A Clash of Bullets (Preview)


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When he woke up, the first thing that went through his mind was how much his head hurt. He was face down in desert sand and had to spit some of it out of his dry mouth so he wasn’t breathing it in and filling his lungs any more than they already were. They burned with the desert heat. He longed for water.

That was his second thought. Water. Where could it be found? Why was his throat so tight, and why did it ache so badly? He put one hand up to his neck and swallowed hard. What little saliva his mouth was creating felt like a bucket of water on a huge dry plain.

He closed his eyes and tried to remember … who was he? What was his name? Where was he from? What was he doing where he was?

He pushed to his feet and looked down at his clothes. His name was lost to him. He had a feeling he was in his thirties. But his exact birthdate and where he was born were unknown to him.

The man looked up at the bright sun, shielding his eyes with one hand. If he moved a few feet, he’d be under a tree and shaded by the long branches stretching over him. His exact position, however, was in the sunlight, unshaded, the perfect spot to roast a human being alive.

His thoughts made him grunt, and he took a few slow, stumbling steps toward the tree. Once he was under the branches, shielded by the leaves, he surveyed the situation.

This wasn’t the only tree in the desert around him, but there weren’t many others, and they weren’t close by. It wasn’t a County Hill Road by any means. This tree was fairly big, meaning there was either water underground or a stream nearby that the tree’s roots could reach.

From what he could tell, someone had apparently tried to hang him. There was a broken branch, and when he looked up, he could see where the branch had come from. The sharp edges of both indicated it wasn’t cut on purpose but had broken naturally, probably by his weight when the hanging was attempted.

He couldn’t remember any of it.

He didn’t go closer to the broken branch on the ground. He didn’t want to inspect the rope hanging from it. It didn’t require much examination to tell its use.

But how did he get out of the noose if the rope was used to hang him and the branch had broken? It appeared to be intact. Maybe he’d managed to pull it over his head.

His hand went to his neck again. He swallowed. It was somewhat painful, but not too much. His next thought was that the noose hadn’t tightened correctly. Whoever did it hadn’t stuck around to ensure the job was completely done. A blessing for him.

Looking up at the tree, he knew there had to be water somewhere to supply such a luxurious-looking tree with so many leaves and branches. It was the only one, and unless it was built on an underground natural well – which was always possible – he should be able to find water somewhere.

And maybe other things, too. Like something to tell who he was and all the other information he was missing. At least he knew how to walk and talk, he thought.

He hesitated before leaving the tree behind. How did he know which way to go? What if he walked in the opposite direction of the water he was searching for?

Turning in a circle, he assessed his situation and surroundings. On three sides, he saw nothing but the desert, which struck him as looking like Nevada, but he couldn’t be sure. It could be Arizona. It would help if he knew where he’d been last.

There was some foliage dotting the land around him. Bare bushes destined to become tumbleweeds, cacti sprouting three or four arms, and the little round ones sporting pretty flowers. He also saw the odd flower bed here and there, spots of grass and cacti with big, flat, leaf-shaped appendages. And they all seemed to be in one direction. Maybe they would lead him to water.

He tried not to question this logic too much. There weren’t many options available to him. He didn’t see any bag or horse or sack that might hold his belongings. He wasn’t carrying a wallet, though he didn’t know if he usually did that. Didn’t every man have a wallet and every woman carry a purse?

He shook his head and decided to leave the shade of the tree to find a body of water nearby. He needed to bathe and get the dirt off his body. He needed a splash of fresh water in his mouth to cool off from the bright desert sun.

Maybe once he’d relaxed and somewhat clean and refreshed, he could think straight. Maybe he’d remember the important information he was lacking.

The one surprise was that he didn’t feel very hungry. Was this a clue he hadn’t been there very long? For all he knew, an hour had passed since he was hanged from the tree. Maybe he shouldn’t be hungry. Maybe the man or men who had done this to him weren’t far away. Maybe he’d done it to himself.

