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A Stranger came to Town

by
Andrew Davis

A stranger came to town. That’s the way every story begins. She walked into the bar, doors swinging open and shut behind her. The piano stopped playing as she stepped in, and a hush descended. No one knew her name, but everyone knew her face. The scar on the cheek, the pointed chin, the ponytail hanging over the left shoulder. The “wanted” posters simply called her “The Gunslinger”. Lifting her hat, she surveyed the room.

     “What’s a girl gotta do to get a drink around here?”

     Still, silence. The sheriff stood up. “You think you can just walk in here? You’ve killed a dozen honest men of the law. Didn’t think I’d be the one to catch you, Gunslinger. Guess it’s my lucky day.”

The Gunslinger laughed. “It’s really not.”

     Before he could say another word, she drew her gun, and shot him clean through the skull.

***

An hour earlier, the barmaid was watching. She saw things, working here. She saw things every day. She saw the Sheriff come in for a drink every evening, saw how the workers, tired from a long day’s work, shrank into themselves as he entered. Saw how his shoes shined while theirs were battered and worn. He never paid for his drink: he claimed it as recompense for his services to the town. He claimed other “payments” too: some of the workers’ hard-earned silver here, a jacket he liked the look of there. Today he sat in his favourite seat, arms outstretched in a gesture of philanthropy as he told the Grocer it was a terrible shame that he was behind on his rent, but that it was a sheriff’s legal responsibility to shut the store down, unless he could do him a little favour…

Then, a stranger came to town. That’s how every story begins.

      “What’s a girl gotta do to get a drink around here?”

      The barmaid saw the face of the young girl sitting at the now-silent piano, and knew exactly what she had done.

***

The Pianist was desperate. The Sheriff had never forgiven her mother for refusing his hand in marriage. Over the years, he constantly made her family’s life that little bit harder, in ways that could not be pinned directly to him. The bank manager would refuse a loan, eyes darting nervously towards the window to glance at the Sheriff’s hut. A supplier would provide second-rate materials for her father’s carpentry business, apologising for the inconvenience as he did so; he swore it was a difficult year for everyone in the industry. When the Pianist’s father returned to town with his new stock, he would see the sheriff, smirking, tip his hat.

In spite of this, the Pianist’s parents had dared to be happy, to love one another, and the sheriff couldn’t stand that. On the day of their twentieth anniversary, the Sheriff glowered in the corner of the bar as they danced to a waltz played gently by the Pianist. As the song ended, and the Pianist’s mother and father leaned in to kiss one another, the Sheriff leapt forward and snapped a pair of cuffs around her father’s wrists.

     “I have hard evidence that you’ve stolen from the town’s treasury. You’ll be coming with me right about now.”

The Pianist held her mother back as she hurled curses at the Sheriff, and the bar stayed silent, looking pointedly at the floor, as her father was dragged away, promising his wife and daughter that everything would be okay.

     An explanation of the nature of the Sheriff’s evidence was not forthcoming. The day after the arrest, he bought a new hat, the exact cost of the missing sum of money.

     The Pianist stood, staring at the “Wanted” poster. She stared at the face on the poster, the scar on the cheek, the pointed chin, the ponytail hanging over the left shoulder. Her father was a day from the hangman’s noose. Glancing over her shoulder to check the street was empty, she flipped the poster over, and pulled out her lead pencil. Music was her gift. She struggled with letters, and her penmanship was scruffy and disordered. But she knew how to write the words she needed.

      Help Me.

      And help arrived, when a stranger came to town.

***

The bar watched as the sheriff fell to the floor, blood pooling on the dusty ground.

“Anybody got a problem with that?” asked the Gunslinger.

For a moment, all was still. Then, the piano started to play.

      “I’ll be having that drink now.”

      The barmaid poured the Gunslinger her drink, and passed it over. The Gunslinger sat, and drank.

A stranger came to town. That’s how every story begins. Everything changed. That’s how every story ends.

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Andrew Davis is a writer based in Cardiff. He writes a mix of prose and poetry, which has been published in anthologies and online journals by independent publishers including Black Pear Press, Fictive Dream and Arcbeatle Press. Full publications listed at https://linktr.ee/andrewphillipdavis.