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Reds Under Beds: Fiction by Ron Capshaw
Lucky Dog Willingham: Fiction by Justin Swartz
Feeling It: Fiction by Tom Koperwas
The Devil in Paris: Fiction by Mike Kanner
The Last Maneuver: Fiction by Lamont A. Turner
The Perks: Fiction by John J. Dillon
Bad Cloud: Fiction by M. L. Fortier
Et in Arcadia Ego: Fiction by JM Taylor
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Unenlightened: Flash Fiction by Jacob Graysol
A Cackle of Hyenas: Flash Fiction by Sandra Arnold
Did I Ever Tell You About the Time...:Flash Fiction by Lester L Weil
Native American Male Kills Caucasian Teenager: Flash Fiction by Daniel G. Snethen
Stealing Badges: Flash Fiction by M. A. De Neve
Where Is Joy Allen?: Flash Fiction by Adelaide Barker
Entitled: George Garnet
Kaboom: Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Cybil: Fiction by Brian Barnett
A Christmas Collection: Fiction by Jon Park
Christmas Shopping Spree: Fiction by Shari Held
Santa's Playtime: Fiction by Rick McQuiston
Bless Your Heart, Babbo Natale: Fiction by T. Fox Dunham
A Song for Christmas: Fiction by Steve Carr
Whatever Is Inside of Us: Poem by Richard Le Due
Conclusions: Poem by John Doyle
A Greek Family: Poem by Juan Mobili
At the Bird's Bar: Poem by Juan Mobili
a warm melody: Poem by ayaz daryl nielson
winter continues:Poem by ayaz daryl nielsen
Animal Under the Table: Poem by John Tustin
Men in Brimmed Hats: Poem by John Tustin
Stone on Fire:Poem by John Tustin
Parisian Dive: Poem by Bradford Middleton
A Mess of Stuff: Poem by Bradford Middleton
Home is Where the Siren Sings Her Song: Poem by Bradford Middleton
dark winter blues: Poem by J.J.Campbell
in this damn void: Poem by J. J. Campbell
in the back of my brain: Poem by J. J. Campbell
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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

Justin Swartz: Lucky Dog Willingham

Art by Steve Cartwright 2022


by Justin Swartz


          Russell hated California.

          He'd come here looking for gold, just like everyone else, but someone forgot to inform him the gold had left town. That's exactly what Russell should've been doing, but something had compelled him to stay in California, specifically the town of Bloodstone. He wasn't sure what that something was, but he figured he'd know it when he saw it.

          Russell descended the stairs from his room above the sheriff's office and stepped into the path of the blistering sun. It was Thursday afternoon, around two o'clock by Russell's estimation, and the heat was already making him sweat. It was a short walk across the street and down a building to the saloon, so Russell decided to bear with the abysmally hot weather. It had been nothing but sweltering since he'd arrived in Bloodstone.

          The saloon was a shithole. Russell knew that. The people in Bloodstone knew that. They kept coming back anyway. It was the only place in town to find a cold drink that wasn't loaded for snake. When Russell walked in, the saloon was dead as a tombstone, say for a jolly fat man with a curved white beard and rosy cheeks, who was sitting at the bar and drinking his sixth mug of beer. Russell likened him to a Santa Claus figure, if Saint Nick ever got drunk and strapped his gun on backwards.

          Russell nodded to Clyde, the barkeep, and had a seat two stools down from Mister Jolly. Russell removed his hat, placed it on the scratched surface of the wooden bar, and turned to Clyde.

          "One beer, Clyde, and I'm outta here," Russell told him.

          "That's what they all say," Clyde quipped with a wink. He had thinning silver hair and a bushy mustache that was going white on him. "Besides, we ain't got no beer."

          "You what?" Russell asked, frowning.

          "No beer whatsoever," Clyde affirmed. "This damn fool drank it all."

          Russell cast his best scowl at Mister Jolly. The man ignored him and didn't look his way.

          "Pour me a whiskey, then," Russell told the barkeep.

          "Got it," Clyde said, snatching the whiskey from a shelf. He twisted the cap off the bottle and poured it into a highball glass, throwing some ice cubes in with a flourish. Then he shoved the glass across the bar and into Russell's hands. "Fifty cents."

          "Shit, Clyde," Russell told the barkeep. "You raising your prices or something?"

          "Got to do it, Russell. Otherwise I'll lose this place."

          "I think this place is already lost," Russell growled as he put the fifty cents in Clyde's outstretched hand. Russell drank his whiskey and smiled. That was exactly what he'd needed.

