PDA

View Full Version : Steve's Written Works



Steve
06-15-2007, 08:07 PM
Billy Said Keep Going (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=17136&viewfull=1#post17136)

The Sax Man's Rebop : A Short Story (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=449258&viewfull=1#post449258)

THE TWILIGHT COUNTRY : A screenplay (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=416099&viewfull=1#post416099)

In the Dead of Night : A Zombie Screenplay (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=338422&viewfull=1#post338422)

The Scalphunters (A short Story) (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=322328&viewfull=1#post322328)

In the Land of Hope -- A Novel of Prohibition (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=258445&viewfull=1#post258445)

In the Land of Hope (Foreword) (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=258448&viewfull=1#post258448)

In the Land of Hope - Prologue (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=258451&viewfull=1#post258451)

In the Land of Hope - Chapter 1 (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=258866&viewfull=1#post258866)

The Rain, It Comes A-Burnin' (Cast of Characters) (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=156472&viewfull=1#post156472)

The Rain, It Comes A-Burnin' Act I Scene I (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=156474&viewfull=1#post156474)

The Rain, It Comes A-Burnin' Act I Scene II (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=156630&viewfull=1#post156630)

The Rain, It Comes A-Burnin' Act I Scene III (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=159685&viewfull=1#post159685)

At First Light: An Excerpt by Stephen J. Davis (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=159685&viewfull=1#post159685)

Smite the Land: A Short Vignette (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=78830&viewfull=1#post78830)

My First Play - Scene I (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=61319&viewfull=1#post61319)

My First Play - Scene II (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=62807&viewfull=1#post62807)

Through A Glass Darkly (A Short Story) (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=24327&viewfull=1#post24327)


ARCHIPELAGO: A SERIAL NOVEL
Copyright Page (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=17836&viewfull=1#post17836)

Dedication (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=17837&viewfull=1#post17837)

Table of Contents (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=17838&viewfull=1#post17838)

Chapter I (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=17839&viewfull=1#post17839)

Chapter II (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=17840&viewfull=1#post17840)

Chapter III (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=17841&viewfull=1#post17841)

Chapter IV (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=17842&viewfull=1#post17842)

Chapter V (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=17843&viewfull=1#post17843)

Chapter VI (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=18688&viewfull=1#post18688)

Chapter VII (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=19548&viewfull=1#post19548)

Chapter VIII (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=19989&viewfull=1#post19989)

Chapter IX (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=24430&viewfull=1#post24430)

Chapter X (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=38350&viewfull=1#post38350)

Chapter XI (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?511-Steve-s-Written-Works&p=39825&viewfull=1#post39825)














:pirate:


Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you can help me. This is the latest chapter of my novel, "Billy Said Keep Going," ready to be R&R'd. After the roadblock in the Katrina story I found out that this story is indeed acceptable for the Faulkner Grant (after being told otherwise by someone who thought I was writing nonfiction), I decided that this story would be better to submit as a "debut novel."

I hope you can tell me if it is a.) well-written, b.) readable, and c.) publishable. Set in a small coal-mining community in rural West Virginia in the years between the two world wars, this novel is about the industry and the union wars that took place there.

Anyway, please tell me what you think of it. I hope you enjoy it, and please give me your thoughts as a reader and a friend (but don't be afraid to give it to me good).

-- Steve


************************************************** ********


WHEN HE WENT TO work in the mines for the first time Billy was not much more than a baby and the bones of their mother had been locked in the frozen earth in a grave little older than he. There were no photographs of her in the house so the boy’s memory of her was vague. Billy had no memory of her at all. Their father brooked no questions of her. The older boy would not speak to his brother at all even though they bedded in the same cold room in the loft and he would lie awake at night and listen to the wind crackling in the eaves and he would cobble together a ghostface of what he called his mother before sleep would take him.

On a winter’s night in that year 1913 he woke to a ghastly throbbing pain in his chest as though the hollows had been filled to bursting with ground glass and he whimpered softly at first and tears stood in his eyes but nothing else. He lay there with his bare feet propped against the footboard of his bed which was already too small for his growing body and he stared up at the dark outlines of the rafters which lost solidity in his blurring sight and he listened to his brother snoring softly from the other side of the room and as moonlight spilled through the sootcolored window he cursed God for this agony he’d wrought upon him and after a while he rose and climbed down from the loft.

When the bleak dawn touched the sky his father found him at the foot of the stairs. He lay curled fetally on the cold floorboards hugging his body with hands which were already large as a man’s. His father helped the boy to his feet and kissed his forehead and told him all would be righted and soon the growing pains passed as they often do but the boy never took back what he’d said the night previous.

On a day not long after he was scooping away the black snow from the path while Billy stood watching from the terrace bundled up in a heavy wool jacket when his father came. He stood looking out at his older son who bent forth with his sunmottled and ropescarred hands pale and ungloved against the cold and looking out toward the horizon where the Appalachians stood gray and eroded as a cougar’s teeth and his father called to him but he would not meet his gaze.

It was very cold. He waited. Billy looked at his father with eyes keen and shining with fear and excitement. His father called to him again and this time he looked at him.

Get some sleep tonight, his father said.

I guess I will.

You and me gettin up early tomorrow.

You and me.

Yes.

How early?

Early.

Before dawn.

Yes.

The boy stood there. He punched the spade down into the snow so hard the haft quivered and he looked where his father stood there like a priest offering a benediction. He thought he knew what he was saying to him and a feeling of dread welled up in the pit of his belly and he stood there with the snow falling all around them.

What are we goin to do?

You’ll see.

We goin up to the mines?

I said you’ll see.

What about Billy?

What about him?

The boy hesitated.

I asked what about him.

Well who’s goin to watch him if I ain’t here?

Nellie will I expect.

Nellie.

Yes.

What am I goin to do up there then?

What did I say?

The boy slung the shovel over his shoulder and stood looking across at his father and at Billy.

What did I say?

The boy spat. I guess I’ll see when I get there, won’t I? he said.

I guess you will.

You don’t have a problem with that, do you?

No sir.

Then go ahead with your digging and come get some supper.

I will.

I want you to go to sleep early tonight.

Yessir.

You best be ready to go when I am, you hear?

Yessir. I reckon.

Make sure you get somethin to eat first. I want you fit and ready to work.

All right.

You goin to go to bed early then?

Yes.

All right then.

His father turned and went back in. The boy hadn’t moved an inch from where he stood. Billy, he said. Go on in.

Billy stood on the top of the porch looking at him.

Go on. It’ll be dark soon and you don’t want to get sick.

Can’t I stay?

Do what I say, Billy. Now git.

He put his hands in his pockets and looked at his older brother.

Go on now.

He turned and went back to work spooning the hardpacked snow from the path and when he turned a moment later he saw the porch was empty and he went back to work.

. . .


He ate supper that night and went to bed early as he’d given his word he would and when he woke Billy was still asleep and the pagan moon silvered the loft. He sat up in his bed and got slowly to his feet. The floorboards creaked underfoot. He pulled his checked twill shirt and his breeches from the foot of his bed and dressed in the faint light of the moon. In the cold garret he drew his boots on and stood there for a moment looking at the sleeping boy in the cot across from him and for a second he felt something akin to affection. A feeling alien to him even now. As though the child were something that he could never strive to be. Lastly he turned and pulled on his heavy leather gloves which were frayed at the fingertips. Then he went downstairs and found his father waiting for him. Then they went outside.

Outside it was dark and the flurries blew in from the wolf’s moon. The snow crunching loudly like ice between their teeth. We best get a move on then, his father said.

When they reached the edge of the slagpit an hour later his father hobbled his horse and the boy climbed from his own and did the same.

They started up the grade with the wind blowing at their backs and the fresh flurries drizzling onto the gravel. The boy felt as though he were on the edge of something unimaginable and yet somehow material to him as though it granted him life.

As they trudged uphill he saw the mouth of the mine ahead. He stopped. He could see it there blacker than the night like the nest of some ribald beast that tunneled into the earth and burrowed into the deepest recesses of hell and he felt a sense of trepidation despite himself. He stood there a boy with large hands and feet clothed against the wind and already dusted with soot looking out at the entrance of this great warren which bored into the side of the rock face and where small scullery fires boiled in the faint new morning and his father turned to him and he stood watching his son until the boy looked to him. Then they continued on.

He followed his father to where three or four people stood carrying lanterns and long torches. Mornin there, said his father.

Mornin.

As the boy watched his father took a gaslantern from one of the men and blew the guttering flame to life and held it up as though a beacon in a storm. In the flickering light of it the boy saw his father’s face and he felt a sudden surge of feeling he could not put a name to as they walked on. A crosseyed giant of a man fell into step beside the boy’s father and nodded down toward him.

Mornin, Paddock.

Mornin.

I see ye brought the boy, he said.

Yes I did.

Did ye bring him to help?

No I didn’t, he said.

You didn’t?

No.

Then why?

I brought him to be baptized.

The giant nodded. In the grained light of the morning the snow had stopped falling and others were coming up the slope.

. . .


When they reached the vast and yawning mouth of the mineshaft the wind was much abated and the sun rose faint and muted from the east. He followed his father through the spits of snow which blew down like dust and they had gathered all at the entrance like parishioners after a service carrying picks and shovels. These enclaves huddling together for warmth against the weather and it did no good. The boy looked to his father but his father did not look back at him. When enough of them had arrived at the lip of the cave a few of the gathered took their torches and sojourned down into the tombstone darkness.

The boy stood alongside his father amidst this battalion of irregulars. The wind cidering in the valleys and amid the junipers and the sun rose gray and elliptic over the reefs of coal around them. The day rawborn out of the ungoded sky like a bastard child out of a long line. His father spoke in whispers with a man great in stature and girth who bore a great knobbed shillelagh in one hand like a crutch. He pointed to the boy and the man looked at him and nodded. The boy did not ask what they were talking about nor did his father tell him. Instead he stood watching this handful of ragtags as they surfaced two or three at a time bowlegged and stooped from years of laboring in the mines. A few women. All of them pledged their lives to the collieries in vows deeper than bloodoaths and he began to realize he himself had done the same. At what point in his life he did not know.

His father turned to him and beckoned the boy to follow and follow he did. They lumbered up the graveled path burdened with wellworn tools like fairybook dwarves in the forges of their mountain keeps and they descended into the darkness following the faint glow of the fires.

They followed the faint glow of the torchfires and he listened for the sound of their footsteps on the hard ground. Strong yet brittle. Glittering blackly in the gloom. He looked for his father but his father was only a shapeless mass ahead. The boy held out a hand like a blind man and staggered forward. Once or twice he nearly tripped over a stone in his path.

Sooner or later they came to the coalface. No light save the fire from the davy lamps and torches but these were choked by the dustclouds. The boy saw this the beetleeyed hide of what they had come for and he could see the soul of it burning within cold and intestate.

He stood there in the dark. His father and his father’s men fanning out to hew at the coalface. The ceiling smooth and humbling overhead by the rock from which the coal had been plucked like a dead eye. Deep stone flues flowing with water. The same rock below to encompass them all in mute silence. The boy fancied a creature long dormant and sequestered in this lair staring into their souls with eyes dead black and filled with an ancient evil never to be equated. It bored into the hearts of the ones who sought to blind it slowly as it had when the stoneage men had come to seek shelter in caverns like this one all in the long ago.

. . .


Now come days of labor, days of drudgery. Days of toiling deep in the black where he sees no soul clearly. His first notion which supplants all at first is the endless darkness which falls here like a reaper’s scythe and a cold wind sets his teeth to gnashing. The light of his torch sprent with coaldust that there is scarcely enough to see at all in this bitter dark but he can see the numbers of halfnaked men kneeling like penitents on either side of the tunnel.

He joins these men in driving their shovels under the mounds of shakendown ore and flinging it promptly over their shoulders into the carts which are yoked to mules and small ponies which stand hobbled in the darkness with lanterns around their necks like shining lockets. A glittering lake of coal in each haul. When these carts were full they were set towing it off to the surface before returning for a fresh load.

He sees these fillers at work at in doing so feels a bitter kinship for them. They struggled hard in this terrible task in moving great loads of coal but they did so in a position that made it thrice as hard. To kneel the entire time whilst ladling the coal into the drivecarts like illformed amputees in their graft. They drive the spade forth pistoning with their thighs to break the rock as rivulets of sweat pour down their naked backs. The cold of the day a memory in this purgatorial heat. The coaldust clogging their noses and throats and weighting their eyelids. The rattle of tools a machinegun chatter.

The dim light of the matchlamps coppering his face. The rank and volatile air like flatulence in this agonizingly cramped burrow. The black and gnawing fear inexorable of a great avalanche of stone and swarf and olden soil to crush the life out of them all. In this heat he shucks his belt and shirt and now and again looks askance through the heavy deadly cloud of grime at his present company. None of them look back at him.

. . .


After countless hours picketed amidst these stooped and lowly laborers the boy’s father surfaced from a lower circle of this hell to collect him. The boy picked up his shovel which has caused his hands to blister and crack open in bloody clefts and follows his father toward the shaft opening. It was worse clawing out of this pit as the journey took them uphill at a slant. They squatted low like men with rickets and with their lamps held out before them like gravekeepers’ lights they pushed forth.

This crossing took some time as they scrabbled through the rich sediments and compacted earth. The boy’s knees seemingly collapsing within themselves after the hours spent at a bow. The davy lamp feeling heavier by tenfold and his arm felt like it were to buckle as he held it out before him. His head tucked into his shoulders like a frightened tortoise to avoid the lowhanging buttress struts. His father was adept at moving at a brisk pace down here and yet the boy saw him curse with pain as he clouted his spine against one of the beams.
And when the gray circle of light appeared at the end of the tunnel the boy felt relief surge through him and he almost sank to his knees in elation but the elder Paddock kept him on the move.

The sun they greeted when they found their way out of the darkness was the color of raw steel. Their shadows fell behind them like murder victims. His father wore on his head a helmet made of wood and pith and he looked like a hysterical soldier of a foreign land wandered from some nameless battlefield where his comrades had fallen.

Here the boy stopped and stood watching the pregnant sky. The winter wind blowing from the sun onto the land strange and heartless as an alien planet, rattling the thatch of dead trees around the mine. The sun wreathed in a sulphur corona over them. The wind that blew could easily be taken for the timpani beat of the stormshaken canvas billows of a great ship. He watched while his father stood holding a lunchpail and sitting on a cindered deadfall white and monstrous like a beached whale. Then he turned and sat next to him.

They had biscuits and jelly foldovers wrapped in butcher’s paper and a tin flask of water which his father handed to Ben first who took a long pull. Then he meted out the boy’s lunch which he set in his lap. Ben sat watching a threelegged dog as it staggered into the encampment blind and whining with patches of fur falling off in clumps. Once in a while he would cough stertorously until he’d hacked up phlegm black with dust. He could see his breath in the cold. Then he saw his father look up and at once a look of anger passed over his face. Ben watched him as he rose from the deadfall. Other men followed him out across the gravel wash and not a few of them holding their picks and spades like clubs. There was tension in the air. The path they walked was rutted and muddied with sleet.

Oh here they come, someone said.

Ben stood up and watched his father and the men gathered around him as they stood beneath the squalid sky. As he watched he saw coming from below the grade another wave of people. Men and women alike. All were armed like ancient barbarians with crude weapons of all sorts. Knives and pitchforks. Planks hackled with rusty nails. Not a few carried clapboard signs which bore misspelled slogans and runic mottos.

His father shouted out across the rise to them, and Ben was happy with the sound he’d made. The common words lost hold of what was wrong. The vowels long and loud. He called on them to stand and listen with all the noises that his lips could make. He called with all the voices in his throat.

Listen to me now, his father called. We want none of that talk of unions, Charles Dorsey.

The man he’d spoken to stood smoking a cigar and he leaned slightly forward and produced a switchknife from somewhere in his leather duster and he smiled goodnaturedly at his father and then looked at the men and women congregated before him and ran the blade along his tongue one side first then the other and stropped the blade on his belt in a slow staccato motion.

Why now Paddock, he said.

Turn back now.

Turn back? We just wanted to talk.

What talk can ye do with knives and clubs?

Dorsey bent and picked up a chunk of coal between his fingers and tossed it lazily in his hand like a burned baseball.

Can’t you spare a moment is all I‘m askin, said Dorsey.

For what?

Just to hear what we’ve got to say.

A moment to listen to your bullshit, you mean.

Dorsey stood there smoking and took the knife and snapped the blade closed and then slipped the knife into his pocket and stood there watching with his hands clasped behind him like a backwoods preacher giving a sermon and eying the crowd before him on the hillside.

ManOfWesternesse
06-18-2007, 03:23 AM
Re: Billy Said Keep Going

Wow!. Bloody good Steve - it's dark, and it's bleak, and it's damn well written. Best of luck with it and with the Grant.

Steve
06-18-2007, 06:03 PM
Re: Billy Said Keep Going

Thanks, Brian. This novel required a lot of research of early coal mines, unions, and the lifestyle of the 1910s-20s. I'm glad you liked it.

Now if guys like Jean, who don't like my style, would look at this.

Rjeso
06-18-2007, 06:14 PM
Re: Billy Said Keep Going

The run-on sentences give me a bit of a pause, but persoanlly, I actually like how you handled the dialogue here. It's different, but you know what's going on with it, and surprisingly, the unusual style didn't throw me off one bit. Some of your descriptors are a bit too flowery for me and can be pared down (which would also help with the run-on problem), but I like the story so far. I'd keep reading had I the book in hand.

