short story

A Cowboy from the Cosmos – part three

Part One / Part Two


The horses landed in front of a large, purple palace, which stood alone in an open field. A waterfall flowed from the mountains behind, the water shimmering with golden hues. The Cowboy and I dismounted the horses outside the grand palace doors. As the sun began to set, two peanut-shaped moons rose from the dark horizon. Before I could ask about this bizarre sight, the palace doors opened with great ceremony. A crowd of servants—butlers, chambermaids, chefs, and armoured guards—poured forth, all slightly bowed as they walked towards us.

“I’m going to lose my job,” said the Cowboy, his eyes wide and watery.

I had no time to console him as a big, bespectacled man with an equally big beard came forward from the gathering. He had a golden crown on his head. When I peered closely at him, I was sure my father’s thin face was in there somewhere. The Cowboy took off his hat and gave a deep bow. The big bearded man hugged me so tightly I was afraid I would pop like a balloon.

“I’m so glad that you’re safe now.” A smile formed beneath his bushy moustache. The King of Farallon looked at the Cowboy who stared at his dirty boots with a face as red as a tomato. The King’s eyebrows furrowed, his mouth tightening into a line.

“You lost the princess,” he started, and the Cowboy flinched. “But you also brought her back. Thank you.”

The King pushed his glasses up his nose, extending a big hand to me.

“Actually, Sire,” the Cowboy said, “It was the Princess who saved me. If it wasn’t for her quick thinking and bravery, we wouldn’t be standing here right now.” The Cowboy looked down and held his hat by its frayed edges. The King glanced at me and raised an eyebrow.

“Is that so?” he said, but his mouth fell open. “Your dress, my dear, it’s torn!” I looked down and saw that it was indeed much shabbier than it had been before. The sequins had all fallen off and one sleeve was ripped, the other still wet from the ghost slime. Several maids beckoned me to follow them inside the palace. I stepped through the majestic doors and gaped at the hall inside.

The dying rays of the sun filtered through great arched windows. Deep purple drapes hung above the windows and light from grand chandeliers dappled on to mosaic flooring. Everything I could see was either silver or gold or purple.

Up a spiral staircase and through several winding corridors was my room. It smelled of peppermint and roses, the walls covered with several shades of lilac and blue. I squealed when I saw the bed; an entire double bed just for me! The maids waited patiently as I rolled around on bedding as soft as feathers.

Then, the wardrobe. Dozens and dozens of dresses in reds, blues, pinks, greens, purples, and more hung inside my wardrobe. I gaped as the maids brought a few of them out.

“Your Highness, what would you like to wear tonight?”

Of course, I knew which one I wanted.

A perfect pink dress, exactly the same as before, but this time in pristine condition. The maids brushed my hair and fetched me grapes and peaches and apples even though I wasn’t hungry.

Someone was missing though. I remembered the Cowboy and his sad face, and pushed away from the maids, running through endless galleries and rooms until I found the entrance. I stepped out of the Palace in time to see the two Farallon moons high in a dark purple sky. The Cowboy sat by the bank of a river that flowed beside the palace.

“So did you keep your job?” I asked.

He nodded but stared at his miserable reflection in the water.

“What’s wrong?”

“I was awful out there,” he said. “I was supposed to keep you safe, but then I was so scared of… and I’m supposed to be the grown-up…”

I sat down next to him and looked up at the clusters of stars spread across the sky. A lone blue star did not flicker, and I thought of home. I thought of my mother and wondered if I would see her on this peculiar planet. I wanted to tell her how I had conquered the ghosts, and that I was a brave princess now.

The water beneath us shimmered from the light of the palace.

“I think it’s okay to be afraid, even if you are a grown-up,” I said after a pause.

He gave me a small smile.

“And you weren’t awful out there, you rounded up the horses, didn’t you?”

The Cowboy grinned and nodded.

“Your dress looks very nice, Your Highness,” he said before he sprang up. He extended a hand and pulled me to my feet. I grinned and danced underneath the light of the two moons, swishing and swaying in my beautiful new dress.

The world began to slow; the Cowboy smiled and shimmied alongside me as I twirled myself round and round, until the moons and the stars began to spin and I fell to the floor with a thump. Rough carpet scratched my skin and I scrambled up to get back to the palace.

