Wild Card Wednesday is a challenge between us. Each will provide a prompt to the other. That prompt will allow us 1000 words or so to complete the challenge. Today Aaron Hall prompted me with: A gunslinger’s last bullet.
The Great Clearing
It was a giant circle in the middle of the town—the centerpiece to their feast of sand and tumbleweeds. Surrounded completely by thirty foot high barbed wire fences, the coral served as the center of justice and entertainment for Williston County. As the crowds started to trickle in from their journeys, in many cases days long, the county jail was preparing a mass grave.
The mayor called it the Great Clearing. One time per year he hosted a festival packed with pony rides, food vendors—both sweet and savory—and entertainment varying from magicians to dancers. The snake oil salesmen were pouring in with promises of extended life and love from their foul tasting elixirs. However, at the core of the festival, the reason for the name, men and women who’d committed horrible acts of villainy—deemed unredeemable by society, gathered together in the county jail for their last hoorah.
Armed with a sixshooter and a single bullet, the contestants were led one by one into the coral for a final duel.
Vardas Pence sat stroking his long mustache waiting for his turn. He had never been afraid of death.
“Ain’t was no God there when momma died. Ain’t no God’ll be there when I go neither,” he said when Father McGreary reached his cell to read him his last rites.
Vardas Pence was arrested, and pleaded guilty on account of skinning a man alive. Legend—and he was a legend—had it that he made the man’s family watch, however, that fact had never been confirmed.
“Why’d you do it, Pence?” the judge had asked him on the day of his trial.
“Preacher man’s been tellin’ me that vengeance is the Lord’s. I’m just sayin’ I don’t believe in no Lord.”
Revenge is a nasty dish no matter how it’s served. If his vengeance had released him from inner torment it wasn’t visible from the outside looking in. The man never smiled, not even a hint. He only spoke when spoken to, and even then he spoke in confusing phrases. Ones that made a man think. Vardas Pence was a deep thinker himself and he had thought about this day through for many moons.
The coral was already littered with death. None of the prisoners could hope for life on the outside of bars ever again, but the winners of duels stood a chance at living another year within the confines of the county jail. The jail wasn’t so bad—three squares and the occasional conjugal visit from one of Madam Belfry’s girls—but it wasn’t freedom either. The only freedom Pence hoped for was the sweet release of death.
His time had come and he was led out into the coral by his jailers. He would be handed an unloaded pistol and given his bullet once the mayor gave the order.
Mayor Reeds sat in his box high above the coral floor. He was loved by a people who were lovers of blood and violence. Reeds gave them their desires in the form of the Great Clearing.
He dabbed his pudgy face with a handkerchief which was already soaked with sweat.
“Our next duel is between the vile Vardas Pence. Jailed for crimes against humanity—the skinning of Brenton Graza—”
“Don’t you say that name!” shouted Vardas uncharacteristically. His jailer whipped him across the face with a back hand. Vardas spit blood into the dirt.
“His opponent, Ms. Lilliana Martinez—”
Cat calls and whistling from a crowd of rowdy men overwhelmed any crime Mayor Reeds might have pinned on her. Lilliana was indeed beautiful and additionally Vardas knew that she couldn’t shoot a lick. He had no fear of her hitting him from such a long distance with the one bullet she would have to her name. He was sure that his bullet would hit it’s mark and hers would not.
The mayor stood against the wooden railing of his box a dozen yards or so from Pence. They stared into each other’s eyes for a moment. The mayor hated Pence and it was no secret that Vardas hated he mayor.
“Give each prisoner a bullet,” said Mayor Reeds. He waited until their guns were loaded and back into the holsters, then began to count down from ten.
Vardas wiggled his fingers at his side inches away from his borrowed revolver. He locked eyes with Lilliana and saw the fear flooding her.
He zeroed in on his own heartbeat, steadying himself for the kill shot. He quickly glanced to see several men with their rifles pointed at both prisoners.
Pence drew his pistol. His eyes were locked completely with hers. He watched as her bullet left it’s chamber and missed him by a good distance.
Vardas Pence smiled a very rare smile, then pulled his trigger. The bullet found it’s target. Rifle fire rang out from every direction berating Vardas Pence and filling him with lead.
Lilliana stood in dumb silence surveying the two dead bodies. Vardas twitched on the ground before her covered in his own blood. She looked up and saw Mayor Reeds folded over the railing with a bullet hole in the middle of his forehead.