Best of luck to ya, Mulder! ;)

Callahan From Salem's Lot
06-18-2007, 06:23 PM
Re: Billy Said Keep Going

Gotta love it ! Wow ! Congrats,Steve ! It's a lot more than readable !

Steve
06-18-2007, 06:48 PM
Re: Billy Said Keep Going

Well now, Cal, that's very kind of ye, boyo.

And Agent Scully, here I was thinking you were just some brainy beauty. Now I find you actually have good taste.

ManOfWesternesse
06-19-2007, 03:41 AM
Re: Billy Said Keep Going


And Agent Scully, here I was thinking you were just some brainy beauty. Now I find you actually have good taste.
... or a tasty beauty, who's got good brains?:rock:

Steve
06-19-2007, 06:56 AM
http://thedarktower.net/forums/uploads/post-3-1182263806.jpg

Steve
06-19-2007, 07:02 AM
Copyright (c) 2007 by Stephen Davis.

All rights reserved. This publication may not be
reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise,
without the prior permission of the publishers.

Typeset in Georgia No. 1

Steve
06-19-2007, 07:05 AM
The author wishes to thank the fine
people of TheDarkTower.net and its
sister sites for their steadfast dedication
and of course, to Leanna Reeves for
her love and support.

Steve
06-19-2007, 07:06 AM
CONTENTS



Chapter I (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?p=17839#post17839)

Chapter II (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?p=17840#post17840)

Chapter III (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?p=17841#post17841)

Chapter IV (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?p=17842#post17842)

Chapter V (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?p=17843#post17843)

Chapter VI (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?p=18688#post18688)

Chapter VII (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?p=19548#post19548)

Chapter VIII (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?p=19989#post19989)

Chapter IX (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?t=526)

Chapter X (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showpost.php?p=38350#p=38350)

Chapter XI (http://www.thedarktower.org/palaver/showthread.php?p=39825#post39825)

Steve
06-19-2007, 07:08 AM
I




Across the wastes -- Loomings -- The wagon --
Taking passage -- Unwelcome questions -- Stopping --
Spooking the horses -- An ambush -- The naked savages -- Fights --
A horror -- The blood moon.


===============================================




See the world as once it was. The moon hung in the west dead as a blind eye and the long flat shapes of the clouds passed before it like a skyward fleet of deathships. Down the broiling river the reefs of ash and rubble sat in the gloom like a phantom wreck. As if the horizon were only gauze. To denote a oneness in this vision.

He sat on the sagging buckboard of the old rickety wagon with his head cocked to one side as though listening to spectre voices in the wind. His hatbrim caked in a fine drizzle of ash. The head flattened in places. He held the roughleather horsereins in his callused hands, the bullskin blanket cowled around him like a friar's alb. The gaunt and pellicle horses shuffling along in their brokendown gait amidst the deadplains. Their snorts stuttered in the cold.

He turned back to look over his shoulder at the conestoga wagon. The canvas stripped and laid bare in places by the wind. A gaslantern hanging from a stanchion dripping with kerosene. The flame guttered to no more than a spark. A cloth draped in curtain over it. He sat back and listened for their stertorous breathing. Soon he heard it. A lowing moan cidering from the wagonbed.

How much further?

The wagoneer tightened his grip on the reins and shoved back the flap to look in the carriage. Eyes blinking at him from the murk. Slumped and bundled in stinking rags and blankets like peasants. Three of them. Their young faces lined with worry. The one who'd spoken leaning forward. An infant suckling at her breast within this fleabitten chrysalis.

What's that ye said? he grunted.

I asked how much further.

How many times I got to tell ye? Dont ask me that.

I just want to know.

How in the name of God would I know that? Aint no tellin.

Well dont you think we ought to stop for the night?

Well ye want to go to Californy dont you?

You know we do.

Well then shut up and bundle yerself up. Dont want to get sick n die before ye see the ocean, do ye?

They all shook their heads no. They did not risk to speak further, for fear of breathing in the ash. Veils of ragcloth over their mouths like the masks of lepers. The old man peeled back his cracked lips in a blacktoothed grin. His chin flecked with spittle like drool.

Good girls. Now ye hush up and enjoy the ride.

Well when can we at least stop? the mother asked.

What ye want to stop for?

The baby's poorly.

What I tell ye? said the wagoneer. I dont like bein bothered with dumb questions like that. Cant you see I dont like talkin?

Sorry.

The wagoneer shook his head and ash fell from the brim of his hat like dandruff. Ye woulda done better to of left that chap back where ye come from anyhow. That's what I think.

The woman said nothing but only looked at him. The old wagoneer cocked his head again and smacked the canvas flap closed so the ash would not blow into the wagon. He hunched forward and peered through the blizzard of soot like a man on the jakes. To glass for a landmark of some sort.

He sat that way for a while until one of the horses listed to one side. He jostled the reins but the horse only reared its gaunt and welmish head to the sky. Its tattered ears pricked and its eyes rolling redly in its sockets. The other horse seemed to observe its mate doing this until whatever scent had attracted the first drifted to the other. Soon they were pawing at the earth and nickering worriedly.

The mother poked her head through the flap when she heard this. She held the veil to her mouth with her free hand as she watched this peculiarity.

What's wrong? she asked.

The wagoneer shook his head again. Dont know. I reckon somethin's out there got the horses riled up.

Can you see what it is?

He stood up in the buggy with the reins slack in his hands. Hell no I caint see. Gimme my pistol.

He turned to reach for it when there was a sudden snap of bowstring, almost too sharp and high to hear in the whine of the night. An arrow prickling from his gut. He toppled back against the wagonframe with a pained cry. His fall tearing loose the canvas and exposing his cargo to the elements. Two of the women crying out in terror. The baby's howls muffled against its mother as the man snapped the shaft in twain. Tossing it to the floor of the wagon beneath his feet in disgust.

Goddamn it. My gun. Goddamn it.

He turned to reach for the weapon sitting behind the buckboard. One of the women handed it to him. A 54 caliber singleshot flintlock. Ancient as the metal from which it was forged. He used both hands to cock the heavy pistol when they saw the figure lurch out from the murk. His bow nocked back and face blackened with ash and clay. To paraphrase a grinning skull. On his feet tattered black shoes bound together with raw horseleather.

Oh goddamn you, the old man said.

Another snap of the bowstring. The old wagoneer brought the gun up with the barrelstock resting on one knee. Another arrow sprouted from his chest with a sick thud. One of the women in the back let out a banshee shriek. The wagoneer leveling the gun and squeezing the trigger. The report a thundering crack to split the night apart. The 54 caliber ball knocking the attacker back into the darkness with a gurgling shriek.

You bastard. Goddamn you. Goddamn you.

Then there were three more of them from the gloom, tangled hair slicked back with grease and bristling with feathers plucked from some bird long since extinct. Their faces daubed with circles and stripes. Red, white, black. Only colors of meaning in this miscarried world. Their bodies nude save for their shoes and a few strips of cloth. Denim, polyester. Names of no meaning. The horses shrieking and tangling themselves in the traces.

The mother in the back positioning herself in front of her baby. To shield it from the attack. The child's cries clogged with a colicky drizzle. The old wagoneer still had the fulllength arrow ticking from his chest. No time to reload. He turned the pistol around as the first of the attackers clambered onto the wagon like some mindless acrobat. He swung the weapon in a heavy downward arc. Cracking the attacker's forehead apart like soft brick so the brains dribbled from it like mortar.

The mother reached for the horsepistol she had bundled away in her gunna. Pressing the baby to her with her other hand. Another man was advancing with a club in his hand. Prickling with nails crusted with rust. Ancient words spelled on this twisted shillelagh. She looked over the barrel of the gun. Pulled the trigger with a shattering shot. The assailant dropping like a grainsack with a smoking hole in his heart. His hands stretched out for clemency.

Good, said the mother. Good.

The wagoneer scrabbled across the buckboard with his pistol. His eyes blazing at the third warrior. Ready to swing like a club. The warrior seeing his friends dead across the wagon. An ironblade tomahawk in one hand he backed away toward the horses. Babbling a pidgin english the old wagoneer could not make out, nor wanted to.

Git away from there. Goddamn you git away.

He pitched forward once like a drunken sailor in a storm. He sank to his knees whilst grasping the arrowshaft. He tried to break it but the chiselstone point was lodged deep in his sternum and the pain was electrifying. Too much to snap the plastic shaft.

Oh God, he bemoaned. Oh God. Oh goddamn you. Oh God.

The warrior saw this and hurled the tomahawk at the wagoneer. The bit notched itself deep in the old man's skull between his eyes. The wagoneer toppled from the buggy and landed in a heap in the ash, his tongue poked bizarrely between his rotted teeth. Dead before he hit the soft crozzled soil on which they traveled. All he had ever known or thought or loved a mealy trickle pooling in the dust.

The women were cowering in the wagoncab now shrieking with terror like madonnas in a slaughter. The child wailing in the arms of its mother. The mother herself had no time to reload and so she drew the heavy skinning knife from her gunna and held it before her as the last warrior hoisted himself onto the buckboard. Hate and violence burning sickly in his eyes. The woman's breasts dripping with thin milk between her legs while she brandished the knife in wide arcs.

Stay back, she hissed. Go and leave us alone. Dont you try it. Stay back.

The man stood there looking at her. Not understanding or pretending not to understand. His eyes flickering as two shadowmen lunged from behind the wagon without a sound and garrotted the two women huddled there with wirevine. Stifling their screams while dragging them to a dark and violent end in the blizzard. The baby's crying grew to a crescendo with the rising wind. The woman turned to see what had happened just as the warrior standing before her kicked forth viciously. Knocking her back into the wagonboard in a daze. The baby and the knife both spilling from her hands onto the floor of the wagon. Before the mother could rise the infant was in the warrior's hands. He held the child out before him like a heathen priest before a baptism.

Oh no, she breathed. Dont. Please dont. Oh please God, dont do it.

The warrior drew the baby to his breast and stood like that for a moment. His eyes on the mother's own. Boring into her. The child's cries stopped as it looked curiously at this apparition which cradled it. The warrior looking at it like a man who had never seen a creature of its like before. Then without a word he had plucked a cattlebone knife from his beltloop and in a single fluid motion had cut the infant's throat from ear to ear. A bleeding grin on the baby's front.

The mother let out a single ululating wail that could have been to lament the fallen world in which they found themselves. Her progeny's lifeblood dripping on the planked floor of the conestoga like red rain. She lurched to her feet and launched herself at the murderer of her child. The warrior kicked her again in the midriff which knocked her off the wagon onto the dusty soil. One of the other warriors who had spirited off the other women returned to pinion her arms from behind and force her down on the ground. Then he twisted his powerful arms around her throat and cut off all but a little of her air. Her head throbbed like a bloodfilled drum and she felt as though she would pass out.

The warrior on the wagon stood there with the small and bloodied carcass dangling like a throatcut calf by one leg. Then as the mother watched with tears stinging her eyes the warrior lifted the dead baby over his head, tipped his face up to the sky and let the blood trickle into his mouth like nectar. The mother saw this injustice and struggled against the man holding her down but she could not break loose and so she just lay back and wept while the man climbed down from the wagon and forced her legs apart. His grinning teeth stained with the blood of the innocent.

He squatted over her and when he pulled his grimed and stinking leggins down all the while chanting in that hideous godless language she turned her eyes to the scorched nightsky. The idiot moon brooding down from its invisible perch as her child's blood seeped from the savage grimace onto her face in grotesque tears. As though the blood of her child had been returned to the one who had given it.

And as he raped her, again and again, she sought the hand of her dead child but could not find it.

Steve
06-19-2007, 07:15 AM
II




What once was -- A figure -- A shallow grave --
Abagail -- The burial -- A child's cry -- The crib --
A refusal to stay -- Suggestions -- The way the world works --
A mother's sorrow -- Looking westward -- Departure --
A nameless child.


===============================================



Now come days of reckoning, days of misery. Days where no soul would be seen aboveground at all. A country dormant and passive. To travel this burned country beyond the endless landscape and dark falls here like a reaper's scythe and a cold wind sets the world to hiding. The night sky lies white and scorched as there is scarcely place for bitter stars and it is so that none recall what lies above the clouds.

The figure stood that way with his bootprints tracked and heavy into the soft clay earth around the tiny groundwell like pictographs from his relentless pacings. His hat pushed back on his head. His powerful arms slimed with sweat. At one end of the fallow patch they called a garden he had dug a shallow grave in the barren soil. Now as the blackened sun crested over the horizon like a blind and cauterized eye over the land he bent forth to the bundle lying at his feet. He dragged the dead girl to the pit in the sheet she had lain in whilst she'd given birth. His roughstitched clothes smeared with her lifeblood and with the dark poisoned earth in which he'd been digging.

From the open doorway of the stonework hovel Abagail watched this with silence. Her heavy face pleated with lines of exhaustion. It had been a long and harrowing night. She had done what she could but it was all for naught. The girl had been ailing for weeks, months even. Most of what energy and life she'd once had lost on the rough three weeks on the king's road to this tiny settlement. And the exertions of the birth had taken what was left in her. Soon after the baby had come into this earth the mother had taken leave of the same earth with a sigh which might have been relief.

Even now in the bleak silence of this perverted dawn she could hear his curses and rants of anguish. His voice hurt and wrought with a godless anger. The words of blame which had at the time been aimed toward her. It was her fault. Always her fault and never his own. So it had always been and always would be. An old chronicle.

When he had spooned the last of the toxic soil over the face of his dead bride he stood there with the spade in his hand like a graverobber of old. Then with a howl of rage he hurled the tool into the dark as though it were whitehot. Then he turned and looked up at her still standing in the door of the hovel. No love to be found here. Only seventeen he was. Still a boy yet an age where hate and rancor were as familiar as old friends. His cold gaze boring into her.

Well? she asked wearily.

Well what.

You know what. Will you stay?

He shook his head once. A brisk declination. Almost belligerent in its tersity. He thundered across the churned mire that was once her garden, oblivious to what he was doing or perhaps knowing and not caring one way or the other. She watched him as he knelt beside the groundwell and in her heart she knew she could not feel anger towards him. Her son. For all he'd done and said he was still her flesh and blood. She knew what he must be thinking. To lose that focus.

She looked down at her hands which were frothed with the blood of her son's wife and sighed. She could not have helped it any. It was the will of whatever god directed their fate. He had known his wife was sick. He had not wanted to come but desperation makes men do what they do not wish to. He had taken her to his mother carrying his pregnant wife in his arms like a patient to a pesthouse seeking a miracle from the great deity she prayed to. But he had come too late. Too late for the girl anyway.

She raised her head when the infant began to cry. She stretched and turned into the hovel, ducking beneath the lintel which was adorned with beads and trinkets of a time forgotten. Coins chipped and cored through with twine. A key whose lock was long gone. The baby lay in a pinewood crib in the corner. She crossed over to the crib and bent over as its cries grew urgent.

You poor thing, she said as she bent to lift it from the crib. A tiny thing castory cradling against her bosom. She kissed its raw neck and forehead. It blinking up at the world with eyes dark and soulful like her own. Oh you poor thing.

And so she went back outside and stood in the shade of the doorway again. Her son was bent over the lip of the groundwell. He was sousing himself with water from a swollen cedar bucket. She could see how the wellwater was muddied. A precious thing brought to ruin. She noted the carelessness in what he did and the manner with which he flaunted her with impunity. Thoughtless. Senseless. But she would not speak against him for now was not the time to mention such things.

The child.

He gave no sign that he had even heard. For a moment she thought perhaps he had not even done so. She held the infant close to her chest.

Shall I dress her for the journey?

He did not answer but he turned to look at her and she saw the cold flint of hatred in his eyes. She flinched under that hard steel gaze.

Keep it, he said. I dont want it. Bury it with its mother for all I care. I dont want anything to do with it.

Abagail bristled at this for she could not think that what he was saying was true so she held the child out to him over the gap.

This is your daughter. Your daughter! You gave her life. You must take care of her. That is how the world works.

Yet he said nothing and he only turned away. Abagail drew the baby back to her breast and once more it began to cry. She rubbed its back soothingly while never taking her eyes from her son. He who trod across the roiled earth and stalked past her into the hovel without speaking to her. Roughly shouldering her aside as he did so. A moment later he had returned with his old flintlock rifle and a rucksack.

Where will you go? she asked.

He turned from her. Looking toward the ruined wastelands of a country that had once been a land of opportunity. The slaghills just visible from where they stood.

Where will you go?

West, he said.

West?

Yes. West.

When he spoke it was quite chilling and she said no more. She looked down at the child in her arms. Skin the color of terracotta. She would be a beautiful woman someday. An innocent. Not knowing at the moment what was best.

She made to give the child to her son but he only brushed past her and stepped out into the ruins. Within the shadow of ash the earth was fractured and crevassed. There in a crack some distance from the hovel the darkness was black as the deepest pit of hell. A godless murk from whence beasts misbegotten and ripped from the womb of the earth lay in wait like trapdoor spiders. A wall of stone high as a man. In a moment he was gone with a dreamy slowness like a specter stepping out into oblivion.

You didnt name her, she said quietly as she held the baby tight against her. You didnt even name her.

Steve
06-19-2007, 07:22 AM
III




A doctor pays a housecall -- Spreading the news --
Meeting -- The task ahead -- A diagnosis -- The boy in the bed --
Gangrene -- A mother's love -- Preparations -- A surgery --
The aftermath.


