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Will The Teenager
The only sound was the sound of the wind blowing through the spaces between the narrow wooden slats in the building. Even the heavy hooves of the horse landed with a muted thud in the dust.
Will pushed the brim of his hat up, eyes tight against the sun as he gazed around the deserted town. It wasn’t silent, but the silence of loneliness weighed on him and caught in his throat, almost stopping his shallow breaths. There was no one here, but maybe there was at least water.
He clicked his tongue and nudged his horse forward, into the main street. One building’s sign hung on by one nail, and he could barely make out the letters, “Sa o n”
He steered Ed towards the hitching post and dismounted, looping the reins loosely around a hook, then he patted his horse’s dusty withers.
“I’ll get some water Ed. Just hang tight.”
The canteens rattled against each other like dry husks, and he silenced them with his arms, and pushed in through the swinging doors.
The inside was stripped of tables, so he continued out the back door, where a pump was quietly rusting. The trough beneath if was dusty. He pumped water to clean it, then filled the canteens, and fetched his horse.
Ed drank deeply, then man and horse were on their way again.
Will kicked Ed to a lope, and like ghosts they flitted through the open desert towards the next town. The steady triplets of Ed’s lope rolled over dry washes and gullies, trying to outrace the sun towards the west.
Will held his eyes open against the dust, searching for the next town, his left hand curling sporadically around the six shooter on his belt, fingers caressing it briefly, then jumping away, flirting with the shiny, hard leather that was stretched over the butt of the gun. His hand tingled in memory of the last shootout.
The sun had watched from overhead, high noon, as he walked the twenty paces away from the sheriff.
What was it about sheriffs and lawmen that made them expect Will to march the full twenty paces, then turn around and get shot? No, he was smarter than that; he shot them in the back. Then he‘d been chased out of the town.
On to the next, hopefully before the “Wanted, Dead or Alive” posters got there.
The buildings of Twisted Gulch gradually separated themselves from the dusty landscape, and he slowed Ed to a jog.
The horse’s sides were sweaty and heaving. The sun was hot on his black coat.
The town was filled with people and horses and coaches, the sound of people loud after desert for days. Women batted their eyes at him, and he tipped his hat, looking for the nearest water trough to bring Ed to.
It cost two dollars to put Ed up for the night in a stable. Finding the Saloon meant food, and he entered inconspicuously, shrinking his shoulders, head ducked, trying not to disturb the music that plinked from the piano in the corner.
“What’ll ya have?”
The bartender was a pretty woman with brown hair that was tied back in a mess of curls.
She nodded and moved away, and he turned to look around the room. There was a gun on practically every hip, and rough, weathered faces with dark eyes.
He pulled his hat low and turned to accept the beer.
“New in town?”
“Lookin’ fer a place ta sleep?”
She mopped the bar with a grey rag, “Moe down the way has cheap rooms for the night.
Just then, Will became aware of an expanding silence in the saloon. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled gently, a quiet reminder that he was an outlaw.
Will turned his head to glance over his shoulder, and was met with a silver star pinned to a vest.
The sheriff sat heavily, “Afternoon Lizzie.”
She smiled, “Get’che anythin’?”
“Nope. This’s business. Take a break.”
She looked between the two men, and left.
“Well Billy, you finally got here.”
Will met the hooded eyes of the sheriff with his baby blues, “Took some doin’.”
The sheriff’s bushy mustache quivered as he chuckled, and Will tried to guess how many men were actually in the room. He could hear three shifting their weight.
“Billy, I don’t wanna shoot you.”
“That’s a mistake.”
“So I’m just gonna throw you in jail until you rot.”
Will slid his hand a little closer to his gun, “Don’t you want the reward?”
The sheriff laughed, and the men laughed too. Will picked out at least five sources, “Billy you’re wanted dead, or alive. Not alive.”
Billy reached for his cigarette lighter.
“How old are you, Billy?”
Will lit a smoke and inhaled, “Fifteen.”
“Yer just a kid.”
Will flicked his eyes to the silver badge, “I bet I can outshoot you.”
The sheriff’s bushy mustache quivered again, in anger, but he laughed a short, mirthless laugh, “Son, I’m a sheriff.”
Will took a drag. This had to work. He had to get this contest started. If they’d just let him touch his guns, he could get outta here.
“And I’m Billy the Kid. I’ve shot ten sheriffs, maybe eleven.”
He was mad now, Will read it in every pore. This man would accept the challenge.
“What are we wagering?”
The sheriff seemed off balance for a moment, “What do you want?”
Will grinned, “If I win, freedom.”
“A three minute head start on my horse.”
He thought about it, “Sure.”
“If you win I’ll tell you where my loot is hidden.”
Now he was interested. The hooded eyes glowed at the thought, “Deal.”
Will grinned as the men brought him outside, to the targets they’d set up. The targets were dartboard, probably from the bar, and they’d been carefully propped against the side of the building, five feet in height. Will scanned them, then he was shoved by a pair of hands, and he stumbled, kicking up dust.
No wind, full sun. The sheriff shot first, and the smoke of the burned gunpowder was acrid and thick enough to make Wills heart pound a little faster. It pierced outside the bull’s-eye by two inches.
The sheriff smirked at Will, tipping his hat back, “How do you like that? Still wanna shoot kid? Still think you’ll win?”
Will just unholstered his right gun, and check to see it was full of bullets. Then, he pulled his hat lower, and planted his feet apart, and took aim. He pulled the trigger, and hit the target dead center, then turned, pulled out his other gun, and shot the sheriff and the nine man posse with smooth, clean motions.
The kick of the guns twinned in his hands rattled his arms a little, but taut muscles held them steady as he pulled the triggers in an easy succession that made his heart pound. They didn’t even have time to unholster their guns.
Will blew at the smoke, the squatted down close to the sheriff’s head, and laughed.
“Sheriff, I’m an outlaw. Should've known that I’d break that deal.”
The sheriff wheezed angrily, then coughed, blood misting finely on his breath. His eyes dimmed as he died in the dust.
Will stood, and turned back to the bar.
He needed to finish his beer.