“Of all the…”
Gunther coughed up some blood.
“…ways I thought I’d buy the farm, getting gut shot by a…”
“…Goddamn bloodsucking lawyer wasn’t one of them.”
Slade writhed about on the floor, desperately trying to break free from his shackles.
“Hold on,” Slade said.
Drip. Drip. Drip. The ground underneath the old man grew redder with every drop.
The door opened. A werewolf entered. Timidly, he walked over to Slade.
“Aww what the fuck do you want now?” Slade asked.
The werewolf extended his pointer finger, then using the claw at the end of it like a knife, sawed through Slade’s hand and feet shackles as if they were made out of butter.
“Miles?” Slade asked.
The werewolf nodded and growled in the affirmative.
Slade ran to Gunther and grabbed hold of the old man. Miles cut the rope and helped Slade ease Gunther slowly to the ground.
Miles morphed into his boy form.
Slade tore open Gunther’s shirt and stuck a finger into the wound. The old man yelled louder than he ever had before.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
“Looking for the bullet,” Slade said. “If I can just get it…”
Gunther winced. “Nah…forget that shit. We all got our time and this is mine.”
Slade tore a large piece off of Gunther’s vest, prompting the old man’s expected complaint.
“Now what the hell…Mavis made that for me!”
Slade pressed the fabric as hard up against the wound, doing what he could to stop the bleeding.
The old man raised a shaky hand and looked at Slade, who looked at it hesitantly.
“Jesus Christ,” Gunther said. “I’m not asking you to fuck me in the ass, just take my hand, will ya?”
Slade grabbed it.
“Boy, I know you think I’m a coward…”
“No,” Slade interrupted.
Gunther nodded. “Yes, yes you do. It’s ok. Maybe I am, or maybe you’re just too bullheaded. But I was never trying to get you to run away from every fight. I was just wanted you to save yourself for a cause worth fighting for.”
The old man coughed. His voice grew weaker. “And this cause…”
Another cough interruption. “…is worth it. Every bit of it.”
Slade pressed the makeshift cloth deeper into the wound. The old man yelped.
“Just…forget that. Stop wasting your time on an old son of a bitch and go save someone. Anyone. As many as you can…”
Slade and Miles traded sad looks.
“That fucker is playing with your head,” Gunther said. “Using your women against you. You can’t save them both so you’ll hate yourself either way but forget about all that…you got to…stop that damn train.”
Gunther gripped Slade’s hand tighter then let it go. He reached down towards his belt and fumbled with his knife, but lacked the strength to draw it.
“Bowie’s knife,” Gunther said. “It’s my prized possession. Shit. All these years and its the only valuable…thing I have. Take it.”
Slade drew the knife out of the sheath.
The old man patted Slade on the arm. “Take the sheath too. First rule of carrying a knife is…”
The old man coughed as if he were hacking up a lung.
“Fuck,” Gunther said, then carried on. “Don’t carry it on your belt loose or you’ll cut off your pecker.”
Slade fought back the urge to laugh.
Slowly, the old man raised his head and looked down at his ragged, dusty boots.
“Shit,” he said. “Will you look at that?”
“What?” Slade asked.
“Aww it’s just when we threw down against Smelly Jack that first time,” Gunther said. “You told me…you wanted to die with your boots on. I guess you and I are different because I always wanted to die with my boots off.”
Slade reached for the old man’s boots. Gunther grabbed Slade’s hand again and held onto it.
“Nah,” Gunther said. “Who gives a shit now? It’s just…when I was young I thought I’d go in a nice warm bed. I thought Mavis would be holding my hand instead of you, no offense.”
“None taken,” Slade said.
“Then I thought I’d have some young’uns looking over me but the Lord saw fit to not bless Mavis and I with any.”
The old man stretched both hands out and waited…and waited. Slade was baffled.
“Hug him,” Miles whispered out of the corner of his mouth.
“Oh,” Slade said as he clutched the old man in an embrace.
“I suppose you’re the closest thing to a son I ever had,” Gunther said.
Upon hearing those words, a tear trickled out of Slade’s eye. He wiped it away as he lifted his head up.
“Aw hell Miles,” Gunther said. “I don’t have anything to give to you.”
The old man and the boy hugged. “That’s ok.”
“Wait.” Gunther’s shaky hand lifted his hat off of his head and placed it on the boy’s. “Every cowboy needs a hat.”
The boy stood there with some tears in his eyes as well. He was still naked, but sporting Gunther’s dapper hat, red feather and all.
“You look sharp,” Gunther said. “But you need some pants.”
Gunther grabbed Miles’ hand with his left and Slade’s hand with his right.
“Promise me something, boys,” Gunther said.
“Anything,” Slade replied.
“That you’ll both do your best to die with your boots off.”
That idea went against everything Slade had stood for but he nodded yes. Miles did the same.
The old man clutched his chest and threw his head back, coughing uncontrollably. Finally, he stopped and made a few gurgling sounds.
“I’m a-comin’ Mavis,” he whispered.
Slade and Miles watched as the life drained out of Gunther’s one good eye.
Angrily, Slade stood up and punched the wooden support beam in the center of the livery. The pain made every bone in his hand throb with agony, but he didn’t care. He punched the beam again and again. Then he stormed outside.
“Look!” the boy said. Miles had spotted Slade’s twin pistols and bandolier on the ground, still filled with silver-tipped bullets. His captors had stripped them off of Slade, but then just tossed them amidst a pile of dead zombie bodies.
Slade grabbed both guns and holstered them, then put on the bandolier.
Off in the distance, the Marvel of the Rails sounded its ear splitting whistle.
“Damn it!” Slade said.
Slade and Miles hustled through town, running past rubble, burning buildings, and townsfolk turned survivors trying to piece their lives back together. A few stray zombies that didn’t make it on the train wandered about aimlessly.
The duo reached Highwater Station only to find the Marvel was gone. They gazed across the prairie only to see it chugging about a mile away, about to disappear over the horizon.
“Fuck!” Slade shouted as he stomped his foot on the platform.
The boy tugged on Slade’s arm. “Come on,” Miles shouted. “Let’s go!”
“Aww there’s no horse that could catch up to it now,” Slade lamented.
Miles took off the hat Gunther had given him and gently laid it on a bench people usually sat on as they waited for trains to arrive.
“Who said anything about a horse?” the boy asked.
Miles became a wolf again. He lowered himself down on all fours, waiting for Slade to climb on.
Slade shook his head in disbelief. He climbed on the werewolf’s back, gripped a big hunk of fur with both hands, and held on as Miles took off.