Ignitious Dante watched a tumbleweed roll along Main Street, then bent down to wipe dust off his shoes.
“Main Street? Hah!” His mouth was too dry to spit. “How do people live in this wretched place?”
Ignitious was in Hell. Figuratively, but also literally. He’d chuckled a year ago when the steam-stage driver had called out the town’s name. What kind of people named their town Hell? Now he knew.
He avoided another wayward tumbleweed and shoved open the swinging doors to Hell’s only saloon.
Above the saloon was Heaven. The local madam apparently had a sense of humor. Her Angels occupied the saloon. An Army train had brought soldiers to Hell, and they had marched directly to Heaven.
The Angels would be devilishly busy tonight.
A player piano jangled in the corner. Every couple of minutes the instrument’s motor slowed, gasping. The music warped down a key and Ignitious was certain the device was dead. Then the little motor surged back to life.
Red Johnny, a gambler, was there to fleece the soldiers out of their money. Red Johnny had a mechanical hand to replace the one he’d lost in the War. He used levers and gears to move his metal fingers. Currently he clutched a full house.
Two sergeants at his table were losing big.
Nearby, two politicians argued viciously. They agreed with each other, but they seemed to enjoy hearing themselves speak for no apparent reason.
“Howdy, Sheriff,” Miss Amy called from behind the bar.
Miss Amy was the black woman who owned the saloon.
Ignitious tipped his hat before he could stop himself.
“Dammit, this place is getting to me.” He was no cowboy, tipping his hat to the lady folk.
“You ready for your big day?” Miss Amy handed him a whiskey.
“Not really. This is Sheriff’s Day. I’m the Town Treasurer.”
“And our Sheriff. It’s in the contract you signed last year.”
“Yes, I noticed that. This morning. In very small print. On the back.”
“Like I said - right there in the contract.”
Miss Amy topped off his glass.
“I’ll fill you in, Sheriff.” She emphasized the title. “Hell was funded by someone not from around here.”
“Some big investor from back East?”
“Well, from somewhere, that’s for sure. We call him the Mayor. On Sheriff’s Day he comes to collect his share of our profits. Each year, he takes a little more. He audits us then says we’re holding out on him.”
Miss Amy pointed at the room full of prostitutes, gamblers, and politicians.
“Do those look like dishonest folks to you, Sheriff?”
“Um, actually, yes.”
“Well, they ain’t.” Miss Amy looked offended. “Anyway, today he’s coming to collect his tribute.”
“Yes. As the Town Treasurer, it’s my job to ensure the money is there to reimburse the Mayor for his initial investment. I’m an accountant. A numbers guy.”
“Hell is ready for this audit. Everyone’s share of the tribute balances with what they reported.”
Miss Amy stared sadly at Ignitious.
“Oh, no,” he said. “They’ve been keeping money aside, haven’t they?”
“Every last one of us,” she confirmed.
“Pfft. Of course.” She didn’t even look ashamed.
“What the f-“
“Watch your mouth in my saloon, Sheriff.”
“It’s nearly noon. The Mayor will be here shortly. Maybe he won’t notice?”
“Good luck with that, Sheriff.”
“What did the other Town Treasurers do?”
“They defended Hell on Main Street at high noon.”
“Defended it how?”
“A gunfight, of course.”
”What else would it be? Wait! Gunfight? I don’t even own a gun!”
“We put the Sheriff’s gun in his office after his funeral. If you hurry - ”
Ignitious was already gone.
Ignitious was frantically searching the Sheriff’s office when the Mayor arrived to audit the town books. Ignitious had laid the false ledgers out in the Town Hall.
Was this the gun? It was gun-shaped, with an obvious handle and trigger, but the resemblance ended there. It was made of a smooth copper colored material that didn’t have the slick feeling of metal. The barrel was ringed by three glass circles.
The weapon lay atop a gun belt and Sheriff’s badge. Feeling silly, Ignitious strapped the belt on. Then he blew off a layer of dust off the badge and pinned it to his jacket.
Ignitious stepped out onto Main Street.
The audit was apparently complete. A crowd gathered along the sides of the street.
And that’s when Ignitious got his next big shock, for walking toward him was the Mayor.
Maybe walk wasn’t the right word. How does one describe the gait of a being with three legs?
Honestly, thought Ignitious, the three legs weren’t really the weirdest part.
The Mayor was pickle green. It was pickle shaped, too, with two skinny arms.
Three yellow eyes with horizontal pupils stared at Ignitious. Its mouth was a small slit with mean little fangs exposed. It wore a weapon similar to his.
“Are you the Sheriff?” The being spoke into a small box strapped around its torso.
“Town Treasurer, actually.”
“Same thing. Your books are wrong.”
“No, they’re not wrong.”
“Are you calling me a liar, Sheriff?” The crowd gasped.
“No, but I am calling you a cheat and a swindler.” The crowd gasped louder.
“Them’s fighting words. I want my money!”
Ignitious looked at the crowd. Miss Amy smiled encouragingly. Red Johnny levered the middle finger of his hand up and pointed at the Mayor. An Angel leaned out of Heaven and pulled her top down. The politicians urged gun control.
There was dust on his shoes.
He realized he liked it here in Hell. He belonged here. He’d worked hard all his life to get here. And he’d be damned if he’d let some little green bully threaten it.
The Mayor grinned as Ignitious faced him. Three eyes stared into two as a tumbleweed rolled between them. When it was gone, they drew and fired.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Damon Garn lives in Colorado Springs, CO with his wife and two children. He enjoys hiking, writing, and annoying his neighbors with mediocre guitar playing. He writes in the fantasy/sci-fi/steampunk realms, experimenting in flash fiction, short stories, and a novel. Follow Damon on Twitter: @dmgwrites or on his site.
This story took third place in our Western Story Contest!