===============================================



The girl saw from the window the buggy trundling up the high street through the mud. The flurries of ash drifting slightly at an angle so as to settle in drifts on one side of the wagon itself whilst leaving the other side almost bare. Seated in the spring seat was the grimlooking town doctor. He did not see her but she saw him. She watched as the man driving the buggy checked the reins and ground to a halt in front of the house. That was all she needed to see.

When she ran downstairs the front room was dark save for a candlelight. The cauterized coin of the sun gave no light but for a corona like some hoop of godless radiance. She went into the kitchen where her mother bustled at the woodstove whilst looking out the back window.

Mama, she said. Mama.

Dont run in the house, Becky.

Mama, I seen him.

Seen who?

The doctor, said the girl. He's here.

She stopped and her blue eyes were filled with anxiety. She looked at her daughter closely. He's here already?

Reckon so.

Well saints preserve us. He aint come in has he?

Not at the moment he aint.

Well then I reckon he can just stay out there for a while.

She stood where she was, harriedlooking and flustered like a rustled hen in a rainstorm. She looked around at the state of the house. Pawing at her hair distractedly.

Well damn it all girl dont you have any sense? she asked. Run out back and tell your daddy.

Yes ma'am. You want me to go tell Bart?

Just go and do what I told you to do.

Yes ma'am.

The girl went out the backyard where her father was tending the horses in the clapboard livery they owned. She called out across to him.

Papa! The doctor's comin.

He looked up. A strong powerful man with a full flowing mane like golden water. His eyes sharp yet somehow faded in his forlorn face. He aint here yet, is he?

Not yet he aint.

Well that's fine. He can stay out there long as he likes.

Mama told me not to tell Bart.

Well damn it girl why dont you yell it a little louder so's they can hear you in heaven?



. . .



When the doctor came in the family was seated at the long wooden table in the kitchen. A candle with a long wick burning in the center on a saucer and them eating their supper. Salted jerky mostly. There had been a knock on the door and Becky had been charged to open it. When the sawbones came into the kitchen the father had risen, his wife struggling to her feet beside him.

You Cooper? the doctor asked.

Yessir. I'm Cooper. He extended his hand and the doctor took it. A perfunctory shake wishing it were under different circumstances. They nodded silently at one another like rival knights on a battlefield of old.

I came to see about the boy.

I reckon you are, said Cooper.

We sure do appreciate that, his wife added.

The doctor nodded. He looked about the room for a moment. Where is he?

He's upstairs.

Upstairs.

Yes. Becky, would you show him?

Yes, Mama. The girl left the room and a moment later the doctor had followed whilst shifting his satchel from one hand to the other as he left the kitchen. When they were gone the husband and wife looked at each other with solemn silence. Soon they heard the cries from upstairs and looked up in alarm.

No. No, goddamn you! No!

I'll poke up the fire, said Mrs Cooper, heading for the stove.



. . .


When the sawbones came back down to the kitchen he looked somewhat embarrassed but also very determined. He offered a smile to them but they could not smile back.

Now I sure do appreciate this, doc, said Cooper. I know that boy aint goin to go easy.

No he wont. It's going to be hard on him.

I know it.

The sawbones took a seat at the table and at once the wife and mother looked back down the hall as though what sat before them was some dark doppelgänger and that the real man would arrive at any moment.

I fear he wont take to it at all, he told them all by the light of the candle. But there's no sense in not trying, so say I. Might I have something to drink, please?

Mrs Cooper nodded and went to the pail and dipper on the sideboard to fetch a glass of water. Cooper himself leaned forward and locked hard eyes with the physician. Tell me the truth, doc. Might it not mend?

Mend?

Mend.

No, it wont mend. No chance of it. I am sorry, Cooper. I really am.

So you have to operate.

Is that what you're asking?

That's what I'm askin.

The sawbones took the glass of water and took a swig and set it down before him and looked at them both. Finally he nodded. Yes. If you want your son to live.

Mrs Cooper began to sob and her husband moved to comfort her. The doctor nodded as though he'd expected this. Perhaps he had.

It's the sepsis, ma'am. Your boy's got it bad. Real bad.

Yes. She stifled a sob. I understand.

Dont you think it might mend anyhow? This from Cooper.

A sigh from the doctor. There is no chance of that, sir. Not in God's world. You're talkin about gangrene. His leg's rotted to the core. If you left it that way it's just as bad as the pest, or if you stuck a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. It's the will of God.

Cooper grunted. Aint no God in this house if He takes my boy, sawbones. Never will be.

Another sob from his wife. The doctor shook his head. Doesnt matter anyway. If the boy's to live the leg must come off. I am sorry about it but it just has to be done.

And my son? Mrs. Cooper asked tentatively. My Bart? How will you . . .

There's nothing to be done for that. I am sorry. No chloroform or anything to be had. There's laudanum, but very little.

Laudanum.

Yes. The best we can do.

Mrs Cooper rose from the table and looked up at the ceiling. I'll speak to him.

The doctor got up as well. Now ma'am, he said. I dont think that'll work. He's crazed. He swore at me. He aint in his right mind.

He'll not swear at me, she said. He'll not swear at his own mother.



. . .


When they entered the bedroom where the boy lay on his small bed like a quivering doll they saw he was drenched with sweat. Glaring hatefully at them in the doorway pale and angry. The mother walked directly to the bed and sat down on the corner of it. She looked down at the boy with whom she'd given life.

Bart, she said.

She regarded him but he would not speak.

Bart, she said again. The doctor is right what he says. He has to operate.

He turned away from her. A tall boy whose mature body would be taller yet than his father who was a large man himself. I'd rather be dead in the ground than have that sawbones at me.

Hush now, his mother said. Dont say that.

Why not? It's true, aint it?

She looked at him. She could not understand what he meant or what he felt.

Think of us, then, she said. Your father and me. Becky here. I'd rather have a son with no legs than no son at all.

No answer from the boy. Only glaring out the sootblack window at what might be. She looked down the bed to the humped shape of his legs beneath the quilt. You looked at it?

Looked at what?

Your leg. You looked at it?

Hell no. Why'd I want to see it? His voice lilted with rising terror.

Let me see it.

No.

Let me.

Bart was very much fearful now. He shook his head violently in negation. His mother a strong woman nonetheless. She seized the thick quilt which she had stitched long ago when Bart was little more than a baby and jerked it back to reveal the horror beneath. Her son sat up in bed for one lastditch effort to stop her but by then the damage was done. His legs lay that way for all to see. The injured one loosely bundled in gauze through which bruisecolored stains bled through. The lower leg utterly black like bottled ash. A swarm of maggots feasting over the wound.

Oh my God, she gasped falling back at the raw stench of rot.

Go away, Bart said. He fell back to the bed sobbing. Go away.

I know it's hard, his mother said. I know. But I'll stay, son. I'll stay with you because I love you.



. . .


When she entered the kitchen the doctor and the family were gathered there waiting. Both men rose when they saw her.

I think you can go in now, she told the doctor.

Thank you kindly, said he. And with that he started for the stairs.

Perhaps Becky here would assist you with your things, Mrs Cooper suggested. The doctor stopped on the risers and turned and she in turn looked to the girl. Would you like to help the doctor, Becky?

Her daughter shrank from her shaking her head fervently.

Oh that's quite all right, said the doctor laughingly. I can manage it just fine.

You dont think nothin will go wrong, do ye? the father asked.

At this the sawbones paused in midstep and turned to look at the man. In my career, Mr Cooper, I have removed over a thousand limbs. Arms, legs. Feet. I was called in on some of the most difficult cases you'd ever seen.

That wasnt what I asked.

I know it wasnt.

So tell me.

I have every confidence in success, sir.

Well then that's fine.




. . .



He had set up his equipment in the corner. He had the father fit the pump for the carbolic spray but mainly he did it himself. The mother came to the door and saw them drawing butcher's aprons on themselves. Her husband taking part in this debauchery. She saw her son whom she had given suck to as a babe lying there stricken in fear as a rabbit is when caught in a snare. He turned his face to the window.

The doctor approached him with something in a silver flaskbottle. He held it out to the boy who took it but did not look at him.

Drink this, he said.

What is it?

Drink.

I asked what is it.

It's laudanum, said the doctor.

Lauda-what?

It'll make the pain go away.

The boy held the flask up and tilted it so a little of the honeycolored liquid dribbled out. The doctor grabbed him by the wrist and tipped the flask upright again so no more would spill. Dont waste it, boy. You'll want it, believe me.

Bart looked at him finally with eyes of molded stone. I'll decide what I want, thanks.

He looked and saw his mother standing there at the doorway and he held the flask to his mouth. He drank it till there was no more and gagged. It tasted foul like liquor that had gone over. Yet he struggled to keep it down and keep it down he did. His mother's face a peculiar expression of concern not untouched with a salacious albeit terrified curiosity. The doctor laying out his surgical instruments in a poker hand in a crockpot filled with a weird watery substance. They glittered in the guttering candlelight in a fanshaped arc.




. . .



It lasted almost an hour and a half. Of course this meant nothing for time had become a concept irrelevant since all the clocks were stopped. Stopped with their hands pointing at six past the hour of eleven. It was not known if it were at A.M. or P.M. because those who remembered those days were dead. Dead or did not wish to remember. And what would it have mattered anyway?




. . .



Young Becky Cooper sat motionless at the kitchen table in the darkness. She'd snuffed the candle out and now sat there with the threadbare doll that was her prized possession. Wringing its ragbody in her hands like some cruel torture device of old. She had listened to the screams muffled by whatever they had jammed between his teeth to stop them but they were not any less heartwrenching. When she heard footsteps coming down the stairs she did not want to look up and yet she did. Her father emerging like a ghost ship in the darkness with something tucked under his arm. The girl saw it was bundled up in a bedsheet. Little fireblooms on the fabric. She knew what it was and she hurried from the room without a word.

Steve
06-19-2007, 07:28 AM
IV




After the sandstorm -- The mountains hazed gray --
A view -- The caravan -- Voices in the wind -- A barter made --
Exchanges -- Out of hiding.


===============================================



The sandstorm had scoured the plains of hardpan and asphalt clean of ash and dust. Now, all along the cracked creviced landscape, shadows fell upon the hard rock like a thousand frozen spectres. The crumbled ridge of what had once been buildings were adorned with faces and eyes, arms outheld as though begging for mercy and heads tilted to the sky as though looking for some divine intervention. A myriander of unseen and beautiful lifeforms crawling from the sanctuary of the rubble only to be ensnared by the dead sunlight.

The girl lay staring out across the great ocean of sand and rock and hardtop that lay vast toward the mountains hazed gray in the yonder. The only thing to rival it in size the great scorched sky above.

The girl was concealed from eyes that might have sought her out. Her very existence hidden from the caravan of peddlers who had stopped out on the great flat black snake of a road to greet the old crone. The patched and timeragged clothes she wore a dusty nocolor which made her seem but a fragment of this shambled landscape. She lay perfectly still taking in every minute intricacy of the caravan.

The storm which had blown scraping blasts of rock and sand had held them up for almost three days. Three days which was not a long time in this tuneless hell of salvage and rubble but an eternity for the girl. For weeks before the caravan was due to arrival she would dream of it from dawn to dark. Closing her eyes to conjure up cloaked peddlers carrying their wares on their backs or riding horses thin as slats into ten thousand worlds of their choosing.

These dreams she had frequently and more often as she grew older yet she told her grandmother nothing of them. For what end would that serve? She knew how the old woman fussed and clucked over her even without having to worry of unscrupulous traders coming into the night and stealing her from her bed. To sell her into slavery in one of the bazaars to the south. And so that is why she hid when her grandmother told her to. She minded her tongue when it came to the dreams. Not to add to the old woman's worries.

Right now the girl's eyes were on the face of the leader of the waylayers down below. The face she often found herself looking at. A dark man with a face carved from licks of a hatchet within the folds of his cloakhood. His beard clipped close to his face like fuzz.

Perusing the stopped caravan the girl noticed that there had been changes since they'd last been through here. There were nine horses and four mules to make a total of thirteen. Three more than last time. This not the only sign. The men not looking concerned or anxious here as they haggled her grandmother. They peeled back their lips to reveal rotblackened teeth bearing credence to an addiction to something they peddled.

The girl drank all this in with her eyes while knowing that her grandmother would come to her later.

Raquel.

Yes.

What did you see?

She saw the one whose face looked to be badly chiseled by a blind stonemason as he reached into his saddlebag which was made from a cloth she had never before seen before. Straps dusty from the trail with words too fine to read from this distance stamped on the sack. He turned and held something out to her grandmother. A tiny object which seemed to sparkle in the harsh deadshine.

Raquel leaned forward to attempt to see what it was her grandmother had bartered for but she could not make it out. She saw her set it upon the stack of other things she was bartering for. She lay that way for a while trying to see what this latest purchase was but it was no use so she looked to her grandmother.

Abagail stood there facing the peddler who looked to be in charge. Her forlorn yet loving face bleached almost pallid by the constant storms of ash and sand. Her gray hair the exact shade of the cinders that rained like flurries from the gehenna sky. The hood of her cloak down to expose her to the rough elements but she did not care as was her custom. Such she did with no thought for her health. She did it to convince these traders of her resilience even though she did indeed suffer for it. For even an hour out in that burning black sun was enough. Not to speak of the arduous journey back to their rundown shack weighed down with heavy sacks of flour and salt and clothbundles and other objects in her possession.

And here she lay, powerless to help her.

It helped a lot now that she could help her tend the groundwell and the languishing garden. Yet at times such as these she felt helpless. Impotent if anything.

When she looked again she saw Abagail had almost finished. Raquel saw her hand over the items she had grown in the fallow garden which hardly ever birthed anything of any use and what little it did was mostly inedible. A few herbs. Acacia. Other trinkets. She felt something akin to wonder at how inventive Abagail was. She had lived with her twelve years. Twelve years in this crumbling ruined land and never once had they gone starving.

She knew that in itself was a gift from the God she saw Abagail pray to at night. Not because she told her so but because she had seen with her own eyes the ways of this world they inhabited. How unforgiving it was. Each night they survived was a night to give thanks.

She could not hold back a smile as she watched her grandmother gather up what she had bartered for. Yet none of the peddlers offered to help her but she did not need their help. It was respectful of her independence. Love in its purest form.

She stood there hunched over like an ancient immigrant who had arrived in this land on one of those boats like in the stories of old. She nodded her thanks to the peddlers as she shouldered the sack and turned around to held back to the ruins from where the girl watched.

Raquel lay there longing to scramble out into the hard baking landscape and help her but knowing that she could not until the caravan had trundled out of sight. She cupped her hands around her eyes like a pair of binoculars which of course she had never seen before. The line of men on horseback moving stertorously off to the north.

Raquel.

Yes?

Great cities to the west beyond the vast oceans untouched by these ruined skies. Where the sun shines white and pure like God's touch. And we will see them. We will see them someday. Do you believe? Yes I do.


. . .

As Abagail came around the great tentacle of rock coming into the sight of the cleft the girl walked over to her. She was wellhidden from the sight of the peddlers' eyes if any had taken the notion to turn back. None did. And so Abagail would stop and let Raquel take a few of the bundles from her but on this day she headed onward under the weight of the sacks. When she neared Raquel saw the old woman was smiling despite the burden.

When she got to the southern end of the rock midden she stopped and stooped low so as to slide the hefty load from her tired shoulders. The girl climbed into view.

Here, said Abagail softly. Take these down to the cellar.

With dutiful silence, Raquel turned to do as she was bid. She scrabbled over the crumbling wall like some desert spider and standing on the narrow ridge silhouetted against the burned coin of the sun she held her hands out for the two burlap sacks Abagail now handed to her. She took these and slung them over her shoulder unmindful of the chafing her hands bore. She then slipped down from the broken wall and scampered at a low run to the storeroom cellar.


. . .


See the end as it was. The clocks had stopped with their hands six minutes past the hour of eleven. It was as though all time and all concept of it had been nullified in one single moment. The gavel of judgment day on the benchmark of this celestial trial--a trial from which all were defendants and all judged guilty by whatever callous being presided over them.

It seemed to happen all at once. A sharp dry crack issued from somewhere deep in the heavens and deep in the earth as well. A tremor both above and below to coalesce in the middle. It was a calm windless night weighed with heat and so the sound had an ominous hint about it. There had been a long creaking sound like a nail being wrenched from an idiot board and again the sharp fracturing of wood being snapped in half. A valkyrie's throes. There followed a dead and motionless silence that would become in time the symphony of the world.

The atmosphere seemed to seethe and roil with a violence inchoate to all. The terrified masses, torn, crushed and ragged, panting loudly and pouring with rivulets of panicked sweat. Outrage and insanity tabernacled within each other to be witness to what was to come. These denizens clawing at the air in mute supplication only to be struck down one by one and there they lay with stricken looks eying what had come to pass. The sky became red with blood as though some sanguine god's saber had split apart the pregnant belly of the heavens and spilled its placenta out upon the world in which they inhabited. This horror fell upon the earth murderously and that was all. This last made the parable. Not to create heaven on earth, but to unmake the hell we have made and lie prostrate in.

Steve
06-19-2007, 07:31 AM
V




A task for a cripple -- Slow going --
A shadow in the yard -- A broken rifle cock -- A lesson in manners -- Gun repairs --
Ray Boot -- A scalphunter -- The boy in wonder --
What country lies west -- A prayer for paradise -- A father's suspicion --
Talks of St. Louis -- Meeting up with Captain Wilkins --
Impossible wages.


