Updated: Dec 4, 2018
We made it by the skin of our teeth. When we promised a summer release of these two stories, neither of us knew the challenges that would present themselves in the months ahead. But we did it! I wanted to give you a sneak peek at these two short stories before they are released this week.
Excerpt from “The Unwitting Hero of Whitcomb Springs”
Whitcomb Springs, Montana Territory—1884
Sheriff Hank Chase sat with his feet propped up on the cold wood stove, his fingers steepled before his lips while Roper paced from the door to the desk. “So, she’s a looker.”
Roper stopped midstride, “A looker? My horse is a looker. This woman’s . . .”
Hank grinned. “I think you said ‘an angel without the wings’. Never knew you were inclined to poetry.”
“You can make fun all you want, but when you see her, you’ll understand.”
Jack piped in, “She sure does smell good.” The boy’s eyes held a dreamy quality quite unlike the skeptical glint he normally harbored there. “Just nice, a little like Ma, but sweeter. Not like the fancy ladies over at Sheila’s house.”
Both Hank and Roper turned to where Jack perched on the edge of Hank’s desk.
Hank asked in a slow drawl, “And you would know that how?”
Jack frowned, pursing his lips saying, “You can smell them from across the street.”
Roper pressed the issue, asking, “You make a habit of taking your route home through that alley? It doesn’t seem the most direct way from school or the general store.”
Jack met the question but neither man’s eyes. “I might’ve been invited in for a cookie or two—on occasion.”
Hank lifted one dark eyebrow. “A cookie? They in the bakery business now?”
Jack squirmed. “I may have run an errand or two for Sheila—on occasion.”
Roper took his turn at bat. “You’re on a first name basis, too? Is that all you been up to on occasion?”
“Well, yeah!” Jack folded his arms and screwed up his face, a picture of disgust. “What else?”
Hank and Roper exchanged glances.
Hank asked, “How old are you?”
“Eleven.” Jack cinched up his pants and stuck out his chin. “Nearly eleven and a half.”
Hank narrowed his eyes. “Your mother know you been over there?”
“Nah.” Jack’s face paled leaving only a smear of freckles to color his nose. “Hey! You ain’t gonna tell her, are ‘ya?”
Hank threw up his hands and vigorously shook his head. “Not me.”
Roper knew Hank’s relationship with Jack’s mother might make him a bit reluctant to snitch on her son. So, Roper stepped in with a little bit of big-brother advice. “Seems to me that a boy your age might be better off getting his cookies from his mom’s kitchen.”
Hank nodded, suppressing a grin. “Definitely.”
Jack changed the subject, looking at Roper again. “So, what ya gonna do to get Aunt Rebecca to like you?”
Hank answered the question. “I’d imagine he should just be his normal, charming self,”
“His charming self?” Jack looked mystified. “Like in Prince Charming? I sure ain’t seen it.”
Hank shrugged. “Well, maybe not just like Prince Charming, but he can be. . .nice.” Hank unrolled from the chair and ambled back to his desk. He turned an eyebrow on Jack as he passed.
“And stop saying ain’t. Your mother doesn’t like it.”
“Do I have to be charming?” Roper scratched the back of his neck.
Hank pulled a hand down his stubbled cheek. “Well, you know, just pay special attention to her. The usual things like hold open a door or pull out her chair. Make conversation ladies like. Talk about the flowers and the weather. Be a gentleman. You know.”
“I don’t know.” Roper frowned and returned to pacing.
Unchained Courage by MK McClintock takes a more serious look at the little town of Whitcomb Springs.
Excerpt from “Unchained Courage”
Whitcomb Springs, Montana Territory—July 4, 1865
Daniel led his horse over the familiar two-mile ride up the mountain trail. He reached a small clearing, and in the center a lake spread out in glistening glory, reflecting the mountain peaks behind it. He dismounted and stared in awe at the vista as his speckled horse grazed. Images of Evelyn overlapped his vision until it seemed a transparent silhouette of her smiling face hovered over the mountains.
A well-kept cabin stood a dozen yards from the crystal-clear lake. The stream feeding into it from the north flowed out to the east and created a short waterfall down a slope of rocks. Cooper McCord, the man who had been by Evelyn’s side while Daniel had been at war, called this part of paradise home when he wasn’t in town.
Cooper’s friendship had become a steadying hand in the three months since Daniel’s return. Without speaking of it, Cooper understood what Daniel had been through. They never spoke of their experiences: Daniel’s in the war between the North and South, and Cooper’s from his days serving as a civilian tracker in the army, occupying the West and witnessing the travesties wrought against the natives.
Cooper first brought Daniel to this same mountain lake a week after the nightmares had begun. Since then, Daniel had found solace in this place high above the town, the people, the noise. When he craved silence, he came here. Daniel had seen the disappointment in Evelyn’s eyes when he remained quiet about his experiences, but she never pushed.
He heard the crunch of horse hooves on rocks and twigs covering the trail. Only Cooper came here—it was his home. Daniel wondered where he had been for the past three days.
Daniel did turn when Cooper said nothing and saw the extra horse with the large buck draped over the saddle and covered in heavy canvas. Cooper walked over and stood next to Daniel. The dawn’s warm sun promised a clear and sunny day.
“Thought you might be here this morning.”
“The buck is for tonight?”
Cooper nodded. “Evelyn will understand if you aren’t there.”
“I can’t do that to her.” Daniel watched the sun inch higher on the horizon. The first Independence Day in four years without the screams, trumpets, cannons, and muskets echoing in his ears. Instead of a body-strewn battlefield, Daniel gazed upon the most beautiful valley he’d ever seen in his life. Instead of cries coming from a hospital tent, the town of Whitcomb Springs below was a haven for him and anyone else seeking solace and a peaceful place to live.
Daniel still heard the screams in his nightmares. Muskets firing, filling the air with the stench of smoke and death. He relived it often. Most nights, the comfort of holding his wife was enough to waylay the madness within, but the worst of the memories sneaked through his barrier.
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