The sun was getting high in the sky. Not quite noon, but getting close. You could feel it in the hot, dusty air. Well, you could if you had a sixth sense that detected time through vibrations of the air. Or perhaps if someone threw a clock at you.
The day was still. No wind. This was going to be trouble for Burlap McCalister.
He spit into the dust. Or he would have if the air wasn’t so dry and hot that his spit evaporated before it hit the ground. As it was, he poured some water out of his flask in its place and looked around quickly to make sure no one noticed.
If his skin could have detected the time, it would have told him it was one minute closer to noon. But he didn’t need a clock to the face or any kind of strange mutant power not quite good enough for the X-Men. Burlap had seen enough duels to know. It was noon, and the wind still weren’t blowin’.
He thought about spitting again, but decided against it. He settled for scratching where the sun didn’t shine. Except the sun was so bright it was shining there too.
Two gunmen stepped out of the bar. It was time.
They faced each other. Squinting hard. The kind of squint that meant one of two things: these men were about to shoot at each other or they had forgotten their reading glasses and were trying to order from a tiny-printed menu.
There was no wind and no menus. Burlap tried flapping his arms a bit but that didn’t seem to do anything. He tried blowing but nothing really happened. They say a butterfly flapping its wings a thousand miles away can make wind somewhere else. Burlap prayed for a butterfly, but it was no use.
It was time. There was no wind.
This was what he had trained for. He knew what he had to do.
This was a duel. There were rules. Things had to be done a certain way and it was his job to make sure. There were no two ways about it. It had to be done.
He tied a string around his waist. He no longer tried to hurry. He knew the duelists would wait on him.
He finished tying the other end of the string.
Then he paused, licked his thumb and stuck it out in the air.
Still no wind.
Burlap McCallister ran.
His body shuddered as the first bullet struck, but it did little more than slow him down. Every fiber of his body told him to turn away, but he had run this drill a thousand times.
He kept going.
There was a way things had to be done.
He didn’t fall until he made it across the street. He’d never know who won the duel. It didn’t really matter. If you were gonna do something, you had to do it right. And Burlap did right that day.
A thousand miles away a squirrel jumped from one branch to another. It didn’t quite stick the landing and it scrambled desperately up onto the limb. Its claws dislodged a piece of bark which fell into the bushes below. Startled by the falling debris, a butterfly flapped its wings.
As his vision began to fade, Burlap felt the rustle of the breeze. Wind blew dust in swirls around his body. Burlap grew determined and used his last bit of energy to untie the string.
Time can be funny to those in the throes of death. It might have just been noon, but Burlap swore that the sun was going down. He smiled as, now free of the string, the tumbleweed blew across the road and off into the sunset.