That was the theme, and these were the rules:
- The Gunfighter!
- The Villain!
- It has to be Weird West!
- It has to be ALL ORIGINAL!
- NAME YOUR CHARACTERS!
Without further ado, here are the entries, in order posted to the contest:
“I’ve been to Hollow Mountain, Tiny Town, Tombstone and Gallowwalker County,” declared the man at the bar loudly “And I aint never seen a town full of pitiful drunken inbred scum than you lot!”
The piano player in the corner abruptly stopped and the Trigun Taverna went quiet. All eyes turned to the man with long black hair in his brown coat who smoked at the bar. He looked around for any credible threat but there was none. He puckered his lips and spat a glob of saliva onto the floor.
“That’s what I thought.” He spun and slapped a hand on the bar “Bar keep!”
The pudgy man with the bow tie and the chequered rag glided down the bar like he was on wheels, which he was being a cyborg from the waist down. “Yessir?”
The bartender pulled up a bottle, spun it for effect and placed it down in front of him “How many glasses?”
The man sneered “You think I’m gonna share that?” He threw a handful of gold bitcoins onto the bar as he snatched up the bottle yanking the cork out with his teeth spitting it with great accuracy onto a table where they were playing cards before he’d started flapping his gums.
“Deal me in!”
Slowly the tavern resumed normal noise and the piano player cranked out a lively tune.
“It’s five card sabbac,” said the dealer as he shuffled the seventy-six cards between his cybernetic fingers at blinding speed. “Closes…”
“I know how to play you varmint!” he snarled as he threw into the pot in the middle and took a swig from his bottle.
“My name is Br…” The gun was out of the holster and jammed into the players mouth at light speed
“Didn’t ask!” Smiled the man looking deep into the player on his lefts eyes “Don’t care neither! Only words I want to hear from any of you nerf herders is call, shift, draw, fold or sabbac. Y’hear?”
The player whimpered yes with a mouthful of cold steel and the other five players grunted in agreement. The dealer flicked out the cards and the game began.
Joe Manco-Blondie got off his horse at the edge of town. It was just what he did, as he’d been told by Sister Sara at the orphanage where he grew up, a man walks into town. Now parts of him weren’t quite human anymore, and he’d done things that would take something demonic to think them up but he always walked into town.
“Come on Coogan.” He tugged the reins and led his pale horse, the corpses of six headless cannibals slung over its back. Wasn’t a good day but the bounty should pay for a few drinks at Trigun.
The sound of glass breaking followed by gunfire as a man flew out of the Taverna window, followed by another man firing shot after shot into him, finally bringing down the jetpacking fugitive.
“CALL ME A CHEAT WILL YA!” Several more rounds went into the man.
Joe shook his head as he approached the scene.
“What you looking at?” snarled the man.
Joe stopped. “Are you talking to me?”
“Nobody else out here, ya damn fool!”
Joe looked at the man noting his choice of weapon; a DL-44 heavy blaster. “Son…calling me names will only get yourself killed.”
“I aint your son!” growled the man as he moved towards Joe “I got a prick of a father already!”
Joe’s hand shot up and smashed the man’s nose across his face. He quickly grabbed the weapon hand as he kicked the feet out from under him. In an eye blink the man was looking up at his own weapon.
“Name!” said Joe as he cocked the blaster.
“Richard.” Panted the man “Richard Lansdale”
Joe lowered the blaster “You’re Joe Lansdale’s son?”
The man smiled “Yup. You wait til I tell my father about this.”
“He might be waiting awhile.” Joe tossed the pistol onto the corpse of Richard, a large bore hole through his forehead leaking blood and brains into the dirt and manure. Joe tugged on Coogan’s reins and headed towards the sheriff’s office.
Joe Manco-Blondie looked at the sheriff in disbelief “Three hundred?”
“Word came in from Sirius that the price on cannibals is now fifty bits, effective as of yesterday,” said Sheriff Gladewater as he rocked in his pleather rocker, feet on the desk. “Sorry Joe.”
Joe shook his head “Hardly worth the effort.”
“But still a great service,” said Gladewater as he tossed a sack to Joe “Now I heard some shots and terse words in the street…”
“Lansdale’s boy mouthed off at me,” replied Joe weight the sack in his hand “Put him in his rightful place?”
Sheriff Gladewater nearly fell out of his chair “You didn’t?!?”
Joe nodded “Warned him, but you know the Lansdale’s.”
“JOE! ARE YOU MAD? JOE LANSDALE OWNS MOST EVERYTHING AROUND HERE!”
“Then he’ll have somewhere to bury his kid.” Joe tipped his hat and left.
“Richard done got himself killed”
“WHAT?” roared Joe Lansdale with a mouthful of spaghetti as he sat with his gang of brigands in the valley of Gwangi. He looked at the young cyber-apache who relayed the news. “Where?”
Joe tossed his plate into the fire as he stood, his gang following suit. He wiped his mouth and then slapped it on the back of the young man who told him the news. “You’ve done well son. What is your name?”
“IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT YOUR NAME IS!” screamed Joe as he grabbed the boy with his hands and snapped his neck with a sickening crack. The cyber-apache lay convulsing on the ground, incapacitated but not dead. “I hate bad news.”
“What shall we do with him boss?” asked Guapo, Lansdale’s right hand hybrid lizardman.
“Maybe a stir fry,” suggested Lansdale.
“You can’t leave!” pleaded Sheriff Gladewater “You caused the mess, you clean it up!”
