This story is by Justin Zoller and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Life is difficult in this trash cottage. No bathroom, just one meager room to shit, eat, and sleep. Bed sheets are stained from the last hillbilly to claim rest here. These woods are full of transient squatters. Most of ’em are too cross-eyed and liquored up on moonshine to be any sort of a problem. Still, I wouldn’t let my horse sleep in a hole this dirty, which says a lot as old Agadir often sleeps standing in her own shit. I’ll sleep on the floor and eat bark from a tree before sleepin’ on that bed or cookin’ on that stove.
I have always considered this world too harsh and too violent. The “smart ones” have always said that in order to stay alive you’ve gotta be persistently brutal, as in, never be the nicest guy in the room. I have a hard time wrapping my head around that idea. Pay some kindness and stay in your lane, I say. That should be plenty to let one pass through this world and still make his mark. I’ve always kept my opinions reserved for old Agadir. She listens better than any person could and always keeps her judgements reserved. I’ve had her since she was four weeks young. She doesn’t know another person, much less trust one. Hell, she still kicks at anyone approaching her that ain’t me. The loyal darling. It makes this rats’ nest of a cottage I’ve chosen to hold up in feel all that much dirtier with old Agadir hiding outside.
But this ain’t a vacation. This is a place to hang my head and hide my face. Can’t be too proud though, I suppose. These clothes on my back were garbage when I put ’em on clean. Now they’re covered in sweat, mud, and mostly my blood.
Where’s a cigarette when you need one?
There. A calming smoke By the busted lamp where I barged in. Must have dropped out of my ear when I checked into the cottage of the damned. I begin to shift from east to west on these broken buttocks to reclaim my smoke. Before I’m fully up, I’m startled by a noise that’s foreign even to this garbage shack.
Two sets of them.
One set strafes the other in some kind of cover move. They are here in their attempt at quietness clearly to kill, not to bring welcome baskets. There are two things worth getting shot over in this world: a damn good woman and a goddamn cigarette. But I’ve already been shot once today. Maybe I’ll wait on a smoke ’til I put these guys in a hole.
I stow myself along side a broken nightstand adjacent the front door. As they kick it in, bullets rain all over an already disheveled cottage. When they take their steps in, I choose my first shot into the gunslinger’s ear, coursing through his thoughts and leaving his seventh grade piano lessons spread over the wall behind him. The second cowboy takes one through the thigh, then another through the palm of his shooting hand, rendering his six-shooter flat and safe on the broken hardwood floor. He’s down but not out.
He moans expected moans and begs expected begs. I hear it all but listen to none of it. Then my eyes sharpen in a watery haze, and I can see Agadir outside by the nearest pine tree, permanently asleep in a pool of her own blood. Her legs are still kickin’ at strangers. Lookin’ for me. Not finding me.
These sorry excuses for men killed the only thing on this godless frontier that I still love.
It is at this moment that my emotions skip over sad and into pure indignation and rage. I’ll wait for the remnants of this degenerate posse to come for the clean up. I’ll turn this bedraggled shack into a fortress and a gauntlet. Those heathens will have to walk the gambit I’ve made for them into this danger cottage just to see my face for a half second before I remove them from existence.
I take cowboy number two, who is still vocally in pain, and stuff him half-way out the front door, but not before removing his tongue. He’ll have to apologize to me in another life. His screams hopefully will send his gang running over, and his slippery tongue will not get the chance to betray me, as it sits in the corner in permanent time out.
Next, I tuck brainless cowboy number one underneath the bed with just the spurs of his boots hanging out. This should draw the attention of whichever posse member is first in the door. I assume they’ll come two at a time since thats what they did the first time, and because they are cowards. I use the broken floor boards by the back door nearest the kitchen area to create an indoor pitfall. Jagged pieces of wood in a hollowed pit won’t feel good to any man, especially one so focused on his gun and not his next step. The bed sheet is covered with more bodily fluids than dirt or mud, and I used it to cover the pitfall from sight. It blends into the grim cottage floor nicely.
Before I can get myself half hidden in the wardrobe closet beside the bed, the back door breaks open and the familiar sound of a bullet storm is upon me again. I count eight shots fired. Most of them come from outside through the windows. But at least two come from the back door. All I remember of the back door bandit is a mustache bigger than his revolver before he fell into the crudely made pit I designed just for him. Two plank spikes render him useless: one through his knee with no clear exit and one through the palm of his hand. The palm of the hand appears to be my M.O. He is incapacitated, but not useless, as his screams are distracting and disrupting all other noises. Time for me to move positions. It’s not until this moment I realize that one of his two shots is in my abdomen, and is not very comfortable. My right step forward doesn’t go as planned as I fall to knees and elbows. Bad timing. I see four men through the window, huddle-hustling towards the front door. So much for two at a time. Still cowards. As they breach the door, I get two rounds off into two different left ankles.
They scream and cry as this is the most painful of places to be shot. Their coward friends unload their six-shooters at me from behind the open door. Half of them miss me altogether, but enough of them are on target to bring me fully to the floor and this closer to Agadir. A calm and cold fade to black is as cliche as hollywood drivel. This was expected. This was necessary. No one will remember me. You have to know someone before you can start forgetting them. This world has no room for the nice ones. I’ll have to be a real piece of shit on the next go around.
As the transition finishes and black is permanent, I wait for a reload. At this moment I hear mom from downstairs yelling something to effect of ‘I hope you aren’t playing that damn cowboy game again,’ and ‘you’re gonna be late for school.’ There is usually a half innocent curse word in their somewhere. She never thinks I’ll notice. I suppose it conveys a sense of anger and urgency. Maybe to some kids. As the XBOX starts to reload, I take this moment to turn off the game and call it a day to appease mother. I hear her yell from downstairs again. I suppose the stairs are too long a gambit to traverse. This time her call is to the sound of, ‘come eat your damn oatmeal.’
Doesn’t she know oats are for horses not ten year old men Silly woman. Stay in your lane.