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  • Mark Wm Smith

Short Story: Desert Miles, Scene 7

“Why?” Miles attempted to shift the beam toward the sheriff, resulting in a swirling wave of dust.

“The boy was mouthing off, Miles. Talking crazy. Wouldn’t stand still.”

“He was a kid!” Miles said. “I don’t understand. What’s happening?”

“He looked like a rabid stray, to me. Besides,” Mentz bent his face into the shaft of light, “it was an accident.”

Miles peered into the lawman’s shadowed face, a glowing, gruesome mask in flaxen light. A tingle of death brushed his neck. “You ki-ki-ki—” The word stuck like a dry stick in the back of his throat. He coughed to loosen it. “K-ki-killed him?”

“He was crazy,” Mentz whispered, stretching the word into a melody.

“Delusional,” a female voice sprang from near the doorway. “From the brain tumor.”

Mentz’s face disappeared. The sound of his boot soles scraped the floorboards as he twirled to face her.

Miles tipped sideways, catching his fall with one hand in the trash-strewn mess.

The flashlight beam caught the side of John Mentz’s face. Rage flashed hot. Mentz swung his gun high across his chest and fired two rounds.

The blasts knocked Miles over. His ears filled with numbness.

The sheriff’s dim outline drew a bead on the dark corner where Deputy Riley’s voice had been.

Miles clutched the flashlight to his chest and rolled his chubby body into Mentz’s feet.

The larger man lost balance. He crashed into the flower pot.

“Miles, I’ll kill you right here!” Mentz’s tinny voice sounded tinny and small behind the quaver of white noise stuck in Miles’s ear canal.

A fat boot heel rammed into Miles’s rib. He gasped. Sage dust crowded out the air. Miles started coughing. He rolled to his knees, sucking another nasty gulp of sage, and swung the long flashlight like a baseball bat.

It landed with a smashing crunch against the sheriff’s hip.

The Sheriff screamed.

Miles lurched to his feet, eyes burning, tears blurring his vision and lungs on fire. He charged forward with the flashlight high above his head, swinging down hard at Sheriff Mentz’s murky form.

The flashlight bounced off Mentz’s shoulder blade. Its beam recoiled, bouncing off the ceiling and walls.

Mentz whimpered. His rising form toppled, nearly hitting Miles on the way down.

Miles kicked at the sheriff’s arm, barely brushing the large man’s shirt. “You pig!” Miles wobbled, forcing the shaft of light onto Mentz’s unconscious body with both hands. “You tried to frame me!”

“Miles!” Deputy Riley shouted from the corner. “I’ve got him! Keep the light on him. I’ve got him covered.”

Miles gripped the flashlight like a rail on the sinking Titanic. He fell to his knees again, keeping most of the light on Sheriff John Mentz. Hot tears rolled loose as agony swelled his chest. This was an ache he’d felt before, the day he realized the kids on the playground would never like him, that they planned to hurt him. That moment long ago came rushing back. He stood, abandoned and alone, the chain link schoolyard fence biting into his shoulder blades and five snarling schoolmates spitting “Vermin Miles Thurman” into his face while brandishing sticks and clenched fists. John Mentz had saved the day, running up on them and knocking the biggest one to the ground. The act of bravery had saved Miles from a life of fear.

“Looks like you might have your bed and breakfast after all, Miles,” Deputy Riley said, giving a short, injured laugh.

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