This week, Chuck Wendig‘s Challenge is a sub-genre mash-up of 1500 words. He gives us a list of 20 sub-genres, and tells us to roll two random numbers… and mine are 5 and 11, which gives me Comic Fantasy and Weird West. Oh yeah! Or should that be Yee-hah! I hope you enjoy it.
Land of the Free
“And I said you did!”
“Are you darn well callin’ me a liar?”
“I sure am!”
“Well, you better meet me at dawn behind the barn to settle it then!”
“Why wait till dawn? Let’s settle it now!”
“Aw right then!”
The scrape of chairs on the wooden saloon floor told me all I wanted to know of the argument building inside. I tossed my head, neighing to my partner, but his mind was on other things. Guns, knives or swords, probably.
I heard the scrape of steel and deduced that swords had been drawn. Messier than guns, but possibly less lethal. Wise choice. The saloon doors flew open as men scurried away, putting distance between themselves and a bar-room brawl. The bay horse next to me looked tired, in the way I would if I’d been ridden all day on dusty tracks only to find myself hitched outside a saloon while my man went and cheated at cards.
“Who’ll win?” I asked him conversationally.
“Mine. He always does.”
“That’ll be interesting. I’ll lay you five bucks he doesn’t.”
The bay opened his eyes. They were sad eyes, almost sunken. He examined me and sighed. “Money from a baby. You’re on.”
The banging, clashing, crashing and tinkling of broken glass continued for a few minutes, the sound ebbing and flowing with the pace of the protagonists. Despite a crush of men exiting at the start of the fray, plenty remained to whoop, holler and generally enjoy the sight of two card sharps slanging it out. I undid my tether and turned my back to the doors. The bay observed me.
“Gonna pay me now?”
“You won’t need paying,” I huffed.
An appalling scream split the air, closely followed by cries of rage. I braced myself. Black Jake flew out of the door, bounded over the railing and onto my back. He wasn’t in the saddle by the time I left town, but he was all sorted out by the time we got to the gulch. Sword back in his scabbard, pistol in his holster, winnings in his pockets and hat firmly clamped on his head.
“Darn it, I left my cards behind!”
“I’m not going back.”
“Says me, and I’m the brains round here.”
I continued picking my way nimbly down the gulch, moving pretty fast for the state of the ground, but safe enough for my legs.
“Ow, what the…” Jake swore a bit, mostly at me.
“Sorry,” I said innocently. Well, maybe I wasn’t innocent. Maybe I just wanted the cactus spines to get his legs after the aggro he’d given me. I wondered if the bay would try to collect on our bet. He’d have to catch me first. Then again, Fatty the Kid would probably encourage him, in order to complete the match with Jake. I stopped at a waterhole, drank deeply and sighed.
‘Watch it! You scoundrel. You did that on purpose!”
Well, maybe my snorting had sprayed up more water than I’d intended. I shook my head, he lost control of the reins, and I loped off onto a new track, headed for the Lost Mine.
We paid our dues as we entered, one twelfth of our gains during the trip. Jake may have left his cards behind, but he’d stashed the gold. I thought it was about time he made my shoes out of gold, but he said they’d be too heavy. I need speedos to help me do quick getaways. 0-30 in six strides, very useful. I moseyed down to the cookhouse, aiming to get something better than warm water and hay. I was in luck. Beer and carrots were being served to anyone that turned up. I turned up twice, just for good measure. It was a good measure – I got a bucket of beer while the old timers just got a jug. I swayed back up to Jake’s hang-out and tripped over my feet as I entered.
“You good-fer-nothing pile of bones. Whaad’ya bin up to?”
From the way he was slurring his words, I reckoned he’d been up to the same as me, so I just burped. Well, maybe I farted as well. He fell down in a swoon. Maybe the fart was over-ripe.
I must have slept, since someone woke me up.
“There’s a guy at the look-out post asking for yer,” a one-legged old soldier called Perky told me, yelling in my ear as if I was deaf. I snorted, staggered to my feet and shook myself. “Watch it! Yer great lumbering mule. If yer were mine yer’d have better manners.”
If I was yours, you’d be dead, I thought, but made my way slowly to the look-out post. Slowly because my head hurt and it was uphill, thereby requiring concentration and a level of exertion that my legs were unwilling to make.
My legs knew something I didn’t.
The bay horse stood next to the black mare who was on look-out duty.
“This mongrel says you lost a bet,” she said.
“I never lose bets.”
“That’s what I told him, but he said Black Jake lost the fight, so you owe him five bucks.”
“Black Jake didn’t lose the fight.”
“Oh yes he did,” said the bay.
“Oh no he didn’t.”
“Boys!” the mare interrupted. We stopped and looked at her. She fluttered her eyelashes at me. I think it was at me. “When I saw Black Jake he had his sword, he had gold, and he wasn’t injured. On what basis do you say he lost?” She addressed the bay.
“He left abruptly, running away, and he left his cards behind.”
“He wasn’t running away. He always leaves in a hurry when people accuse him of cheating. It saves misunderstandings.”
“We understood all right. He lost.”
“STOP!” The black mare was very assertive. I like that in a mare. “So on the basis that he left his cards, you say he lost, right?”
“Yeah, right,” agreed the bay.
“And on the basis he had his sword and the gold, you say he won,” she asked me.
“Well, it sounds to me like he didn’t lose.”
“YEAH!” I kicked up my heels in glee.
“But it doesn’t sound like he won either. So what were the terms of the bet?”
“Whadd’ya mean?” asked the bay. “He lost the fight, I win the bet!”
“Only if the bet was that he would win. What was the bet?”
I smiled. “I bet that his man,” nodding at the bay, “didn’t win. He said he always did.”
“Well, in that case,” she said, looking at the bay, who was scratching his head and looking very confused, “the bet is void, since neither has won and neither has lost. Yet. How long do you want the bet to run for?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “What d’ye reckon?” I asked the bay.
“What? Just pay me my five bucks.”
“He doesn’t owe you five bucks,” the mare butted in. “Not unless you want to say the match is over, in which case you’ve lost.”
“Because your man hasn’t won.” She stood in front of him, glared, and stamped her foot. It was a very impressive display. I wondered if I could get away with that next time I didn’t want to do something.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake!” said the bay, and he turned and ambled down the hill, stopping on the occasional zig or zag of the track to look up at us watching him, and shake his head again before going on his way.
“Thanks,” I said.
“You owe me.”
“You owe me. You need to get me out of trouble some time. I’ll be counting on you. Now get going, I need to look out some more.”
She turned her back on me, and I admired her hocks for a few seconds, then went back to the mine.
Black Jake had cleaned himself up, shone his sword, cleaned his pistol and acquired a new deck of cards. Looked like he’d got a new mission already. I lay down on some straw and yawned.
“No time for that, pardner,” Jake said. “We’re leaving.”
“Can’t we leave tomorrow,”I grumbled, shutting my eyes and burrowing my head into the hay.
“Nope, we’re leaving now. I’ve got a good tip-off, and if it comes off we’ll be able to buy ourselves out of this darn contract.” Our contract was with Lord Houston, the biggest landholder around. I groaned.
“Come on, you lazy so-and-so. I need to catch the Flyer. While I’m relieving some people of their winnings, you have to learn all you can about the Hole in the Wall Gang.”
This sounded more than interesting. It sounded like my ticket to freedom.
I got Black Jake on the Flyer. Then I lay in wait, watched, and got myself rounded up as a loose horse when Butch and Sundance blew up the mail wagon. All it took then was to let myself out of the corral at night and head for the hills.
(c) J M Pett 2015