Stay!”

    Though it would work just as hauntingly without the dragon, this twist does jolt but does not take away from the beauty of this fantasy piece!

    Well, thanks Marisa! I really appreciate that! Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to tell me what you thought. It means a lot when people are willing to do that. 🙂 Have a wonderful weekend.

  9. Great scene-setting, but I’m with Jared on the last paragraph.

    “His heart spiked when the black form rose just as the sun pierced the horizon, a winged blot of death on the pale sky. His heart froze completely when the dragon spewed wyrmfire in a blazing geyser pouring earthward.”

    That’s from start to finish of the attack in two sentences.

    Purely a personal opinion, of course, but after all that gradual build up and scene setting, the dragon attack is like the coach hitting a landmine. It’s shocking, but so jarring I honestly found it funny. I thought you might have been trying for a twist ending. I’m naturally inclined to twistery though. The last line was good, but by then the mood was gone for me.

    I think even a couple of paragraphs to let him realise the dragon attack is imminent, and no matter how hard he runs, or how hard he shouts to warn them, the coach is still doomed, would be as emotionally effective.

    Honestly I don’t normally critique like this unless I’ve just read something I really appreciate, so please don’t think I didn’t like it! It’s just SO close to being brilliant.

    Thank you very much for the honest feedback, Anton. I appreciate it very much; that you took time to read and comment is very meaningful to me.

    I don’t mean this to sound defensive — because I’m not, so please don’t mistake me — but let me offer an explanation.

    This is a snapshot of a scene which is much longer from a novel I’m planning. I wanted to write out the first scene, the opening of the first chapter. I never got around to doing it though and needed an idea for #fridayflash, so they converged.

    In the actual scene, I plan to expand this scene quite a bit. The whole thing. The dragon’s attack isn’t over at the end of this piece, either, so it will occupy more than two sentences, I promise. The last line will probably still end the scene, but will occur later, after the scene is fleshed out better.

    For #fridayflash, however, the piece is supposed to be 1000 words. So, I chose to emphasize the emotions of the characters rather than the attack. Maybe I should’ve left the dragon’s attack out altogether, I don’t know. Maybe it would be better left as just an emotional scene from a western setting standpoint, I don’t know. Too late now. *Shrug*

    What I do know is, the suddenness of the dragon’s appearance is exactly as I intended it to be: sudden, surprising. I don’t WANT the characters to anticipate it. It should be shocking. If they anticipate it, they can do something about it. But, I couldn’t unfold all that in only 1K words. From the feedback I’m getting, I think I made a mistake including it at all.

    Thank you for being SO clear in expressing what you don’t like and why. It’s a HUGE help, and the comments everyone else left before you become more solid as I see more of them. Yours has especially helped; I think my friends before you were trying to spare my feelings. 😉

    Thanks again for the time and in-depth comment! I really appreciate both! 🙂

  10. Diandra

    The scene is very – intense, for lack of a better word. I liked it, my heart was with the people and I could understand both of them – so much harder to make a choice. I also liked the ending (in a longer story I would have loved more explanation, but then it’s just a short story…)

    And not even a stand-alone story; it’s actually a piece of a larger one — a novel, in fact. 🙂 Thank you for the compliment and the time you took to read and comment. I really appreciate it.

    I liked the fantasy element, but the dragon was kind of alone…

    Yep, I’m gettin’ a lot of that. And since it’s the ONLY fantasy element, I guess I failed at this one. Not a great choice to include just a couple of sentences about the dragon. See the other comments below for the context and explanation. Because it NEEDS the context and explanation, I guess this is a lousy piece. Live and learn! 🙂 Thank you again for the time and your thoughts!

  11. Considering the 1000 word constraint, I think you did well. As an opening to a novel, I think this works very well. You open with a touching character piece and then WHAM, we’re into a fantasy adventure! How could you not read on?

    Well, thanks Linda! That’s very kind of you to say! Thank you for taking time to read and comment. 🙂

    I’m not a fan of so many adjectives, but maybe that’s a genre thing.

