Mike and Diane Wilson -
Free Spirit
One life. Grab it and run

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This was a writing exercise at Bridlington Writers Group: Write about a character in this photograph.

I chose the man in the centre of the back row.

My name is Seth Armshaw. None of these lads know it but I’m on the run. They know me as Arthur Brown, a teacher by calling, somewhat quiet and reserved, but I can tell them of fantastic adventures in the Wild West. You’d not know it to look at them, but many of these lads would fit in straight away in Springfield, or Tombstone, or any other burgeoning city springing up out of the verdant West. I’ve seen Arizona in the summer when the sun presses its weight on you from dawn to dusk and I’ve been in the Black Hills of Dakota, so high the snow-line is permanent, and the green firs march off to the hazy blue horizon. I’ve seen the Pacific in California where I fell in love with a blonde beauty who captured my heart and my soul and robbed me of every last cent I had. I’ve travelled through the eastern states, down the Atlantic seaboard from New York all the way to the Everglades.

I ain’t been alone either. I’ve been accompanied by various lawmen, including Wyatt Earp; and pursued by Billy The Kid, I’ve parlayed with Wild Bill Hickock and, believe me or no, I was with that fool General Custer but managed to make off with a horse, some booze, a rifle and my life before he got himself killed by those damned Indians.

When these boys talk, having read the stories in Magnet and Gem, about the West, I has to bite my tongue. They know nothing.

Nothing about the cold that seeps through your bones, which drains will and effort through a poncho to the solid frozen earth, belly clamouring for food and a hot coffee. Nothing about that split second of fear when you hope you really are as fast as you think. When the other fellow’s eyes tighten that split second before his hand goes for the gun and you have to move even faster.

Nothing about the hours of boredom, stuck in the saddle as the horse trudges across miles and miles of barren land, the nearest tree a day away, and the nearest water three days.

These lads complain that their legs ache after a half day’s walk. They know nothing of the pain in feet, legs, back as you plod across the scrublands of Arizona. They haven’t been the focal point of interest for wheeling buzzards and vultures eager to feast on your rotting corpse should you fall.

No-one out there to help you. No kindly hand to bring you to your feet. Better to blunder on hoping you soon hear that blessed tinkling as water trickles over smooth stones on its way to the distant sea. They’ve never experienced that shock as pure cold water touches parched lips and an arid throat. The way your eyes focus again and for the first time in hours you can see the horizon, the rocks, the trees, the stranger with his rifle aimed at your head.

They’ve never faced the utter truth of it’s me or him. That bitter truth that makes you kill a man before he kills you. He hasn’t anything you want, you haven’t anything he wants - just life. You have to take his before he takes yours.

It’s not all hard. There’ve been days of luxury. That hot bath in Memphis I shared with Belle before her husband Jake Petch put a slug through my ear. I felled him. The time I’m sitting with three kings while that no-good, evil twister Rafe Horn had three aces and cleaned me dry. No use saying he cheated. I know he did, he knew he did, but he was a mite too fast for me with his Peacemaker.

Then there’s the time I met the Mayor of Dallas when I’d shot the murdering cur who’d killed his kid. I felt good that day. It didn’t last long for I got into a fight and was led out of town by the Marshal.

As I look at these faces around me, I have to ask myself if one of them’s a Pinkerton’s man.

Mike Wilson