===============================================



Stand still, damn you.

While his father and his father's men had taken leave for their noon meal, Bart had been left behind to shoe the plowhorse in the corral behind the barn. The old horse was as tame as could be but Bart was left feeling quite frustrated nonetheless. He bore a crude crutch shaped of birch and bone and though it was only a month since the surgery he moved with a fluid grace and agility unsupposed by one in his condition. He leaned on the crutch and looked at the horse with a sort of dissatisfied anger that seemed to cede all disdain.

Well I reckon you're a son of a bitch then, he told the horse.

He had tried to hurry the job but that only succeeded in him cutting the heels too deeply so now it was taking twice as long as it should have. Bart now spent most of his time shaping and molding to the right shape on the left foreleg. The hoof cupped between his legs. His mouth bristling with shoenails and sweat coursing down into his eyes as he tried to keep the hoof in place while he steadied the iron shoe and rammed the nails home all at once. It was such that Bart continued cursing at the horse in a litany almost melodic in its tempo.

Oh you bastard. Hold still, damn you. Hold.

The horse snorted a plume of dust in a thick sneeze and Bart grimaced yet did not see the shadow coming up the yard behind him and standing at parade-rest there at the gate.

Well now.

Bart looked up. Well.

The man standing there decked out in fringed buckskin like latticework. A longbreech rifle cradled in his arms. His hair ragged and matted to his shoulders. A growth of beard lush and tangled. Around his neck a leather bootstring on which a silver medallion hung dull and lifeless. A white hangrope scar trenched his forehead. That there hoss dont know ye had a bad day, kid. Reckon ye ought to take a break fore he kicks yer other leg off from under ye.

Bart hobbled to his feet yet moved quickly out of range. I can get around same as ary man.

I dont doubt ye could, the man said. Ye seem right capable of gettin around on that crutch of yours. Though I do have some doubts to yer ferryin ability. Reckon ye could do better with this?

I reckon so.

He held out the gun as though for inspection. Needs a new rifle cock.

Bart wiped his hands on the apron he wore around his waist and held out his hands for the gun. The man gave it to him. It was a fullstock 54 caliber rifle. Forty inch barrel. Stock of maple. A moonshaped buttpiece and a slender supple cheek. A chunk of flint wedged in the harnessleather but the pan wasnt primed so the gun was safe. Bart thumbed the hammer down and drew it back but the safety snapped loudly. He tried it again yet the result was the same. He looked back up at the man who now stood watching him keenly.

Reckon ye can fix it son? the man asked.

I can.

Sir.

What's that?

Didnt your father learn you to sir to yer elders?

Sorry. Sir.

What's yer name?

Cooper.

I meant what's yer other name.

Bart.

Bart?

Bart, sir.

That's better. My name's Boot. Ray Boot.

Can I ask you a question, Mr Boot?

Ask away, youth.

Well sir I was wantin to know how you come by that scar.

Boot grinned affably. Bit of a tussle with a savage out on the plains, he said. The sumbuck thought my scalp look great hangin from his stinking belt but I begged to differ.

The boy looked at him with a dawning look like heroworship. So what happened then?

Boot drew back his buckskin jacket and Bart looked and saw what the man carried there like bizarre graft. A glistening blackhaired scalp slicked with grease and dried blood. Bart reached out almost unconsciously but caught himself. The older man chuckled.

Now go on and finish shoein that hoss now, he told him.

Yessir.



. . .


When he had finished nailing the last shoe on the recalcitrant horse Bart hobbled to the shop inside the barn where they cobbled the wagons that gave them their name. The big man Boot followed him inside as the boy spread a soft goathide on the roughsanded workbench, took down a couple of tools. He set the broken rifle on the bench and began to take the lock apart. He kept glancing back at Boot's belt but he could not see the scalp anymore. A feeling of fascination and quiet disgust boiled in his belly.

And yet he could not bear to keep silent so he spoke. So what's it like out there?

Out west, ye mean?

Yessir. Out west.

Well. Depends on what ye heard.

Bart bit his lip then dared to go on. Well, sir, I heard tell it aint much of nothin out there. Just one big wasteland.

Oh it aint that, boy, this man Boot said. Aint that at all. It's wasteland. It's an ocean of grass. It's rivers as far as the eye can see. Lakes the size of seas. Mountains that touch the sky. Forests that never end. It's like what the Garden of Eden must of been like.

As the man went on in this vein the boy looked at him in growing awe and something akin to heroworship.

Then ye got the Pacific, Boot went on. I swear, you aint never seen a sight like that. Vast and blue and with ships ready to take you on to paradise.

My pa told me there aint no ships. That the sea over there's as dead as the one here.

Well son has your pa ever been out there?

Bart hesitated, then shook his head once. He aint never been out of the county, sir.

Well then how would he have a notion of what's out there? I been and I seen. It's God's country out there, young Master Cooper.

Bart shook his head. It sounds like heaven.

That it is, boy. That it is.

Bart turned back to look at the rifle on the bench and bent over it. He slid out the lock and set it down. He saw the problem immediately. The sharp edge of the sear had been cracked and so it caught on the halfcock cog but not the lesser fullcock which meant the gun would not work properly at all.

I can fix it, he said.

You said that already.

I know it.

Bart went and stoked the forge in the corner which was roaring quite nicely a short time later and he poked the sear into the flames. When it was scorching and white he plucked it out with tongs and started hammering the knife edge back into shape on the anvil. The blows of the hammer sounding off in groups of three as he coaxed life back into what had been lifeless. Only temporary. He did this for a minute or so as his father had taught him. Then he scooped it up and dumped it in a swollen cedar bucket brimming with dirty water and steam billowed out as it cooled. Then when that was done he slid the sear into a vise and started filing the edge razorsmooth with a chisel.

What's goin on here?

It was his father. He and his hired hands stood in the doorway returned from their break. The big man Ray Boot looked up at him with a familial smile. Boy's mendin my rifle cock. He's a fine youth, sir. Your son, aint he?

That he is, said Cooper. He strode over and brushed his boy aside to examine the work being done. Bart had to grab the workbench to avoid falling over. Why dont you let me finish this fore the boy ruins it. He aint really reliable when it comes to smithyin.

Even though he'd said this Bart knew that his father was nervous of this large knifescarred man with the scalp hanging from his jacket and so he'd used the excuse of finishing the job so he wouldnt have to talk to the man. Such as it was as it had been before.

Before Bart could turn away Boot took him in with an easy glance. Say there sonny. Suppose ye might be able to put an edge on this? He reached behind his back and pulled from a leathersheath an eighteen inch long knife of heavy steel. He handed it over to Bart who took it and weighed it in his hands. He sat down at the grindstone and ran his fingers across the wickedlooking blade. Gauging the steel. The tips of his fingers pressed against the blade and when they came away he saw they were faintly stained with dried blood. Perhaps from the owner of the scalp hanging from Boot's jacket.

Knife that big aint for pickin yer teeth, boy, said Boot.

You're far from home aint you? Bart's father asked.

Growed up down the road a piece. Thought I'd have one last look at me old homestead fore I moved on for good. Regret it now.

You're homesick.

Rightly so, but it aint for here. My home aint some miserable little township. It's out there in the mountains. My larder's the prairie and my bed's the meadows.

Westward, you mean.

Yessir.

Where you headed now, sir?

Saint Louie, said Boot. Off to make my fortune and meet with Cap'n Wilkins.

Bart glanced up from the grindstone. Who's Captain Wilkins?

Boot looked at the boy and then at the boy's father. Well now son, Cap'n Wilkins is the man what blazed the south pass to the territories out west. God made only a handful of men for us to look up to and he's the best of em. And now I hear he's lookin for some of God's chosen men to head out west to blaze the biggest trail of em all. Expedition leaves come spring.

How much can a man make on the trail? Bart wanted to know.

I dont know rightly, but I reckon upward of five or six thousand a year. Just as long as people keep headin west to those great golden ships to take em to the promised land, that is, and I reckon that'll be just about till judgment day.

Mr Cooper fitted the sear back into the flintlock and sealed it shut with a snort. Hell fire. No man earns those wages in a lifetime.

Some dont, said Boot. That's true. But there's those who do.

ManOfWesternesse
06-20-2007, 03:35 AM
Re: Archipelago Chapters I - V

WoW! - nice bit of re-organisation Steve.
I read the whole thing through again, start to finish.
I definitely like the new style Chapter Sub-titles.
The name-change I dunno about - but then I was probably just attached to the old name...
The story flows well when read in it's entirity. Great sense of adventure building up in it.
Great work! & I look forward to more of it.

Candice Dionysus
06-21-2007, 02:32 PM
Re: Billy Said Keep Going

Eek. I'm not used to that style, so reading any of it for any length of time hurts my head. Sorry I'm not of much use in that respect.

The_Nameless
06-22-2007, 03:31 PM
Re: Billy Said Keep Going

I actually enjoy your writing style, myself. The run-on sentences were a bit disruptive to the flow. Perhaps cutting them down to a smaller number could help.

I feel one of your greatest writing strengths is atmosphere. You give a great atmosphere with this story. The land, their home, seem to laden with despair and gloom. It sucks you into the surroundings and story.

I have one question, though. Are you going to add the part with the birth to the story, or have you cut it out?

The_Nameless
06-22-2007, 04:27 PM
RE: Archipelago Chapters I - V

This is probably my favourite piece of your work. I also enjoyed the way you had the chapters linked, in case you had to leave at a certain part.

It sort of reminds me of a Richard Jessup apocalpyse, haha.

I look forward to the next installments.

Steve
06-22-2007, 07:59 PM
Re: Billy Said Keep Going

No, it's still part of the story.

The_Nameless
06-23-2007, 01:52 PM
Re: Billy Said Keep Going


No, it's still part of the story.

Good, good. Which chapter are you on, at the moment?

Steve
06-23-2007, 08:10 PM
Re: Billy Said Keep Going

I'm on Chapter VI.

Steve
06-23-2007, 08:12 PM
VI




ASigns in the west -- Raquel goes hunting -- The coming of a storm --
Abagail's laughter -- Water from the sky -- A breeze and a gale --
Raquel sees lightning and hears thunder -- A deluge -- A quagmire --
Standing in the rain -- Steam from the caldera.


===============================================



It came from the west this time. A darkening cloudline far to the horizon high up. It was not where one would expect such a thing. A storm of soot and sand brewing. Raquel was inspecting the northern tip of the village under the harsh dead eye of the sun, picking through the sands as she hoped to find precious rocks and crystals that were sometimes there to be found. Artifacts on occasion. A coin crusted with age. Rectangular plates with numerals and letters stamped on the thin tin. These she sought to give to Abagail for her birthday.

It was while she was dredging that she first saw it. A long thin trace of black against the steady solid gray. She was not sure for a moment what she was seeing. A mirage perhaps. She tilted her head hoping that it might be so but she soon saw it was not.

She turned back to the ground and the task at hand and yet she looked up again. It was still there. Still there and growing. As she watched it continued to swell and blacken. Seeing this Raquel felt something stir within her that was vaguely like unease.

She turned away from this sight and made her way back over the crumbling midden of ancient rock that ringed the desert camp like the keep of some dead castle. She hurried through the open stretch of sand between the inner cleft of this wall and the hovel. Her heart thundering and her mouth dried from the heat. When she reached the shadow of the hovel she cried out a warning to Abagail.

The old woman herself ducked out of the stone house. Her eyebrows croggled with confusion when she saw her grandchild's affray.

Raquel.

Something's coming.

What is it? People?

The girl shook her head. Something in the sky. High up. It's black.

A sandstorm.

No, Abagail. Not a sandstorm. The whole sky is turning black.

Abagail turned and looked to the west and her reaction was at most unexpected. She laughed heartily, a bit shakily. Well now, she said, almost as if she'd expected the coming of this black cloud. I think we ort to get ready then.

Ready?

Ready.

What is it, Abagail?

It's a blessing, said Abagail. If that's what I think it is then we'd best make the most of it. We hardly see it these days.

Raquel knew not what she spoke of nor even how to respond.

Come now, said the old woman. You must help. Fetch as many jugs and bowls from the hovel as you can. Bring them out here and set them all around the place.

What for?

Just do what I asked for, girl. It'll be here very soon.

Still not seeing what her grandmother spoke of, the girl nonetheless did as she was bid. She ducked into the hovel and came back with her arms heaped with hard clay urns and bowls they had molded together. She ferried these in a semicircle around the stone hut like sentries. When she was finished she turned back to Abagail. The old woman stood near the rock wall gazing to the horizon. Her eyes faded iron and glarestruck as she cut her eyes from the deadlight. Raquel went and stood beside her, already as tall and barely in the blossoming years of her young womanhood.

What she saw was an enormous black swath veiling the horizon like a looming plague. It seemed to swallow heaven and earth alike in its endless ravenous maw. From where Raquel stood it seemed like the darkness of night had somehow escaped the chains that bound it as the sun traveled across the sky and now came to conquer them all.

What is it, Abagail? she asked again.

A storm, said her grandmother with a kindly smile. You see that, young one? It's a huge black raincloud. And if God is good we will see that rain fall here.

What is rain?

Water. From the sky.

From the sky? A look of disbelief on her face. Water from the sky?

Yes. And with that, Abagail held her hands out in silent glorious supplication to the advancing blackness. This is what I dream of at night, Raquel. I've dreamed of it all my life.

. . .

When it came it rode in on a gentle wisp of wind like a rider on the vanguard to herald the coming of a great phalancial army. The girl stood in a daze as she watched the black mass billow closer and closer to their hovel. She fancied great diseased steeds riding down from heaven to bring pestilence and ruin down on them at long last. She would turn her gaze heavenward once in a while fearfully, as though she expected the wrathful face of Abagail's God to break the clouds and strike her dead.

When they sought the shelter of the hovel they stood in the doorframe looking out at the storm that was almost upon them. The open sands roiling black at their feet. The ashes and sark of a ruined country. She looked to Abagail but Abagail merely seemed indifferent to the whole thing. At the very least unconcerned. She just stood there beneath the lintel watching that vast inkspot of blackness consume the scorched flesh of the sky. The breeze that had warned of the storm had by now crescendoed to a great gale akin to the sandstorms.

Raquel.

Yes?

This is the mercy of God.

She stood there to behold what there was to behold. A great black stormfront like a massive pulsing wall. A deathbag. Somehow solid in its coming as it filled the sky before her. It ripped the sands from the earth as it went in great billowing runnels. There was a low and threatening rumble courted by the sudden searing flashes that flickered like firelamps within the clouds. Raquel squinted up to better see these occurrences when there was a great rending crash in the sky.

Here she lay trembling on the floor, her teeth clenched in fright. Then the rain fell upon her like the tears of some mourning celestial being. She and Abagail both were drenched in an instant. The rain pattering, drumming against her bare flesh and clothing with such briskness that she thought she would collapse under all its weight. She gasped with shocked surprise at its coldness and at a new sound amidst it all. Abagail's laughter.

She looked down past her feet at the ground past the doorframe and she was struck by how it had been transformed. A second before she had been standing in fine ashen sand. Now her feet were sinking in a squelching quagmire that sucked at her as she tried to step from the swirl.

Abagail!

The old woman hobbled over cackling like a young girl overhearing secrets in a playyard. The sudden rain had soaked her hair so that it lay plastered to the crown of her head like paint. Her clothes sagged wetly from her bones like shedded skin.

Isnt it glorious! Abagail exclaimed ecstatically. Oh close your eyes, sweet girl, so you can feel it on your face.

Once more she obeyed by beating back her instinct to run and hide in the deepest cranny of the hovel. She let the stinging rain beat down on her bare face and throat. After a while her face felt numb as though she had been drugged by ether. And then in a way she could not even begin to explain she felt a sudden joy at the sensation.

It's all right.

She ducked her head low and peered through the curtain of falling rain at her. Abagail was doing a strange thing she had never seen before. Dancing slowly and to rotate in the same quadrant with her hands spread to the sky as if in greeting. Raquel did the same not knowing if it were the right thing. The rain falling and falling. The noise like the heartbeat of some monstrous sightless beast so loud as to bring a deathly silence in her temples.

And then with a abruptness that shocked her to a shriek it had gone. She turned to see the stormfront undulate across the great barren lands like a solid gauze of water that left the ground dark and damp behind it.

Raquel looked out beyond the hovel and saw how all the bowls and urns she had set out were filled to brim with water. Shuddering mirrors to reflect the blackened sky above. She opened her mouth to speak when there was a sudden hissing rush of air from the caldera. Great billowing plumes of steam jetted from the caldera as though whatever throbbed and pulsed beneath had roused in the storm.

Dont be afraid, Abagail told her soothingly. That's only the rain dripping down into the vents below.

Raquel nestled against her grandmother like a frightened kitten. Yet she was no longer frightened at all. Instead there was another feeling kindled within her. A feeling of elation. Rarely experienced in these bleak lands.

Well now girl, the old woman said softly.

Well.

What did you think of that?

Where did it come from? she asked as the wall of black surged into the distance and into memory.

From the great western sea, said Abagail. It has traveled hundreds and hundreds of miles to get here and will go hundreds more before it meets the sea of the dead.

Raquel nodded at this yet her thoughts were on the great shining rush of curtaining rain as it swallowed her and devoured her like a myriander of tiny blunt needles. She wondered if ever she would experience this feeling again.