“Sweetie, are you okay? Do you want me to leave the light on?” My mother’s tired face poked around the corner of my bedroom door. She smiled. “Your dress looks lovely.”

I looked in the mirror and saw the pretty pink, the shiny new sequins, and the satin sleeves. My best tiara was no longer on my head and my arms had no white gloves.

“What’s that in your hand?”

My right hand clenched tightly around something small. I opened it and saw the silver whistle. It had a small engraving of a horse on its bottom edge.

“Oh it’s nothing… just a toy…”

“Do you want me to leave the lights on?” she asked once more. I bit my lip and thought hard, remembering the ghosts. The ghosts that I defeated, the ghosts that ran away from me.

“No,” I said, shaking my head. She flicked the switch again and closed the door. I clenched the tube and breathed heavily. A calm breeze blew through my window and I opened the curtains to see the bright full moon. The silver tube gleamed and I felt a warmth spread inside me.

I looked back out the window and saw the moon with a few twinkling stars, and a wisp of white smoke dashing through the night sky.

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A Cowboy from the Cosmos – part two

Read part one here!


What rotten luck! I was stranded in an empty, shadow of a world with a cowboy from space who was just as afraid of the dark as I was. Brilliant!

“But you’re from space!” I cried. “You can’t be scared of the dark!”

“Shhh!” He looked around warily. “You’re afraid too.”

“I’m a child! It’s okay for me, not you!”

“Well that’s not very fair,” he said.

I paused and pondered on this. It was true. Why were children allowed to be afraid but not grown-ups?

A howl echoed in the distance. The Cowboy sprang up from the bench, his eyes wide. A cool breeze chilled me to the bones and the stars began to fade into an inky sky.

The silence resumed.

“The ghosts are here,” he whispered. My breath caught in my throat. I pinched myself several times but nothing happened; this wasn’t a nightmare I could wake from. The darkness swallowed us up, closing in like a predator to its prey. My cosmic companion shook in his seat, eyes darting from left to right as he clasped his shaking hands together. It felt like we would be stranded here, in this abandoned park, forever sinking in our fears.

Enough was enough. I wanted to get home, wherever that was, but I wasn’t going to find it if I wept on a wet bench. I straightened myself up and grabbed the Cowboy’s hand.

“Come on,” I said. “Let’s run around.”

The warmth of another person seemed to melt his terror. We broke out into a jog around the park and my dress glowed like a pink ember. The eerie wailing returned, piercing the silence in between our heavy panting.

“What are you doing?” asked the Cowboy.

“I’m making some light.”

As we ran, the tattered old dress lit up more and more, bringing the park back to life around me. My dress was no longer pink but gleamed bright white, like a brilliant star.

“How is this helping us?” asked the Cowboy, but he let go of my hand and gaped at me. A mix of excitement and confusion spread across his face. I stopped running and felt the ground disappear from beneath my feet. I flailed around helplessly, floating in the air.

“Help me!”

The Cowboy grabbed my hands but my white gloves slipped off and he fell back to the ground. I screamed in terror, not wanting to be floating all alone in the dark with nothing but the howls of the wind for company. He jumped up and seized my wrists but couldn’t pull me down. The two of us floated higher and higher, away from the park and the world, with only a glowing dress as a guide into the unknown.

“What’s happening?” shouted the Cowboy. His eyes were shut tight and his long legs thrashed about.

“Stop moving, you’re making me wobble!” I yelled.

The park grew smaller, as did the world around me. I couldn’t hear the whooshing of the wind; in fact, I heard nothing at all. In front of me hung a big blue-green orb with swirls of white clouds, suspended in a silent orbit. I nearly let go of the Cowboy in amazement.

There we were, floating aimlessly in space, my dress burning like the brightest of stars, the Cowboy’s clammy hands gripping my wrists. His eyes were still shut as he whimpered to himself, but I couldn’t look away from the spectacular display around me. I spotted white wisps in the distance.

“Look, the ghosts are coming!”

I expected him to scream as I kicked my legs to try and move away, but instead the Cowboy laughed in delight.

“It’s not the ghosts, they’re the horses!” He let go of one hand and whistled with his fingers into the silence of space. “Oh, silly me, I need the whistle.” From his waistcoat pocket he produced a silver tube and blew hard.

