The boy stood trembling in the street, too young for killing, but he had a six-gun in hand, and that was a problem.
“Son, you need to put that down.”
Cole stepped off the walkway and shoved back his duster to clear the holster.
The gun of black was screaming in his ear. “You just gonna let that runt take a shot at us?”
“He’s twelve,” Cole said to the voice in his head.
“Thirteen,” the dark spirit said. “Hell, I’d killed two men by my thirteenth year.”
Molly called out from her perch on the railing. “You want me to spell him? I can get him with something clever.”
The witch had proven handy against the Jensen Gang the day before, but he waved her off. “Tell you what, if he gets the drop on me, you go ahead and learn him.”
The gun was itching for a fight. He’d worn it too much of late and the struggle was enervating. A firm hand was required or it would drive a man to killing.
“We need to miss,” he said to the gun.
“One shot, just to scare the goodness back into him.”
“The hell we will,” the gun rebuked him. “I don’t miss but once in a blue moon, and it ain’t even nighttime — didn’t even miss when you were blinded by that settler-demon.”
“But you do miss.”
“Blue. Fucking. Moon.”
He rested his palm on the grip. The metal was cold but welcoming, and it sang for him to bring it free. He pulled away to remind the weapon who decided when lead should fly, but his finger remained near.
Cole’s countenance went stone cold and the gun’s fury filled him. That alone ought to have been enough to stay the boys shaking hand, but he stood his ground and the six-gun came up slowly.
The gun of black spoke up when Cole didn’t let loose all hell: “You understand that when he finally gets that gun high enough to yank the trigger, the slug won’t be moving as turtle slow?”
“Just remember to do as I say and put a fear into him. Not a bullet.”
“Piss off with that,” Cole snarled.
The boy had the gun leveled now, but it wasn’t cocked yet, and he shook so much that he’d probably hit the livery two streets over.
Cole found himself looking hard between the boy’s eyes. “Don’t even think about it,” he warned the gun of black. He fought until the spirit yielded again.
“You let him get past half-cocked, and I’m putting him in the dirt.”
The kid began wrestling back the hammer with both thumbs.
Cole drew the black at quarter-speed and fired a single shot that shattered the quiet of the afternoon. Splinters exploded from the corner of the post behind the boy's head, but the shot had clipped him in the ear.
“Damn you,” Cole swore.
“What are you crying about?” the gun snapped at him. “You wanted to miss. I wanted to put a new hole in his head. Seems to me like we split the difference.”
The boy just stared, seemingly oblivious to the bloodless wound.
Molly called it first. “Dammit, it’s a shade.”
Even as she said it, he disappeared as if he had never been. A murmur of shock swept through the crowd.
Cole spun on his heel looking for an ambush, but only gawkers and gossips filled the streets. “If it was a shade, then the one who made it has to be near.” His eyes drifted over the faces all around. The ladies blushed as he passed over them, and the men looked away or coughed nervously. A few with enough mettle met his gaze, but they all kept their hands low and still.
A mouse of a man half-hidden behind a corner stood out. His matted and oily hair offered a dark contrast to the clean crop of the young shade, but there was no mistaking the eyes. It was the boy, but now in his twenties. Any thrower could project themselves as they were, but to make a shade of a different size and age was better than most.
“Him!” Cole shouted.
The man turned and started pushing back through the crowd.
The gun of black tugged at his hand, and a fierce need to shoot gnawed at him and nearly won out, but Molly stepped in and pitched a hex.
The man fell to all fours and vomited into the street.
Cole hauled him back to his feet and pressed the gun of black into his chest. “Talk,” he said, “talk for all you’re worth.”
When he wasn’t quick to answer, Molly made him bring up the rest of his stomach onto his boots. “You sure?” she said. “I can make you cough up your balls instead.”
“Tell the witch to watch with the vomit,” the gun said. “I nearly wore it.”
The man smiled and his fear fell away. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve and took a step back. “No hard feelings-but Charlie Jensen paid hard money to draw you out. You probably ought not have killed his brother-”
A shot cracked from overhead and took Cole’s hat from his head. Red blossomed on the breast of the man in front of him. The shade-thrower froze with any further words already dead on his lips and collapsed in his own retch.
The gun of black came round and roared. Broken glass rained down onto a tin roof, and a dull thud added another Jensen brother to the tally.
“Bet you’re glad it wasn’t me up there taking the shot,” the gun said.
Cole paused, the first of six new shells already in his hand. “What are you going on about?”
“Well, that bastard just tried to bushwhack you at fifty feet, from high and behind, midday, with no wind — and missed. It must’ve been a blue moon for that idiot every day.”
Hamilton Kohl often finds himself arguing and losing to that voice inside his head, but once in a blue moon the bickering stops long enough to churn out some writing. His story “of Leaf and Limb” has previously appeared at The Arcanist, and he has also published fiction with Truancy, Mad Scientist Journal, and Crimson Streets. He lives with his wife and children just outside of Toronto, Canada. You can find him on twitter @Hamilton_Kohl.