ManOfWesternesse
06-26-2007, 01:56 AM
Re: Archipelago Chapter VI

Bloody great chapter Steve. Kudos man.

Steve
06-27-2007, 09:16 PM
VII




Of blood and water -- The funeral -- Speaking over the dead --
The town awakens -- Nash -- The timekeeper and the ragged man debate --
A proposition -- A rabble in the streets -- Turned back -- Bart witness to an injustice.


===============================================



How come it to pass. The expulsion from paradise and the curse on Adam and his kin. The tree of life cut at the root. Such as it was these two factions became obvious to one another and they fell upon each other murderously and fought far into the night. It is only after the fall that human creatures would know good and evil, a subjective good and evil, a counterfeit good and evil, and would begin to kill each other over it. They like their ancestors before them could sense these but yet were incapable of good and evil because they themselves had no knowledge of good and evil.



. . .


The cemetery was located near the center of town since time out of mind and so it was said that the town had been born of it. When a member of the community died it was generally considered that all who had ever passed a word to the deceased be in attendance. On this occasion even strangers came to pay their respects.

Flowers which even in such a place were a rarity were nonetheless adorned all around. The attendees shuffled to their places whispering as a man large and rotund in a tightfitting black suit stood by with his hands crossed before his waist waiting for the service to commence. When all were seated he stood there to address them all.

Friends and neighbors, said the man in the black suit. Friends and neighbors, we are gathered together here today at a most somber occasion. The man whose earthly remains lie here, and whose spirit we sent off to the arms of a just and loving God, has been a strong and guiding force in the lives of every person here, whether they know it or not.

It's a good thing they's hung up on this holy roller crap.

Bart had been watching the speaker. He turned to the man who spoke and saw it was Ray Boot. Lately of the western world. He held a widebrim hat in his hands with a low round crown. He was watching the boy earnestly as if he'd be of the same opinion as he.

You aint the religious type, said Bart.

The large man laughed. Me? Shit no, son, I got a job.

The boy nodded and turned back to the speaker who said: This man here was all his life an example of what hard work bestows. He himself was born in such a circumstance as to propel himself amid his own resources at an early age. By force of his own character, by the habits of a working man, he acquired for himself a good quarter of the world's wealth and some of its virtues. But the crowning glory of his life and the true people who benefited from the fruits of his labor are here. Here in this community which he founded.

There was no sound save the speaker. All watched him. The stump of Bart's leg which was pitted and warped and stretched back against the bone began to throb dully as it often did in weather such as this. He bent forward to massage it. The speaker held his hands out to them.

There are many among us today who can remember what life held in the way of promise before this man arrived. Too many of us were birthed in hunger and died the same way. To see what he has brought to the fore. He was not the miser that common rumor made him out to be. He was too good a citizen not to have suffered heavily in these end times. When a man works as he did for the good of the people the results shall not be found in hoarded riches, but in that increased prosperity of those who survive him and will pass it on to the next generation who will do the same after the last of you has passed away.



. . .


The town at dawn.

A row of houses, little more than shanties, flickered to life as kerosene lamps flared in the windows, yellow light pooling in squares through the window onto the dusty high street. A cock crowed somewhere. Dogs yapping in the alleyways. Doors opening and shutting in cadent timing. The low drone of people's voices. The tolling of the mill bell. These streets crawling with young girls, small children.

The cotton mill supervisor at the time was a man named Nash. He was sitting in his office on the first floor of the ancient building, as blind daylight filtered through dustblown windows. An old desk. Boxes and crates decades old standing about on the peeling floor which was made of something called noleum.

This man Nash sitting at the desk glanced up to see the new office boy shuffle past his door. After a while Nash rose and stepped into the outer office. He could see the keeper of the time arguing with a raggedlooking fellow standing in the doorway.

I dont give a shit what they said, the timekeeper said. He was a hardy yet softspoken man past his prime. We aint takin on no one else.

Well, the ragged man said, I done came all this way to work here.

You did.

Yessir. I did.

Who paid your way?

My friends did.

Your friends.

Yessir.

They wont gather up no money to take ye back then, will they?

I dont know.

The timekeeper nodded. Well as it so happens, I do.

I aint never said we was comin back. They said we could come down here and go to work. Put the boys to work. The girls too. Said we'd get a shack n a garden to tend.

Aint no gardens to tend.

How many are there? Nash spoke up.

The ragged man looked at him. Well now sir, there's maybe twelve of us all told. Aint but two of us younger'n twelve though. Some's small for they age but I reckon they'll do fine.

You reckon they'll do fine.

Yessir.

Nash nodded and sidled past the ragged man and glanced out in the street. Standing along the edge of the road like loitering felons were a cabal of maybe a dozen filthylooking souls, weighted down with bales of household items. Knives. A food bindle or two. A few dogs starved thin sat pathetically looking up at their masters. Chickens tucked under children's arms. They all gazed hungrily toward the mill.

Mr Olmos.

The timekeeper looked up. Yessir.

Get two wagons together and send em back wherever in hell they came from.

Yessir. The timekeeper headed out into the sightless day. The ragged man looked up at him.

This a damned outrage, sir.

Go to the church yonder, Nash said. See if they can get you some dinner.

We aint even ate no breakfast yet.

Well then ye better hurry up then, he said.

At this moment Bart Cooper was heading back up to his father's barn with his crutch underneath his armpit and he alternately leaned on it as he hopped forward like the veteran of some bloody conflict. At this moment he saw this man Nash and the ragged fellow and he stopped to listen while standing on his one leg.

Listen sir, said the ragged man. Listen. You sure there aint a place for us now. I mean, we come all this way. I mean, they's said you could use us.

I've heard this before, Nash said. Get goin now.

The ragged man hung his head and turned to meet his rabble. Bart watched him, and saw Nash standing there shaking his head as he turned to go back into his office. Not once did he look to Bart's direction nor did he acknowledge his presence. Even if he had, Bart would not have noticed. He stood there leaning on his crutch watching these poor and shuttered derelicts make their way up the high road.

Steve
06-27-2007, 11:36 PM
Re; Billy Said Keep Going

Anyone else want to take a crack at this?

Matt
06-29-2007, 06:34 AM
Re: Billy Said Keep Going

I do, I just haven't had a chance to read it yet Steve. The comments have been good so I am looking forward to it.

The site is just about off the ground so for me, personally, there will be a lot more time to actually enjoy things like this out here. "D

Steve
06-30-2007, 08:10 PM
VIII




Night in the wastes -- On the balcony -- Abagail in the kitchen --
Lateness of the hour -- A tale of the ancient world -- Provenance.


===============================================



The banks of cloud stood above the warped wastes like the matrix of this vast firmament and the starsprent tendrils of the rotating nebulae and galaxies hung in a great and glittering tapestry above the girl's head. She stood on the narrow adobe balcony that ran the length of the outer bedchamber. Her bare feet on the cool stone ledging as she stared up at the dark moon coined against the darker night sky. This day had been quite extraordinary and yet it had been cast away to the place where used days are cast.

She looked down and saw Abagail in the kitchen of the stonework hovel, silhouetted against the brightly wavering light of the kerosene lantern she kept there. Its soft yellow glow cast over her face and arms as she worked over the thin tray she'd made from clay. Small wheels of sweetcake heaped there like the wedding bands of giants. Her birthday was in two days and they were for her.

The thought of it brought a smile to her face. And yet her joy was besieged and then ceded into a feeling of anxiety. Although she was glad to be here with Abagail, there was another feeling as well. A sense of something greater than this.

Here she looked up past the dark replica moon at the line of stars till she came to the witch's mark on the sky, tracing the jagged lines in the night sky as her grandmother had taught her. There were so many things to be taught, so much yet to know. Never an end to learning.

Here she glanced down from this vast bore. All about her the wastes were silent.

Raquel?

She turned and looked as Abagail came and stood beside her on the narrow ledge. Yes Abagail.

You must come inside. It's late.

Raquel nodded slowly, the seriousness of her gaze having belied her thirteen years. When she saw this Abagail hid a sigh. Sometimes the girl brought a sense of pride. Such fine, dark eyes she had. Eyes that held the weight and wrack of the world.



. . .


Her bed was cut into the rear wall of the hovel like a tiny alcove. Her bedding was a bearskin quilt that Abagail had bartered for long before her birth. A large square of cloth which had once been tattered but had been mended and stitched neatly by her grandmother and adorned with a pattern of stars on a blue field which was radiated with beams of red and white served for her sheet.

Abagail reached in and drew up the etched glass of an oil lamp that hung lashed by a hook she'd fixed on the wall over the alcove. She lit the wick and stepped back, allowing the girl to climb spiderlike into the tiny space. As she did the old woman felt a twinge of regret. Regret for the death of the girl's innocence, knowing that it was foretold by no prophet but known to her as well. Neither individual lives, nor kingdoms survived. Nothing lasted. The old world was dead so the new world would go as well.

So now, she said. Shall I tell ye a tale?

Yes Abagail.

What tale should I tell?

She looked away from her grandmother a moment, her dark eyes seeming to read the dancing shadows within the niche. Then she met her gaze again with a smile.

Tell me of the old world.

But you've heard that a hundred times now, Raquel.

Tell it to me anyway. I like the story. Please.

The old crone smiled and laid her hand on the girl's brow. Then, closing her eyes, she began the ancient tale.



. . .


The lamp was still burning in her workroom on the other end of the stone hut. The halfmade clay urn she'd been making lay where she'd left it on the table. The chisels and knives of her craft lying beside them like surgeon's tools. She stood there a moment uncertain of it all, gazing down at the tray considering what needed to be done. Then she reached up and took down a small case from the shelf where the ancient texts lay swollen and silent in each other's company. Mostly in a language none but her could read.

She thumbed the catch from the box and looked inside. She admired the way it caught her reflection. Her grayed hair mere wisp in her brow.

What do you see, Abagail?

What do I see?

Give me a child. Give her to me.

She snapped the case shut and slipped it back on the shelf. Give a child and fill her head with wonders. With marvels of the west. With tales and facts and dreams beyond reckoning.

What do you see, Abagail? What do you see?

I dont see a thing, she said aloud, and reached over and snuffed out the light.

ManOfWesternesse
07-09-2007, 06:00 AM
Re: Archipelago Chapter VII

Steve, as I said over in Palaver you've got me hooked on this tale, and if when it gets published I want my signed copy.

I re-read Chapter VII (the funeral) as promised. I still think the language of the funeral-orator a bit stiff & stilted. A bit out-of-true with the general run of the story. But really it's a small thing, and every reader is gonna have likes & dislikes with different things in any tale.

Keep on writing it, and post us a bit from time to time to keep the appetites up!

Steve
07-10-2007, 08:44 PM
Re: Archipelago

The next chapter will be up very soon.

ManOfWesternesse
07-24-2007, 04:57 AM
Bumpidy BUMP! :)

Steve
07-25-2007, 11:15 AM
Re: Archipelago

Don't worry, Brian: I'm trying to gather up all the thoughts on the next few chapters. I'm trying to keep ahead of the game, as it were.

ManOfWesternesse
07-26-2007, 03:58 AM
Re: Archipelago


Don't worry, Brian: I'm trying to gather up all the thoughts on the next few chapters. I'm trying to keep ahead of the game, as it were.

I know - I'm pushy!:lol:

Steve
07-28-2007, 05:19 PM
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a short story I wrote. I'm posting it here for a limited time--say, three days--until I take it down. I'm posting it so that I can get some criticism and feedback before I submit it to be published. But I first want to see if my story is any good. Anyone care to take a crack at it?
-- Steve

************************************************** ***



"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."
-- 1 Corinthians 13




I



Robert McEvoy was sitting in the rocker he had caned himself on the front porch of his house in the plumbeous dark of early Sunday, listening to the wind rustling through the sassafras and cedar which grew around his house. Other than that, however, the land had fallen silent as a crypt. The sun would not break over the horizon for another hour but even now the morning redness in the east heralded its coming. McEvoy was holding a mug of coffee before him and as the cold wind stirred his hair he gulped the last of it and pitched the dregs out into the tangled nest of kudzu which strangled the bottom step of his porch like a botanical kraken. He looked out at where the land ran downhill in a staggered landscape of fallen snow and saplings.

Sitting there in the shadow of his house with his breath billowing out in white plumes like steam, his face darkened with three days' worth of stubble and his eyes like hard gray chips of flint set in stone. His lips were set close together and he licked them before they chapped in the hard wintry breeze which trilled in the eaves and whanged against the chimes which hung there like metallic stalactites.

He set the mug down between his feet and turned in the chair and reached for the shotgun which lay on the table beside him. It was a twelve gauge Winchester automatic with a smooth walnut stock and a lacquered finish. The barrel was lusterless and leaden, the color of the holes in the heavens. His father had willed it to him twenty years ago before he'd died, and his own father had done the same before McEvoy was born.

Picking it up by the barrel and testing the heft of it in his hands he laid it across his lap, his pale eyes looking at it and his palm pressing against the stock as though he sought to divine some sort of dull clairvoyance from it. He marveled at the thunderous fury that was pocketed dormant within its fluted marrows, awakened only by the pull of the trigger.

He picked up a limp rag which had once been the hem of an old shirt but was now greased with oil, then began to wipe the barrel of the gun with tenderness and love. He sat there, stroking it one way first and then the other, his face flushed from the cold but he did not stop. His father had learned to him to treat the gun like a woman, with care. A man of infinite patience was his father. McEvoy broke the shotgun open and checked the chambers, then snapped it back. He always kept it loaded with birdshot and the red shell glowed dully in the black tube.

He looked up from his cleaning and stared out at the land which fell away from him in the cold brumous dawn. The trees were spanceled against the sky and the lucent canoe of the moon hung capsized in the east. Nothing moved. There was not even a dog's bark nor the shrill cry of whipporwills in the thicket. It was cold enough that his breath plumed white before him. The clouds skated across the sky in the west, threatening the recrudescence of snow or something worse. McEvoy scooped up his empty mug and carried the shotgun into the house.

He stood there in the threshold of his living room, the shotgun hanging with the barrel pointed downward. The pine paneling was spooned and pried from the walls, some cracked like the rotted planks of a sunken galleon. Stacks of swollen volumes of books and magazines towered in the darkness like a nighted necropolis. A chamberpot sat next to a chair filled with cigarette butts. A pile of trashbags loomed whitely in the murk like plump ghosts. Flattened beer cans were littered about them like fallen soldiers. McEvoy held the shotgun apotropaically as though it were a talisman to ward off these spectres. He looked at the waterstained ceiling, the sagging closet doors. He stood there looking at the periwinkle sofa and armchair which were tattered and motheaten. He doubted if he'd even cleaned them off in months. He set the shotgun in the corner where it nestled between stacks of old cassettes. He looked down at the coffee table which was covered in a fine layer of dust, and he tried to figure out when it had last been cleaned. He reckoned the last time was in the days before Daphne had taken off for good.

He stumbled further into the darkened room like a blind man, looking at the dying embers in the fireplace which hissed in agony beneath charred billets. He scooped up the poker from the hearth and racked the coals until flames sparked to guttering life. Then he leaned forward holding his hands out to warm them. His pale fingers were splayed out and now and then he would flex them until the color flushed back into them.

When that was done he turned and tumbled down onto the couch and lay that way for a long time, his arms and legs akimbo and his face buried in the flank of the sofa. He did not get up and soon he fell asleep listening to the crackle and hiss of the wood burning on this cold December day.






II


He woke to the loud chug of the gunshot which sounded and resounded outside like summer thunder, black and depthless in the sodden dark of his sleep. He blinked foggily, the stertorous sound of his breathing the only sound in the house. Somewhere a crow squawked in protest like a revenant. He shifted his weight and closed his eyes and was once more asleep.

When he woke again there was a loud rapping at his door. He yawned and squinted against the harsh daylight. He stumbled off the couch and shuffled over to the door, his mouth tasting of whiskey and spittle drooling from the corner of his mouth. He wiped it away with the back of his hand and opened the door a crack and saw Sheriff Schuler standing there with his broad hat pulled low against the wind.

Mornin, McEvoy, the sheriff said.

McEvoy backed up and opened the door wider. The sheriff stood there for a moment as if awaiting invitation to come in and when none came he entered anyway, doffing his hat and holding it before him in both hands. McEvoy closed the door and the sheriff turned to look at him.

Looks like you didn't get much sleep, he said. McEvoy nodded and walked over to the coffee table where he bent and picked up his cigarettes and his Zippo. He thumbed it alight and lit a cigarette. He turned back and looked at the sheriff who was looking about the place with the air of one come to deliver bad news.

I didn't, McEvoy said. Want some coffee?

Thanks but no thanks, the sheriff said. His voice was soft but firm, like the soughing of surf against rocks. I'm real sorry to barge in on you like this, but I had no other choice.

McEvoy smoked in silence.

He studied the sheriff's face closer. His hard, lined face was soft and somehow gentle, a stoic calm he didn't know what to make of. What are you doin here, Sheriff?

Did you hear the gunshot this mornin?

Well yes, McEvoy said with a nod. I reckon it was a twelve gauge.

That it was.

McEvoy led the sheriff over into the kitchen where there was a small table with four chairs. Schuler set his hat on the table and sat down. He looked at the crushed cans littering the floor and the empty bottle of whiskey which stood next to the coffeepot. He looked back at McEvoy, who had followed his gaze.

