The Price of a Bullet

Submitted into Contest #24 in response to: Write a magical realism story that takes place in the Wild West.... view prompt

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“High noon tomorrow boy,” he grunted deeper than necessary in front of everyone.

I tried not to make eye contact with everyone staring at us, “I don’t think that has to happen. We had a discussion and I declined your offer, we can both move on now.”

He spun on his heels and looked down at me, “I made your family a generous offer, and you insulted me. Come noon tomorrow I plan to draw on you. Unless you’re a coward, you’re gone draw on me. We’ll let the Lord settle who’s right and wrong.”

As he walked away, I could see everyone whispering to one another. They knew I didn’t have a chance, I was just farmer. I didn’t even have a draw pistol. I didn’t want to look like a coward, but I would look like an idiot if I showed up with my pest rifle. I didn’t have the money to buy one either, of course after tomorrow it might not matter how much money I had anyway.

After everyone dispersed only the sheriff remained, “Got yourself in a pickle Frank.”

I nodded feeling the nerves building up, “Seems like something the sheriff could help me out with. I didn’t know it was alright to kill a man for not selling his land.”

“Gray area,” he said tracing his mouth with his fingers. “See he’s baiting you to come out here tomorrow, you don’t have to show.”

“Then I’ll be labeled a coward,” I said looking down at my feet. “Then he’ll just show up at my home and shoot me.”

The sheriff nodded, “But then I could arrest him.”

“But I’ll be dead and won’t care,” I said staring at him.

He shrugged his shoulders, “Like I said gray areas of the law.”

Frustration was building, “At least you can arrest him tomorrow after he shoots me.”

“Well,” he said drawing breath. “If you draw too then it falls under self-defense.”

I lifted my hat and wiped my brow, “Then what would you suggest I do sheriff?”

“Move to another town,” he said with a chuckle.

“And if I don’t want to move, prayer perhaps,” I said through pursed lips.

“No, no,” he replied. “The Lord won’t help you kill someone. You’d be better off trying to make a deal with the devil. But I’d highly recommend rethinking the moving option. Smart guy like you would do well back east.”

After the sheriff walked away, it seemed people quit making eye contact. I guess they felt I was marked, and they didn’t want it to rub off on them. I couldn’t hang around in town so I started walking. I didn’t want to go home so I just roamed around pondering my options as the sun set behind the mountains.

I found myself standing in the middle of a crossroad which seemed fitting for my predicament. I was not going home to my wife to tell her we were moving because I wasn’t man enough to stand up for myself. But at the same time if I tried I would be making her a widow. Perhaps she already knows about my short comings.

I looked around; there wasn’t a soul in sight. I stood in the center of the X, and pulled out my pocket knife. I thought about it for a second, but what did I really have to lose at this point. I brought the blade down the center of my left hand. I squeezed my hand into a fist, and let the blood pool on the ground.

I stood there for a while feeling foolish, believing in an old ghost story I’d heard around the campfire. I finally gave up and turned towards home. After a few steps I heard his voice come from behind me, “Leaving already?”

I turned to see a tall man standing next to the blood stained ground. He was wearing a black trench coat with his hat pulled low to block most of his face. He smiled, “What can I do for you Frank?”

He knew my name, I guess it was a small town, everyone knew my name. I felt a complete fool for being out here, “I’m sorry I was just on my way home.”

He laughed and pointed down at the blood, “You called me here big guy, must mean you wanted something. Go on and spit it out, let’s see if we can make a deal.”

My skin felt like it was on fire. I didn’t actually believe it would work. I was just stalling before I went home. I took a deep breath, and pictured Annie; I needed to be the man she thought I was or at the very least wanted.

I straightened up, “Hank Timbes and his men are trying to force me off my land. He made me a ridiculously low offer, and when I declined he publicly challenged me to a duel. I work the land not a gun.”

He pushed his hat up so I could finally see his eyes, they were deep red. “So how can I help you? What did you have in mind?”

“I need to win this duel,” I answered.

“I can do that,” he said nodding.

“Alright,” I said feeling uneasy. “Then what do you get, my soul when I die or after so many years?”

He shook his head, “One soul isn’t worth my time, especially when I have to wait ten years to come and collect. No I’m thinking more stream line with this transaction.”

He reached into his trench coat, and pulled out a gun belt. He handed it to me. I shouldn’t have taken it, but I did. An ice cold chill ran through my body as I held it. I didn’t know what to do with it; I know I must’ve looked awkward just holding it out.

