For those not in the loop, Feisty's Blog Western closes the circle today. Christina was
crazy gracious enough to bestow the final Chapter upon me, and I have tried to do her proud. I followed six very talented writers, who took the story in some very clever directions.
Dax, Moogie, WitNit, Kelley, Eric, Pammy, take a bow. You guys done great. Although I will say Dax is on perilously thin ice on the Island of Doctor Moreau right now, and as for Miss Pammy? Well, let's just say when she pitches she throws heat, high and tight. She tried to bean me! And certainly brushed me back. A hell of a chapter to follow, girl.
As an aside I inserted a few pop culture references in Chapter 7, just out of mischief. If anyone smokes out all four they get the coveted Popeye hand puppet, but you may want to, you know, ignore this sentence entirely.
Without further comment, my humble offering:
The Preacher rolled Stalking Wolf's body over, and winced at the crusted eye socket, the bloodied groin, the lump of manhood extruding from his mouth like freshly-slaughtered beef. Good Christ Almighty, he thought.
Bringing in the sheaves, he muttered, the sheaves, yes, and removed a thin roll of dollar bills from the mutilated half-breed's shirt pocket. The Preacher suddenly winced in excruciating pain, eyes tearing, nausea rising. Rotten tooth, he mused. I have to get that pulled. He rifled the other pockets, and found only a small bottle. He held it up and inspected it.
Dr. Benbow's Nerve Elixir
Drawn From the Laughter of the Maids of France
He uncorked it and took a tentative whiff. Laudanum, he detected, and arose, thin, gaunt, sallow of complexion, his sunken cheeks grizzled with whisker. He drew a long draught of the bottle, and swirled it about the decayed tooth. The pain subsided slightly, and he recorked the bottle, and placed it in his dusty ebony longcoat pocket.
The Preacher gazed at Stalking Wolf. "You were an evil and contemptible bastard, Half Breed. No soul, no soul at'all." He removed the bottle of laudanum, and took a slow, introspective sip. "But no Gunslinger kilt you. By the balls of Beezlebub you ain't even shot."
He looked at the desecrated crotch, the unholy mouthful of flesh. "This is woman's work here, Vengeance, Retribution. And her not even bothering with the reward money either, Wrath alone enough, the Lord's Smiting has evened the scales. She must not need the money, anyhow." Another circumspect pull of the bottle. "But I suffer from no such richs, nor my congregation. This will feed my flock, build my rectory. I suffer not the curse of Mammon, the vile despoilage of the moneylenders."
With that he extracted his enshriveled tuber, and ejected a massive, acrid stream of piss, saffroned of incontinence, foamed of the hard long ride that morning, right upon the dead man's chest. And he loaded up the body in his buckboard, and headed east, towards Gilead, where a marshal who would ask no questions would pay him the handsome reward money from a properly funded coffer.
Above, atop an ochre escarpment, the Gunslinger watched these events unfold. And then he lit a cheroot with a sulfurous match, and spat a bit of tobacco onto the scorched red earth.
A carnival was passing through town on the spurs of an electrical storm, if such a sad group of creatures could be described so. The talent was sparse: a talking burro, a dancing bear, two dogs walking upon their hind legs.
There were two tents set up on the outskirts of town, where the hot wet winds blew through tent flap, wagon, clothes. The first tent was for families. It housed the animal shows, and small groups of children sat in sullen indifference to the pathetic antics of the performers. The burro spoke a braying nonsense, the bear shuffled awkwardly from side to side.
The other tent contained misfits, was the menfolk entertainment. The Gunslinger sat in a rickety chair among a dozen or so other men, the occasional lingering lightning bolt backlighting the canvas roof like chiaroscuro. In one corner a three-breasted woman languidly combed her hair. In another corner Siamese twins performed amateurish acrobatics. A heavily-muscled man lifted vast weights elsewhere. The Gunslinger smoked casually, bored, and observed.
Later that evening he paid a gold dollar to copulate with the three-breasted woman in the back of a gypsy wagon. It was more ritual than sex, perfunctory libidinal release. Both were disinterested, they never made eye contact. He gave her another dollar when he left.
In the middle of the night the tent housing the animals caught fire, and there was brief shrieking panic from the carnival folk while bear, burro, dogs were consumed. No one arrived to help, there was no time.
The carnival moved on the next day to the casual indifference of the townspeople, leaving behind a smoldering canvas heap, and a hastily dug pit on the outskirts of town.
Emily sauntered into Cavendish's offices, and awaited her appointment. She understood he'd been able to convert some of the grazing rights surprisingly quickly. With the cash from that and Big Bill's other liquid assets she could make her way to New Orleans and ensconce herself rather fashionably, and could have the other assets deposited in her local bank upon their liquidation. She'd direct Cavendish to redraw the ranchland, into parcels amenable for quicker conveyance, for everyone really wanted land in those parts, none had been as greedy as her father in acquiring such huge tracts of it.
