The Ones: The Gun’s Fear by Paul Hamilton
The Ones is a writing blog game in which participants receive a story title, a little wrinkle to up the challenge factor and then must create a single draft story in no more than one hour from the prompt. They then trade stories and post someone else’s entry on their website. My guest is Paul Hamilton.
The Gun’s Fear by Paul Hamilton
The smoke circles like a dog looking for a place to sleep. Uriah Gett is not a smoker, but he draws on the cigarette to feel something. It’s the reason he’s discarded sixteen years of sobriety in favor of the four empty shot glasses on the table in front of him.
“One more, sugar?” Gina asks, leaning over so he can see down the front of her dress, if he were so inclined. He looks into her eyes instead.
“No. Thank you.”
Gina looks him over. He’s handsome for his age, not too grey. He’s neither clean-shaven nor bearded, somehow existing in a half-state with a perpetual three-day scruff. His eyes are too still, as if glancing were a physical impossibility. Uriah is all stares. He reeks of loneliness.
“Why don’t you go upstairs?” Gina asks.
“No. Thank you.” He stamps out his cigarette in a clay ashtray.
“Then why don’t you come back to my place. Marv will let me off early.”
Uriah looks at the bartender, a moist, hunchbacked man living with a perpetual shrug. “No. Thank you,” Uriah says. Gina is hurt by this. She never offers to take customers home. Most of her shift is spent insisting she would never take a customer home.
“Fine,” she sniffs, “but if you ain’t drinkin’, you can’t stay.”
Uriah nods, spinning the empty glass in front of him with his thumb and forefinger. He wouldn’t mind going home with Gina, but he’d be poor company. A sour notion makes him wonder if he’s ever been pleasant company. Gina hovers over him, her way of following up on her threat. Possibly it’s her way of silently persuading him to change his mind and accept the offer. Uriah isn’t the only one who’s lonely.
He stands and rests a powerful hand on her shoulder, though he doesn’t look at her. By the gesture he means this: sorry, ma’am, any other night. Gina interprets the gesture like this: you’ve lost your touch, but I appreciate the gesture. They move to separate sides of the saloon, each feeling worse than before.
At the bar, Uriah tilts his head at Marv.
“Settling up, Ry?” Marv’s voice is nasal and unpleasant, like the rest of him.
“Why don’t we call it on the house?”
“Because you never carried a tab, even when you were regular,” Marv says. There is a touch of bitterness to his words, because Uriah’s decision to go sober cost Marv a valuable cash-paying customer.
“Don’t need to start now,” Uriah replies, staring at himself in the mirror behind the rows of hooch.
“Look, you’ve had a bad day.”
Uriah smiles, and Marv shudders. He can’t recall ever seeing the old gunman smile before, and he doesn’t wish to see it ever again.
“…Uh, a real bad day.” The bartender tries to find something to busy his hands with. He fails. “So I figure it’s on the house.”
Uriah stops smiling. “You think I’ll be back tomorrow, don’t you?”
“Sure I do, partner,” Marv’s voice is soft. He feels like crying, but doesn’t show it.
Uriah nods. “I won’t. If I don’t pay now, you won’t get paid.”
“It’s just a gesture, Ry. Try not to make everything a funeral march.”
Uriah stares into Marv’s eyes for a long time. “That’s funny.”
“It wasn’t meant to be.”
Uriah pulls a wad of cash from his pocket, the motion making the leather holsters creak, and sets it on the bar. “Tell you what. You hold this for me. If I’m still alive tomorrow, I’ll come back for this and thank you for the kindness.
“Otherwise, keep it. I won’t need it anyhow.”
Marv has never thought of Uriah or any other customer as a friend. “Whatever you say, pal.” Both men are relieved.
* * * * *
Uriah Gett doesn’t sleep. Instead, he walks. He tries not to think about things, but things come up. Most are memories. He remembers Sandy, knocking little Patty to the ground with the force of her exertion, tossing lanterns and pans and dishes and crabapples—anything she could find on the porch—while he mounted his horse. He remembers Patty’s wail.
He remembers vomiting and sweating and lying in a trembling, naked ball on the floor of a flophouse as he came off the liquor. He remembers Trent laying cool, wet cloths over his fevered forehead.
He tries not to remember a grown-up Patty spitting in his face, the fire in her eyes so much like Sandy it made his back ache. He tries not to remember Trent’s head opening up when the bullet hit.
As he walks, Uriah tests his shoulder. It’s very stiff, even with the hot whir of drunkeness loosening his joints. He’ll die because of the shoulder. Kane killed him already, the day Trent died. He just didn’t have the common courtesy to do it all at once.
This has been the slowest death.
* * * * *
Uriah is sick. If there were anyone to talk to, he’d blame the hangover. Since there is nobody, he grimaces and acknowledges that he doesn’t want to die at last. He never wanted any of it.
The hat doesn’t fit, because the ring of sweat at his brow makes it slip down, warps it out of shape. It’s not sunny outside anyway. Maybe it will snow.
“Uriah! Gett!” Kane makes the last name a command. Uriah steps out of the livery, his guts watery. Gina leans out of the saloon window, her face is split by a worry wrinkle reaching for her chin. He should have gone home with her. The gun’s fear is worse than his own.
“You’re late,” Kane says. He’s still on his horse.
“I’ve been here all night,” Uriah says, low enough that Kane can’t possibly hear.
“Forget it,” Uriah hollers.
Kane dismounts and walks toward Uriah. Hands remain low, orbiting pistol grips. Gina decides she’s seen enough men die and pulls away from the window.
When Kane is close enough to shoot, he sighs. “You’re going to die today,” he says. He sounds sad.
“Why are you here, then?”
“You know why.”
“No, I don’t mean that. I mean why are you here? In this town? This county?” He implores Uriah with a frightening intensity. “This life?”
“God,” Uriah says after a moment. “I guess.”
Kane holds Uriah’s steady stare for a long time. He nods. “So the man says.”
“So he does.”
“I’m faster than you,” Kane remarks.
“I can let you go.”
“I won’t go.”
Kane nods. “Okay then.”
“Might as well,” Uriah says.
Kane reaches out a hand. Uriah extends his good left arm, as if to awkwardly shake with the back of his hand leading, fingers pointing down. Kane hesitates, unsure if he should switch to shake with his left, or grasp the extended fingers as he might to kiss the hand of a lady.
Uriah’s right arm comes up, a bit lazily. The gun is in it, trembling. Uriah’s shoulder screams. The smoke chokes them both and they stare at each other.
“Thank you,” Kane says.
“No,” Uriah replies, “thank you.”
Paul Hamilton lives and works in the Silicon Valley with his wife and daughter. He writes stories about broken people and repairing worlds. When not writing, he reads or draws or rides roller coasters. He considers the word “omnibus” beautiful and never passes up a chance to try new foods.