Free Fiction

The Free Fiction page will change from time to time, and there’s no telling what will show up here — a short story, a novella, an excerpt from one of my novels — who knows? There’s also no telling how long any particular item will remain available. You’re free to enjoy anything you find, but please read it here rather than snagging it for consumption later. All the usual copyright rules apply.

black-divider-no-background-hiCover--final“A Portrait in the Wild West” is part of an anthology I edited called Selfies. All the stories feature a selfie of some kind, although the definition is wide enough to encompass not just cell phone pix, but portraiture and images taken from security cams. There are a dozen other excellent stories in the collection, and should you wish to purchase a copy, know that all profits will be donated to ELM, the Enrichment for Life Movement, a non-profit educational program for seniors. You can get your copy right here.

The tale I contributed is below.

Copyright 2015 by Josh Langston–all rights reserved

A Portrait in the Wild West

by Josh Langston

“Lady” Jayne Embry stood like a sentinel in the open doorway of her employer’s small but luxurious apartment. With a lilting English accent she announced, “The stage is coming, mum.” Though she stood as erect as a sentry, she held a bonnet and a purple parasol instead of a musket and bayonet.

Perking up at the news, Quinella Ames fluffed her dark curls as she approached the younger woman at her door. “I might need you soon,” Quinella said as she accepted the parasol and ignored the bonnet. “Keep watch through the front window.” She then turned away, hurried through her now-empty saloon, and pushed open the swinging double doors to the outside. The Overland Coach would pull up directly across the rutted stretch of dirt known as Main Street and disgorge its passengers and cargo in front of the town’s café, which also served as the stage depot and post office.

The bi-weekly arrival of the stage was normally a cause célèbre, but this time it meant something very personal to Quinella. After all, one didn’t import a portrait artist every day, and certainly not one with the star cachet of a Wolfgang Altenhaus.

When the coach and its sweaty, four-horse team came to a creaking, swaying halt, Quinella lifted her skirts and stepped gingerly down from the plank walkway, careful to avoid the fresher piles of manure left by the mounts of the previous night’s patrons. She looked up in time to see a tall, thin man disembark from the dust-covered conveyance.

“Mr. Altenhaus?” she called.

The new arrival made a great show of ignoring her, retrieved a polished leather satchel from the driver, and marched, straight-backed, into the café/depot/post office.

Quinella looked through the coach’s open window at the remaining occupant who appeared either drunk or dead. Much to her relief, the driver managed to rouse him. He exited the vehicle with a lurch and a groan, his forearm raised to block the bright sunlight. After staggering crabwise two steps, he pitched forward, arms aflutter, and landed nose down in Main Street, narrowly missing a mound of equine effluvia.

Quinella gave her maid a frantic wave then hurried to the artist’s side and delicately helped him to his feet. Once she had him upright, she waited for Lady Jayne to join them. The latter brushed the worst of the manure from the man’s jacket, vest and trousers while the driver off-loaded a portmanteau of ancient vintage. It landed in the spot lately vacated by the artist.

“Are you all right?” Quinella asked.

He mumbled something that sounded like, “I think so.”

His words came laced with a thick, German accent which she took as an encouraging sign. “You are Wolfgang Altenhaus, aren’t you?”

He nodded, clamping a battered derby down until it pushed the tops of his ears perpendicular to his head. The rigors of stage travel were well known, and Altenhaus had obviously fared worse than most. His beard looked as if it housed small animals; his clothing, despite his recent fall, bore traces of similar mishaps, and he smelled worse than what he’d nearly fallen into. His distillery breath, however, masked some of the aroma.

“You look exhausted,” Quinella said, choosing her words carefully while wondering if there were any bad habits he didn’t have. “I’ll get you a bath and a meal, and then we can discuss my portrait sitting.”

He grunted something which she interpreted as agreement. That settled, she paid the driver to deliver Altenhaus’s luggage to the saloon and threw in a free drink to sweeten the deal.

Unwilling to touch him again, Quinella told herself he wasn’t much worse than some of the rowdies who came to town at the end of a cattle drive. Some of them needed two or three baths before they began to look and smell human. Because of them she had an arrangement with the Chinese barber who owned the town’s bath house. Her customers got a discount if they cleaned up before they darkened her doors–to either the saloon or her brothel.

