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Slingbacks at Dead Tree Gulch

Slingbacks at Dead Tree Gulch

An experimental piece mixing genres for fun.

11

Flash fiction


author-small

Joy Walters (United Kingdom)


Wow!
They’ve just announced the four judges for the big literary prize, and guess what- one likes westerns, one likes chick lit, one likes meta-fiction and one likes humour!
What are the chances of that?
My seamless fusion of their favourite genres will romp home now…


Sling-backs at Dead Tree Gulch


Dirk lassoed the last of the skittish steers and wrestled it to the ground, pinning its head to the dusty earth with a sinewy forearm. He nodded at his partner to apply the brand.

“Oh, right, just a min.” Pippa marked the page and put down her mag. Gripping the iron with a Cath Kidston oven-cloth, she touched its smoking tip to the beast’s tender rump. She hated hurting the poor things, but at least the brand was a nice shape, rather like a rosebud really. There. All done. The calf was as almost as whiffy as Dirk- she must get him to try the new avocado deodorant.

Freed from Dirk’s grip, the sullen steer struggled to its feet and trotted to its fellows at the farthest corner of the corral. The work was over for the day. Dirk kicked out the embers of the branding fire, then glanced at the menacing sky as he coiled his raw-hide rope:

“Storm’s coming.”

Dirk had been so taciturn recently. Pippa peeled off her Marigolds. His strong silent demeanour had made him so much more interesting than her other boyfriends, but it was a bit of a handicap for girlie chats.

“Time for chow.” Dirk climbed through the rails of the corral, heading for the cook-house. After three steps a bullet screeched past him, grazing the skin of his arm. Instinctively he dived behind a water butt, his senses alert. Springing quickly to his knees he peered cautiously from his cover, gun in hand. The shot had come from the scrawny bushes south of the corral. There! He saw the dark shape of a man and fired three quick shots.

Pippa pulled on her sling-backs, picked-up her mag, and crept moodily behind the wagon. For chow read grits. That was the big problem with Dirk’s place- apart from the gun-fights- the complete lack of decent food. The nearest Waitrose was days away. All they ever seemed to have was grits. She wouldn’t mind, but the girls at Pilates all said grits were really fattening.

Taking his chance Dirk ran to the corner of the cook-house, two shots following him. From there he could see the stranger’s horse. He recognised its distinctive blaze and white socks. Kid Laramy’s horse! Two days ago Kid Laramy’s gang had held up the stage and been scattered by a posse from Barton Springs. If the Kid was here the rest of his gang wouldn’t be far behind.

In keeping with my widely acclaimed theory of delayed cognitive payloads in literature, Pippa looked back through her food diary. Thursday: grits. Wednesday: grits. Tuesday: grits. Monday: grits. No wonder she felt bloated. Then a black-gloved hand clamped over her mouth and one of those nasty gun things was in her face! A man in black held her tight. He raised her chin with his gun. “Pretty little thing, aincha,” he said. He was quite dishy, actually. He studied her resentful face with bold appraising eyes, then prodded her at gunpoint to walk ahead of him into the corral.

“Dirk. Dirk Hollins,” he shouted. “Come out with your hands high or she gits it.”

Pippa’s sling-backs pinched like a crab with PMT. They were still quite new. Not really for ranch-work, but Jimmy Choo didn’t do cowboy boots.

Dirk circled the cook-house, dived on the ground, and wormed on his belly to the bushes that Kid Laramy had just left.

“I said she’s gonna git it, and I ain’t joking Dirk Hollins.” Kid Laramy cocked his gun to show he meant business. Prodding Pippa ahead of him with his gun, he walked slowly towards the cook-house where he’d last seen Dirk.

At the sight of the cook-house Pippa’s heart sank. If she had to eat one more grit she’d go mad. She hated these stand-offs between Dirk and the local low-life. They always went on for ages. She was sure it was just to pad out the plot.

She was right, of course. I decided to cut things short…

Dirk crept silently across the dusty earth of the corral straight towards the back of the unsuspecting Kid Laramy. At five paces he whipped his raw-hide lasso neatly over the black Stetson, and yanked hard, pulling Kid Laramy back off his feet, the lasso tight round his neck.

