By the Fire (Flash Fiction)

Bob wiped down his six-shooter with a torn piece of cloth. The shiny metal of the barrel reflected the light of the small campfire. Brian watched with discomfort as Bob polished and polished and polished. He’d never seen a man clean a gun for so long. How clean did a tool for murder need to be before it was used? Most men did the cleaning afterward.

“Why ya doin’ it?” Brian asked.

Bob continued wiping with the piece of cloth. His eyes were half closed, as if lost in a trance. The cloth moved from the barrel and down to the white handle of the pistol. Several minutes went by before he finally answered. “I’m doin’ it because God won’t,” Bob said. “I don’t know if that makes me a sinner or an instrument of the holy. Lord knows I prayed on it. Lord knows I’d rather not pull a trigger against a man. But, here we are.”

Brian shuffled his weight in the dirt. The rock that he leaned against seemed to have turned against him. What was comfortable a few minutes ago was now impossible for rest. “You don’t have to,” Brian said. He felt stupid for saying it.

Bob didn’t pause or look up from his polishing. He popped open the cylinder and slowly placed rounds into each empty slot. Brian counted them as they went in, six total. “A man don’t have to do a thing if he don’t want,” said Bob. “That’s the mystery of free will. We walk the Earth making sins and then turn around and repent for it. I don’t understand it much myself, but that’s how it goes. I learned early, when I was young, not to worry none about how much sin you make in your life. You just turn around and repent as soon as ya make it, then you’re alright with God.” He closed the cylinder slowly, carefully, with a light click. “He gave us free will so we could say we’re sorry.” Bob looked Brian square in the eyes. “Dont’cha agree?”

Brian watched the pistol slowly turn and face him. A dark circle stared at him from the barrel. The light of the fire bounced off the edge of the pistol, but no light snuck into the darkness that was the barrel’s inside. Only the empty black of death resided there. Not even flame was welcome. “I don’t know if it’s so simple as that,” Brian said.

“But it is,” Bob said immediately. “That where you’ve fallen astray. It is that easy. You’ve been tricked by the devil to think that it’s hard.” Bob cocked the hammer. The clicks of metal mixed in with the crackling flame. “You thinks you’ve got to earn it, but you don’t. You just do as you will and then ask,” Bob said. “That’s all there is.” Bob’s eyes flicked up and caught a shooting star over the dark horizon. “Now,” he asked, “is there anything else you’d like to say?”

Brian looked at the rope tied around his wrists. The flesh underneath was torn and red. For the first time in a long time, he thought of his parents’ and his brother’s children. An inexplicable feeling of disappointment washed over him. “I can’t think of anything,” Brian said.

Bob nodded. “Don’t worry about that none. Not all men have words when it comes to their time. But God knows your heart. It says so in the book. If there’s remorse in your heart, He’ll find it and accept it.” Bob raised his hand and took careful aim. Brian was unsettled by how steady Bob’s hand was.

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