A Fantasy-Western serial
#9 - Gunslinging 101
Sunlight blinded Reed. He winced and rolled over, trying to catch the tail end of his dream as it scampered into the back of his mind. A boot nudged his shoulder, spinning him on the dusty floorboards. "Rise and shine, Cauliflower-Boy."
He opened an eye and gazed up at Troy who was glaring down at him. Did he have any other facial expression besides constantly annoyed? The Sheriff himself was already dressed, what little hair he had left on his head combed neat and straight, his eyes full of energy for someone so ancient. All Reed wanted was to sleep a little longer. Everything was sore and he did not want to get up.
"Don't make me drag ya outside," Troy said, spitting off to the side, "Cause sure as Hell I will, bum leg or not."
Reed groaned in response, curling up.
"C'mon now! I've seen molasses that drips faster than you. Get up!" Troy kicked his gut. Humans are so compassionate, aren't they?
It did the trick though and Reed scrambled to his feet before he could kick him again. He turned to find the barrel of one of Troy's pistols pressed against his green cheek. Reed frowned. What a great idea! Ask a crazy old man to train you!
"Lesson Two. Be ready to fight at a moment's notice." He laughed. "Hoo boy, look at me! I'm an old fart and I still got the drop on you. If I wanted to, I could just pull this here trigger..." Before Reed could react the trigger clicked.
Nothing happened, but Reed had just died a little inside all the same, his eyes open wide. He sighed in frustration, burying his face in his hands. Troy simply put an arm around him casually, continuing, "...and have myself a fresh salad." Reed could not get that image out of his head.
"Ya see, bad guys, Pft! They don't play by the rules like you and me do. They attack whoever, whenever, wherever they feel like it! They're not gonna give you time to rest, or step back from beating the tar out of you so you can just take your turn. So until every last one of them varmits is hanging dead from the gallows, you never drop your guard. Do you hear me, Greenhorn!" His voice ended in a roar.
Reed could only nod.
Troy took a deep breath, his tone much quieter, more contemplative, "Yes, well, we're gonna have to work on your reflexes." Troy poked his muscles roughly. "Bit of strength training, and some target practice too. You got the power of the Earth in you as a Xylem! Don't waste that. You just gotta learn how to use it and use it quick. In any fight every second counts. That's Lesson Three."
Reed could barely keep up, he had a hard time remembering what even the first lesson was in all of this. Perhaps it was yesterday? A sharp knock on the back of his head brought him back to attention.
"Don't go day-dreaming on me, plant boy. Focus. You wanna survive the next 48-hours you remember Lesson Four: Listen and memorize!"
Reed had a feeling this was going to be a long day, but it ended up being the longest day of his life.
Never before had he run so much. He was thankful for the boots protecting his roots, but only for the first couple hours, then he hated them with every step every hour after that as they began to feel tighter and the dirt packed in them dried up. The whole time Troy never let up, never gave him so much as a five-minute break. Sheriff Troy worked him hard, til every muscle was crying out and he fell to the ground, but even then he would kick and yell til he got up again. How he still had a voice was beyond Reed's understanding.
Nevertheless, Reed kept going. He endured the hits and insults and constant repetition of the all-powerful Lessons. He learned to react, flicking and retracting his limbs sloppily at first, but gaining accuracy and speed with every try, learning to judge depth and distance, knocking bottles off a railing, snapping at rocks flying at his head, but now he was up for the biggest challenge.
"That was passable," Troy said after Reed deflected a particularly large rock, "Bout time we're moving up to the big league," he said as he drew one of his pistols.
Reed gulped. He knew what was coming.
"Ya see, in the end it don't matter how well you fight," Troy said, patting the wound on his leg, "Soon enough, you're gonna get shot and it's gonna hurt like Hell. That's Lesson Thirty-Three and that's just part of the job."
"But you," Troy continued, "You got an advantage, I don't. See you may not be able to deflect a bullet but you can sure as Hell take a few so they don't kill you." He clicked back the hammer on the gun before Reed could reply that he wasn't ready. He pulled the trigger without so much as a warning.
