A hot, dusty day, as hot and dusty as any Cook could remember, and he'd been traveling these parts all his life. They were camped along the river and its gentle waters cooled his fellow cowboys' overheated spirits as well as their smelly feet. And the trickling waters came in handy to clean Cooky's dirty pots. Such was the life of four travelers, a scruffy old collie ironically named Dusty, and an abandoned Conestoga wagon put to good use again.
"Cooky, that bean concoction last night was the worst damn thing ever found its way to a pot." The man speaking, Spencer, never liked the grub Cook made.
"Ah, take it easy, ya old goat." Enright, Spencer's best friend, chastised him, as was his habit.
"Shut up, Enright! I got enough gas boiling inside to kill me!"
"You kids quit fighting amongst yourselves!" Cook threw in. "I must admit beans can be pretty fretful, but it's all we have left. We can't get to Culver City soon enough to buy supplies."
Enright, a tall man, leaned back on his pack and stretched his long legs toward the fire. "When we get to Culver City, I'm gonna find me a woman, a real pretty woman!"
"You already got a woman!" The softer voice emanated from Belle who had just returned from the river after watering her horse. The task had taken its toll, saturating her pants from the knees down and leaving her boots slimed with mud.
"What woman?" Enright asked.
"You a woman? I hadn't noticed."
It was true. Belle rode and shot like a man. Growing up with six brothers taught her that. And yet, beneath that battered hat and baggy pants, she was gorgeous. Beautiful blond locks were squashed under a dusty Stetson and dirt smudged her clear bright-eyed face making it gray and weary. Her beauty hidden, to the others she quickly became one of the guys. She had found it wise to dress sloppy from the very start to assure they let her come along. A prissy girl would have no place on the trail, and she needed to get to Culver City by the earliest conveyance possible. The stagecoach didn't come through for another week. So she hitched a ride with this motley group. The lady was going to Culver City for a wedding, but that didn't mean a little fun along the way couldn't be enjoyed. And Enright, the cowboy, was one colossal perk.
Dusty, the collie, rushed to her side, his tongue dangling and dripping, tail wagging, as though to let her know he appreciated her if no one else did. She stroked him, all the while studying Enright with quick little glances so he wouldn't notice.
"Damn beans!" Spencer said, rising and rushing from the camp. He disappeared into the nearby woods.
"When we get to Culver City, I'm gonna get some decent food like rice and potatoes," Cook muttered, "Just so I don't get any more beans. Spencer is driving me nuts." Picking up Spencer's supper plate, he placed it near Dusty for the dog to finish. The pooch dug in.
Later that night as the four slept out under the stars and tucked under blankets, a howling from the woods woke Cooky first. He jumped up with a start, his heart pounding. At first, the moonlight confused him. He forgot he was out on the trail and expected to see his tidy little room above the bar at Smithton. The shriek was other-worldly, like a disembodied spook angry and prowling in the forest, fixing to bring death and torture to their midst at any moment. It pierced the ears and cut straight to the core.
"What the hell is that?" Enright asked as he stood next to the cook.
"I dunno. But it can't be good, I'm tellin' ya that!"
"What is that?" Belle asked, joining the other two.
"Spencer is not out there being sick again, is he?" Cooky asked. But a quick glance to the campfire revealed Spencer sleeping soundly. The guy snored and rolled over oblivious to the racket.
"That man could sleep through a train wreck," Enright said. But he was drowned out by the shrill noise again. The shriek was loud enough even he, a sizeable cowboy, trembled.
"Does it sound like it's getting closer?" Belle asked.
It was true. The howling was making concentric circles around the camp, each new circle bringing it closer to them.
"Do you think it might be vampires?" Cooky asked. His eyes were little pin points on a pale, empty face as though the rest of him had already up and left.
"My people, they've always believed in them...legend." Cooky looked away in mid-sentence as the howling moved closer. He darted his eyes along the border to the woods.
"I'm frightened!" Belle said, hugging Enright in spite of herself. Her hat fell off in the process and released abundant lengths of hair to cascade down her back.
"Darlin', don't worry," Enright said, pulling her close.
A tiny smile graced her lips as she snuggled against his chest. Enright's fingers tangled in her cascading blond locks, and he looked confused. Lifting his hand to run some strands through his fingers, his eyes widened.
The shriek again. It was getting closer. This time the trio jumped, startled out of their wits.
"Maybe we should hide in the wagon," Cooky said.
Enright would have none of it. He had a gorgeous woman in his arms. Now how would it look to cut and run? It would look like a coward, that's what. "We stay right here," he declared. Belle's hair felt silky running through his fingers. But he pulled his hand free to get his gun ready, grasping it from his gun belt.
"Uh, if you say so." Cook look unconvinced.
Shriek! Roar! The creature came charging from the woods. Tan and brown, a blur to the eye as it ran at furious speed straight at them. Enright aimed.
But Belle suddenly stiffened. What happened next was worthy of legendary fame right up there with super-heroes and saintly men. She swirled and drop-kicked the gun out of Enright's hand with the speed and grace of a ninja. The startled cowboy stood looking at his empty palm. Cooky's eyes darted from the cowboy to Belle and back again as though trying to make sense of things.
In the meanwhile, the creature barreled in, stopping at their feet and commencing to lick Enright's boots. The frightening beast was Dusty, the collie! The animal looked up and with bewildered eyes released a toot and a cloud of flatulence that sent the others rushing back, covering their noses and coughing.
"I shouldn't have fed him those beans!" Cooky declared between gasps. "Damn gas sent that dog screaming into the woods."
Enright and Belle barely heard his remarks which is the point of this story. Having fallen into each other's arms, they were off to the side smooching up a storm. And that, my friends, is how there came to be a surprise double wedding in Culver City. And also why beans can be a good thing, bringing people together one way or the other, at camp outs and parties! And they're a good source of fiber, too.
Copyright 2010 JO Janoski