Friday, November 26, 2010

#FridayFlash - "Heroes Wanted" (Part 2)

“You have the sorriest jailhouse I ever laid eyes on.”

Everett had been in his custody only six hours now, the sky outside still as black as coal, and already John had started to entertain thoughts that his prisoner might not make it until Tuesday, the day Elroy Hardings, circuit judge for western Texas, would show up for his monthly visit to Sundance. The whiskey from last night had finally drifted away, promising a massive headache in its wake, and if John had to suffer through much more of Everett’s groaning, he might just dispense with the circuit judge and execute a little justice of his own, the rule of law be damned.

“And believe me,” Everett continued, “I’ve seen plenty of jails in my time.”

Which proves what? John thought. He didn’t say anything though; instead, he rubbed at the bridge of his nose.

He looked at the floor where Toby lay with his head between both front paws. He’d received Toby a couple of years back from the Florence widow. He didn’t want to take the dog at first -- given his record, John didn’t know how he would manage to be a good owner -- but Mrs. Florence insisted, saying that her husband Gerald had passed on. She didn’t see the need in staying around either, and she didn’t want to leave the dog stranded. Looking down now, John was glad he took the dog. Toby was about the best friend in the world any man could have.

“You may think you have me locked up for good,” Everett said, “but I promise you this won’t be the last jailhouse I’ll ever see.”

The dog glanced up with sad eyes and thumped its tail once.

John said, “I know how you feel, friend.”

Toby rolled over on his side with an exasperated huff of air.

“Hey,” Everett bellowed. As if John had been a hundred feet away and not ten.

John looked up.

“I’m hungry. So, how about you rustle me up something to eat? Or don’t you believe in feeding your prisoners?”

John swiveled in his chair and kicked Toby’s bowl toward the cell. It scuttled along the floor like a scorpion with its tail on fire. When it hit an uneven board, the bowl toppled over and a crusty chunk of refried beans that Toby had left uneaten fell out.

Everett looked at the floor. “You can’t be serious.”

John turned away to hide his smile. Sure it was silly, borderline childish, but it felt good just the same and he told himself not to feel sorry about it.

Everett stepped back and slumped onto the straw mattress in the corner of the cell. “What’ve you got against me, John? You want to be a hero, that it?”

John shook his head. “I’m no hero,” he said. “Besides, your problem ain’t with me, it’s with the law.”

Everett blew out a long trailing whistle. “Well, I’m glad we got that straight. Seriously, though, you haven’t liked me for years. Ever since we went to shoot that coyote.”

“It’s true,” John said. “I don’t like you. I don’t know what it is, maybe some people are just born bad, but you’ve been riding trail with the devil for years now and for a long time you’ve had it coming. And mostly I’ve had to sit by and watch, unable to do something because either I didn’t have the power or when I did I couldn’t prove anything. But now, you’ve made a mess of things. I have a body. I have your gun. And better yet, I have your admission of guilt.”

“Which is your word against mine.”

John nodded. “You have a point. But I’m willing to wager on it. How about you?”

Everett shook his head, smiling as he said, “Like you said, both you and the judge have it out for me.”

“Again, it was you that pulled the trigger on Mendoza.”

“And now, what, you finally have a conscience over some greasy farmer, that it?”

John stared at his desk for a moment. He sighed.

“As the duly elected sheriff, I’ve been entrusted with a responsibility to stand up for the rights of others. Even greasy farmers.”

“Ah, that’s just talk. You don’t believe a word of it.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Everett, I do believe. And I intend to do the job, even if that means I have to face off with the likes of you.”

Everett chuckled. “You did your job all right. After you drank up enough of that courage you keep hidden in your desk.”

John snorted. He reached down, opened up a drawer, and lifted out his bottle of rye whiskey. He looked at it for a moment, contemplating the reasons why he should drain it or why he shouldn’t, but then pulled the cork and tilted the bottle toward the floor.

“Well, look at you,” Everett said, “finding some of that old-time religion.”

“Just deciding to cut all ties.” John looked at Everett. “To everything that has kept me down.”


Hayworth Dalton heard the pop and hiss of firewood and opened his eyes.

“Put another log on, will ya Everett?”

When no response came back, Hayworth looked around the makeshift camp. He found that he was still alone.

Everett had said he just going in to spend a little time with a woman, be back in a bit. Looking around the camp now, though, Hayworth saw that Everett never make it back. Which meant there had been some trouble.

“Ah nuts.” Hayworth reached for his guns. This was the way it had often been with his old friend -- ever since they’d joined up years back -- Everett finding himself in trouble and Hayworth always rescuing him. Truth be told, it was starting to wear like a bad saddle. And now, it seemed, he’d have to do it again, ride back into Sundance and figure out what mess needed to be cleaned up.

Friday, November 19, 2010

#FridayFlash - "Heroes Wanted" (Part 1)

John Colton chambered another round. In the room, a wisp of gun smoke hovered in the pale glow of lamplight.