“It’s been three days,” said Joe as he walked towards the edge of town, Coogan in tow. “If Lansdale actually cared about…” Joe stopped as he saw a cloud on the horizon heading their way “Speak of the devil. Sheriff, best you make tracks.”
Joe Lansdale and his Sundowners rode into Santo Barker like a tornado. Guns blazing, yelling and screaming.
“YOU FIND ME THAT SON OF A MOTHERLESS GOAT WHO KILLED MY BOY!” bellowed Lansdale as his horse reared “BURN THIS TURD CAMP TO THE GROUND IF YOU HAVE TOO!”
“You looking for me?”
Lansdale turned his horse to the voice to see Joe Manco-Blondie standing in the street, poncho flapping in the breeze.
“You killed my son.”
“Your son called me names, disrespected me. Warned him, like I’ll warn you; calling me names will get you killed.”
“Is that so?” remarked Lansdale “Sundowners! Kills this yellow bellied mother f...”
Lansdale’ head exploded. Joe blew the smoke off the end of the barrel. “Warned you. Now, I got no quarrel with any of you…yet.”
The shocked group of thieves and bandits didn’t know what to do. Guapo drew his gun “KILL HIM! KILL HIM DEAD!”
Bullets and lasers erupted at Joe who calmly stood there. After a solid minute of certain death they stopped firing. Joe looked at all of them, sneered and pulled his poncho aside.
“A McGrew force field generator!” gasped Guapo looking at the bulky contraption strapped to the gunfighter.
Joe nodded in acknowledgement and returned fire. Each shot was deadly. An eye exploding here, jugular puncture there. And when he rang out of bullets he drew his second pistol and fired left handed until that was empty too. The main street of Santo Barker resembled an abattoir. Joe surveyed the scene making sure they were all dead before holstering his guns. Sheriff Gladewater emerged from his hiding hole to survey the scene.
“I quit!” he plucked the badge off his shirt and thrust it towards Joe. Joe eyed the badge and pushed it back towards the nervous sheriff.
“I aint no lawman. I’m a gunfighter who don’t take to name calling is all.” And with that he unclipped the generator cords that led to Coogan who carried the force field battery and headed towards the Taverna.
“Sonofabitch!” muttered Gladewater kicking the dirt.
Gladewater looked up to see Joe pointing a gun right at him. The Sheriff gulped as a puddle appeared in the front of his white pants.
“Hope that wasn’t directed at me Sheriff.”
Xeno wandered through the ranch with his trademark look of silent arrogance. It was a look he perfected long ago to go with his character. smug, confident, smart. Xeno.
His long black cloak billowed with every step he took giving the illusion that he was bigger than he really was. The red cross fastened around his neck could suggest many things, perhaps he was religious? Or perhaps the red signified that he opposed religion? The effect was just what Xeno wanted; yet more mystique to shroud around his person. No definite answer made him seem even more frightening.
He was recovering from the malicious adrenaline that had seconds ago surged through his body. He enjoyed the fleeting moments of elation, it reinforced the idea he could do anything. It kept his passion alive.
He felt no guilt in the fact that he was far too calm to say he had just killed twenty men, the type of calm only a self titled psychopath could be. Xeno had no illusions about his mental state in fact he welcomed the title of psycho it gave him a sense of horror and above all it made people afraid. Very afraid.
Xeno sniffed at the stench that lingered in the air. Contrary to popular belief he didn’t enjoy the smell of corpses in fact it repelled him like everyone else. He encouraged the rumors nevertheless, it wasn’t in his ethos to be viewed as normal. It never was, and it never will be.
The scene around him was another matter, he truly did enjoy that. The horror stricken looks on the faces of the redneck cowboys delighted Xeno like a small child at Christmas. He enjoyed the way the bodies were bent unnaturally out of shape and skewed around as if they had been mashed together and then hastily reassembled. He loved the way black blood slowly trickled of the bar and tables to form small puddles in the cracks of the floor panels. He found real beauty in the way the furniture was completely destroyed and dotted all over the room as if an invisible hand had swept it aside with a flick of its wrist. These were the sort of things Xeno enjoyed. Creating chaotic scenes was one of his favourite pastimes.
He’d been lingering on the scene of his massacre for at least fifteen minutes lost in the beauty of destruction when his train of thought was abruptly shattered by the saloon doors being rudely kicked open. Xeno’s face became a mask of fury, he hated being interrupted; especially by gunfighters. Xeno despised the idea of guns, they were in his eyes a very boring unimaginative way to kill a man. What Xeno lacked in morality he made up for in imagination.
“Get out of there now or I’ll shoot, you filthy charlatan!” Screamed the angry cowboy.
“My dear boy, where are your manners, if you aim to kill me, challenge me to a duel. to shoot me in the back would be a cowardly way to kill a charlatan. For surely a charlatan has no real powers and therefore you have nothing to fear?” Xeno spoke in his quiet British tone putting contempt into into every word.
“You’ll do as I ask you, come out with your hands up!” His stupid southern american accent had a slight quaver to it which led Xeno to believe the cowboy doubted whether he was really devoid of power.
“Ah you see I have no intention of going anywhere with you and I am fine with where my hands currently are. Your only alternative is to overpower me, and drag me to your petty sheriff I urge you try” Xeno crowed, injecting all the mocking he could muster into his voice.
"I'm not gonna drag you; you're gonna come willingly" stuttered the vagabond in a last ditch attempt at intimidation.
