(This is a short story created in collaboration with my newsletter subscribers. I provided the first paragraph, and they submitted proposals for each following paragraph. I selected the following paragraphs from among the submissions, reserving the liberty to make minor edits, and placed the name of the submitter whose paragraph was chosen. We’re still looking for a title.)

TITLE (Ideas: Hot Revenge Bleeds Cold — or — Showdown after Sunset)

The clouds in the summer sky burned in the red-orange rage of a dispossessed sun crashing below the horizon. The dark hills–recumbent silhouette–shielded the landscape from the final fury of the sinking disk. Seven riders passed along a narrow trail away from the shadow and into the flat expanse separating them from the village. Sharp noses and the harsh lines of many campaigns marked their faces. Neither kindness, mercy, nor remorse found place in the experience etched in their features.

Across the plain, a warm breeze carried the lingering scent of suppers long-eaten and the murmur of people and livestock settling down for the night. Only a few windows still flickered with candlelight, and no sentries were posted. The villagers drifted toward slumber, unaware of the storm rolling toward them on horseback. By the time the seven reached the village, every hearth was cold and every window was dark, save one. (Michael B.)

Sitting by his lamp, the old gunman sipped his coffee–strong, bitter and black as death. His weathered face showed the track of miles on horseback, worn but with eyes as sharp as blue sapphires. Strong hands with long fingers, like a pianist–hands that played symphonies of death. Razor sharp knives, a Sharps .44 rifle and a well oiled Colt 45, rested on a table with a small silver locket. He picked up the locket and gazed upon the face of a native woman. She was lovely, with an enigmatic smile and large expressive eyes. His face softened briefly and then, closing the locket, grew grim. “You died too young and I wasn’t there for you.” Rising, he donned his gun belt and grasped his Colt. He checked the cylinder and slipped it smoothly into his holster. He sheathed the knives into his boots and under his arms. Grasping the buffalo rifle with its sling of cartridges, he blew out the light and walked through the back door. (Budd T.)

Revenge tore at his heart and soul as he headed to the barn. He recalled the rumors passed on by the traveling peddler about a group of rough looking men asking about him in another town. Were they the men who had taken the love of his life? He had not forgotten his vow that he would find them before he died. (Emily H.)

The long abandoned barn had the faint sickly sweet aroma of decomposing hay. His joints protested as he struggled to pull the combined weight of his body and arsenal up the ladder to the loft. Just as he had the previous three nights since meeting that peddler, Samuel settled himself into the chair he’d left by the window for another long night on watch. From there he had a good vantage down into the town proper with a clear line of sight to at least half of the thoroughfare. He’d spent more than two years trying in vain to track down the brigands who’d destroyed his life, but that group ranged far and were always just ahead of him. Now it seemed they’d been alerted to his interest and were coming to him. His fears of another quiet night’s vigil were unrealized. He hadn’t sat long before he heard hooves on the cobbles. (Michael B.)

Among the seven riders entering the slumbering village rode one whose clever mind inspired the others to follow. They admired his marksmanship with rifle and pistol, but they weren’t blind to the rage and hate emanating like hot vapor from his soul. He instilled fear even in the hearts of these men who enjoyed ambush and plunder without remorse–for he seemed to commune with the devil himself. As the horses’ hooves clopped over the cobbles down the dark thoroughfare, each of them understood that tonight they would ambush an old gunman. (Rob G.)

Unaware of the steely blue eyes upon them, the riders walked their mounts down the street. Several of the horses laid back their ears, wide eyes darting as if they sensed the showdown to come. A sudden puff of dirt swirled a few feet before the lead horse, accompanied by the blast of a rifle. The animals reared, blowing and snorting as their riders struggled to rein them in. Had they made a mistake brazenly riding down the village’s main thoroughfare? There was no turning back now, not that their leader would have allowed it. His need for revenge ruled him like the iron fist on his horse’s reins. (Susan J.)