Francis McCrickard October 2019 Second Prize

The Wild West

by Francis McCrickard

We knew how to do lots of things back then.

A friend takes a bullet? Easy. Start a fire; clean your penknife blade in the flames; get your friend to take a couple of slugs of pretend whiskey; find a piece of wood for him to bite on; pour liquor on the wound; extract bullet using penknife; put the blade in the flames again; cauterize the wound.

We knew to keep our canteens full but if you’re without water in the desert, find a cactus. Cactuses have lots of water. Mrs. Brady has one in her window.

No chow? Find a snake; pin the back of its head with a forked stick; cut its head off; skin it and roast it over your fire.

A snakebite? Suck blood and with it the poison from where the fangs punctured the skin.

We knew to treat our pretend horses well. A four-legged friend, a four-legged friend, he’ll never let you down. He’s honest and faithful right up to the end, that wonderful one-, two-, three-, four-legged friend.

We knew to keep our guns close, especially in Apache country, Duke Street.

We knew how to send smoke signals using grass, green sticks and Mam’s wet tea towel.

We knew to destroy all evidence of our campfires, to shoot first, never to ride into narrow ravines and never to turn our backs on an Indian unless he’s a friend like Tonto.

We knew how to read tracks that people had left: imprints on the paths, bent grass stalks and broken branches.

We knew how to do lots of things back then.

But we didn’t know what to do when we crossed the frozen pond at the old Hope Mine workings and Mikey Cullen fell through the ice and drowned.

About the Author

Francis is from Cleator Moor in wild West Cumbria. He has worked with young people in Britain, Zambia and Malawi and along the way has compiled educational programmes; written scripts for radio and television; novels for young adults — The Dead are Listening "was a stunner... one of the most intelligent teenage stories to be published for some time." — (Financial Times) and contributed short stories to several anthologies. In 2013 he was given the Observer Unsung Local Hero award for his environmental work. Most importantly, he has, with help, raised a beautiful family. He has recently discovered flash fiction.

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