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07-29-2012, 11:32 PM #1
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Iron Quill Beta - The Kid and the Reaper
The Kid sauntered into the telegraph office, a bantam rooster looking for a fight. He was short and scrawny, with a mouth that always sneered and a hat that was always cocked; and he wore a gun on his hip and a chip on his shoulder. His eyes were bright and hard, but there was a haunted, electrical look behind them that told long-time Breachsiders that he wasn’t long off the train from Earth.
The telegraph operator, a round, bald little man with thick spectacles above an enormous walrus mustache, took him in at a glance and smiled. “Here to send a telegram, young man?”
“Hell, no,” The Kid spat. He thought of himself as a hard man, and he hated to be reminded of how young he was -- nineteen, if he was a day.
The telegraph man looked nonplussed. “Then I don’t rightly see why you’re here. Stage’ll be moving on soon. This is just a mail stop.”
“I ain’t takin’ the stage no further. I’m looking for someone, and I hear he lives ’round here. I don’t rightly know his Christian name, but the papers back Earthside call him the Reaper. They say he’s a fast gun. That he moved out into the desert to find a real challenge.” The Kid’s bright eyes gleamed, and he ran a narrow, pink tongue over his boy-soft lips. “I aim to be that challenge.”
The bristles of the telegraph man’s mustache hovered over his lip like the thousand teeth of a hungry beast, sniffing the air, cautious. “Do you really want to die here?” he asked softly.
The Kid’s bony hand shot to his hip. “Careful, old man. You said it yerself: this here’s just a mail stop, and the stage’ll be moving on soon. It’s my dream to be the fastest man alive, and the Reaper’s the next on my list.”
“‘Alive’ don’t mean much here.” The telegraph man shook his head. “Young punks like you pass through here all the time, gunning for him. But he’s still standing.”
“I ain’t like those others. You keep jawin’, and I’ll show you why.” The Kid’s pistol blurred into his hand, and the telegraph operator’s eyes widened behind his spectacles. “Now, where is he?”
“Out in the western desert. Six days’ ride. At sunset. That’s when he shows up. But, I’m begging you, take the stage back to the City. You’ll live longer. A fast gun can find good work with the Guard, maybe the Death Marshals --”
The Kid laughed, but there was no humor in it, only contempt. “I’m no Guild hound. Just you wait, old man. Six days from now, I’ll be famous.”
His horse gave out on the fifth day. The old mare just collapsed like a marionette with her strings snipped, gasping white lather. Damn hoss wasn’t worth the scrip he’d paid for her. Hell, he was lucky she didn’t break his leg falling down on him.
Snarling curses under his breath, the Kid disentangled himself from the saddle, unlimbered his Colt, and fanned three bullets into the mare’s skull. That was two more than he needed, but he was too angry to care. The gunshots were loud, but the desert gobbled up their echoes.
Earthside or Breachside, the rules of desert survival without a horse were pretty much the same. Sleep through the hot day, walk through the cold night. Ration water. Eat horse until it runs out, then look for anything that moves. Never forget what brought you there in the first place.
The Kid practiced his quick draw every night.
Three days later, he was chasing the sun into a deep ravine when he knew that he was close. The shadows felt cool, almost clammy, and as the sun started to drown in the horizon, they turned the rich color of wine -- or blood. The Kid’s boots crunched too loudly in the dirt, and his the chime of his spurs hurt his ears. He felt the weight of silent eyes.
Suddenly, he saw a black shape silhouetted against the rotting day. The Kid’s heart leapt in his chest so hard that he felt it thump against his ribs like a caged and hungry animal.
He broke into a run. As he drew closer, the setting sun limned the shape in dripping fire, picking out certain features: the broad shoulders, the heavy duster, the wide-brimmed hat. The big, black gun that crouched low against one leg, like a waiting dog.
“Looks like I finally caught up with you,” the Kid said, when they were twenty feet away from one another.
The Reaper said nothing. It stood still and mute, a statue sculpted of shadow and light.
“I been dreaming of this day for years,” the Kid sneered. “Soon, folks’ll call me the Reaper.”
The Reaper said nothing, but as the sun disappeared over the horizon, the shadow raised its head, just an inch, but enough for the Kid to glimpse unshaven cheeks, a pale, ravaged chin -- and bruised lips sewn shut with coarse, dark thread.
