I gassed up my SUV for a trip to the Old West to fulfill my fantasy of being a cowboy. I drove out onto interstates and motored low on highways, en route to a town forgotten by civilization but discovered by me, thanks to a long, sleepless night and an extensive Google search. That afternoon, I cruised into a one-horse town named Lone Pony. I pulled up to a saloon to get a haircut, only to be told I was literally illiterate. I walked down the dusty terrain and found a barber that could make the cut.
“Having a bad hair day?” asked the smart mouth proprietor as I passed through the vented, double swinging doors. “Yes, my pet rabbit bit me,” I matched wits and pointed to my bandaged index finger.” He rolled his eyes at my reply. I noticed he also rolled his Rs when he spoke with an accent. The barber cut, clipped, and butchered my hair, so I asked him to cut me some slack.
After the haircut, I moseyed on to a hotel called the All the Way Inn, where I saw a horse outside tied to a wood hitching rail. The horse was lapping from a trough when I encroached upon it. I gently stroked its dirt brown mane when a man approached me with a glistening silver star on his rawhide vest.
“Son, you don’t know what you just stumbled into,” said the man, with a pronounced rasp, who introduced himself as the sheriff of Lone Pony.
“How’s that?” I asked, wiping the excess hair clippings off my neck.
“That their horse belonged to Cowboy Carl, the fastest gun in these parts, that is, before he kicked the bucket last night while entertaining his gal.”
“So,” I gritted, scowled, and spit to display my toughness.
“Carl had a showdown tomorrow at high noon with Flesh Wound Philip, the fastest gun in those parts,” he extended a broken pointer toward the western mountains over yonder. “The townspeople and I reckoned the next person that laid hands on Carl’s horse would take on Flesh Wound in his place. That person is you, Mr.?”
“Cohol, Ricochet Rick Cohol,” I stated, pleased with my impromptu nickname and squinting my eyes as if I was looking into a solar eclipse. The sheriff could tell from my accent that I was a dude from the Old States. I looked at my new stallion and asked the lawman why he was always lapping from the trough.
“That’s not water; it’s beer. It’s your horse now; what are you going to name it?”
I rubbed my chin in thought. “I will name it Al, after my dad, who also had a drinking problem.”
“You could lead a horse to drink, but you cannot make it stop,” the sheriff joked and bid me goodnight.
Here I was, an unsalted, wanna-be cowboy and my beer-chugging horse, to escort me to a showdown. I scared up the guts to take on this challenge, and I wasn’t about to pass the buck, even though I had plenty of dough.
Besides the horse, I also inherited Carl’s hotel room that he paid up for the week, which was perfect for my feeble self.
I made my way to the room and checked the closet. Carl left a fine array of cowboy duds that I picked out for tomorrow’s showdown; a black denim button-down shirt, leather wrangler pants, a deep blue suede vest, and snakeskin boots. On the coat rack was his leather belt and holster with two guns, spurs, and one blood-stained white felt cowboy hat with three bullet holes in it.
I lay down, looking up at a mirrored ceiling while reflecting on how I would fare against Flesh Wound. I was only able to get forty-five minutes of shut-eye; it’s a good thing I sleep with my eyes open.
I got up, rinsed off, and dressed for my date with destiny. I exited the hotel and untied Al, who was, you guessed it, lapping from the trough. He was a grade-A horse that needed AA. I hopped on the saddle, kicked the stirrups, and away we went.
I passed a final resting place called the Dead Tired Cemetery, where an energetic employee working a shovel motioned me over and comically explained Flesh Wound ordered him to prepare my grave in advance.
“I can see you really dig your job,“ I said in reply. I rode on, or should I say, my horse rumbled, bumbled, and stumbled towards the edge of town where the showdown was to take place. Al stopped when tumbleweed crossed its’ path and proceeded to eat up the rolling plant. It turned out my horse also had a drug problem.
A poster nailed up in front of the wood facade general store piqued my interest. It read “Wanted – Hellish Horace Help – Dead or Alive – Inquire Within.” I got a hankering to go inside and apply when a wrangler that sat with his hat covering half of his face and creaking on a rocking chair proclaimed, “Today is your dying day, Ricochet.” His cracking voice creaked in harmony with the chair.
“Don’t pay him no mind,” the sheriff appeared. “That’s Crickety Curt, forever making predictions. He’s always in that chair, and it never stops creaking.”
“I’d say the general store has a major loitering problem. How accurate is he?”
“About 100%,” the sheriff admitted, tugging on the burgundy bandanna he wore around his neck. I tugged the reins, and Al crept on at a slow gait.
The townspeople lined both sides of the dirt street, offering encouraging, thoughtful words and discouraging, helpless looks. They collectively wiped their faces, nervously awaiting the shootout and emitting the unwelcoming aroma of day-old filth.
As I drew near, I spied Flesh Wound, imposing and statuesque, awaiting my arrival. He wore a long black leather coat and a black beaver-fur hat with a wide brim that complemented the rest of his attire. Legend has it the Grim Reaper employs his services to carry out his dirty work, and Flesh Wound makes quite a killing doing it. His scowl and the unrelenting scorching sun left me soaked in perspiration, dampening my unmentionables.
Flesh Wound’s light eyes burned with a fire that I couldn’t hold a candle to. “You are target practice. I didn‘t think you or anyone would show up to this showdown,” he laughed as if he was adding sound effects to a ghost story while twirling Cimarron’s in both hands.
I mustered up the courage to catch up with his showboating and relished the chance to make quick work of this hotdog. I got off my high horse and matched his theatrics with some slick gun juggling of my own. One of the guns went off, and a bullet traveled dangerously close to a lady bystander. The near-miss was almost a hit. I apologized and returned my focus back toward Flesh Wound.
A sin-buster offered last rites in my direction that made me second guess my bravery for a minute and perhaps take the first left out of town.
Suddenly, a cowpoke wearing a ten-gallon hat, with only an ounce of brains, and less than a pint of patience, announced he would be the one conducting the countdown, and right now. The sheriff barked out final instructions and summoned the man to start at ten and end at one, as a coyote howled off in the distance.
The man began, “Ten, nine, six, four, fifteen, eight, three, seven, one,” and Flesh Wound fired. His bullet hit the barrel of the Colt 45 I was holding in my left hand that set my pistol off, firing a shot that ricocheted off the saddle on my horse and then caromed off Flesh Wound’s Indian crafted belt buckle.
An eerie silence filled the air as the gravedigger stopped digging, Crickety stopped creaking, and the coyote stopped howling. The sheriff calculated the sequence of shots. He considered the shooting experience that divided us, carried the one fact that the man counting wasn’t good with numbers, and equally summed up the affair would end in a draw.
“Sakes alive; this is the first time I’ve been shot. That’s a mighty fine piece of gunplay, as fine as cream gravy, Ricochet. I don’t suppose I could buy you a drink,” commented Flesh Wound, with a tip of his hat.
“Much obliged, no thanks, but I think my horse could use one,” I said, pointing to Al, shivering like a short-sleeved Floridian on an Alaskan cruise.
About the Author
Jon Moray has been writing short stories for over a decade, and his work has appeared in several online and print markets. When not working and being a devoted family man, he enjoys sports, music, the ocean, and SCI-FI/Fantasy media.