“Just relax,” he said staring at me. “It won’t go off on its own. That’s the fastest revolver in the world. There are only six bullets so use them wisely.”

I lowered it to my side, “And what about your end of the deal?”

He smiled even wider, “You using my pistol will satisfy our arrangement.”

He held out his left hand for me to shake, I was uneasy about it, but I did it anyway. I’d forgotten about the cut until he squeezed. His eyes rolled back for a few seconds, and the wind picked up dust all round us, but everything settled when he released my hand.

“Have a good night Frank,” he said spinning on his heels and walking away into the darkness.

Somehow word got back to Annie about the duel. I spent the whole night trying to reassure her that everything was going to be fine. I didn’t tell her about the deal I had just made, but I told her I had everything worked out. I could tell she didn’t fully believe me, but we were both tired and needed sleep.

The next morning I tended to the chores, and tried not to let my guts tie themselves up too much. Annie wanted to go into town with me, but I had to put my foot down. I wasn’t sure how things were going to play out. I didn’t want my wife to see me die if it came to it.

I stood at the edge of town when I finally put on the gun belt. I had never worn one before, but this one definitely felt weird. I could feel a cold wave emanating from it or it could’ve been my nerves. It was right about noon so I started my way towards to the center of town to see everyone had gathered to witness the show.

Hank was standing there waiting on me with four of his men standing near. “Well,” he hollered. “You actually had the gall to show. And look here, managed to round up a pea shooter too.”

The crowd chuckled, how could watching a man die be humorous? “I’ll give you a chance Hank,” I said trying not to have a tremble in my voice. “Give this up so I don’t have to shoot you.”

Everyone broke into laughter except Hank, “Have you ever shot a pistol?”

I shook my head, “No, but this is the fastest one in the world and can’t be beaten.”

He took a couple steps closer, “Jim is going to take that apple he’s chewing on and throw it straight up in the air, as soon as it thumps the ground we draw. Understand?”

I nodded, and squared my stance. I saw the apple fly into the air, but I kept my gaze on Hank. Just in case he was trying to trick me, but he waited just as he said. When it thumped, I saw him react and go for his hog leg. As I moved my hand everything seemed to go into slow motion. It didn’t feel like I was in control of my own limbs. My left hand met the hammer as soon as I cleared the holster. The bullet impacted his chest causing him to drop his own pistol. 

He stood there for a second completely baffled at what had just happened. No one spoke, just stared in awe. Then his body started turning an ashy black, and dissolved into the ground. People started screaming, some ran away. I didn’t understand what had just happened, but they didn’t give me time to process either. Hanks four buddies were furious, “Kill him!”

They all reached down, and my left hand reacted. None of them were able to clear their holsters. The same horrific sight replayed in front of me. I looked around to see that everyone had either run away or was hiding inside the buildings. 

I dropped to my knees staring at the gun; this is not what I wanted. “You’re a natural gunslinger.”

I looked to my right and recognized that black trench coat. “This isn’t what I wanted,” I said feeling the weight of what I just did.

“They were going to kill you,” he said calmly. “It was five against one, didn’t seem fair to me. All I did was provide a clean easy way of disposing of the bodies or would you prefer digging five large holes.”

I got to my feet, “These bullets take the souls right, that’s why you didn’t want mine because you were going to get one from every shot I took.”

He smiled, “A win for both of us.”

I shook my head, “Not for me.” I pulled the hammer back, pointed the barrel at my chest, and pulled the trigger. But it just clicked.

He laughed, “Points for trying but that won’t work. You and that pistol are one now, and it won’t kill itself. You should be happy; you’re the king around here now. Everyone witnessed your achievement; word will spread far and wide. As long as you wield that weapon you and your wife will live the most prosperous life of any in this land.”

“I don’t want this gun anymore,” I said trying to unbuckle it.

“Why don’t you hang on to it for a while,” he said. “Never know when it may come in handy.”

No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get it unfasten. He waved his hand towards the pistol, and I could hear the cylinders rotating. 

“Fully reloaded,” he said smiling.

“I’m not going to use it again,” I said sternly.

He was laughing as he walked away. He got to the corner of the building, and turned back to me, “When the bad guys come we’ll see if you can fight that killer instinct.” His eyes glowed red as he vanished into the shadow.

January 18, 2020 04:04

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1 comment

Emily Sperber
19:07 Jan 27, 2020

I commend you for tackling the Wild West and magical realism! read almost like a Twilight Zone episode! I would vary your sentence length a bit though, sometimes it can get stagnant 👍


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