He shook his head at the last option. How would he have done it himself? The only solution that came to his mind was that he was on a horse, and the horse had been led away. That meant someone else had been there. Someone had done this to him.

But he was alive. Regardless of his memory loss, he was grateful to have a second chance to be the man God intended, whether it was the man he used to be or the one he would now become.

Chapter One

As he trudged through the desert sand, the sun began to heat the air almost unbearably. He was sweating, but not as much as he would have been if he’d had water in his system. After the first few minutes, he’d decided that he had been laying there a lot longer than an hour. His stomach may not have rumbled initially, but it didn’t take long for it to start.

As he walked, he ran his eyes along the ground, looking for tracks to indicate if anyone or anything had gone down that way. He did see what looked like three-toed bird tracks. He had no earthly idea what could have made them. They weren’t human, but it wasn’t like they weren’t recognizable to someone who knew something about the wildlife in Arizona.


His mind sparked. He sucked in a sharp breath and stopped where he was. He was in Arizona. He was almost sure of it. He wouldn’t have minded being able to verify it somehow, but since no one was about, he decided it was a definite fact.

Feeling immense satisfaction, he continued walking, examining the ground around him. He stopped again, peering at something in the distance. It was half-buried. He hurried toward it and stuck his fingers in the dirt, sifting around the object. It was some kind of metal box, about six inches wide and nine inches long. The depth also appeared to be about six inches, and half of it was buried in the dirt. It didn’t look ancient like it belonged to people long dead. It almost looked new.

He pulled it out of the dirt and turned it over in his hand to look at it from all angles. He furrowed his eyebrows, fiddling with the small latch on the front. It appeared to be locked somehow. He peered at the tiny hole under the latch. That couldn’t possibly need a key so small. Could it?

He turned the box over some more and looked at the back, where two more small latches kept that side closed. He put his hand in one pocket and produced a pocketknife, which he flicked open with one thumb and shoved between the two parts.

At that moment, he realized what he’d done. He froze, his eyes focused on the knife. He yanked it from the box where it was stuck and examined the object, turning it the way he had the box. He’d known the knife was there and opened it like he’d done it a million times.

He sighed deeply, feeling satisfied once more. His memory would come back. He was sure of it. He just wished it would happen faster.

Deciding not to bring himself down about it, he pushed the knife back in through the two parts and twisted it some more, putting pressure on the latch on one side in the middle. It didn’t really take much to make it snap.

He sat down Indian style with the box on his legs and opened it. There were photographs inside, two of them. One of an older lady. One of a younger lady. Sadly, he didn’t recognize either. He stared at them for a time, wondering if they should mean something to him.

He settled his eyes on the younger lady, waiting for some feeling to wash over him. Maybe not one of recognition but one of … love … was it brotherly love? Or something more?

He didn’t know.

Flipping up the pictures on their sides, he looked at the scraps below them. There were a few scribbled names on papers that weren’t familiar to him. For some reason, a leaf was stuck between two of the papers. He left it alone and continued looking. At the bottom, something caught his attention more than the others.

It was a small, handcrafted envelope. His heart did a small flip in his chest when he saw it. A name and the name of a town were written on the front in the very middle. His blood raced quickly through his veins as he pulled the envelope out.

The name on the front – Johnny Smith. He blinked, letting the name roll through his mind. Johnny Smith. Very plain. Not unique in any way. The town. Dry Gulch, Arizona.

He smiled. At least he’d remembered the state he was in. His name still didn’t sound right to his ears, but he figured if he lived to meet another person and reacted easily to that name, maybe it really was his.

There was no return address on the envelope. It was square. An almost perfect square, put together, he figured, by small hands.

He turned it over and flipped the back open. There was no letter inside. But when he spread the paper apart, he saw it wasn’t empty. Flipping it, he tapped the end and let what was inside drop into his open palm.

Rose petals. Dried rose petals.

