Skulls, Crosses, and Bones
The cards were dealt. Ethan cast his eyes around the table. It looked like a city skyline made of ten gallon hats. Despite the boots, belt buckles and affected mid-west accents, he knew none of these poseurs had ever even stepped in a cow’s shit, let alone birthed one in the middle of the night, let alone been forced to put down and bury their favorite old heifer that they’d raised from a calf. He picked up his cards and gloated.
“I bet all y’all wouldn’t even know how to milk a bull.”
The tension rippled through the men as they cast their bets. Strange bets they were. Silver bullets, gold teeth, and locks of hair were tossed into the pot alongside plastic costume jewelry, a small bottle of sand, and a pocketknife caked in grease. The table could have been the ‘FREE’ table at a yard sale. The Lion Who Eats Christians snored in the corner. Without weak souls to protect or dangerous ones to eat, the Lion was bored to tears.
“What do y’all think about the royal wedding? Kate Middleton ain’t hot enough to be be queen, is she?”
As the bets escalated, every word out of Ethan’s mouth sharpened the stares that had been trained on him all night. One by one, the other men folded. Except for one.
“Y’all play cards like a bunch of chubby teen moms on an episode of True Life.”
A man in an especially big hat and a crisp, pressed flannel shoved his entire pile of trash to the center.
Ethan set his cards down, hung his head and sighed. “When I was a rodeo clown, there was always a big tent in the parking lot outside of the arenas. Mostly white carny hustlers sellin’ fake Navajo baskets, corndogs, and statues of eagles made out of tumbleweeds, or some stupid shit like that. There was one old man, though, hundred per cent native blood. His name was Running Rock, used to sell dreamcatchers. Didn’t call ‘em dreamcatchers, though. Called ’em Lifesowers. He always cut a little chip out of his dreamcatchers. Said that way we could leave some dreams behind. Said if we don’t leave little bits of dream, little pieces of ourselves behind us all the time, we was wastin’ our lives. Cheesy, I know, but he made bank. Anyway, on the day I made my bargain, I wandered out of the arena, the Lion growlin’ in my ear, and there was Runnin’ Rock with a smile on his face. First time I’d seen one there. First one I’d seen during my Second Chance. He stood up, and without lookin’, swept all his trinkets off the table. Then I noticed it. The rug they’d been sittin’ on. The rug that he gave me. It was the rug where Sitting Bull sat when he foretold the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers. It was the rug where he sat when watched all them horsemen die a few days later.”
Ethan’s chair gave an awful squeak as he pushed it back. Everyone jumped. The Lion Who Eats Christians perked up it’s ears, though still feigned indifference. Ethan stood up and picked up the rug he’d had draped across the back of his chair. He flipped over his cards, showing his hand. Three bullets tore through the open window, knocking off the hats of Ethan’s opponents. Another bullet zipped through the shoulder of the man in the pressed flannel.
“I’m done playin’ games. The pistol that killed Sittin’ Bull. I know one of y’all’s got it. It best be on that table in ten seconds, or this is gonna be a full house of corpses.”
The Lion slowly stood up, yawned and stretched.