For a long time I wanted to write about one particular Saturday afternoon in the 1970s. Last year that idea became a story, "One Against a Gun Horde."
In those years I lived with my parents on a Nebraska acreage that sat on a hill, overlooking a creek valley grassland. About a mile to the southwest sat a small group of buildings we rented for livestock. Cattle grazed in the pasture. Hogs lived in the barns. A gravel road ran parallel with our homestead. Half a mile away, a right turn would take you half a mile to the other place.
So on this one sunny, summer Saturday, my dad and I were walking across our open yard, heading to the house for coffee, when we heard a gunshot. Then another.
It was the middle of summer. Not hunting season. And the thunder echoing up through the cedars and cottonwoods from the other place didn't come from a BB gun or even a .22 rifle.
This was high powered stuff.
We held up our hands to shield our eyes from the sun and searched the horizon.
The shooters weren’t hard to find. Their bright red pickup was a give away, parked in the ditch at the other place.
Taking off in a run, Dad said over his shoulder, "Get in the pickup.” I followed, feet dragging a little, while my heart picked up the pace. "Call the dog," he said
"Where are we going?" Like I didn't know. I got our German Shepherd into the box, and we jumped into our ancient blue Ford.
Dad turned the key, but before throwing the pickup into gear, he said, "Sons a bitches are too close to the hogs and cattle to be shootin'." His face was red, he was breathing hard, holding his voice down to a low growl.
"We're going down there?!?!"
I thought he'd lost his mind.
He thought I'd lost mine for the question.
We were both partly right.
"Dad. They've got guns," I said. "They've got guns." Trying to be extra dramatic.
"Oh yeah," he said, flinging open his door. Seconds later he was back with a single barrel shotgun that was older than the truck. "Hold onto that," he said.
Spinning gravel, we set out to confront the weekend gunnies, whoever they were, with an ancient shotgun, one shell, and a barking German Shepherd.
Less than a minute later, braking sideways on the gravel road, Dad deliberately spraying rocks at the parked red pickup, I decided it could've been worse.
I only saw two guys.
Then I decided it could've been better.
Each of the bearded men were bigger than dad and me combined. Each held a rifle.
"Do you know 'em?" said Dad. "Because I sure as hell don't." As if I hung around with bearded rednecks who were at least twice my age.
I shook my head, but he was already out of the pickup, stomping toward them. I decided to leave the shotgun in the cab.
When I joined them, I got a surprise.
Dad sure as hell did know 'em.
In fact, he'd gone to school with one of the men, and rode to Army basic training with the other.
Just like that, the anger was gone, all was forgiven, and it was old home week.
And like every kid left standing alone while a parent yuks it up with old friends, I immediately wanted to be someplace else.
So while I waited around and toed the dirt, I started to imagine how things might've been different.
What it these guys hadn't been old pals? What if they'd tried something? How would my dad act? How would I act?
That's the premise of “One Against a Gun Horde,” that interplay between real life and fiction, and it served as an origin story of sorts. For a while now I've written about a character named John Coburn who some folks know as "The Peregrine" thanks to a series of dime adventure stories written about him "back east."
But who wrote those stories about Coburn? And why? Here's the answer, and the afternoon incident above is where it all started.
After growing up on a Nebraska farm, Richard Prosch worked as a professional writer, artist, and teacher in Wyoming, South Carolina, and Missouri. His western crime fiction captures the fleeting history and lonely frontier stories of his youth where characters aren’t always what they seem, and the windburned landscapes are filled with swift, deadly danger. Read more at www.RichardProsch.com