Frank Roderus was not satisfied just to write western novels. He had to put unusual spins on the stories, probably for his own satisfaction, but sometimes to the consternation of his readers.
“Hell Creek Cabin” is the account of some people stranded in a tiny cabin by a winter blizzard. As they try to make the best of the bad situation, two robbers appear out of the frozen tundra and move in. Soon, the two, named Jimbo and BoJim, begin terrorizing the others. The good guy, a fellow named Veach, is not a fighter and carries no weapon, but keeps looking for a way to deal with these two who are both bank robbers and murderers.
In the final chapter of the book, Veach has escaped the cabin and is working his way through the snow, looking for an old gold mine in order to keep from freezing. Inside the cabin, the two robbers have a falling out and BoJim kills Jimbo. Then, while BoJim takes the bucket down to the stream to get some water, inside the cabin the husband and wife dig out their old rifle, load it, and aim it at the front door. They have no other recourse but to kill BoJim before he kills them.
The door opens and a man walks in.
Now, three minutes earlier, Veach had lain in wait for BoJim at the creek with a pick-axe he had located in the mine. He planted it in the bad guy’s back, killing him. Now, all he has to do is take care of Jimbo in the cabin, not knowing he is already dead.
That’s Veach walking in the cabin door as it opens.
And that’s where the book ends.
Did the husband and wife kill Veach? Did they recognize him and drop their rifle? Did they wound him? Miss him altogether? Perhaps the old gun misfired?
It’s your call.
It’s reminiscent of the 19th century story “The Lady, or the Tiger?” I first heard in high school. Author Frank Stockton lets you decide which comes out the door the hero opens, either a beautiful lady or a man-eating tiger.
The problem is, we don’t like that. Well, most of us don’t. We feel the author punted.
As I laid the book down, I thought, “You were telling the story. You should have told us how it came out. It was your story, not mine.”
When “Casablanca” was filmed in 1942, they made two endings, one with Bogart getting the girl (Ingrid Bergman) and the other not. Then they screened them before live audiences and decided which to keep by the reactions. They kept the right one, incidentally. Anything else would have felt wrong.
Lately, I’ve been reading a World War II book unlike any other. “Between the Thunder and the Sun” is a personal narrative from Vincent Sheean, a newspaperman of sorts who traveled the world in the years prior to and during the war. He married into British nobility and evidently did quite well for himself.
Sheean knew Winston Churchill in the 1930s, before he became Prime Minister, and tells of their visits, meals, and conversations. His stories include H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Chiang Kai-Shek, and a large cast of lesser dignitaries who must have been well known to readers in the early 1940s when he wrote the book, but are unknown to us.
It’s fun reading a book where you know the outcome and the writer doesn’t. He speaks of Rudolph Hess’s flying into Scotland from Nazi Germany in 1941 and wonders at the meaning of this unprecedented event. Hess was Hitler’s no. 1 man, and was kept in the prison in Scotland for the rest of his life, dying in 1987 at age 93.
If I had a good friend who loves history, particularly one who likes to read about World War II, I would go to a website selling used books (my favorite is www.alibris.com) and order that book. It’s old (that’s even better!), but you can buy it for less than anything comparable in the stores today, even after paying postage and handling.
That could be another reason why it puzzles me the way some people are frantically worrying about the economic and political situation in this country and the world. It’s as though they don’t know the outcome, or even think we’re writing the outcome ourselves, making up the story as we go along.
There is a reason history is called history. It’s “His-Story.”
He writes the ending. My task is to be faithful in the role He has assigned me.