Seven Hundred and Seventy-Six

Seven Hundred and Seventy-Six

by

Phillip McCollum

Image Courtesy of Wikimedia. Please ignore the fact that this is not an entirely accurate representation of the revolver in the story. 😉

The handle of the revolver was the nicest part. That wasn’t saying much. It hung down like the long, bulbous nose of a drunkard. It may have been a smooth chestnut brown at one time, but now it was chipped and cracked, covered in scratches like a rattlesnake that had been on the losing end of a badger fight. Running along the side, between the trigger and the hammer, was what may have once been fine silver plating. Now it was tarnished to match the rusted barrels and cylinder.

Floyd Usher wondered about the last time it had been fired, if ever.

He lifted his eyes from his desk where the pistol lie and blinked at the man seated across from him. “You say you want $776? Nothing more. Nothing less.”

The man shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Well, yessir, I… It’s just…I need a coach to Tombstone and a train ticket out of there.”

Floyd wasn’t sure what to say. Was this some sort of practical joke on the part of the security guards? He noticed Carl standing against the wall near the front door with his arms crossed, one boot pressed against the floor, the other against the wall. His face was expressionless and it was hard to tell what he was looking at under the lowered brim of his hat. He was always funning Floyd, and if this was one of his jokes, Mr. Howard would hear about it once again. If it wasn’t, well, Floyd was glad it was Thursday and Carl was on shift.

The man took a kerchief from his pocket and wiped his dirty, sweat-streaked forehead. It was a warm June day for sure, but the inside of the bank was cool enough.

Floyd knew a little about guns. It was nearly impossible not to when living in a land where the law was thin and enforcement was thinner. But he was still a bank clerk and his weapons were pen and script.

Eyeing the gun again, he realized it wasn’t a modern revolver, like a Colt or anything like that. It was an older flintlock. Something of a relic.

“You don’t need $776 for a ticket,” Floyd said, thinking in the back of his mind that if this gun was all the man had to offer, he wouldn’t get seven cents.

Floyd was half-listening to the man’s stammering reply and, for some reason, decided to pick up the weapon. It felt unusually heavy and uncomfortable in his hands and he put it back down immediately. He lifted his head to see traces of a hopeful smile disappear from the man’s face.

“I’m sorry, Mr…”

A momentary pause.

The man said, “McKay.” He let out a deep breath as if he had been holding it since walking in. “And save it.” He pushed his leather chair back, stood up, and leaned in to Floyd. “Just tell me if you’re gonna give me the $776 or not. I ain’t got time for chewin’ the fat.”

McKay’s breath was putrid, a result of yellowed teeth and dark gums hanging inches from Floyd’s face. Steam piled up on the banker’s circular lenses. He leaned back and removed his glasses. He pulled his own kerchief from a shirt pocket and wiped them vigorously, as if they had contracted a disease.

“Look,” Floyd said, feeling slightly unnerved but still observing a habit of politeness. “I don’t know that this is worth enough for what you need. It appears to be pretty old and has clearly seen better days.” He was being generous. “The manager isn’t going to authorize any loan based on this. You may want to check with Dade down at the general. He could be willing–”

McKay interrupted, “Already did. Why do you think I’m here?” His eyes darted almost aimlessly, like a man caught between decisions. Beneath the wiry, unkempt beard, his flesh wobbled and shook like a bowl of gelatin pudding.

“Everything okay?”

Floyd felt his skin cool. Carl had approached quietly from behind and stood stiff and imposing behind Mr. McKay.

Well played, Carl, Floyd thought. Well played.

Floyd decided he could play along too and said, “Mr. McKay is looking for assistance, but we can’t provide him any.”

“I guess that means his business is done here then?” Though phrased as a question, no answer was expected.

It was in that moment that McKay’s cheeks shook even more and his eyes started welling up. Floyd felt a sudden sense of shame. Maybe the man was serious? He looked toward Carl for a hint of a smile. Something to indicate the jig was up.

