Day 121: The Secret of the Duel

My first duel was the scariest. Gerold McDonald said I’d insulted him when I ordered him to leave Miss Harper alone. I knew something was wrong as soon as I stepped out of the hotel. The town was dead quiet, and there was old Gerold standing in the middle of the street, all alone, giving me the stink eye.

My scalp grew tight for tanning as I walked to the middle of the street whispering a Hail Mary and an Act of Contrition. I’d seen Gerold shoot dozens of times, shooting up bottles for sport, or taking a rabbit for stew, and every characteristic of his method turned through my head. He sometimes pulled right, but was usually dead on at twenty feet. I measured about twenty five between us when I stopped. These thoughts simmered in the fat of mortality because I thought I was going to see my end, my blood and bone twitching at every joint to stay alive.

I took my position, poised ready to draw. “Hello, Gerold.”

He spat.

“It doesn’t have to be like this,” I said. If I could just talk him down I’d avoid the Great Reaper.

“It’s always like this,” he said.

How many times had he done this? He’d been tried. I had never. Hesitation filled me like grain in a sack. “You never like to try something new?”

“Nope.”

The finality in his tone rang like a mallet on a railroad spike. It was then that fear turned to acceptance, and I was ready to meet the Maker. If it was time to die, it was time to die. That was the trick. Like a seem bursting in the grain bag, hesitation poured out of me, and I was ready to pull.

I don’t know if Gerold saw the change, but it was right then that he went for his Colt. I shot him in the chest before he leveled his gun, and he dropped, not even getting off a shot.

I stood there a bit while townfolk trickled out. You’ll never know such a commingling of disbelief, regret, reverence, and joy as that first kill. It felt good to be alive, but you only need to learn how to face death once. Every other time is a visit from an old friend.

I’d swear sometimes it saves a man. Seumas Thompson wanted to bring me to ruin and confronted me in Avoca. He wasn’t a horrible man, just spilling over with pride and hanging with a rotten pack. Putting me down would give him some well-needed stock in the gang.

As soon as I saw him waiting, I took on death like a winter mantle, saying my Act while striding toward him ready to die. I swear he must have seen the Reaper, cause he got this look, probably how I looked the first time. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t see fear in his countenance, but his eyes measured everything about our encounter.

“Good afternoon, Sheriff,” he said. Tipped his hat and went into the saloon.

Facing Archie Scott was just part of the job, a thief and an agitator, wanted for trial in Grand Island. I didn’t figure him to come easy, so I said my prayers as always and shook hands with the Grim One.

“Let’s do this right,” I said. “Shouldn’t be too arduous riding this rap.”

“Not me.” He grinned. He had the straightest teeth I’d ever seen. “I decide my own rap.”

“Too bad,” I said.

He pulled, and pain ripped through my chest. My Schofield fell to the ground.

I said one more Act of Contrition as perfectly as I could. See what I mean?

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