He said, “I won’t say it again, Everett.”

Beside the bed, Everett Wilcox stared at the pillow where his head had been only a moment earlier. Before John barged into the room and shouted to get out of bed. John would later say seeing Everett like that was nearly the ugliest thing he’d seen all year, Everett wearing nothing but his underwear, a pair of grungy socks. What kind of man wore socks to bed anyway?

Everett said, “Okay, John,” his tone slightly irritated like a father might have toward a son. “I done what you asked. You mind telling me what this is about?”

In the corner of the room, Francine Love, Sundown’s well-used whore, clutched a bed sheet against her frumpy body. Her mouth hung open, her eyes on the brink of tears.

John cocked his head toward the door.

“I think it’s best you leave, Francine.” His words came out slow and lazy, the whiskey already taking over more control than he wanted; however, the time had finally come to do what he should have done long ago and he couldn’t have gone this far without drinking up a few shots of courage first.

Francine nodded, her eyes filling up with tears now, and she jumped through the doorway, clearly not concerned that he could see the clumpy skin on her backside. He would later Henry Clausen, the Livery owner, that Francine naked was indeed the ugliest thing he’d seen all year.

John turned and stared at the pillow, the blackened hole punched through by his bullet. When Everett didn’t fully comply but lifted up and demanded that John get out, John fired off a round just to let Everett know who was going to be in charge this time. Looking at the pillow now, though, he was surprised, practically shocked, that he’d actually done it. For one thing, he could have hit Everett, which would have required a good story for Judge Hardings, like how he thought Everett was drawing on him. And for another thing, as drunk as he was he could have hit Francine, for which there would have been no good excuse.

He glanced back at Everett, who stood by the bed, an expectant look on his face.

“I’m taking you in.”

Everett dropped his hands. His shoulders slumped.

“You’re drunk. Maybe you should go back to your little jailhouse and sleep it off, uh?”

“Maybe,” John said. “Before I do, though, I’m gonna walk you over with me, put you in the cell.” When Everett blinked, John added, “Oh, I’m serious. If you don’t think so, I’ll put the next bullet in your chest just to prove it. And in case you’re thinking it, I won’t care what God will have to say about it.”

After a moment, Everett said, “On what charge?”

“The murder of Roberto Mendoza.”

“Roberto?” Everett snorted. “Everybody knows I shot him in self-defense. I got witnesses.”

“Who’ll testify to what? How your bullet somehow circled the man and hit him in the back?”

Everett pursed his lips. “You not only accusing me of killing a man, you saying I’m a coward, too?”

“The body speaks for itself.”

“Don’t matter. He came looking for me, saying how he was going to kill me. People’ll testify to that.”

“What did you expect? You raped his sister.”

“That was just a woman who thought I was serious about her. When she found out otherwise, she made up a story. Surely you know how some people are, how they can misrepresent the facts.” He paused and smiled. “Or maybe that’s what this is all about.”

John shook his head. “This is about a dead man and your bullet in his back.”

“He had a pistol on him.”

“And you know what the funny thing is about that pistol? I remember seeing it another time, too. Only then, it was a younger Everett Wilcox, sneaking his daddy’s gun out, saying how he was going to shoot a coyote with it. I’ll even say how I remember you shooting it out there in the desert, and how afterwards you twirled it on your finger.”

Everett narrowed his eyes. “You try telling that to the judge, and I’ll have three witnesses standing in line to say how they saw Roberto purchase the gun. I’ll even have the general store owner tell how he sold it for five dollars.”

John nodded. “Bring your witnesses, and I’ll bring me. We’ll see who the judge believes.”

The room drew silent.

Finally Everett said, “He was just a lazy goat farmer. Nothing nobody else cared about.”

“I care,” John said. He jerked the rifle toward the door. “Now let’s go.”

“Can’t I even get dressed?”

John shook his head. “You take one step toward your clothes, the gun you most likely have with them, and it’ll be the last step you take. Just to be fair though…” He walked over to the chair where Everett had tossed his clothes. He kicked one boot, sent it across the floor where it stopped at Everett’s feet. He kicked the second one, and it went almost as far.

“There,” he said. “And if you don’t start moving, being seen in your shorts will be the least of your concerns.”

Everett looked down at his boots and then glared at John. “This ain’t gonna go well for you. I guarantee it.”

John nodded. “Maybe. You gonna put a bullet in my back, murder me like you did Mendoza?”

“If it comes to that.”

John smiled. “I may be a little drunk, Everett, but I’m not nearly as dumb as you just proved yourself to be.” He cocked his head toward the floor. “Now get those on before I decide justice ain’t worth waiting for.”

Everett looked at him for a moment, but then reached down and grabbed his boots.