“Take our guest to see the Chinaman,” she told Lady Jayne. “Tell him I don’t want him back until he no longer looks or smells like… uhm…“

“Shit, mum?”

Quinella nodded,

“Very good, mum,” she said, aiming the quasi-conscious artist in the proper direction. “Come along then,” she added as she got him under way.

Once back in the saloon, Quinella poured herself a shot of whiskey from her private stock and focused on making the most of a potentially awful situation. With any luck at all, Altenhaus, once sober, might actually be able to paint.

She hadn’t given any thought to the possibility that the man she hired, sight unseen, might not be able live up to the billing he’d been given by several of the madams she contacted on her recent trip to San Francisco. Combining a well-deserved vacation with the business imperative of finding new talent for her brothel, Quinella had risked leaving her businesses in the hands of her barkeep and made the six-week expedition to the Paris of the West.

While there, she toured a number of brothels to see how they differed from her own. What she discovered made a lasting impression. It seemed every ultra-successful San Francisco madam had at least two things in common, other than a high regard for free enterprise: a personal maid dedicated solely to her well-being and a life-sized, gilt-framed portrait hung where every customer could see it.

Quinella immediately set about obtaining both, but despite a frenzied search, found neither. Evidently no self-respecting artist or polished servant was willing to trade the exotic lifestyle of San Francisco for the vagaries of survival in a frontier town few people even knew existed.

She settled for a newspaper advertisement promising room, board and bonus for an artist and a maid and paid to have it run continuously for a year.

Jayne Embry answered Quinella’s call within two months, and on her arrival was awarded the moniker “Lady” Jane, due to her English accent, something with which few in Bogart Flats was familiar.

The entire year went by before Wolfgang Altenhaus responded to the ad. In what was either dramatically shaky or artfully illegible script, Altenhaus announced himself available. In fact, he was already en route when his letter arrived, and Quinella had barely a weekend to prepare for him.

When his luggage reached the saloon, she had it taken to his hastily prepared quarters, formerly occupied by a working girl who’d run off with a smooth-talking farmer. Quinella expected her back as soon as she figured out what was expected of a sodbuster’s wife.

~*~

Jayne Embry could not have been more surprised, or happy, when she stumbled across the advertisement Quinella Ames had placed in The San Francisco Chronicle. Jayne found the newspaper at the library where someone who’d recently made the long trip East had donated it. The timing was perfect, too.

Jayne responded the same day and began making preparations for her own trip–West. Chief among those measures was spending time with a friendly Englishman. The man had previously been employed by Lord Something-or-other but now owned a tailor shop. For two long weeks he coached her on how to sound like what he referred to as a “proper household servant.” She eventually learned to disguise her flat native accent enough to pass for a working class Londoner. The use of words like “swell” for “gentleman,” “dollymop or ladybird” for “whore,” and “biscuit” for “cookie” helped, though she had to learn to say them with neither a pause nor a giggle. Thus verbally armed she became as “fluent” as she knew she had to be.

After that she needed to find her brother, Terrence, explain her plan, and talk him into taking part. It wouldn’t be difficult and wasn’t something she looked forward to, but it couldn’t be avoided.

~*~

Quinella’s instincts kicked in the moment she slipped between the sheets of her bed. Something wasn’t right, and it had nothing to do with the nightly crowds her two business establishments drew. Those noises she had come to appreciate if not enjoy. This time, however, the issue wasn’t a sound, or a smell for that matter. It was something she sensed, and she immediately left her comfortable four-poster and called for Lady Jayne.

“What is it, mum?”

“I think there’s something in my bed.”

Jayne’s face reflected puzzlement. “Somethin’ other than sheets and blankets?”

“Yes!”

“Like what, d’ya ‘spose?”

“I don’t know! That’s what I want you to find out.”

“Somethin’ dangerous, then?”

Quinella shrugged.

“And ye want me to stick me own hand in there and find out what it is?”

“Well, yes. I guess so.”

“I don’t believe I’ll be doin’ that, mum. Let’s find us a lad with a barker and let him have a go.”

Quinella squinted at her. “What the hell is a barker?”

“It’s a pistol, for heaven’s sake. If there’s a creature of some kind lurkin’ in them sheets, I surely won’t be snatchin’ it up meself. I’d rather some bloke shot it dead.”

