We draw our own designs but fortune has to make that frame
rating: +7+x

Lucky. What kind of nickname was that?

Lucky doesn't fit too much when you're on the run. Heist gone wrong. The law and your employer putting a price on your head.

Lucky isn't really what you feel when all your best crewmates are dead and you are getting blamed for the death of one of the most legendary criminals in the whole damn west.

Lucky isn't running through the desert, no horse, diminishing supplies, covered in dirt and dust.

Lucky wasn't headed where I was headed.

My mom was a schoolmam, taught me that you've got to paint a picture in the head of the person listening your story. The Ranger finally gave me a good enough story to tell.

I'll be telling this story for the rest of my life.

I was headed north, and as fast as I could go. The Arizona job went to hell. I survived by a stroke of… well, luck I guess. The kind of good luck that you can only find buried deep in bad luck. The Invisible Bandit managed to lose his own magic disappearing hat… and I picked it up. Then I ran. I ran all the way back to my horse, and I went the fuck away from that train.

Don’t know why he didn’t shoot me when he had a chance, other than me being knocked cold and bleeding on the floor. Actually, that was probably why.

By the time I rode into the next town over, maybe a day later, I saw someone hanging up wanted posters with my name and face on ‘em. I decided it might be a good bet to keep my hat on. Two towns later and my horse wouldn’t budge another inch, so I parked him at a stable and left him behind.

I kept walking closer and closer to home. I stopped by the cabin of a good friend of mine. Adri Liebowitz. Dunno how he had a last name like that… pretty sure he was an immigrant from the Raj… but he asked a lot of good questions and he always told me the truth. I took off that silly little hat and walked up to his door.

~~

“What brings you here?” Adri asked. He seemed surprised to see me.

“I’m on the run. Law is after me.” I said, dusting myself off.

“You aren’t being followed too closely are you? Are you bringing danger my way?” He looked unsurprised, somehow.

I paused, not even having considered that.

“I think not. I hope not to stay long. Some water from your well, maybe some supplies. I hope you don’t mind too much.” I said, sounding weaker than I hoped.

“I don’t mind at all.” Adri said, “Will you be needing very much? Do you have a plan?”

“Not much in the way of supplies. Just enough so I can make a cut across the desert if needed. Not much in the way of a plan either.”

I paused again, my throat was dry.

“This hat I uh… found… makes it easy to pocket the basic supplies I need running from town to town. People seem to ignore me when it is on, but I can’t assume it is gonna stay on forever and I’m not too big a fan of wearing it all the time. I need to find a better place to hide myself. I’m thinking of riding out to one of the ghost towns and staying there. Scranton strikes me as the best bet.”

“What makes you so sure Scranton is a smart choice?” Adri asked.

“No one lives there, but it has all the fixings to live in. If I’m going to take my time and figure out which way the wind is blowing.”

“Why did Scranton get abandoned anyways?” Adri asked.

“Hell if I know. Boom towns hit a bust eventually. I know some of them went missing but there’s a ton of boring explanations for that. I don’t believe any of them dumb stories.”

“What stories are there?” Adri asked, almost as if he already knew the answer.

“Well, the man who founded it… he allegedly disappeared into thin air one day. But he probably just ran off. People said that wasn’t like him but the west has a way of making people act differently. People said that Sarkies came in and ate a bunch of people… the old school witch doctor type Sarkies… not the building burnin’ kind from out east… I don’t hold much faith in that either. Sarkies would have left a mess behind, and most of them are out in the Utah mountains anyways. Nowhere near. The idea that something killed them all has the same problem, there would be a mess. Way I see it, the mines dried up and people walked away… and that’s that probably.”

“Why didn’t we hear about that then?” Adri asked, a little more pointed.

I shrugged. “People just like the scary story more I suppose. So we all ignored the boring one.”

Adri shook his head for a bit. “You’re right, Scranton sounds completely safe.”

~~

Well after that he was mostly silent. Some water, some food, he even gave me a spare set of clothes he said didn’t fit him any more. I thought that was awfully nice of him. I didn’t see him again after that. Heard he’s doing well though

Scranton, Nevada. You won’t find it on any maps. Criminals passed through from time to time to meet up and trade their wares. I figured that’d be an excellent base camp. I could always trade, I still had plenty of cash on my person and some odds and ends. Plus I could salvage the city while I was there, see if there was anything left to find. I stocked up on more supplies, stole some canned food and bedsheets. I managed to sneak into the little house that the Detective Agency put me up in. The guard didn’t see me walk when I walked in. I figured he was probably on orders to turn me over to Mr. Dark, and I’m sure that wouldn’t have been any fun. I got most of my important possessions out to bring with me.

I walked into Scranton and it felt like time stood still there. The days felt long, and the nights longer. The place I took up lodge in was the saloon. The Anchor. Looked like it was a beautiful building at one point, but it was slowly unraveling. The ceiling was peeling apart and I bathed in the light that would shine through. There was something… very different about the place. Still, it kept me safe. The supplies were surprisingly plentiful, like the residents never left.

Criminals like myself came in from time to time, but they tried not to linger for too long. If I knew them, I greeted them. We would trade wares and share drinks. If I didn’t know them, I’d keep the hat on. Only when I was completely out of sight would they be spooked by me. Kept me safe, I reckon.