He picked each of them up between his fingers, and by instinct, he lifted the envelope and touched his nose with it, breathing in deeply. The faint scent of roses filled his nostrils. Unfortunately, it didn’t fill his mind with any new information.

But his heart reacted. His heart beat faster and harder, and his chest tightened.

Johnny didn’t know what that feeling was, though. Who had given him these rose petals? And was this stuff even his?

He sighed, looking all around. There was no one around for miles and miles. He didn’t see much chance someone was hiding and watching him. If the men who had tried to kill him – if that’s what happened –had been watching, they likely would have finished the job once he started moving around again.

The chances of someone else’s things being stuck here in the ground like there’d been a sudden sandstorm were zero to none. He couldn’t imagine that kind of coincidence. Besides, the rose petals had meant something to him. He could tell by his body’s reaction. His mind might be stuck, but his heart wasn’t.

He sat there a bit longer, pinching through the short notes and names, reading them repeatedly, looking at the photographs, staring, staring …

There was nothing there. Nothing coming to him. He moaned, sighing heavily at the same time.

Johnny was grateful for what he’d found. He couldn’t fathom that little box belonging to anyone else. But why was it there? Why was it half-buried in the sand and not completely buried? Had the bandits who tried to murder him taken it and tossed it out into the sand when discovering it was useless? Or had it fallen out of a carrying bag or saddlebag?

Likely it had fallen out since it wasn’t open until Johnny pried it with his knife.

He took the box in hand and pushed to his feet, pulling the knife out of the dirt where he’d set it. He closed it with one hand and shoved it into his pocket.

Johnny stood for a moment, squinting his eyes, and turned in a slow circle. He wouldn’t go back in the direction he’d come from. He should continue the way he’d been before he sidetracked to pick up the box. Or maybe he should go in the direction the box would have led him.

He looked that way and noticed several trees in the distance. Surely that meant water was close by. Johnny trudged on through the sand, denying how heavy the sun felt on his shoulders and hair. Sweat was beading up on his forehead. He wiped it with a handkerchief he found in his back pocket.

His handkerchief was dry almost as quickly as it had become moistened with his sweat. Even if there were no water around those trees, there would be shade. All he had to do was keep walking.

Johnny kept his mind on the trees. They would be his saving grace. He would take a break and decide where to go from there. It was obvious he didn’t have a horse. If he did own one, it didn’t know where he was.

He looked around, wondering if he should whistle to see if a beast would come running. In the end, he decided against it. He didn’t have the strength to whistle right now, and there wasn’t a horse or any other animal near enough to have heard him if he did.

Chapter Two

Johnny had no idea how long it took him to reach the trees. Once he got to them, his heart flipped in his chest when he smelled water in the air. The closer he got, the better he could hear bubbling somewhere nearby. Relief swept through him when he rounded a corner and saw the trees break off into sand, and then a wide stream appeared like manna from Heaven.

“Thank you, God,” he murmured through dry lips, hurrying with what strength he had left. He dropped to his knees at the water’s edge, dipping his hands down into the clear depths.

He let out a deep breath, closing his eyes, letting the sensation of the cool water on his hands overwhelm him with tingles. He splashed some on his face, reveling in the shock it gave his system.

It didn’t take long before he was stripped and bathing in the water, diving under and coming up to splash his long blond hair back. It felt good to get the grime off his body. It would have been nicer if he didn’t have to put dirty clothes back on. Taking his time, since there was no one about for miles, he worked his clothes through the water, ringing and rinsing them out the best he could and spreading them on a rock to dry. The hot desert sun would take care of that fairly quickly. In the meantime, he would sit in the sun and dry off, eating berries he found growing on the shore.

His growling stomach was thankful.

As he sat in the sun, basking in the warmth on his body, glistening with the water as it dried, he thought about his situation. The only real thing he could do was try to find shelter. Judging by how the sun was moving through the sky, he had most of the day before it would get dark and could tell which direction was north. But what difference did it make which way he went? He could be anywhere in the deserts surrounding Dry Gulch. Maybe he wasn’t anywhere near his hometown.