“Ridiculous! Do you know how much I paid for that mattress? The shipping alone was–“

“Then you reach in there. I’ll have none of it, I tell ye.”

Exasperated, Quinella stepped closer to the bed and pulled Jayne along with her. “Let’s just yank the covers off and see what happens. I’m probably imagining things. I’ve had a lot on my mind lately.”

Jayne reluctantly agreed, and the two joined forces to pull the bedspread, blankets, and top sheets off of the bed.

Quinella’s scream summoned everyone in the building to her rooms as she stared down at the rattlesnake curled up on her bed. The snake was not amused.

~*~

Jayne’s hours didn’t mirror Quinella’s. A maid had to rise earlier to prepare and serve her employer’s breakfast. She had a variety of other duties, but usually found some time for herself. She struck up a friendship with Quinella’s barkeep, McGraw, a man whose loyalty greatly exceeded his wit. If he had a first name, nobody in town knew it.

“I’m curious about the former owner of this fine establishment,” Jayne said one morning while Quinella was consuming a late breakfast.

“Ya mean Big Millie?”

“Aye,” Jayne said. “I’ve heard the name tossed about.” It required an act of will to maintain a straight face. Jayne knew exactly who the woman was.

McGraw scratched his rapidly balding pate. “She was a fine lady. Built this place, she did. Best hotel and saloon for more miles than I can count.”

“What happened to her?”

He shook his head slowly from side to side. “That was a sad day. I’m told she reached into the drawer of her bureau where she kept her unmentionables and ran afoul of a nest of scorpions.”

“No!”

“Sadly, yes. Back then Miz Quinella was just one of the dollies sellin’ her favors in here. Big Millie didn’t approve of it, but she knew them gals had to make a livin’, so she gave it a blind eye.”

“How did the scorpions get in her dresser?”

“Durned if I know. But poor Millie must’ve been stung a lot. She was raisin’ quite a ruckus, and folks rushed into her room to see what was going on. Quinella pushed her way to the front o’ the pack and offered to save Millie’s life for a half interest in the hotel.”

Jayne bristled at news of the arrangement but held herself in check. “Then what?”

“Quinella shooed everyone out and spent the whole night by poor Millie’s side. Folks said her efforts was ‘heroic,’ or somethin’ like that. Anyhow, it didn’t do no good. Millie died before sunup.”

“How odd. I didn’t think scorpion stings were fatal.”

McGraw drew his shoulders up around his ears and made a face. Jayne assumed she’d stumped him. “Are you sure she died from the scorpion stings?”

“Well, what else could’ve caused it? She just got too much o’ that spider pizen.”

“You mean ‘venom’?”

“Yes’m.”

If so, Jayne suspected the worst of it came from Quinella and not some desert insect. “What did the doctor say?”

“What doctor?”

“Surely someone sent for a doctor!”

“No’m. There’s no doctors around here. None that I know of, anyhow. But Quinella said she worked as a nurse durin’ the war.”

“For which side?” Jayne asked, trying hard not to sneer.

“Ma’am?”

“Never mind.”

~*~

Quinella never dreamed sitting for a portrait would be such hard work. Every time she moved, Wolfgang barked at her. Provided, of course, he was awake. The man could nod off at will and often did.

It had taken the better part of two days to revive him sufficiently to even discuss her portraiture. She had used much of the time to find a suitable surface for the painting since Altenhaus had arrived sans canvas. This he blamed on the stage line which didn’t take kindly to the accusation that they’d lost not only his canvasses, but his paints and brushes as well.

She settled for wooden planks, tightly joined and finely sanded. The cost was exorbitant, but Quinella bore it with typical western stoicism, and in the process convinced Jayne her employer was quite insane. Finding brushes proved even more difficult. The town’s tiny general store had a couple suitable for barn painting which Altenhaus refused. He ended up making his own from horsehair, which he claimed was the best material. Paints were a tougher hurdle, but again Altenhaus proved resourceful, when sober. The general store had both red paint and white. Altenhaus used those and mixed the other shades he needed using native materials, some of which smelled less than agreeable. The only colors which eluded him were blues, but he said he could work around that as long as Quinella didn’t pose outdoors.

