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Tumbleweed Hearts

Tumbleweed Hearts was a series I planned for an online service, however, the pilot I submitted didn't seem to draw much interest, so I moved on to writing Losing Dani Strumm. I may one day return to this if interest ever arises.

S01E01 – Almost Free

He stood at the tent door for a moment, knowing what was to come on the other side. Furlough had been a welcome to all the men, and months had passed since they saw action. Finally, however, Emmitt had his fill and was ready to end his enlistment. Having served his eighteen-month requirement, all that concerned him now was waiting out the last few days until he was once more a free man.

He straightened his uniform and brushed the dust before entering. The daylight showed through various tears in the tent's seams as well as a few holes, which served as another reminder of the many battles they encountered. Most of these occurred nearly eight months earlier in northeastern Arkansas near Black River. The man at the desk looked up, and his eyes locked onto Emmitt.

"Foster," he said in his gruff voice.


"I asked you to see me for a couple of reasons. First of all, I know your time is up, but I wanted to talk to you one last time. Second, we are leaving for Fort Kearny in a couple of days. The stagecoaches that follow the telegraph line keep getting attacked by the natives. So we've been called to head to the fort up there and lend our services. So I could really use you."

"Sir, I appreciate your confidence, but I'm done. I need to stay here in Omaha and take care of family business."

"I know your old man died, and I told you I was sorry to hear that. But stayin' here ain't gonna make a lick of difference without any funds. But, son, they're offering a $300 bonus if you reenlist as a veteran volunteer."

"My father's debt is more than that, and by the time I earned it, everything would be gone. With him and my mother gone, it's all I got left."

"I understand. Well, the 14th is this Sunday, and you will have served your time. We will be leaving the next day for Fort Kearny. If you change your mind before we leave, actually, even after, if you decide to reenlist, come see me even on the trail."

"Yes, Sir. It has been an honor."

As he returned to his tent, he thought about how miserable he had been for the last year and a half. Hungry, tired, and all the killing. At one point, they ate most of the horses because there was no food. The horseless Cavalry, they were called, among other slanderous things. He felt the weight of time drag behind him as he walked. Just a little longer, he thought to himself.

He finished cleaning his service rifle and pistol, folded his uniforms, and neatly stacked everything in his trunk. Good luck to the next guy who has to take this burden on, he whispered to himself. Just then, two men entered his tent laughing loudly with their arms about each other, dancing and singing while sharing a bottle of whiskey.

"Levi! Levi!" the one man yelled, "Levi! You know why the oceans are so angry?"

"Because it's been crossed so many times!" the other man shouted.

Levi raised an eyebrow as the two men bellowed in laughter, "isn't it a little early for you two to be sloshed?"

"No, no, we're just getting a head start on tomorrow's drinking!" they both laughed hysterically.

"Yeah, yeah, tomorrow's drinking!"

Emmitt smirked, "I will miss you two fools. Watch yourselves out there with the natives."

"We ain't worried one bit, ol' Levi can rest assured, we won't be needin' his dead-eye with the two of us on duty!"

The two men stood at attention, both waving like reeds in a slight breeze, and saluted.

Emmitt finished cleaning his tent, gathered his remaining earnings, and walked to the livery to borrow a horse so he could go to town and pick up some essentials. The camp was a bustle as the troops packed their gear, preparing for their next journey. The smell of oil and canvas filled the air as he made his way through the camp. He could see Omaha in the distance and guessed it to be approximately two miles ride. The Cavalry had made camp to the West in Fair Grounds. He jumped on a horse and began riding.

The sun was shining in a clear sky this evening, and it brought back memories of the day he left Omaha to join the Union Army. His father was too drunk to say goodbye, and his mother had been gone for many years. At the time, he believed it was the right thing to do and still did. However, he was not sure if he would do it again. It took a lot of life out of him, not to mention his father dying while he was away, and nearly losing their family home.

As he rode into town, he soon realized not much had changed in his absence. There were still townsfolk walking about, doing their daily rituals. The telegraph office window was open, and the smell of apple pipe tobacco wafted out into the street, making his horse snort. As he rode past the Sherriff's, he saw a man he did not recognize sleeping in a rocking chair on the porch who appeared to be a deputy.

He rode up to the front of the store and tied his horse, looking at the freshly painted sign above the entrance, which read Loomis & Harley Company Store House. The store was previously owned by James Loomis before his enlistment.

He stepped in as the bell attached to the screen door rang out a light melody. A stout bald man wearing thin-rimmed glasses looked up from the front counter to see who had entered his establishment.

"Emmit Levi Foster, is that you?"

"It is, Mr. Loomis. How are you doing?"

"Oh Levi, I was sorry to hear about your father."

"Thank you. It wasn't too much of a surprise, really. I think we all knew that drinking was going to catch up one day."

