Flash Fiction

Flash Fiction: Quick Draw

Here’s a bit of the ‘Old West’ for you today. I’ve always wanted to try writing a western! This is my #FridayFlash and Author Aerobics: Layered Conflict exercise.


Quick Draw
by T.S. Bazelli

“Get into the house, Casey.” Elden pushed her daughter through the door. “And stay there! No if’s or but’s. Keep your little brother’s quiet. I’m counting on you, girl.” Elden shut the door behind her, aware of the eyes peeping over the window sill. That kind of curiosity would get those kids killed.

Elden smoothed her apron, and measured her breath, as the three men approached. Their horses kicked a long trail of dust behind them. They were rough men. Beards grown out, sticky with sweat, dirt clinging to sun baked skin, but there was something familiar about the lines of their jaws. One was big and ugly, the other skinny as a pole, and the third, she didn’t know what to make of. She clasped her hands together. They were not soft hands, but hands that worked the land, and could skin a cow with ease.

“Hello, Ma’am. We’re looking for the man of the house.” Big Ugly one took off his hat, and inclined a greasy head of curls. She noticed that his hand rested comfortably near the gleaming gun at his hip. The other two, his brothers, she presumed, scanned the farmstead. She hoped her eldest boy, Jack, was still out in the fields, and that he had the sense to stay away.

“I’m sorry but you’ve missed him. My husband’s been dead and gone three years. Buried right over there.” She pointed a finger at a cairn of stones marked by a cross. Cheerful yellow flowers were strewn over it, plucked by her little Casey.

“Can’t be.” The leanest of the three eyed her. “Heard he murdered our old Pap in the spring.”

“You’re right, that’s impossible. You must have heard wrong.” Elden inclined her head. “Sorry you wasted…”

There was the sound of footsteps on dirt. Quick steps. Stupid boy, she thought, her throat choking up.

“Get away from my ma!” Jack shouted, his voice rose and fell awkwardly, still changing. He was carrying his Pap’s old rifle, spectacles askew on his nose.

“Shit.” Elden muttered under her breath, then prayed to God to forgive her the profanity, the old habit, as Jack ran up to them.

“I bet you’re the one we’re looking for, kid.” Big Ugly set his hat back on top of his head.

“He’s only thirteen.” Elden gripped Jack’s wrist and shoved him behind her. “How’d your pap die? A rifle shot, wasn’t it? A long ways off? Never saw the shooter? This kid can’t see more than five meters.” She felt Jack squirming, knew he wanted to protest, but she held him firm. “I’m the one you’re looking for gentlemen.”

There was laughter all around. Jack was grew still.

“Pass me the rifle, boy.”

Elden felt the weight of it in her hands. “See that sign post down the road?” She raised the rifle to her shoulder. It was loaded. Good boy, she thought. She squeezed the trigger. A chunk of old brittle wood fell to the ground. The laughter died away.

“Go back to the house boy.”

“But Ma.”

“Go!” Bless his heart, she thought as Jack ran. He’d have to take care of his siblings if anything happened to her.

“So how’re we going to do this?” Elden lowered the rifle, noticing that all three brothers were fingering their guns.

“God above, I can’t murder a woman.” Skinny lifted his hands up to the sky. “Let’s go Randall. Give it up. Her husband’s dead. She’d got kids to feed.”

“Woman or not, she’s a killer.” Quiet replied. Those were his first words of the evening. She hadn’t known what to make of him until then. He was smarter than he looked, she’d have to give him that. The door on the farmstead shut loudly.

“I don’t want my kids to see.” She addressed them all. “Down the road?”

They walked in silence over the rise of a hill until the farm was out of sight. She let her shoulders fall back, set the rifle on the ground and fished a revolver from her pocket. It’s weight was heavy and familiar. It gleamed in the sunlight, as clouds flitted by. She could smell the promise of rain in the air. Not a bad day to die.

“Who’s it going to be?”

“Me.” Big ugly, Randall, swung down off his horse. Quiet and Skinny looked on. “100 paces.”

Elden stepped back. Watching the big man. He was just doing his familial duty, just as she was doing hers. His old pap had been stealing her cattle, slowly starving out her family. Either way, it wouldn’t work out well.

The sun broke through the clouds, and the land was bright and green, so full of promise. She waited. Gun at her side. She held her children in her mind’s eye as she watched Big Ugly’s hands twitch.

Shadows filled the world, as the sun was blotted out by a cloud racing past it. In the darkness, she she raised her gun, but it felt too slow. She squeezed. Two shots rang out, or one, she wasn’t sure. Pain flare through her shoulder. She dropped to her knees, but it wasn’t enough to kill her, she saw the graze against her arm. Big Ugly lay flat out, crumpled, stone cold dead with a bullet through the head. A small mercy. He hadn’t suffered.

“You satisfied? You had enough of revenge?” She waved the barrel of the gun, and tossed it to the ground as she got up onto her feet.

“I think we’ve had enough killing.” Skinny replied. There were no tears in his eyes. She’d expected none. These were hard people all around. He looked at Quiet.

