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Published on Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Devil John

By K.S. Riggin

 

~~ In a small cemetery in the dusty town of Wichita, Kansas ~~

~~ In the middle of the lonesome prairie ~~

1872

 

First of all, Devil John, I gotta tell ya' my Uncle Jimmy, he only got a day in jail for killin' ya'. I know that makes ya' spittin' mad, but ain't nothin' ya' can do about it.

   

Ya' done made so many enemies nobody gonna argue that decision. Judge Tabern -- remember him -- ya' cut down his peach tree, that pretty one that used to bloom sweet pink blossoms everyone took to lookin' at each spring . . . Why Judge Tabern thought a heap of that tree, and it gave him all them peaches his wife used to make peach chutney out of. She always got a blue ribbon at the fair with that peach chutney. Yeah, I know, weren't no one could prove ya' done chopped down that tree, but Judge knew ya' done it 'cause ya' was so mad when he locked ya' up for busting old Pete's nose. He told ya' that just 'cause Pete had an ugly nose, it weren't no good reason for breakin' it. And ever'one knows ya' tol' him ya'd get even. I guess'n ya' did get even, but it was like grabbin' a snake by tha' tail. That snake done bit ya' good.

Ol' Henry Gather -- he's the lawyer that was 'posed to help anyone that ain't got no money. Why, he got to remembering how ya' beat up his son on the way home from school that time just 'cause the boy called ya' a "no count." The boy shouldn't have done that, even though it's true, but that boy still gots a missing tooth right there in front, and Sally told me his eye was a real shiner for a while. I knows you claimed ya' ain't never did it. Ya' even had that witness, Clara, over in Silver City. But ya' never gave her that ten you promised her, and she gone and tol' everyone that'd listen that she was sorry she tol' them lies for ya'. Anyway, Henry Gather said that he weren't never gonna defend you. He'd rather go to jail, and he also told Judge Tabern that Uncle Jimmy should get a medal for doing ya' in.

See, they was all sittin' 'round that courthouse trying to decide what ta' do 'bout the whole mess. They let me sit in 'cause they said I had some rights to speak up for my Uncle Jimmy on account of his shooting ya' since ya' done put me in the fam'ly way.

Judge Tabern lit up one of his big black cigars and started puffing, and I almost had to leave. I started feeling so queasy, but then Charlie McCay, Uncle Jimmy's lawyer started talking, and the judge stabbed out the cigar, and I couldn't leave then no how 'cause they started bouncing them legal words like they was playin' one of them games with them rackets I hear tell 'bout. And it all went something like this:

Charlie said that my Uncle Jimmy was defendin' hisself. Dr. Sam shot up, and his doughy face got all red, and he started in coughin', holdin' up his hand in the air like'n he was still in the schoolhouse. Finally, Dr. Sam stopped a coughin' and spit a huge wad right on the courthouse's shiny, new wooden floor. I thought that was again' the law, but Judge Tabern never said a word 'bout it, and that hunk of spit lay there staring up at me like a cracked-open egg -- all yellow and nasty. I can tell you I 'most lost my breakfast toast. I had ta' look away.

Anyway, Dr. Sam said it no way could a been self-defense 'cause you didn't have your six-shooter on when ya' died. But Charlie said it was sure 'nuff self-defense, 'cause anyone standin' close to a rattl'r had to have a gun, or he got bit.

They started in argu'in, but I had to go to the pot, and I had trouble getting' up on account of my big belly. Ev'ryone stopped yellin' and Charlie and Dr. Sam, they give me a lift up. When I come back, they was all just standin' 'roun, smilin' and tellin' me that it were all over.

Uncle Jimmy and I went home to fried chicken, biscuits, and chocolate cake, though I couldn't eat much 'cause it don't sit well in me no more. That's when Uncle Jimmy tol' me all the good news 'bout how he didn't have ta' go ta' jail. I was real happy for him 'cause I felt like it was kinda' my fault, even though I never once tol' nobody to go kill ya'.

   

Sheriff Andy stopped by for some cake. He tol' us that there was some problem about your being buried. See, Clarence, the grave digger, said he wouldn't dig no hole for you 'cause you shot his best 'coon hound with buckshot, and the dog's blind in one eye 'cause of it. Clarence said he'd throw some lye over 'ya, and that was good enough, but Sheriff Andy and the judge gave him an extra buck. I don't imagine Clarence dug very deep, but ya's underground now.

I don't know if'n ya's hearing this, but it's kind of strange how ev'rythin' worked out. I mean it's like almost I should thank ya'. Nobody ever thought I was much to look at, and I never done no datin'. I guess I always thought I'd end up dyin' in Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Martha's house, even though I never really wanted to live there. I mean they're nice and all, but a woman always wants her own.

I knows I hated ya' good when you held me down in the mud behind the stable last winter. Ya' hurt me something awful, and it wasn't at all like I always thought it'd be. I hated ya' even worse for that. Then when I found out that I was gonna have your baby, I thought I'd die. But Rev. Smith and Uncle Jimmy talked to me a heap, and they tol' me the whole town's gonna help me with the baby. Now I feel real good about ever'thing.

You see, since ya's dead, I get all your worldly goods, and I ain't gonna have to live with Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Martha. Now I's got your shack all cleaned, and I planted me some flowers in front, and Uncle Jimmy put in a cherry tree.

It's kind of funny how I almost feel beholdin' to ya', Devil John. Ya' never meant ta' do me no good, but I guess, in spite of yourself, ya' did. I'm gonna name your kid, James -- after Uncle Jimmy -- or Martha, if it's a girl. And I'm gonna raise it right, like a good Christian.

Ya' know what's really weird, Devil John? When ya's alive you ain't never made nobody happy. I think ya' wanted everyone miserable as ya' was. But, ya' know the funny part? You ended up makin' a ton of people happy just by gettin' yourself killed -- me, in my new house with a baby I thought I'd never get to have, and the sheriff and judge, and even that hussy, Clara over in the Silver City Saloon. Why I hears she was so happy to hear ya' been shot, she threw a party for ever'one in town, and they hooted and stamped their feet way past midnight. Guess a couple of fights broke out inside about who hated 'ya worst, but mostly they was just a dancing all 'round the street.

I don't know why I'm standin' here tellin' you all this. I wouldn't even say "good day" to you if'n you was alive. I guess I'd still be hatin' you then, but since you're lying underneath that tombstone, I feel kind of sorry for ya'. You see, I think it's awful sad, Devil John, that the only way ya' could make people happy was to go off and get yourself shot down in the dust like an old, sick dog.

THE END

 

K.S. Riggin dreams in stories and teaches second graders when daybreak hits. During evenings, weekends, and vacations, she transposes alternate realities into words and scenes. She writes novels, but keeps a portfolio of short stories and poems on her personal website. Three of her short stories have just been published in the November issue of Spectacular Speculations. Another story will be included in the Farspace2 Anthology. Alien Skin Magazine has just agreed to publish two of her flash fiction pieces and a fiboncacci poem in Feb/March, 2010.

 

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