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Sleeping Wolf

Sleeping Wolf

By K. BensleyPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 11 min read
12

The rhythmic thundering seemed to amplify within the small room, barely lit by shards of light that entered the air grates. They flickered when passing trees obscured the evening summer sun, plunging the space into near blackness.

Something stirred in the windowless box, although nothing could be heard above the sheer pitch of moving metal on metal.

The movement was caused by a sudden jerking of the carriage as it was dragged mercilessly over the tracks by a steam powered locomotive.

Paralysed in fear, a man laid on the floor wide eyed involuntarily shifting every time the tracks violently jolted the cabin.

When a lull came, he slowly began to move to a sitting position, all the while taking in his surroundings with a mixture of fear and awe.

The half naked man unsteadily got to his feet but another bout of shaking sent him tumbling back to the rancid hay-covered floor.

Glimpsing the strange iron bars that cut him off from one side of the room, he thought them a better means to reattempt the climb.

In doing so his injuries became more apparent, feeling the dried blood around his scalp, down the length of his plaited hair and one side of his face. Something was also lodged in his shoulder, restricting movement of his right arm completely so it hung loose like a wet rag.

A ringing in his mind was also evident and only worsened by the continuous screeching noise of the ‘moving walls’ he was housed in. Judging from the many cuts and bruises it appeared he’d been beaten somewhat. However, it was just a guess, only because he remembered nothing.

Not even his name.

Standing in nothing but a sweat and blood encrusted breechclout, he attempted to make sense of his surroundings. The dizziness became overwhelming, unsure whether it was his condition or the motion. Most likely both, he concluded.

He felt around the long bars with his good arm grasping for a weakness. It was futile, the only weakness was him. Frail and nauseous he resigned to a sitting position, careful to not lean on the wall, suspicious its loud shaking was somehow responsible for his predicament.

While in deep thought, his mind raced clutching for a semblance of memory.

A single word appeared like a star on a moonlight evening. Faint at first but with focus it materialised.

“Kiowa,” the word left his cracked lips as a whisper lost in the surrounding cacophony.

It felt familiar but at the same time unknown. He played with the word in his mind hoping to conjure more but readily gave up when the pain in his head began to surge.

It terrified him to think of this being his existence, or had it always been so.

No. It hadn’t, he knew it hadn’t.

As the hours passed and darkness grew, the man attempted to sleep. He hoped it would restore some strength but the frequent movement and undulating noise prevented anything worthy of recovery, resulting in a long and uncomfortable ordeal.

As the morning light began to show through the grates, it brought back the visual addition to his misery, opening up the fears he’d forgotten from the night before.

He closed his eyes tightly in order to return to those simpler times but one end of the room opened up with a deep grating noise.

The heavy sliding door screeched as it was pulled to one side.

Peering in was a diminutive figure in a grime covered waist coat over a chequered shirt that hung loose and open. Tucked into an expensive pair of oiled leather riding boots were saddle pants that were just as filthy. A worried look adorned his dishevelled face, as well as a week’s worth of growth and a dark brown moustache that curled at the edges.

With one hand clutching a wide brimmed hat and the other resting on his holstered revolver, he stared into the cell hoping his captive was still alive. In truth, he’d fallen asleep the evening before out of pure exhaustion, leaving the prisoner to suffer with his wounds alone.

Things hadn’t gone to plan but he was at least closer to the fortune he’d dreamed of for so long. A fortune he’d killed, lied, cheated and stolen for. It had led him to now, with the last of his money spent on a Union Pacific prison carriage from Fort Hays to as far as it will go. Using the thinly veiled authority of a Texas Ranger, he’d secured passage with an on board railway agent who’d somehow believed his plight. However, at Ellsworth station he’d been replaced with another, and the deal was as good as done. That was the least of his worries though; he was also actively being hunted.

“Are you awake chief?” he said while tentatively stepping into the gloom.

The relief was barely contained and it overpowered the stench that would have ordinarily repulsed his delicate sense of smell. It reeks of death, he thought as the Indian moved backwards to the corner of the cell in visible terror.

Samuel Hardin had no love for the savages, even if he had respect for their prowess, neither mattered in his mission though. He envisioned the task would not only make him rich but also conclude an inexorably bloody fate for the Plains tribes. Whatever the outcome, he’d be long gone.

The tribesman’s reaction disturbed Sam somewhat. He expected his usual defiance; instead he faced a subdued shell of a warrior chief.

