by Noah Black
Western shortstory contest entry
|He tipped the small glass high, letting the contents slither down the inside of his neck. Oh how dry his throat was now a days–it had been years since the last time the white-man's drink had truly burned when he swallowed.
He placed the glass on the table. Hard. The bartender didn't even look up.
"Excuse me," he said to the barkeep in a voice that was more aged and coarse than sand. The man still pretended not to notice the sherif. Instead he looked up and waved to the man who had just sit down next to Firewind, and began to walk over to him.
Firewind snatched the bartender's sleeve as he passed and brought the man's face close enough to lick.
"I said ‘Excuse me,'." He let the man's shirt go and the guy about stumbled into the rack of drinks behind him. "Another please."
The bartender gave him a hesitant glance before getting Firewind's drink. Firewind had heard about this guy,Joe Birachi they called him around town,and from what he had heard, this man had good reason to hate him: his wife was scalped by an Apache. Firewind knew that the bartender wasn't alone either. Far from it.
The atmosphere of the bar was always hesitant when he was in there. He noticed the people talked softer–the ones at the bar with him sometimes didn't even talk at all–and it was easy to tell the piano player was nervous. Firewind observed that pianist would play slower songs than the ones he heard when he passed by in the morning, and the man even missed notes on these more easygoing tunes.
Firewind heard the batwing doors open and the air became even more delicate than normal. The people in the bar had been waiting for the undertaker to arrive with the good news. The piano stopped and so did the conversations. Firewind sipped his whiskey and listened.
"John," the undertaker said. His voice was timid and slightly frightened. Firewind grinned as he heard the slight tremble in the old man's voice. A coward Mr. Barkley was, true, but he was no stranger with death.
"John, he's here."
Firewind looked at the glass in front of him. Less than half full (or was it more than half-empty?). Firewind didn't care; wasted whiskey is wasted whiskey. He stepped out of the chair and poured the remains of the glass into the waste-pail at the end of the counter. He walked out, slightly limping. His right leg seemed to turn to fire whenever a storm was coming. By the way his leg was throbbing, it seemed the town would get more than enough rain it deserved. Firewind stepped passed the black-clad undertaker–who soon followed close behind–and stepped out the doors.
When he walked out into the street he was greeted with a kiss from a refreshing breeze from the north. His ash pony-tail swayed at his back. Firewind tipped the brim of his hat up with his thumb and looked at the northern horizon. Clouds blacker than sin rolled in the distant. Cannons seemed to be firing constantly in their depths, the trembling booms trailing seconds later than the flashes. He gave it about half an hour, maybe less, before the show started. The second show that was. Oh how he wished he would get the chance to watch it.
The sun was high and the only shadow he had was the timid one dressed in black over his shoulder. He turned his head and glanced down the road. Chambers was there all right. Black horse and all.
"Mr. Chambers has asked for me to ring the town bell," Mr. Barkley said. "I thought maybe I should ask you first."
John Firewind closed his eyes and sighed. It sounded as if it was trapped in his throat, rumbling until it didn't exist anymore.
"Do what the fool says, if you want," Firewind said. " It doesn't matter to me. Either way, the gods will have theirs' and one of us will end up on that table in your house by the end of the day."
Barkley waited for a moment, looking at Firewind's defining features; his large and flat nose, the deep crow's feet at the corners of his eyes, the dark clay skin, the high cheek bones. Eventually he bowed his head and walked off in the opposite direction of the man in the street who was tending to his onyx horse.
Firewind walked towards the man. Each step he took with his right leg sent a wave of pain shooting up his body, but his posture stayed true, unwavering even when the greatest ones hit.
Chambers stopped grooming the horse's mane and turned around to look at the sherif heading his way. He put the brush in a pouch that was tied to the side of the saddle and then smacked the horse's rear, sending it trotting towards Firewind's direction. It passed him and he was able to take in the full beauty of the horse. It didn't deserve to be under the control of this man, or any man for that. Even himself. John Firewind watched as the horse trotted towards a person that had recently emerged from the bar with a hand full of feed. It was Joe Birachi. The man took the horse by the reins and tied him to the hitching post in front of his saloon. He started from where Chambers left off, and groomed his mane. The cowardly man looked over his shoulder at Firewind and flashed him a unsettling grin before returning to the horse.
Firewind looked back at Blake Chambers. He had stopped about fifty feet away. Even though the two of them were standing still, clouds of dust rose and swirled around their feet. Chambers had a hard look about his face. It was dark and roughly cut. His beard was equally crude. Sticking out of the corner of the man's mouth was a cigarette, mostly used, and around his neck was a white bandana that offset the man's black outfit. The only other white thing the man showed was the ivory handles on his calibers. He was packing big, Firewind saw. Chambers's guns were newer, larger, and obviously more expensive than the old ones he had taken from Sherif Scruggs when he died.
