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Mark Stucky


  By Mark D. Stucky

  Copyright 2010 Mark D. Stucky


  By Mark D. Stucky

  Flame and thunder spewed six times from the barrel of the ivory-handled Colt .45, filling the still air with acrid smoke. On the other side of the narrow street of Penuel, Kansas, the victim, his stiff fingers still clutching his drawn but unfired gun, toppled backwards into the dust.

  The new widow screamed and rushed to her fallen husband. A small boy--now fatherless--ran behind her. Their sobs echoed in Jacob Remington's ears as he spun on his heel and sauntered toward the saloon, an old bullet wound in his left hip causing a barely perceptible limp. As he walked he shook the spent cartridges out of the cylinder and inserted six new bullets taken from the loops in his gunbelt.

  His hardened but boyish face seemed to concentrate on his gun, but from under the brim of his grey hat, Jacob's blue eyes scanned the gathered townsfolk for signs of trouble. Except for the widow and her son, they were all as passive as grazing cattle.

  A sudden gust of wind rolled a tumbleweed down the street and drove dust into Jacob's eyes. Blinking, he turned his face away from the wind. That's when he first noticed the old man.

  The distinguished silver-haired gentleman, standing in the shadow of a doorway, wore a fine black suit--the kind, Jacob thought, most people wear only for church or burial. He also looked familiar--but Jacob could not place the face. Anyway, since he had no gun, he was no threat.

  The swinging doors creaked loudly as Jacob entered the saloon. Conversations inside ceased. All eyes briefly turned toward him, then looked away. For an instant the expressions on all the faces were the same--a combination of fear and contempt. Jacob knew the look well.

  "Whiskey," he growled to the bartender. Taking the glass and bottle, he sat, as usual, alone at a back table facing the door. He always kept his back toward a wall and his gun ready.

  After muted conversations started again, Jacob pulled out his bowie knife and his gun. As he carved the latest notch in the handle, images of the widow and her boy haunted his mind. He gulped down his remaining whiskey. Usually the men he'd killed had been single or at least had no family present. This was a hard one.

  He ordered more whiskey to ease his mental discomfort. As he did he noticed the silver-haired gentleman again. The man stood just outside the saloon, gazing at Jacob through the window. Jacob glanced down at his empty glass. He'd seen many expressions of fear and contempt before, but this old man showed neither. Rather, his face conveyed sympathy and concern. Since that made no sense, Jacob did not know how to react.

  Minutes passed and the old man continued looking at him. He must want trouble, Jacob finally thought. His chair tumbled backwards as Jacob vaulted to his feet. His boots pounded across the rough pine floor. He burst through the swinging doors, his right hand hovering near his gun.

  "What do you want, Old Man?"

  "I want to talk with you," was the serene answer.

  "What about?"

  "Your future."

  "You want a hired gun?"

  "Not exactly. It's a long story."

  "Start with what's in it for me."

  "Peace for your tormented soul."

  "Oh, I see," Jacob snorted. "You're a preacher and want to save my soul from hellfire. Well, save your breath because I'm beyond hope."

  "You're mistaken on both counts. There is still hope for you, and I was never a preacher. I was a gunslinger like you. Exactly like you."

  "I've seen you somewhere before then--on a wanted poster maybe?"

  "You've seen me every day of your life, Jacob Remington."

  Jacob was losing patience. "So you know my name. Who are you?"

  "My name," the old man replied, "is also Jacob Remington."

  "I'm not in the mood for jokes."

  "No joke. My name is real and is the same as yours. Don't I remind you of someone?"

  Jacob studied the man's face. The old man's blue eyes gazed evenly back into Jacob's blue eyes. "Yes, you look like my father. I get it now. You're some long-lost uncle that my father named me after. Well, I'd rather you stayed lost, Uncle, because I hated my father."

  "I know. Your cruel father made you what you are. Throughout your childhood he wounded you with bullets formed from anger, selfishness, and pride. Now you use bullets made of lead."

  "I don't want to talk about him, Uncle."

  "I am not your uncle. We are both the one and only Jacob Remington. Although I'm decades older, I'm you. You're me. I told you it was a long story."

  "This is crazy talk. How could you be me?"

  "I'm your ghost from an alternate future."

  "That's it! You have ten minutes to get out of town, or you'll be the next notch in my gun. Then you'll really be a ghost."

  "I already am, Jacob. Take a look in the window."

  Jacob didn't want to look, yet felt compelled to do so. Inside the saloon all the men were staring at him with puzzlement on their faces. "Why are they looking at me like that?"

  "They think you're out here alone talking to yourself."

  "Why would they think a stupid thing like that? You're standing here in front of the window too."

  "They can't see me."

  "And why not?"

  "I'm a ghost--your ghost. Only you can see me. No one else--not even a mirror. Take a look at the reflection in the window."

  Jacob changed the focus of his eyes. Since the saloon's interior was dim and he was standing in the sunlight, he could see his own faint but distinct reflection in the window. Where the old man's reflection should have been, however, there was only an image of an empty street.

  "This is some kind of trick."

  "If you want more proof, then call me out. Ghosts don't bleed."

  "Old Man, I'm feeling extra generous today, so I'm giving you one last chance. Get out of town now, and I won't kill you."

  "I'm not leaving without you. Let's settle this out here." The old man turned and walked toward the red dust in the center of the street.

  "You are crazy. You don't even have a...gun." Jacob stared at the ivory-handled revolver that had suddenly and mysteriously appeared on the old man's thigh. The gun and belt looked exactly like Jacob's--even with the same number of notches in the handle.

  Jacob followed slowly, feeling his old bullet wound. The old man also favored his left leg, limping in exactly the same manner. Jacob licked his dry lips and rubbed the sweat from his fingers. The sun was beating down on him, but he felt cold.

  Jacob took his position in the street like so many times before, but never with such uncertainty in his mind. He wavered for an instant, but then his resolve hardened again. At the age of 16, after an abused childhood, Jacob had vowed he would never let anyone beat him again. In his current occupation, defeat meant death, and he would choose death rather than back down from a fight.

  "Make your move, Old Man, and we'll put an end to this foolishness."

  The man went for his gun, but before he had yanked it out of the holster, Jacob had blasted his first bullet toward the old man's heart. Three more bullets followed split-seconds later. Jacob stopped fanning his gun. The man still stood there, unflinching, with his hand resting lightly on his holstered gun. The man smiled. "See."

  Jacob walked five paces forward, took careful aim, and fired again. The man continued smiling.

  Trembling, Jacob slowly walked right up to the man, put his gun's muzzle on the man's sternum and fired. Over the man's shoulder he saw his last bullet kick up dust twenty yards down the street.

  "Now do you believe me?"

  Jacob could only hoarsely whisper, "What do you want from me?"

  "Like I said before, I want to talk with you. I also have something to sho
w you. You're not a coward are you?"

  Jacob shook his head, but he wasn't as certain as before.

  "I know you're not. At the first light of dawn tomorrow morning, pack up your horse, leave town, and ride out to the cemetery before sunrise. I'll meet you there."