January Web Feature by Anthony Kane Evans
Anthony Kane Evans has had around sixty-five short stories published in various UK, French, US, Canadian, Nigerian, Singaporean, and Australian literary journals, e-zines, and anthologies. Journals include London Magazine (UK), Orbis Quarterly International Literary Journal (UK), The Tusculum Review (US), Going Down Swinging (Australia), and The Antigonish Review (Canada). E-zines include Litro Magazine, New Pop Lit, and Short Édition. Though born in Manchester, UK, he is currently to be found in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he has made several documentary films for the Danish Broadcasting Corporation.
Slim’s Back in Town by Anthony Kane Evans
It was the summer of 1874, when Slim rode into Wild Hill, pop. 1,745. He tied his horse up outside the saloon, Bill’s Watering Hole, sneezed – not for the first time – on account of all the dust he’d eaten on his journey, pushed open the swinging doors and strode on in.
“Well, well, well. Lookee here!” Bill said, glancing up from mopping the bar with a dirty rag, “When did they let you out?”
Slim had to think about that one.
The giant saucer-like object in the sky at night – at first, he’d thought part of the moon and broken off and floated down to earth – how it had shot the guard in the watchtower. No, ‘shot’ was the wrong word. How twin blue lights had emanated – yes, he had to use a big word like that – from the giant saucer – Made in Sheffield could clearly be seen on its underside – causing the guard to clutch at his throat and begin to fall, but before he could fall, to – how had Doc put it? – disintegrate. That was it. One minute he was there, pointing his rifle at Slim and Doc, the next he had faded into nothingness.
“Two weeks back,” Slim said, “They let me go early on account of my good behaviour.”
It was what Doc had told him to say. For God’s sake, Doc had said, don’t mention the saucer. And if you do, then for God’s sake don’t mention that it had Made in Sheffield stamped on its underside. As Slim couldn’t read, there had been little danger of that before Doc had told him.
“A bottle of Old Overholt,” Slim said.
Bill looked carefully at Slim.
“A whole bottle?”
Slim opened a saddlebag, took out a rock the size of a man’s fist and put it up on the counter. The rock wasn’t a normal rock, it glittered. Slim unholstered his revolver, took hold of the business end of it and whacked the lump with the handle. A piece of the rock broke off. Slim gave the piece to Bill who looked at in wonderment.
“You had time to go gold prospectin’ since you got out, then?” he said.
“Sure did, Bill. You know me, I never was one to dilly-dally. Now send the boy over to Ma’s place and tell her to ask Mirabelle to get herself over here and pronto.”
Bill whistled. A boy ran out of the back.
“Jimmy, go on over to Ma’s. Tell her Bill said to send Mirabelle. Customer.”
He looked at the lump of gold before Slim, the fragment before himself.
“An important customer!” he called after the boy.
“Yes, sir, Mr. Wilson!” Jimmy called back.
The boy ran out.
“Boy’s getting big,” Slim said.
“You been gone five years,” Bill said.
Five back-breaking years. Then the saucer. The strange men in the saucer. Dressed like bankers. Frock coats, the works. White men except their faces were not white, but yellow. Not yellow like a Chinaman’s. Sallow, that’s what Doc had called it. He had explained that saucers were nothing but iron horses that rode through the sky. That the men inside them had ridden for many years. That they had been kept locked up inside without access to regular sunlight which accounted for the strange yellow tinge to their faces, their hands. We have come for you, Doc, they had said. Slim had heard them say it.
Bill put a shot glass up on the counter.
“Sorry, Slim, it’s just the surprise of seeing you that’s making me forget my duty.”
Bill put a bottle of Old Overholt next to the glass. Uncorked it, poured Slim a full glass.
“Join me, Bill. They wasn’t no drinking men.”
“Who wasn’t, Slim? Your fellow prospectors?”
“Yes, they … they …”
Thinking was hard for Slim. It wasn’t that he was a lightweight in the mental stakes, not at all. But the hard labour had had an effect. The years out in the mid-day sun. Against his will.
“They couldn’t rightly afford it,” he said.
Mirabelle came in, followed by the boy. She’d aged. It was mostly in the eyes that you could see it.
“Slim!” she said.
Then she looked at the gold.
“Gold!” she said.
Then she looked at Bill.
“Oh, hello Bill, kind of quiet in here today, isn’t it?”
“It’s only ten in the morning, Belle,” he said.
“Oh, yeah, about that!” she said.
She frowned, then quickly smiled. Her second-best smile.
“But on account of it’s you who’s doing the asking, Slim, I don’t mind. Really, I don’t. Make a girl some coffee, can’t you, Bill?”
“Reckon we could all use some coffee this time o’ the morning,” Bill said.
Slim remembered what the men dressed like bankers had said to Doc.
“I’ve come for you, Belle,” he said.
She looked at Slim.
“I’m not the girl I once was, Slim,” she said.
Slim thought about that.
“Hell, I can see that, Belle. Do you think I’m blind? I’m not the man I once was neither.”
Belle looked at the gold.
“Well, if you’re sure, Slim.”
Jimmy was sitting up on the counter, staring at the gold, which is where he’d been since he’d followed Mirabelle in. Bill looked at the gold.
“Better put that away, Slim.”
Slim took hold of the lump of gold and put it back into the saddlebag. It was as though it had been night with the oil lamps turned up real high and now it was black night again. Bill popped his fragment into a vest pocket.
“Tell the boy to go fetch Pastor Brown,” Slim said.
“Rushing things, a bit, aren’t you, Slim?” Mirabelle said.
“Belle, if it hadn’t been for you, those five long years, well, I just wouldn’t have got through them, that’s all.”
“Slim,” Bill said, “You know the pastor won’t set foot in my saloon. We ain’t even on speaking terms, I’m sorry to say. Why, he’s got half the town turned against me!”
“I’ll make it all right,” Slim said, “we’ll say you’re making a contribution. Isn’t that what they call it?”
“Who, me?” Bill said.
“No, I’ll give it, but we’ll say that it’s you what is giving it.”
“Oh, like that?”
“Say, just how much of this stuff you got?”
“Two saddlebags stuffed with it, that’s what,” Slim said.
It was all those strange sallow bankers had to offer him.
“Sorry we can’t give you anything handier, Slim,” they’d said.
“Oh, don’t mind me,” Slim had said, “I’ll make out.”
Then Slim had looked at Doc.
“You sure this is all right? I mean, you really want to go with them, Doc?”
“I’ve always been a forward-looking man, Slim. Always been for the iron horse and the telegraph wire, you know that.”
“And I’ve been a damn fool!” Slim had said.
“Don’t say that, Slim,” the strange men had said, “We too get all sentimental-like for the past, don’t we chaps?”
“We sure do!” they had said.
Slim looked at Bill.
“Well, at least get the boy to go and tell the pastor that Slim and Belle plan on getting married this coming Sunday if that is all right by him.”
Bill instructed the boy. Then he went out back to make the coffee.
“So, Belle, tell me, what have you been up to while I’ve been away?” Slim said.