If the sittings proved tiresome and annoying, Altenhaus’ attitude regarding his work in progress made things worse.

“May I see it?” Quinella asked after a particularly long session.

Altenhaus grumbled, “No.”

“Why not? I’m paying for it.”

“I forbid it.”

“But, why?”

He exhaled as if mortally wounded then spoke slowly, pronouncing each syllable with care. “You vill ask for changes und vaste my time. I make no changes. Chust vait until I’m done.”

“But–“

“Go! I am finished for ze day.” He tossed a sheet over the painting and carried it to his room at the top of the stairs.

Quinella watched him march past her observation post on the landing where the stairs took the turn leading to the working girls’ rooms. How many nights had she stationed herself there to keep an eye on her customers while at the same time staying just out of their reach? Plenty, she thought. She’d spent more than her share of time in the clutches of crusty cowpokes and horny horsemen. That life was behind her, and she had no regrets about making the transition from a missionary position to a management position.

None of which made her happy about not seeing the damned portrait.

~*~

Jayne stayed up a little later than usual one night the following week to keep an eye on her employer. The railroad had opened a spur line, and drovers could shave days, if not weeks, off their drives by using it. Business in the little town blossomed. But instead of being pleased, Quinella was outraged; along with new customers, the railroad delivered competition. At least two saloons and a hotel were under construction. Additional brothels would not be far behind. The Chinaman had even announced plans to expand his bath and “barbary” to include purveyors of the gentle arts and hinted that “his” girls would provide certain exotic services known only to those from the orient.

A furious Quinella paced back and forth on the landing, fuming at the cruelty of fate even as she watched a larger than usual crowd cram into her saloon and line up for turns with the soiled doves working on the second floor.

Altenhaus had become something of a minor sensation when he sat down at the saloon’s battered piano and banged out a tune with classical origins. While his repertoire was limited, he tried to accommodate anyone who’d buy him a drink. Many did, and the more he drank, the better his performances became.

That added to Quinella’s irritation since a big crowd at night meant Altenhaus would be unable to paint the following day. The delays were taking their toll.

Jayne waited patiently for Quinella to lean against the rail. It was a pose familiar to everyone, and was one she struck for prolonged periods every evening. That night was no different, although it took slightly longer than usual for Quinella to strike it.

Eventually, she did, and the railing collapsed. Quinella pitched toward the floor with only the piano and the portrait painter to cushion her fall. The latter had been pounding keys in the upper register when the banister broke and thus barely missed being crushed by the missile-like trajectory of the shrieking entrepreneur.

Jayne did her best to look shocked and dismayed, but her efforts were largely wasted on the saloon’s largely wasted clientele.

Quinella landed hard, her voluminous skirts offering little padding for her fall. Amazingly, she only broke an arm and a leg, and while sorely bruised–in body and ego–she survived.

Jayne was displeased.

~*~

“What the hell happened?” Jayne asked when she and her brother met for what should have been a post mortem.

“Damned if I know,” Terrence said. “The railing gave way just like I planned. Don’t blame me if she didn’t croak when she hit the floor.”

“What’ll we do now?”

He stretched his long, thin legs and shrugged. “Beats me. But I’ve gotta tell ya, I’m tired of trying to stay outta sight. I saw Ma’s purple parasol the day I arrived. She was carryin’ it when she met the stage. I nearly wept. Makin’ matters worse, she saw me get off the durned stage!”

“I didn’t know you’d be on the same one as the painter,” Jayne said. The fact she’d called Quinella’s attention to the vehicle’s arrival had grated on her ever since.

“I can’t stand much more of it,” he said. “Seein’ her strut around in Mama’s clothes makes my blood boil. Plus, I’m staying at the livery while you live a life of luxury.”

Jayne fixed him with a stare hot enough to melt a horseshoe. “You try livin’ with that woman!”

“If I did, one of us would be dead already,” Terrence said. “Lord knows she should be dead by now.”

“Mama’s prob’ly rollin’ in her grave,” Jayne said, abandoning her London accent. “If they gave awards for foul ups, we’d have a bag full of blue ribbons.”

“Speak for yourself. I did everything you asked: gimmicking the handrail was tricky, but puttin’ that snake in her bed darn near got me killed.”

“What’ll we do now?” Jayne thought for a moment, then snapped her fingers. “Let’s put a snake in the necessary.”