A pent-up, screaming voice in his skull raved at him to Look out, look out, you heard what the old man said about these parts, look out --
But then the sun was gone, the face vanished into purple twilight -- and the big black gun leaped from its holster.
The Kid threw himself to one side. The black gun roared like a living thing, and a line of green fire split the air where his head had been. He rolled to his feet, gun in hand, fanning the hammer with the speed that only comes with practice and murder. The first bullet took the Reaper in the knee; he twisted sideways, and another green ghost-light punched through the Kid’s shoulder. He winced, but kept his aim steady, pumping black, glistening holes in the Reaper’s chest, shoulder, belly. The black gun moaned in pain.
The Kid’s next shot took the Reaper’s forehead off.
The black shadow stood still for a moment, as if in disbelief, then thudded into the twilight dust. Something dark and glistening spilled from its ruined head. The Kid sidestepped it gingerly, his bright eyes wary and nervous.
“I’m the fastest,” he whispered hoarsely. “The fastest that ever was.”
But his shirt sleeve was sticky and wet with blood, and he felt a cold, itchy fire spread out from the hole in his shoulder, through his arm, into his chest, up his neck. He sank to his knees, gasping through a throat that had closed tight as a reed.
Poison, he thought. Damn dirty dog poisoned me --
He fell. Dust filled his mouth. It tasted like the end of things.
The telegraph man’s walrus mustache twitched up, but his eyes were shadowed sockets behind their round spectacles.
“You’re awake. That’s good. Shows you got more life in you than the rest. Well, not life. More like spirit.”
He smiled, exposing brown, crooked teeth. Why hadn’t the Kid noticed those teeth before?
“Just hang tight, whilst I finish sewin’ your lips up. Don’t want the salt fallin’ out of your mouth. It‘s the salt that keeps your soul tethered to your body, see. Otherwise, you‘re just another danged zombie, and I got enough of those squirreled away in the hills.”
A needle flashed in his plump fingers, and the Kid glimpsed a length of coarse black thread. He heard a meaty pluck, a catgut whisper, but felt nothing. It was as if his mind had become a steel cage, split off from the rest of his body.
The telegraph man giggled. “I guess you might call me a folk artist. I keep up with the way they used to do things in these parts. Mightily efficient, puttin’ bodies to work instead of puttin’ ’em in the ground. Did you know, the Marshals always telegraph ahead when they’re coming by? Stupid people make the best neighbors, as my daddy used to say.
“But an artist needs raw materials, and there ain‘t too many people around here, as you noticed. The original Reaper was a lot like you were: hot-headed and stupid. He died his first day out. But everyone knew who he was. So, I raised him up and started the rumors. You stupid hot-heads do the rest. Each time the Reaper wins, I get a new corpse. Each time one of you wins, I get a replacement. I figure I’ll have an Ortega sniffin’ around sooner or later, and then I’ll have a regular cottage industry going. Until then, you’ll do.”
He held out the black gun. “Take it, son. Don’t worry, it’s yours now. It’s what you wanted, anyway.“
The Kid watched as his hand reached out and took it. There was a brief burning sensation, and then he felt at peace -- and hungry.
The telegraph man flashed him a brown, jumbled grin, his spectacles gleaming. “You got one thing right, son: You’re going to be famous.”
The Following User Says Thank You to El Indio For This Useful Post:
08-03-2012, 11:01 PM #2
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- Jul 2010
- Manchester or Harrogate...
Thanked 70 Times in 52 Posts
Haha, strangely amusing, love the telegraph guy! Great story!
08-04-2012, 03:04 AM #3
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- Mar 2011
- Eugene, OR
Thanked 16 Times in 14 Posts
Very, very nice. Loved it in fact. A lot of great stories here - going to be hard to vote :/ The old telegraph man was great adn the way you drew th kid was perfect. Thanks!
08-04-2012, 09:51 AM #4
- Join Date
- Sep 2009
Thanked 58 Times in 46 Posts
really good workOur's
08-11-2012, 04:10 AM #5
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- Aug 2011
- San Antonio, TX
Thanked 17 Times in 13 Posts
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