Charles Tarlton: The Cowboy and the Gambler


Rule is you have to pay to see


The Farmer stands quickly and awkwardly and fumbles for the pistol stuck in his belt. The Gambler fires from under the table where he’s had his gun at the ready all along. The Farmer falls dead across the poker table. The Gambler and all his associates are laughing loudly.


The Cowboy and Old Drover drive their small herd along in front of a gorgeous mesa. The Gambler and his associates wait in the Cottonwoods. One of the associates points to the Cowboy, but the Gambler just shrugs.


(under his breath)

You can take anyone at all, as

long as you get the drop on


They pull up their neckerchiefs as masks and charge out of the arroyo and toward the Cowboy, Old Drover, and the herd.

As the rustlers fire their pistols, the cattle’s heads come up, they bolt, and stampede. One of the associates shoots the Old Drover, who falls from his horse, but is not killed. The Cowboy, in turn, shoots one of the associates and he falls lifeless in the dirt. The other associates turn and run.

Then, like the eye of a storm, there is a moment of absolute calm. The Cowboy and the Gambler face each other from opposite banks of the dry streambed. Death is in the air, and we all simultaneously conclude that to avoid being killed, the wisest thing to do would be to shoot first, but in the best traditions of the Western Movie, the Cowboy refuses. He waits.

The Gambler laughs as he realizes what is happening and he aims and shoots at the Cowboy, but he misses. He hesitates for only a second, eyes wide open, and then gallops wildly away.

The Cowboy watches him run and then turns his horse in the other direction to look for the wounded Old Drover, who is sitting on a fallen log trying to apply a tourniquet to himself.


I’m okay. You’d better see to

rounding up them cows and get

them to town. Be dark soon.



Copyright ©2013, by Charles Tarlton. All Rights Reserved.

In 2006, Charles Tarlton retired from teaching and turned to writing poetry and short form prose. He published a number of poems in such e-magazines as Shampoo, Review Americana, Tipton, Barnwood, Haibun Today, Ink, Sweat, and Tears, Atlas Poetica, Blue and Yellow Dog, Shot Glass, Six Minute Magazine, Cricket Online Review, an e-chapbook in the 2River series, entitled, “La Vida de Piedra y de Palabra,” an extended historical poem, “Five Episodes in the Navajo Degra dation,” in Lacuna, and “The Turn of Art,” a poetical dramatic scene, in Fiction International.

More recently, Charles published several short-short stories in Fifty-Word Stories, Out of the Gutter, Postcard Shorts, Word Shack, Thick Jam, Free Flash Fiction, Ink, Sweat, and Tears, Spinozablue, Short Story ME, and Linden Avenue. Mr Tarlton just finished a chapbook ms. of 15 flash fictions based on homelessness in San Francisco.

Muse-Pie Press nominated poems of mine from Shot Glass for the Pushcart Prize.



Charles Tarlton: The Cowboy and the Gambler
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