He knew nothing of the native tongues and spent little time on the frontier, so was unaccustomed to their ways. His understanding came from newspapers. It was there he eyed the advert for the capture of Quanah Parker, the half breed war chief.

A reward was offered for the capture of the Comanche responsible for defying the Medicine Lodge Treaty and slaughtering frontier families the previous summer. Sam believed his task would not only cut the head off a snake and create a leaderless people eager to sign the reservation agreement, but also open the rest of the plains for settlers once and for all.

The Chief seemed very different though, subdued like a scared child. Only yesterday he’d uttered a few English words about skinning Sam alive the first chance he got. Perhaps his injuries had rendered him useless. It was surprising he was still alive after the rangers who seized him in battle attempted to cave his head in. They realised he was worth more alive, once Sam interjected and reasoned with them, or more accurately promised them a share of the bounty.

Sam thought nourishment would help so went back to his satchel and returned shortly after with a canteen of water and a hand full of salted pork. Upon re-entering, he abruptly halted at the sight of a man peering into the bars.

“Excuse me?” he said with a hint of anger.

The man turned on the spot and smiled, “ahhh, are you the ranger responsible for him?”

Sam spoke loudly over the reverberations extending his hand in greeting, “Henry Hardin, pleased to meet you.”

He responded just as loud, returning the hand with a firm grasp “Jim O’Connor, who’s he?”

Sam fixated on the Pinkerton badge neatly displayed on the lapel of his pristine tailored suit.

While sliding the food and water into the cell he studied Jim’s face thinking he looked honest enough, but he knew the reputation of Pinkerton agents and their shady practices.

“He’s Comanche, taking him to Kansas City on request of the Mayor,” assuming that would be enough information to quell further suspicion.

Even if there was some truth, the agent wasn’t buying it.

“Which company yah with?”

The question came so fast, Sam stumbled over his words. “Erm…B company…Frontier Battalion”, praying that would suffice. His story had been questioned so many times, it should have rolled off the tongue by now. Somehow the thought of being exposed eroded his composure.

Jim visibly frowned at the answer, “Interesting. You know your jurisdiction ended a few hundred miles ago? Why would a ranger travel this far into Kansas? Must be important, is there a bounty on him?”

Sam realised there was little way out of the situation, looking over Jim’s shoulder to see Quanah watching their exchange intently; he appears more alert at least, he thought with reassurance.

“There is a small bounty yes, but there is a bigger issue at hand. The mayor had family members killed last year by Comanche. He tasked me in finding the war chief responsible,” he had to almost shout the last words as the train hit another section of shoddy track.

They both felt the train noticeably slow down after the screeching subsided. The Pinkerton agent glanced quickly at a time piece he produced deftly from his waistcoat. “Well apologies for ruinin your adventure but it’s over. We’re stoppin at Junction City where you’ll be gettin off. I’ll fulfil this obligation to the mayor, I’m acquainted with John. You should be glad I’m not jailing you for desertion, or better yet impersonating a state officer. Either way, you’re committin a crime worthy of a noose. But I’m a reasonable feller Mr Har”….BANG!!!

Jim crumpled to the floor almost immediately as the bullet entered under his chin.

Standing motionless while still aiming the Walker-Colt, Sam winced at the ringing noise which had increased tenfold within the confined space. The Comanche was also in evident distress, as he clasped his ears with each hand.

Sam Hardin knew he’d been rumbled at the greeting, he assumed that spending months down here would roughen him up and therefore pull off the ruse with ease. To the common folk, yes but he stuck out like an injured buffalo to other rangers or in this case, a Pinkerton. Still, dogged in his determination, he’d gotten this far and he wasn’t about to be dumped, so some yeller belly could reap the rewards of his efforts. Not for much longer, he prayed.

Realising the train had to keep moving, he knew there wasn’t time to dawdle. Securing the door behind him, Sam made his way to the front as fast as he could. He passed through the cargo carriages almost at a run hoping the gunshot hadn’t been heard and there weren’t more agents on board.

The locomotive dwindled to almost a third of its top speed urging Sam on faster. Rushing through the last passenger cabins, he noticed the folk ignored him completely or displayed an overt disgust at his presence.

Making his way to the engine room, the warm air could already be felt blowing through the walkway towards him. Turning in to the cab, he startled the firemen as they fed coal into the furnace which now felt unbearably hot.

“Where’s the engineer?”