"My dear boy, I grow tired of this game; you know as well as I do that I am not going to come with you unless the ocean dries up. So why must we entertain the notion at all?" Xeno enjoyed toying with the simple folk. He liked to watch their outer exterior crumble like bread. It was like tearing down a boring work of art.
"Look...maybe I'm not gonna do anything, but if Cassidy comes down here you're dead meat, so I suggest you leave now!" Xeno was not afraid of any cowboy this attempt at scaring him failed dismally. The boy seemed to know it.
"Look here, the whole town is gonna blow you apart if you don't leave now" blurted out the scared youth.
"Oh you underestimate my abilities" smirked Xeno.
"What the hell is wrong with you! Do you seriously think you can win a hundred to one fight when we've got guns and you're unarmed?" The cowboy was not only frightened, he was now perplexed.
"Oh my dear boy" whispered Xeno "I'm anything but unarmed"
A blinding flash of light illuminated the saloon for a split second coupled with a deafening bang and the sound of the late cowboy's screams. Tables flew through the air to land twenty meters away with a crunch. And the saloon doors blew away to crash through the opposite buildings windows. The thatched roof tore away from the walls of the complex and toppled backwards into the beer garden. The walls caved inwards demolishing any evidence of a bar. The bear bottles smashed on the floor providing fuel for a fire that had sprung up on one of the corpses. The debris lit alight with the flame in seconds causing complete and utter destruction of the building.
Xeno stood in the heart of the fire enjoying the chaos he'd created. He did not feel the immense heat or cough from the thick black smoke. He just opened his arms wide and laughed as the flames roared around him. Xeno danced in the middle of his creation. He reveled in the feeling of immense power. And thanked the gods for letting him discover wormholes. Especially this one.
The Compass of Souls
1938 - Hunter’s Bluff, Nevada, USA
Laird Angelman. the lovable town drunk stumbled out of the Eastward Arrow Salon humming a tune and waving the half full bottle of whiskey around wildly. Not that anyone minded Laird wasn't dangerous, during the day he was known for being a dentist, amazingly a sober one at that too, and one of the friendliest men in town and perhaps the only one not to own a pistol. Reaching the scrub at the edge of the frontier town of Hunter’s Bluff he stopped and felt the wind begin to whip up as the sound of thunder filled the sky.
“Thar’s not a cloud a round in the sky.” He spluttered. Whilst drunk Laird was right and what he saw next would have made him swear of liquor for life if he’d been left with any after that night. Descending from the sky was what looked like a massive metal dragon, wind whipping around its immobile wings and light beaming from its burning eyes. Laird hadn’t read in the paper about Professor Heinrich Focke’s recent unveiling of his magnificent flying machine known as the helicopter and with the reputation of Hunter's Bluff such an assumption wasn't that far fetched. And he wouldn't find out either as a man descended out of the ‘dragon’s belly’ dressed in a leather jerkin reinforced by steel, trousers with a woven steel underlay and a broad razor edged metal hat. “You…came outta dragon?” Laird asked. “You a knight or something?”
“Don't be preposterous I am to be a god.” The man snorted as he waved for the helicopter to depart. “Are you a tracker?”
“Nah I'm a dentist.” Laird hiccupped. “You want Kara and Evan Carter, oh god you're Vo…” Before he could finish the man grabbed Laird by the throat and removed his pistol, an Apache Revolver equipped with a black blade, and slashed open the skin on Laird’s lower jaw down to the throat.
“Nothing personal it’s just my employer wants me to make haste. Something about a war coming and my work being mighty useful to his campaign.” The murder stated coldly as he removed the blade and whipped it before heading off to the other end of town.
Evan woke from his slumber as the sun rose over the hill only to find that he had once again been handcuffed to the bed. “Kara you have to stop doing this.” He groaned before looking over the edge of the bed to see a key inserted blade down into the floorboards. Moving as far as the cuffs would allow he leant over and grabbed the key in his mouth only to choke and spit it out. “Chili Powder on the key. You're getting devious.” He sighed before sitting back in the bed and banging his head on the backboard. For a few seconds there was nothing before a crash of a man falling out of bed sounded next door, the door creaking open a minute later as a bespectacled Mexican man wearing nothing but thick socks walked in his hands rubbing his head. “Hey Pedro do you mind.” Evan asked as he rattled the hand cuffs.
“You will learn one day. You’re wife needs to be caged or she'll run off with strange men in the night.” Pedro groaned as he went back into the other room and returned with an apron, hammer and chisel. Sitting on the bed he got to work and quickly removed the handcuffs shaking his head at every strike. “You know this counts as cheating as set out by the terms of your marriage.”
“Nah she said any resource in the house. By offering the town’s locksmith board you are in the house and perfectly viable to use.” Evan stated. “Besides I'm not a trained escapologist like she is.” He groaned as he pulled on a pair of buckskin trousers, vest and a wide brimmed sexton. “I’m the gunslinger. So tell me who did she run off with this time?”
“He came late at night while you slept. Had an accent, European I think.” Pedro replied. “She left a note in the one place you wouldn't look.”
“Right I know where that is.” Evan sighed before heading into the closet and removing a box. Inside was a skull with a pentacle carved into the cranium. Crossing himself Evan removed the bones and picked up a scrap of paper. “Why she had to keep my mother in law with us I don't know.”
