512 Words

Could You Die With That?

M. Stanley Bubien

He had shot me and left me for dead, and dead I would presently be---but not just yet. The blast from his revolver had certainly rendered me unconscious, but I came to, gun fully in hand, and loaded still---not even one shot fired. I knew this, from memory certainly, but also because I clicked through the whole cartridge, weighing each bullet between fingertips as I methodically removed them to make doubly sure.

I found him resting against the bar, sucking down whiskey, and I approached from behind, locking the hammer back, pressing the barrel into the exposed portion of his neck.

"I thought you's dead," he told me, apologizing, I believe, for my catching him unawares.

"Not yet," I answered, "but soon enough." Forced to uncover the wound were his bullet pierced my side, I relieved him of his six-shooters, and dropped them, kicking them in bloody streaks across the floor. Replacing my hand in a vain attempt to staunch the flow, I felt the warmth of my crimson life ebbing upon it.

"Soon enough," I repeated, pressing the barrel unsteadily. "But first, you."

He chuckled only briefly, for the motion jostled my gun, and he knew my finger rested squarely upon a hair trigger.

"Them's the price you's payin' for mistakes," he told me. "I reckon."

"I reckon," and my vision blurred slightly, but I blinked it clear.

"And I'm reckonin' I's gotta live with that." He paused, and though he remained stiff in the neck, I knew he focused his eyes as much toward me as a man in his situation could. "But I's wonderin'..."

"Careful," I commanded with a jab.

"I's wonderin', can you?

"Can I what?"

He indicated my pistol. "Could you live with that?"

"That's the wrong question." And, already having weighed the ramifications of its converse, I grinned fully---would have laughed even, save for the fact that it would most surely have rendered me unconscious. "You see, I don't have to." I removed my hand, offered it for his examination, drenched to the bone with blood.

He nodded carefully, for I had presented him, in that hand, with a basic truth, which he recognized as such. "Then I'm reckonin' we'll be seein' each'un the other in, awe, well, hell."

I shook my head and lost my grin, for had I not been completely convinced ahead of time that he would speak those very words, I probably would have fallen dead to the floor at that very moment---but I still had life left in me yet.

I pulled the trigger.

The hammer clicked, causing him to go stiff, though what it struck was only an empty cartridge.

"Maybe not," I replied, lowering my gun, and with vision blurring again, I strode away. My back was to him, but I heard his move, could gauge every step as though I watched through clear eyes. When he dove for his six-shooters, however, it was already too late.

I collapsed upon the floor, empty gun in hand, and died before he could fire a single shot.

Copyright ©1999 M. Stanley Bubien. All Rights Reserved.

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May, 1999
Issue #37

512 Words