Indies Unlimited FF Challenge: The Good of the Herd

Photo by K.S. Brooks

William gazed out the window of the train jostling its way along wintry prairie tracks. He unscrewed the cap of his flask, taking a long pull of liquid fire.

A tow-headed boy, no more than seven, scampered into the bench across from him, and smudged the window with his hands and face. “Wow!” the kid breathed.

William pulled out his spectacles to see what fascinated the child. A moment’s glance revealed a buffalo, fur covered in snow, lying down in the middle of a passing field. “What’s wrong with that buffalo, mister?”

William cleared his throat. “Well, when an animal gets old or sick, sometimes it’ll just lie down and die. It keeps the herd strong and gives predators an easy meal, rather than having them chase the young.”

“Oh.” The boy thought on that for a moment. “Makes sense, I guess. My name’s Frank.” He stuck out his small hand. “Where you headed, mister?”

William shook Frank’s hand. “I’m William, and I’m headed out to see my grand-daughter in Kansas. Someone’s giving her trouble out there, and I aim to fix it.”

Frank’s eyes widened as he noticed the Colt on William’s hip for the first time. “Are you going to kill somebody?” the boy whispered.

William smiled hard. “I expect not. Most likely they’ll kill me.” He leaned forward. “But killing me will bring down the law on them.”

“Sometimes the old have to sacrifice themselves to the predators so the young can live.”

Word Count: 250

For Indies Unlimited’s Flash Fiction Challenge. The prompt is the photo above, along with a written prompt on the site. Head on over and check out some of the other entries. Entries are accepted until Tuesday 5:00 p.m. Pacific. Winners are collected along with the photos and included in an anthology at the end of the year.

Hope you enjoy.

Happy Reading and Writing!

J. Milburn

The East Coast Dandy

The saloon reeked of stale smoke, dirty men, cheap women, and even cheaper whiskey. Bertram swept the bowler off his head and tucked it under his arm. A pale effete man, dressed in grey pinstripe and bright red cravat, he stood out among the tanned and rugged cowboys in their leather vests and Stetson hats. He pushed his spectacles higher on the bridge of his nose, hunched his shoulders, and shuffled over to the bar. Eyes, suspicious and dismissive alike, followed his path.

“Care for some company?” a woman in a bright red ruffled dress asked. Her lined face acted like a map of her life, telling the misery and heartache that went into each one. A false smile, missing teeth, slashed across her lower face. Her eyes remained dead.

Bertram twisted the end of his thin mustache. “Nuh-nuh-no thank you, ma’am,” he stammered out.

Her dead eyes hardened and she spat some offensive epithet at him. He didn’t know what it meant. Civilized folk didn’t talk like that. The bartender, an impressively bearded fat man wearing an apron that looked it was about to lose the battle to stay tied, slapped the surface of the bar. Bertram started and knocked over the beer of the man sitting next to him.

“Ya’ cityfied dandy! I’mma learn ya’ to stay where ya’ belong.” The man stood and cocked his fist back. His breath smelled of beer and tobacco mixed with rotting teeth. Bertram dropped his bowler and raised his hands in front of his face.

The bartender slapped the bar again. “Enough, Roy! Not in my bar. You got a problem, take it outside,” the bartender said.

Roy smiled, his black teeth matching the bristle that covered his cheek and neck. “Wat’s yore name, city-boy?”

Bertram gulped, but managed to say, “B-B-Bertram.”

Roy roared with laughter. The saloon joined with him. Suddenly, Roy stopped laughing and sneered at Bertram. “Well, B-B-Bertram, you and me, Main Street, five minutes.”

Roy sauntered out of the saloon, spurs jangling with every step. Bertram looked around the saloon. Pity reigned where dismissal once ruled. “M-m-may I use someone’s pistol?” he asked.

The bartender, looking somewhat guilty at his role in what was about to transpire, reached beneath the bar and placed a Colt nestled in a hip-holster on the surface. “Use this and go with God,” the bartender murmured.

Bertram wrapped the holster belt around him. It barely clung to his narrow hips. He held it up as he scurried out of the saloon into the bright and dusty street. High noon, just like the penny dreadfuls described.

He stood ten paces from Roy and fidgeted with his belt. They stared at each other.

Bertram watched Roy’s eyes widen slightly and his hand flashed. The gunshot echoed over the crowd gathered to watch.

Bertram strolled over to the bleeding Roy. “That was for my sister, you filthy scum.”

Roy stared at him, befuddlement changing to emptiness as he expired.

Bertram looked around. “Anybody else?”