“You know I can hear you? Grandmother Spider hears all the unclean things you do to my beautiful Karla” The skull chattered as Evan dropped the bones back in the box and kicked it into the closet. “Ever since that Necromancer came to town and cursed me she’s never shut up.” He added coyly. “Oh Karla no.”
“What’s wrong?” Pedro asked.
“She’s taking Baron Wolfric von Malus to the City of Stone.” Evan hissed. “You remember him.”
“Yeah I do.” Pedro snarled as the pair of them walked to the window and looked over at the rotten forest of gallows each supporting a decomposed body from the yard arms.
‘Stone City’ Anasi Ruins
The light was fading as Evan reached the ruins of the cliff dweller city. While majestic the place was cursed land and guarded by creatures known as Formers, Men and Women transformed by contagious living fluid into wretched creatures caught between life and death. Evan and Karla had been here before searching for the fabled sun dagger and had been partially transformed themselves. It was only the blade's healing powers that had offset the final mutations leaving both of them with a valid dislike for the place. Evan couldn't imagine what Malus had offered Karla to return but it was clear from the butchered remains of their horses that the Formers had been waiting for them. Crossing himself once again Evan walked up to the ruins and climbed the wooden ladder to the first stage of the city. Ducking inside the building he followed the smell of decomposing flesh into the heart of the cliff before emerging into one of the fabled treasure rooms, evident from the archaeological loot piled up into mounds, each one claimed by a Former before they turned. Tipping his hat in respect Evan crossed the room only to hear the sound of claws on stone and turned to see a mottled grey skinned figure limp towards him, its eyes glowing like fire as did the Anasi Curse of Unlife etched onto it’s arms and chest. Drawing his pistol Evan fired a shot into the Former’s skull, the bullet sending it thudding to the floor only to get to it’s feet again and spasm and twist into a hideous beast.
“Forgot about that ‘Death makes you Stronger’ Clause.” Evan spat as the Former’s fingers became hooked talons and its body grew a thin layer of armour plating over the face and arms. It’s metamorphosis finished the Former cocked his head and sprinted off deeper into the cave as if called by an unknown master. Cocking his head Evan followed and after what seemed like an age moving through a maze of tunnels and galleries, his repulsive guide emerged in a large room with a stone circle engraved on the floor. Arranged around the perimeter were eight second stage Formers, their bodies convulsing as beams of amber energy streamed into the centre of the circle and climbing up a golden arrow. “The Compass of Souls.” Evan whispered as he saw Malus drag a blonde woman dressed in nothing but a leather bra and thong into the middle and chained her to the arrow. “Karla!!” Evan yelled as he dropped down into the room.
“Evan?!” Karla answered, “Evan stop please.” She pleaded as Malus turned and drew his Apache pistol. “No blood can be spilled here.”
“The old legend. The Compass of Soul’s will change a man into a god when encircled by eight.” Evan hissed. “So Malus I know why your back? But why my wife?”
“Because Evan my old friend. I have learned so much from the Thule Society back in Germany about ‘the clean’.” Malus answered. “Only an Aryan, one whose genetics are pure can become benevolent. It is as my employer says; only the worthy can be free.”
“You're insane.” Karla hissed. “You are being led astray by the words of a madman!!”
“There was nothing to lead astray, the townspeople still remember the construction of Hangman’s Forest when you and Dead Alice tried to activate the Eye of the West.” Evan snarled. “How you sacrificed hundreds to bring about the dust-storm of the century and plunge America into famine. There are no allies here.” He added as the spire glowed and Karla’s body became wracked with golden energy. “Now release my wife."
“Your wife is no longer here.” Malus stated. “She is ascending, becoming the vanguard of my employer’s army. She is proof of concept that my employers dream is true.” He added as Karla was released from the arrow, no change apparent to her body. “What why hasn't it worked. What did you do?”
“Nothing.” Evan stated as Karla ran to where her pile of discarded clothing lay. “Nothing’s stopping me from pulling the trigger now Baron!” He spat before firing a shot at Malus only to see the bullet bounce off his chest-plate and strike one of the Formers standing sentinel around the edge.
“Too bad.” Malus stated. “Still the Thule Society has other projects in ‘the West’. Such as…” He stopped as all eight of the formers disintegrated save for their skulls, each one changing to gold with a compass etched into the cranium. “Of course, the points were the ones who supplied the energy.” The Baron gasped as he picked up the nearest skull. “They are the souls.” He added as he looked into the eye sockets at the golden spark that lay within. “Yes I feel stronger, this is where the power is!!” He yelled before seeing his own body wither away leaving his skull behind. “I am a God! I know everything, see everything; people will bow at my feet and worship me!!”
“One problem.” Karla yelled at the floating skull as she pulled on a pair of cotton trousers. “You have no feet.” Picking up her own gun she shot at Malus’s skull only to see it bounce off with no apparent effect,
“Idiot I can’t be slain!!” Malus roared before charging at Evan only for the skull to phase through him and shatter on the wall before reforming by the arrow. “What devilry is this?” He asked as Evan levelled his own pistol at the floating head.
“Not devilry, witchcraft. The golden council would be locked in here to guide the Anasi. According to the legend they couldn't leave this room for any reason and no normal weapon could kill them. And while they were capable of imagining evil they couldn't do any physical harm.” Evan explained as Karla buttoned up her blouse and slipped her own hat on. “Have fun being redundant.” He added.