"I s'pose you know why you're out here," Chambers said. "This town's had enough of you pollutin' the fine air of this place. The Inj'n thinkin' shouldn't be rottin' away at the minds of the chil'ren in this town, Sir Firewind." Chambers took the cigarette out of his mouth and tossed it aside. "I hope you understand this."
Firewind did not answer, he only looked at Chambers with his ancient, tired eyes. The man in black looked at Firewind for a moment before reaching into his pocket for his tobacco.
"It might be awhile ‘fore that ol' undertaker reaches to the bell," Chambers said. "Why don't you just-,"
-sit down, is what he was going to say, but John Firewind had beat him to it and crouched down to the ground. The Indian sherif sat with his legs crossed and a hand on each knee. He kept his eyes closed.
A gust of wind hit John's back, sending his braid flailing over his shoulder. Perhaps the storm would get here sooner than expected.
The word spread around town faster than Barkley could reach the bell. Men had already come outside to sit on their porches. The women and children still stayed inside, though, but they watched through the windows none-the-less. One way or another, this town was going to get rid of someone they would live more comfortably without. If it had been any different gunslingers out there, everyone would be in hiding. But no, this was a show to their eyes, not a heated death-match.
The air was lifeless. The transition had started from a warm summer day, to the cool, stormy one. The rumbling was getting louder and more in sync with the flashes, but it was soon rivaled by the donging of the bell. Majority of the town had already come out to watch, but Chambers still gave them a few minutes to all get out.
Fools, Firewind thought, all fools.
The town was out, and the time had come. Firewind slowly stood up. He ached all over. Chambers patiently let him get up. He wanted to look that Redskin dead in the eyes when he gave him what was coming to him.
"What's your name, Firewind?" Chambers asked. "You know, you're real name."
Firewind didn't answer.
"I know that before you came here you were called 'Maquinna'." Chambers made sure to speak loud enough for the town to here–or at least enough for the word to get around later about what he was going to say. "But 'Maquinna' isn't the sort of Inj'n name a person's born with, is it?"
"That's what I thought. You see Maquinna's the sort of name an Inj'n such as yerself gets when he is banished from his tribe." Blake Chambers's glance didn't falter from Firewind's for a moment, and neither did Firewind's. "Maquinna's Inj'n for coward!"
The people watching murmured amongst themselves. Chambers grinned with satisfaction. They liked that.
"So why don'cha tell me your real name. The one you were born with?"
Firewind still didn't answer.
"You got to say somethin' buddy," Chambers said. He then grinned, "I'm sure you don't want ‘coward' to be the name we put on your gravestone."
"A name does not make a man a man or a coward a coward," Firewind said. He didn't speak loud enough for the town to hear like Chambers did. "Just because you're name doesn't mean ‘fool' in the tongue of the Whites, doesn't mean you aren't."
Chambers drew back as if slapped, but quickly regained his position and shot an uneffective glare at Firewind. Forget the formalities, he thought, this Inj'n dies now!
"That's it you damned Redskin! I hope the devil give's you what you deserve in hell!"
Chambers reached for the gun by his side, but Firewind detected the man's anger and drew as well.
The warrior's blood instantly ran through his veins. Time suddenly seemed missing. Only he, his gun, and Chambers mattered. Hell, they were the only things that existed. His fingers immediately took to their familiar niches on the handle of his gun. The gun felt oh-so-sweet gripped in his palm once again. The way of the bow and spear was never his liking, but he had been praised in his tribe for his skill and speed with the white-man's fire. But he was also shunned and hated because of it-and yes-eventually banished.
Yet none of that was important anymore. He was who he was;a killer,and if that wasn't who he was born to be than may the gods strike him dead with a single lick of Chambers's bullet.
Firewind pulled his trigger twice. To the observer's eyes (save for Chambers) it had seemed like only one shot. One bullet hit Chambers's stomach and the other hit just below.
Time suddenly caught up with Firewind and he was faced with the dying and shocked gaze from Chambers. Firewind was not unfamiliar with this look. He walked up to the man in black. The wind had now grown almost violent. Almost all of the watchers had gone inside immediately after Chambers was hit, some even before. The show was over and the storm had come with a quickness no one had expected. They would probably discuss it for about a week and forget about it. It hadn't been that exciting of a showdown to them. Or a show is more like it.
Chambers's black coat flung wildly behind him and his hat had fallen off and dangled by the cord around his neck. A drop of blood fell from the corner of his mouth and landed on the gun that lay already dead on the ground.
The thunder shook the ground and the flashes threw masks of white across the men'sfaces.
"My real name is Helaku," Firewind said. Chambers looked at him, his bottom lip trembling. A drop of rain fell on his cheek as if the gods felt pity on the man and gave him a tear to shed. "It means no more than ‘sunny day'."
And with that, Chambers fell to his knees and then died at the feet of Helaku Maquinna Firewind.