Writing “Cutter Cain”

 I thought it might be time to add some color to the site by adding a couple of chapters to my latest family adventure; “Cutter Cain.”  In fact, we have already turned the book into a screenplay as well.  I hope that you’ll enjoy it.

 

“Cutter Cain”

Chapter 1 – 1878

The smallest glimmer of sunlight peaks over the mountain as any moment the sun will come up.  The horse struggles the last few feet through chest deep snow finally gaining the peak.  With a wry smile the buckskin clad man scans the vast expanse of white.  He takes a swig of water from his canteen then returns it to his saddle horn.  Cutter Cain - Book and ScreenplayThe wind whistles kicking up clouds of snow from the hill at times obscuring his vision as he urges his horse down the hillside into a ravine, angling for a stand of trees on the other side.  Suddenly the silence is split with a mighty crack, followed by a low unearthly groan.  Above him the rumbling begins as he urges his horse faster finding himself chased on a diagonal course by an avalanche that is fast advancing.  He crosses into the trees just as the powder reaches the edge, he has beaten the majority of the falling snow.   Slowing his pace he looks back to where the shelf has given way at the newly sculpted hill.

He begins to laugh in celebration of having once again beaten nature.  His laughter feeds on itself until he is rocking so hard that he nearly unseats himself.  Continuing to look at the new landscape some debris catches his eye.  It is something out of place amid the snow, rocks and tree limbs scattered across the new landscape carved out by the falling snow.  He turns his horse and advances quickly, scanning the hillside for any signs of life.  Finally he launches himself from the horse as he grows closer to what appears to be the legs of a horse and gear, half buried upside down in the avalanches aftermath. Desperately he pulls at the pack animal and begins digging with his hands.  He finds a shirt, then a small hand… No telling if it is a boy or a girl.  He claws frantically at the snow until he finds the body, unconscious and barely breathing, of a small boy.  He cradles him gently in his arms and heads back to mount the horse, heading toward the trees. “Hurry horse!  We have to get this youngun warmed“, he says urgently to his mount.

Soon the horse stumbles into a small clearing, well into the stand of trees.  The man dismounts and makes the boy as comfortable as he can, covering him with his blankets and his own coat.  He then gathers wood starting a fire nearby.  With only the crackling of the burning fire for company he starts to assemble a lean too.  The boy remains unconscious, unmoving.  Occasionally the man stoops putting his ear near the boys mouth to affirm that he still breaths.  When he has done all that he can the man scoops snow into his coffee pot and sets it on the fire to melt, throws in come coffee grounds and settles down near the boy to wait. He mutters to himself “Well Slim, you got yourself a heap of trouble now.”

In the waning daylight as the moon starts to peek out from behind dark clouds the boy stirs, muttering in his sleep.  “Ma, ma, I don’t feel so good.”  Slim is immediately at his side. “Boy? You hear me son?  You got to wake up now” “Danny??? You sound funny!” the boy mutters.  Gingerly raising the boy to sitting position the man brings a cup of warmed water to the boy’s lips which he drinks hungrily before passing out again.  “Well son that will have to do for now” the man huddles down into the blankets beside the boy and settles for the night.  He looks into the night sky. The stars are out and the night is cold.

As dawn breaks Slim leaves the boy who has still not woken and returns to the site of the avalanche.  He walks the area near where he found the boy prodding with a long pole. He knows it is a futile gesture, but he has a feeling that he has left someone behind.  When he finds the boys horse he begins to dig.  Atop the saddle bags he finds torn pieces of a ragged bible.  Eagerly he opens it hoping to find a clue to who the boy is and where he came from.  Pages are torn out leaving no record of the family lineage. He removes the saddle bags and opens them.  Nothing there but some clothes and some hand carved wooden toys.  Taking his finds with him he returns to his horse and mounts.  “Guess that’s it.  Let’s go horse.”

When Slim reaches the camp he finds the lean to empty.  Frantically he begins searching for the boy, first one way then the other.  He circles the camp looking for tracks to help him find the child.  His heart wrenches as he can’t seem to find tracks that leave the camp.  He returns to the lean throwing his hat down in frustration, calling out “Boy! Boy!  You been hurt!  You need to lie down! Where have you got to???”  A clump of snow plops onto his freshly uncovered head causing him to look up.  Slim jumps back startled as he sees his frail charge high up in a tree.  The boy has his eyes closed tight as if he can hide himself simply by closing his eyes.   “Boy, I can see you.”  “No you can’t “the child hollers.”  “Then how did I know you was up there?” Slim asks.  The youngster giggles and answers; “Cause the snow fell on your head”.   “Either way I know you’re up there.  Now come on down.  I’m Slim, I pulled you out of the snow.  You ain’t better yet.  You need rest.”