I ain't drunk if that's what you're thinking, he said.

Never said you was.

I know it.

How much did you drink last night?

Half.

We talked about this, Bob.

I know.

You know I can't have you working for this county drunk.

I know it.

Did you at least water it down with coffee?

What do you think?

You don't want to know what I think.

Yeah.

Yeah what?

Yeah, I watered it down. McEvoy smiled over at the sheriff, although this was not a moment that warranted a smile. It had been the drinking that had almost cost him his job and would certainly do so again.

Well, Schuler said. He stood up and walked over to the counter. He picked up the empty bottle and sniffed it and shook his head disgustedly. He tossed the bottle into one of the cowled bags of garbage which lay on the floor. Then he sat back down.

What happened? McEvoy asked.

It was the Campbell boys, the sheriff told him. They was out huntin.

McEvoy nodded silently. Schuler was looking out the window at the sky, a born casuist. After a while he leaned back in his chair and regarded McEvoy who looked back at him waiting.

Gary shot once, the sheriff said after a moment. Hit Jake in the stomach at point blank range.

Oh shit. Is he dead?

Not yet. He's out there now bleedin everywhere but in his body.

Is there an ambulance out there?

Schuler coughed into his hand. They's two paramedics out there but Jake won't go with em.

McEvoy felt a sudden leporine fear spring in his belly but his face was wooden. Daphne. Does she know?

Schuler shook his head. I ain't told her yet, he said. He looked down at his hands which were clasped before him. Gary's down at the station now. I'm goin to go over and tell Daphne before I go back and take Gary's statement.

It must of been an accident, Guy, McEvoy said. Do you think Gary meant to shoot his own brother?

No. It was an accident, all right. He shook his head. But I still need to take his statement. It's protocol, you know.

So what do ye want me to do? McEvoy asked.

Go out there. Sit with Jake.

McEvoy stared at him. Christ, he said. I can't do that, Guy.

The hell you can't. Last time I checked, you was still my deputy.

McEvoy didn't say if he was or wasn't. He sat there woodenly. He looked out at the window where the sun burned a malefic white against the iron sky which seemed to be vapored across the heavens. He thought of Jake Campbell lying in a furrow of some distant cornfield and dying beneath this fired sky and he shuddered. He turned when he realized Schuler had spoken.

What?

I said he asked for you.





III

The road was long and serpentine and clotted with snow as McEvoy drove his battered Dodge pickup through the rippling flurries which even now glittered in the dappled sunlight. He was leaning forward against the wheel watching the road as snow white as talc dusted the hood. The road was not paved and as such was patchy with dead weeds and it snaked into the pines shrouding the land. He drove carefully for miles without seeing another vehicle, nor any sign of life. It was as though man all had gone and took with them the world.

At length he hove into view of Gary Campbell's jeep with the canvas top and he saw it was parked aslant just off the road. The nose of it was buried in the roadside ditch out of sight. McEvoy edged his truck behind the jeep and throttled the ignition. He left the keys dangling there and climbed out into the blistering cold of the day. The snow was hard and packed beneath his boots and it crunched loudly where he tread. The wind was blowing up a gale now and kicking up swirls of ice and sleet coalesce. McEvoy buttoned his coat up to his throat and stuffed his gloved hands into his pockets and walked into the cedars.

He walked on through the snow and over deadfalls coffined in snow. At last he came upon a figure lying on its back in the cold white, amidst the furrows where in warmer days corn inhabited.

He saw that Jake lay in a melting swill of reddened snow which frothed as he breathed shallowly, eyes looking up to the metaled heavens. McEvoy saw his hands were pressed against his belly as though he were suffering severe indigestion. Then he saw blue loops of intestine ringed between his bloodened fingers and realized he was holding his guts in lest they seep out through the monstrous hole in what remained of his back.

McEvoy walked onward, careful not to make a sound as he shouldered his way through broken limbs and rotted logs. He did not wish to startle the dying man and frighten him any more than he already was. He was perhaps twenty yards away from Jake's body and he stopped in his tracks. He stared. Jake bled. How much blood now laked about him to soak into the hard vaulted earth beneath him? A feeling of dread clenched the pit of McEvoy's belly and he had to struggle to step forward.

The dying man had not heard his peculiar visitor arrive in the woods, and if it weren't for the bluetick who began baying at this intruder, McEvoy could have turned and left as if he had never been here. Perhaps it would have been the best. It would all be like a bad dream from which he'd soon wake.

He stepped closer down the shale bluffs amidst the trees and then paused. Jake rolled his eyes like a maddened horse until he saw who it was. He stared at McEvoy grimly and dementedly as his bloody hands continued to press down on the welling wound. He lay this way until McEvoy started back down toward him.

McEvoy saw the two paramedics huddled like gargoyles around the dying boy, bundled in their fleecelined jackets against the hard cold. They saw McEvoy and both of them stepped back to give the two men some room. They looked down at Jake as though unsure whether to leave him in the snow.

Go on, McEvoy told them with some reluctance, regarding them balefully until they nodded and walked over to an enormous poplar nearby.

That you, Bob?

Yeah, McEvoy piped. Yeah, Jake, it's me. How goes it?

I'm dying, old buddy, Jake gasped, turning away toward the hill. Look at me. I'm fallin apart. It's pretty bad. I can feel it. I'm goin to die.

It ain't that bad.

The hell it ain't. I cain't see nothin but my own blood all over the place.

All of this held no reality for McEvoy and he soon came to realize it with dawning horror. This boy was dying and it might well be real for him, but for him it was nothing. The blood running slowly from the caved hole in his belly whenever he breathed held no reality for him and that was all. He was starting to blink uncontrollably, he knew it, and his back was crawling as though something inimical inhabited there. Can you move any?

The mutilated Campbell boy pushed himself up with his elbows but then his eyes went wide and rolling and he let loose with a shriek, thin and shrill and somehow insane, and he fell back into the red snow with tears rolling down his cheeks in wide tracks. The paramedics started to run to them but McEvoy waved them away. They knew as well as he did there was nothing more to be done for the poor man lying gutshot before them. Hellfire, he muttered under his breath. Hellfire. Let me see it.

Jake lay breathing, pushing fresh blood from his belly. He turned his head away and gingerly moved his hands back from the wound allowing McEvoy to get a better view. His bloodstained fingers jittered and flexed of their own accord, and McEvoy felt his stomach heave and knot when he saw the blueveined viscera flapping in the bitter wind. He bit his lip to stop its trembling and Jake put his hands back over the wound. It looked as though he'd been pregnant with some unthinkable litter which had chewed its way through his belly and left him to die here.

How bad is it, Jake gasped. Don't lie to me, man. How bad?

McEvoy turned and spat to the side. It ain't that bad, Jake.

Bullshit. You're a bad liar and a shitty hand at poker. He grinned and McEvoy saw his teeth were streaked with blood. He closed his eyes and winced with great agony.

The bluetick that had heralded McEvoy's arrival was still howling and McEvoy looked up and saw it loping through the snow. Its ears were pricked and its head was cocked as though it heard the life bleeding out of its master's body. He looked back at Jake and saw his eyes were closed and his breathing was soft and shallow. McEvoy looked up to the sky and saw a flock of geese squadroning overhead in a tight V.

What happened to us, Jake said.

McEvoy looked down at him. Jake's eyes were open and he was looking at him with eyes wide and pleading. The world was dark and cold, cavelike. Nothing but the melodeonic howling of the dog and the shallow breathing of the dying man whose pained eyes bored deep into his soul.

What happened to us, man?

Daphne. He said it almost without realizing. Daphne's what happened to us. He looked around at this, a world in abeyance, and he nodded as though convincing himself it were true. Light from the sun dappled through the cedars onto the ground and on the men. Jake Campbell's world was winding down, and so it was.

Daphne. Jake closed his eyes again and said nothing for a while. He lay that way for a long time until McEvoy thought him dead but then he opened them again. She didn't leave because of you, Bob.

She didn't?

No. It was because of . . .

He turned his head toward him and his eyes sought out something McEvoy could not see. There was no name for what it was. Everything that is named is removed at once from itself. There is no nomenclature save that of what we give it. God has no name but the one we give him.

What.

Jake tried again. It was your drinkin, Bob. Always that.

McEvoy looked down at the blood spreading its claret fingers in the snow and saw little puffs of steam rising from the melt. He opened his mouth to speak but there was nothing to say so he closed it.

Go back to her.

What?

Go back to her. She still loves ye. Always did.

Okay. Just take it easy. Take it easy, Jake.

Go back to her.

I will.

Hold my hand, the dying boy croaked. I'm scared, Bob.

For a moment, a single second, McEvoy paused. Here lay before him the man who had taken his wife, to whom Daphne had sought refuge from the liquored demon she had married. The act of hesitating itself was not even conscious to him. Then he reached over and grasped Jake's hand. It was sticky with drying blood and yet he squeezed it twice. He slid his other arm under his shoulders and cradled him. He realized he was beginning to cry now, more because Daphne would take this news hard than because Jake was dying.

I got you, he said.

Oh my God, Jake cried. Oh my God.

He lay there in McEvoy's lap and he stopped breathing and his eyes did not go shut but they ceased to see. McEvoy looked down at the body he held close and turned back to the paramedics. They shuffled over dutifully and he crawled away, still weeping. He'd been helpless, could do nothing for Jake, could say nothing to give him comfort as he died. There was no such thing as life without bloodshed and he knew it well.



©2007 Stephen Davis.

Steve
07-29-2007, 12:41 PM
IX




A waking in the night -- Silence -- Going downstairs --
Unworthy of a rifle -- Slipping away -- Saddles up --
Bart and Becky.


===============================================



Just at midnight Bart slipped down from his bunk, reached for his crutch of bone where it lay propped against his nightstand, before him the room black and depthless in the candleless night. He bent down with the crutch buttressed in his armpit and he felt around for his boot and he slipped it on one-handed.

He hobbled across the room, taking care not to trod on any loose floorboards. In the months following the amputation he had become quite adept at it, but his nerves and excitement filled him with a sense of anxious foreboding that he was sure he would wake his parents or Becky if he wasn't careful. He reached up on the wall where his felt slouch hat hung from a wooden knob bradded there.

Careful now, he whispered to himself.

He closed the door softly behind him. He stood for a moment as if awaiting a voice telling him to go back to bed and when none came he limped down the stairs, his heart thundering so hard in his chest it seemed it would burst from its ribbed cage if he didn't hurry it along.

When he reached the bottom step he looked around the darkened room for a minute. He squinted in the dark and then drew a candle from his trousers. He struck a match and lit the wick. He held it up carefully and then shambled over to the gunrack over on the far wall. Wax dribbled, hot and yellowsmelling, into the darkness and several times he almost burned himself.

When he reached the gunrack he ran his fingers over the rifles marshaled there. His fingers then closed around the stock of the pennsylvania rifle that his father had inherited from his own father. He drew it from the queue, then paused. He thought himself unworthy of holding such a weapon. Mayhap someday, but not now. He stood there in silence. Then he found a shorter 50 caliber rifle, a reliable weapon his father had taught him to shoot. He eased it from the rack and held it by the harnessleather. Then he shouldered it, aiming into the darkness. His cheek pressed against the cherrywood stock and he smiled. It felt good, it felt right. He slung the rifle over his shoulder and turned back to the rack. After a brief deliberation he took a powderhorn and a bullet pouch, both of which he draped over his shoulders like bandoliers. Then he turned back to look at the mirror on the wall behind him. All in all he looked like a pirate who had decided to try his hand at being a bandit and had forgotten that his missing leg was not a boon in such a quest.

A hot stream of wax burbled over his finger. He hissed and snuffed out the candle and shook his hand vigorously to cool it.

Damn it all. Damn it all.

With the sagging weight of the rifle and ammunition it was even slower going and he realized that if he tried to go out the door it would almost certainly be heard. Instead he walked lamely over to the front window and slid it open.

He slid the rifle out and propped the barrel on the sill, then he scooped up the horn and pouch and slipped out himself. He nearly lost his balance and had to grab the sill for purchase, and he landed heavily on the porch. He cursed silently and then closed the window, and he gathered the rifle and then hobbled over to the barn.



. . .


Now he was hurriedly throwing the saddle over the sorrel mare they called Rinthy, for she was the fastest of the three horses they kept here. He was cinching the strap tight against her belly when he sensed the presence behind him and he turned and saw the small figure vaguely outlined in the barn doorway.

There's a name for what you're doing, she said.

Go back to the house right now, Becky, Bart hissed to her.

It's called stealing.

I said go.

They stood looking at each other. Becky was watching him with a look of solemn judgment on her face as behind her soundless lightning whitened the sky to a pale metallic shade. A distant storm. After a while Bart turned back to what he was doing but he kept glancing back at his sister who was still standing there as though she'd always been there, and he felt his plans and schemes would all come crashing down just because she was staring at him in this falling dark, and now he must somehow placate her with an explanation.

I'm leavin now, he told her as he slipped the rifle into the bedroll tied on the sorrel's haunches.

Where are you going?

I'm off to catch Mr Boot and see if Captain Wilkins will take me along west.

Rinthy ain't your horse, Bart.

I know it, Bart said suddenly. I'll send money after my first season to pay for her and the gun.

You won't live that long, Becky said simply.

Oh? What makes you say that?

'Cause I heard you leaving your room sounding like an elephant. What makes you think you're gonna sneak away from a pack of bloodthirsty savages wanting to skin your hide?

Bart turned to her. He limped over to her, twice her size and weight but she did not move an inch. Instead she shook her head. Why would anyone take you on anyhow?

Why? Bart asked suspiciously. 'Cause I'm a cripple?

His sister opened her mouth to say something then closed it. Then she shook her head again. No. It ain't that. But you're too young to just go ridin around the country.

No I ain't. There's been men youngern me who've gone west to seek their fortunes.

And how many of them came back?

Bart raised a hand in farewell, dismissal, and took the first step away from his sister. Becky followed him.

And what do you want me to tell Mama and Papa? she asked.

Bart didn't say what she should or shouldn't tell them. He trudged on woodenly. He swung up on the horse and looked down at her. I'll see you again, he said, and then he touched his heels to the horse and was gone. He looked back once and no one had come to collect him, the whole scene fading into a stone night that seemed to consume all things and with them the weight of the known world.

PedroPáramo
08-08-2007, 01:27 PM
Re: Through a Glass, Darkly

Steve, first of all, it's a short storie. A tale. You don't need to use so much dialogues (I think maybe you'll be happy of heard that :P ).
Then don't separate the tale on three parts, your writting is really fast, and you can use it.
Then the first part (first chapter if you want) is left over. You can use it like a flashback, but I don't like it like a beginning.
And I don't see why do you use that epigraph.
But anyway that's just my point of view.
Take care Steve, luck with the storie.

Steve
09-20-2007, 09:08 AM
X




Raquel -- Seasons of age, seasons of beauty -- The task --
Returning to the hovel -- How came the degenerates --
Hiding out -- The foul leader -- Searching for the girl --
A view to a death -- The pursuit.


===============================================



Here now in the blistering heat of the late afternoon sun, where faint columns of sulfursmelling steam rise from the fumaroles lining the mouth of the caldera like the sockets of missing teeth. They coil in a great spire like dancers' veils in the edge before they vanish in the intense glare above.

In the harsh light of the day Raquel lies on her stomach on a shelf of limestone that overlooks the lip of the caldera, staring out across the deep bowl at the world. She is propped on her elbows watching the road through her heavy leathered glasses. This road is ashcolored and it snakes in and out of sight through the harsh red landscape below. An old bridge on concrete pylons crosses a dried creekbed and in the harsh light of day she can see the petrified timbers spiked and secured there.

She is fifteen years of age now and has blossomed fast this past season. Her face is still soft and clean with skin like porcelain despite the harsh desert sun. She is not a weak girl by any sense of the word, yet from a distance one would notice how thin she seemed in the loose clothes she wore. When the desert winds blew Abagail would often fear they would carry the girl away, so frail she seemed.

She had been up and about this day before good light. The day gave promise, and the remnants of a dream still swirling in his head touched it with portent.

She turned and began to clamber down out of the burning light, into the darkness, the cool shadow just beneath the overhang of the caldera. She slipped in beneath the narrow ledge. Straight ahead the volcano wall fell away precipitously, while to her right she saw a vaginal vent, just beyond a queerly rounded rock as though formed by claymakers. Even as she watched steam leaked out almost liquidly into the air.

She reached up, her hands gently holding the loose ball of shirts and trousers Abagail had sent her up here with. She brushed them apart and then picked one of them up gingerly by the collar. Then, using a pair of wooden tongs, she clipped the shirt and held it over the columning steam until the shirt began to darken and grow limp with weight. This she did for almost a minute before it was beginning to sop, and so she set it down on a dusted outcropping beside her so it could dry in the baking heat of the day. Then she continued with each article of clothing, steaming them in the caldera's fumes and then laying them down like shipwrecked survivors on the rock.

When she was done she straightened, letting out a long breath. She did not want to climb out of the lip and into the burning daylight. So she stood there, getting her breath and gathering the bundles. When she emerged from the shadow it was like stepping into the fifth circle of hell. It didnt matter how long she'd been living here because every time, that change from the cool of the shade to the sudden, choking heat of the desert was like a dazing blow.

She began climbing down the bluffs, stepping around the cracks where steam hissed in steady gouts. She was so focused on making sure she didnt drop her cargo that she didnt see the danger until she was almost upon it. It was only when she happened to glance down into the cleftwall that she saw it.

