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More Frontier Epic Samples

YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU'LL FIND ON THE PRAIRIE

     Virginia McGilliam was twenty-three years old and bald. Not just a little bit bald either, but bald all over. Most people have little hairs on their arms, some fuzz on their cheeks, but not Virginia. She had no eyebrows, no eyelashes, not a single hair anywhere.

     To look at her a body wouldn’t notice her affliction right away because she always wore man’s clothes with a red bandanna tied around her shiny head and that usually covered with a man’s hat. The clothes had been her father’s and were way too large for her, the vest hanging almost to her knees and the trousers bunched up at her waist where she used one of dad’s belts with an extra hole punched in it to hold them up. More often than not, the long end of the belt would slip from the loop and dangle down between her legs as she worked.

     She always wore boots with the trousers tucked in the top, and because she was of the diminutive nature, the boot tops came halfway up her lower legs. She would wear one of her dad’s cloth coats over this outfit, the garment almost reaching her knees. Mostly she would leave the coat unbuttoned unless it was cold outside.

     On the whole she presented a figure that would definitely attract a lot of attention in any populated area. Which wasn’t really a problem because she did not live in any populated area. She did not even live close to one.

     Mom and Dad had died of the croup within two days of each other and suddenly Virginia was alone in the wagon that had carried the three of them for so long. She had buried them side-by-side, unhitched the team and settled down right there in spite of the attempts of the others to keep her with the wagon train. Her folks had plenty of company where they lay, for the croup had taken quite a toll at this particular location. Altogether there were eight wooden crosses out there.

     Virginia had watched the wagon train until it was gone over the horizon, then set to work making a home. She still had hair at that time, although it was less than a week when she first noticed a silver dollar sized area on her head that was devoid of hair. In less than a month she was completely bald. All over.

     It was like further punishment from above, maybe because she had not saved her folks from coughing themselves to death. Even though it was a pretty strange affliction, at the time she was working so hard trying to stay alive that she had managed to live with the condition without too much shame. Still and all, it was then that she took to wearing a bandanna all the time.

     When she looked in the looking glass that had been her mother’s, she thought she sort of looked like a gypsy, what with the colorful cloth on her head, but her appearance did not bother her too much because she never saw any other person.

     Staying alive had not been the easiest thing to do, either.

     She had parked the wagon in a grove of trees by a curve in the creek and made a lean-to, then put in a small crop with some of the most backbreaking work she had ever done. The prairie sod was laced with countless tiny roots and almost impossible to cut through, so she had used an axe. Then she had peeled back the layers of sod still using the axe and sometimes a shovel to cut it loose from the dirt below. She took the sod and began to lay out the shape of a small soddy, one room only, then returned and started removing the next piece.

     Day after endless day, making maybe a twenty by three-foot strip of cleared land in a day, she worked on. Life was hard, and she lived on supplies from the wagon and meat from animals that she shot herself as she planted her first crop and hoped it was not too late in the season to reap a harvest. She was sixteen at the time.

     Now, seven years later, she was lean and hard as the land itself. Her hands were tough and calloused like a man’s hands, and she had a small two-room cabin made of wood she had cut into boards by herself. The fireplace was made of fieldstone and it drew well and kept the cabin warm in the winter.

     She had a good ten acres of cleared land that she worked, harvesting meager crops of corn and beans and potatoes. It was enough to live on and even put some away for winter.

     Last year she had put a plank floor down, and now the windows all had curtains made of some of the gay colored cloth mom had packed to take along. Virginia had made the curtains last year because there was nothing to do in the long winter except sew anyway.

     Occasionally she would hitch the team and drive the wagon thirty miles to Brown Bear Creek. No doubt folks there considered her a little strange because of all the clothes she wore, but Virginia paid them no mind. She would sell what little things she had found on the prairie that had been left behind by folks with overloaded wagons. On a few rare occasions she would have extra crops to sell, maybe some potatoes or beans. She would then buy what she needed and leave, glad to be gone from the sight of other people, for her hair had never come back.

     It was on just such a trip, headed back to the solitude and safety of her secluded home, that she came across the man on the prairie. She reined in and looked down at the man lying face up in the grass. She studied him for a few moments, then began to speak. She spoke very little in town, but it was one of the things she did a lot when she was alone.

     “Just my luck you are not dead, I bet,” she said. The man did not move; his eyes were closed. She could see the spot of red on his chest and she looked around uneasily.

     “Somebody saw fit to put a bullet into you, didn’t they?” She felt the big pistol on her belt, hoping that whoever shot this man was long gone, then made up her mind and crawled down from the wagon. She knelt by the prone figure, keeping her hand close to her gun and examined him.

     “Well, you are not dead,” she said, “but mighty near.” It was as if she could feel eyes on her from somewhere, but she felt like that a lot, especially when some of her baldness was showing, so she ignored the feeling.

     “I suppose you think I am going to take you in and tend to you,” she said. “I could you know, but I am not sure I could save you anyhow. An awful lot of your blood has leaked out. Probably a lot of pretty flowers are going to grow up here next spring.” She saw were his horses had grazed and followed their trail to a small hollow where two horses were grazing contentedly. She walked up to them and caught up the reins.

     “Come with me, horses,” she said. “No sense in letting you go to waste out here.” She led the horses to the wagon and tied them on the back. One of them was a pack horse and likely had some good stuff on him. She walked over to the man again and looked down at him.

     “You dead yet?” Virginia asked. His chest still rose and fell as he took shallow breaths.

     “Not yet, huh?” She stood there looking down on him, uncertain what to do, then she saw the pistol under his hand. Virginia knelt down and moved his hand. His skin felt warm and alive and gave her a funny feeling when she touched it. She took the pistol and put it back in the man’s holster. She began to unfasten the gun belt – – likely he wouldn’t need it anymore – – when his hand suddenly grabbed her wrist and she bleated in fear. His eyes were open, and he was looking her dead in the eye. His face was pale and beaded with sweat.

     “You an angel?” He asked weakly.

     “Not even close, Mister,” she said. She worked her wrist loose. He didn’t seem to have a lot of strength left.

     “Wiley,” he said softly. “Name is Wiley Board.” His eyes closed and for a moment she thought he was out cold again, but they flicked open once more.

     “Are you the one who shot me?” He wanted to know.

     “Nope,” she said. He led his eyes close.

     “Good,” he said so soft she could hardly hear. “In that case you can have my stuff and welcome to it,” he added. “Just stay with me for a while first.” His voice was getting softer and softer. “Just talk to me and…” He was unconscious once more. Virginia stood up beside him. Her horses snorted impatiently as she looked at him.

     “Damn you,” she said, and she hardly ever swore. “So, I am welcome to your stuff, huh?” She sighed and looked down on him.

     “Wiley,” she said finally as she knelt down beside him once more. “I fear you are going to be no end of trouble for me.”