By Craig Towsley

He lay in the sand, his back against a small dune. He reached down to his stomach and his hand came back covered in a rich crimson. He took a few short breaths and felt like someone was trying to screw a cork out from inside him.

More shots whizzed past the mound, just over his head.

He checked the cylinder of his Colt and saw he only had three shells left. He snapped it shut again and listened for the banditos. They had stopped firing and that could only mean they were planning on coming over to finish him off.

He tried to remember how many of them he had seen. And how many he had shot since the firefight began.

He was sure he killed or wounded at least two. That left four, four more to kill and only three rounds to do it.

The gun in his hand grew heavy; it might as well have been a cannon. He couldn’t raise his arm to shoot properly, so he had to think of something else.

He heard footsteps approaching in the soft sand.

A horse kick of pain shot through his abdomen as he turned on to his right side and hid the gun under the flaps of his coat. He pulled the shirt away from his stomach, so the bright red bullet hole would be the first thing the banditos saw. He hoped to have enough time to take out one or two of them, as they stood over him.

He hoped they came around the right side of the mound otherwise he was finished. Banditos held no reservations about shooting a downed man in the back of the head. Another bucking bull of pain ripped through his body and he bit his tongue to keep from screaming. The sickly taste of copper flooded his mouth. He spit and saw the fleshy tip of his tongue land on the blood soaked sand beside him.

He heard hushed voices. The banditos were closing in and giving each other directions.

“Hell,” he thought and closed his eyes and played dead.

A tentative leather toe booted him in the thigh. He rolled over just enough to seem natural and kept his eyes closed. He thought he heard three distinct voices. He listened. He was sure there were only three banditos around him.

He pried his right eye open and saw one of the men bend down. The bandito had noticed the tip of his tongue. He was just about to pick it up, when the wounded man swung his pistol out and fired. The bullet when through the bent-over man’s eye and out the back of his head creating a geyser of red and grey.

There was a moment of charged silence after the report of his Colt.

The eyeless bandito fell forward, his legs still straight and landed on what was left of his head. He landed with and empty thud. The other two squawked in surprise.

The man with one bullet in his stomach and two in his gun rolled onto his back, cocked his pistol and put one round into each of the shadows towering over him.

The bright sun blinded him, but he heard the telltale gurgle of two dying men. They flopped and fell to the ground, like their puppet strings had suddenly been cut.

The wounded man listened, pushed his ears to pick up any other sound.

A hawk screeched from above. Crickets chirped. The wind rustled the nearby sagebrush. But he didn’t hear any sounds from men.

He relaxed and coughed, spitting up more blood. He pulled himself up to look over the mound. No one took his head off, and he decided he had gotten through the worst of it. He crawled over and checked the three men lying around him.

“Doornails,” he huffed.

He ripped the kerchiefs from around their necks and wadded them up and pressed the cloth to the wound on his stomach. He was suddenly thirsty; the blood in his mouth had evaporated in the desert sun. He pawed the men looking for canteen or a pint of whisky or tequila.

The banditos didn’t have anything on them except guns and blood and the first flies of many to come.

He checked their ammunition belts and cursed when he realized their shells wouldn’t fit his pistol. He holstered his Colt. He noticed one of the banditos still gripped a rifle. The wounded man claimed it from the corpse’s hand and reloaded it. He peeked over the mound again, this time behind the rifle sight.

Satisfied he was the only man alive, he worked himself to his feet, using the rifle to help him. He breathed deeply from the effort. His wound thundered with pain.

He searched the three breathless banditos once more, and found none of the three were carrying the satchel. He pointed his eyes toward where they had come from.

The three other banditos lay in the sand, on their stomachs or backs or sides. He raised the rifle and walked over slowly.

“Doornails,” he said.

He found the satchel under the poncho of the banditos, who had caught a round in the neck. He pulled it free and slung in on his shoulder. The bag was heavy but the weight felt good.

He stood up, using the rifle as a cane, and started the long walk back to town.