I spread my legs, pushed my dusty, ratty coat behind my holster out of my hand’s path, my fingers twitched in habit over the familiar cold handle of my piece. My heart raced and I felt every throb, and willed it to slow down, settle into a rhythm. I felt my breathing get controlled and deliberate. My ears rang with adrenaline coursing through me. I hunched just a touch, cat-like, ready to spring.
He just stood there, face blank, hand hovering over the handle of his own glinting silver unit. He never twitched. I swear, he didn’t even blink.
“Ready?” Maddy called.
We both dipped our heads to acknowledge her.
“DRAW!!” she screamed.
I moved fast — faster than I’ve ever moved. I ripped the gun free and in the same smooth motion I swung the barrel up. But time stood still as his hand snatched his piece from his holster. His arm bent and locked dead on me before I finished aiming.
I wasn’t about to make the mistake that kid Stan Lichter told me about made though. I wasn’t going home with my tail between my legs.
I squeezed the trigger.
I knew I missed the instant I fired. I shot too soon’s the thing, and didn’t draw a bead. But he was on me already, eye-blink fast, rattler fast, like lightning from a summer storm. My bullet whizzed by and tore through his coat to the right of his ribs, but all I killed was the coat. The instant I fired he squeezed one off too … and on target.
It hit me in the side, right above my gunbelt, and hot metal burned my flesh, its force spun me on my heel and took me down. It didn’t hurt bad as I figured, and I wondered for a second why he didn’t hit the head or heart — he had his pick of targets.
My mouth filled with dust and I realized I fell. Embarrassed, I struggled to stand, but my body wasn’t working right. I couldn’t heft my weight off the ground. My hands went under my shoulders but couldn’t muster the strength to push myself up. My head laid in the light dirt, and just then, rain started hittin’ around me. An odd sound came to me, through the ringing in my head, and I finally figured out the rain beat down on my back.
I heard him coming, and the crowd going back to whatever they were doing before I got there. I figured he’d finish me off close-range. I turned my face out of the dust and with everything I had in me, I rolled over, fire tore my side again like I’d been shot a second time. I lay panting like a swayback horse for water, mouth dry and full of street, and stared at the gray sky and the rain falling into my face.
Then he appeared in my vision, and shielded my watering eyes from the glare, his outline distinct and his black, shining eyes stared down from under his hat, through the web of wrinkles in his face.
I couldn’t speak, my tongue stuck to the inside of my mouth. He settled beside me and lowered onto his haunches.
“Nah, I ain’t gonna kill ya while you’re down, young blood,” he murmured to me. “Matter o’ fact, I ain’t gonna kill ya at all.”
Confused, I tried to form words, but he shushed me gentle, like a father. “Don’t try to talk. I’ll get the doc and he’ll fix ya up. It ain’t bad. I made sure of it.”
I shook my head, narrowed my eyes at him.
“We all face the Reaper, son,” he said. “You’re good. Fast as I’ve ever seen, and with a hair more time, it’d be me down there instead o’ you. You’re gonna take my place someday, and you’ll have to face the endless stream of young bucks tryin’ to make a name for themselves comin’ after you.”
I faded, slipped toward darkness, the edges of my sight dimmer and fuzzy, and he put his hand on my shoulder and gave a gentle squeeze.
“You done fine,” he said, “and you’ll have your day. It’ll come soon, and you’ll be sorry you had it. Just like me. There’s no joy in sendin’ a young man to the Reaper before the Reaper comes for him.”
I slipped into sleep then, and his words echoed in my dreams.
All original content copyright J. Dane Tyler, 2008
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