Here’s my entry for the first Flash Fiction Draw Challenge (the post for the original April draw is here). In case you didn’t know about this challenge, there’s a video here explaining (and showing the fourth draw), but the quick version: I used a deck of cards (three suits) to randomly put together a genre (in this case: historical fiction), a location (in this case: a dirt road) and an object (in this case: rat poison) and challenged anyone who wanted to play to write something over the next week, with a maximum of 1,000 words.
I really waffled here, until I decided I wanted this to be two people on the run from an impossible choice, and then I looked around in history a bit until I found a place where two gay men could have easily worked together without raising suspicion: the California Gold Rush.
Samuel can’t help but reckon enough gold for blackmail is enough gold for murder.
Samuel eyes the dirt road ahead of him. You’d never think it led to somewhere special, and maybe it took a while before it got there, and met up with better paths, but it was the only road. And with the moon accommodating, they could walk through the night.
Might even be enough of a head start, if anyone turned out to be chasing.
“Just no choice, Samuel.”
Asher says this quietly, the same way he’s said the same four words at least a dozen times so far in as many hours, with what little pieces they could carry strapped to their backs.
What little they took before they set the place to flame.
For the first time since they left, though, Samuel decides to answer.
Just two words, but Samuel swears he can see the whole world return to Asher’s eyes, backlit by the accommodating moon.
“We’re gonna be good,” Asher says. “You and me. As good as two can.” He nods his head, sharp.
“You saved my life, Osh.” Samuel says.
Asher stops walking. Samuel doesn’t notice for a pace or two, and when he turns, Asher’s head is hanging, and his narrow shoulders are shivering like he’s caught cold, but it’s not that.
“None of that,” Samuel says, but he says it gently, to take the sting out of it.
They’re alone on a dirt road, so he touches the small man’s shoulder, too.
“I apologize,” Asher manages. When he looks up, there’s a clean streak down one cheek. He swipes at his face with the back of his sleeve, and the mark is lost somewhere between clean and dusty.
“He was lying. He would’ve stuck me,” Samuel says. “And bled me dry right there. And then he would have taken it from you, and killed you, too.”
Asher takes a deep breath. “Okay.”
Samuel squeezes his shoulder once more. Asher is too thin, even for him. Maybe they could stop at the Barbary Coast, find a good meal, a good room. Before they pick another place to go.
Another place to find… something.
The weight in his satchel was comforting, knowing what it was.
“I apologize,” Asher manages again, and they walk on. Samuel wonders if there’s more to the apology than just the death of Polk. Is Asher sorry for all of it? For even that first kiss? For getting caught by Polk? Spied on by the bastard who had led them think he didn’t care, that he understood a dalliance when women were scarce was all he was seeing.
Until they struck gold. Then…
Samuel can understand Asher regretting all of that. But the Devil take him, Samuel hopes he doesn’t.
“How many tongues you got?” Samuel asks.
It takes Asher a second, and Samuel wonders if he’ll reply right up until he does. “Four. Five, if you don’t mind me being slow with French. Not many around here to practice with.”
“And reading and writing, too?”
Samuel nods. All he has to offer is a strong back, but Asher, with his love of words and bookishness and clever mind? That’s what they’ve really got going for them.
Hell. He’d never have thought of offering that rat bastard Polk a final, perfect glass.
“We’ll find a place. And we’ve got a lot of time to plan it out.” He shifts the weight of his satchel. Gold is money. Money is time.
“If…If they catch us…” Asher says, and Samuel looks at him again. Damn but he’s so damn little in the moonlight. “I don’t want… I don’t want that.”
That. Samuel nods, understanding well enough. Prison and worse. And not just for the murdering. Still, that’s assuming anyone knows about the murdering in the first place enough to come after them at all. Their shack will have burned clear down, and Polk will be nothing but ash and bone, which is a better death than the rat deserved.
Which, of course, reminds him of just how Asher fixed him to rights in the first place.
“It won’t be that,” Samuel says, and it’s a promise.
“You can’t know,” Asher says. He sounds tired, and afraid.
“I can,” Samuel says. And, because he thinks it might help Asher to know he’d never let it happen, he decides to tell him. “I brought the whiskey. If it comes to it, we’ll pour ourselves a big glass.”
Asher’s eyes go wide, and he misses a single step and a breath before he starts again. Samuel waits for him, and they walk on together.
“Every time I believe I understand you, Forty-Niner, I end up asking myself the same question.”
Samuel smiles at the term. This is good. Asher is calmer, if he’s calling him Forty-Niner again.
“What’s your question?” Samuel says.
“How is it I keep getting so lucky?”
It’s Samuel’s turn to pause. “Lucky?” For the gold, maybe. But by his reckoning, they’ve got a dead body, a burned building, murder and worse potentially hanging over their head, and a whiskey bottle with enough rat poison mixed in to kill them both as easily as it did Polk. Where’s the luck in all that?
Asher nods. “We got a night more than I thought we’d have when Polk pulled that knife. And if no one’s after us come sun-up? We get another.” He smiles that book-learning smile he has. “I don’t know how many we get, but I don’t think any man ever did.”
Samuel looks around. They’re alone on a dirt road with only the moonlight. He kisses his murdering love, right there, before they start to walking again.
“There are boats we can get in San Francisco,” Asher says. “Places we can go.”
Samuel nods. “Yes.”
“I have a few ideas.”
He’s not surprised. And he decides Asher is right.
Samuel has never felt so lucky in his life.