No sound came but the white wisps became bigger and bigger until I saw they weren’t clouds of smoke at all, but horses. Five beautiful creatures of glittering white and manes of silver hair galloped effortlessly across the cosmos. They had no wings nor a unicorn’s horn.

“Come here Bess,” said the Cowboy, waving over the horse at the front of the group. He stroked Bess’s muzzle and she closed her dark eyes in comfort. I did the same to the horse behind. Its coat was like soft powder and they glowed just as brightly as my dress.

“You’re not afraid when you’re with them?” I asked.

“Not as much,” said the Cowboy. He smiled at them all and helped me mount a horse before sitting on top of Bess, positively beaming. Once more, the wailing came from behind us, piercing through the stillness of the galaxy. Green smoke drifted from Earth, coming closer to us.

“The ghosts!”

The Cowboy fumbled with Bess’s reins until he blew on the whistle again and the horses flew forward. I gripped my own reins and tried not to fall off. “What do we do?” I called out.

“Nothing, just keep running to Farallon!”

“But where is Farallon?”

The Cowboy didn’t respond.

The horses were like soft glowing clouds, and they moved like them too. Their graceful gallops couldn’t outrun the green ghosts, whose moans rang louder in our ears. We flew through deep space towards stars that moved further away from us. A green face appeared at my side, its grin as yellow as cheese and breath to match. It had tiny, dark eyes set deeply in its face, and awful slime drooling from its mouth.

I tried to scream but my voice was trapped in my throat. A wet feeling slipped down my shoulder as I felt the slimy hand of the ghost dripping on to me. The Cowboy glanced behind and saw the green ghosts gathering around us. He yelped and blew hard on the tube, but the horses were already running as fast as they could. I pulled on the reins of my horse and it moved out of rank to come side by side with the Cowboy and Bess. The wetness spread across my shoulder to my neck. Another ghost wrapped his slimy hands around the Cowboy. I pulled my horse over to get closer to him and my hands fumbled around for something, anything, till I grabbed the tiara from my head and threw it towards the ghost.

I had forgotten that gravity did not work in my favour. The tiara floated uselessly away. I fought back tears and tried to focus: why did they keep following us? What did they want? Their strange, crooked shapes looked like the shadows of the flies that buzzed around in my room.

An idea struck me.

“Stop running!” I yelled to the Cowboy. “Tell the horses to stop!”

He looked confused, but he obeyed. He pulled on the reins, even though he and Bess were covered in green slime. All the horses slowed to a stop, dripping with slime.

“Are you sure about this?” he said.

I said nothing and desperately hoped that the plan would work. My dress began to dim. I stayed as still as I could but my hands shook on the reins. The glow of the horses began to fade away. They were no longer white, but a dark shade of grey. Much to my relief, the green slime began to drip off.

“It’s working!” I said, but the Cowboy was not happy.

“We’re losing our light!” he called out, his voice filled with fear. The ghost slime slowly receded, but the spectres remained in front of us, with their awful yellow teeth and small, black eyes. They stared at us—watching as our light vanished completely—and the darkness of space cloaked us once more. My body tensed in fear, but I could not take my eyes off the ghosts.

“Your Highness… the dark… it’s so dark…”

“We have to stay still, otherwise they’ll keep chasing,” I said, barely moving my lips. I was scared to my bones. The ghouls’ long yellow teeth flashed at me and I blinked away, clutching the reins of the horse tightly. Tears ran down my cheeks as I wished I had never bought this dress in the first place. I wished I had listened to Mum, and I wished that she was there with me.

“Look, they’re leaving!” said the Cowboy. I opened my eyes and saw the ghosts drifting away from us until they became nothing more than a green haze floating towards Earth. I shook my head when the Cowboy lifted the silver tube to his lips. We waited until the green smoke was completely out of sight. The horses had grown so dark that they were almost invisible; it was as if we sat on nothing, and simply floated by ourselves.

Finally, the ghosts were gone. I glanced around at the emptiness of space, the cold darkness, the terrible silence. But somehow it wasn’t so bad. Maybe monsters lurked in the dark, but other things might be sitting there too. Like a cowboy in need of a friend.

He blew on the silver tube and away we went, gathering speed and light, riding until Earth was nothing but a blue speck in the distance.


 

Keep an eye out for the third and final part coming soon!