If this was a joke, Carl gave no sign.

Floyd’s good Christian sense tugged at his heart, but it was quickly put back in its place as Mr. McKay spread his hands and shoved all of Floyd’s pencils and account books off his desk and onto the floor.

Carl took another step toward Mr. McKay, but the man grabbed his worthless pistol and ran out the door before a hand could be laid upon him.

“Some folks ain’t got a lick of sense, huh?” Carl asked no one in particular as he walked away.

Floyd stared after him, dumbfounded. The idle sounds of the bank seeped into his ears once more, beckoning him back to work. He bent down and picked up his papers.

Darkness greeted Floyd as he locked the door behind him and began the quarter-mile journey toward home. Mr. Howard, the manager, had headed left early to catch a coach to Tucson and entrusted Floyd to wait for Tony, the night guard, before locking up. The problem was the oaf was late, again, and Floyd had waited him out until his stomach started growling. Tony had his own set of keys anyway. Floyd would have yet another conversation with Mr. Howard tomorrow.

Not that J. Howard Bank & Trust saw much action anyway. It was a small fish. It had a tiny safe, miniscule compared to the larger vaults out of the Tucson or Flagstaff banks, and it never held a large reserve of precious metals or cash. For those lucky few who prospected the surrounding desert mountains and actually found something, it was mainly a temporary holding spot, a safer place than loose pockets.

Floyd debated whether or not to go straight home. His nerves were shot after his encounter with the strange man and he didn’t feel like dealing with Jinnie. Something had gotten into her over the past few months. Floyd couldn’t entirely place its cause. He’d tried to dig into it occasionally, but she would button up and tell him he’s imagining things, relentless in her secrecy. She seemed resentful, of leaving Boston and moving to Cordson, this tiny frontier town in Arizona. But some days she would have a smile on her face and would move with such grace, as if her feet were being carted around on tiny rickshaws. Those were the good days. On most of the days, though, Floyd had only come home from the bank because the bed was more comfortable than sleeping on a stiff chair.

We should never have come here, she’d often say. It’s so damn boring.

Floyd cringed whenever she cursed.

He would offer to take her out, but she’d refuse, saying that if she had to step one more time into the Coyote Saloon, she’d seize up and die right on the spot. Several times, he’d gotten so frustrated with her inexplicable mood swings to the point that he began thinking really hard about throwing her out. It was he who owned the deed to the house, after all. But he knew he was too much of a coward to do such a thing. Though they hadn’t touched each other in months, he’d convinced himself that there was still hope.

All of this ran through his mind as he realized he had turned around and was headed toward the Coyote for a sarsaparilla and a meal. Jinnie probably wouldn’t have made him any supper tonight. Besides, it was always entertaining to watch braver men gamble on hands of faro.

If not for the light wind carrying across the main street, Floyd would have lingered in his thoughts, undisturbed by what sounded like deep, heaving sobs.

He halted to determine the source. The cries stopped just as abruptly, but turned into frenzied, whispered shouts.

“I tried!” the voice hissed. “I tried! I just can’t.”

Then the sobbing returned.

Floyd squinted and picked up his hat as if it would help him hear better. It was hard to place the source, but it sounded like it was coming from fifty or so yards across the street, under the moonlit shadows of the stoop outside the livery.

The harsh whispers came again. “Shut up! I won’t do it!”

The violence in the voice made Floyd’s neck hairs come to a salute.

A final, painful cry.

And then a loud bang.

Instinctively, Floyd ducked down behind the picketed, wooden railing on the edge of the boardwalk and held on to the top of his hat.

A puff of white smoke drifted out from the side of the livery. Now he could see a lightly drawn silhouette of a man pressed against the wooden slats of the livery. Shock and a general unsurety of what to do kept Floyd in place.

For just a moment, there was no discernable motion from either Floyd or whoever was across the street. Curious, he started to straighten up.

Another shot and another puff of smoke.

