Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode three hundred and twenty-eight.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Final Shot Saloon
Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.
Tonight, in an unexpected turn even to us, we take a trip to the dusty plains of the Old West to meet a lad of some renown.
Fastest Gun in the West
Written by J.R.D. Skinner
Art and Narration by Opopanax
and Audio produced by Jessica May
William “Brazos” Barden held a reputation for speed that few could match, but he’d worked for it.
It had started when he was eight. His father had stepped down from their wobble-wheeled cart with a pistol on his belt – a J.H Dance & Brothers black powder Navy revolver – and the younger Barden had fallen in love with the thing before he’d even finished helping unpack the supplies that crowded the wagon’s bed.
It had taken a month of asking, but Barden Senior had eventually been convinced to allow the boy to inspect the weapon unattended. On a warm Saturday morning in June his father had handed across the gun, after a careful inspection to ensure it was unloaded, and the lad had immediately bundled up the leather sling to scurry into the shadows of the barn.
William’s hours were spent drawing and firing, and every spray of imagined bullets knocked down a line of invisible road agents. It was nearly supper when he was finally ordered away to complete a day’s worth of chores in an hour’s time.
In the following months his Pa found it increasingly convenient to allow the boy access to his fascination instead of laying aside pennies as compensation for the youth’s efforts on the homestead. It was soon the case that, despite dusty wind, or sweltering heat, or even impending storm clouds, William could be found in the shooting gallery of his mind.
Draw, holster, draw, holster, draw – the muscles of his arm became attenuated to little more, and his finger danced upon the trigger to the beat of empty-chambered clicks.
At the age of fourteen William had been wearing the weapon – now loaded and often used to scramble unwanted reptiles – when he’d stumbled across one of the Elmore brothers raising his voice to Father Barden while keeping his hand on his belt knife. It was late, and by the smell of whiskey on their breath Brazos knew they’d likely been at cards previous to his appearance. It seemed to be coming to a head as the lad approached, but, even as the irate guest began to flex his wrist to retrieve his blade, the younger Barden had drawn and planted his barrel against the man’s left nostril.
Wordlessly the pair had marched – one forward, one backwards – to the distant gate that marked the edge of their spread. By the time they’d arrived the drunken Elmore had swung from anger to melancholy, but William barred the entrance behind him nonetheless.
It was in recounting the story that the elder Barden gave his son his nickname, for each telling would conclude on the same statement that the lad had “damn near backed the bastard into the Rio Brazos.”
Still, it wasn’t gumption that made William proud, it was his speed.
At seventeen he collected three Comanches apparently fleeing, long distance, from the cavalry columns that rode the territory in search of their deaths or their surrender.
The trio were armed with weapons that would have been familiar to Grandfather Barden, but if it was good enough for the army, it was good enough for Brazos. Before they could raise their lap-bound flintlocks to scare off what they thought to be a hungry coyote, William’s ego had him standing beside their fire. He did so with his palms empty and his thumbs in his belt. When the youngest of the group, likely a year Will’s junior, moved to stand, the old cap-and-ball revolver found itself the quicker to rise. The single round it fired passed cleanly through the boy’s left shoulder.
Later William would tell himself, and those who’d listen, that it had been his intended target.
In the end it was a lucky result for the Comanches, perhaps, as the elder two captives were able to staunch the bleeding, and a life on the reservation was a small step up from a lonely death in the dusty stretches.
The story of their capture did much to bolster William’s name.
Two years later, when he was largely known simply as Brazos, and he’d traded his father’s seemingly-ancient pistol for a Colt, William encountered Chauncey Miller, another man with a reputation.
Chauncey was well known as a drunk, and a washed up Pinkerton, and it was said around most railyard card games that he might have once held the title of fastest draw in the Republic. He still wore a weapon at his hip, but he often spoke loudly about how rarely he’d used it since his supposed retirement. On such occasions his closest friends would raise a questioning brow, though they declined to argue the point.
Miller hadn’t been considering his notoriety as man of pacifism or war when he’d demanded payment from Brazos, he’d been solely interested in the whiskey the victory would afford him. His firm-chinned step towards William was meant as intimidation, not invitation, but Barden had become proficient with just one solution.
He’d fired twice before Chauncey had even cleared his leather, and the Virginian’s quadruply pierced hat was tumbling to the ground with a well-ventilated peak by the time the older man’s carefully oiled Peacemaker was brought level.
Brazos didn’t have the chance to make a third shot.
For three-tenths of a glorious second he’d been the fastest gun in the West – it was only through misfortune that he’d happened, that very day, to run into the man who remained the most accurate in that same territory.
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