The Fastest Shot

The cellar was not quite pitch black. Chinks of light shone through the boards where they had dried and shrunk over the years. Gwen did not sit in the light, because like hell was she going to make it easier for her brother to find her whenever he drunkenly stumbled downstairs. But the light gave her something like hope. Alone in the darkness, she might have broken. She watched the rust dance in the light beam and resolutely refused to cry.

She could hear Gote drinking with his lieutenants on the porch outside. Not that she could make out what they were saying, their words slurred with whiskey and punctuated with gunshots. Once there was a huge cheer. One of them must have actually hit a rat, or at least thought he had.

Gwen smirked to herself. She was remembering when she had once gone hunting rats, maybe six years ago, when she was only ten and Gote was only just beginning to realise that she would become a woman. Their dying father had insisted that Gwen know how to handle a firearm. Gote had reluctantly agreed to take her into the wastes a little way and teach her.

She could still feel the heavy revolver in her hands. She held it with both, just to keep it steady. Gote was telling her the signs to look out for, warning her how fucking fast the critters were, but Gwen tuned him out. She’d already seen one, running away from her brother’s voice. Holding her breath, squeezing the trigger instinctively… There was a sudden crash, the sting of the recoil and Gote’s startled yell. The rat lay dead.

After her fourth shot, and third rat, Gote knocked the gun from her hands out of spite and cursed her reflexes. He never let her hold a firearm again.

The gathering upstairs was over. Motorcycles roared as the lieutenants left for their own homesteads. Gwen backed herself further into her hidey-hole as the footsteps upstairs approached the cellar door. It opened with a chorus of creaks. The light of Gote’s torch played out across the concrete floor, and his heavy steps and heavy breathing began to come down.

“Gwen?” he called out. “Gwenny? Come out sister. I’ve – I’ve been talking to the Meleg – the Meleagrant. The Meleagrant.” Gote was tripping over his words and his feet, and Gwen could smell the alcohol on his breath across the room. She didn’t move.

“Gwen, curse you,” Gote swore, holding the bannister for balance. “Won’t you come out? I’ve been talking to the Meleg – to the man I’m going to marry you to, and he’s getting angry. He’s getting angry with your poor brother! And he’s not – he’s not a nice man when he’s angry.” He had reached the bottom of the stairs now and was beginning to shuffle uncertainly across the floor. The torch passed over Gwen’s feet and she hastily tucked them further in. Gote was muttering now.

“You can’t hide in here forever, Gwenny.” He nearly lost his footing on a hole in the concrete and swore. “You should come out, or I’ll be angry too.” He looked around, as if expecting her to come out and embrace him. “Why don’t you want to marry him, Gwenny? He’s not a very bad man. He would be nice to you. And he wouldn’t want to get me out of the way any more. You wouldn’t want him to kill me? You wouldn’t want your brother to die, would you? Gwenny?”

And then, as he tripped and this time fell, and his gun fell, unsecured, from his holster and scattered across the floor towards her, Gwen realised that she wouldn’t care if he died. She wouldn’t care if the Meleagrant killed him, or if they killed each other. She would happily kill the Meleagrant herself. In fact…

“There you are!”

It was an impossible shot. Gote’s torch had shattered on the floor, and in a slit of light Gwen could only see her brother’s arm as it scrabbled across the floor for the gun. He was closer than she was, even as she bolted across the ground like a rat herself. She felt his hand brush hers as she closed her fingers over the gun’s grip. It was heavy in her terrified, sweaty hands. And at the last moment Gote looked up, and met his sister’s eyes.

She did not give him time to talk.

Nor did Gwen close her eyes as he slumped to floor in the wake of the gun crash which echoed round the room like a prophecy of cataclysm. Only when he stopped twitching did she look away. Guinevere picked herself up and walked up into her father’s house.