Showdown At Snake Gulch
The spurs on my boots jangle as I walk out of the saloon and onto the dusty street. The bright sun beats down; I can already feel my brow getting sweaty under my hat. I take my place, hands at my sides, fingers anxious to grab the silver revolvers from their holsters. A moment later Jack, in his customary black vest and hat, emerges from the shadows. Slowly he steps out into the road and turns to face me, a sinister smile on his stubbly face.
Even though I’ve been through this at least a hundred times before, I always seem to get a little nervous. I glance at the assembled crowd; there seems to be more gawkers today than usual.
“I told ya,” Jack growls, mugging to our audience, “that this town ain’t big enough fer the both of us.”
“Well,” I say, “I guess we need to do somethin’ about that.”
Jack looks at me and nods slightly. I nod back and in an instant we both grab for our weapons. The shots are incredibly loud and a cloud of smoke swirls between us. Jack’s bullets miss me but I’m sure I’ve hit him, my aim was perfect. But he’s still standing there, that cocky grin on his face. Why didn’t he fall?
I take a peek into the crowd and see several confused faces. Suddenly I realize I did get hit after all and I drop to the ground, groaning and clutching my stomach.
“Oh, ya got me, Black Jack,” I whimper, “I don’t know how, but ya got me.”
I hear Jack laugh and some people boo and hiss as they were instructed to do. When I hear the guide begin to usher them away, I slowly get up and brush the dirt from my pants. Jack is walking towards me.
“What the hell, Barry?” I say. “Why do you always have to do that? I’m the good guy, I’m supposed to shoot you.”
“Improv, baby,” he says, spinning the cap gun on his right index finger. “You gotta keep on your toes, Mikey, you never know what I’m gonna do out here. Hell, sometimes I don’t even know.”
He chuckles and walks away. Every time we do this he has to mess it up somehow. I’m wearing my bulletproof vest today, I replaced your bullets with blanks, I’m a zombie cowboy, you can’t hurt me. Or, like today, he’ll just stand there and I’ll have to pretend to get shot, or he’ll get shot and it’ll take him ten minutes to die.
I head back into the saloon to get out of the heat; I’m not needed again for another hour. In the backroom that serves as a dressing area, I find Sarah in front of a mirror putting on a thick coat of lipstick. Her billowing dress takes up nearly half the tiny room. She smiles when she sees me.
“How’d it go, Butch? Did you kill that varmint?”
I toss my guns into the table.
“Not exactly. Of course Barry changed it up again and I had to get shot.”
“That rapscallion,” she says, adjusting her corset and jiggling nicely.
Sarah’s a theater major and likes to stay in character even when there aren’t any tourists around. It’s a quality of hers at first I found cute but now, two months into this job, I find a little irritating. I’d still go out with her, though. I’ll never forget the first time I saw her. It was my second day here and, costume in hand, I opened the dressing room door without knocking. She had her back to me and was just stepping into the large dress. Embarrassed, I quickly shut the door. And even though I discovered that her costume wasn’t as entirely authentic as The Real Wild West promised (I don’t think bar maids in the 1800’s wore thongs), I instantly became smitten. But so far I hadn’t worked up the courage to ask her out.
“Whatcha thinkin’ ‘bout, hon?”
I blush. “Uh, nothing. When are you on?”
“Right now,” she says, grabbing a shawl. She takes another look at herself in the mirror and rushes for the door. “See ya soon.”
I take off my hat and vest and slump down onto the old green sofa. This job was supposed to be fun, just something to do for the summer before college started again. But the heat, annoying and sometimes violent kids, and Barry’s antics were grating. Plus, it’s safe to say, I’ve never quite gotten into the spirit of the Old West.
But, mercifully, it’s almost over.
I glance at the calendar next to the mirror — cowboy themed of course — and grin. The square circled with a thick red line is today: my last. In fact, after one more fake gunfight with Barry, my days as a gunslinger will officially be over.
Technically school doesn’t begin again for over a week but I told Mr. Legler, my boss and the mayor of Snake Gulch, that I needed to get back early to get my schedule, books, etc. I could actually take care of all that the day before classes start but he doesn’t need to know that.
The door bursts open and in walks Barry.
“Man, you missed it,” he says, sitting down next to me. “There must have been seven or eight high school chicks over by the gift shop.”
He puts his arm around my shoulders and leans towards me. His breath smells like cigarettes and nachos.
“And let me tell you, they weren’t wearin’ a whole lot. Couple of them smiled at me. too. I’m tellin’ you, man, chicks dig the bad boys.”
I grimace; I’m not exactly sure how old Barry is — probably at least 35 — but I do know he’s too old to have been working at this place for as long as he has, and definitely too old for high school girls.
“Problem was,” he continued, “there were just too many mangy kids runnin’ around.”
Barry’s intense dislike of children bewilders me; The Real Wild West is a family themed attraction.
“Listen, Barry,” I say, trying to slide away from his rough grasp, “for the next showdown would it be possible for you to stick to the plan and let me shoot you? I mean, it’s my last one, can we just do it the way it’s supposed to go?”
“Sure, partner, whatever you want,” he says with a wink. “Now, I think it’s time for a sasparilla,”
He slaps my leg hard, quickly gets up, and disappears through the door. I sigh and stretch out on the couch. Thoughts of Sarah’s dress fill my mind as I close my eyes.