If that was even his hometown.

Johnny was surprised by how blank his mind was without his memories. It was a strange feeling as if something was on the tip of his tongue, a cliff in his mind that he couldn’t reach the top of. His memories were on the other side of that cliff, an ocean of thoughts, people, events … things just beyond his reach … for the moment.

It was strange and disconcerting. Uncomfortable.

Before washing his clothes, he’d gone through the pockets to see if there was anything else in their depths other than the knife. He’d found a pack of rolling papers and some tobacco. Another pocket produced a box of matches. He’d set them aside and was currently smoking a cigarette he’d rolled himself. Apparently, it was a common practice because he had the thing rolled in less than a minute. His fingers did the deed with no trouble.

He watched the smoke as he blew it from his mouth, drifting up into the sky. His lungs tolerated the smoke easily, another indication this was a regular habit.

When he had baked in the sun for a good twenty minutes, having turned over his clothes a few times to help them thoroughly dry, he dressed and climbed down from the large rocks to the sand below.

He’d left his boots at the bottom, his socks draped over them so they would dry. He shook the fabric, loosening the tight fibers and generating a bit more softness so they wouldn’t rub his feet raw.

After dressing completely, he picked up the box and began to walk. He chose to walk along the shoreline, heading in a winding way toward the east. Nothing was familiar to him. Bushes, rocks, twigs on the ground that snapped when he stepped on them, squirrels skittering up trees, and rabbits hopping away from him.

His stomach grumbled when he saw the little creatures, but his gun was one thing his captors and attempted killers had not left with him. He assumed he owned one. Everything else he had with him seemed to indicate he was a cowboy, probably a rancher or a ranch hand. He definitely didn’t belong behind a desk.

Johnny chuckled, thinking of the oddest job he could, that of an undertaker. Was he an undertaker? The thought brought out an audible laugh.

When he got tired and his legs begged him to take a break, Johnny found a spot in the shade and rested. He rolled another cigarette and lit it, sighing before he took a draw and blew out the smoke.

It was surprising how painful it was to look around, taking everything in without any memories to ponder. At the moment, the only memory in his mind was when he was bathing and standing in the water, looking at his reflection. He longed for a mirror. The waves made him ripple, and he couldn’t get a clear picture of himself.

He’d seen scars on his chest and wondered how they got there. His blue eyes had sparkled in the sun’s reflection on the water, and his blond hair had turned dark as it was wet through and through. It was good to be clean. Especially after laying his face in the dirt for God only knew how long.

Johnny froze when he saw an opening in the line of trees. Through the opening, he saw a house in the distance, and his heart leaped with joy. The next moment, it went into overdrive with apprehension. This could go two ways. The people in the house would welcome him, or they would shoot him dead in the front yard.

He stayed still for a moment, wondering, thinking …

The house was what he’d been walking to find, wasn’t it? It wasn’t a town, but there was no doubt one was nearby. Nearby meaning in the ten miles around the house in any direction. Except the one he’d come from.

All he could do was try. He didn’t know enough about himself or his situation to pass up any opportunities. Taking trepidatious steps, he marched to the opening and went through it, leaving the stream behind. The closer he got to the house, the better he could see it. There was a three-log fence around the outer perimeter, which was huge. He spotted several goats roaming on the other side of that fence. When he finally reached the fence, he hopped up on the bottom log and climbed over with ease.

Johnny stayed by the fence for a few minutes, sweeping his eyes around the big yard, which was dotted with trees, as if someone had run around tossing seeds into the air and none of them landing very near any others. He thought it was a pretty effect, especially with the trim green grass, the purposeful and beautifully colored flower beds, and the tall statue directly in front of the large three-story house. It was a man on a horse rearing up on its hind legs.

Someone really cared about the aesthetics of their property.

