Dream Quest One First
Writing Prize Winner -
of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
The Sheriff and Addie McBride
Everett Hamm was a soft-spoken man who didn’t
dole out unnecessary advice or compliments, but when it came to the girl he had a hard time restraining himself He loved
her as if she were his own, and in a sense she was. Six years earlier, shortly after moving to California’s majestic
Coachella Valley, he had met the youngster one morning as she attempted to steal the products of his hens’ labor. It
would be a meeting that would change both of their lives.
He had just finished his morning constitutionals
and was patting his chin dry with a small, white towel when he spotted something odd in his front yard: a girl of about
seven or eight, dressed in a faded, blue cotton dress was standing before his meager chicken coop. Without a sideways glance,
she ducked inside.
Everett stood a moment, considering his options. Having ridden in the 6th
Michigan Cavalry and been part of the Custer’s “Michigan Wolverines,” he knew hunger when he saw it. He
decided there was only one correct way to handle the situation. Everett slid his feet into dusty boots, everything was dusty
in the desert, and made his way to the henhouse.
As he peered through the wire mesh encapsulating the hens from four legged bandits
(two legged bandits were obviously a different problem all together), Everett said in his low, deep voice, “I don’t
remember asking you to collect my eggs, but since you have, why don’t you bring them inside, and we’ll make
Startled, the girl froze, hand outstretched towards the last
fluffy chicken rump to be looted. Knowing that she was trapped, the girl collected the last hen-warmed egg and backed out
of the coop, resigned to her fate. She stood in front of Everett, her eyes slowly making their way up to his. He looked
past the dirty, gaunt face of the child and saw intelligence in her brown eyes that few possess.
It would be a crime to let
that mind go to waste, he thought. In that moment he decided that he would do all he could to give this child what she needed
to meet her full potential. The pair stood there, getting a feel for one another, when Everett decided to break the silence.
Gesturing towards the front door, he said, “There’s a bowl on the kitchen table. You can put the eggs in there.”
Still the girl didn’t
move, but stood with her eyes locked on Everett’s dark blue gaze. Finally she sighed, and moved towards the house.
Everett watched as the screen
door shut behind her, dust erupting in all directions. Walking over to the small garden he had dug in spite of the searing
temperatures, he uprooted several large potatoes with his hands before entering the house. Once inside, Everett set to work
preparing eggs, bacon, and potatoes. When everything was cooked to his satisfaction, he brought a large cast-iron skillet
filled with steaming eggs and bacon, along with a red ceramic serving dish heaped with glistening potatoes. “Alright
girl, when you’re finished eating your fill, you are going to tell me how you came to be in my chicken coop.”
With hardly an instant of
hesitation, the girl jumped into the nearest seat and grabbed handfuls of piping hot vittles, plopping them on her plate.
Something that Everett’s mom used to say came into his head just then - - “There’s nothing more satisfying
than to watch a hungry person eat their fill.” Momma, he thought, you couldn’t have been more right. Everett
noted that she seemed small for her age, most likely a result of malnourishment. He was also surprised to note that she didn’t
appear to be frightened as most children her age would have been to be in the home of a stranger, especially a stranger
who had caught them in the act of burglary.
fifteen minutes of vigorous food shoveling, the girl sat back and licked her fingers, looking like a plump hog savoring a
cool mud puddle on a hot day.
Everett leaned back in his chair, and started to carefully pack a small pipe with tobacco. “Now
that you have eaten, it’s time for you to tell me how you came to be in my chicken coop.”
The girl was silent a moment,
as if thinking where she should begin. “My name is Adeline McBride, but everyone calls me Addie.”
“Very nice to meet you
Addie McBride. I’m Everett Hamm,” he replied, offering Addie his hand.
Addie wiped her greasy hand on her dress front, and
took his hand. Everett smiled at this polite, albeit uncouth gesture.
After the two had formally introduced themselves, Addie launched
into her tale. She told Everett how her father had immigrated to Chicago from Scotland, and had met her mother one morning
when she was trying to hail a carriage in the pouring rain outside her family’s apartment. Having fallen instantly
in love with this beautiful young woman of means, he began showing up almost daily to woo her. It didn’t take long
to sweep the 17 year old off her feet. However, Addie’s grandparents didn’t approve of their daughter’s
choice in suitors, and forbad the match. Despite threats of disownment, (threats which turned out to be very real), the
pair ran off and eloped. Shortly afterwards, they moved to Thousand Palms so Addie’s dad could work on the railroad.
