• Henry Neilsen

The Sheriff

This story was submitted to and long listed for the Australian Writer's Centre "Furious Fiction" entry for the month of May, 2020. See here for the details and list of entry requirements.


Five o’clock shadow. Rabbit fur hat. Flannel shirt. Gun holster. Snakeskin boots, with brand-new spurs that clanked as he climbed down from his horse outside the old corner store in town.

People stared at him as he walked past, the five-pointed star on his chest winking in the bronze sunrise.

Let them look, the stranger thought, chewing the straw in his mouth and clank, clank, clanking off the edge of the road. The doors splayed wide as he entered, and the shopkeep paused, one eye on the man’s face, another on the six-shooter in the holster slung just underneath the belt.

“I don’t want any trouble,” the shopkeeper tried with little success to keep the quavering note from his voice.

“Ain’t gon’ get none from me,” said the stranger, throwing a bag of peanuts on the counter, “Say, you know where a man can get a decent drink in this here town?”

“Uh, sure,” said the shopkeep, “There’s the tavern, up the road. Just next to the sheriff’s department.”

The stranger smiled, and switched the straw from one side of his mouth to the other. “Why thank ‘ee kindly,” he said, “I happen to be headin’ that way as it is. Keep the change,” he added, tossing a series of coins onto the counter. The shopkeeper stared as the stranger strutted from the store.

Taking his horse by the reins, the stranger walked with deliberate calm down to the tavern. Next to it was the sheriff’s department. He thought to wet his whistle before presenting himself there, but thought better of it. There would be plenty of time for celebrating later. He would need a drink for his horse, though.

The barkeep had much the same reaction as the shopkeeper had. The ol’ sheriff musta done things different, he thought.

“I need a pail o’ water for my horse out there,” he said. The barkeep said nothing, but fetched it as requested. None too friendly round here, are they? The new Sheriff thought.

He left the pail out for his horse, then patted him on the neck and wandered, bow-legged, into the Sheriff department.

No sooner had the bell on the door chimed than he heard a whoa there, hands up! And the sound of five or more guns being pulled on him.

“Easy there, boys,” the new sheriff said, “Heard y’all needed a replacement Sheriff?”

One of the officers was speaking into a radio, muttering something about backup. Another had rushed outside and checked on the horse, and came back saying “That’s the one sir, matches the branding of the call from the Mackenzie's farm we received yesterday.”

A man was frantically taking notes on his laptop, and another man with a Sheriff’s badge came out. A real badge. Black, with a silver lining.

“What the hell do you think you’re playing at, son?” he said, as he took the toy revolver from the holster.


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