Fiction: “Aftermath”

The dust had settled long ago on the main street when she begins to crawl. Ma would be ashamed to see the grit and drool on her lips and chin, but Ma lies dead next to her, and it is an effort to crawl, such an effort. She doesn’t want to crawl, but she can hear the robbers preparing to leave, and she doesn’t want them to see the gun.

The robbers are not galloping out of town like they did when they arrived. All is heartless silence now. They tie money bags to their saddlebags and reload their guns. Her vision blurs and she loses count of them. What comes to her are impressions of colors, slants of physical objects, the purple and orange sky melting above her. Bodies in the dust, an overturned water trough, splintered wood from busted doors, the robbers’ horses dyed copper and gold in bitter light. The flippant swishes of their tails burns her up more than the black hole in her body. When they’d blazed by and the pain first hit, she looked down at that hole before she fell, how red and shattered its bloom on her stomach. All she could think of beyond the tang was her lovely Sunday dress, made special by Ma with the lace from Aunt Sally, now desecrated, sure to send God into hysterics. She couldn’t cross that holy threshold dyed in sin. Ma would be ashamed. Pa perhaps would have understood.

She blinks tears away. They’re mounted now, and she stops crawling. She prays for her pain and blood to be still.

They ride by her, caught in their aftermath of greed and abating adrenaline. Not one of them looks down at her or the gun. She is only a corpse, not worth stripping for valuables, not worth fucking. It is only a gun, and they have more than enough of those.

Five seconds of clopping hooves pass before she moves again. More drool and dirt swathes her face. The gun is a dead scorpion in the dust, black and poisonous to look at. She stretches until muscles scream and tendons give, and that hole bleeds and blackens. It is an effort, such an effort. She finally makes contact and drags the gun towards her.

She’s never shot a gun before, though she’s seen Pa shoot many times. Pa always said they were the works of men, and should stay in the hands of men; that only dry men with dry hearts would kill innocents with guns. But Pa went to the saloon, and that was where the shooting began, so he was probably dead too. No more flickering candlelight wisdom from him.

Darkness deepens, a hazy moon ascending. The robbers ride by the town’s sole withered tree gnarling at the sky like a prisoner. They don’t look back. Soon they’ll almost be out of range. She could at least get one shot off. With trembling hands and that black hole whirling in her center, she steadies the gun and aims it at the retreating men. Take part, take aim, and stay true.

Would God guide her? Or were guns outside God’s domain?

The hole chews and chews.

Was she a dry girl with a dry heart?

She pulls the trigger, and the black hole swallows itself.

© Cat and Moth Writings
All Rights Reserved

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