I was safe, if a little haggard. If a little lost. Friends who did stop by said I looked different. Skinnier, paler. Looked like I was fading away. Joey, a good friend of mine though, he said all I needed was a damn good time. I was fading away because I wasn’t out being social and all that. He said he’d grab some of our old drinking buddies from back in the day when we were just petty thieves and we’d have a big old party out here. Poker, whiskey, some records, and he might even pay some ladies to show us a good time as well. I was eager for a return to normalcy… all that stuff happened quite a lot back when I worked for Marshall, Carter, and Dark.

Well Joey delivered on the music and the poker. He said he couldn’t find a girl of the line willing to come out here. They were all scared by the ghost stories and the tale of Vanishing Robert. I was honestly just happy to have a night where I could talk to friends instead of drinking alone. About eight of us, some damn fine whiskey, and a riveting game of poker, seven players trying their damndest. I was drinkin’ quite a bit, and I only remember some stray piece of conversation.

“How much longer are you gonna live like a guttersnipe, Lucky?”

I couldn’t answer that. I wasn’t afraid, but I wasn’t confident either. There was a feeling of my own feelings dwindling… and that was it.

“You’ve been out here a month or so already. You really think they can keep up the search that long?”

I could at that time scarcely believe a month was accurate. It had by my count been a week although it felt like a year. A month. My sense of time was one of many that was failing.

“There are better places to run to.”

Yes there were. But at the time, I couldn’t think of a better place to hide.

But none of all that matters.

The doors rang out in a thunderous song as another man walked through. My hat hung up, resting in a corner that felt days away. The man was the one I was running from. The Arizona ranger himself. Here to finish the job.

I ducked under the table and crawled frantically to the other side of the room. The room that kept getting bigger.

I heard Joey raise his voice, the old rebel yell. I heard the table hit the ground as he flipped it, the coins scattering. The first shot rang out.

There was a period of screaming and suffering so long I could have recited this whole story from beginning to end in that time, takin’ pauses for drama and all that. Then the second shot rang out.

Was time slowing down? Was the building getting more spread apart? Was the Anchor crumbling beneath me? I could see the void seep out from in between the floorboards. The third shot rang out.

I could feel a void opening up all around me. I thought maybe I could slip away. The Anchor was showing me the way there. To where the rest of them all vanished to. There was a silence calling out for me. The painful screams of my friends were muted. The fourth shot rang out.

I looked back and the light flooded in. This bar was not pushing me into the void, it was the only thing keeping me here. I could see it all again. The world was real again. The shots were more than just echoes. The screams had faces. The ranger pulled his trigger and the fifth shot rang out.

The light grew brighter. The space between the floorboards retreated away. I was no longer swimming into darkness. I had no escape, but the void had no exit. I see Joey raise his gun, finally ready to fight back. The sixth shot rings out, but it is not his.

I am alone. The void behind me and the light in my view. Between me and the light, the ranger walks over.

Rather than loading his gun, he extends a hand. I reach back out and meet him. His words sound like a choir singing ominously in my ears.

“You shouldn’t be here. This town is already getting to you. Follow me out of here.”

I couldn’t explain to you at the time why he was sparing me.

He picked up my hat as he dragged me out the door. He pocketed it and dragged me to his horse.

As we took the road out of town my head was spinning. By the time Scranton was a spot in the distance I had to stop so that I could throw up. The colors returned to their usual hue around me as I pressed my palm firmly to my forehead. The ranger looked down to me on the ground shaking.

“Take your time there, partner. Your life comes at a price. I need you to be healthy. If you need to sleep here, I can make a camp.”

And so he did. The fire reminded me that I hadn’t felt real warmth in a while. I was silent. Another slew of friends lay dead at the hands of this man who had spoken to me all of twice.

I slept. I slept for the first time since I entered Scranton.

When I woke up, we continued our tide. I was silent the whole way. He was twice as silent as I was.

It was a long trek, another night by the campfire before we reached our destination, the full moon shining when we arrived. A tree, huge one. Crooked as all hell, and bodies hanging from the branches.

He spoke again.

“Don’t worry, I’m not hanging you up here.” He laughed. “You somehow ran out all the way to where I got my start. Back when I was just a bounty hunter. Scranton. Me and my first target ever decided it wasn’t worth the fight. We’d play a game of roulette, one bullet and five empty chambers. I won. He told me, if he lost… to find this here tree and hang his body up on it. So I did. But the tree asked for more. I’ve been delivering ever since.”

He paused and looked at me.

“I’m out chasing bigger criminals. I’ve got less time to tend to this tree. If you could have the ropes ready for when I show up, that’d make it easier. If you could cut the bodies down after they’ve uh… dried up… that’d be helpful too. You can bury them too, if you’d like. I just need a uh… general groundskeeper around here. My house is a little ways away. If you could look after it while I’m out… which is for weeks at some points… that’d be generally really helpful. I’m going to get a cart and gather your friends from Scranton. Don’t you go back there by the way. Something is wrong with that place.”

I was… hard to place what emotion I was feeling really. Was this some sort of sick joke? Was this my punishment?

“Why are you doing this?” I found myself asking.

“Because this job is starting to wear on me. Having you around to take away some of the burdensome parts of the job… maybe I can make it another four or five years. Bring down more outlaws. I’ll let you go when I decide to retire. I’ll have those wanted posters taken down and your record struck clean if you do. That’d be a lot shorter than the time you’d spend in prison, I reckon.”

I still couldn’t calculate how my life reached that point. I looked him in the eyes for the first time since he picked me up off the floor.

“But why me?”

He shrugged. "I don’t know my friend. Figured I’d need someone to help me with this job eventually. I just sort of decided while chasing you. I guess you’re just lucky.”

Heh. Lucky. Guess maybe I was.

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