Typical bloke, thought Pippa, as the Kid vanished from behind her. One minute you’re squeezed like an empty tube of Savlon, and the next they’re gone without a word. Well it was his loss. “I’m going for a bath,” she shouted at Dirk as she took painful steps to the wash-house.

Dirk leapt on the Kid and drove his powerful fist into Laramy’s chin. The Kid pushed him off and wriggled almost to his feet, but Dirk hooked one foot behind his ankle and kicked at his knee, tumbling the Kid sideways, the gun flying from his hand into the dusty earth of the corral. The Kid pulled his knife and dived at Dirk. Dirk caught the Kid’s wrist just in time. Their faces were twisted into masks of desperate hatred, inches apart. Slowly the pointed blade of the Kid’s knife sank towards Dirk’s neck…

Mmmmm.. I couldn't decide on the ending. The ideas I'd had so far were:
  1. Dirk performs his famous back-flip to land on his feet, kick the knife away, and throttle the Kid with his raw-hide rope.
  2. A platoon of the 21st Cavalry, under the indomitable Captain Harvey Pugh, trots up to the corral on the trail of White Eagle, the notorious renegade apache. Troopers Grogan and McDonagh are detailed to seize and detain Kid Laramy. After an evening of Irish music and nostalgic reminiscences, the platoon continues its hunt for the elusive native American outlaw. Kid Laramy is led to his fate, lashed by his thumbs to the stirrup iron of the platoon sergeant.
  3. Dirk inches the Kid’s knife-hand provocatively to the mouth of a rattler’s nest until the enraged reptile strikes with its venom-laden fangs. The Kid drops his knife, stares in horror at the two puncture wounds already turning purple at their edges, is driven insane by the agonies of the poison, and jumps off a convenient nearby cliff.
  4. A wagon train of Mormons has lost the trail to Utah, and calls at the corral for directions. Its charismatic leader- Pontius McDoodle- heaves Kid Laramy to his feet, blesses him, and assembles his followers in a prayer circle, at the centre of which Dirk and the Kid hang their heads in shame at their un-brotherly quarrelling. The Kid accepts the mantle of Mormonhood, and follows the train to Utah, where he founds a new branch of the Church for the acolytes of St Botolph.

In the end I decided to have a ludicrously implausible ending for a laugh: chick-lit heroine Pippa gives up the chance of a bath to do something practical for a change, pole-axing the Kid with the heel of her Jimmy Choo sling-back.


Competition: The Pen Factor 2016, Round 1

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Read Reviews

Review 1:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
Main character
  • Your protagonist exhibited a unique voice and had original characteristics. Their actions and dialogue were convincing.
General comments from your fellow writer 1:
It was pure nonsense but enjoyable nonsense and well written. Didn't spot any technical mistakes. Liked the complete lack of 'fusion'.

Review 2:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Character conflict
  • Your characters drew me into their world from the very beginning. Their goals and conflicts were clearly conveyed.
Suspense and conflict
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. The build-up was intriguing and I felt the tension mounting with each word.
Style and originality
  • I loved your fresh approach. Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose requires both skill and practice.
Atmosphere and description
  • Your story was a feast for the senses. The atmosphere wrapped itself around me and transported me onto the page alongside your characters.
Opening line, paragraph and hook
  • Your strong opening was a promise of wonderful things to come!
General comments from your fellow writer 2:
Great spoof. I was thoroughly entertained! Reminiscent of the Trinity movies. Good job.

Review 3:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • Your story struck a good balance between narration and authentic dialogue.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
Characterization
  • Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
Character conflict
  • Your characters drew me into their world from the very beginning. Their goals and conflicts were clearly conveyed.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a challenging balancing act. The story had a clear and coherent progression with a structured plot.
Suspense and conflict
  • The joy of reading often lies in the element of suspense prompted by internal or external conflicts. The build-up was intriguing and I felt the tension mounting with each word.
Technique and tight writing
  • The writing was tight and economical and each word had purpose. This enabled the plot to unravel clearly. Your writing exhibits technical proficiency.
Style and originality
  • I loved your fresh approach. Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose requires both skill and practice.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
Opening line, paragraph and hook
  • Your strong opening was a promise of wonderful things to come!
General comments from your fellow writer 3:
Awesome shit, I love your don't-give-a-fuck writing, it's cocky and intriguing. In a world where reading has become so predictable, this is the kind of stuff I would rather be reading!