When Cavendish ushered her into his office she politely accepted the offer of a sherry, and sipped it demurely while he explained the formalities of the probate in a lawless territory, while she hid her greed, splayed like a harlot's thighs behind her eyes. He, meanwhile, seemed to have been into the sherry to excess already, and passed his massive hands among a plethora of papers on his desk. Timber rights! Riparian rights! Mineral rights! Grazing rights! Here it is. The grazing rights. Sign here, my dear, and he savored the curve of her wrist, her well-formed bosom, with his rheumy eyes.
Emily was aware of his look, just as she had been the others, all the others, but she let it pass. She was too close, far too close to insult the man, and endanger her scheme.
With their business completed, Emily allowed him to escort her to the front door. She shook his hand warmly, and allowed him to peck her cheek. And as she turned to leave, she bumped into a filthy mestizo boy on the wooden planking, who tugged her skirt, and proffered an envelope.
Emily took the envelope discreetly, brushed the urchin aside, stepped quickly down the boardwalk to escape the lingering gaze of Cavendish, and opened it. Inside was a note, written in crabbed hand, somewhat shaky but legible.
The Devil's Boils. Noon tomorrow.
"Damn," she murmured, and began to think. Probably one of that disgusting half breed's drifters, hangers on. This was a problem. It would have to be resolved. She could not risk traveling by stage to New Orleans with a witness to murder on her trail, or even worse a vulgar thief and defiler. She returned to her hotel room and had a bath drawn, parsing her plans.
The dawn sun shimmered upon the languid, meandering river's wavelets and hiccoughs, sparkling counterpoint to the rasping dust of the banks. A small coterie of folk were amassed on the riverbank, bonneted, derbyed, sundress and suitcoat alike threadbare but respectably cleansed and flatironed.
In the shallows of the river's edge the Preacher stood, shirtsleeves rolled up, suspenders cinching his trousers high to avoid more water than necessary sloshing into his already soaked longjohns. He had already baptised two girls, fifteen year old twins, and an itinerant drunkard who had seen Gabriel, Gideon, the blinding light of merciless anger against his sloth, and filth. He wept as the Preacher doused him, came up sputtering and coughing, the small crowd laughing in pleasure at his discomfort, embracing him simultaneously as a lost soul, recovered. He staggered to respite, dry clothes, a generously offered piece of chicken.
The Preacher cast a sad brown eye about for another supplicant, another soul seeking redemption. But the crowd was thin indeed, all known to him, all baptised.
And then the coterie separated a bit, and a lanky man in black waded through the crowd, drew himself up at water's edge. He hat was slung low, brim covering his eyes, but the Preacher recognized him, of course. The Gunslinger removed his hat, and placed it upon a cottonwood branch hanging over the rippling waves, and spoke, slowly.
"Baptise me, Preacher. Wash away my sins."
"You cannot be baptised unless you truly repent those sins," groused the Preacher.
"Oh, I repent, alright. I have killed for money, many times. I have killed for revenge, at times. I've had whore, youngster, the other man's wife. Baptise me, Brother John, wash those sins away."
The Preacher stared into the cold eyes, black as obsidian, with caution, and no small measure of fear. "If you truly repent, brother, I will baptise you. Would you like a baptism gown?"
"No," said the Gunslinger, "these will do just fine." And he unholstered his gun, and hung it upon the cottonwood branch with his hat, and waded into the cool brown waters in his clothes, boots, spurs, and all, and turned to face the Preacher.
The Preacher, nervous now, placed his hand upon the Gunslinger's head. "Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?"
"Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?"
The Preacher, hands trembling now, foreswore his litany, and roughly immersed the Gunslinger's head in the softly roiling water. He peered into the Gunslinger's face, and stifled a cry when he saw the black orbs, with whites curiously like blue porcelain shards, gazing back at him, placid, impassive. Dead eyes. The Preacher panicked, and attempted to hold the head underneath the water, to put death to the already lifeless eyes. The Gunslinger lifted himself, slowly, powerfully, and the Preacher released him with a muffled yelp, and staggered back against current and wave.
The Gunslinger stood, dripping, stoic, staring. The Preacher could not break the stare from the obsidian eyes.
"What is your true name, brother?"
"Angel, Brother John. I'm called Angel."
"Go in peace, Angel." And the Gunslinger laughed a mirthless laugh, hollow as gourd, cold as icepond, and strode from the waters, fetching hat and holster. He turned to the Preacher. "Thankee for abeyance, Preacher. I'll see you around."