Swallowing hard, Johnny moved away from the fence. Instead of going directly to the front of the house and knocking on one of the double doors, he went to the side to see around the back. He saw horses, a huge pasture, and what could very well have been the same stream he’d been following, making its curving way through to the mountain that rose into the heavens.

The house in the middle of nowhere was like a work of art. He was impressed.

Maybe he lived there.

He grinned.

Johnny walked slowly, keeping himself partially hidden behind the trees but not really hiding with purpose. When he walked from one tree to another, he didn’t try to crouch, jog, or run to the next one. He just acted normally, his eyes roaming around, observing all he could see.

His heart slammed in his chest the whole time, waiting for a shotgun blast to ring through the air, ending his existence.

But no such gunshot came. He continued wandering around the property until he’d made a full circle around it. He returned to the front and stopped only when he heard a young man’s voice behind him.

“You got business here?”

Chapter Three

Johnny’s heart nearly left his chest; it was beating so hard. He slowly turned around and saw with relief that he didn’t have a gun pointed at him. It was a boy, probably about sixteen, a few sprouts of red facial hair poking from his chin. The hair on his head betrayed his Irish roots, along with the freckles spattered across his cheeks.

His smile, however, betrayed his kind personality. It reached his green eyes, which sparkled humorously. Johnny’s pounding heart slowed, and he felt a bit more comfortable.

“I’m … lost …” he managed to stammer out. Once he found someone to help him, he realized he didn’t even know how to ask for help. “Do you … live here alone?”

One red eyebrow shot up, and the boy lifted the same side of his lips in a half-grin. “You’re kiddin’, right? You think I did all this by myself?” He lifted one hand and swept it around, indicating everything, including the house.

Johnny let out a nervous laugh. “I reckon not.”

“Nah. I live with my aunt and her husband. They’re inside. One of their passions is growing things, so they’ve got a greenhouse inside. I guess that’s a green room, right? Would it be a green room?” The boy looked contemplative. Johnny liked him already. He put out his hand, which the young man shook.

“Johnny. Johnny Smith. At least, I think that’s my name. I … woke up out there in the desert, can’t really remember anything.”

The boy looked curious. “Name’s Tom. Is that so? But you remembered your name? Anything else?”

Johnny shook his head. “Nah, didn’t remember my name, but I found this box nearby, and it had an envelope in it with that name. Kinda thought it must be mine. Looks like it was tossed aside or maybe fell out of my attacker’s bags.”

“You remember who attacked you?” Tom asked.

Johnny shook his head again.  “Nah. Don’t remember anything before I woke up face down in the dirt. I saw a broken tree limb and a noose layin’ in the sand nearby.”

“You think that was used on you?”

Johnny saw Tom’s eyes drop to his neck, where he peered closely for a time.

“Yeah.” Instinctively, his hand went up to gently rub the sore skin on his throat. “Hurts. Hurts inside, too. Like maybe I was strangled for a minute before the branch broke. The noose was real loose. Whoever did it didn’t do a good job.”

“You think they meant to do it like that? Make you suffer?”

Johnny thought about that for a moment. “Don’t think so. How would they know I’d wake up with no memories? Why would they only do half the job? Nah, they must have meant to kill me.”

“Well …” Tom’s lower jaw jutted out for a moment as he thought. He ran his eyes up and down Johnny’s body, settling on his face. “Don’t really know what Auntie and Bert will think of ya, but I reckon you can’t just be on your way. You’re probably hungry and tired, aren’t ya?”

“Yeah, I am. Both of those. And thirsty. Got a nice bath earlier in that stream out there.”

Both of Tom’s eyebrows shot up. “You been on our property all mornin’?”

Johnny shook his head, speaking quickly. “No, no. I just came to your property a few minutes ago. I’m talking about right around where I woke up. Way back up that way.”

He waved his hand in the direction he’d come from.

“Ah.” Tom gave one nod of his head. He looked at the house to his right, his eyes flipping from one window to another. “Well, come on in. Let’s see what we can find for ya. You and yer amnesia.”

