Honourable mention in the 6th Annual Geist Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest.
“There’s no way Jesus could have been born in December,” says Wally.
Five of us stand in a circle without making eye contact. Around us the desert grows, covers the playground, dust swirling over our shoes.
“It would have been too cold.”
Someone clears their throat but doesn’t speak. We’ve been over this before: the kid’s a Jehovah’s Witness—doesn’t get Christmas or birthday presents, poor sucker.
“Say we’re cowboys,” says Garret.
It’s not a perfect transition but Wally doesn’t seem to mind, and all at once we’re surrounded.
“Damn it Wally,” says Andy. “You distracted us again.”
Bullets start to fly and there’s no cover. Carson panics and shoots his horse, ducking behind the fallen animal to reload.
“Wait a second,” says Andy. “Garret’s crying again.”
“You can’t kill your horse,” he says, wiping his eyes.
“Actually, it’s quite accurate,” says Wally. “In fact, at Little Bighorn—”
“Say that Wally gets shot up real bad,” Andy interrupts.
Wally falls to the ground.
“And, and say we have to drape him over his horse and beat a hasty retreat,” adds Garret.
Carson and I share a horse and ride like the hounds of hell are on our heals, bullets zipping like dragonflies over our shoulders. The five of us make it to the chain-link backstop in the corner of the playground, and we sit to catch our breath.
“Everyone okay?” I ask, looking from face to face.
“Well, it’s a stomach wound,” says Wally, “which means that I could live for days.”
“Andy and Carson,” I say, “you better head those desperados off at the pass. If they find us here before the bell rings it’s curtains.”
Carson and Andy ride off into the high-noon heat waves.
Wally lies on the ground with one knee up. This is the correct protocol. One knee up means badly wounded but alive.
“I don’t understand what the big deal is,” says Wally to Garret. “It’s just an animal.”
“Horses aren’t just animals,” says Garret, pausing as his logic stumbles into the dust.
I lean over Wally and check his wounds, pretend not to notice that Garret’s crying beside us.
Sure, the kid’s got issues, but he’s a good cowboy, and reliable in a gunfight. Wally wants to keep talking but I tell him to hush up.
“It’s just what I was afraid of,” I say to Garret, whistling and shaking my head.
“He’s sufferin’ real bad. Don’t know if I can bear to watch it.”
“So, so whatcha gonna do?” asks Garret.
Wally looks up at us through glazed eyes and coughs blood. “Tell Maria,” he says, and then stops to wince.
“I’ll tell her Wally, I’ll tell her.”
I draw my index finger and slip six golden bullets into the chambers, cock the gun and point the barrel at Wally’s forehead.
Next to me, Garret swallows hard, wipes the tears off his cheeks, and murmurs, “Jesus.”