In the old west, when gold was the thing on everyone’s minds, the small mining town of Gumble’s Creek had quickly taken advantage. Wealth flowed through the town like the creek that flowed past it. Wealth attracted people, and not always the kind that anyone wanted to be around.
Billy was an orphan and he’d lived in the town since his family came there, looking for gold, just a few years before. Then his parents died, and his sisters passed away and no one was left to pan for the gold but him. Living with such sadness Billy had lost the ability to talk and, much to the amusement of the other folks in town, every conversation he had was like a game of charades at Christmas.
One day, when Billy was panning the river on the small patch of land that his parents had bought, he spotted a group of horses up ahead, weaving their way through the trees. He dashed for cover and hiding behind a tree, watched on as the terrifying gang moved into his house and helped themselves to his food and water.
With the gang camped out now, laughing and joking as they filled their bellies with the last of Billy’s food, Billy overheard their evil scheme: to rob the entire town and murder any witnesses.
Waiting for nightfall, Billy snuck away, and he made for Gumble’s Creek as fast as his legs would carry him.
The piano music stopped, and the merriment paused as Billy burst through the doors of the town saloon.
But the men and women just laughed, as Billy tried to mime the approach of mean-looking men on horseback.
Billy rushed over to the Sheriff’s office. The Sheriff and his deputy watched on as Billy tried again to paint out the scene where an armed gang were on their way to kill them.
“So let me get this straight, Billy…” the Sheriff replied, “…You think an armed gang, somewhere west of here are coming to town any minute?”
Billy’s eyes lit up in triumph and he smiled from ear to ear.
“So, here’s what we’re gonna do. You and me and the deputy here…”
The deputy rolled his eyes and slumped in his seat.
“…are gonna stay up all night. And if your gang of no good trouble-makers shows up, then we’re gonna be ready for ’em.”
Then the Sheriff moved towards Billy and leaned in close.
“…But if this gang do not appear by dawn, then you’re gonna have to spend you some time in the town jail for scaring folk and wasting everybody’s time.”
With the smell of bourbon on the Sheriff’s breath, now inches away from his face, Billy nodded solemnly.
Hours passed by and as the night grew darker, then lighter as dawn broke, Billy felt wretched from his own bad luck.
By breakfast time, Billy was sat in a jail cell feeling all too sorry for himself. Instead of the warmth of the fire and the starry night sky, he’d be living with a pair of drunks and a pickpocket for the next few nights.
Then, as the ten o’clock bell on the church tower rang out through town, he spotted something through the bars of the window.
There, strolling down the main drag in the centre of Gumble’s Creek, were the very men who’d feasted on his beans and warmed themselves at his fireside.
At first, Billy reach for his plate and thought of creating such a racket that the deputy would wake from sleeping off the night before. For a moment he considered how hard it must be, for everyone he met, to understand what his miming and acting was supposed to mean. He thought about how ridiculous he must look, gesturing and dancing around, and that he would react the same way under the circumstances.
Then Billy stopped himself. He thought about his parents. He thought of his sisters. He thought of the gold and good fortune that other folk had, and he had not. He thought of the laughing faces at the saloon. He thought of the Sheriff and the bourbon on his breath. Then he sat back down and smiled.
A few minutes passed by. Then he heard gunshots and shouting. Screams of women and children filled the air. Hoots of joy and madness from the gang of men jarred with the wails of people being gunned down in all directions. Then there was the smell of smoke and the glow of flames that appeared at his cell window.
All of sudden, there was a loud bang and the groans of the deputy faded away as the jail doors burst open.
A terrifying figure strolled towards the jail cell bars, his moustache twitching, his dark eyes glaring, a manic smile across his face.
“Any of you here low-down degenerates wish to live, and join this gang before we burn this town to the ground, then all you have to do is one thing…”
The men at the cell bars looked on at him, desperately. Thinking himself saved, Billy sighed with relief. The stranger paused as he reached into his coat pocket.
“…Swear it on bible.”