A Cowboy from the Cosmos – part one

This is just a short, silly little story I wrote a while ago that was gathering dust in my desktop. Hope you enjoy!


My mother and I once argued in the middle of a boutique, and it wasn’t going her way. “You don’t need another dress,” she said, pulling folds of pink satin out of my hands.

“I want this one NOW!” I had screamed. I was adamant that I was a princess and that this dress was perfect for my many adventures in my kingdom behind the sofa. Mum was stubborn, but no match for me. She let go in frustration and I took the dress into my arms, hugging it like a doll. The owner of the boutique—an old woman with decades of wrinkles carved into her face—came towards us. She smiled, revealing her crooked yellow teeth.

“Find anything you like? Everything here is handmade.”

Mum sighed and pulled out her silver purse, clicking the clasp open in front of the till. I had won.

“No refunds or exchanges,” the old woman added.

My mother hesitated for a second before handing over the cash. I squealed in joy and skipped out of the shop, barely stopping to hear the old woman chuckling softly to herself.

At home I swayed in front of the mirror, the dress pulled on over my clothes. On closer inspection it wasn’t particularly beautiful. The colour had faded and the sequins on the belt were falling off. Nevertheless, I was caught up in the fleeting delight and had found my best tiara—shiny plastic with cheap jewels—and my white elbow length gloves to go with it. I pranced around the room, knowing I was the prettiest princess in the entire kingdom.

“Time for bed,” said Mum. She crossed my room and pulled the curtains across the darkened window.

“But I’m not tired! I’m a princess, and princesses don’t sleep when their mums tell them to.” I folded my arms and sat on the floor with a pout.

“Well, if you’re a princess, then I’m the queen. And you must always follow what the queen says,” she reasoned.

“Which means that I’m the king.” My father poked his thin face round the door, pushing his glasses up his nose. “And the king says it’s bedtime.”

I whined and beat my fists on the floor.

“But as you’re a princess,” continued Dad, “You can keep your dress on.”

I grinned as he hoisted me up under the arms, tucking me beneath the covers. “Are you going to be okay?”

“Can I turn the star on?”

He nodded. I bent down to the side of the bed and flicked on the switch. My pink star-shaped night light came on.

“Night sweetie,” said Mum. They switched the lights off and left the bedroom, closing the door behind them.

My heart raced in the darkness. The night light shone its pink glow across one half of the bedroom. It wasn’t enough; it was just a little light. Strange shadows cast themselves across my room, bent in awkward shapes and crooked figures. I hid underneath the covers, hands sweating inside my royal gloves. I could shout for Mum and Dad, but then they’d scold me for being scared. I was too old to be afraid of the dark, which was unfair because it was the dark—anything could be hiding in there. I whimpered in the sanctuary of my covers and waited for exhaustion to put me to sleep. A faint buzzing broke my fear.

Below me, a couple of green-bottled flies buzzed around the night light, entranced by its pink glow. I shooed them away but they continued flying around until one of them perched on top of the light. Its shadow extended across the floor and looked like a crooked ghost about to gobble me up. I snapped the night light off and heard the buzzing fade away towards the window, but now I was in the dark again. I sprang up from my bed and switched the bedroom light on.

A very pretty princess stared back at me through the mirror, but she had a wonky tiara. I straightened it and began twirling, dancing at my own royal ball. I had servants at my beck and call, a million and one different dresses to try on, and dainty slippers made of glass and gold. I twirled and sashayed across the ballroom, waving at my audience.

The room spun around me. I stopped dancing and stumbled to the door, opening it to the hallway. But the hallway wasn’t there. I stared into the pitch black emptiness and stepped through the door, wondering if the hall light had turned off. But the more I walked, the more I realised I wasn’t at home. I couldn’t feel the carpet beneath my feet, and when I stretched my arms out, the walls were not there. In fact, the entire house had disappeared.

“Mum?”

No answer.

“MUM!”

A heavy stone sat in my throat. On shaky legs, I ran into the abyss in front of me, hoping that Mum would be in there somewhere. I saw a path ahead of me, where weeds grew between slabs of concrete. Confused at how I could see the path, I looked down to see that my frayed dress glowed a gentle pink. As I slowed down, the light faded. So I kept running until the dress shone brighter and brighter, racing through empty streets where my footsteps echoed into the void of darkness.

