Prompt: Word list: Rattlesnake, Six-shooter, Adios, Miner, Madam, Dusty, Sheriff
Word Limit: 1200
I’ve never really read or written much western fiction (aside from some Elmore Leonard shorts) so I feel a little out of my element. I did try to mix in a little sci-fi to make me feel at home. And I took the name of a town that I always thought would be very clever to set a western in.
Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think.
Ashtrae (1112 words)
My horse reared up on his hind legs when he saw the rattlesnake and I couldn’t really blame him. Even the wildlife was mutated in this neck of the woods. The snake had five eyes, two sets of fangs and two rattlers shaking. We had to get out of here before we found out if the damn thing could squirt it’s venom like a skunk. It wouldn’t have surprised me.
Ashtrae. Who the hell names a town Ashtrae. And who the hell puts that town smack dab between Kiddylidder and Sandbocks? There must have been some real oddballs naming this part of the world. Certainly no mature individuals had.
But I can’t argue that it isn’t an appropriate name. The only thing this town is good for is butting out cigarettes and would look a lot better reduced to ashes. But it’s on the road and it’s better to pass through than the glass mines.
I check my six-shooter when I’m a safe distance from the rattlesnake. Everything looks good. Both are fully loaded and well oiled. I’d like to avoid trouble if at all possible, but the radiation poisoning in the area makes the locals mean as well as ugly. ‘Course I suppose I would be a bit grumpy if I had the huge cancerous boils on my face that some of them do.
It’s always surreal riding into these towns. The tumble weeds are blowing, the rusty water pumps are squeaking and of course the wooden storefronts are creaking. It doesn’t help that the place is built out of an old television set and most of the storefronts don’t have anything behind them. I’m just interested in the most popular place in town, the saloon. All I want is a drink, a bed, a whore and some oats for my horse. Then I’ll be moving on.
The barroom is always packed with miners, hookers and gamblers in this town. There’s really nothing else to do in Ashtrae. Crops don’t grow because of the radiation and climate. I guess that’s why they picked the desert when they were testing out those atomic bombs. There wasn’t any fertile soil to ruin.
Still, you’d think the people would build a library or a theater or something. Instead they just drink, fuck and fight. Then they go out the next morning, shovel up some more of that radioactive glass that used to be sand and do it all over again. It’s a helluva way to make a living. It’s a helluva life. At least it’s short. After about two years of working at the mines you start getting the boils. They start out as acne and gradually develop into festering open sores all over your body. Then after about a decade you end up in the other part of town that’s real: the cemetery. And that’s only if you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky you get to live longer in this crummy town and do hard work for low wages.
“Howdy pardner,” I say to the bartender. “Gimme a bottle a bourbon would you.” I toss a small piece of malachite on the bar. It’s not much really, but it’s worth a lot more than the onyx that he usually sees.
“Yes, sir. Right away, sir.”
I lean back and light my cheroot. It feels good to be in a place with a fan, out of the sweltering sun and inside away from the open mine that is still spewing out hundreds of CPM’s of radioactive poison. I feel like I should be wearing a plastic space suit and carrying a Geiger counter instead of a gun every time I’m in this area.
“Here you are sir. This is our finest whiskey,” the bartender hands me a bottle of crap. But I was sure he was being honest and it was the best crap in the establishment.
“Thanks pal,” I tell him. “You wouldn’t happen to know where Madame Double E could be found right about now would you?” I tempt him with a small opal.
“Well sir she should be out at the Forelongears Ranch off to the west side of town. But you didn’t get that information from me.”
“Of course not.” I hand him the gem as payment for the information and take my whiskey to a table.
Wouldn’t you know it? Before I even get the first drink to my lips Sheriff Matterly comes in to join me.
“Afternoon Sheriff,” I say. “Care for a drink?”
“You know you’re not welcome in Ashtrae any longer Zadfack,” he tells me. “Why don’t you just keep on riding?”
“I’m just passing through Matterly. Hold your horses. I’ve been on the trail for two days and I’m tired. Just let me have a drink and then I’ll be out of your dusty little community.”
“I think its best that you just saddle up right now. We don’t want any trouble like we did that last time you were here.” The sore on his left temple began oozing puss. The mines affected everyone in town, even if they didn’t work in the mines.
“Well, I’m staying here to finish this drink sheriff. Then I’m gonna order me a steak dinner. Then I’m gonna eat that steak dinner and drink this bottle. Then I’m gonna go out and see Madame Double E and if there’s any girls out there without festering spots on them like you have on the side of your face I’m gonna pay for a good time and then I’ll be on my way. And there ain’t a damn thing you can do about it.”
“Zadfack! I’m calling you out!” He said loud enough for everyone to here.
“Come on, Matterly. We do this every time I’m in town. I’ve shot you seventeen times over the last twelve years and every time I come back to town you have me do it again. What the hell’s the matter with you?”
“I got my pride boy. And this town ain’t big enough for the both of us!”
This town ain’t big enough for another cliche, I thought. “Well, alright sheriff. If you insist.”
At least I would get this part out of the way early this time. I’d shoot him again (in the leg or arm mind you) and he’d be laid up in bed for the remainder of my stay. Then the radiation would eat away the lead and after a week he’d be good as new. At least after I took care of him no one would bother me and I’d be able to get a little rest. And tomorrow I would bid this town Adios.
The sun couldn’t rise fast enough.