She let out a gasp but mercifully it was unheard in the furious hissing of the steam. She crouched down in terror, dropping the clothes into a loose pile at her feet as she ducked behind a vertebral ridge. But not before she saw them: shapes of eight or nine men, all armed.

Even at a brief glance, she knew what kind of men these were. The traders of before had been weathered by the desert but these men seemed to revel in it, in their baleful stance. Their beards were thick and braided, arms bound in muscle. The stink that billowed from them would be unimaginable. Their teeth were eroded and blackened and claggy with jerky.

Come out now, one of them said, and for a horrified moment Raquel thought that she had been spotted. Then she realized these waylayers were not speaking to her, and as she peeked over the spined rock, she saw it all.

Abagail was hobbling out of the stone hovel, trying to remain as expressionless as the dead. One of the waylayers held a shortbarreled shotgun and wore a bandolier of homeshot shells across his narrow shoulders and a murderous expression on his icy face.

Stop there, he grunted, holding the shotgun before him.

Abagail did as she was told and the leader of these grim degenerates gestured and two others climbed from their mounts. The first thing they did was step into the hovel with their pikes to search for any other residents. When they were certain the shack was empty they stepped out into the sun, waiting as the leader nudged his slatribbed horse forward with the shotgun socked into his elbow. He whistled through his gray teeth and Raquel saw the smile on his face and felt a sharp pang of fear in her belly.

The girl, he grunted, fingering his hide bandolier as his thin horse snorted.

What girl? Abagail asked.

Dont act dumb, one of the degenerates said. We's been watchin you for two days. We seen the girl.

Abagail started to say she did not know what they spoke of but she never did. One of the pikesmen stepped forward and drove the butt of his shaft against her lower back so hard it knocked the old woman to the ground. Raquel bit back a shriek of anguish and clapped both hands over her mouth to stifle it back. When she dared to peek back from around the back of the rock again, she saw Abagail was on her hands and knees, coughing as though she'd had the pest. In the harsh light of day the leader of the gang climbed off his horse and, shotgun in hand, marched past the old woman and into the hovel.

Keep an eye out for her, he called out from the shelter. She's round here someplace.

Raquel had no choice but to watch as the horsemen one by one spread out on their mounts, looking outward into the desert. The closest of them was less than ten paces away from Raquel, and when she stole a glance she saw that he seemed to be watching the area towards the smoking caldera with darkened curiosity. She stole another glance and saw the rider's horse spill out shit in dried clumps, right in front of her. She felt a sudden giddy feeling and nearly laughed.

She concentrated on keeping her head down, and she waited. Abagail had warned her not to come out too quick, in the event of such a raid. She spoke of caravans slaughtered in the great white wastes, and of waylayers who stayed back after the rest of them left, hoping to snatch women or children who eventually showed themselves after they thought they were out of danger. So she lay there, wanting to stop her ears but knowing she couldnt.

And then she heard the voice of the one who'd gone into the hovel, a surprisingly sweet tenor voice for such a despicable man. She realized instantly he was calling to her.

Come on out, girlie girl. There's nowhere to hide. If ye dont, I'll blow this old bitch's head off, I swear to ye.

He stepped out of the hovel with his shotgun slung over his shoulder in a casual manner. Now she could see him clearly, though in the harsh darkglare of the sun he could not. He had but three fingers on one hand, the one holding the shotgun. A branded felon who had chosen in life much as the world required of him. He was big and stronglooking and a scar furrowed his face where a knife had pried out an eye not long before. He wore dustcolored boots and his shirt was stinking black.

You wont find her, Abagail hissed at him.

The man did not speak but instead looped a booted foot into Abagail's midsection. The old woman shrieked and toppled backward into the red dust. A thin line of blood trickled from the side of her mouth but she did not cry. Instead she pushed herself back into a sitting position and glared at her captor defiantly.

Shoot me if you've a mind to, she spat.

As you wish, the man said, and he put the shotgun to her head and fired. A great hole erupted out of the side of Abagail's skull in a vast glut of blood and brains and she tumbled over into the dust with one leg kicking spasmodically until she lay still. The waylayer stepped back looking at the dead woman with mute regard. You was too old anyway, he said.

The rest of the degenerates were walking around the perimeter, their pikes and knives glinting lethally in the onyx sunshine. None of them looked at the dead woman. The leader bent down with the shotgun in hand and he drew a knife from his belt and carved a notch in the wooden butt of his weapon, which was scored with countless nicks already. Then he dipped a finger into the puddle of gore dusting the earth at his feet and smeared it on the forestock. He sat that way for a while until one of the waylayers called out to him.

Look yonder!

All turned to look where he pointed. The girl was running back up the lip of the caldera, keeping low and in between the great boulders. The world was winding down, and as the degenerate clan swept up their passables and gave chase they wound down with it.

ManOfWesternesse
09-21-2007, 05:15 AM
Re: Archipelago Chapters XI and X

Good chapter Steve - glad to see another update on this story.

Steve
09-24-2007, 09:25 PM
XI




The banks of the mighty Misery -- Saint Louis -- River landing --
The mercantile -- A familiar -- Man and youth -- Bart takes a drink --
Captain Wilkins -- Bart strikes a conversation --
An offer -- The captain on the nature of man --
A question of schooling -- The decision.


===============================================



When he rode out of the burned pine forest he saw it, a great curve of granitic glass, serpentine. At first he almost took it for the fabled western sea but he saw the thin line of shore on the other side and he understood it for what it was. He had been riding for a fortnight and he was cold and hungry. He had not risked stopping for more than a few hours a night lest he arrive in Saint Louis only to find the expedition had left off before he got there. Old dry leaves rattled frail and withered as old voices, trailed stiffly down like curling ancient parchments on which no message was at all inscribed. The sun was rising, darkening the eastern sky. His eyes kept flitting towards the great river spangled on the horizon. He fancied crocodiles with long snouts bristling with teeth, ancient relics survived unchanged from mesozoic fens. Beasts of a world always verging on ruin. He rode on down out of the chary wood and toward the great encampment on the near bank, the mare sucking at the thin ashy air, and just at noon he was riding into the town of Saint Louis.

He looked before him at the dust of the streets which swirled around the hooves and snuffling heads of the horses that trotted around him. It was by far the largest settlement the boy had seen in his life. This town had once been a trading post until twenty years or so ago, and now it was the bustling jumpoff point for adventurers, pirates, fugitives, and assorted miscreants. The boy rode through that fantasy of dust and blood toward the river landing which was little more than a limestone shelf that fell into the moiling brown river. The boy fancied an America long lost to memory, a great arsenal. On the riverfront he rode between dilapidated buildings shuttered and crusted with mildew, ironwrought rails. The streets were cobbled and cracked like they lay on the edge of some vast faultline. Twin tracks of mud parallaxed from the narrow alleyways, courtesy of wagons and barrows. The boy saw dram houses, gambling dens, outfitters, bordellos, mercantiles. He saw a man lying in the street in front of a gunmaker’s shop with one arm askew and a bottle in his hand.
The boy turned away from this grisly sight and looked toward the mercantile between the gunshop and a tavern. He saw a large figure stretched out in a lazy felinity on the roughboard steps, an unlit cigar stuck in his teeth. All about him there was bustle as great buckskinned men lugged wooden crates and heavy sacks into a waiting cart. His hair was still tangled and unkempt, the silver pendant still around his throat. He sat watching the men load the wagon with an amused air.

The boy reined the pony till it quit and he sat there atop it in the middle of the cobblestone street. Rinthy turned nervously below him, and the boy did his best to check her. He was tired, hungry, very dirty. What had seemed a grand adventure to him when he’d first left home had quickly become a relentless string of travails.

Mr Boot, sir?

The figure looked up at the boy on the horse who had called his name.

Dont you remember me?

He shrugged, looked away.

I was the one fixed your rifle, sir. Sharpened your knife for ye, too.

The boy slid down from his pony with one hand on the reins both for support and so as not to spook her. His foot came down on the flagged stone ground and the plainsman regarded it. Then he nodded and got to his feet with an affable grin on his bearded face.

Why God help me, he said. You the boy . . . you the smithy’s boy, aint you? Cooper, is it?

It is.

Why now, Boot said. What are ye doing out here in Saint Louie?

He took hold of Rinthy’s reins as the boy hauled his bonewood crutch from the bundle on the pony’s back and he leaned against it, hobbling over to the porch railing where they secured the lank filly to a tier. The boy heaved a sigh and rubbed the stump of his leg which pained him some in inclement weather.

You said Captain Wilkins was off to leave in the spring, he said.

I did and he is, Boot said.

Well, said the boy, looking around. I made it just in time, didnt I?

God amighty.

What, sir?

Boot shook his head. Good God amighty, he said.

The boy limped over to him, looked at the towering face of the man. Aint the captain looking for men?

Aye, Boot said. Plainsmen, not a cully like you.

I can pull my weight, the boy pleaded. Same as any man.

I wouldnt doubt but you could.

The boy nodded. So when do I get to meet the captain?

The plainsman turned his head and looked toward the man lying drunk and prone on the street. You dont understand, he said. There’s plainsmen a dime a dozen here in town. Seasoned men, experienced men. Riflemen, bowmen, knife fighters. They speak more languages than you can shake a stick at. They do things with gunpowder that make ye think they was gods. They can talk to the trees, the beasts in the earth. They can drink blood and piss whiskey and still shoot straight. And I mean no effrontery, boy, but they aint missing a leg.

He looked back at the boy and saw the tears of frustration and defeat brimming at his lids. He sighed, put a hand on the boy’s shoulder but he shook it off.

The captain says he’s only gonna ride with twenty, Boot told him. Of all the good men here, he’s only takin twenty. Twenty. There are gods among us, boy, and even he wont take em all.

He nodded as though that was the end of it and sat back down on the porch steps. The boy said nothing, only turned and walked across the street like a man in a dream from which he did not wish to wake.



. . .


It was dark when he entered the tavern. Several men were standing at the bar, which looked made of mahogany, that had been salvaged from the ancient world. The boy shambled across the sawdusted floor which groaned drunkenly beneath his weight, buckling and warping. He stood at the bar and took from his pocket a silver coin. The barman looked him over briefly, then nodded. What’s yer pleasure?

What do you got?

The barman eyed the coin before him and turned behind him. He came back with a smoky bottle which he set down in front of Bart. The boy thumbed the coin over to him and the barman poured a honey-colored liquid into a dusty tumbler. The boy held it to the glass where it gleamed like mica and then he knocked it back, looking at the barman thoughtfully.

I dont know what that shit is, he said. But I reckon it aint that bad. Let me have another here.

He set his glass down and the bartender refilled it. The boy turned back to the rest of the bar. Some looked at him, some licked their lips or spat. A dark whore stood on the landing, her breasts hanging half out as she languished there. The boy turned back to the barman.

You got a room I can stay in for the night?

The barman thrust his chin and looked up. If ye got any more of that coin I reckon I do, he said.

The boy pushed another coin across the counter. The barman took it with a swift move almost unseen and gestured to the upper landing and the boy went on up the stairs with his crutch tapping obscenely with each step.



. . .


When dawn came he traded his clothes with a drunken and bathless plainsman. The stupendous odor that came from the rags was almost overwhelming, but the youth delighted in the buckskin hunting jacket which was several sizes too big for him and the fringed leggings which he knotted over his missing extremity and the rough gray wool shirt which caused him to itch almost relentlessly. He left the plainsman half-nude in the tavern and he went out into the burned daylight.

He wandered about town asking for news of the captain and soon someone directed him to the river landing. When he got there he saw a shallop tiered to the wharf. It was a whiskey boat, and it stank of drink and men. There were casks stacked on almost every available space, a few horseskins blanketing them. Several men were milling about on the boat and dock carrying barrels and rifles and packs of ammunition and setting them in the hold. The boat rocked in the brown water but none seemed to care. There was a cabin near the stern and a cannon near the bow. There was a mast for a square sail and oar davits on both sides.

A man stood there watching the proceedings with his hands clasped behind his back like a preacher giving a sermon. There was an old bible clasped in one hand. He wore carved boots with tall heels and his hair was freshly trimmed.

He turned at the sound of the boy’s crutch which rapped smartly on the pier and regarded the youth in his misbegotten garb with a mixture of scorn and amusement. His moustache was thick and black but he was barely older than Bart. Can I help you?

Are you Captain Wilkins? the boy asked.

The very same, said the captain. Who are you?

Barton Cooper, sir.

The captain nodded. He looked the boy over. And what can I do for you today, Master Cooper?

Well sir, the boy said, to speak plain, I want to see the west.

See the west, the captain said.

Yessir.

We have our crew, son.

I see you got horses, sir.

Yes.

If a horse loses a shoe, I can fix it.

Is that so?

Yessir. I also know how to fix rifles. Ask Mr Boot.

I dont think that will be necessary.

I’m also a hunter, sir.

The captain squinted at him. What do you hunt?

Deer. Rabbits and squirrel, mostly.

The captain nodded. He looked at the shallop. Where are you from, son?

Indiana, sir.

Indiana.

Yessir.

I dont know of many plainsmen to come out of there. I suppose you dont, either.

No sir.

Ever kill a man?

Sir?

Have you ever killed a man? Anyone in Indiana just itching to cut your throat? Have you ever killed because you had to, not cause you wanted to?

The boy stood silent.

How did you come to lose that leg?

A wagon turned on me.

The captain looked at him. It’s rough country out there, son. Savage country. Lost friends and brothers out there. And by God I’m sure I’ll lose more as time goes on. Barbarians roam those lands. They dont have the least notion in God’s earth of honor or justice or the meaning of what it is to be american. Those savages wont shoot you. You know that? They’ll brain you in with rocks. They’ll cut your heads off while you beg for mercy. Does that strike your fancy?

No sir.

The captain leaned back and regarded the boy. You’re young. There are things here for you. A home, a life. Go home to Indiana.

The boy said nothing. The captain sighed. Son, what do you expect to get for wages in such a dark and troubled land?

Experience, sir.

How much schooling have you had?

Enough, the boy said.

Know your bible?

The boy nodded.

What are the first words?

In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.

Yes. Yes, he did.

The captain’s voice had become soft and thoughtful. He tipped his head back to look at the branded sky, but he needed no divine consulting for his decision. The boy stood there looking uneasy when the captain looked back.

Have you ciphered? Do you know about ciphering?

Well I know my letters. I’ve ciphered some. Yes. Why?

Do this. Come down in the morning if you still want to come and get on the boat.

Yessir. What time?

Daybreak.

Yessir. Daybreak.

Very good.

The boy nodded, flushed and enthused. Thank you, Captain. I wont let you down. I’ll see you in the morning.

The captain nodded, and the boy hobbled off into the crowd with a new spring in his step. The captain stood there on the dock as a burly figure bore his way over to him.

Does he look like a plainsman? Boot asked him.

The captain shook his head. No. He looks like a romantic.

ManOfWesternesse
11-06-2007, 08:20 AM
Re: Archipelago

*peeps in*
no more? mmmmmmm?

*out*

Steve
11-12-2007, 09:31 PM
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is the first scene of a five-act play I'm writing for a scholarship here at Troy University. If it's good enough, I managed to convince members of the drama department to let me put it on next fall, if I can finish it by April 30th. I've written a majority of the first act, and I have the rest of the play outlined. The setting is the old west during the Mexican-American War from the point of view of two brothers who end up falling in with a gang of murderers and outlaws. I would like to hear responses and reviews as soon as possible. Thanks, and enjoy!





SCENE I

A dark woodland road in southern Alabama in November of 1836. It is midnight. At curtain rise there are two figures coming in stage right, carrying rifles and packs on their backs. They are brothers. The older of the two, a twenty-year-old man named GUY MCEVOY, stumbles and nearly falls. He looks down and sees he’s caught in some briars. He struggles to free himself, finally manages to do so.

GUY Get on with ye.

He winces and his brother, VIRGIL, spits to one side. Virgil is younger, maybe seventeen.

VIRGIL Shit.

GUY What?

VIRGIL Nothin. Just shit.

By and by they come in sight of a shack which sits mutely in the moonlight. Guy moves toward it with a sense of purpose, but Virgil hangs back as though he’s got second thoughts.

VIRGIL Guy. What we goin to tell Pa?

GUY Quiet. I’ll do the talkin.

VIRGIL He’s goin to pitch a fit when we tell him.

GUY He couldn’t of done a better job of it.

VIRGIL He won’t say that.

GUY She left is all.

VIRGIL He ain’t goin to like it.

GUY I know it.

VIRGIL So what are you goin to tell him?

Guy shakes his head and coughs into his hand. A bit loudly.

GUY Just keep quiet. More’n likely he’s drunk off his ass.

They head up to the brokendown porch. Guy stands there for a moment, then looks back at Virgil.

GUY Ain’t you coming?

VIRGIL I don’t know yet.

GUY Goddamn, get your ass out of the rain.

VIRGIL I don’t know. He might still be awake.

GUY Suit yourself.

Silence. The rain soughs through the trees. Guy steps into the old ramshackle house, grotesquely lit by the starless night. Virgil shakes his head and follows his brother inside. Silent, dark inside. There is a ragged sound, almost like crying, to their breathing as the boys creep carefully into the house. Guy hisses to his brother:

GUY Keep it down.

VIRGIL I’m trying. I just--

Then the silence is shattered by the roar of the shotgun and the brothers drop to the floor amid the clutter of furniture. The audience should be aghast at the shot. Guy shouts:

GUY Don’t shoot! Pa, don’t shoot!