    Okay, now you’ve hit me where I live. I’ve worked really hard over the last year, maybe two, to eliminate adverbs and cut down on the plethora of adjectives I toss into my stuff. I didn’t realize (and that’s always the danger with me) I’d thrown a lot of them in here. Is it possible, if you have time, to point out where I went off mark? Or was the entire piece adjective-laden? And is this a consistent problem of mine or is it just this piece? (To answer the question, there aren’t as many differences between literary and genre fiction as the literati would have you believe. Only differences in how the story is driven.)

    Thanks again, Linda! I’m very grateful and appreciative you take the time to read these entries and comment. 🙂

    1. I’ll email you later. And don’t think I meant your piece was was drowned in adjectives, just a couple unnecessary ones, imho.

      I look forward to hearing from you, and thanks again. 🙂

  12. I liked the dragon in the Western theme, I think I would have hinted about it (the dragon) somewhere in the early text . . . just a little hint somewhere would have tied it together better for me. The mention of unyielding crops, could the dragon have been involved perhaps? Here I go, “What-ifing” again, sorry. It was well written, but a tad abrupt. Sometimes just a well placed sentence can fore-shadow a spectacular event like your final explosion. I think I would read more . . .

    Thanks, Louise. I think the general consensus is the same all ’round. I just didn’t include enough to make the dragon’s appearance worthwhile. In the longer version I’m still not going to foreshadow — see my comments below, abrupt is exactly what I want for the scene — but there WILL be more about the dragon and the attack. The dragon is a key figure throughout the book, and this scene is a trigger for the rest of the story. Thank you for reading and commenting. (Oh, and just so you know, I read a lot. A LOT. Just fyi; I wasn’t sure what you meant by “I think I would read more …” but I read many things and a lot of fiction. If there’s a problem with my writing I don’t believe reading more will solve them. Just sayin’.)

  13. wonderful cadence – really strong dialogue. the characters were alive with thr=e breath you gave them.

    Thank you Michael, what a nice compliment! Thank you very much for stopping by to read and letting me know what you thought of the piece. 🙂 Have a wonderful weekend!

  14. I love dragons! It is quite adjective heavy, and I feel that maybe reading it aloud you could find a smoother pattern. Everyday we learn new things, and it’s a fine-lined balancing act. Your descriptions were well thought out, I do feel that more could be said with less words. Too many adjectives tends to drown the reader in digesting those instead of being swept away by the actual story. Again, just my opinion, and who am I but another writer. Take it as you will. I will be back as long as you set out tidbits for me. 😉

    Thank you so much for taking the time to read my work and offer feedback, Carrie. Maybe you’re right about reading aloud. I should do that — I know I should, have always heard that, yet neglect it every time — and maybe that would find the adjectives. I’ve struggled with those and adverbs throughout my writer’s journey, so any help I can get on it is welcome. Again, thank you so much for coming by and offering honest critique. Much appreciated. 🙂

  15. I don’t think you could just leave off the dragon part and still have a story. As written, if you ending it with his family leaving on the train, you would have a good scene, but not a story.

    Interesting point, Linda. Thank you again. I’m not sure it’s a story as it is — there’s no real end. I see it as an isolated scene, but maybe I stink at making those distinctions. If I cut the dragon out I’d also need to cut out the man racing down the hill into the wash screaming. It makes no sense unless I try to explain how he’s just overcome with emotions and heartache and some other such bullsh*t. But it seems the dragon sentences only hurt the piece. *shrug* Live and learn, I always say. 🙂 THIS is why I never want to be an “expert” at anything; the instant I make a mistake it’s failure. 😀

    1. But you set up the dragon ending! Why are the horses agitated, if they don’t sense the dragon? And though “It won’t be forever.” could be innocuous, I knew it wasn’t, and I wonder if anyone here read that line and didn’t think, oh yes it will be?

      Oh, I hoped someone would see the agitated horses and find it adequate set-up! Thank you so much! But still, quite a few people thought the dragon too sudden. I think I agree the two sentences weren’t enough, but this scene is more about the two characters separating. The dragon attack is itself another setup for something later in the book. So THANK YOU so, for seeing the little bit of setup I did do! *bighug*

      And I hope you’re not saying that if you’re piece isn’t letter perfect, it’s a total failure!