“The one out behind the saloon?”

“Yeah.”

He shook his head. “Too many people use it. How’re you gonna git a snake to show up just when Quinella drops her bloomers in there? Besides, what self-respecting rattler would hang around? The smell’s enough to peal paint.”

“Speakin’ of paint, our artist friend wants more money.”

Terrence bristled. “We don’t have any more money!”

“Which is why we have to think of something fast. I’m sure Mama intended us to have her hotel and everything that comes with it.”

“That don’t make it so.”

For once, Jayne couldn’t argue with him.

~*~

Because of her injuries, Quinella needed even more assistance than usual, but much to Jayne’s surprise, Altenhaus stepped up, and the lady’s maid responsibilities remained unchanged–except for sentry duty. Quinella insisted she take over the owner’s observation post on the landing and report anything suspicious.

Jayne was discussing this with McGraw who opined that things could be much worse. “How so?” she asked.

“You’ll see them fellars comin’ if they aim to lay hands on ya,” he said. He reached underneath the back of the bar and extracted a shotgun with an extremely short barrel. The muzzle looked big enough to swallow a shot glass, and he took care to keep it pointed away from her. “I’ve got the remedy for overly friendly cowhands,”

“You wouldn’t kill them, would you?”

“I’m not a very good shot,” he admitted. “That’s why I had the barrel cut down so much. I don’t hafta worry ‘bout aimin’. But, if I need to come to yer defense, would you rather I didn’t shoot to kill?”

Jayne conceded the point and thanked McGraw for his willingness to act on her behalf.

“I’d do it for Quinella,” he said, “so I’m kinda obliged to do it fer you, too.” He put the shotgun away and clapped his hands above the bar.

The sound startled Jayne, and she gave him a puzzled look.

McGraw proudly displayed the remains of the horsefly he’d smashed between his palms. “The Circle J boys’ll be here tonight. Their advance rider came by this mornin’.”

“That’s good news, I suppose,” Jayne said, ignorant of any significance attached to the announcement.

“Shorty O’Connor rides with that crew.”

“And?”

“Shorty’s kind of an idiot.”

Jayne wondered if McGraw had identified the right man. “So?”

“He tends to git riled about strange things.”

“Such as….”

McGraw pointed at the piano Altenhaus commandeered at night. “We had a piano player once before, but Shorty shot him dead. Claimed the fellar deliberately played music that made him cry. Cowboys don’t want anyone to think they do that.”

Jayne couldn’t believe what she’d heard. “Wasn’t he arrested?”

“Well, ma’am, that’d require some kinda lawman, now wouldn’t it? And since we don’t have one, we just kinda settled it right here.”

“In the saloon? You had a trial?”

“Not a trial, ‘zactly. We talked it over and decided it was an accident since Shorty was aimin’ at the piano, and not the piano player. Then, too, he had the whole rest of the Circle J crew in here drinkin’ with him, and they said it was justified. I reckon some of them must’ve been cryin’, too.”

Jayne rolled her eyes.

“But the thing ya gotta remember is that ol’ Shorty just ain’t real bright. Hell fire, his horse has a tighter grip on things. Shorty’s liable to go crazy over just about anything. He’s a terrible card player, f’rinstance, and whenever he’s losin’, which is pretty much any time he plays, he’ll claim he’s been cheated by whoever’s dumb enough to play with him.”

“Has he ever shot anybody over cards?” Jayne asked.

“Naw, but it’s only a matter of time.”

“I see,” Jayne said. “Is there anything else I should know about him?”

McGraw scratched his head and concentrated. “’Bout the only thing I’d add is that the ladies won’t have anything to do with him. They’re afraid he might fall in love or something. God only knows what that might lead to.”

Jayne thanked him for the information and immediately set out to find Terrence. There had to be some way they could take advantage of such a perfect opportunity.

~*~

That same evening, Jayne took up Quinella’s spot on the landing and killed time waiting for Shorty O’Connor’s arrival; McGraw had promised to point him out. Meanwhile, Terrence stood at the bar and waited for a signal from Jayne. Terrence was no magician when it came to poker, but he was better than most, and they figured O’Connor for an easy mark.

Their suspicions proved to be correct and in short order.

