The Day I Shot William Quantrill

I stepped slow and jerky
towards the table where five men sat, one yelling he'd pass, another in buckskin jacket saying he'd call. I drew my gun and aimed it at the one with a sailor's tie. My legs started to wobble. I spoke in a voice sharp as an army bugle, I thought of the twisted licorice my sister, Nellie, kept in papa's old mason jars. Would that give me strength or draw naught?

“Sir, “I cried, “might your name be Charles William Quantrill?”
 
He raised his head from the card deck and his steel-blue eyes bore through me like I was a glass of cheap whiskey shot.
The Day I Shot William Quantrill
 
I stepped slow and jerky towards the table where five men sat, one yelling he'd pass, another in buckskin jacket saying he'd call. I drew my gun and aimed it at the one with a sailor's tie. My legs started to wobble. I spoke in a voice sharp as an army bugle, I thought of the twisted licorice my sister, Nellie, kept in papa's old mason jars. Would that give me strength or draw naught?

“Sir, “I cried, “might your name be Charles William Quantrill?”
 
He raised his head from the card deck and his steel-blue eyes bore through me like I was a glass of cheap whiskey shot.
 
“Sir . . . Ye are as cowardly a dog as have ever did live. I have come to avenge the death of my brother at Baxter Springs.”  
 
He leaned back, a wide-brimmed hat overshadowed his face.  
 
“Who was your brother, boy?”  
 
My gun arm trembled. I had to shut my left eye, oozing, so I could focus with my right. Several women leaned over the balustrade; a pianola stopped.  
 
“Linus T. Walsh of C Company,” I said.  
 
He gulped honey-colored liquor from a shot glass, slammed it down.
 
“I remember that boy,” said he, “a buffalo skinner. Way before the war, maybe before you were born, we'd sneak a swim in Crook's river at night. Nothing but the paltry coats of our flesh. Moonlight lapping our faces like a playful pup. Old Linus. A mule packer.”  
 
I made out his one hand sliding to the edge of the table, itching for the pistol.  
 
“No, sir,” said I, “Buffalo skinner. Not a mule packer.”  
 
Buffalo skinner, he repeated softly with a faint smile. It chilled me like a Dakota frost.

 
He swung his shoulders and raised a hand half-way, motioning his men not to draw. I could hear women whispering, imagined the din of late afternoon on dusty streets, a rabid dog wandering, a bootlegger in a Chesterfield selling tinted bottles of medicine to women in frilly dress.  
 
“Boy, he didn't die like a man. They died like squirrels. Every one of 'em.”
 
He lunged, knocking over the table.

He drew.

I shot him square between the eyes.

A razor-stiff silence settled in the room.

I walked outside.

In the street, I carved into the dirt, the words, I, Quincy Walsh, shot William Quantrill. I wanted the world to read this after it woke up.  
 
I peered down at my shirt, blood streamed from my gut. I tasted it.
 
Figured I had three good hours left, imagined riding past the canyons of Chelly, breathe the fresh air of the Kanab
plateau, the scent of clouds that smelled of newly-wrung linen. I'd write papa a letter begging his forgiveness. I stole his favorite mare.

I unhitched my beloved beast, considered Bullhead or Yuma, and rode out of Hell.

Kyle Hemmings
 
 


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