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Wild Days: Follow Me Down - prose novel

WILD DAYS: Follow Me Down Chapter 1 draft PREVIEW
"If only I could forget the days gone by", Van said to himself.
A dry, stuttered laugh sounded behind him. Manny Croker, outlaw and rustler, tied stomach-down and cross-ways over his Appaloosa, was too weak to lift his head. Cinch straps bound his wrists against one side of his horse's belly, connected to his ankles on the other side by a two-foot rope. "You do, eh? You never will, Devil Whip."
Ignoring Croker, Van stared into the darkness towards the distant Fort Red Clay. Sound traveled far across the desolate, Arizonan plains northwest of the cavalry post. Taps, the final bugle call of the day, played an hour ago. Anguished cries replaced the faint notes of the bugle, rising as if from hell. Van sat heavy in the saddle, they were close now and his black mustang knew the way.
'Chero was a well mannered, mountain stallion, caught wild by Van. Never quite tamed, 'Chero was nonetheless a dependable companion on journeys crisscrossing the Southwest collecting bounties. Dependable unless a jackrabbit happened by.
At fifty paces from the fort the guards called out their night challenge, "Halt! Who comes there?"
"Mr. BRAN, with prisoner!"
The guards quickly called back, "Advance, and give the counter sign!"
"Ellisen!" Van said.
The first guard, a lean man, walked forward and swung open the rather unimpressive gate; the second waved Van forward. Chero trotted ahead without prompting. Van glanced over his shoulder at Croker but his ride took its lead from Van's mustang.
Led to the parade grounds by the first guard, Van dismounted by the flag pole, gathering up the lariat by which he guided the second horse. Walking beside Croker's mare, Van slapped the horse's flank. "You take care now."
The Appaloosa neighed in protest, but bolted forward and bounded along the cavalry road kicking up dust. The bewildered guard quickly following behind.
Van watched until they were out of sight, rounding the block houses. "Good riddance."

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