First Page: Elegy in Seven Parts (New Adult/Lit Fic)
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Children lean past the railings to glimpse the outlaws stampede down the street. On the opposite end of the wide, clay-orange thoroughfare stands Deputy Gibbs, his hand hovering over his Colt Peace Maker. His white hat’s brim covers his eyes as he stares mutely at his boots. Here come Smokey Sampson and his Band of Ruffians™, led by Smokey himself. He’s a grizzled horse-thief and stage-coach robber who in recent years upgraded to murder. Wanted in seventeen counties across the mythical West, Smokey arrives now in West Town where he plans to hide away his latest bounty while getting lousy-drunk at the Spittoon Saloon. Behind Smokey ride the Ruffians: Rattlesnake Jack, Kyle the Kid, and Bloody Ben, on all-black horses wearing black bandanas wrapped around their faces. Behind Gibbs, Sheriff Townsend paces his horse back and forth across the street. The Sheriff totes a rusted rifle and chews steadily on a cigar.
Poking their heads through the porch slats, children gasp as Smokey rears up his horse and halts. He leaps down from the saddle, his silver spurs rattling, and approaches Gibbs. “See you decided to show your yellow-bellied face. We thought you’d be hiding inside by now.” He speaks broadly, gesturing to the crowd crabbed onto West Town porches.
Gibbs nods and says, “We gonna have a gunfight or not?”
Usually, they might banter for a minute or two before getting down to business, but Gibbs just drank half a liter of rye-whiskey. Every day—three times a day at noon, five pm, and nightfall, Gibbs and Smokey face off, take ten paces away from each other, turn around, and shoot. Blam, blam, fake smolder rising from the barrels. Smokey turns first—that devil—and then Gibbs, quick as a whitetail, twists and shoots. West Town smells like barbecued catfish as plumes of manufactured smoke obstruct the crowd’s vision. Coughing, hacking, the children waving at their faces. Then Smokey lying dead in the dust. His outlaws book out of town. The audience cheers.
I sit on a barrel next to Rory, peering over tourists’ heads. Grit my teeth. Whoops erupt from the horizon, followed by thunder of hooves. Six shirtless Mexican men ride uneasy on brown horses, their chests slathered with white and red paint, their headdresses flopping ridiculously as blue and yellow feathers fall loose behind. In their best impression of Pocahontas’ father, they charge into West Town toward Deputy Gibbs. Townsend levels his rifle at the men, blam, blam, blam, and the savages fall dead from their horses.
One Appalachian Injun™ survives and leaps off his horse. Tucking his head down, he tramples clumsily toward Townsend and Gibbs. He’s Chief Watchapoo™ who killed the latest rangers in the north plains, but he looks more like Juan—my friend—with an emaciated frame, bleary eyes that see nothing clear without glasses, and incredibly advanced writing skills. At our community college, he’s the top of the class, but here he attempts a stuttered war cry that betrays his fear. As he rises his tomahawk to Gibbs, the deputy swings a fist. Wap, right in the jaw comes that good-ole cowboy justice. Down goes Juan. The audience rises to their feet, their voices raucous with the joy of victory, a win in which they too are implicated. Again, for the second time that day, the frontier cowboys killed the outlaws and savages.
Applause sounds like the thud of corpses as they drop into a mass grave.