"Right, right. So how are you doing? You going to be staying long or are you moving out with the regiment in a few days?"

"Actually, I've finished my service and plan on getting things back in order here, you know, with the family farm."

"Yes? Well, um. A lot has happened in the few months since your father's passing. Not to mention, and I hate to bring it up and all, but you see, my new partner, well, he didn't know you or your father, and your father left us with quite a tab."

"I understand. I assumed as much. What does he owe you?"

"It's a matter of $36.29. As i said, I wouldn't even bring it up if it were not for my new partner."

He took the bills from his saddlebag he carried and removed $40, "Here, Mr. Loomis, keep the change for your troubles."

"Oh, thank you, thank you. I'll take care of the books right away. Paid in full."

"So who is your new partner?"

"Oh, Mr. Harley is a hard-working businessman who moved to town in hopes of cashing in on some of the money that follows the train line."

"Train money?"

"Oh, you know, the Union Pacific Railroad started buying up land from here across the country. I read they plan on spending $500,000 on deeds over the next few years. This means jobs and little towns like this will have the pleasure of cashing in on everything from gambling to renting rooms."

"Well, you know what comes with gambling, drinking, and the rest. Nothing but trouble. I'll probably get the farm back in order so I can keep to myself."

"About that."

"About what?"

"Your father kind of, well, he lost the property."


"Listen, Emmit, before you get too angry now. He did win some money, and he bought another property over near Willows Creek, least that's what I heard."

"So whose got my property?"

"Well, it's not your property anymore, but there was a rush of newcomers when they heard the railroad was coming here. You remember Tom Ward?"


"Well, you was young, maybe 12 or so when he came to Omaha. He was one of the Omaha Claim Club. Nasty fellas. He came in to a bunch of money, I heard dowery, but who knows. He took some of that money and got the property from the man your father lost it to gambling."

"Tom? You think he'd sell it back to me?"

"Unlikely, on account he's mean, and if he knows you want it, that just makes it more desirable to him. You'd best stay clear of him."

"How do I find out about this other property in Willows Creek?"

"I'd check down at the bank, but..."

"But, what?"

"Your father owed them money too. As soon as he got the Willow Creek property, he took a lein against it for gambling money. He got shot before he paid it back. The property may already belong to the bank, I don't know."

Emmit's head began to ache. He expected to walk into a mess when he came home but never imagined he would not actually have a home to go home to.

He took a deep breath and tried to remain calm, "Well, I need to get a few supplies."

"Cash, er... credit?"

Emmit smiled, "Cash Mr. Loomis, it will always be cash with me, thank you."

Loomis grinned greedily as he brought out his pencil and writing tablet to score up a tally.

"I need coffee, some jerky, camp supplies, a bed roll, and a razor with soap."

"Yes, yes," he said, writing quickly, adding the running total as he wrote with a smile on his face.

"Also, I need a rifle, pistol, holster and bullets."

"What would you like?"

"I need a matching pair, in fortyfour."

"Well, I have the Henry repeating rifle and for your pistol, hmm. I do have a new Colt single action Army, if that suits you?"

"Both fortyfour?"

"Yes, both fortyfour."

"I need a few boxes of ammunition and a holster as well."

"You sure are racking up a tally!"

"Cash, Mr. Loomis. Strictly cash."

"Alright, I will get these items together for you. I can have them ready within the hour. It's good seeing you Emmit."

"You too," he said as he turned for the door. He planned on spending his earnings differently. He planned on returning home to his belongings. Now, however, it was back to nothing. No home, no horse, not even a change of clothes. He would take care of that while Mr. Loomis filled his order. The local tailor was only a few hundred yards away, so he left his horse.

He felt he had been gone forever, though not much had changed in the town. He recognized some of the faces and even exchanged greetings a few times with locals who remembered him. There were some new faces, but friendly enough. His months of planning were futile, and he would have to devise a new plan.

He decided another night or two would not make a difference and put off visiting the bank. Instead, he ordered a few changes of clothes, retrieved his order from Mr. Loomis, and packed his horse with his new belongings, his only belongings.

He rode back to camp slowly, enjoying the air, the view, the newly found freedom. Still, he grumbled about his father's habits. Drinking and gambling that is what you're known for now. Until everyone forgets you, you were nothing more than the town drunk who owed everybody money, he said to himself angrily.

He unloaded his gear into his tent and decided he was finished for the day. He would spend the rest of the night thinking. All he had remembered was gone. His planning was for nothing. All he owned was piled in the corner of his tent, and he was free to go in a few days, but go where? Without a destination, a plan, leaving the service was not as exciting as it had been.

Maybe I can talk to Tom. Perhaps he'd consider selling? The biggest problem is clearing my father's debt. Maybe Willow Creek is where I should go. Just start over? he fought with himself.

Much of the night would be more of the same.

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