          "You hear about that lucky dog Willingham?" Mister Jolly asked the air.

          "You talking to me?" Russell inquired.

          "Who else would I be talking to?"

          "The barkeep."

          "There's a barkeep here?"

          Clyde shook his head.

          "Listen, man, why don't you go home and sleep off whatever you came in here with."

          "But I didn't tell you about old Willingham yet!"

          Russell frowned at Mister Jolly. The man was drunk, that much he knew, but the last thing he needed was some intoxicated Santa Claus pestering him over a guy he'd never heard of.

          "Sorry, don't know him," Russell said. "I don't care to, either."

          "Sure you know him! 'Ol Willy, from around Denver?"


          "Well then, maybe a story would jog your memory!"

          "What do you think this is, mister? Story time in a school?"

          "No, sir, not at all," Jolly said, trying to be as serious as he could manage. "I'm just trying to tell a tale."

          "I'm not in the mood, mister," Russell informed him, "but let's suppose you tell me your tale in the time it takes me to finish this whiskey. If your story's good, then I'll pay for your drinks. If your story's bad, then you'll pay...period." Russell scowled at him again. "Got it?"

          Mister Jolly gave him an exaggerated nod of the head. He drained what was left of the beer in front of him, wiped the foam from his mouth, and launched into his story.

          "Now, ol' Willy wasn't the brightest sort, sir, that's for damn sure," he began. "But he did know how to take care of himself."

          "Did he, now?" Russell asked, intrigued.

          "Y'see, Willy was panning for gold with some other fellows on the edge of San Francisco last year." Mister Jolly looked down at his feet. "They were all too dumb to know the gold rush had already rushed by them, and there were two boys who were especially dumb." The man scratched the bridge of his nose. "One was named Jefferson, and the other was named Colt."

          "Colt, you said?" Russell asked. "Like the gun?"

          "Exactly like that," Jolly replied.

          "Now that's interesting," Russell told him. "Continue."

          "As I was saying," the man picked up, "they were all a little stupid when it came to gold." He stroked the curved end of his beard. "So they toiled in that river, day after day after day. Most folks gave up and headed to other parts of the state. Some perished in the heat. Eventually, it came down to three of them—Jefferson, Colt, and ol' Willy."

          Russell reached for his whiskey, but thought better of it and pulled his hand back. He wanted to be sober to hear what happened next.

          "Just as Willy was about to pack it in for greener pastures, those two boys found the last speck of gold in that poor, dry river." Mister Jolly placed the back of his right hand against his sweaty brow and wiped from left to right. "Now, like I said, Willy was about to mosey on out of there, but he reconsidered when he saw the gold in the kids' hands."

          "'Course he did," Russell said dryly. "Tell me, stranger—does this bedtime story have a happy ending?"

          Jolly looked down into the last mug of beer he'd drank from.

          "Not exactly," he whispered in a grave tone. Russell decided to cut his witty comments short and let the man talk. "Those two brats stayed at it all night and found quite a fortune...but that's when ol' Willy decided to turn the tables in his favor." Mister Jolly wrapped his left hand around the handle of his beer mug. Russell noted how weathered his fat hands were. "Y'see, Willy knew the kids would never part with their gold willingly, so the only way to take it was by force." The man wrapped his right hand around the side of his mug. His eyes were pinched shut, as if he were living the story inside his head. "Willy put Jefferson down like a sack of grain."

          "And Colt?" Russell asked quietly.

          "All it took was one punch," Jolly replied. "But trust me, Willy beat the shit out of the kid." He opened his eyes slowly. "Y'know, just to make sure."

          "I'll bet," Russell said, downing the last of his whiskey. "So what happened to Willy and all this gold?"

          "Who knows?" the man said with a half-shrug. "Just rode off into the sunset, I guess, spending his money on booze and women and—"

          "Joshua Willingham!" a hoarse voice interrupted from the saloon's doors. Russell, Clyde, and Jolly turned to see a kid, no older than sixteen or seventeen, standing in the doorway as the doors swung shut behind him. His clothing, which consisted of a poncho, long-sleeved shirt, pants, boots, and hat, were in complete disrepair and caked with sand, mud, and dirt. The only thing that had survived was his gun belt, which had a pearl-handled Schofield revolver in its holster.

          Russell ventured a glance at Mister Jolly. He wasn't so jolly anymore.

          "Right here, right now," the kid said in a heavy drawl. "You 'in me. Winner gets 'ta live. Loser gets 'ta die. Whaddaya say, partner?"