“Who are you ma’am? If I might ask?” He tipped his hat. She’d seen that look on a man’s face before. Maybe once. That man was now dead and buried under a cairn of stone strewn with yellow flowers.

Elden smiled. “Come on, if you want to wash up, I’ll fix you boys some supper. We can bury your brother afterward. The dead ain’t never in a rush.”

36 Comments

  1. When I was in high school, I had a friend who made a deal with me: I would read a western and he’d read a fantasy. I don’t remember what he read, but I read a Louis L’Amour book. Honestly, I didn’t enjoy it over much, and I’ve never read a western since.

    But this was good. I could do westerns like this in bite-size chunks, I think.

      1. It’s basically a lot of this: cattle rustling, getting revenge, frontier justice, and so on. That’s all fine and good, but outside of Old Yeller and a few others of that sort, they mostly aren’t enough to float my boat very long.

  2. Hmm… No twist here, which I’m used to from you. I liked the idea — a woman caring for her family, a woman who’s a good shot — but there wasn’t any tension, for me…

    You painted the details really well, though. I could picture this scene perfectly!

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      Thanks for the feedback! Usually I get it the other way round (details go out the window). It was interesting to try and write. In the end, I’m not much of a western fan I guess! Hmm you know though maybe if I added in some aliens, or ghosts… I wonder…

  3. Well, seemed like a lot of tension to me: her family’s being threatened, she’s been challenged to a duel and might leave her children orphans.

    I really enjoyed this story, Tessa. And I actually like (to watch) a good Western now and then. It had a bit of Cold Mountain flavor to me– the strong woman who takes a stand.

    Well done, very good story.

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      Thanks Gracie 🙂 I suppose the issue might be that Elden is a hard woman, and not outwardly sentimental, or emotional. I wanted to make her a tough woman. I’m glad her strength came through.

  4. Very nicely done with the layered conflict. You got both her conflict with protecting her family and managing the world she lives in; i.e. has to stand up for herself. But, you also layered in multiple layers in the antagonists and that is what makes this story really powerful for me. I also liked the way you handled the big cast of characters. It flows well and I see a difference in each one of them.

    Minor, minor item was the fishing a revolver from her pocket was hard for me to visualize. I imagined a fairly large size revolver.

    NOTE: this reminded me of the section in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, where he discusses family feuds between two Kentucky families. You capture this item well.

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      I know I usually have a problem with clearly define multiple characters so I attempted this time to distinguish each one this time. I also imagined huge old skirts would have big pockets LOL but maybe it’s not so. Maybe she should just have a gun and holster all the while?

      I’ve never read Outliers. Hmm! Thanks Aidan!

      1. I haven’t worn many skirts (with or without pockets), but I have worn Irish Lenyas (not correct Gaelic spelling; but my Google foo is not working this morning; so I’m spelling the way it sounds) with huge sleeves that can be used like pockets. I wouldn’t want a heavy gun floating around in them. Gun in holster works fine for me. However, this was a minor quibble; and I thought you would be amused by this reply.

      2. T.S. Bazelli Author

        Those are some mighty big sleeves! A lamb might be a little snug, but I imagine kittens would be happy to snuggle in. Thanks for the link! I tried googling a Lenyas (spelling above) but couldn’t find it.

  5. Wow, that was something!

    I liked the way the woman defended the whole family, and herself. The descriptions of the “rough” men was clean enough to be enjoyable. I’ve always wanted to write stories based in the western settings–maybe sometime soon. Nice work indeed!

    -BrownEyed

  6. I grew up watching westerns with my dad & brothers – John Wayne & Clint Eastwood mostly. You did a fantastic job. I was pulled in from the opening. Your descriptions were wonderful and the character’s voice felt authentic. Very nicely done!

  7. Ohh, good one! I love the strong woman character, and how they’ve put all behind once the duel was over. Seems she has a new husband to help out with the fields. And no more robbery, heh.

  8. Damn. Lot of western hating going on here. I also grew up watching westerns with my grampa. Maybe it’s an acquired taste. I will agree that westerns can suck like nothing else when done badly. I thought your story was pretty good. I love that you turned the gunslinger convention on end and made a strong female character. Her pragmatism was believable and despite her hardness, she was still likable.

  9. I loved the description, atmosphere, and characters in this. But I had a hard time coming to terms with the end — I can’t see the remaining brothers being so nonchalant at the death of their sibling. Honor bound perhaps not to carry on the vendetta, but I can’t see them all heading back to her place for some victuals. I did love that last line though. Terrific close.
    ~jon

    1. I’m not sure if they would come back with her or not, but I thought Elden might want to offer them that choice… to show there’s no hard feelings and that she wants the feud to end. Maybe I wasn’t completely successful with that bit. Thanks for the feedback Jon!

  10. Lua

    She definitely is a character! I was pretty sure she was going to die and she was a murdered, so I thought, ‘well, she deserved it’ but then towards the end I found myself thinking, ‘oh no, oh no please don’t let her die’ and I took a deep breath when she didn’t…
    Then I exhaled it, “wait- did she just invited those guys for dinner?” 🙂 I really liked it Tessa, great story! You sure know how to surprise your reader.

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