The taking of Dead-Eye Billy

There was only one saloon in Sheridan that hadn’t yet barred Dead-Eye Billy, its barman some distant cousin. He was sank back in his chair, one hand holding his Colt, the other a corn cob. The floor around him was carpeted with kernel husks.

When he saw me he spat out another pale yellow hull and watched me approach through his good eye. I kept my hand on my holster, any new sheriff’s habit. He’d been known to shoot over less than I had to say, and one eye or not, I didn’t fancy my chances.

“Billy Johnson?”

“You know I am. Say why you’re here.”

I cleared my throat, hoping somehow someone would do it for me, but no-one obliged. “You’re wanted for the murder of Abraham Barnett.”

Had anyone offered up a prayer, you would have heard it. Then a deep, low hucking came from his throat. The old man stood slowly, shaking his head as if I’d just told the best joke this side of Buffalo. “Didn’t think you had it in you, son.” He gestured to the door. “Come on then, before I change my mind.”

Outside, I asked him why he came so easy. He shrugged. “He got his, now I’ll get mine.” That was the last he said to me, indeed I believe it was the last he said to anyone. And I’ll be damned if, all these years and crooks later, I’ve ever heard better words to leave this earth with.

This was written for the NYC Midnight microfiction competition. I’ve tweaked this very slightly from my entry based on the feedback I received, but kept to the word limit. The original got an honorary mention in my group (but didn’t progress – still, I was pleased with that!). The prompts were: historical fiction, eating corn on the cob, and the word ‘known’.

Reunion

I’ve missed him. He’s shivering in our kitchen, next to the glow of the electric heater. Whimpers escape his lips, ants fleeing a doomed nest.

I glide forward and reach out a hand to his cheek. It slides straight through; disappointment again. Au revoir, mon amour. Until next time.

Survival guide for woman in forest

Step 1: Move your lower leg. Feel the earth move beneath it, the shifting scratch of roots and leaves and soil. Taste the metallic back of your throat. If your dress strap has fallen from your shoulder, pull it up and wince as it presses into the bruise.

Step 2: Open your eyes. See blood rusted onto your leg. That will help. Think: the sweet rim of the glass, the dizzying flash of lights, the soft wet press of mouths. Scattered snapshots, barbed and duplicitous.

Try not to listen to the wind as it whispers through the leaves.

Slut.

Slut.

Slut.

Step 3: Stand. Place one foot in front of the other. And again. And again, until you reach a road or an early morning dog walker. Someone will stop. Someone will help.

Remember to say you screamed.

Remember to cry.