“Time ta rise ‘n’ shine, Butch.”
I open my eyes and see Sarah peering down at me, the ringlets of her auburn bangs tickle my face. For a second I think I’m dreaming. I’m just about to lean in for a kiss when I remember where I am.
“Oh, hey, Sarah,” I say, quickly sitting up. “I guess I must have dozed off.”
“Well, up and Adam, mister! Black Jack’s back and he’s surely up to no good. And you’re the only one who can stop him.”
I want to roll my eyes but the way she’s gazing at me, as if she actually believes what she’s saying, stops me. And that annoying quality of her always staying in character is suddenly starting to be cute again. I decide, for my last showdown, to play along.
“Well, Miss Kitty,” I say in my best John Wayne, “If Black Jack wants a fight, he’ll get a fight.”
She smiles and hands me my hat.
I walk down the steps of the saloon and out into the street. The sun is starting to set but it feels like it’s gotten warmer in the last hour. I gaze at the crowd; it’s a typical one: lots of chubby parents and their chubby offspring in t-shirts and shorts, pasty legs covered in mosquito bites, all of them holding popcorn, slushies, hotdogs. A few are aiming cameras.
I take my place and wait for Barry. After a moment I spot him leaning against the bank smoking a cigarette. He smiles at me, knowing I’m the only one who can see him. C’mon, dip shit, let’s get this over with. After another minute he flicks the butt away and slowly walks out into the road.
“Look, everyone,” Mary Ann, the tour guide, says. “It’s Black Jack! The meanest, toughest cattle rustler in all of Snake Gulch!”
She starts booing loudly and tries to get the crowd to join her, but all she can induce are a few half-hearted boos.
“But thankfully Butch is here to save the day! Who thinks Butch can beat Black Jack?”
There’s a little applause and one tiny redheaded girl holding a pop gun shrieks “Get him, Butch!”
Gee thanks, kid, I think, and wait for Barry to get into place. Jesus, he’s taking his time.
“Well well well, what da we have here?” he says, coming to a stop.
God, why did I let myself think this fight would be any different?
“If it isn’t my old friend, Butch. How goes it, Bitch?”
“Black Jack,” I say, “you know you’re not-“ Wait, did he say “bitch”? I peek at Mary Ann but her feigned worried expression hasn’t changed. “Uh, you know you’re not welcome in these here parts. Why don’t you just hightail it back to where you came from.”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t ya? No, I think I’ll stay right here.”
“Well then, Jack, you leave me no choice.”
It’s at this part of the act when we’re supposed to nod at each other to make sure we’re ready and then pull our guns and fire. I slowly put my hands at my sides and nod. Barry doesn’t return it; in fact, he’s crossing his arms. I nod again but he only stares at me.
“Uh, I’m giving you one last chance, Jack,” I say; I was never very good at ad-libbing. “Leave now or, uh, face the consequences.”
I nod for a third time and when he doesn’t reciprocate, I pull my guns and fire; the caps pop noisily. Barry doesn’t move.
“Not even close,” he says.
I fire a few more shots. He shakes his head.
I take a couple steps towards him and pull the triggers again.
“Man, you are one bad shot there, cowboy. Do you even have a license for those things?”
“What the hell are you doing, Barry?” I mutter. “Will you just fall or shoot me or something?”
He continues to stare at me, that big obnoxious grin on his face. If I had real guns I don’t think I’d be able to stop myself from using them. But suddenly I have an idea.
“What’s that ya say, Jack?” I say loudly.
Barry’s smile dims a little.
“Really? All of ‘em?”
His confused expression is quite satisfying.
“Did you hear that?” I ask, turning to face the audience. “Ol’ Black Jack here says after he’s done with me, he’s gonna take on all you kids. He really hates kids.”
The boos Mary Ann had hoped for before now start raining down.
“Uh, Butch, Mikey,” Barry mumbles, “What are you doing?”
“Improv, baby,” I say softly. “Yeah, he can’t stand kids!”
“C’mon now, Mikey,” Barry says, starting to back up.
Several children step forward, led by the red haired girl.
“He especially hates redheaded kids!” I shout.
An angry look appears on the girl’s little freckled face. She yells “Get him!” and the children charge.
Barry squeals and bolts down the road, raising a cloud of dust. Seven or eight screaming kids run after him and I laugh.
“Okay,” Mary Ann says to the remaining crowd. “Let’s…uh…let’s keep moving…”
I watch Barry and his small pursuers fall out of sight, and when I turn to go back to the saloon, Sarah is leaning over the railing.
“Nice goin’, Butch. Don’t think Jack’ll show his face in these parts again anytime soon.”
“My pleasure, Miss Kitty,” I say and tip my hat. I hop up the stairs and join her.
“So,” she says after a moment, “I here you’re movin’ on.”
“Yup,” I say, “I think my work here is done.”
“Reckon you’ll be missin’ folks ‘round here?”
We look at each other and smile.
“Sure is warm today,” she says, fanning herself with her hand. “I think I’m gonna head back inside and get outta this hot dress.”
She takes a few steps towards the door and then adds “Would you mind helpin’ a lady out, Butch?”
Without waiting for my answer she goes through the swinging doors. I stand there for a few seconds, mouth agape. I don’t know if she’s kidding or just acting or what but I intend to find out.
“Yee haw!” I holler, and step inside.
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Portland Fiction Project
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