      Oh, no no no … I never see anything from which I can grow as a failure. I hope to take quite a few things away from this one. I thought it would receive a warmer welcome than it did, and I have to admit I’m a little disappointed in finding so many people were … well, disappointed. But not a total failure, no. It’s not successful but I still believe I can benefit from it. 🙂

  16. I really enjoyed the visuals. I also agree somewhat with what some of the others have said, perhaps cut it down a bit or say more in fewer words. A well written piece. 🙂

    Thank you Michelle. I appreciate you coming by and taking the time to read and comment. 🙂

  17. Dane–I thought this was a great piece! YES, the dragon caught me off guard, and threw me a bit, because I was in such an emotional state of mind that all of my interest and attention was on the internal state of the characters. I thought you did an EXCELLENT job of personalizing your characters in such a short format. I think that’s the issue you are seeing here–people didn’t realize, don’t know, the broader story in your mind, so taken as a standalone piece it does come out of nowhere, which isn’t a bad thing–it’s just that it is written so well without it that it doesn’t seem necessary and throws the “feel” of the story off a bit. It gives it an entirely different feel to me, mixes my emotional response a bit. I saw vignette in the title but honestly once I started reading I forgot it was a vignette. I was feeling such a wash of sadness and regret and then suddenly the scene shifted and it forced my attention away from my sadness and took me back to a place where I was an observer once again. I wasn’t ready to let go of the sadness and trade it in for fear or curiosity.

    That said, I think it’s actually GOOD feedback that the dragon isn’t necessary, because it speaks to your ability to write concisely. If it was necessary to have it, that would mean you didn’t build up enough tension in the story without it, or that something else was necessary to complete the tale. I respectfully disagree with Linda on this–I think it WOULD be a story without the dragon, because you did such a great job developing the emotional conflict of this family. I felt their pain. I felt the entire scene. Truly excellent.

    Now, for my unsolicited opinion on adjectives and the “less is more” approach…
    The line that stood out for me the most is this one:

    “His daughter vanished into the coach without a sound.”

    Brief–but, to me, so rich in content. WHY? Why did she not say goodbye? Why did you call it out, separately? There is more to be told here, and I immediately began visualizing the family dynamics. One little line that said so much to me. It made me think. It actually made me think of my OWN daughter, so I painted a picture of this child that was meaningful to ME. I made a personal connection. This is why I feel with adjectives, less can be more. It allows the reader to paint his or her own picture. I think choosing strong adjectives can help paint a mood, and too many can kill it. Too many adjectives in places I don’t expect them also make me think there must be a REASON the writer is being so explicit in describing something, and then when that reason doesn’t become apparent it is disappointing or just frustrating. As for this piece, specifically, I guess you could trim an adjective or two, but I certainly don’t think you smothered the story with them. Once again, I need to give my disclaimer–you know I am not a working writer and have absolutely no expertise in this area, so take this feedback for what it’s worth.

    This is my favorite piece you have written by far. I really loved it, and I thought you did an amazing job with these characters. I’ve actually gained a new level of respect for your writing.

    I’m going to stop now because I hate not being able to see what and how much I’ve written so I can edit…LOL…but suffice it to say I think this was fabulous!

    Oh, D. I have no words to express how this comment made me feel, made my day. How much your words touched my heart and soul. No matter how I strive to be a great writer I could never accomplish what you did here in a just a few short paragraphs. Thank you so much for taking so much time to encourage someone who’s too old to need it, to cynical to deserve it, and can never be worthy of the things you’ve written here. Thank you so much.

  18. Wow, not only a great story, but a great discussion to boot!

    I thought the discussion wonderful too! Thanks for joining in and for the compliment!

    I thought it worked fine with the dragon, and think it could have worked just as well without. Yes, it would have been flat had they just ridden off into the sunset. But it could have worked if you dipped back into his heart of hearts and ended with the exact same words. In other words, though she says it’s not forever, he knows as they disappear out of sight that it most likely is. Of course that would change the character of the wife significantly, but still be an emotional and likely ending, both to the story and to their relationship. Many a person has stepped away with the full intention of coming back only to have life take them in a completely different direction.

