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Authors: C. M. Curtis

Tags: #Fiction, #Westerns

Return of the Outlaw

of the



C.M. Curtis




Return of the
Outlaw, Kindle Second Edition
Copyright © 2013 KWYM Publishing

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2013
KWYM Publishing

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, contact the publisher via email (below) with “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” in the subject line.

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Chapter 1


May, 1863


The three men crouched together in the shallow ditch and peered through the pale dawn at the heavily defended
confederate breastworks a hundred yards away. Their eyes searched vainly in the creeping light for a weak point. Hardened veterans of many battles, they had fought side by side for nearly two years, enduring together all the privations wars heap upon those who fight in them.

Jeff Havens, at twenty years of age the youngest of the three, felt the familiar tension that preceded every battle as he tried to shift the position of his stiff feet in the six inches of night-chilled water that stood in the ditch.

To his left, as if reading his thoughts, Ham Keyes spoke. “Pity the feet; a soldier’s feet always get the worst of it in a war. They do most of the work and they’re never dry. They should have scales on ‘em like a fish. How about you, Bob?” he said, turning to a sour-faced man on the other side of Jeff, “you got any complaints this fine mornin’?”

“Like I always say,” growled Bob Webb, “you do enough complainin
’ for the both of us, Ham.  Besides, my feet don’t hurt; they’ve been numb for twelve hours.”

“Lucky you.”

Jeff smiled in spite of his discomfort. He knew he was fortunate to have found such friends as Ham Keyes and Bob Webb. The pair had been together since the commencement of the war and were among a handful of survivors of the group of men that had originally formed the regiment. Openly disdainful of new recruits, the two veterans had accepted Jeff into their fellowship because of his proven valor in battle and his marksmanship, and for two years the trio had shared hardships and danger, forming a bond that transcended any differences in age or background.

Keyes was thirty-eight and had never married. Born and raised on the east coast, he had been a sailor before the war and often spoke longingly of the sea. His red hair and beard bespoke the Scottish blood of his mother, as did his fiery temperament
.  His loyalty to his friends was as unshakable as his courage under fire.

Webb was fifty years
old and had a wife and nine children back home on a farm in Ohio. Jeff wasn’t sure why the crusty old soldier stayed in the army, but he suspected it was because Webb liked soldiering better than raising corn and kids.

Jeff was a Westerner, born and raised, and had never even seen a city until the age of eighteen when he had come
east to join the Union Army, his head full of romantic notions about glory and patriotism. He grimaced as he remembered the feelings that had pulled him across the continent and stirred him to become embroiled in these events. As he thought about it he felt foolish. Glory and patriotism had been exchanged for mud and blood, and once they annulled each other all that was left was duty. A soldier had his duty to perform and he did it. It might mean hunger and thirst and exhaustion. It might mean pain and deprivation. It might even mean death, but a soldier had his duty and he did it. This was war distilled to its purest essence.

He looked to the right and to the left and saw a line of soldiers in either direction, extending, he was sure, as far as the
rebel breastworks did. And how many thousands of us will die today? He wondered. Then, as unerringly as a bee flies to water, his thoughts flew to her. The knot of tension in his stomach changed to longing and he wondered why she had not written for so long.

“You know,” began Ham Keyes, “I don
’t think them generals even care if . . .”

“Quiet,” said Webb. There was an uncharacteristic sharpness in his voice that surprised Jeff and sent Keyes
’ lower jaw flying shut.

“We need to study this out,” Webb murmured.

“What’re you talkin’ about?” demanded Keyes, in offended tones.

“This one
’s gonna be a bad one,” said Webb, whether to himself or in reply to Keyes’ question, Jeff couldn’t tell.

For a few minutes the three men peered silently over the rim of the ditch bank at the awesome breastworks the rebel troops had constructed. There was more visibility now with the increasing light.  Soon the order would be given to attack.