“You'll pay gunslinger, the west will burn at the hands of Herr Hitler and his righteous armies!!” Malus bellowed causing Evan to turn around and fire a bullet into Malus’s head, the round exploding on impact and stabbing tiny amber darts of light into the bone.
“Sun Dagger shard bullet.” Evan stated as Malus burned to ash and the light of the compass arrow went out. “You had it coming.”
Mindlessly wandering through the eerily abandoned Western Town with a sombre expression decorating his worn features, the lone gunslinger was horribly drenched in a thick, oozy red puss which had been the gory remains of one of Snarly Martyrs alien-like cronies. Mr Martyrs being the world’s foremost intellectually gifted Gunslinger gone rogue, having somehow created beasts which resembled a human/gorilla type animal which spewed red puss once fired upon.
Anton, the towns devote sheriff had personally opted to tackling Mr Martyrs antics once and for all. “Howdy,” the fearless gunslinger exclaimed, tipping his dirty hat towards a stray dog which gloated past with a defeated expression, “You won’t try and kill me, will ya pal?” he smiled before bending over and stroking the dog’s fuzzy head, “Ah…” he sighed, gloomily looking into the distance as his dark green eyes portrayed sadness, regret, and a wistful longing for a drink.
“Why’d I chose to defend this sh!t ass town? Barely anybody lives here” looking around at the almost forsaken saloon with an annoyed face, knowing the population of this “town” hung somewhere around five.
“At least I killed a few of Snarly cronies…Huh?” gazing downwards to the dog, he shook his head, “You don’t even know what I’m saying do you?” a weary tut escaped his parched lips as his golden-brown revolver was removed from his dark holster, playing with the gun as he continued to amble through the streets.
“Uh?” the gunslinger chortled, turning around as the sound of a faint whistle was heard in the not too far distance, “Shit!” diving towards the side as a aimlessly fired bullet rocketed past his dusty figure, managing to return (and miss) a few shots as he clambered back onto his feet, “you made a mistake following me back,” he angrily glared towards the villain of his life, pointing his golden-brown revolver in the man’s direction.
“You won’t win” interjecting before his villain could speak any wicked words; the gunslinger fired three shots in quick repetition towards the chest. “Huh?” the gunslinger’s emerald eyes widened in shock, his opponent managing to tank the bullets and pace forward.
“Anton Anton Anton, the world’s heroic gunslinger, finally coming to rest here, in his hometown?” the devious villain quipped as he stepped forwards, clutching at the bullet holes in his chest, “I’m thee smartest man alive, do you really think bulllets…Will kill meee!?” a hysteric laugh escaped his lips as another three bullets pounded into his chest, “In this story, my friend, the hero won’t win” raising his own darkened revolver before firing a single bullet into Anton’s heroic face, the hero buckled forwards and crashed onto the ground as crimson blood poured from the open wound. “I’m sorry Anton, but you were fun…For a while” wickedly chuckling as he sauntered off, back to his personal abode.
Uranus Gulch Bar & Grill
The gunfighter eyeballed the villain over the hovertable, the two pints of squid lager bobbing gently up and down like on the tide. Neither said a word though it spoke volumes in body language. What was also apparent was that each thought the other was the villain.
The exchange was a gambit, a stratagem. The other creatures in the bar tried to be nonchalant but they rubbernecked to watch this.
A hand went below the table line, prompting an eyebrow and a similar hand gesture. The tension was palpable.
Hands went for blasters, chairs flung away as the gunfighter and the villain, or the villain and the gunfighter, drew and began blasting. Sizzling blasts of plasma burnt the air. The squid lagers exploded in a shower of glass. There were screams and then, then there was silence. When the air cleared both lay dead. But oddly enough from blaster wounds to the side of their heads. The gunfighter on the right, the villain on the left. The bar patrons looked towards the bar as the bartender blew the ionised steam off his gun.
"Sign says no gunplay," he said as he poured himself a shot "Some folks don't read, nor listen."
The Legend of Johnny Smokers: The Beginning
The Appaloosa meandered slowly along the trail, its rider sitting straight in the saddle. He had his hat pulled low over his eyes to shade from the setting sun, and was slowly rolling a cigarette for the end of a long day. The last few nights, something had been tearing the cattle apart, eight or nine heads at a time. They’d heard wolves from that general direction, but the animals were gone by the time they got there, and the tracks they found were nothing they could explain.
His men had quit on him earlier in the week over bogus pay disputes, so each night he had moved the small herd closer and closer to the ranch. His wife’s brothers had been helping him out, but they went home just before sundown. Or they went, anyway. They were good men, but he had never really been sure of their ways.
He tamped the cigarette on the saddle horn a few times, then lit up and took a long drag. He held it for a moment, savoring the taste, then exhaled slowly. The smoke hung heavy with the lack of wind, hugging the curve of his face to the back of his head, then sinking along the line of his duster until it seemed to blend with the gray-and-white coat of his horse, seeping around the black, leopard-like spots like water around rocks. He reached down and rubbed the horse’s neck lightly. “Almost home, Graycloud.”
The horse tossed its head and snorted lightly. Then it stopped dead still and pricked its ears up. “What is it, boy?” The horse snorted again and pawed the ground uneasily. The rider said, “Ho, Graycloud, calm down.” He reached to pat the horse again, but then a scream rang out. Horse and rider both tensed, and the rider said, “Maria?” He heard the snarl of wolves and then another scream. “Maria!” he shouted, and Graycloud was running before he could get spurs into the horse’s sides.
