Kurt roams the prairie searching for sinners. He preaches with a Bible and a gun.
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A Choir of Prairie Dogs
Kurt rode into Sophieville on a Saturday afternoon. His vivid, blue eyes scanned the saloon and then glanced over at the corner store. He wiped at his face with a plain, red bandana. Streaks of mud ignored his swipe, but his leathered face blended well with the dusty, dry town.
He stopped his horse in front of the saloon and swung his leg down. Any watching spectators would have noticed his lean, tight muscles and the stiff, awkwardness of his dismount. Kurt held onto the horse a moment as if speaking to it, but he was merely concentrating on regaining his balance, for he was lame in his right leg.
After a moment, he reached into his saddlebag and pulled out a package wrapped up in an old seed bag. He opened it with the same tender and loving gentleness one might use with a baby or young child cradled in the arms. Slowly the man withdrew a Bible and embraced it to his breast. Then he mumbled a prayer and bent over to kiss the holy book.
All this time, his horse stood still, head draped low, a look of exhaustion on its face, but as if it had waited beyond earthly endurance, at last it shifted its hind leg and stamped up a dust cloud.
Kurt covered the Bible and sighed. He unbuttoned his shirt and pushed the holy book inside where it could rest against his skin. Then he returned the empty sack to his saddlebag, tossed his reins over the horse’s head and led the beast to a nearby water trough. Immediately, the horse sank its muzzle deep into the green-tinted liquid and drank. Kurt watched the ripples of gulps that flowed down the horse’s throat, waiting with an outward show of patience that his knotting fists betrayed as false.
Leaving the animal tied at the hitching post, Kurt made his way with an unsteady gait until he pushed through the double doors of the saloon. Inside, the darkness, the noise, the smells of beer, hard liquor, and unwashed souls, made him cringe. A wrinkle of distaste appeared in a corner just above his lips and a patch of skin near his eye began to twitch. Kurt lunged forward, dragging his right leg with a slightly sideward motion.
“Heaven is before you, brothers,” he called out.
The inhabitants didn't flinch; Kurt's voice wasn't even heard.
He cleared his throat again, filled his lungs with their full capacity of air, and tried once more. “Heaven is before you, brothers.”
This time all noise stopped a moment. Faces turned toward him, then the laughter came.
"Sure is, brother, but not today. Come have a drink,” said a good-natured barber on a break from his daily cutting, shaving, and dentistry.
Kurt’s eyes scorned the man’s joviality. “It is not too late to make your peace with God. Give up the evilness of your ways. Flee from this den of sin and come into the arms of Jesus.”
“The church is five buildings up the street, Reverend,” said one of the cattle hands from a nearby ranch. “But this ain’t Sunday.”
Once more Kurt scanned their faces, studying the eyes that were watching him. Just one soul who was ready for saving, that's all he was asking for -- just one soul.
No one came forward. The drinks clinked against each other over on the bar where the bartender was handing them to customers. Cards hit the table as a dealer continued his play. A woman slid into someone’s lap and giggled about his neck. A chair slid back. A man belched. Kurt heard it all as the twitch over his eye worsened. He grabbed at his stomach. The acid of his life was splaying pain like a farmer seeding crops.
The saloon door flapped open. Boots thundered across the old wooden flooring. Kurt turned to stare at the newcomer. It was the sheriff who'd entered with a badge, shiny as the cross of God.
“Have you been saved?” Kurt asked the sheriff, his eyes still focused on the silver star.
“I’m a church goer,” the sheriff answered, glancing about the saloon, checking for problems. Then satisfied with his appraisal, the sheriff swung his concentration back to Kurt and eyed him a bit more carefully. “You’re new in town. How about we get you a meal and take you to a place where you can get cleaned up? I’ll introduce you to Pastor Smith.”
Kurt reached into his shirt to finger his Bible. His hand instead touched the cold metal of a gun. For a moment he felt indecisive. Once more his eyes glared at sinners all around him, until he felt the sheriff’s hand on his shoulder.
The rats were gnawing at the inside of Kurt's stomach. He reeled from a sudden onslaught of increasing pain.
“You okay?” the sheriff asked, catching him before he fell.
Kurt rebuttoned his shirt and nodded silently. A saloon girl brought him a jug of water. Kurt thanked her, avoiding a glance at the revealing cleavage of her soft, rosy flesh. He gulped at the water, never once pondering over its contamination by sin. His parched throat felt soothed, the ache in his stomach, for the moment, calmed.
“Yes, I’d like to meet that goodly man,” Kurt told the sheriff, nodding stiffly.
The two turned and walked out through the swinging doors of the saloon.
It was later, much later, after a solid meal and warm companionship that Kurt set off on his way to the next town . . . and the next.
The telegraph had not yet arrived in the small town of Sophieville. It was several months before the sheriff learned that Kurt was wanted for the murders of eleven saloon occupants in neighboring towns.
Who would have suspected? Who would have thought that a Bible toting preacher would take God’s justice into his own hands? The sheriff shook his head and sent up a prayer of gratitude that Kurt hadn’t killed anyone in Sophieville.
Meanwhile, out on the trail that leads from small town to small town, a lonely cowboy rides his horse. He listens to the sound of a choir of prairie dogs, greets the sunrises of angels, and journeys forward in what he devoutly believes is the Service of the Lord.