Tweet Liss plunged through the crowd towards the shooting range. She heard the swish of the young woman’s coat behind her. Liss shivered. She didn’t know how, but the coat sounded like the deep silence that gathers around midnight. She felt a tug on her sleeve before they reached the range. Liss turned around to face the young woman.
“Before we go over, here’s a thought. Why don’t we make it interesting and have a small wager while we’re at it?” asked the young woman. She flashed Liss a wicked grin.
“Aren’t we trying to win the deer?” asked Liss.
“Well we could do that, but we can think of something better. I bet you ten shillings I can win the deer and you can’t.”
“I don’t have ten shillings,” replied Liss.
“If you don’t want to do it…”
“No, I do, I just don’t have ten shillings. I know! I bet you my life I win it.” Liss smirked at the woman. The woman couldn’t have been serious offering such a high sum as a bet – so she wouldn’t be serious in her offer either.
“Your life, eh? That’s a rather large thing to gamble,” said the young woman. She smiled again, exposing the grey teeth and black gums. Liss swore she saw a shooting star in her right eye.
“Well if you’re scared...” said Liss.
“Alright then. If I win the deer, I take your life. But if you win the deer, I’ll let you keep it,” said the stranger.
“Sounds fair to me.” Liss screwed up her face. It sounded like such a stupid bet – what was this stranger going to do, kill her?
“Right, my good man. My friend and I wish to shoot,” said the young woman, turning to the announcer. Liss winced at her voice – now it sounded like hob-nailed boots on rusty metal.
“Have either of you handled a weapon before?” asked the red-nosed man.
“I have, I’ve used a rifle, and a pistol,” said Liss.
“I’ve used all sorts,” said the young woman.
The red-nosed man handed them each a long gun that looked like a cross between a revolver and a rifle. Liss looked along the barrel, adjusting the sight. The man coughed, looking pointedly at the sight.
“I am not adjusting it back. How do I know you don’t have these set up wrong just so we’ll lose?” asked Liss. The young woman laughed, an eerie sound like that of a crow cawing a lament for the dead soldiers on a misty battlefield. The red nose man coloured, and waved at Liss to continue.
Satisfied that the sight was correct, Liss examined the gun. The chamber hung like a distended stomach, and held three brass shots. She needed the highest score to win the deer. The highest possible score was fifteen, which meant getting all three shots into the bullseye.
“How are we going to do this then?” she asked.
“How about we alternate? I take a shot, you take a shot,” replied the young woman.
“Sounds fair to me. Want to go first?”
“I think you should go first. You have more at stake than me.”
Liss raised the gun and nestled the butt against her shoulder. She looked down the barrel and aimed an inch above the bullseye. The young woman sniggered.
She thinks I’m going to miss, thought Liss.
Liss squeezed the trigger. The gun yelped and fired, smacking Liss in the shoulder with the recoil. The bullet thudded into the dead centre of the bullseye. Five points. The red-nosed man gawped, and the young woman stared. Liss gestured for her competitor to take a shot.
I’ll be damned if I explain why I did that, she thought.
The young woman raised her gun and aimed an inch above the bullseye as Liss had done. She also jerked back with the recoil, and the bullet slammed into the target, right at the edge of the bullseye. The red-nosed man clapped and announced it as a five-point hit.
Liss raised her gun, and stared down the sight again. She squeezed the trigger just as a man pushed through the crowd and shoved her shoulder. Liss jerked the gun to the side as she tried to stay upright, and the bullet thumped into the ring marked ‘4’. She turned back to the target – she’d missed the bullseye by an inch.
“Oh that’s not fair, that man pushed me!” said Liss. The man had already been swallowed up by the crowd.
“It’s true, she was pushed,” said the young woman. She nodded, and her curls rippled like an oil slick on cold water.
“Sorry dearie, but I can’t let you have another go. The guns only hold three shots, so you only get three goes,” said the red-nosed man.
“Why can’t I just reload one chamber?” asked Liss.
“Rules is rules.”
Before Liss could answer, the young woman raised her own gun and fired. The bullet hit the ‘4’ ring above the bullseye. Liss looked at her, but she just shrugged.