The entrance sign for the neighbourhood park was half buried beneath grass and litter. The park itself was empty; even the surrounding houses had been lost to the dark. A deep silence shrouded my ears and my body clenched in fear.

I wandered into the lonely park and sat on a wet bench, the call of the wind whining in the distance. My legs ached and I panted heavily. There was no light anywhere and my dress started to fade again, but I had no energy left to run.

But it wasn’t completely dark. I looked up and expected to see the moon, only to behold the entire galaxy spread out above me. It was so beautiful: wispy clouds of stars all awake at night like a twinkling painting.

“You finally showed up.”

I jumped up, a squeak leaving my lips. A young man sat beside me on the bench. Surely he wasn’t there before? He had dark curly hair and a round face with big eyes. He wore a brown leather waistcoat, jeans that were torn at the edges, and scuffed boots. A strange hat sat on his head, like a cowboy’s.

“But it’s too late now, isn’t it? They’ve run off because you took so long. Well, I guess that’s princesses for you.”

“Who ran off?” I asked.

“The horses, who else?” He folded his arms and sighed, looking up at the sky with wary eyes. “Now I don’t know how we’ll get back.”

I looked around the gloomy park but couldn’t see any sign of a horse nor hear the sound of their hooves. This bizarre man didn’t make any sense.

“I want to go home,” I whined. ”I can’t find my house.”

He chuckled and adjusted his hat on his head.

“Princesses don’t live in houses, what a silly thing to say!”

My face became hot and tears trickled down my cheeks.

“But I’m not a princess! I just want to go home, it’s outside the park.”

“No way am I going back onto those streets,” he said, sitting cross legged on the bench. He looked eagerly at the sky. “We’ll just have to wait for the horses to come back. Don’t worry, they usually do.”

I stepped in front of him with hands curled into balls, my face wet and cross.

“Take me home NOW!” I tugged at his sleeve. “Now, now, now!”

He pulled away from my frantic yanking and looked down at me with curiosity. “Wait, Your Highness, I have to take you back to Farallon! You’re acting very odd.” I whined even more but he would not budge from his seat.

If I want to get home, I thought, then I’ll have to pretend to believe him.

“If I’m a princess, then what are you?”

The man cleared his throat, straightened his hat, and stood tall.

“Deputy Chief Wrangler of the Farallon Central Ranch,” he said with his chin up. “I’m in charge of looking after the horses.”

“You’re not doing a good job of that then, are you?”

He looked crestfallen and sat back down again.

“I’m sorry,” I said quickly. “I just don’t understand why you’re taking me back to… to Farallon?”

The Cowboy took a deep breath and clasped his hands. He bit his bottom lip.

“His Majesty told me to take Your Highness on a ride around the planet, as a treat, but I lost control and Your Highness flew away too quickly for me. I’ve been chasing Your Highness for forever and a day, and found you on this miserable-looking planet. It’s all my fault… I’m going to lose my job!” He grabbed his cowboy hat and sobbed into it, wiping his nose on the felt brim. I patted his shoulder with a satin-gloved hand and looked down at the dress. It no longer glowed, but I could make it out in the light of the stars.

I guess really am a princess, I thought. I always pretended to be one. Maybe dreams can come true with a pretty dress and a plastic tiara.

“So if we can find the horses, we can go back home?” I asked.

The Cowboy’s moist face appeared from behind his hat.

“It’s not just that…” He coughed and lowered his head to my level, looking around at the empty park before whispering, “I’m afraid of the dark.”

Good news!

It’s nothing amazing or spectacular or even really that big. But it is, to me.

I finally got published!! *yay*

Just a short story really, less than 1,000 words, nothing special… but still — something I wrote is actually published. Alhamdulillah 🙂

Big thank you to Bunbury Magazine for giving me this opportunity, this stepping stone in my publishing and writing journey. You can find ‘Red’ in Issue 14 of the magazine here. All they ask for is a small contribution towards the magazine to help keep it running. That sounds fair, right?

And now to leave you with one of my favourite quotes from one of my favourite books 🙂

“– a beauty neither of fine colour nor long eyelash, nor pencilled brow, but of meaning, of movement, of radiance. Then her soul sat on her lips, and language flowed, from what source I cannot tell.” – Jane Eyre