The Passing of a Prairie Dog.

By Jay St John Knight


All that’s left to show for my old pa is this piece of junk car. It can barely outrun a coyote on the straight and I’m sure it wouldn’t hit the state line without falling apart. Piece o’ shit same as him.

My stomach won’t stop rumbling. Haven’t eaten in two days and it’s too hot out to go hunting on the prairie. Ain’t had a nickel for food since I was dropped from the farm and no one wants to hire a nobody who ain’t ever been to school. So I gotta do what I gotta do. If that means sticking up gas stations and shops for a few bucks then so be it.

There’s one now. A little shop in the middle of nowhere, probably run by an old-timer too. He won’t kick up a fuss. Easy pickings. Got me a shooter too. Swapped it for my ma’s gold ring after she passed. Used to use to it keep the coyotes away from the chickens back when we used to have the old house. Back before pa gambled it away. Don’t work no-more, seized up a while back, but they don’t know that.

It’s too hot. I hate this bit. Walk in, case the place, see what’s what and then grab the money and run. Fills me up with nerves. Exciting too mind, like pluckin’ up the courage to kiss a girl. It goes one way or another. Yes or no. No in-between bit, no medium.

He is an old-timer. I can’t see anyone else in this shop save the boys stacking potatoes on the other side. They’ll be easy to handle. Just stroll on up, pull the shooter, ask for the money and go. That’s the plan. Easy. Here goes…

*

It was a hot day. Outside, the road stretched in both directions towards the horizon where it dissolved away into a rippling mirage, occasionally disturbed by dirt covered pick-up trucks that pulled over every now and then to pick up groceries before going on their way. It was a small shop, right in the middle of the road that went from Louville to Cairn’s Creek, but it was his shop. He’d married into it, the shop originally being owned by his wife’s father and then passed on down to them when he became too old to run it anymore.

It was a slow day today. That was the heat; people kept to the shade on days like these. Old man Lester was shuffling about picking up his milk and other bits and pieces and a couple of the boys from the Shenningham’s farm were dropping off potatoes and other vegetables.

“You got any eggs left, Harry?”

“Should be over there by the chiller, Lester, unless we don’t got none left.”

Lester shuffled off in the direction of the chiller, mumbling as he went. Outside, Harry heard another truck pull across the loose gravel and stop. He chewed a few times, hacked, and spat a brown sludge into a bucket he had behind the counter, before putting another pinch of tobacco in his mouth.

The clang of the door opening shook through the quietness of the shop and Harry looked up from his paper. A man stood in the doorway, quickly scanning the shop. He was sweaty, more so than he should be on a day like today and scruffy looking, his jeans caked in dirt and grime and his hair a thick matted mess of brown. Harry watched carefully from behind the counter as he walked up towards him.

“Afternoon, old-timer. If you could just reach on into that there till and hand over all your money I won’t have to shoot you up and make a mess of this here shop.”

Harry met his gaze. He looked desperate, unhinged. “’Fraid I can’t do that, mister.”

“Well look here…” The man reached into his trousers and quickly pulled out a rusting revolver. “…I don’t want to have to kill you, friend. Just needs your money is all.”

Harry smiled wryly. “Alright, buck. Cool your boots.”

Just then Lester had emerged from an aisle, dropping his eggs the second he clapped eyes on the gun. The robber span at the noise and, as he turned, Harry reached under the counter with lightning speed. A low boom silenced the little shop and the robber dropped to the floor with a quiet thud. Harry stood there, a smoking sawn-off pointing at the lifeless body, and hacked again before spitting into the bucket with a resounding twang.

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Chasing Shadows

By Jay St John Knight


There was no traffic about on the roads as PC Anne Coldine and her partner drove their route. An indigo sky fought with the tentative rays of sunlight as dawn crawled its way over the horizon. They were on their routine patrol, cruising up and down the streets of one of Hammerside’s nightclub districts, keeping the peace. She had forgotten the amount of tickets she’d written for public urination. Or the amount of times she’d advised inconsolable friends who had fallen out to ‘just sleep on it’. Back at the station they called these shifts the ‘parent patrols’. She could see why. Her partner pulled a right down Eustene Street and drifted past a kebab shop that was closing up.

“I reckon their jobs are harder than ours on nights like these.” Tom said as he nodded towards one of the workers mopping up vomit outside the shop.

“I think you’re probably right you know.”

“Bet they get paid shit all too. A fraction of what we get for the same abuse.”

The patrol car carried on down the road and Anne stared out of the window, watching a flock of birds in the distance pulsate in the air like one giant entity. It reminded her of the view from her mum’s house out in the country, birds dancing in the fresh dawn over the Downs and morning hikes with the kids in their bright wellies through pine forests and over wet marshland. She missed the countryside.

“Oh, what have we got here?” Tom’s voice snapped her back and she saw a man sprint across the road, vault over the central barrier and disappear down an alleyway, quickly followed by another man dressed in black.

“They’re making for the underpass. Try and cut them off.”

The car raced down the road and towards the exit of the alleyway. There, she spotted the first man burst out and make for the underpass that led to the park, the other close behind.

“Drop me here, I’ll pursue on foot.”

Anne was a fast runner. She got to the stairs leading down to the underpass and took three at a time, practically jumping down the last set before she heard the shot. She paused, if only for a nanosecond to take her gun out, before sprinting towards the entrance. There, silhouetted in the amber glow of the strip lighting, the man in black knelt over the body of the runner, rifling through his pockets.

“Freeze!” She slowed her pace; panting heavily, panic settling in.

The man stood up slowly and turned to face her. His gun hung at his side and in the other hand he held a wad of bank notes.

“Drop your…”

“Stop.” His voice echoed down the underpass. “You won’t hit me by the time I raise my gun at you, you’re shaking too much and I’m too good at this.”

She stared at him, in shock at his calmness. Words failed her.

“I’m going to leave half of this money on the floor. You’re going to turn around and I’m going to disappear. You will say you lost me, and then you can either pocket the money, or not, that decision is entirely up to you.”

She looked at the figure, unable to speak, as he picked out half the notes and dropped them on the floor. She pictured her children running around in their garden, her husband making dinner in the kitchen smiling. Tom’s voice crackled over her radio.

“Anne? What’s your situation?”

Tears welled in her eyes.

“Anne? I heard a shot.”

She slowly turned around.

“He got away Tom. Call in back up.”