Title: University Besieged
Genre: Weird Western
35-word pitch: In alternate 1924, slicker McKay and half-Indian cowboy Bobby, rivals, are trapped at their elite university between all-destroying sand and Mexican rebels. Starvation devours class unity, but each life lost narrows everyone's chance to survive.
The sun sifted through thin clouds and my thinner shirt. My world was golden and full of my own pulse as round we went, shorts slapping pumping thighs.
Some guys glanced at the fences around the track. The girls stood there, booshwashing, hands pressing hats to heads and hats pressing shadows over sweet smiles.
I rarely looked that way. When I ran, I ran. And ahead of me, like clockwork, were Lindsay and Sander.
Lindsay laughed when he ran. Lindsay always laughed, waving and winking at the girls and still having enough time to whip me soundly across the line. He always did, even for warm-ups. It’s like he has to do it, and then laugh at me.
Sander destroyed both of us. Always. The three of us stumbled over the finish line, me gasping, Lindsay laughing and flailing, Sander grinning ear to ear. We linked arms over shoulders and felt each other sweat and breathe, as the rest of the team straggled over the line. Dolls clapped. Gents waved straw boater hats.
Behind us rose dusty little Homestead. And that’s when I first saw Bobby leaning over the fence, arms crossed and brow knotted under that greasy Stetson of his.
I forgot my surroundings. His hard eyes in his filthy face locked on mine. I remember I heard the incoming 5 o’clock train whistle pierce the summer blaze, and then Bobby nodded.
The pause on life snapped as Lindsay smacked my head with his own boater, freshly fetched from whatever blonde sheba he'd picked as an accessory for the month.
“Hey!” I exclaimed, and of course he laughed.
“Beat you again, Mr. Parrish.” He pumped my hand half off my arm before winking and darting off to his fluffy girl, whooping at the crowd and yelling good-natured insults to losers. Obviously, he’d forgotten we’d met for a workout, not for a legitimate competition.
I watched him go, balled up confused about the then-nameless-to-me dirty palooka who looked like he wanted to shoot me. Lindsay ran hither and thither, dragging his date behind him, one blazer sleeve on and his hat askew. Lindsay’s so energetic he probably makes life tired. Sander shook his head at us both.
But then Bobby scared the bejeebers out of me by coming up from behind.
“How do, Mr. Parrish?”
Startled, I whirled on one heel. Before I could grimace at the sticky sweatiness practically rolling off his crumpled self, he stuffed a fresh letter under my nose.
I took it, avoiding the fingerprints Bobby’s thick thumbs left on the envelope. Sure enough, my name was there in fancy script.
Right then, and I don’t know why, I noticed the polished Emmie badge dangling on Bobby’s shirt. This put more stance in my shoulders and I fought the urge to smear my fingers under my nose.
“I’m McKay Parrish,” I said.
Bobby’s mouth quirked. “I know, I said that myself. Most’ve us know anyway.”
Well, isn’t he the most pleasant greaseball I ever met.