He said the word with humor, but it still sounded like he believed Johnny’s story. Johnny followed Tom to the back door, where the young man turned and whispered to him, “Okay, Auntie’s not in the kitchen. We got a cook, who is also the housekeeper, and she was my nanny when I was a kid. She’s been here since … since before Ma and Pa died. Uncle Bert … he says I’m a man now, so she cooks for us, too. She likes to stay busy. I’ll introduce you, and don’t worry, she won’t stab you with a knife, even if she says she’s gonna or pretends like she’s gonna.”

Johnny didn’t know how to take those words of warning. Were they in jest? Was he getting ready to meet a monster of a woman? He was nervous as he passed through the back door into the large kitchen. He could tell it was a big room, though most of the open space was taken up by several very bulky, tall counter tables. One of them had a solid wood top with many grooves caused by the knives that had chopped food on its surface.

The walls were white and covered with hooks, utensils, and other kitchen tools hanging from them. A huge pot-bellied stove sat in one corner with four round burners on top for cooking. A pump jutted up from one counter, where two sinks sat beside each other.

“Nice kitchen,” he said, sweeping his eyes from one side to the other. Food was spread out on one of the counters, or at least, the ingredients that would likely eventually make a meal. “What time is it?” he asked, surprised he hadn’t led with that question.

Tom gave him a look, pulling out a chain with a watch on the end from his pocket.

“Two-thirty-six,” he said, shifting his eyes back up to Johnny’s face. “Why? You got an appointment?”

Johnny chuckled. “No, sir. Just wanted to know if my inner clock was still working. I was only a bit off. Thought it was three already.”

“Come on. You sit there on that stool and let me get you something to drink. You want some coffee, you’ll have to wait for me to make some. Auntie and Bert don’t drink coffee during the day. They have one cup in the mornin’ strict and no more.”

“Oh?” Johnny glanced around him some more as he slid onto the stool indicated by Tom’s pointing finger. He rested his arms on the counter in front of him, eyeing the ingredients of what looked like it would probably be a big salad. The large bowl on the other side of the table supported that idea.

Tom turned from the counter where he was holding a cabinet open. Johnny could see tins on the shelves inside. “So you want coffee or not?” Tom asked curiously.

Johnny chuckled. “Oh, right, no, uh, you have any lemonade or something cold to drink?”

“Yeah, I think we’ve got some tea in here. You want it sweet we got honey to put in it.”

“Some cold tea would be real nice right about now.”

Tom pulled open the icebox door and lifted out a container with a lid. He poured some of the contents into a cup and brought it over to Johnny before putting the container away.

“A Clash of Bullets” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Amidst the scorching desert sands of the Wild West, Johnny Smith wakes up with no memory of who he is or how he ended up in the middle of nowhere. But one thing is certain – someone wants him dead. As he treks through the rugged terrain, Johnny discovers that he was left for dead after being attacked by a group of mercenaries and now, he has to find a way to uncover the truth about his past.

With danger lurking around every corner, is all hope lost for him?

Maria, the fearless and stunning owner of the local saloon, sees Johnny and instantly recognizes him. Without hesitation, she offers him shelter, and from that moment, Maria becomes a trusted ally, determined to help him on his quest for justice. Despite the many dangers that lie ahead, Maria’s resolve never wavers!

Her heart is set on helping him no matter the cost….

As Johnny and Maria navigate this dangerous landscape, they must confront their darkest fears and innermost demons to emerge victorious. But as Johnny delves deeper into his forgotten life, he realizes that the past may be more complicated than he ever imagined. Can they overcome the odds and find redemption in a world plagued by lawlessness and treachery? The answer lies buried in the Wild West’s unforgiving landscape in this epic Western Adventure.

“A Clash of Bullets” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!


Grab my new series, "Legends of the Lawless Frontier", and get 2 FREE novels as a gift! Have a look here!