Jeb Trahan slips his seventh card into his hand, fills his spade flush. Heated betting has taken out three cowboys. Now only Tag Donnelly, bully and bushwhacker, faces him.
“First, I’ll take his bankroll,” Trahan muses. “Then end his malignant life. For Medah. And all peaceful citizens in the territory.” He has high confidence from his long years of Army frontier patrols, and barracks gambling.
“Bet five.” Donnelly’s coin skitters over the table’s felt cloth.
“And… raise five,” Trahan responds. But how? A quick bullet to the head? Or slow and lingering hurt, stake him out in the desert sun?
Donnelly meets the raise. “Soldier boy’s bluffing.” Malicious grin. “Kin always see it in their eyes.”
Trahan hesitates. The blood stain on the floor beside him diverts his attention. Double armed, purplish, ingrained in the ash wood floorboards, the spatter mystifies onlookers. Some times it shows crusty or gauzy; other times iridescent under kerosene lighting. Irish Kate, abovestairs madam, swears one arm will indicate the gentle cowboys, where her girls can feel safe. Defrocked Reverend says it’s an omen of divine retribution. “Ain’t nobody can know its methods.”
Trahan knows the stain as a hard reminder of his present business: the blood of Medah. Mescalero Apache. Spirit walker, Army scout. His friend. Back-shot by the coward, Donnelly, and bled out here with noone to help him. Now to receive justice for his wandering soul.
A slow hanging from the oak tree near his shebang at the edge of town, Trahan decides. At home. Where he can keep eternal company with the monsters of his night dreams.
He spreads his winning hand.
Donnelly leans over his chair arm to spit. “Lotsa time ‘fore you leave – beat up or broke. I ain’t ‘customed to losing.”
Donnelly stiffens as the blotch shifts and sparks. A thick mist rises, binds his gun hand like a copper cable. Ropey tendrils enwrap his mouth and face. With a muffled scream he lurches onto the table, dead eyes staring.
Trahan eases the mounded winnings toward the saloon’s owner. “Fit in new flooring. I’ll carry the medicine board to Medah’s tribal hunting grounds for burial.”
The author’s flash has appeared in fiftywordstories, Molecule, Wellington Street Review; and longer fiction elsewhere. For relaxation he blows Beatles and blues on his Hohner harmonica.