A Stranger Come By

This short was written based on a first sentence prompt. I received the prompt shortly after having finished Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, so I had the West on my mind.

A Stranger Come By

A jarring chord from the piano rang out through the bar as all eyes turned to the stranger who had just crossed the threshold. Lester de Montaigne dropped his thick glass, spilling his whiskey on his lap. Carson, Big Lou, and William McCormack all set their cards down on the table, the pot forgotten. Sweet Dolly untangled her flabby arms from around Danny’s neck, and then scurried behind the piano. Danny didn’t notice–he slid lower into his chair and made himself small. And Jacob Smith and Robby Nyquist, both as drunk as the day was long, well, even they shut their gobs.

Soon the only sound was the creak of the batwing doors swinging open and closed, and then the groan of the floor boards as the stranger took another step in. His spurs jingled in the dusty air.

“Not one more step!” cried Andrew Grainger from behind the bar. His striped white shirt was stained yellow with sweat, his suspenders hung slack, and his tiny round spectacles were sliding down his pinched nose. But he didn’t fix them, for both his hands were occupied by his shotgun.

The stranger’s eyes turned to the barkeep–just his eyes, for he was perfectly still otherwise. Andrew’s hands were shaking, and sweat matted his bald-on-top head. The stranger smiled, just in the corner of his mouth, and Andrew gulped.

The stranger took another step, this time turning toward the bar.

“N-not one more–please!” whined Andrew. His shotgun was trembling so hard it was God’s guess what he’d hit with it. The stranger took another step.

“We don’t want no trouble, mister,” said Carson. He ran the back of his left hand over the bristles of his greying beard, and slipped his right hand under the table to his holster. But he saw the stranger was armed too. When he walked, his duster swayed and revealed the two giant six-shooters belted to his hips.

“Ain’t here for trouble,” the stranger said, never taking his eyes off the barkeep. His voice was low and hoarse. “Least, not yet.” He put his hand on the trembling shotgun muzzle and then slowly pushed it away. “Whiskey.”

Andrew rolled his eyes, but he obeyed. He set the shotgun down on the counter and then poured a glass. His trembling hands got as much into the glass as on the counter.

Carson watched, and when his eyes darted left, he saw Big Lou watching too. His fingers were resting on his own pistol. Neither of the guns compared to the stranger’s, but they were good enough to punch a hole in a man.

Carson sneered. The stranger. That’s what they called him the first time he had passed through town, not a week ago. A drifter in a faded grey duster and sun bleached hat, with a deep blue bandana hung around his neck. But he was a drifter with a terrible black steed and two pistols that put many a rifle to shame. He didn’t leave a name, though now Carson thought about it, nobody had asked. It weren’t a question that’d get an answer anyway. You could see it in the stranger’s eyes: here was the man that asked the questions, and you better bide your tongue, thank you very much.

The stranger took a drink, but he didn’t sit at the bar. A week ago he had come through, asking after the troubles in Martinsville. A bad lot had rolled through, or so the story went, and a bunch of Godfearing folk had ended up in the dirt and filled with lead. Then this stranger, this drifter, this bandito, he just came along and started asking the kind of questions that’d eventually get a man shot. Some thought he was a vigilante, maybe had a girl up in Martinsville. Others thought he was one of the bandits, looking to meet up with his crew.

Carson knew better, of course. Carson had been at Martinsville, and this man sure as horseshit wasn’t one of theirs. He weren’t no lawman Carson had even seen either. But if he had gone there… well, he wouldn’t have made it back here. Which of course meant he hadn’t gone. Which meant this bothersome drifter was yella.

“You best finish that up,” Carson said, “and maybe just be on your way, eh, amigo?”

“That so?” the stranger asked, still looking at the bar.

“I reckon,” Carson said. He shared a look with Big Lou and William McCormack and all three of them were ready, should it come to shooting. And why wouldn’t it? Carson was getting annoyed with this arrogant loner. Then he heard a creaking above, and he saw Dave Thompkins’ boots at the head of the stairs. There, that made four guns to one.

“Up in Martinsville I ran into Father Wyles,” the stranger said.

Carson paled.

“Bullshit!” Big Lou blurted out, and then Jeb the pianist bolted for the back door. Sweet Dolly followed him.

“He’s dead,” Big Lou continued, spitting the words. Where Carson was pale, Big Lou was getting red in the face. Probably had to do with his drink as much as anything.

“No,” the stranger said. “When William there shot him, he took the Father’s eye out and knocked him out cold. He lived though. Lost some blood and now slurs his speech, but he’s alive.”

“Ha!” William laughed, and Carson couldn’t tell if it was jolly or delirious. “I didn’t never shoot no priest!”

The stranger turned to the poker game, and the three men tensed when he reached into his duster. He didn’t pull out a gun though, but instead a shiny metal star, which he tossed onto the card game. Carson saw it was smeared with blood on one side.

“Sheriff Bateman is–was–of a different opinion,” the stranger said.

Carson, Big Lou, and William McCormack all looked at the star that had belonged to their leader. Then they looked at the stranger, and for a moment time hung as still in the air as the dust.

Then all three men began rising and drawing their guns.

The stranger’s right pistol all but leapt into his hand and then began thundering. He fanned the hammer faster than anything Carson had ever seen, and ever would see again. Carson never made it to his feet, and he was dead before he hit the ground. Big Lou and William quickly followed him, and then Dave Thompkins rolled down the stairs. Four shots, four stiffs.

The rest of the noonday drunks ran out of the bar, and Andrew Grainger screamed. He reached for his shotgun but the stranger’s fifth shot tore the antique apart and knocked the remains to the ground.

“Please!” Andrew whined. “Please! I didn’t do anything!”

The stranger tapped his whiskey glass on the bar. Andrew paled even more, and then once again poured with shaking hands.

“Please,” he whispered.

The stranger took a drink, savouring the mellow taste even though the liquor burned his trail parched throat.

“Men, women, even children,” the stranger said.

Please. I didn’t mean it.”

The sixth shot tore a hole in Andrew’s head, and the barkeep crumpled to the ground.

The stranger holstered his pistol. He looked at his drink, swirling it around the glass, and then he downed the rest in one go. It was a shame as the whiskey really was rather good. He reloaded his six-shooter and left the bar through the batwing doors.