They just stared at him slack jawed, unsure of what to do.

Sam was about to kick one of the young men in frustration but another man climbed from the side railing and stood on the edge of the cab. He was filthy from coal but his blue, gold trimmed cap gave away his identity.

In one fluid motion Sam unclipped the retention strap, pulled out the revolver and aimed it towards the engineer. The only thing he knew he’d improved upon down here was his gunmanship.

“Keep the fucking train running!” he screamed at the men…

“Sleeping Wolf.”

Sat cross legged in his cell, the injured Indian spoke the words out loud, recognising them as his given name. The words had suddenly came to him like before, the same way ‘wasichu’ had appeared when the hair lipped white man entered moments before. The only difference being, hatred had also accompanied those words.

Now, a wasichu was laid dead just feet away.

He’d listened to the two speak. Of the strange tongue they spoke, one word sounded familiar; ‘Comanche.’ He recognised the word but he didn’t know why.

As Sleeping Wolf sat and reflected, the shaking and rattling began to increase around him to levels even higher than previously, which intuitively evoked a sense of urgency.

Although fear ridden and in a significant amount of pain, he reached through the bars to grab the man by his dusty boot and pull him closer. With one arm it was a monumental effort but it was enough to reach his gun and…. a set of keys…

As the train passed through Junction City, Sam raced back towards the rear. He caught a glance of the queues of people waiting to board through a steamy window.

He knew the train would be reported as a runaway and the law would respond swiftly. Luckily he had speed on his side, he just needed to reach Kansas City and the rest was easy.

Barging through the disgruntled throng of passengers now protesting the train’s sudden change of plan and pace, he noticed their expressions alter as they eyed his un-holstered weapon. Shit, realising the mistake and painfully aware that those on board would think this a common robbery.

Sam winced when the first utterance of “outlaws” was heard. It wasn’t long before panic spread throughout the rest of the cabins and folk threw themselves out of his path.

Reaching the end of the last public carriage, a large bearded man blocked the opposite end; he brought a Winchester repeater to his shoulder in aim.

“One more step and you’re dead mister”, his steady voice unnerving Sam to the point he stopped dead and raised his hands.

“I ain’t robbing the train, sir”, he replied meekly while keenly aware of the crowd forming at his rear.

The man chuckled, “That’s what they all say, place your gun on the ground then we can sort this out like civilised gentlemen.”

As he got to his knees and complied with the unknown mans request, a number of deafening shots rang out. Sam cowered thinking he’d been fired upon when a bullet ricocheted close-by. In the silence that followed, relieved to have not been hit, he gradually lifted his gaze.

Looming within in the doorway, stood the Indian. He stepped over the body of the large man and limped towards Sam while struggling to stay balanced as the train continued its unpredictable jerking.

Sam looked on in a state of fear and awe.

The warrior stopped a few feet away and composed himself.

“Wasichu”, he said while casually aiming the pistol towards Sam. With a flick of the wrist, he pointed it towards his own chest.

“Sleeping Wolf… Kiowa”, he said with evident pride.

Sam closed his eyes as the broken but unmistakable meaning of the words sank in.

He could have laughed at how in a matter of minutes, his mission had turned into a complete disaster.

They both stared into each other’s eyes, looking for an answer that never came. Sleeping Wolf seemed to light up at a new thought.

Pointing at his chest again he spoke; “me… home”.

humanity
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About the Creator

K. Bensley

Writing is a hobby that I’m looking to explore and improve upon by creating a variety of fictional content.

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  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  3. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

  1. Easy to read and follow

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Comments (9)

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  • C. H. Richard2 years ago

    Loved the action in this western thriller. Subscribed and hearted

  • Babs Iverson2 years ago

    Wonderful western story. Fabulous read. Hearted & subscribed.💖💕

  • Aww this was unique and yet so classic! Loved it best of luck to you 💜

  • Gerald Holmes2 years ago

    Loved this. A good western is rare these days but this is perfect. I think this could be a winner.

  • Oh man! I loved this! You ought to make this into a screenplay or something. I'm a big fan of Westerns anyway, but only good ones. ;)

  • Heather Hubler2 years ago

    This was engaging and a very enjoyable read! I liked the change in perspectives, well done :)

  • Wow, this was so amazing! I immensely enjoyed reading this story. You did a fantastic job!

  • Wow! That was so good! I love a good western, and this, was just that. Thank you for sharing this adventure

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