Ten-Cent Husband

Content Warning: violent/explicit death on-page.

Chona’s husband had taken much longer to find her than it should’ve, but Carlino July was somewhere in her mother’s barn with her. Chona knew this by her collie’s behavior—Micco’s sable coat bristling along his shoulders, his lowered head, his stiff-legged stance between her and the stall entrance. He’d tugged Chona’s dress hem until he pulled her attention away from combing her horse, then taken up his guard position.

Micco didn’t act like this with anyone but Carlino.

Chona couldn’t hear if Micco was growling, giving away their position. She laid her curry comb on the gray horse’s back and slid down to a crouch, out of sight below the wooden stall rail. She laid a hand on Micco’s spine. Definitely growling.

She made a gentle shhhh through her teeth. Vibrating beneath her palm ceased, but Micco didn’t relax. He pointed his muzzle off to the right, one paw raised. Their sign for danger that way.

Micco hadn’t been named Micco when Chona received him while still living with Carlino. Their neighbor had died, so his family had offered his guide dog to Chona, as she was deaf. Because blindness and deafness were the same, apparently. But she’d taken him because she liked dogs as much as she liked horses, naming him from Mikisukî, the language of her family. As Micco had learned how to lead a blind man around, he’d also figured out the importance of alerting Chona to noises she couldn’t hear. Which for her was anything quieter than a yell.

Carlino hadn’t called the dog Micco. Mostly he’d just kicked the shit out of him.

Inching upward, Chona risked a swift peek over the stall rail. Bright midday sunlight pouring straight down on the barn deepened the gloom within. A few rays pierced knotholes and chinks between wooden slats, catching motes of dancing dust within slanted beams. The door, which she had left open to let in the breeze, was closed.

The door was closed.

Where was he?  

Beneath Chona’s palms, the wooden rail jumped. And jumped again. Again. Carlino had to be hitting a wall hard, knowing she’d feel it. Threatening her. The horse skittered nervously, bumping into her. She ducked back down, uncertain whether he’d given her away.

Behind the stack of hay bales? Behind the buggy? In the loft? In the tack room?

Her rifle had been leaning against the door jamb, but—another peek—nope, it was gone.

Chona watched Micco. He remained in guard position. But then his head jerked to the left, ears pricked. That put Carlino opposite the door. She thought about the side door, nailed shut because the wind kept dragging it open. There was only one way out.

In a crouch, Chona patted Micco’s haunches until he looked at her, then signaled him to heel and stay low. She inched her way out of the stall, Micco almost belly to the floor at her side. Her heart hammered against her ribs as her gaze swept back and forth, back and forth. She sniffed, seeking the scent of sweaty man, but only got musty hay. Disturbed dust crunched between her teeth.

Heel to toe, step. Heel to toe, step. Silent, like her father had taught her. They crept toward the pile of square bales around the corner.

Chips of wood bit Chona’s cheek as dust puffed from the wall next to her head. She flinched, threw herself forward, and scrambled up behind the hay. Micco stopped to bark so loud that Chona heard it a little. She grabbed him by the scruff and dragged him to safety with her. More dust popped from the floor where he’d stood as another bullet drove deep.

Carlino was shooting at her. At her dog. He was trying to kill them.

Some part of Chona had wondered how far things might’ve gone if she hadn’t run away after their last fight. If she hadn’t stolen a horse and ridden all night to get back to her mother’s house. It’d been nasty enough that she’d feared for her life. Now she knew.

Chona pulled a bowie knife from her belt.

Trying not to rustle the hay, she leaned out from cover. And there he stood, in full view. Light striped over her husband from the open hay door high above. Sweat beaded his dark skin—Mexican dark, not black dark like hers. Whipcord lean. Hair disheveled. He stood with legs wide, pistol in hand, framed by the horse buggy behind him. She ducked back down as Carlino’s pistol hand rose. Hay sprayed over her head where the bullet clipped the bale.

“CHONA! GET YER ASS OUT HERE OR THE NEXT ONE’S FOR KEEPS!” Carlino bellowed. He knew she could hear him yell. He’d always yelled instead of learning her hand signals. “YOU’RE COMIN’ HOME WITH ME, WOMAN!”

A shaky breath escaped Chona. That’d been so many close shots, she didn’t know if she’d survive the next. She brushed Micco’s back and he looked up at her with his big, intelligent brown eyes. She hated to do this, but they needed a distraction.

Chona signed mom, fast.

Micco flew through the barn like a gust of wind, on his way to fetch her mother. The collie was smart enough to manage the shut door. Dust jumped from the floor in his wake. Again, closer to his heels. Carlino paused, leading his next shot.

But as he did, Chona was leaping up and drawing her arm back and aiming and throwing the bowie knife with all her might from the tip gripped in her fingers.

Flashing through a beam of sunlight, the broad steel blade buried itself in Carlino July’s chest, pinning him dead to the side of the buggy. The sweet scent of hay filled Chona’s nose as she slumped across a bale, burying her face in the straw. She groaned in relief, though she only felt it in her chest.

When her mother got out there, she’d ask her to bring a shovel.

Thanks for reading!

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With Words We Weave 2022: Hope

Featuring an exclusive Hopeful Wanderer short-story!

For over 100 years, Texas High Plains Writers has been a part of great storytelling in Texas and beyond.

This year, our anthology offers a collection of short-stories, memoirs, inspirational essays, and poetry filled with hope.

With 22 talented authors, from best-sellers to the first time in print, there is something for everyone. 

Great heroes of legends past sit side by side in these pages with the unsung citizens showing kindness to strangers. Humor, adventure, and nostalgia combine to remind us all that hope can be found anywhere. 

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