A Little Bit of Mercy, by David M. Hoenig
“Hey, Jurgen: what do you call a human breeder who works in a saloon?”
The speaker was just shy of eight feet tall with scaly, green skin, voice carrying over the howl of the wind outside. Her muscular tail twitched in time to the piano music from the far corner of the Dry Gulch’s common room, and one clawed hand was hitched in her gun belt. Grinning, she nodded at the girl who carried a tray of empties from a table of Lizkin and Human poker players.
“No idea, Hez. What?” rumbled the Lizkin male next to her, who drank from his glass.
“A monkey wench!” she roared, taking full advantage of the joke’s timing. Beer foamed out of Jurgen’s snout, and she howled with laughter at his expense.
The only Lizkin in the saloon drinking water did not laugh. The Sheriff tilted her fifteen gallon hat back before speaking. “Watch your mouth, Hezzick. Things are tense enough here in Dodge City without you kicking the wasp’s nest all the time.”
The gunslinger turned with a sneer. “‘Tense’, Sheriff Kessa? You afraid of these tree-swingers?”
A human lurched up from the card table, nearly overturning it. “Hey, I don’t gotta take that from you, sidewinder!” The piano stopped with a jarring note.
Hezzik smiled happily at him. “If you want to, little monkey, we can step outside and discuss it.”
“Quit being a damn fool, Adams!” one of the seated Lizkin hissed. “She’s the meanest gun in the territory, so sit down before she blows your head off and eats the rest of you–I want a chance to win back my money!”
Adams face paled rapidly, and he froze, keeping his hands carefully up, out, and empty.
Hezzik smirked. “Got anything else to say, monkeyshines?”
The saloon was absolutely silent. “Uh, I n-need a piss,” Adams blurted out, and the deadly tension was abruptly shattered by widespread laughter.
Even the gunslinger snorted her amusement, and then the piano and conversation came back full strength as the dangerous moment passed.
Then someone outside could be heard yelling. “Stagecoach! Stagecoach comin’ down Center Street!”
The Sheriff was the first to the batwings and ahead of Hezzik, and she stopped so suddenly that the gunslinger nearly ran into her back. “I ain’t gonna have trouble from you, am I?” she said over her shoulder, making intense eye contact.
A mean smile was on the gunslinger’s face. “Trouble is the watchword of the times, Sheriff. I’m just its messenger.”
Kessa merely grunted, then pushed out into the street. Everyone inside followed..
“My goodness, that’s an apaloosaurus, ain’t it?” asked someone as the stagecoach’s driver hauled on the reins and the great beast clattered to a halt.
“Rare as heck these days,” a Lizkin voice answered, marvelling. “Must be someone important.”
The driver glanced down, scanning the crowd before focusing on Kessa’s badge. “Howdy, Sheriff,” he called to her. “I’m Slade.”
Kessa tapped two talons to the crown of her hat. “Be welcome, Mr. Slade,” she said formally. “To you, and those you bring.”
Evidently content with the response, he grinned and jumped down from his rig. “Then, may I present Federal Justice Axia Pomeroy and her husband, Doctor James Pomeroy.” He opened the coach’s door with a flourish.
A well-dressed Lizkin in a formal suit, replete with tie and ruffled shirt, stepped down from the stage to appreciable murmurs. Kessa stepped forward to take her hand in a firm grip. “Your Honor.”
The Federal Justice’s reply was lost in the bewildered gasps and murmurs of the onlookers as a male human–frail and tiny in comparison–jumped down to stand beside her.
Hezzik’s hiss rose above the rest, full of scathing contempt and disbelief. “You went and damn well married one of them tree-swingers? That’s disgusting!”
Even the Sheriff was taken aback. “Uh, your Honor…”
Justice Pomeroy spoke in an even voice as her husband took a nervous step behind her. “It’s all perfectly legal.” She reached into an inner pocket and produced a document which she handed to Kessa. “Mixed marriages have only recently been permitted under the new Rush amendment.”
The sudden sound of a gun being cocked caused many to immediately bolt for cover or back away. “But it’s an abomination!” screeched Hezzik, her Colt leveled at the Justice’s chest. “That piece of paper ain’t fit for anything other than wiping my…”
“Now just hold on a moment,” the Sheriff said, carefully reading and examining the paper. “Put up your firearm: this is a valid marriage license, with the Governor’s own signature right there.”
“I will not, Kessa! This, this ain’t right.”
The Sheriff stepped carefully between the enraged gunslinger and the newcomers. “It mayn’t be ‘right’, but it’s most definitely legal. Holster up, or my deputies’ll gun you down where you stand.” The sound of two rifles being cocked from somewhere up the street were both louder and more ominous than the pistol’s had been.
Hezzik went abruptly still, then scowled and jammed her piece back into her gunbelt before stalking off.
“Thank you Sheriff,” the Justice said.
Kessa turned. “Part of me agrees with her, your Honor, but I’m sworn to uphold the law. Still, I’d like to know…well…”
Pomeroy took her husband’s hand and smiled at him. “Would you and Slade please take our bags to the hotel? I’ll be along shortly.” He nodded, and she turned back to the Sheriff. “The world is changing.”
Kessa snorted. “Always is.”
“No, you don’t understand: Jim’s been working with the data, and I’ve seen it myself. It’s getting colder.”
“But the papers…”
“They’re wrong. Projections look so bad that Lizkin may have to move south within this century just to survive. We could be extinct within three.” The wind howled past them down Center Street. “My daughters, and theirs, won’t be, at least.”
Kessa shivered, silenced by the dire news.
“Take a piece of advice, Sheriff.”
“Find yourself a man and settle down.”
David is an academic surgeon who lives to write, instead of writing to live. He’s had stories published in anthologies, webzines, and podcasts with: Flame Tree Publishing, Cast of Wonders, Elder Signs Press, Zoetic Press/NonBinary Review, Drunk Monkeys Literary, and Dark Chapter Press. He is working on his first novel. Slowly. Very.
Posted on September 3, 2017, in Issue 21: PhotoFlash 1--11 Visions and tagged e-zine, fiction, flash, flash fiction, photoflash, photoprompt, picprompt, spec fic, speculative fiction, The Were-Traveler. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.