The wind kicked up as they rode, and by the time they covered the short distance to the ranch, it was pushing a full blown dust storm ahead of them, making it hard to see the house from the road in. He could just make out the porch ahead of them, the silhouette of his wife struggling with someone much bigger than her, and…were there more? Was that a man walking towards the house, from across the field? Where were the children? He wasn’t sure, for the storm. Then Maria screamed again, and he didn’t have time to worry about it.
Graycloud charged the house, ran alongside the porch, and the rider leapt from the saddle, losing his hat and hooking Maria’s attacker around the neck, throwing both of them to the porch floor. The rider hit the porch on his back, taking the brunt of the fall, but the attacker snarled and rolled with the fall, rolling off the end of the porch. “Johnny!” Maria shouted, terror in her voice. Johnny looked up at his wife, then his eyes got wide, and he drew a pistol and fired just beyond her, catching an attacker in the shoulder at the other end of the porch, spinning it backwards, out into the dust storm.
“What the hell is that thing?” he shouted, drawing his other pistol. Maria didn’t have time to answer before another crashed through the roof of the porch, landing between them. It looked down on Johnny, who was still on his back, and all Johnny could do was stare. This creature stood like a man, but its body was covered in fur, its hands and feet ended in claws, it had the head of a wolf, and something hung from its neck that looked like Indian beadwork. It breathed heavily as it growled, and when it took a step towards Johnny, Maria screamed. The creature moved swiftly, swinging backwards without looking, knocking Maria away. She bounced off of the cabin wall and fell forward, landing hard on the porch, her long black hair falling over her face.
“Maria!” shouted Johnny, and he unloaded several shots into the gut of the creature, knocking it backwards until it stumbled over Maria and fell backwards off of the porch, one leg still propped on the porch. Johnny moved then, starting to scramble towards Maria, when something snarled and grabbed his ankle. He was startled, but he twisted quickly and put two bullets in the head of the wolf that had rolled off his end of the porch, knocking it into the obscurity of the dust storm again. He got to his feet, and took two steps before the front door exploded outwards, and he found himself just a few feet from another creature. It was snarling, fangs and fur dripping with blood, and then he saw something that chilled his blood. It was holding a leg… and an arm… and they weren’t from the same child. Johnny sobbed involuntarily, frozen in place by the horror of it.
He didn’t move when the wolf gripped the doorframe and began to crouch. His breath caught in his chest as he stared at the growling beast, the blood of his children running from its chin. They locked eyes for a long moment, until the beast’s ears laid back on its head. When it’s lips curled, Johnny snapped back to himself with a scream, and he shot the beast again and again, backing it into the house with each shot, until he was standing in the doorway, pulling the triggers on empty chambers, still screaming as much in anger as in horror. Once his breath ran out, his scream died down. Slowly, he lowered his guns, focusing only on the fallen wolf, because he was afraid to look into the cabin.
He trembled as he took a step backwards, back out onto the porch, and then another. He reached to his belt for a bullet, and began reloading. He had one reloaded and three in the chambers of the second gun when he heard a low growl. He looked to his left and saw the first wolf he had tackled, bleeding from the head, hoisting itself back up onto the porch. He heard two more growls from his right, and the two near Maria were climbing back up also, one holding its shoulder, the other holding it’s gut. They all wore the same beadwork around their necks. He snapped the half loaded barrel back into the pistol and pointed a gun in each direction. The wolves growled a little louder and suddenly a voice from the yard yelled, “NO!”
Johnny spun quickly, swinging his guns towards the voice as it said, “He’s mine.” The voice walked calmly through the dust storm, and took the form of a man as it got closer. An Indian actually, with long black hair, a duster, and a knife sheathed on his hip. He was smoking a cigarette, and he wore the same necklace as these creatures around him. The dust storm died abruptly. Just then, Johnny heard a growl at his back, and felt hot breath on his ear. The wolf from the cabin, still standing? He forgot the man in the yard as he turned slowly towards the creature, its teeth only inches from his face. He instinctively shuffled one foot to attempt to back away, and the beast lashed out, slamming a backhand into Johnny’s chest that sent him flying out into the yard. He landed on his back, his head at the stranger’s feet, looking up into his face. When he realized he had not let go of his guns, he pointed them up at the man.
The Indian did not look impressed. “Do you know why I carry this knife instead of a gun, stranger?”
‘Stranger?’ thought Johnny. They did all of this, and they don’t even know who I am? Johnny breathed hard and shook with rage. Through gritted teeth, he responded, “Deathwish?”
The man bent down so his face was inches from the barrels, smiled, and said, “To make it a fair challenge.” Johnny went to pull a trigger, but the Indian moved faster, snatching the guns from his hands and tossing them aside.
Then one of the wolves leapt from the porch. The Indian reacted instantly. He whipped a gleaming blade from its sheath, caught the wolf in the belly as it came down, and then slammed him into the ground. Straddling the creature, the Indian ripped the knife from his belly, held the bloody blade to the wolf’s throat and yelled, “I told you: he is mine!” He then slashed the wolf’s throat, tearing the necklace from its neck in the process. The wolf died instantly. The other wolves howled as the Indian wiped the blade in the beast’s fur. He stood, returned the blade to the sheath on his hip, turned towards the other wolves on the porch and roared, “HE’S MINE!” The wolves all stooped and whined, ears laid back on their heads as they backed up and tried to hide behind each other. The Indian’s eyes narrowed, and then he pointed at Maria and said, “But I don’t want her.”