Friday, November 5, 2010

#FridayFlash - "What She Left Behind"

She should have erased it. Gena knew better than to leave it there, let her anger burn like it did. But then, darn it, why did Jeff have to be such a pickle-headed goober? After all, weren’t they like best friends forever? Which meant he was always supposed to be on her side, and she on his, thick and thin, till the world exploded or was swallowed up by a worm hole, either one. They even pinkie-swore on it.

She raced across the Miller’s Creek covered bridge, her tennis shoes slapping against the cold hard wood. Ahead, through the open mouth at the end of the bridge, the mountains stood black in bas-relief against the pale glow of the rising moon.

“Oh… God,” she said, the words heaving out between each labored breath.
She cleared the end of the bridge and found the dark trail that led through the forest. Inside, her heart thumped against her chest. Her throat burned. Her lungs burned. Her legs burned. And right now, she wished she would burn and rise up like smoke, carried away by the winds.

“Please God, no.”

“Shut it, Gena.”

Behind her, Jeff’s footfalls thwocked! out of the black mouth of the covered bridge. There was no mistaking the anger in his voice as he finally cleared the entrance and took the path behind her. “Just get there before it’s too late.”

They took the trail into the forest.

Certainly, if anyone had a right to be angry, Jeff did. It had all started out as some harmless fun, just a game. Their own little secret. At first, they even laughed at it, thinking no way could it possibly be true. It was just another example that Grandma needed to take the big sleep in a rest home somewhere.

At the birthday party last week, Gena opened grandmother’s present to her and stared at it perplexed.

“A piece of chalk?”

“Not just any chalk,” Grandma had said, one finger in the air. “This is anything you can think of in your heart. Just put it down and… voilà!” Grandma’s wiry eyebrows jumped. Her hands pulled apart like a bomb had exploded between them. She stared a Gena for a moment, smiling like she was about to say something else, but didn’t. Instead, she shuffled away, cackling and repeating the same thing. “Voilà!”

To test it out, they decided on old man Winters, who was always yelling at the neighbors to keep their dogs out of his hibiscus. They sat down on the cement patio behind Gena’s house and drew Mr. Winter’s house, his garden, and twenty rabbits. The next morning, the whole block was talking about the swarm of cotton tails that had devoured Mr. Winter’s garden.

At first, Gena and Ted stared at each other, their mouths open, no words coming out. After that, they grabbed their sides and rolled along her front yard, laughing at the sky, the clouds, the sun, anything they could.

The next victim was Sheila McGlocken. They drew her face with a hundred white dots. Nobody counted the pimples the next day. They were all too grossed out.

In the cover of the forest now, Gena tripped and hit the dirt hard. A burst of wind cut through the trees, and a loud shriek filled the air.

“C’mon,” Jeff yelled. “Get up.”

Gena stood and ran as fast as she could.

They had been having fun, she thought, drawing this and that, waiting to see it all happen. But then earlier today the fun stopped.

“So,” Gena said as they walked away from the school. “I hear you have the hots for Denise Wilcox.”

“Where’d you hear that?”

“It doesn’t matter, does it?”

He looked over his shoulder toward the school where a group of girls stood talking.

“Besides,” she said, “I can see it on your face.”

“No you can’t, and whoever said it is a liar.” He turned and ran. “And you’re a stupid scag for believing it.”

She stopped, unsure that she heard him right. But then it all set in, and it made her angry.

“I’m a stupid scag, huh?”

She reached into her backpack, and knelt down to draw. Finished, she stood up and walked home, pleased with herself. It was a silly thing to do, of course. Still, it made her feel good just the same.

Later she couldn’t wait to tell Jeff what she did.

“You drew the devil coming after me?”

“Yeah,” she said, laughing. “And sticking his pitchfork up your butt.”

“Are you out of your flippin’ mind?”

“What’s the big deal?” she said, even more put out by the way he yelled at her. “It’s not like it’ll ever happen. You and I both know the devil doesn’t exist. He’s about as real as...”

A whiff of rotten eggs burned at her nose.

Jeff’s eyes bulged as he took a deep breath.

“Oh God,” he cried. “You gotta erase it before the moon comes up. After that, it’ll be too late.”

They cleared the woods and ran across a harvested corn field, the cut stalks poking through the hard dirt like the skeletal fingers of a thousand dead people. A gust of wind blew at her, and Gena thought she heard laughter in the distance.

They ran around the fence and across the playground, the gravel shick-shick-shicking! with each pounding footfall. They finally stopped at the spot where Gena had drawn her masterpiece; only, looking at it now the pictured appeared more like the scratching of an idiot. Gena felt like the idiot now.

“Quickly,” Jeff screamed, his eyes frantic as he looked around. The wind howled. “Erase it. Please.”

Gena dropped down and swept her hands wildly across the sidewalk, the chalked images swirling into a ghostly pool until it was all gone.

The air suddenly turned still.

“Okay,” she said, laughing now as she glanced across the playground. “It’s gone.”

She looked over her shoulder.