The vibration and splintered piece of boardwalk inches from his right shoe indicated that he was the intended target.

“Nooo,” the voice cried. The silhouette became flesh as it emerged from the shadows and barrelled toward Floyd.

The frightened banker’s legs decided that someone ought to step up, so they took on a life of their own and Floyd was immediately running back towards home. He felt he was moving quickly, but he turned and it seemed the man was moving more quickly. Floyd realized he wouldn’t make it to the house before being overtaken. A quick decision was made to hole up inside the bank. What safer place?

He scrambled breathlessly, his feet pounding the boardwalk, until he reached the bank door and yanked at the handle. It barely budged.

Idiot, he thought.

He fumbled for the keys in his pocket. Mr. Howard had insisted on two separate locks when he had the door installed and now Floyd cursed him for it. A part of him told him to look back, to be aware, but his focus was on stilling his shaky hands,  retrieving the keys and getting inside.

“Mr. Usher.”

The familiar voice was directly behind him now and as he lifted the ring of keys to the bottom lock, they slipped from his fingers onto the wooden boardwalk. Floyd’s stomach dropped.

Am I the only one awake in this town, he asked himself. But of course he knew from experience that if there was trouble, the few residents would rather ignore the situation than get involved.

“Please. Turn around, Mr. Usher. I don’t want to shoot a man in the back.”

McKay’s voice was shaky.

He’s trying to rob me, was Floyd’s first thought. His second thought was that he’d be very disappointed as it was the beginning of the week and most of the bank’s reserves were off with Mr. Howard to those vaults in Tucson.

Finally, after enough thinking, Floyd conjured up the bravery to turn around. The barrel of the rusted flintlock was pointed in his face. From any other viewpoint, it would be a humorous thing to see. A part of him could hardly believe the antique worked at all, but his memory quickly reminded him that he had been shot at once, maybe twice.

Floyd raised his shaking hands. “Please, Mr. McKay–”.

“Shhh…” McKay interrupted. “Do you hear it?”

Floyd nodded his head like a woodpecker.

“Yes, I heard the shots, I–”

“No!” McKay said. Floyd noticed that his voice was choked with emotion and under the half-moon, he could see tear-carved streaks running down the man’s dirty face. He inclined his nose towards the flintlock. “The whispers. The goddamn whispers.” Mr. McKay emphasized goddamn as if he were literally cursing something.

Floyd began to realize that he was dealing with a madman. In the seven months that he and Jinnie had been in this tiny town, they’d heard tales of men found dead in the surrounding granite hills, driven insane by the their lust for gold and silver and their lack of results. Now here was another one, only this time, he didn’t have the decency to die outside of town and he was going to take out Floyd instead.

“Don’t kill me,” Floyd pleaded, “please Mr. McKay. If it’s money you want, I know the combination to the safe.” Floyd would have to hope that whatever was in there would satisfy him.

There was no reason to believe he wouldn’t be killed afterwards, but it was a play for time. Time to think. The only time available right now.

“I told you. I want you to buy this gun for seven hundred-and-seventy-six dollars.”

Floyd stared at him. His lips parted slightly. He was unsure of what to say, so he said nothing.

“Please,” McKay said quietly as if to no one in particular. “Open the doors, get the money, and buy this gun.” Pain was evident in his words.

Floyd mustered a reply, trying to sound braver than he felt, but his voice cracked as well. “Mr. McKay, I’ll open these doors, open the safe, turn the whole place upside down for you. But I’m telling you right now, we don’t have even a quarter of that amount of money right now.”

The madman released a huge laugh mixed with a howl. It echoed across the street and through the tiny alleyways. He shook his head and looked at the ground. “I know, I know,” he said. To Floyd, it looked like he was talking more to the revolver than to him. “Time’s run out,” he finished.

So this was it, Floyd thought. He closed his eyes and clenched his teeth. God, I hope it doesn’t hurt.