The Devil's Boils lay twenty miles west of town, where the arroyos blanched out, and fresh water ceased. Thirty acres of lethal sulfur pools, whose acrid fumes and oxygen-starved atmosphere had made the area, over the millenia, eschewed by Indian, abhorred by puma, shunned by even coyote and vulture. The sulfurous air actually shimmered, like heat waves from afar, the pools bubbled and boiled, all life's denizens repulsed, the air a miasma, fetid, deathly. Scavenger avoided, predator encircled. Oppressive heat scalded the breath, choked the air. It was as if Hell itself had carved out a homestead in the desert.
Posted by Velociman at June 2, 2005 8:25 PM
Emily rode the buckboard out toward the Boils. In the back of the wagon were a steamer trunk of clothes and a carpetbag filled with cash, bank notes, and several legal instruments. In her dress sash she had a derringer.
I'll kill this bastard, she thought. It has to be one of Stalking Wolf's men. He'll want to fuck me first, like they all do, and that will be his weakness. I'll shoot him close.
As she approached the Boils the acridity became relentless, the view a shimmering, dancing haze. She dismounted, pulled the derringer, and approached cautiously. The lack of visibility was both a hindrance and a blessing. If I can't see him...
She neared a boiling pool, her nostrils afire, and slid alongside a limestone cliff wall. As she rounded the edge of the cliff wall she heard That's far enough.
She whirled, derringer extended, and faced a hazy figure, dressed in black. The figure approached, and at a distance of six feet she made out the sallow visage of the Preacher, holding a revolver, level at the waist.
"What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same thing. I wouldn't have responded to my note if I were you. Very foolish, and very un-Christian-like if you ask me." They circled each other slowly, each taking the measure of the other. "You have something I desire, Miss Callahan, and I intend to claim it."
"What? My money? I don't think so, preacher. That's mine. I earned it, I inherited it."
"Oh, but did you? Did you inherit it?"
She eyed him narrowly, sensing a plot, a shift of balance. The Preacher winced suddenly, and reached into his coat pocket, all the while keeping the gun leveled at Emily. He uncorked the bottle with his teeth, and took a careful swig, never letting his eyes off her. He rolled the liquid around his rotten tooth, the pain infuriating him.
"No, I wouldn't say inherited so much as tended it temporarily. And now the rightful owner has come to claim it."
"What do you mean?" She bristled in anger. "What do you mean?"
"I mean I have a codicil, girl. A rider to that will of your daddy's. Leaving his entire estate to my church, to my governance, and you a mere life estate. Caught him in a moment of weakness, I did, guilty over his misdeeds. What, Cavendish didn't tell you?"
"You lie!" she hissed.
"Do I now? That carpetbag there. You have any deeds in there? Of course you don't."
She blanched, swallowed hard. Fuck!
"No, no deeds. Why do you think he run you down the road with paper money and grazing rights? That's all you got. All that land belongs to my church when you meet your Blessed Maker."
"And you want to kill me? Why? Your church will get the land eventually." Through her fear her indignation showed, tremulous.
"Because I covet, God damn it! That's why! I covet, I crave. Greed, jealousy. I've been a poor man my whole life. I have no intention of waiting you out, young whore. You'll outlast me. No, I lust for your land like others lust for your body."
"You lie," she retorted. "Show me that damned paper."
He reached in his coat pockets, his shirt pocket, his trousers, all the while becoming increasingly agitated.
I reckon you'd be looking for this. They both whirled, and there stood the Gunslinger, at ease against the limestone wall. In his left hand he held a rumpled piece of paper, wetted once, now dry, and in his right he held a revolver.
"You! Move on, Angel Eyes. This ain't your concern."
"Oh, but it is, you see. We all covet something, preacher." The Gunslinger raised himself from the limestone wall, and raised his pistol at the Preacher's head. Emily, unsure, was pointing the derringer back and forth at the two figures. "But in the grand scheme of things, preacher, Pride is the stone over which many people stumble." He cocked his revolver.
"I have to get this tooth pulled!" cried the Preacher, just before the Gunslinger shot him once in the throat. The Preacher staggered, and fell to his knees, then onto his face.
Emily had been watching in horror, and as she turned the derringer back to the Gunslinger she saw he was already aiming at her.
"You bastard!" she screamed. "What do you want? That land? Take that paper! You're the preacher now! Just leave me alone!"
"Oh, I don't want that land, girl. I want your everloving soul. Because Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." And with that utterance he shot her once, in the forehead, and watched as she staggered backwards, and fell into the sulfur pool. And now you've danced with the Devil, you two, he thought. Satan's last waltz.
The Gunslinger hoisted the carpetbag from the back of the buckboard wagon, and lashed it securely to his horse's saddle. He took one last look at the two corpses, and rode, south, into oblivion.