A thick cloud of choking dust arose as the car slowed to a stop before the old building. A man got out and walked around the front to get a better look. The ancient hitching post was worn smooth, and the porch sagged to one side where the dry-rotted post had fallen away. A faded sign adorned the roof; the peeled red paint formed letters that feebly shouted the name of the Buffalo Skull Cantina. The door swung loose on one hinge, and the two windows, both long since broken, were opaqued by the dust that clung to the glass.

His eyes wandered to the left of the aged edifice, where lay the ruins of another structure. Another smooth hitching rail sat before it, beneath which lay the warped remains of a saddle. Behind it, the water trough rested half-filled with the deposits of dust devils. The building itself was squat and long, with many boards missing. The hay on the floor of the empty stable had disintegrated to a fine powder. As he walked toward it, he could see through the fallen boards that a bridle still hung from the opposite wall with a few other pieces of tack. Behind the stable lay the wreck of a stagecoach. It leaned to one corner where a broken wheel had fallen off, and the tongue and yoke lay beneath a prickly pear several feet away. The driver's box was riddled with bullet holes.

Shuffling slowly back around to the front, he walked on into the cantina itself, leaving the broken door ajar. An elf owl turned its head to look from the heavy brass chandelier which still hung from the rafters, then turned back to watching the nest of packrats in one corner with an occasional glance in his direction. The buffalo skull for which the place was named hung askew from a nail above the bar. Underneath it, shelves of cracked, dark-stained glasses lined the wall. The broken glass of whiskey bottles clinked underfoot as he walked past overturned and broken tables and chairs. Bullet holes dotted the weathered gray walls. Leaning against the bar, he picked at a piece of smashed lead imbedded in one of the many glossy spots along the length of the countertop. He pushed a barstool with his toe, and it fell over and broke on the plank floor with a loud crack.

The only thing that seemed untouched was the piano in the corner. He walked over to it, pushing the spider webs from his face, and testily rattled the yellowed keys, listening to the tin-panny sound they made. A worn spot in the polish atop the piano showed where many a beer had sat. The floor next to it was heavily scarred and dented, doubtless where some señorita had danced for her living. One out-of-the-way table that still stood held an unfinished game of poker, somehow undisturbed by time.

As he walked out, he glanced over at the twisted mesquite looming over an empty basin which once contained the spring that bore the existence of the saloon. Looking back one more time, he ambled over to his car. As he got in, he thought he heard the hollow sound of a piano, the clicking of heels, and a raucous shout from a drunk in the crowd.

~Stacy Clifford
© 2001