“It’s my birthday today,” said Webb with seeming irrelevance. “I’m fifty-one. My pap and grandpap both died when they were fifty. Always kinda figured I’d never make it past fifty, myself, but here I am.”

“Now wait a minute,” said Keyes, seizing an opportunity for an argument. “You may not be fifty
-one yet.”

“I just told you it
’s my birthday,” retorted Webb, an edge of irritation in his voice.

“Yeah, but what time of day were you born?”

Webb was pensive for a moment. “Just before noon. I remember my ma said I was born just before pa came in from the fields for lunch.”

’ smile was smug. He loved a good argument. “Well, then you ain’t fifty-one yet.”

Jeff was surprised to see anger spark in Bob Webb
’s eyes. Ordinarily the old soldier enjoyed exchanging laconic barbs with Keyes, but it was clear that something was bothering him this morning.

After a moment Webb
’s features softened. “Goin’ to be a bad one,” he murmured again, and Jeff sensed in him an impatience; perhaps even a fear that was new or had long lain hidden.

“Let me see it,” said Webb, turning abruptly to Jeff.

“You already saw it this morning.”

“I want to see it again.”

Jeff unbuttoned the pocket of his sweat-stained, blue shirt and pulled out a gold locket on a chain. He handed it to Webb who received it reverently with a calloused hand and caressed its elaborately tooled surface with a thick finger. After a moment he scowled as if embarrassed and handed it back to Jeff.

“Me too,” said Keyes, “might as well.”

Jeff handed the locket to Keyes, who caressed it between his two rough hands and returned it. Jeff pressed the locket to his lips for a long moment, and the ache in his heart began anew. Why hadn’t she written?

The ritual of touching the locket was one the three had observed for almost as long as they had been friends. Ham Keyes and Bob Webb believed, with a soldier
’s superstition, that Anne’s locket brought them luck, and they credited it with the fact that the three of them had passed, unscathed, through some of the bloodiest fighting of the war.

Webb asked, “How many of them do you figure there are?”

“Hard to say,” replied Keyes. “Maybe twenty thousand.”

“How many of us?”

“Heard someone say last night, we’re about fifteen thousand strong. What’re you thinking?”

Webb only shook his head, and fo
r a moment conversation ceased. He turned to Jeff. “Don’t re-enlist,” he said with sudden, un-characteristic fervor. “Serve out your time and go home. Let somebody else do the fighting.”

Jeff looked into the eyes of his friend for a long moment, searching for an answer to this odd behavior. Finally he said, “I
’ll do that.”

He had already decided not
to re-enlist. He had done his part. He was tired of this soldier’s life, tired of the constant change. He was anxious to get back home to the life he had left behind.

had no way of knowing he would never see that life again.



Three hours later Jeff lay on his stom
ach in the dark mud reloading his musket. The battle had been raging since just after dawn and the once peaceful meadow was now littered with the bodies of thousands of men. In two years of war Jeff had never seen such frenzied fighting. The rebel breastworks were dauntingly well constructed and fiercely defended. At the beginning of the battle, wave after wave of blue-coated soldiers had hurled themselves at the rebel line and been cut down, harvested by a scythe of musket fire and canister. But the union officers seemed determined to take this point by sheer concentration of numbers, regardless of the cost in human lives. Already the bodies of the dead and wounded had piled up in front of the confederate trenches three and four deep, and the battle had degenerated into a frenzied melee in which there was no order or reason, only mindless killing and dying. Men discharged their muskets and fought with bayonets or used their muskets as clubs until they broke, then found another and began again. The soldiers on both sides fired indiscriminately, taking little or no time to aim, creating a murderous, unrelenting horizontal hailstorm of musket balls and shrapnel. The battlefield was shrouded in a noxious fog of smoke through which reverberated the awesome din of the concentrated struggle: an indescribable mixture of thousands of muskets being fired over a battle line almost two miles long, the deafening blasts of canon fire, the battle cries of soldiers, and the inhuman screams of men unspeakably maimed.

