The Short Route

“The Short Route” is one of the first stories I ever had published; it appeared in Vampire Dan’s Story Emporium in Spring of 1998. Of all my short stories, this is still the one that inspires the largest number of “this should be a movie” comments.

It was the third night out from the ranch, and Charlie still couldn’t get over the stars. There were so many up there, he’d have sworn he saw every star there could possibly be. He tried to count them every night, but never got very far before he couldn’t remember if he had counted that particular one or this particular one; and tonight was no different.

Charlie gave up counting and concentrated on relieving himself and then headed back to camp, still staring into the sky. As he got closer to the fire, the stars began to fade, until all he could see were the brightest ones, just like back in the city.

Chase’s sharp voice interrupted Charlie’s mooning. “Watch your feet, New York!” He looked down and saw he was about to put his foot into a frying pan full of grease. As he stepped over it, Chase—it wasn’t his real name, but he liked you to call him that and got ornery if you didn’t—added, with real concern in his voice: “Don’t go slipping and breaking your neck, New York. Gonna need every man we got tomorrow.”

Charlie sat on the ground next to Chase and picked up a tin cup. The old guy grunted and filled it with evil-looking black stuff that glistened in the firelight. Charlie took a sip, made a face. Tasted like Chase had started with a barrel full of coffee and boiled it down to this. Chase saw his expression and chuckled. “Too strong for your New York tongue, tenderfoot?”

Charlie knew better than to let Chase think anything of the sort. “Not strong enough,” he said. Then: “Is something gonna happen tomorrow?”

“Not if we’re lucky,” Chase said.
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