Western Short Story
At ten years of his calendar, Kris Kiely took down 4 of 5 Kennadi bottles at his uncle George’s directions, the loan of the handgun a present for his birthday. The boy showed so much talent with twin pistols presented on his twelfth birthday, Uncle George decided the boy would be a lawman or a gunman based on a pure accident, so he kept alert. His eyes open for any sign.
That sign, as horrible as it could be, seeing both the boy’s parents killed by raiders, came still with the either-or attachment, law or disorder, shoot to kill or shoot to take revenge, to go on the hunt for killers, become one as a result.
When young Kiely walked into a saloon in Princeton, Texas, mere years later, not yet 21, he never expected to see his parents’ killers standing together at the bar, the bartended leaning over the bar talking to them, and suddenly looking out on the new customer just stepping through the door.
The barkeep ducked behind the bar, the two killers spun about, knowing from his action, that danger was afoot. They drew their weapons at the instant Kiely shot them dead, stood over them, announced his revenge and the reasons behind it.
He said, clearly, “My parents were unarmed and I knew someday I’d catch them. This is my day.”
When a customer asked, “How do we know you’re telling us the true facts,” Kiely shot him dead where he leaned against the bar. Not a response in the lot of them, drinkers all.
Only silence hovered in place, no ohs, ands or buts to be heard, none smothered by the back of a hand by any of the on-looking customers, wanting to remain standing in place, breathing still, Earth still waiting his deposit.
Not another negative word could be heard; woe is the curser, he who questions validity, the heart of truth, the deliberate fact of the matter expressed by a stand-up speaker, gun in each hand, that aura of resolve as plain as a deep brand newly scarred on cow or horse, the true heat of iron out on the open grass.
Kris Kiely’s reputation grew as if impelled by a whirlwind, touching all the parts of Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Louisiana, Arkansas, Utah, California and all the elsewhere you can come up with. Such a spread was fed by envy of other gunmen, those hunting for like causes, those seeking name-only fame, kids who began to start too early with gun, much as Kiely had done, gathered as if a universal storm was in the making.
Even if he tried his utmost to disguise himself as just an ordinary cowpoke poking around for work, he would be soon discovered, identified locally, prompted to give a show of his own choosing, or, as on too many occasions, challenged to a duel.
Kiely found it hard to say no, easy to win in the face of the public support of hundreds of folks who rallied to such competitions.
“Whoa there, Kiely. You ain’t gettin’ off so easy, like you ain’t the real gunner most folks think you are, where I think you’re nothin’ but a make-believe killer suited up to play a game on us, and I dare you to do anythin’ about that.”
Bang! And it was over, and Kiely leaped for his saddle and rode off before he had to take on another big-mouth, another show-off, a sheriff, or a marshal on the ready prod. He rode hard and fast and got as far as he could before thirst or hunger or his just-tuckered-out spirit went limp on him, or, as in some flights, just laid down and died on him.
In such cases, he found sustenance after a hardy search, bought another horse, found a night’s sleep in rare cases where an old miner or farmer, out of the news of events, found it suitable to help a young man in trouble, for a few dollars, their night’s talk until sleep came consisting of stories of the mine, the stories of a dry field, the years of hard work.
Every now and then, Kiely felt a bit of reprieve when such an old man died in his sleep, or in the arms of the young killer, without a shot being fired. He was grateful for such an event, making sure the bodies were buried, and a marker left in place after a fair farewell. These deeds quieted him down, produced small loopholes in his thinking where he went over his whole life, in a kind of page-by-page story, or the deadly signal of a single gunshot echo from a dark place hiding out in the night.
One such ride took him into Utah, into a town so small it did not yet have a name, being a matter of choice or chance he supposed, and he walked into a saloon so small it had no sign in the front, no swinging doors, but a single bar and a single table with five men playing a quiet game of cards, and none of them looked up to see him or identify him, of course.
He went directly to the bar, where the barkeep held up his hand, poured a drink pushed the glass towards him, and said, “This one’s on me. I haven’t seen a stranger in a few months, nothing but these old dogs at their game where nobody ever wins and nobody ever loses.” He laughed a loud laugh and Kiely heard it echo in the corners of the room.
And still nobody looked up at him from the table.
When he walked out the door, the barkeep said, “See you later, Gunner, but don’t rush back.”
Both men shared the laughter, and still nobody looked up from the card game, too intent on their business.
When the day came, he somehow knew it, felt it in his bones, in the back of his head, and deeply in his chest where his heartbeat was overloaded, and keep its own time of the rhythm.
He was not far from his hometown, in facts less than a mile from his old house,
As he approached a small cabin, he saw an old man giving lessons to a small boy barely big enough to hold the long-barreled pistol.
“Hold it steady, sonny boy, nice and steady and only squeeze the trigger when I tell you.”
The gun went off and The Born Gunman, Kris Kiely, Killer, fell down dead, deader than he ever felt.
There was no echo.