Shorty arrived in typical trail hand fashion–dirty, loud, and thirsty. Along with most of the Circle J crew, he headed straight for the bar, eager to spend some of the freshly earned money in his pocket. Terrence chatted him up and offered to help him increase his newfound wealth through a game of cards.

“Look at all these knuckleheads,” Terrence said, sweeping his arm at the cowpokes, railroad men, ranch hands and assorted riff-raff that filled the saloon. “Easy pickings,” he predicted.

O’Connor smiled. “Then let’s git started,” he said as his third whiskey began to pickle his few remaining brain cells.

After only a few hands, O’Connor had lost a bundle, and his mood deteriorated just as fast. Terrence joked with the others at the table, but tried not to poke the bear too much. Jayne kept an eye on them but worried Terrence had pushed too hard, too fast. But, she realized, they had completely failed to factor in what an exceptionally bad poker player O’Connor was.

Just as McGraw predicted, O’Connor became surly and aggrieved. Everyone, he claimed, was out to get him.

Jayne had been waiting for just such a sentiment. She hurried down the stairs and made her way to the cowboy’s side. Terrence made room for her at the table by excusing himself to visit the necessary. Jayne put a hand on O’Connor’s arm as he was about to react.

“Let him go,” she said, trying to sound as soothing as possible. “It’s not what you think.”

“How’s that?” O’Connor demanded. “These fellers been layin’ for me. It ain’t fair. It just ain’t fair.”

“You’re right,” Jayne said. “It isn’t, but these boys aren’t to blame. The owner of the place put ‘em up to it, I swear.”

O’Connor reacted with predictable surprise. “Ya mean I was right?”

“Of course you were,” she whispered. “But you can’t take it out on them. The owner forced ‘em into it. They didn’t have a choice.”

“Who is this guy?” demanded O’Connor, his voice dropping to a growl.

Jayne cautioned him to speak quietly. “The owner’s a woman,” she said. “Quinella Ames, and she’s in her room right now, probably counting all the money she had those boys steal from you.”

O’Connor swept his meager hoard of cash from the table and shoved his chair backwards until he could stand. “Where is she?” he asked in a tone as harsh and forbidding as a desert.

Jayne tilted her head toward Quinella’s rooms. “But I wouldn’t tangle with her if I was you,” she advised. “She might look innocent and helpless, but she keeps a loaded Colt under her pillow, and she isn’t afraid to use it.”

The cowboy merely grunted as he polished off his drink and plowed through the crowded room to her door. With one hand on his revolver and one on the door handle, O’Connor bulled his way into Quinella’s quarters.

Jayne cut her eyes at Terrence across the room, and they both moved slowly toward the inevitable confrontation, but it played out before they got much closer.

The exchange between the mad man and the madam was short, loud, and bitter. It ended with gunfire–two shots in rapid succession followed by utter silence. For a long, uncomfortable moment, no one in the saloon breathed, but the trance was soon broken and everyone began talking and moving at once.

O’Connor staggered out of Quinella’s room just as Jayne and Terrence arrived. He pushed past them, still complaining about being cheated and demanding to know who had his money.

Jayne peeked inside the room to check on her employer. Quinella lay sprawled across her bed, motionless but with both sightless eyes open. A dark red bullet hole hovered just above the left one. Where the second shot went Jayne couldn’t tell, but one had clearly been enough.

Elated, she backed out of the room and into Terrence’s arms. With a tight, tearful embrace, they basked in Quinella’s demise and their success at getting revenge for their mother. When Terrence began to laugh, Jayne joined him. Neither cared what anyone else thought.

O’Connor, however, was far from amused, and it was obvious–to him, if to no one else–that the pair were laughing at him. With his six-shooter still smoking, he focused his angry glare at them.

Jayne and Terrence were still in a celebratory mood and unaware they’d attracted the outraged cowboy’s ire when he emptied his gun in their direction. Two rounds went into the piano, narrowly missing Altenhaus. The other two went into the brother and sister who both died with very surprised looks on their faces.

Altenhaus was the first to recover his wits, and he attacked O’Connor with an empty beer mug, the only weapon he could find. After three, quick roundhouse swipes which unsympathetically reconfigured the cowboy’s head, the killer dropped to the floor like a felled ox.

The saloon’s patrons cheered and raised their glasses in his honor.