Jeff heard the repeated thuds of musket balls striking the bodies of the corpses behind which he had taken cover as he woodenly reloaded and fired his musket again and again. He had lost track of his two friends in the confusion, and for a brief moment while he reloaded one more time he thought of them and hoped they were unharmed.

The musket misfired, and Jeff realized it had become fouled from the constant firing. He raised up and peered over the pile of corpses, looking for a fresh weapon. Some fifty yards ahead of him, directly in front of the confederate trenches, he saw a turmoil of fierce hand-to-hand fighting. The struggle of the men was made more difficult by the fact that they were standing on an unsteady pile of blood-slick corpses, making it impossible to gain good footing. The matted red hair and beard of one of the combatants shone in the sun. Jeff recognized him instantly: it was Ham. If Ham was there the chances were good Bob was there too.

He sprang up and lunged over the pile of bodies in front of him. As he did so, a piece of shrapnel tore at the front of his shirt, ripping away the pocket and grazing his chest. The locket fell unnoticed in the bloody grass. Scarcely breaking stride, he reached down and snatched a musket from the out-flung hands of a dead man. The musket had been fired
, but there was no time to re-load. He would use the bayonet.

Ahead of him a blue-coated soldier knelt to fire at the rebel line, but before
he could squeeze the trigger he slumped and fell backward dropping his musket in front of him. Jeff discarded his newly acquired musket in favor of this unfired one. 

By the time he reached the
confederate trench-line he had lost sight of Keyes in the smoke and confusion. Committed now, he sprang to the top of the pile of corpses and became part of the mob of men fighting there. He aimed the musket downward into a river of smoke-blackened faces and bayonet spikes. He fired and one of the faces disappeared. He grasped his musket by its forestock and raised it over his head like a club.

confederate soldier below him, his contorted features powder-blackened around a hellish white grimace, thrust his bayonet into Jeff’s right knee, sending a jolt of pain through his body. Jeff swung the musket down and crushed the rebel’s skull, then a musket ball slammed against his own head and he fell.

The war was over for him.



Far across the continent to the west, Anne Hammond entered the sedate grove of cottonwood trees by the river. Standing in front of one of the gnarled giants, she traced with her finger the outline of the heart Jeff Havens had carved in its bark. As she had done every day since he had left, she kissed the heart and said, “I’ll always love you, Jeff.” Tears flowed, and through racking sobs she said, “Why haven’t you written?”

After a while her tears stopped, and standing with head bowed and eyes closed, she pictured his face. She came here as often as she could
, and when she was away she craved its peace. This was the place where the memories of him were most vivid. She and Jeff had played in this grove as children. They had climbed these trees and in the very spot where she now stood, in front of the largest of the old cottonwoods, Jeff had first kissed her. They had stood there again when he said good-bye and the ancient, impassive trees were mute witnesses to the soul-felt pain of their parting and the promises they exchanged. This stand of venerable trees held an almost sacred significance to Anne. It was the shrine where she came to worship her memories, and now that Jeff’s letters no longer came, she found herself drawn here more and more often.

She heard her name being called and h
urriedly wiped her eyes. Turning from the hallowed peace of the grove, she set her footsteps on the narrow path that led toward the house.

Her name was called again. It was the voice of her younger sister, Alice. This time Anne answered. “I
’m here.”

Alice came into view around a curve in the path, walking purposefully,
head down, arms swinging. Although the two girls were sisters, they were strikingly different in physical appearance. Anne was tall, slender and well proportioned, possessing a refined, almost aristocratic bearing, with clear, fine skin, large brown eyes and a straight, slender nose, all of which combined to give her a look of distinction, intelligence and serene beauty. Alice was dark and short and plump, with straight black hair and dimpled cheeks, attractive in her own way, but with none of the demure charisma of her older sister.

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