The wolves perked back up at that, and Johnny screamed as they fell upon his wife and ripped her to pieces. The Indian watched the wolves impassively as Johnny rolled back-and-forth on the ground, sobbing for his wife. The Indian looked on the man with disgust as he lay face down in the dirt, crying over his woman. He strode over, grabbed Johnny by the hair and jerked his head upwards as he said, “Time to die, boy.”
Johnny came up with his guns in his hands, which he had rolled over on while the Indian wasn’t looking. “I don’t think so,” he raged, as he jammed a gun into the Indian’s face.
The Indian smiled. “Why? Because you have a gun? I’ve already shown you I can take it before you pull the trigger.”
Johnny backed away a step, gun still pointing at the Indian, and he said, “No, not because I have a gun. Because you want me for something.” He backed away out of arm’s reach, but still didn’t feel safe, despite the guns.
The Indian smiled like he could sense Johnny’s fear. “Yes I do,” he stated, as he took a step forward. “I want you for sport,” and then he turned into a wolf and advanced on Johnny who was now backing up rapidly. Johnny was in a full backwards run when the wolf leapt at him, and he was surprised when he heard a loud neigh and Graycloud slammed into the wolf at a full run.
The wolf snarled and slashed at the horse’s neck as he fell to the ground. Graycloud reared up and came down on the wolf with his front hooves, causing him to howl in pain. He reared up again, and Johnny shot the wolf a few times, which caused the horse to turn away. Johnny wondered why he hadn’t shot before, but wasted no time running to his horse and swinging into the saddle. “Go, Graycloud!” The Appaloosa chafed at the rein brushing the claw marks on its neck, but it took off at a run.
Behind them, Johnny heard, “You’re mine! You’rrre miiine! YOU’RE MIIINNNNEE!” and then he felt a hot pain in his left shoulder as the Indian’s knife found its mark, and he tumbled roughly from the saddle, digging the blade in further as he rolled.
The Indian wolf smiled, but before he could advance, an arrow pierced his leg, and he howled. More arrows zipped through the air and the other wolves howled too, as the arrows found back, shoulder, and heart. The one hit in the heart fell dead. More arrows hit the porch columns, the cabin, and the Indian wolf, now just an Indian again, took another in the arm. He snarled when he was hit, and it still sounded like a wolf. He looked at the two remaining wolves, and they all bolted for the woods on the far side of the field.
Johnny watched all of this from where he lay in the road as he faded to unconsciousness. Just before passing out, he saw more Indians advancing on him, and he felt no relief. Maria’s brothers, he thought, and then everything went black.
He woke with a start in the teepee, but a hand, old but firm, rested on his good shoulder before he could attempt to sit up. Johnny looked at the hand and followed the arm up to the face of its owner, the shaman Two Rivers- so called because his people say two rivers run through him: his own spirit, and the Great Spirit. Right or wrong, he was one of the wisest men Johnny knew. Right now though, he had a stony look of pain, calm, and angry contemplation that only Indians seem able to master. The old man pressed Johnny’s shoulder one more time, silently telling him to lie still, then said, “It has been many moons, Johnny Smokers.”
Johnny winced, then smiled lightly. His last name was Smuckers, but the old Indian had always said it “Smokers,” and Johnny loved the man’s daughter too much to insult him by correcting him. He could barely look at him now, sure that Maria’s brothers had told him how she died. Johnny expected death, and had no doubt that this man could deliver it. Eyes closed, he started carefully, “Two Rivers…I…”
“I told you that death would find my daughter Running Rivers if you took her as your wife, and here we are,” the shaman said simply, in a voice that rasped like dry leaves. “I gave her up to the Great Spirit when she accepted you as her husband anyway,” he continued. “My anger over her death was spent many winters ago. You need not fear for your life here, Johnny Smokers,” he said knowingly, “for how can I kill you when all that is left of Running Rivers now runs in you alone?” Pressing two fingers over Johnny’s heart, Two Rivers said, “Bound together by the Great Spirit, the river of her spirit now runs in you.”
Now it was Johnny’s turn to look pained. He squeezed his eyes shut tight, and placed his right hand over Two Rivers’. The old man did not flinch from his touch, and after a minute, Johnny said, “Thank you, Two Rivers.”
The old shaman smiled. “You are welcome, Johnny Smokers. Now rest. We shall talk more when you wake.”
“Tomorrow then,” replied Johnny.
“I did not say tomorrow,” answered Two Rivers. Johnny worried at that, but soon closed his eyes to sleep. He dreamed terrible dreams of wolves that stood like men, his wife screaming, and a river in which he found peace and safety, because the wolves could not cross it.
When Johnny woke, his shoulder felt better, but he was stiff as a board, and his mouth was dry. Two Rivers still sat beside him. The shaman held a small bowl of water to his lips, he drank, and once the pain from swallowing subsided, he asked, “How long was I sleeping?”
“The fever from your wound took you, and you slept a sleep like death for a moon.”
Johnny thought for a second, repeating, “A moon,” then started with shock as he said, “A month? I’ve been asleep for a month?” He tried to sit up, but Two Rivers put a hand to his shoulder, just as he had done a month ago, and he laid back.
“Yes, and while you slept, Coyote came looking for his knife,” answered Two Rivers. He held the gleaming blade up for Johnny to see and smiled. “We did not let him have it.”