Lesson Two: Be ready at a moment's notice. Reed whipped his arms to shield the bullet without even realizing he had until the pain stung him. His right hand fell to the floor, severed by the bullet. A little green ooze dripped until he grunted and closed the wound, a stub forming as he retracted his arms.
"Good! Good! Yes! That's how you do it." It was the most praise he'd received from him all day, and it almost made it worth it. He held his hand. The burning sensation was still there and he could swear he could still feel his fingertips, but the inital pain was gone and after all, he had stopped the bullet from piercing his heart, which was thundering through his ears. He felt something then and realized it was pride. Pride in a job well done as Troy would say.
A strange thought occured to him, considering he had just been shot. He had not handled a single gun all day. He learned quickly in the first few hours not to "mouth off" unless Troy asked him something (Lesson Twenty-Two) but this was bothering him.
"You promised you would teach me to use a gun, Old Fart." He said, standing tall as he felt the new fingers growing back in. He let go of his wrist and flexed the new fingers gingerly. He smirked a bit, realizing he had picked up some slang from just hearing him talk constantly the whole day. Lesson Twenty-Three: If you are gonna mouth off, do it right.
"OH," Troy said loudly, coming at him, "Is that what I said? I promised you, eh?" He got up into Reed's personal space, as usual, glaring up at him and bearing his crooked teeth.
Reed held still as Troy slapped him hard on the back. He barely felt even that. He maintained his posture, Lesson Thirteen: Stand Tall.
"Glad to see you're growing some guts in there along with your skills. Consider this training Gunslinging 101. You prove to me you're ready and I'll consider Gunslinging 201."
"There isn't time," Reed said, "What about Anna and the others?"
"Oh I see, so you say you got time to stand here flapping your gums and you wanna waltz in there unprepared, but you ain't got time to do things right the first time?"
Lesson Nine: Don't answer rhetorical questions. Lesson Ten: Ask questions instead.
"How do I prove myself, then?"
"Use your head, Greenhorn," he smirked, "And surprise me, if you can."
Troy laughed his hardened, hoarse laugh. The one he used whenever he was sure Reed was about to fail. He laughed so hard this time he had a coughing fit. Reed vowed to himself right then that he would prove himself.
The endless training finally ended and after a light meal around the community's small bonfire, Wheatfield's food store shrinking every day, Reed said he would retire early. Troy just laughed. Reed did his best to recoup for his plan. He slept better than he had even at Anna's place. A deep sleep with no dreams to disturb him.
Before morning he was up and he snuck around the sleeping area, making his way to Troy who slept furthest away from everyone, closest to the town border. Lesson Thirty: He kept silent, moving on the breeze. In a second he had him, wrapped up tightly in his vined limbs before Troy could even snap his eyes open. Reed just smirked at him, dangling his guns, hand-cuffs and knife in another vine sprouting from his back, keeping the precious items far out of his reach.
Troy could only utter an angry muffled grunt before Reed loosened his grip. He sighed heavily. "Well I'll be. You actually got the drop on me, son. Nobody's done that since I was your age." He smiled genuinely for the first time. "And look at you actually using your head. I can't move and you got all my accoutrements. You get a bonus point for being an ass about it too. I like that. You can let me go now."
"What if I do not?" Reed smiled.
Troy's smile disappeared. "I'll kick your ass soon as you do."
Reed laughed and released him, returning his items into his open, impatient hands.
"Yes, yes, good job," he tucked each one away, "Though I'm surprised you didn't just skip town after today's workout."
"That was not so bad." Well at, least it didn't seem so bad now that it was over and done with. That was the honest truth.
"Good ta hear, cause today I'm not gonna go easy on you!" Troy patted him on the back and laughed long and hard.
Reed wondered if there was still enough time to get out of this town before Dawn.
Troy finally got a hold of himself. "And, since you were so kind to get me up early, we might as well start now."
No such luck.
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