“You ain’t gonna tell me what to do no more!” McKay yelled. Floyd was trying to process just what he meant by that when the shot went off and his ears rang to the high heavens. Floyd screamed, or thought he did, and collapsed onto the ground.

He wondered, where had it hit? The chest? His head? He couldn’t feel anything. Only the stiff slats on which he fell upon. He’d never been shot before so he could only guess.

After what felt like an eternity, Floyd peeked through squinted eyes and breathed in deeply. He shot up and ran his hands over his face, his skull, his body. Looking for any indication of slippery blood or something out of place.

Nothing.

Nothing but Mr. McKay lying on the dirt, in the very spot where he had just been standing. His head was lolled to the side like a rag doll, his eyes staring lifelessly at the wall of the bank. Fresh blood covered his matted beard and mangled jaw.

Floyd looked around, bewildered, but something caught his eye. It glinted in the dirt next to McKay’s open hand.

A revolver.

A flintlock revolver.

Clearly it was not the rusted junk that had been in McKay’s hand previously, though it in fact looked like the very same model. Yet this one’s silver was gleaming in the moonlight, looking as if it had just been polished. There were no signs of wear on the varnished, deep brown handle. Floyd crawled over to the dead man, his legs still unable to hold him upright. His eyes remained focused on the gun. It seemed to be pulling Floyd into its ethereal orbit.

He questioned, had this been the one he really shot at me with? It didn’t make sense. Floyd clearly saw McKay holding a worthless relic in his hand before he closed his eyes.

If Floyd Usher ever did anything boldly, it was as a result of his relentless curiosity. He reached out and felt the gun. As his fingers touched the handle, his head darted around and he searched the darkness. He could have swore he heard something, somebody, breathing a deep sigh of relief.

“You killed a man?” she asked. Jinnie’s voice betrayed her incredulity.

Breathless, Floyd attempted to explain. “No, I didn’t. He tried to kill me. McKay. He was…earlier…in the bank…I…I think he killed himself.”

She stood there in thick cotton pajamas, her long red hair tied into a tail running down her back. Heat radiated from the wood stove and filled the room. There were a couple of tin plates on the table, though both were dirty. A twinge of shame pulsed through Floyd. She had made supper after all.

“I don’t have the time nor patience for a wild story. I have dishes to take care of.” She began to pick up the tableware. “You know, most men would be grateful for a hot meal.”

That hurt Floyd. He was still sensitive to one of the reasons they had left Boston. Jinnie had readily admitted her ‘indiscretion,’ even started attending church with Floyd on a regular basis. But phantom pains remained even after their move. He pushed the feeling down.

“Didn’t you hear the shots?” he said, almost pleading. His frustration overtook anything else he was feeling then. “It was down by the bank!”

She said nothing, only moving to wash the dishes in the basin, treating him as if he were a boy again making up wild tales to explain to his mother why he hadn’t slopped the hogs.

Floyd paced back and forth. “I gotta go back,” he said. “McKay’s body is still down there. Maybe I was mistaken. Maybe he’s really okay.” He headed towards the door, not getting very far before Jinnie was grabbing at his arm.

“You need to sit down and think about this,” she said.

A general sense of panic seemed to have overtaken Floyd that wasn’t there before, and he didn’t know why. Tonight had been a culmination of one confusing thing after another. He decided that listening to Jinnie right now might make good sense, so he took a seat.

There was a clunk on the floor.

They both looked down at the same time and saw the pistol.

“What’s that?”

“The gun,” Floyd replied almost as a question. “The one McKay was going to kill me with. I think.” He didn’t remember picking it up, but there it was.

Jinnie squinted at the gun and then looked into Floyd’s eyes, a half-smile on her lips. “You sure he was going to shoot you? I think he’d have a better chance killing you by hitting you over the head with that thing.”

“Huh?” Floyd looked down. “Well, yeah, it’s an older model, but I’m telling you the thing still works.”

Jinnie bent down to pick it up, but quickly dropped it back on the floor. “Damn, it’s heavy.”

Floyd flinched at her swearing.

She said, “Well, assuming it wouldn’t blow up in your hands, I don’t know how anyone could shoot that thing. It doesn’t even have a trigger.”

Now a panic swept back through Floyd’s body again. “What are you talking about? It’s right there.” He leaned over, picked up the gun, and cradled it in his hands. It felt oddly warm. His index finger massaged the trigger and there was something unsettlingly comfortable about it’s curve. He was reluctant to let it go.

A garbled whisper entered his ears.

“What did you say?” Floyd asked his wife.

Jinnie’s eyes were blank, but had a lightness in them. “If I didn’t know you better, I’d say you’ve been drinking firewater down at the Coyote.”

Floyd shot up to his feet with an intensity that surprised him. “Of course not!”

She shook her head slowly. “Floyd, I don’t want to hear any more about this. I’m going to bed. If you want to go down and see the sheriff, you may as well ask if you can stay the night.”

If there was a door on the entrance to the bedroom, it would have slammed shut. Instead, Jinnie just disappeared into the darkness.

Floyd felt a pang in his conscience. He knew he couldn’t leave the man lying there. Someone would find the body and there would be a lot of questions from the sheriff; questions that might best be answered now. Knowing he’d have to deal with Jinnie later, he ran to the bank and froze as he came down the main street. He saw the back of Sheriff Bohannon. He was on one knee, leaning over Mr. McKay’s lifeless body.

Floyd’s stomach gurgled and then he looked down at himself in horror.

He was holding the gun in his hand. He wondered again how it wound up at his side.

Instinct told Floyd to turn around. He was certain now that coming back was a bad idea. He had no way of proving what happened. It was only his word against a dead man’s and though he was on the sheriff’s good side on the general account that he’d never stirred up any trouble, being possibly accused of murdering a man didn’t sit well with Floyd.

He obeyed his body’s wishes and was several steps toward home before the call came.

“Hey!”

Floyd stopped cold. He slowly slipped the gun into his right pocket, trying to be smooth about it, before he turned around.

The sheriff was standing now, looking at Floyd. His hands were on his hips.

“Gimme a hand here. I could carry this fella over to Dade’s myself, but I don’t necessarily wanna.”

Floyd approached like a wary animal and confirmed the fella was indeed Mr. McKay. His head was still a butchered mess, laying in a pool of blood that still hadn’t dried.

“Well?” Bohannon asked. He had ahold of McKay’s wrists and was nodding toward his feet.

Floyd snapped out of his reverie and shuffled towards McKay’s boots. He was glad the sheriff chose the parts closest to dead man’s head. Bile rose up to his throat and it was all he could do to keep from gagging.

“What…what happened?” Floyd asked. I sound like stuttering fool, he thought.

“A good question. Ready?”

Floyd grabbed the dead man’s ankles and nodded lightly.

They moved down the street, Floyd facing Bohannon as the sheriff walked backwards at a steady pace. Dade’s General Store was about a hundred yards away. In a town as small as Cordson, there wasn’t a specialized undertaker. That job fell on the man who could nail a box together better than others.

They crossed the front of the store and wound up in the rear.

“He always keeps an open casket out back. No sense in bothering him about it tonight, though.” Bohannon lifted a shoulder to his cheek to wipe off the sweat. “We’ll just lay the lid on it for now. Keep the coyotes from gettin’ to him til’ Dade can dip him in arsenic.”

By the time they got McKay into the box, Floyd was panting and had to sit down. He collapsed on an upside-down crate.

As he did so, the gun fell out of his pocket and thumped onto the dirt.

The sheriff looked down.

Floyd decided then and there that if he ever got out of prison, he’d have Jinnie make him pants with bigger pockets.

Bohannon squatted down and picked up the gun.

“This yours?” he asked.

Dread left Floyd with a lump in his throat.

Bohannon turned the gun over in his hand and examined it closely.

Floyd noticed his legs were nervously bouncing up and down. He concentrated on keeping them still.  

The sheriff said, “Wow, a Collier. I ain’t seen one of these since my grandpappy’s, back in Virginia. Wished I had it. It was in much better shape, but I imagine it looks a lot like this one now.” He looked up at Floyd. “Where’d you get it?”

Floyd hesitated.

“Don’t remember it being this damn heavy,” Bohannon said, “but that was a long time ago.” He extended it toward Floyd who opened his palms. It fell like a stone but landed like a feather in Floyd’s hands.

The sheriff was looking at him quietly now. It unnerved Floyd. He couldn’t resist the urge to confess.

“He killed himself!” Floyd blurted out. “I swear it!”

Bohannon scrunched his eyebrows and looked back at corpse. He took a deep breath.

“Well, unless he was deliberately poisoned, which I don’t see why anyone would do that to poor Mr. McKay, there’s no doubt about that.” The sheriff winked and flashed a joker’s smile.

Floyd was taken aback. “What do you mean?” There were hundreds of subtleties to that question.

“The man came down here only last week, a smile on his face, buying people drinks down at the Coyote as sure as any newcomer that he’d pull enough out of the Santa Ritas to leave with pockets full of silver. Like many of the dreamers who come out here and keep our little town alive, he didn’t find what he was lookin’ for and he came back in a few days ago appearing worse for it.”

Bohannon shook his head.

“Anyway, I’d guess heat exhaustion. Ticker couldn’t take it. Or he had himself a little too much tornado juice, though they’re usually lying in a pile of their own puke when that’s the case.”

Floyd rose slowly and looked into the open casket. As plain as day, the bottom half of McKay’s face looked like chopped beef. Red pools of blood had already seeped into the oak.

“But what about…his face?”

“I shut his eyes for him. Looks like a sleepin’ baby don’t he?”

How could Bohannon not see what Floyd was seeing? A haphazard pile of bone, blood, and skin.

“You looked rested enough,” the sheriff said, “Help me get this lid on.”

“Rrrrraaaahhh!”

The shout came suddenly and shook Floyd from a deep sleep. His head was pressed into the pillow. The surrounding darkness and chirping crickets seemed uninterrupted.

Maybe it was a dream. He had been tossing and turning all night. At some point, his mind finally shut down, tired of attempting to process the day’s events.

Floyd pushed himself up onto his elbows and looked over at Jinnie. Her back was to him. He could hear the ups and downs of light snoring. Floyd remembered crawling into bed after helping Sheriff Bohannon, not wanting to sleep on a hard chair. Just wanting something warm and comforting, no matter how cold and uncomforting the person next to him was.

“Hey!”

The voice of a man came unmistakably from the front room. It was a whisper, but loud. Floyd wished desperately that he had kept his only means of defense in the bedroom. Not that it would have mattered. The Winchester rifle his father-in-law had gifted him before moving out was useless without bullets. Floyd foolishly thought he’d never need them.

He wanted to cry. Why was all this happening to him?

“Don’t be scared,” the voice rasped. “We need to discuss things. Come out.”

Floyd looked over at his wife again. He considered shaking her, waking her up to the potential danger.

“Don’t bother.”

Floyd knew the voice was right. He was losing his mind. No sense in trying to convince a woman already set on her thoughts. He rose quietly from the bed and tiptoed toward the front room. He debated lighting a lamp, but quickly decided it wasn’t worth the effort. His eyes were already adjusted to the dark.

“Are…Are you the ghost of McKay?” It sounded foolish as soon as it left his lips, but what was foolish at this point?

“Ain’t no such thing as ghosts.” The reply was swift and emanated from the table. He looked but saw only empty chairs. “Have a seat. I’ll fill you in.”

Floyd saw no reason not to comply, so he pulled up a chair.

“Here’s the deal. You has to kill someone.”

The whispers. The goddamn whispers.

He was certain now about what McKay had said. The voice, the whisper, was coming from the Collier. Floyd remembered now, leaving it there before tottering into the bedroom earlier. He leaned in as if he were trying to read it like a small-print book.

“Boo!”

He bounced back and the chair fell backwards from under him. There was a creaking noise from the bedroom.

“Floyd! Keep it quiet out there!”

He waited, hoping Jinnie would fall back to sleep. After thirty seconds of silence, Floyd picked up the chair and sat down once again.

“Sorry,” the gun said with a chuckle. “Couldn’t resist.”

Floyd decided he was so far over the edge of sanity, there was no point in not talking to the gun.

“What…what do you…what are…” He wanted to converse with the thing, but he didn’t know what to ask.

“Lookie here,” he said, “I’m gonna’ sum it up for you. I’m a curse.”

A curse? Floyd scratched his head and reached for his glasses. He put them on as if they would help him think.

“What do you mean?”

“My name is–was–Cincinnatus Jones. Bought and sold for seven hundred-and-seventy-six dollars. Things was ok for what they were, til’ the man who bought me said I stole somethin’. I know I hadn’t. I know it! Anyway, he killed me with this here gun, and as I lay bleeding, I curse it. I didn’t mean to. But you know how’s it is, when you dyin’. Right?” It breathed sonorously. “I s’pose note. Well, you don’t got time to think things through. So I said some words my grandmammy taught me when I was a youngin’. Of course, she would say them if she stubbed her big toe. Don’t think they had much juice to them then, but let me tell you, they mean somethin’ when you’s dyin’.”

Floyd sat and stared at the gun.

“You remember how’s I told you that you had to kill somebody?” the voice asked. “Well, you don’t have to. You don’t have to. But you need to sell me for the going price. You saw how hard that was though. Might well just shoot somebody and save yo’self the trouble.”

Stunned, Floyd tentatively picked up the gun and examined its fine condition. “But if you look like this, I won’t have any trouble selling–”

“Part of the curse. I only look like this to you. Every time I help someone kill a man, I inch a little bit closer to my end. Sometimes it’s a scratch, sometimes I lose somethin’ more.”

It would explain why Jinnie didn’t see a trigger. Floyd nodded his head as if he understood. The truth was that he was going mad, just like McKay. But maybe it wasn’t madness, Floyd thought. Maybe this was the truth.

“But I ain’t dead yet,” the voice continued. “And that means you got some killin’ to do, one way or another. Three days, Floyd. Three days.”

“Three days?” Floyd asked, unable to hide the shock in his voice. His mind raced through possible victims, everyone he knew, strangers he didn’t yet know. How could he just kill someone?

“Can’t I just shoot a rabbit? Or a ground squirrel?” Floyd pretended that he even had the capability to do those things.

“Nope. Gotta be human flesh and bone. Look, take yo’self some solace in the fact that no one will know it. You may see ‘em as bein’ shot, but to everyone else, they look like they just fell asleep.”

Floyd found no solace in that, but it solved another mystery.

The gun continued, “Now it ain’t that I can make a man do the killin’. He gotta figure that out on his own. But if you don’t, well…” Floyd swore he saw a tiny puff of smoke emerged from the barrel of the pistol.

“Well, what?”

“I don’t mean to be the way I’m bein’, but I am a curse. I need blood, Floyd. If you can’t give it to me in three days, I’ll take it.”

Floyd knew exactly what that meant. McKay’s lifeless eyes were fresh in his mind.

The next two days at the bank, at home, and everywhere in between were filled with frantic thoughts. He got no sleep and stopped eating. In the beginning, he debated telling Jinnie, but he had already stepped all over her last nerve and he knew that all hope of her believing him was lost.

How was he going to get out of this one? He didn’t want to die. He was only twenty-four, for Christ’s sake. But he couldn’t imagine intentionally taking a person’s life.

More than once, Floyd found himself following strangers down alleys, his hand in his pocket, his finger wrapped gently around the trigger, only to lose his nerve and turn around.

At the bank, he tried to put on his normal demeanor. Still, people would ask him if he was alright, to which he would reply “of course” or sometimes just continue staring off into space, always with one hand in his pocket.

At one point, he thought he could get away with burying the gun about a mile away, among the scrub and prickly pears, but somehow, it found its way back into his desk drawer.

He could swear it laughed at him.

“Day three, Floyd. The clock’s a’tickin’. You got a choice to make.”

“Floyd!”

He snapped to attention. Mr. Howard was standing before him, a scowl on his face, his bald head scrunched up with wrinkles.

“Do you have them or not?”

“Have them?”

The bank manager shook his head. “The promissory notes I need to take to Tucson.” He scrutinized Floyd carefully. “You haven’t been lookin’ yourself the past few days. I want you to go home and rest up.”

“Yes,” Floyd said absently. “I think…I think that’s a good idea.”

Floyd left the bank early and ambled toward home. He would say goodbye to Jinnie. He would apologize. Try to make amends before walking out to the hills and let the gun do its dirty work.

As he approached the house, he heard what sounded like howling.

It was Jinnie.

Fearful that somehow the curse had affected her, Floyd dashed into the house. The front room was empty. More screams from the bedroom. He rushed in and his stomach dropped at what he saw.

A flurried tangle of flesh wrapped in flesh, moving back and forth, up and down like the rods and wheels of a locomotive. The screaming stopped and two pairs of eyes were focused on Floyd.

Carl rolled over onto his back, naked and without an ounce of shame in his face. The grin on his face made Floyd nauseous.

Jinnie came right out with it.

“You’re no man,” she said. There was almost a fury on her face as she rose from the bed. Her bare breasts bounced as she poked a finger in Floyd’s chest. “You brought me out here and you work all day, socializing, burying with your nose in those bankroll books while I sit here bored to death.”

Though Jinnie was in his face, Floyd couldn’t take his eyes off Carl.

“This is your fault,” she continued on.

Carl butted in, “She ain’t wrong, Floyd.” He leaned over to his side and pulled out a roll of smoking papers from his pants that lay next to the bed. “Why don’t you get back to work, so we can get back to work.” He winked at Floyd.

Later, when he would occasionally run through the scene over and over in his mind, he was never able to remember the bits of time between pulling the Collier from his pocket, Carl grabbing at the fresh hole in his chest, and Jinnie falling back onto the bed, blood streaming from her forehead.

“I’m sorry you had to find them this way.” Bohannon put his hand on Floyd’s shoulder. “Must’ve really been somethin’. To die in the heat of the moment like that.”

Floyd looked at the Sheriff who quickly cleared his throat.

“Don’t forget that,” he indicated towards the ground. “Probably won’t get much, but you may be able to sell it to Dade. Help pay for any funeral expenses.”

On the floor besides the bed lay a rusted flintlock revolver, broken in two.

“I don’t want anything to do with it,” Floyd said, almost trancelike.

Bohannon bent down. “Well if you don’t mind, it’s a nice memento. Reminds me of my grandpappy.” He reached out and Floyd thought he heard a sigh in the air.

4 thoughts on “Seven Hundred and Seventy-Six”

  1. Pretty certain I said not to make these too good…

    Your writing continues to evoke a great sense of setting and character. I’d like to say I saw where it was going, but I didn’t spot the Carl/Jinnie twist. I particularly liked the ‘reveal’ of the curse.would have been easy to over complicate or push too hard, but it seemed natural and succinct which worked well with the rest of the story. Looking forward to the next one (no pressure… ;-)).

    1. Col, as always, too kind my friend. I really appreciate the feedback. I’m glad you liked this one, but expect some clunkers along the way. Ray Bradbury said I would have a hard time writing 52 bad stories, but he didn’t say I’d write 52 good ones. 😀

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