Johnny studied the blad and asked, “Why does that and the arrows of Maria’s bro…” He caught Two Rivers’ scowl and corrected himself, “Running Rivers’ brothers killed a wolf man with arrows, but I emptied my guns into them, and they just got back up.”
Two Rivers turned the blade over in his palm, and holding it up again, he said, “Silver can kill them. I do not know why, but we found much of it in the cave at the foot of the mountain, and we use it to make our arrowheads, our knives, and to tip our javelins. We ran Coyote off with them, as we have done many times.” The shaman studied the knife for a moment before placing it on the ground before him. Johnny could tell that something else was coming, so he waited. Two Rivers rocked a bit, his hands raised palms up before him. He then clasped his hands together, shook them slightly, and plopped them in his lap as he looked to the sky through the top of the wigwam. The stone left his face as he searched for the right words, but finally just said, “Graycloud was a great help in fighting Coyote, this time.” For once, it was Two Rivers that didn’t meet Johnny’s gaze.
“My horse?” asked Johnny. “He saved me back at the cabin, but he was injured. How did he help you here?”
The shaman raised his eyebrows as he stared out the opening of the teepee, and he said, “Graycloud has much changed since he was a colt.”
Johnny had never seen Two Rivers be evasive before. It would have been funny, if it weren’t so frustrating. “Two Rivers! What happened to my horse?”
“You will see…in time,” answered the shaman. Then clearly changing the subject, he held up the broken necklace from the wolf man that was slain by Coyote. “Do you know what this is?”
“I was hoping someone could tell me,” Johnny answered honestly. “All of them wore one, including this Coyote.” He looked at it laid over Two Rivers’ hands, and noticed its crescent design in the middle, curving downwards with the curve of the beads.
“It is the eye of the wolf,” answered Two Rivers.
“It looks like the moon,” said Johnny.
“Are they not the same?” asked the shaman.
Johnny furrowed his brow, but answered, “Sure, I guess.” He was actually a little aggravated with the wise man bit at the moment, but he figured that was because he hadn’t eaten a decent meal in a month, so he tried not to let it show further. Realizing how hungry he was, he decided to change the subject himself, and he asked, “What’s the possibility of getting some grub?” Two Rivers smiled.
A couple of weeks later, Johnny was up and around, moving easily. He had been practicing at throwing Coyote’s knife, and was getting pretty good. He’d shown a remarkable talent for the javelin as well, but almost none for the bow and arrow, but that was probably because he was so much weaker than usual from having lain around for a month. Or maybe it just wasn’t his weapon.
He put the knife back in its sheath, and for the first time, it occurred to him to wonder where the sheath had come from. He hadn’t gotten a good look at it that night, but he was fairly certain this was the same one worn by the Indian wolf man. He looked at it closely. It did carry Coyote’s half moon mark. He strode purposefully to the center of the village, where Two Rivers sat on a log. A couple of braves had followed closely behind when they saw Johnny heading for the shaman with a knife, but they were waved off by Two Rivers. He pulled the knife from the sheath and jammed the blade into the dirt before him. Holding out the sheath, he demanded, “How did I get this, and where are my guns?”
Two Rivers only glanced at the sheath, but nodded to the braves behind Johnny, one of whom ran off. The old man pulled one of Johnny’s pistols from under his blanket, and handed it to him butt first. The butt had a half moon carved in it. “We were not able to simply turn him away, while you slept. The knife was not ours to return, so we told him that he must return for it when you awaken. But Coyote is the trickster, so he does not trust easily. He asked for something in return, in case you did not wish to give it back. We gave him one of your guns.” Just then, the brave returned with Johnny’s gunbelt.
Johnny took it, looked it over briefly, and said, “And one of my holsters?”
“And he gave you the sheath for his knife,” answered Two Rivers, “in good faith. He is a trickster, but often fair in his dealings.”
“FAIR?” shouted Johnny. “He took my family, Two Rivers!”
Two Rivers shook his head lightly. “You took his first.”
Johnny was stunned. He stared at the shaman in disbelief.
“Running Rivers was promised to Coyote by her grandfather, my father,” continued Two Rivers. He raised his eyebrows and shrugged, “What do you think Running Rivers was running from? All rivers run from something and to something else.” He fixed Johnny with a look, and said, “Coyote is often fair.”
Johnny hung his head low and whispered, “Of course. That’s why she was willing to change her name. She was hiding.” Johnny was silent for a minute, and the village waited for his silence to be over. Finally, he breathed deeply, jammed the pistol into its holster, and strapped on his gun. He picked up the knife, sheathed it, and placed it on his other hip.
“You will return that to Coyote?” asked Two Rivers.
“If he wants it, he can come and get it,” answered Johnny, and he turned to leave. A squaw met him with Graycloud, and he took the reins and began walking out of the village.
Two Rivers called after him, “Take heed, Johnny Smokers! You must return that blade to Coyote! But as long as you carry your guns, death and smoke will follow.”
Johnny turned back to the shaman and answered, “They can follow. They just need to stay out of my way.” Then he turned again to leave the village.
|That's all of the entries! Here's the lowdown on the votin', ya varmints:|
If you will, please read the entries, decide who best met the rules, and from those, vote for your favorite.
Some of these entries are particularly long (<ahem> mine), and I realize Western (even Weird Western) may not be everyone's favorite theme, so I'm giving ten days for the voting process. Voting closes at HIGH NOON GMT, aka 12pm GMT (so 8am EST, he says to himself).
Thanks for reading, and thanks for voting! -cb