    Too true, Jon, too true. Life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans. 🙂

    Still, the dragon worked ok for me. Made it into a western fantasy instead of a straight western.

    Well thank you!

    One other comment is that the first few lines seemed a little cliche. Maybe just eliminating the salmon sky would help alleviate that.

    First one to say you didn’t like the opening. I’ll take a look at it before it goes into the permanent file. Thanks again! 🙂

    All in all, I thought this was a good piece. It really got into the character’s heads.

    Thank you! I worked this one as an exercise in character and conflict, trying to inject it without an outright argument or fight. I hope that much was successful. Thank you again for reading and commenting!

  19. Western setting with dragons – brilliant combination. I really enjoyed this – it was absorbing, tense and delivered an unexpected punch. I thought you did a great job of building expectation. What fantastic feedback you’ve had too! Well done.

    Thank you Skycycler! I’m glad you enjoyed, and yes, the feedback has been INCREDIBLE on this one, if mixed. I think there’s enough information here to strengthen the piece significantly and make it much more viable when I’m ready to use it. Thank you very much for taking time to read and comment! Have a great weekend!

  20. Don’t think I’ve ever read a Western fantasy — hope it’s a new genre! Enjoyed, and yes, it works as is, but glad to see there’s more. Peace, Linda

    Thank you so much for stopping by and giving a read, Linda. I’m very grateful and happy you enjoyed. 🙂

  21. Dear Dane, I haven’t read your work before so this is a first. My overall response is that I liked the story and the pathos. I think you did that very well, and it was very believable. In fact, I was completely involved with the story and with the character’s breaking hearts. It was very compelling and beautiful. When the dragon showed up, that pulled me right out of the story and made me say, huh? If you smooth that out a bit or foreshadow it, I think it will flow better with the rest of your story and enhance it. Again, as I said, I really enjoyed reading this and look forward to more. ~ Olivia

    Olivia, thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment here on my blog. I’m honored to have you, and the time you take both in reading and sharing your thoughts means a lot to me. I’m glad you liked the emotional aspect — it was the concentration of my effort — and I appreciate your words regarding the fantasy element. I did try to foreshadow something with the agitated horses and the “forever” comments the characters make, but I do agree the end was more rushed than it should be. In the actual piece, there will be much more of the scene unfolding. This is simply the opening of a novel condensed to under a thousand words, and that is simply too short a span for what I tried to do.

    Once again, thank you for coming by and spending your time with my work; I’m deeply appreciative. Have a great day. 🙂

  22. Three years was time for him, but forever for her. Yet she assured him that she would not be away forever. Then he met his forever. Forever was endurance for one, and finality for another. A very perspective of forever in a story that simply would not release me until it was done. Thank you!

    Berna, thank YOU for such a kind and generous comment! I’m touched. I’m grateful you spent time reading the story and that you enjoyed it. Thank you for letting me know what you thought. I hope you have a terrific weekend. 🙂

  23. (Oh, and just so you know, I read a lot. A LOT. Just fyi; I wasn’t sure what you meant by “I think I would read more …” but I read many things and a lot of fiction. If there’s a problem with my writing I don’t believe reading more will solve them. Just sayin’.) I meant that I (personally) would read more of this story should it become a novel or novelette. I’m the last person to try to tell somebody else what to do!!!! I’ll try to comment clearer next time :)!!

    ROFL! Sorry, Louise! It’s very likely my fault! I went back to read your original comment, and I have to say, I’m pretty sure I misinterpreted and you did just fine. I hope I haven’t offended!

  24. Very cool. Didn’t see that ending coming at all. Makes me wonder what other fantastical elements this world has.

    Thanks, Eric. I’m glad you enjoyed it. There are wizards and strange beasts and high technology from ages lost in this world, but it’s a formative idea right now. 🙂 Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

  25. you’re language is beautiful

    Peggy, what a wonderful compliment! Thank you so much, and thank you for stopping by and taking the time to read and comment on my work. I’m very happy you liked it. 🙂

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