The boy slowly starts climbing down from his perch.  “You seen my brother Danny?  You seen Ma and Pa?  Where are my folks?” he asks.  Slim shakes his head sadly.  “Son.  You and me is gonna have to have a grownup talk.  Come here by the fire and I’ll get you some fixins.”  The boy continues down the tree but now his lip is quivering and he is wiping at his face with his shirt sleeve.  He slips and falls.  Slim quickly catches him causing both of them to land in a heap in the snow.  Before he can scold the boy further he notices that once again the child has passed out.  “Poor little cutter, guess it is just you and me now” he mutters as he tucks the boy into the blankets again.

main street

Chapter 2 – 10 Years Later

In a place that passes for civilization in this wild unsettled country a boy of about 16 rides his horse down the main street kicking up dust.  He passes by bars, the blacksmiths and a sheriff’s office heading toward the general store.  Even in this rough town he is noticeably ragged and unkempt.  Raised on the frontier, this kid knows how to shoot with a long rifle, use a knife, and trap with the best of mountain men.  It is obvious that he hasn’t seen a bath tub in a long time, if ever.

Reaching his destination he dismounts and hitches his horse taking down a load of furs before ambling into the store.  Several town boys happen to be in the store.  They poke each other in the ribs and snicker, deciding to have some fun with the frontier boy.  As Cutter heads to the counter with his furs one of the boys trips him causing him to topple into a barrel, tipping it over and scattering apples across the floor.

The young men laugh slapping each other on the back as the store keeper turns and not having seen what happened begins to swear at Cutter.  The trickster who tripped him is at the storekeeper’s side as Cutter slowly drags himself to his feet.  “Look at this mess!  Why I ot’ta.”  The storekeeper draws back his hand to slap Cutter then comes up short, the young man beside him also freezes with a look of disbelief upon his face.  A very large and distinctive Bowie knife has appeared from nowhere under the storekeepers chin.  The young man who caused the incident begins to back away and runs out of the door followed by his friends.  Slim walks in the door and comes to an abrupt halt.  “Cutter, what in tar-nation do you think you are doing?”  “This fellow was gonna’ beat on me!  Some kid tripped me…” he answers gesturing toward the mess.  The storekeeper draws himself up in indignation “I most certainly was not.  I was… uh… Just checking to see if he was all right.”  “Was Not!” answers Cutter giving the shopkeeper a dirty look.   Shaking his head Slim gives the boy a hard look.  “Cutter, hush.  We are in town now.  You mind your Elders.  Now apologize and pick up that mess!”  Cutter heaves a large sigh not liking this turn of events at all.  Turning toward the storekeeper he sheaths his knife.  “I’m awful sorry sir.  I’ll be picking up your apples now.”  The man notes the dirt and grime on the young man and intervenes.  “No, no that’s all right son. I’ll take care of it.”

Slim walks over to the storekeeper, placing a list in his hands.  “Where is O’Malley?  We gotta’ settle up my furs so I can pay for my supplies.”  “Why he’s dead.  Died last spring.  Just before I took over the store.”  “What about his wife?” asked Slim. “ Why ain’t she running the store?”  The storekeeper gives Slim a look of disbelief. “Why she can’t own property mister!  She’s an injun.  I sent her back to her own people.”  Slims face gets hard and he tenses looking dangerous.  “Her people is all dead…” under his breath he continues, “I’m beginning to understand why Cutter pulled a knife on you.” Snatching his list from the store keepers hand Slim abruptly turns toward Cutter.  “Grab those skins.  We’ll be selling some where’s else.” He heads for the door with Cutter just a step behind hoisting the load of pelts as he goes.

The shopkeeper turns to him with a sly smile.  “You can’t sell nowhere’s else.  I’m the only one buying.”  Slim heads for the door.  “We will just see about that mister….” They head out the door but hear the storekeeper’s parting remark.  “You’ll be back.  And I won’t be paying top dollar.”

Not far from town a lone mountain man leads two pack mules down a narrow trail out of the mountains.  The mules are loaded down with furs and the going is slow. The man is singing a tune as he climbs down into a ravine, slipping on snow and ice.  The sun is starting to set and he is eager to get to a place where he can camp.  He doesn’t see the two men hidden in the trees above him.  They take aim and fire, the mountain man falls dead in his tracks.  “Ho, ho got me another one!  Easy as hunting squirrel and twice as fun!”   The men take the pack horses and their loads leaving the mountain man where he lays.  “ Lets get back to town and sell these firs, then have a drink at Belles.”

It is a grim quiet camp this evening. The horses are tethered beneath a stand of trees on the outskirts of town.  Nearby water splashing over the stones in the creek bed along with the chirp of night insects is the only sound to be heard.  Slim puts the finishing touches on a lean-to and tosses their bed rolls inside.  He sets their furs off to the side beside the shelter.  Then he joins Cutter at the campfire taking the plate of supper that Cutter has patched together out of what they have left.   Slim sits staring into the fire, unseeing, not eating, seeming to drift off.   Cutter is restless, he tosses a piece of wood he has been working on into the fire.  He has something on his mind and is going to get it out.  “Gosh darn it Slim, why didn’t you ask how O’Malley died??”  “Cause I already know’d boy. Remember last month when we crossed paths with Doleman.  He told me.  I just didn’t want to believe it.”   Cutter waits impatiently for Slim to continue.  When he just continues to stare into the fire he finally asks impatiently “Well, are you goin’ to tell me?  How did he die?”  Slim looks up, his eyes are solemn.  “Lead poisoning, boy.  The worst kind.”  Cutter sits back on his haunches.  “Well who would do such a thing?  O’Malley was a good, fair, kindly man!  Shaking his head Slim responds “Things are a changin’ boy. Might have to head farther west.”  Both stare glumly into the fire, not bothering to try making further conversation as they contemplate the changing world and their place in it.

