I'm sure you've heard me mention the writing challenges on the eharlequin discussion boards. The last challenge just ended this weekend. We had to write a scene/story under 1000 words using a hero and heroine and it had to be a historical piece about our national day. Since my fictional historicals are usually set in the American Old West, this was definitely a challenge for me. What follows is my entry:
The Choice 998 words
On the eve of Canada's 10th birthday, Stephen Powers slipped his dusty boots out of the stirrups, swung his right leg over the back of the black gelding and slid to the ground. Shoulders slumped in weariness, he tugged the reins. The gelding plodded along, its head hanging down, bobbing in rhythm.
They passed the barracks, ignoring the men lounging on the wide wooden steps, enjoying an evening cigarette.
A few steps further, the aroma of roasted meat assailed Stephen's nostrils. The onslaught clenched his gut like a vise. The pemmican that had nourished his body on the trail had never filled his belly.
At the stables, he led his horse into a stall and forked hay into the manger.
With his nose in an empty bucket, the gelding blew a raspberry. He snorted when dust shrouded his face. Laughing, Stephen dumped a bunch of oats into the bucket, almost getting his hand knocked away by the hungry horse. With the animal chomping contentedly, Stephen drew the currycomb across its satin back, brushing through the day's dirt-crusted sweat. Soon, the horse glistened. After a final pat on its rump, Stephen headed toward the mess hall.
Hours later, his belly sated, he lay in his narrow bunk listening to the snores around him. After weeks of solitude except for the night sounds of animals on the open prairie, Stephen found the human sounds distracting. Almost intolerable.
Slanted moon rays lay across his feet. His saddlebag hung over the footboard. Grabbing his pillow, he twisted around, reached into one side of the leather bag and pulled out a worn photograph and a folded sheet of paper. With his head on the pillow, he tilted the photograph toward the moon and gazed upon the faded face of Lisette Dumonte.
Lisette. Beautiful Lisette. He closed his eyes. Their last meeting played in his mind. She had been so brave, saying she understood but he had seen the heartbreak in her shimmering eyes. Still, it hadn't stopped him. The Territories of the new Dominion of Canada were beckoning. It was a huge expanse of land that lay between Manitoba and the Rockies. Men like Sam Steele were becoming living legends out there. A man could either get lost or find himself. Stephen had wanted the latter.
Now he wasn't so sure. It had taken three years of patrolling this wild, empty land to realize he'd left the best part of himself behind. Lisette.
He unfolded the paper. It had arrived at Fort Pelly weeks ago. His three years of service was up. He had a choice. Re-enlist another three years or accept 160 acres of free land. He could choose any unclaimed land in the Dominion. And what land! They were growing some of the finest wheat in the world on the prairies north of the 49th parallel.
But without Lisette, he had no heart to work the land.
Yet, how could he go back empty-handed and say it was all for naught? That he'd chosen to sleep alone on the cold, uneven ground with only his saddlebags for a pillow instead of enfolding her warm, curvy body close to his during the long, dark nights?
Stephen stared at the photograph. Even with the paper's jagged crinkles and faded ink, he could see her smile. The secret one she'd give with her head tilted slightly downward. And he'd know she wanted his kiss. He'd always obliged. Except for that last day when he'd turned instead and headed west.
And to think he'd spent more time in Fort Pelly cutting firewood and looking for grazing land than keeping the peace or fighting contraband whiskey runners.
The papers wavered before his eyes. What a choice he'd made. The wrong choice. With his chest constricting, he tucked the items back in the saddlebag. Pulling his pillow down, he wrapped his arms tightly around it. And squeezed his eyes shut.
Lisette placed the sheet of paper onto the tympan, folded it over the type bed and rolled it under the platen. Rivulets of perspiration trailed down her temples. She swiped them with the back of one hand while the other grabbed the hand-press bar and pulled. Last one. She opened the machine and took out the newspaper, squinting at the fine print, looking for blots.
Dominion Day, 1877
On July 1st, 1867, the Queen sent out a proclamation for uniting the Provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick into one Dominion under the name of CANADA.
Ten years ago on this day, bells pealed in every town and village to welcome Confederation.
Lisette placed the paper on the stack of others, ready for the morning. She should go home. It was late - almost ten o'clock. The sun had just sunk behind the houses to the west. But Lisette was drained. Not from the work. And not from the heat. Although both contributed to her lethargy to be sure.
For today was her anniversary. Of sorts.
Three years ago on June 30th, her beloved Stephen had left her for this land she now called home.
He had told her not to wait for him.
And then he'd ridden off in his scarlet tunic with the shiny brass buttons glittering in the sun. With her heart packed in his saddlebag along with his razor and strop.
She'd waited two years before following him. She couldn't move forward until he'd given back her heart. As if she wanted it back.
Trained as a printer, she'd been able to find work here in Winnipeg, where the Red and Assiniboine Rivers converge.
With crossed arms, she stood at the window looking towards the fort. The commander had sent word that Stephen had arrived this very evening. He was to report in after breakfast. No one had told him of Lisette's presence. She dropped her hands, clasping them together. Wringing them.
Tomorrow, July 1st, her country would celebrate. Would her day end in celebration or sorrow?
So, that was my entry. Instead of writing a fictional story about a hero in the NWMP, I felt compelled to write about a hero who had gone that route but always regretted leaving the love of his life behind. I hope you enjoyed it.
A new challenge has just started and is due on July 10/11. Maybe you'd like to try? Go here for more info: