The Fate of the Follower

Steve B Howard

If you were only viewing the inside of The Dead Dog Saloon in the town of Dead Dog itself, you would swear a tornado had ripped through the sorry little establishment. Not a bottle behind the bar was left unbroken, not a chair or table left upright, the long mirror behind the bar now reflected in shattered bits the bullet holes in the wall, the blood on the floor, and the busted green felt poker table where the chaos in this tiny New Mexico saloon all began.

If you followed the short blood trail out of the saloon and onto the wooden sidewalk in front, you would find the source of the chaos slowly bleeding to death as the cool winter sun rose slowly in the early morning sky.

“Jimmy, how bad am I?”

“Nort, it ain’t good. I ain’t gonna lie.”

Norton, without looking, traced his long skinny body from the bullet hole in his upper left thigh to the one in his stomach, and finally to the one just below his heart. He raised his hand and looked at the fresh blood that covered it.

“You as bad as me Jimmy?”

“Well, depends on how ya look at things, see. Burning up that’s fer sure. But I aim to stick around. See if you’ll come over or not.”

“Fuck you saying Jimmy?”

“Nothing Norton, nothing to worry about. Just take yer time if ya like.”

Jimmy was kneeling next to him and Norton tried to focus on his tiny rat face, but the sun was behind him now and the yellow light made Jimmy seem to fade a bit into the background. A cold wind blew down the dirt street carrying tiny dirt covered snow flakes with it. A grey mule lay dead in the street not far from Jimmy’s dirty boots which extended off the wooden sidewalk.

Damn Irishman Seamus Haggis fired three shots into me, two into Jimmy, and the one that killed that mule, Norton thought.

“Where’s the sheriff in all this?” Norton asked.

“You were out cold for a while after we crawled out here onto the sidewalk. Him and the deputy rode up, looked us over, and then lit out after Seamus. Big red haired bastard’s probably in Apache country by now.”

Norton was surprised how quiet the little town was. Dead Dog was small, but close enough to Santa Fe to serve as a way station for travelers passing through. Usually by morning there were at least half a dozen horses tied up at the hitching post in front of the post office. There was only the saloon, a general store across the street, a tiny jail, the post office that doubled as a barber shop and doctor’s office, and a brothel out on the edge of town. A church stood across the street half built since the preacher had been shot dead three months earlier.

“Hey Jimmy, can you walk?”

“Yeah, sort of.”

“Why don’t you go fetch Doc Anderson across the street for us?”

“Doc’s in Santa Fe this week. Remember?”

“Oh yeah, forgot about that. What do you think I should do here? Pain is getting worse. Can you get me a bottle from the saloon?”

“You shot ’em all off the wall with your shotgun. How the fuck you miss with a short barrel shotgun?”

“Only had two shots. Seamus was faster with his Colt. Winged him at least. And I told you not to cheat him at cards like that no more. That’s why he went crazy in the first place. ”

“Yeah, but you shot first. Killed the bartender and that whore Jessie too. First time you ever killed ain’t it?”

“Yep, accident though. Hard to believe considering all the years I rode with you.”

“Yeah, I killed a few in my time. Few too many in fact.”

“Feel bad about the bartender and the whore. Cross fire I guess.”

Norton watched as a Navajo on a tall white horse rode past slowly. Cold dark eyes observed him impassively as the Indian continued towards the south end of Dead Dog.

“Whiskey is all shot to shit, the whore’s dead, doc is out of town. Not sure what to do here Jimmy.”

“You could just come over. You saw the Injun, so yer half way there bout now.”

“Come over where? You losing your head?”

“Naw, just thinking out loud. Ya still got your cough syrup from the general store? The stuff with the morphine? Maybe smoke a cigarette while we wait?”

Norton painfully reached into the pocket of his blood-stained jeans and pulled out the small black bottle of cough syrup, a cigarette and a match. He drank deeply from the black bottle, struck the match against the wooden sidewalk, and lay back as he lit the cigarette and took a long drag. Jimmy was sitting up now looking down at him smiling.

“What you doing there Jimmy? ” Norton said, coughing up bloody smoke.

“Ya wanna ask their forgiveness or anything?”

“Forgiveness? Now you think you’re a priest or something. Getting weird on me today?”

“Not as weird as me being dead for the past twenty minutes and you yabbering on like I was still breathing.Finally got ya though. I didn’t wanna wander into hell all by myself without your soul coming along for the ride Nort.”

Jimmy’s long cackle ended just as the light in Norton’s eyes went out.

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I mainly write about fly fishing in Washington State, Classic Muscle Cars, and Stand Up Comedy.

Seattle, WA

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