          "I'm sorry, young man," Jolly said. "You must be mistaken. There's no one here by that name."

          "Oh, really?" Russell spoke up. "And just who was 'ol Willy?" He smirked. "If I was a betting man, I'd bet I'm looking right at him."

          The kid's eyes moved with snake-like speed from Willingham, to Russell, and back again. Despite his tattered appearance, he was very alert and very ready to fight, almost as if the only thing fueling his body was the need for revenge.

          Willingham stood from his stool and brushed crumbs from his shirt. "Fine then, young man! 'Ol Willy will show you what he's made of!" He walked to the center of the empty saloon and put his legs shoulder-length apart. "How's this?"

          The kid took one step to his right and copied the stance. "That's good, partner. Real good."

          "You ready, young man?" Willingham asked.

          "I'm always ready, Willy."

          "We shoot on three."

          "Fine by me."

          Russell felt his right hand fall to his battle-scarred Remington, resting comfortably in its holster. He didn't know why he was edging in on the kid's action. Let him take the fat bastard out, Russell thought to himself. Let him learn what it's like to take someone else's life in your hands. But then there was the immediate regret, which Russell hadn't felt in ages, that if this kid got himself killed and Russell could have prevented it...well, that just wasn't going to happen, Russell told himself. Not today.

          "One," Willingham said. His fingers danced over the handle of his backwards revolver.

          "Two." Colt's shaking fingers flickered over the Schofield's pearl grip.

          Russell's bullet entered Willingham's head through the right temple and exited through the left temple, spraying dark red blood all over the walls of the saloon. The bullet lodged itself into the far wall and stayed there, leaving a smoking hole in the wallpaper. Willingham's body stumbled, dropped to its knees, and then fell onto its side, where its wound bled out all over the floor.

          The kid stood there, somewhere between stunned and petrified. Smoke twirled from the barrel of Russell's Remington as he holstered it and smiled gently at the young gunslinger.

          "Three," Russell finished. "By the way, kid, you're welcome. You were in no shape to take him on."

          The kid drew the Schofield. Russell froze. So did Clyde.

          Squeezing the trigger with one hand and cocking the hammer with the other, the kid emptied his gun into Willingham's dead body. The corpse jerked each time a bullet cut through its dead flesh, its limbs flopping and slapping this way and that, until the barrage was over. Russell watched the whole thing, the rage in the kid's eyes, the relentless assault, and knew that this kid had run entirely on revenge while on his journey to Bloodstone.

          "'Ya killed my best friend, partner," the kid said in his drawl. "Rot in hell." He opened his gun and scattered the spent cartridges on the floor. "What'd you shoot 'im for, mister?"

          "Could be a reward out for scum like that," Russell said. "Tell you what, kid—I'll split it with you fifty-fifty."

          The kid finished reloading the Schofield and snapped it closed with a flick of his wrist.

          "You keep your money, mister," he said. "I got what I came for." The kid turned to the door and headed out of the saloon.

          "Hey, I never got your name!" Russell called out.

          The kid stopped and holstered the Schofield.

          "It's Colt," he replied. "Like the gun."

          Colt exited the saloon. The doors swung shut behind him.    

          "Exactly like that," Russell said to himself, and decided Willingham wasn't such a lucky dog after all.

Justin Swartz was raised in the Pittsburgh area & now resides in York, PA. He's been published in Gary Lovisi's Hardboiled and the e-zines Dead Guns Press, Close to the Bone, Black Petals, and yes, Yellow Mama. You can read more of his fiction at lastgunsmoking.blogspot.com, or contact him via e-mail at swartzjustin82@gmail.com.

It's well known that an artist becomes more popular by dying, so our pal Steve Cartwright is typing his bio with one hand while pummeling his head with a frozen mackerel with the other. Stop, Steve! Death by mackerel is no way to go! He (Steve, not the mackerel) has a collection of spooky toons, Suddenly Halloween!, available at Amazon.com.    He's done art for several magazines, newspapers, websites, commercial and governmental clients, books, and scribbling - but mostly drooling - on tavern napkins. He also creates art pro bono for several animal rescue groups. He was awarded the 2004 James Award for his cover art for Champagne Shivers. He recently illustrated the Cimarron Review, Stories for Children, and Still Crazy magazine covers. Take a gander ( or a goose ) at his online gallery: www.angelfire.com/sc2/cartoonsbycartwright . And please hurry with your response - that mackerel's killin' your pal, Steve Cartwright.

In Association with Black Petals & Fossil Publications 2022