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Rip Van McCullough
by Bruce Costello

McCullough crouched, reloaded, and took a quick swig from the canteen. His partner Wilson half stood and let loose with the Winchester, then fell back as an arrow struck him in the left eye.

McCullough eased his head over the rock. The remaining Comanches were maneuvering for the kill. He fired and another fell. Now there were three Indians against one white man.


He wanted to sleep, but scarlet circles danced before his eyes, blending with the silence of the desert and the ache in his head.

With a finger and as much spit as he could muster, he opened a blood encrusted eyelid enough to glimpse the sky. Even viewed through a slit, it was blue and immense.

I’ve still got my scalp, so the Injuns must’ve scarpered in a mighty hurry to try ‘n catch the wagons.

The ache in his head had eased but his chest hurt like hell and there was a sharp pain in his back. Moaning, he eased himself into a sitting position, and discovered he’d been lying on his canteen. He drank a mouthful, then collapsed, the canteen falling from his hands, spilling onto the sand.


He was not fully unconscious, rather in a feverish, delirious state. Shadowy figures seemed to flit about, squabbling over him, then fading away. A crack opened in a boulder, a face appeared and shot an arrow into his face. Then he was a boy again, in bed with his mother bending down to kiss him, but her hair turned into the headdress of an Indian chief whose hands held him down and ripped the hair from his head as he screamed and struggled to escape.


The late afternoon sun was warm on his face when he awoke.

If this is dying, it ain’t such a ding hard thing. And I reckon we saved the wagon train. Would’ve been too far ahead for the Injuns to catch it.

A feeling of contentment came over him. Tuffs of cloud wafted across the lofty sky.

The sound of cheering made him leap to his feet.

“Snakes alive!”

The desert in front of the rock was now a paved street lined with women in broad hats and flounced dresses, and children waving flags and revolvers.

Dangling between two poles on a grassy area was a sign emblazoned with the words “McCullough City. Pop 156,000. Renactment Day 2016”

The words meant nothing to him.

McCullough jumped up as a war party of Indians thundered into the town, bows drawn, tomahawks and knives ready for a good scalping.

Women screamed and clutched their children. Men in spurred boots and leather chaps burst out of buildings, guns drawn and firing.

Yee haw! McCullough ran onto the street, pulled an Indian to the ground, grabbed the man’s tomahawk, then leapt onto his horse and tore through the war party, hacking and slashing.

He killed about a dozen Indians before uniformed men poured out of small metal carriages with flashing lights and filled him full of lead.