~*~

After the four perfunctory funerals, Altenhaus moved from the upper floor to the lower one, taking over the lavish suite of the late madam. He consolidated the personal items from Jayne and Quinella and distributed them among the working girls. He also forgave them any debts owed to the house as he had no desire to follow in Quinella’s footsteps. What they did with their new-found freedom was up to them.

Because Quinella died without a will and owed Altenhaus more money than anyone else, he took over the business. Despite the coming competition, he felt certain the income he’d earn would easily fund his real passion–landscape painting.

As the sun set for the first time on the fresh graves just outside of town, Altenhaus put the finishing touches on his work in progress. He removed the small mirror he’d been using to capture his own features. The elegant, sophisticated man in the portrait bore little resemblance to the reprobate who’d rolled into town a few weeks earlier.

Altenhaus thought the likeness was quite good, and the portrait would fit nicely when hung near the entrance to his newly acquired hotel.

 

~End~

 ~End~

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

~End~

22 Responses to Free Fiction

  1. Sarah says:

    Josh, Your imagination never ceases to amaze me! This was so much fun to read and I’ll never look at another mountain in the same way!

  2. Lloyd says:

    Bro: Another truly interesting story. Guess maybe living where you do gave you some ideas for more than a few stories. Keep em coming as I’ll never get enuff of your great talent.

    • joshlangston says:

      Storytelling is an ancient art. I like to think I’m just carrying on a family tradition. Your sons could carry it forward. How do I get them to start writing down some of the stories they tell?

  3. polint says:

    Your stories are so much fun to read. I love your quirky characters and your dialogue, which seems to flow so easily. Thank you!

  4. Rhonda Zion says:

    Your story was very creative! Jeremy was such a good guy and Nan was a caring individual!

  5. joshlangston says:

    It could’ve taken place very near where we live. Kennesaw Mountain National Park is just around the corner, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen dozens of Nans jogging around out there. Butterscotch was the dog our kids grew up with.

  6. Carol Rillema says:

    I loved reading this short story. You never cease to amaze me with your ideas and stories. You must lie awake all night thinking of these characters and their stories. I particularly liked this one because of my interest in family genealogy and it appealed to me as a member of the DAR. Thanks for the good read- 🙂

    • joshlangston says:

      Thanks, Carol! If you enjoy genealogy, you’d get a kick out of Under Saint Owain’s Rock. If I haven’t sent you a copy yet, please let me know. I’d be happy to remedy that problem!

  7. Annel Martin says:

    It was so much fun reading this story. I loved the humorous characters and amusing dialog going on between them. I’m so happy I became a follower of your stories. Thanks.

  8. gpcox says:

    My parents had great imaginations, but it seemed to have skipped a generation – I’ve always admired people like you who have the knack.

    • joshlangston says:

      I’ve enjoyed reading several of your posts, my friend! Though I have a journalism degree, I found that making stuff up was much easier than digging up the facts and presenting them in a provocative and enlightening manner. I believe you’ve got that skill down pat.

  9. Debbie Liss Patton says:

    I don’t like the frog in the story, The Frog and the Taco Vendor!

  10. fayem810 says:

    Josh, my goodness, this one had me from the first line! What an incredible story! The suspense kept me glued to the story. When Allie thought the shell might’ve stung Suzie, I was freaking out. Suzie also being stung was totally NOT acceptable. You are an amazing writer, and I’m not saying that because you’re my “Teach” and I wuvs you. You are amazing, my friend.

    Faye Martin

  11. joshlangston says:

    Wow, Faye! Thank you. I luvs you, too.

  12. nativeson49 says:

    Josh, this story will be uncomfortably familiar for any who survived a tyrant who treated his children as chattel. And, unfortunately, there are a few men in the parental arena (as portrayed by Warner) who completely abused youngsters in their care physically, emotionally, and verbally. The good news is that society now shines the light of compassion on such circumstances and, I believe, the occasions for such trauma and turmoil have been reduced from decades ago.

    Doug

    • joshlangston says:

      I sincerely hope you’re right, Doug. Not talking about these issues didn’t do anyone any good. I’m fortunate in that I’ve never been exposed to such things first hand. I can only try to empathize.

  13. Pingback: Takin’ a few days off…. | Sage of the South

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