The young couple saved every penny they could, and purchased a small ranch. About a year later, Addie’s mom fell ill
with Valley Fever, ultimately dying two years later from meningitis. Despondent with grief over losing his wife, Addie’s
dad took to drinking, eventually losing the ranch. They now resided in a one room shack on the outskirts of town.
After Addie had finished her
story, Everett puffed thoughtfully on his pipe. “That is a very sad tale indeed,” he said finally.
As Everett puffed, Addie studied
the sparsely decorated room. Finally her eyes settled on a small, framed photo atop the dresser along the wall next to the
sink. “Who are the woman and baby in the picture?” she asked with the brazen manner of a child.
gazed at the photo. “That would be my wife and daughter. They died during the Civil War,” he replied, tamping
the pipe’s white ash with a calloused thumb. “Where’s your daddy now?”
Addie shrugged, “Probably passed out on the
floor where I left him.”
Tapping the pipe’s ashes out onto his empty plate, Everett stood and walked over to his
front door where his duster and hat hung on a hook, and put them on. He then picked up a silver object sitting next to the
framed photo, and pinned it the coat’s lapel.
“Okay Addie McBride, I’ll be needing you to take me over to your house
now.” Addie’s jaw hung agape in astonishment. “You’re the new sheriff?” she asked, her sallow
cheeks growing red with embarrassment.
Instead of providing an answer, Sheriff Hamm turned, and exited the house. Addie followed,
snapping her mouth closed with a determined click. She made sure to give the screen door a good slam on her way out. Noticing
the sheriff’s long stride, Addie hastened to catch up with him.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were the sheriff?”
“You didn’t ask.”
Addie came up short. A look
of irritation came over her face. “You’re not going to shoot my daddy, are you?”
Sheriff Hamm stopped and turned
to face the youngster, “Of course I’ m not going to shoot him.” He began walking again, “I’m
going to arrest him.”
True to his word, the sheriff locked Addie’s father in the small jail cell located in the
sheriff’s office. Over the weeks, Sheriff Hamm weaned the gaunt alcoholic back to sobriety. After her father was dried
out, the sheriff set him up with a position at one of the date farms in town. As a means of keeping him on the wagon, the
sheriff had Addie report to him weekly with the happenings of her home life. He knew that the honest youngster would never
lie to cover up her father’s drinking, especially after all she’d been through the last few years.
As the months accumulated,
Addie began spending more and more time with the sheriff. Their relationship became one of student and teacher. Eventually,
he taught her to ride, and with her love of horses, it was no surprise she had a knack for working with the beasts. He instructed
her to in the ways of firearms, and her naturally keen vision made
her an excellent marksman. But by far her favorite subject was tracking. Addie, the
sheriff noted, had always been well tuned to solving puzzles, which made her a superb tracker. They started by stalking mule
deer, the two of them reading the dusty desert floor as if it were one of the sheriffs many books. When she had become competent
with a rifle, Hamm began taking her with him to track suspects and outlaws.
Two years after Hamm and Addie
first met, her father was killed in a farming accident. While checking the irrigation aqueducts, his horse threw him after
being spooked by a rattlesnake. When he landed, his head struck a rock. He died instantly.
The sheriff went to the small,
whitewashed schoolhouse, and took Addie back to the sheriff’s office to break the news. Knowing that Addie had no
other family, the sheriff took her in. Thinking back, he realized that for some time he had thought of Addie as his daughter.
Now it would be official.
As the sheriff watched Addie grow into a strong, independent young woman, he knew
that if anything were to happen to him, she would be just fine. He had taught her to take care of herself, to respect herself
and those around her, no matter what the person’s social standing, profession, religion, or color. Yet above all,
he taught her that her greatest strength was her gender.
“Men will never expect you to pull the trigger,
much less hit your mark,” he lectured one lazy Sunday morning on their way back from target practice in the desert.
“They won’t expect you to be more intelligent than them,” he continued. “Most men have been raised
to think women inferior. This is a major flaw in our society, and keeps us living just above the livestock we keep. They
will underestimate your abilities, which is your greatest advantage over them.”