conestoga wagon

Chapter 3

The sun is well up as Slim and Cutter come into a fair sized clearing.  On one side a big Conestoga wagon is parked.  Next to it sits a fair sized tent crowded with piles of crates and barrels.  In front of the tent a rough hewn plank is being used as a makeshift counter top. To the right of the tent there is what appears to be the beginning of a log structure.   Across the clearing stands a roughly made corral with a team of horses in residence.  A large sign in front of it proclaims Flim Flam Sam’s Trading Post.  “Welcome to my fine establishment gentlemen!” Hollers a man that is nearly as dirty and rough looking as the mountain men. Slim guffaws and slaps the man on the back. “Sam you old coot!  Took us nearly all day to find you!”   Sam takes in the pack of furs that Cutter is unloading from the pack mule.  “I see you decided not to trade in town.”  “That town is no place for the likes of us anymore” growls Cutter.  Slim takes the furs and starts untying the pack.  Sam looks apologetic, “ you know if you took this to Auburn Creek you can get more.  I mean… I’s, just sayin’… I really hate that I can’t give you top dollar.”  Slim cuts him off “Sam I suggest you remember who you’re talking to.  You and I know’d each other long enough to see the color that comes to a man’s eyes just before they’re shot out for telling tall tales.”  Sam chuckles slapping his leg.  “you know I was just making conversation Slim.  Course I’ll be fair with ye.  Cutter you’s almost growed up. Why I remember…”  Slim looks over his shoulder to where Cutter is taking in the conversation.  “Cutter.  Go over there and start pulling some of those supplies we’ll be needing.  But throw me my possibles bag first.”

Flim Flam Sam takes  a moment.  He know Slim has something serious to say. Sending Cutter off was just another piece of the puzzle being put together.  Cutter also knows something is happening.  As he heads off he runs around the side of a ledge of rocks so he can continue to listen without being seen.  Sam shoots Slim a sorrowful look. “I guess you heard?”  “Yeah, how many total now?”  Sam looks solemn “near 7 as far as I can make out”.  Slim shoots a look heavenward and clinches his fists.  “Why Sam?  That is what I can’t figure.”  “Slim I don’t know… Somebody went hunting them.  All the old mountain men are being hunted… Like we was animals…. We are all of us gatherin’ here for a meeting.”  They both pause looking grim.  “So, you stayin’ or heading further west Slim?  Might be I could give you a little more to help out…”  “I don’t know what I’m going to do yet.  First off I gotten learn Cutter how to shoot – proper like.  Don’t I boy?  Might as well come out with the grown folks…”  Cutter sheepishly comes out from behind the rocks.   “UMM… I was just…”  “Yeah, I know you was just…  Sam we need to fit him up with one of those Navy Colts.”  Sam nods and begins shifting some boxes in back of the counter.  He finds what he wants and brings out a crate of new revolvers.  With a nod he offers one to Slim along with a box of cartridges.  “Guess this’ll do.”

Slim and Cutter load their supplies and head out a ways from the new trading post site.  After they unload and set up camp Slim sets up a target range and begins teaching Cutter to use the revolver.  It is not going too well.  “I don’t get it boy!  You are a crack shot with a rifle, buy you can’t hit the rear end of a turkey right in front of your face with this here revolver!’  “I’m sorry Slim.  I just don’t like it.  I’d rather stick to the long gun.”  Slim walks away a bit in disgust and stands scratching his head thinking Cutter turns to watch him.  Suddenly he turns back toward Cutter.  “Cutter? Don’t turn around.  Just suppose a Black Foot buck is behind you.  About 30 feet.”  Cutters forehead creases and he begins thinking.   He becomes a bit worried.  What if someone is behind him?  Swiftly he turns, drawing his knife and throwing it in one continuous motion.  It lands eye level about 30 feet away, smack dab in the middle of a tree trunk about the width of a man’s head.  Slim smiles, Cutter grins back, somewhat relieved at the test of his abilities.  “Least wise, we know you ain’t slow.  So how is it that you made that throw just so exact-like?”  “Gosh Slim, I thought there might just be an Injun behind me.  I had to stop him or we would have been dead.”  “Son, there ain’t no difference in that there knife and a bullet.  Ifn’ you can point, you can shoot.”  Cutter shrugs and once again takes aim at the target set up for practice.  He points and shoots hitting the target dead center.   Slim chuckles, “Lets go hunting and see if we can’t get us some skins to make you a holster for that hogleg.”

Cutter Cain is written under the nom de plume:  JJ Kelman
Screenplay Registration: Writers Guild of America, West # 1695387
© 2013 Kirk Irving Koskella, NAK Filmworks