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And Eye for a Tooth
Are we dying? the voice in my head asked me softly, through bouts of searing pain. I told it to shut up. Not out of temper, but because I already knew the answer. The Oil Man apparently did too, because he lowered the gun whose bullet had just pierced my chest and turned his face from mine.
“I told you there’d be trouble, Quinton ,” he growled, without meeting my eyes. Corretion: eye. My left peeper was locked into my face; my right was dangling from the Oil Man’s poorly sewn pocket. An eye for a tooth. That was the deal we made. My eye, the Earth’s tooth. And I could see, even with my one good eye and the soft felt patch strung around my head, that guilt was pouring from him like sweat, beading down his cheeks and falling from his lips because he had broken that deal. But he was a corporate executive. A little guilt could never deal him the death -- the justice -- he deserved. Only a living person could do that, and I was no longer living.
It’s a strange feeling, the deep rift between your body and your spirit, and I didn’t think I would feel it for years to come. But here I could see myself, slumped on the red desert sand beneath the Oil Man and the cocked wooden toy in his hand.
Why the Oil Man? There are worse ways to go, for sure, but the last thing I’d wanted when I rode to defend the red desert against a big-shot oil monopoly was for its CEO to send a bullet through my chest. I hadn’t survived my sickly childhood to get shot before I had a taste of real living. I hadn’t become a cattle driver to watch the land I knew and loved be torn into and drilled for the city people’s sakes. But I guess the Oil Man had gotten tired of my constant whining about his rigs and made me the deal. He’d taken my eye just to see it go, and the jagged red spires like nature’s teeth would remain untouched. Then he’d stabbed me in the back for the endless piles of greenbacks he thought he deserved from this land.
I chuckled bitterly, looking down at my bloodstained waistcoat and the pocket watch my father had given me for my fifteenth birthday. Could I touch it? Apparently so, my mind answered with a devious grin. The Oil Man obviously couldn’t see me, or else he’d be having a heart attack as I got to my feet and stuck out my tongue in his face. Immature? Yes. Unjustified? Certainly not.
With a wrinkle of my pointed nose, I backhanded him with all the strength left in my ghostly form. I could not feel myself breath, and it was nice to know I didn’t need to. I could run anywhere and still have energy. I felt as if I could take on the world. And here I was slapping the man who shot me.
The Oil Man staggered backwards, his eyes wide and brimming with fear of the entity moving through the space before him. “Who’s there!” he called out into the ‘empty’ landscape. “Show yourself!”
Slowly, I reached for his gun. There was no hesitation within me over what I was about to do, though a part of me didn’t know what the absence of emotion meant for my morality. I drew it, cocked it, and pointed it at his nose. I could hear the shudders racking his heavy breaths as he looked down the barrel.
“Quinton?” he whispered, his cold black eyes flickering like a dying fire between my body and the gun that stared him down. It was the physical manifestation of human conflict, and what the Oil Man and I had done to each other.
He ground his teeth together, speaking through the small space between them, so that his voice came between soft, frightened whistles. “Put the gun down, Quinton.”
“Over my dead body,” I hissed, and pulled the trigger. For one fleeting moment, I sensed his shock; then his body crumpled to the sand beside mine, as if we were brothers, lowered together into the same burial ground. His soul did not rise from his body, and I could feel mine, fulfilled as the deed was done, floating above the sky, fading into the land I had succeeded in protecting.
A final thought coursed through me, the words of my father echoing in my mind before my consciousness faded into absence, an empty bliss.
One gunshot, whether it be yours, your friend’s, or your mortal enemy’s, always leads to another.