A huge figure shambles drunkenly into view, a sawed-off shotgun in his hands. This is WILLIAM MCEVOY, an abusive, bloodthirsty brute and also the boys’ father. He weighs over two hundred pounds and he goes toward them with the rolling gait of heavy people and sways slightly as he holds the shotgun.

MCEVOY You didn’t find her!

Guy shifts to the left and McEvoy fires again and Guy cries out as buckshot rips through his shoulder and throat. He grabs for the old rifle he dropped, clutching his bleeding wound and choking out--

GUY Goddamn it, man, put it down!

McEvoy lumbers forth and the audience should smell the tang of gunpowder and perhaps even the ripe stench of the man. He lurches forward in the darkness with the shotgun in hand.

MCEVOY Oh I’m goin to kill ye. I’m goin to kill ye graveyard dead.

Virgil cries out to his father, pleading to him.

VIRGIL We tried to find her, Pa! Really we did! I swear!

McEvoy roars like a wounded bear and fires toward Virgil, who ducks in the darkness. Guy grabs his rifle and sits up, blood pouring down his throat in the gloom. His slavering father sees him and jacks two shells in the chamber, wading forward toward him.

MCEVOY You’re dead, boy.

Guy lurches up with the rifle and his father steps back and fires a third time, missing. Guy points the rifle at him, and McEvoy growls at him.

MCEVOY Put that’n down, boy.

GUY You first.

They circle crabwise in the black, weapons pointed. Lightning flashes outside periodically, and we see McEvoy’s eyes are red and murderous.

MCEVOY Damn it, ye mind me now.

GUY Put it down, Pa. Listen to me. Put the gun down.

MCEVOY You best set that gun down fore I count to three.

GUY I’ll shoot ye, Pa. I don’t want to, but I will.

MCEVOY One.

A gunshot rings out. Guy falls back and McEvoy lurches forth, shot in the head. He drops the shotgun and stands there for a while, then collapses facedown to the floor and lies there, dead. Guy looks up and sees Virgil step out of the shadows, a derringer in his hand. He holds it uncertainly as smoke lilts about the barrel and he begins to weep.

VIRGIL Guy. I didn’t mean it. I . . . he . . .

Guy finds a candle in the darkness and lights it and holds it up to his injuries. They don’t seem to be too serious and he looks at his brother.

GUY You all right?

VIRGIL I ain’t hit. Guy, I didn’t want to do it.

GUY It ain’t your fault. Man was crazy, Virgil. It ain’t your fault.

Virgil looks at him with tears pouring down his face.

VIRGIL He was our pa.

GUY No he wasn’t. That wasn’t our pa. That was a crazyman. He’d of killed us and you know it.

VIRGIL I murdered him.

GUY You did what you had to.

VIRGIL What now?

GUY What?

VIRGIL I said what do we do now.

Guy sets the candle down and walks over and takes the pistol gently from him, the barrel still smoldering.

GUY We cain’t stay here. They ain’t nothin for us here now.

VIRGIL (Finally noticing Guy’s wounds) Oh my dear Jesus, Guy, you’re bleedin.

GUY It’s you and me now, you understand? We have to look out for each other, you understand?

Virgil nods. Lights go out except for one spotlighting the brothers standing around the body of their father.

GUY You want to say anything for him, now’s the time to say it.

Virgil doesn’t answer for a while. Then as the lights dim to black --

VIRGIL Ain’t nothin to say.

The_Nameless
11-12-2007, 09:56 PM
Re: My First Play

So far, so good. I enjoy how you use period pieces.
Also how you start off your stories -with a conflict that we are unaware of.

Keep us posted.

Steve
11-12-2007, 10:05 PM
Re: My First Play

Thank you, sirrah! I shall do so!

Storyslinger
11-13-2007, 06:48 AM
Re: My First Play

I like it, very good

Matt
11-13-2007, 03:44 PM
Re: My First Play

Just got a chance to read through, very good Steve--can't wait to read more.

Sai Joshua
11-13-2007, 06:47 PM
Re: My First Play

Good story, but Troy University? Troy Sucks!!!!(Says the JSU man) Just kidding good story so far. I do like how you make these guys sound I know some folks that sound just like this bunch.

Steve
11-15-2007, 01:22 PM
SCENE II


The narrator speaks as the scene slowly fades in from black.

Narrator Now come days of destiny, days of misery. The days following the death of their father the brothers ride through the rain and soon they arrive in New Orleans.

Early in the morning. The brothers have been on the road for days and now they wander into New Orleans as the sky grays with first daylight.

Virgil Looky there.

They look over as two whores sashay down the street giggling with prospects of the coming day. They see the brothers and Virgil whistles as they walk away.

Virgil What I wouldn’t give to ride em both to Abilene.

Guy Remember what Pa used to say. You cain’t ride two horses with one ass.

They laugh and as they walk on they run into a spanish boatswain in the plaza. He blinks at them, diphtheric, yellow-looking.

Guy Where in this town can a man get a drink?

Boatswain No te ves lo suficientemente mayor.

Guy I asked is there an inn about or what.

Boatswain Eres muy joven para andar tomando. Tanto tu como tu hermano.

Virgil (Miming a drink in his hand) Drink.

Boatswain Vete a casa.

Guy looked at his brother and then back at the boatswain. He shook his head.

Guy I know goddamn well there is an inn in this town. You was just there, wasn’t ye?

Boatswain (Pointing to stage left) Si insistes. Es tu funeral.

Guy You damned fool. (To Virgil) Come on.

The boys walk over to a bunkhouse saloon where a number of men stand around talking. Guy walks over to the bar and the barkeep nods to him.

Barkeep What can I get you boys.

Guy What all do ye got?

Barkeep (After a pause) How much ye got on ye?

Guy thrusts a coin across the counter. The barman takes it, inspects it, then bends down and pours two shots for the boys. The brothers take it and drink, and Virgil gags. There is laughter.

1st Man Boy cain’t hold his liquor.

Virgil The hell I cain’t. What all is this?

Barkeep Finest mule-piss in the city.

More laughter. Guy takes the bottle.

Guy We’ll take it over here.

They sit down at a table in the corner of the bar and Virgil takes out a pocketknife and starts carving in the tabletop.

Guy We ain’t got much money.

Virgil I know it.

Guy So you best drink up. This’n might be the last chance ye get for a while.

They drink for a while. Just then, a teamster walks in holding his hat.

Teamster Where in this pukehole can a man get a drink.

The barkeep pours him a drink and the Teamster drinks it.

Teamster Put her on my tab, Red.

He sets his glass down and he sees the brothers sitting at the table in the corner. He calls out to them.

Teamster Hey. You’s settin at my table.

Virgil Your table?

Teamster My table. Mine.

Virgil This ain’t your table.

Teamster Like hell it ain’t.

Virgil We was here first.

Guy (gets to his feet) Sorry. Go ahead, take it back.

He takes Virgil by the arm and leads him away as the Teamster sits down at the table.

Virgil Guy, what --

Guy (hissing) You want to get your fool self killed over a table?

They head to the door when the Teamster calls out to them.

Teamster Hey! (He flips the table over to reveal the scratchings) You been cuttin on my table!

Virgil I didn’t think . . .

Teamster Who said you could cut on my table?

Guy Now listen. He didn’t know it was your table. We don’t want no trouble.

Teamster Pay for it.

Guy (pauses) How’s that?

Teamster You’ns cut on my table. Now ye pay for it.

There is a silence in the bar. Everyone’s watching with avid interest.

Guy I ain’t payin for it.

Teamster Pay for it or I’m takin it out of your skinny ass.

Guy (Stepping back) I’m sorry about your table but I ain’t payin you for it. It ain’t yours.

The Teamster’s face clouds. Then he starts after them, unsheathing a great bowie-knife from his thigh.

Teamster You son of a bitch.

Guy sees the man coming and he kicks him in the throat. The fight breaks out. There is kicking, punching, clawing, shrieking. Virgil runs over and kicks the Teamster in the face. The Teamster roars and punches the boy back into a table. There is a commotion as the onlookers call out wagers and move out of the way. The Teamster begins effectively stomping a nature trail into Guy, then bends down and grabs him by the hair.
Guy grabs wildly and finds a bottle and breaks it over the man‘s head. The man screams, falls backward and is still. Coughing, Guy gets to his feet and draws his pistol. None of the onlookers moves. He looks over at Virgil.

Guy You better be okay over there.

Virgil gets to his feet as the barkeep looks at them.

Barkeep The law’s comin. You boys best get a move on.

Before they can get out, however, two deputies walk in with rifles pointed. The brothers are cornered. One of the deputies spits, points at the dead man on the ground.

1st deputy Hold it right there. (The brothers stop. He turns to the barkeep) Which one did it, Red?

Barkeep That tall one there.

He points at Guy. One of the deputies holds his rifle on Guy as the other goes over to the Teamster’s body. He kneels down and checks his pulse. He looks up at him.

2nd deputy He’s dead.

1st deputy (To Guy) All right, cowboy. You’re comin with us. (To 2nd deputy) Go ahead and take his gun, Jim.

The second deputy comes forward and takes Guy’s gun and holster from his belt. Then the first deputy jabs him forward with his rifle out the door.

1st deputy Go on, pardner.

Guy Wasn’t my doin. He started in on me. Me and my brother.

1st deputy (Spits) Well get to movin, then. Say goodbye to your brother. I don’t expect you’ll be seeing him for a while.

The second deputy cuffs his wrists and the three of them walk out of the saloon as the lights dim to black.

Storyslinger
11-16-2007, 06:54 AM
Re: My First Play Scene 2

I like it

Jean
11-16-2007, 08:00 AM
Re: My First Play Scene 2

is it possible to bolden, underline or in any other way separate who is speaking from their text? or is it a means of expression, again?

Steve
12-14-2007, 08:19 PM
SMITE THE LAND








In the fall of 1917, when boys and men were being minced by the meat grinder that was Passchendaele, nineteen-year-old Don Mast, five days into the week that would end in his death, was holed up in a gulch in the eroded plains just behind the line, his steel pieplate helmet cocked back on his head, his face sullied with grey mud, and his new rifle cradled in his lap, bayonet affixed and pointing downward as he munched from his first and last meal that week: a tin of canned fruit. He held it out to the figure huddled beside him.

—Want some? Mast said.

There was no answer.

—Well suit yourself then. More for me.

He spooned his fingers into the mess and gobbled it hungrily. The pops of riflefire and the timpani thuds of artillery had formed a muted cacophony in his damaged ears. The rest of the squad cowered out there somewhere, in the nearby gullies and gouges formed by the shells. Now and then he would hear someone call out for a surgeon, their mother.

—I can’t see a goddamn thing. Not with all this fog.

He listened, ears pricked.

—The guns have stopped, he croaked. Maybe it’s over.

The figure beside him did not say anything about it and Mast slowly reached for his rifle and raised it to the lip of the ditch.

—Hey Joe. I ever tell you about the time I shot that Hun clear through the face? You wouldn’t of believed it. I couldn’t believe it myself. Both his eyes just popped right out the back of his head. God wouldn’t of recognized him after that.

—Hande hoch! A German in the fog.

—Well goddamn. They ain’t all dead after all. Stay still, Joe.

Mast took his rifle and slowly raised himself to a crouch when a shell burst just over the gulch.

—Kaiser Bill’s pitching blind, Mast laughed to himself.

He sat down in the muck and picked up his tin of fruit and guzzled down the dregs of it. He held the empty tin in his hand and rose to his feet but when he went to chuck it away the bullet tore through his belly.

—God.

He lay back in the sludge as a dark shadow pooled gelidly about him.

Then another.

—Nicht schiessen! Mast screamed as they shot him.

— Er war verrückt, one of them said, looking down at the sunbleached skeleton beside the boy they’d killed.

Storyslinger
12-18-2007, 07:59 AM
Re: Smite the Land

:thumbsup: good

Frunobulax
12-18-2007, 12:20 PM
Re: Smite the Land

Short yet sweet--another winner.

Count Olaf
12-27-2007, 11:47 PM
Re: Smite the Land

I wish I could be such a complete writer.

Steve
04-22-2008, 12:07 PM
This is the first chapter of a novel I just completed, one of two. I thought that it should explain my absence around here as of late.

Cheers,

Steve






AT FIRST LIGHT




At dawn he first heard the thin piping yells and he rose and stumbled to the door to see what new plague had befallen them. As the door slammed behind him he rounded the bunkhouse, running past the old woodshed toward the source of the cries. He did not have to go far. He stopped in the shade of a shagbark tree and looked about. A bloody sun climbed the eastern sky rapidly, coppering the rolling hills with an unseasonable warmth. A few bees balleted amid the branches. He sighed when he saw them, turned and without a word headed back to the shed. He pushed the ruined door open carefully and went inside. The faint sour odor of must. A thin shaft of light. He stepped in and coughed once in his hand and as his eyes adjusted he saw blood in his palm.

Well shit, he muttered.

He wiped his hands on his pants, swept it through the air to clear the dust from his view, looked into the gloom and saw huge woodroaches streaking for refuge amid the warped planks between his feet. Go on, he said.

He stomped his brogans once, twice on the soft boards to scare them off, then looked around in the dusty haze for what he had come for and saw the maul resting in the mold, which he thumbed off when he picked it up.

He went out then, carefully pulling the rotted door shut behind him.

A few bluejays flashed among the trees. He hesitated for a moment, then hefted the old maul on his shoulder and walked behind the shed and through the gate that divided the huge rolling pastures.

Soon he came to see them lying on their sides dappled and dripping in the morning light. He shuffled through the dewed grass, wiping away the last damp mold from his soles. He stopped once, shifted the maul on his shoulder then shuffled onward, his thin shoulders rolling as he walked to where they lay, a bloody triune. They lifted their heads and once more brayed their mournful pleas.

Is there anything you can do for them? a voice said.

He looked back at them. Children, a boy half his age and a girl even younger. The boy had his arm around the girl, siblings from the Ford place down the road and they stared at the dying wrecks of horses lying candled in the morning sunshine. He sighed, shook his head and stayed his course.

Mister, the girl said, following him. I asked you if they was anything you can do for them.

I'm sorry but there ain't.

But why not? Poor things ain't dead yet.

The man looked over at the ruined horses. He listened to the shrill cries when they bellowed. It's too late, he said.

But how come, the girl said.

He motioned with one hand. They's pretty much useless now, he said. All tore up like this. You'd be havin to watch em round the clock.

The girl was almost in tears.

The man came to the first victim, a stareyed filly less than six months old. Her intestines looped from its belly like sly bluecoiled snakes.

It's a mercy, he said. You'll see.

Well. There must be somethin we can do.

You don't have to kill em, the boy said. We'll take care of em. Ever day and night. He looked down at the blood bleaching the grass at their feet and paled. All three of em.

All three, said the girl.

The man shook his head. Naw, he said. You can't help em. Don't matter what you do. What would be the point? He lowered the maul and held it before him as though offering a benediction. Listen. Even if I could do somethin for em, they'd just be settin ducks for the dogs.

We could put em up in the barn, said the boy. That way the dogs won't get at em . . .

The man looked down at the filly. She rolled her eyes maddeningly back at him. Naw, he said again. You'd kill em just movin em. This way's better. Best look away now.

Come on Janey, the boy said, turning the girl's eyes away and looking quickly at the sky.

Easy girl, the man said to the horse. He stepped astraddle of the filly's head and swung the maul and crushed its skull with a single blow. It kicked a leg in a shuddering spasm and then was still.

He turned back and saw the boy and girl staring at him. The man spat and stepped over the prone body and hoisted the maul and went on, his pants freckled with blood. The girl followed after him, her lip trembling, her brother lolling after her wearily.

You're gettin paid to kill em, the girl called out after him. The man didn't answer, just kept walking with the dripping hammer in hand. The girl followed him with tears standing in her berrycolored eyes, toward a speckled gray mare which lay on its side wheezing loudly, a bright red froth on its muzzle.

Ain't you, she said.

The man looked at her.

She ast ye a question, the boy said.

The man said nothing.

Tell her.

The man looked out to the east, watching the first lines of heat in the morning redness which was cast upon the land. When he looked at the girl again she was still crying and trembling as though witnessing the death of a close relative.

Listen, the man said. You hear that, don't you?

She nodded slightly. Yes of course I hear it. It's awful.

Yes it is.

The boy was trying to calm the girl but she would not be calmed. The man sighed. They been layin out here since midnight. The dogs didn't even eat on em. Even if we could do somethin they'll die anyway.

He turned back to the dying mare. By this afternoon they'll be rotting and attracting the dogs back and coyotes too. Then we risk the others.

mia/susannah
04-22-2008, 12:59 PM
Re: At First Light

I must say I really enjoyed your story. I would very much like to read the rest. I hope you get it published soon. It is very good. :onfire:

Jean
04-22-2008, 09:10 PM
Re: At First Light

Steve!!! at last

http://i91.photobucket.com/albums/k291/mishemplushem/Facilitation/bear4bis.gifhttp://i91.photobucket.com/albums/k291/mishemplushem/Facilitation/bear4bis.gifhttp://i91.photobucket.com/albums/k291/mishemplushem/Facilitation/bear4bis.gif

will you post the whole novel, or only exerpt?

alinda
04-22-2008, 09:21 PM
Re: At First Light

Thats a question I'd like to know the answer to
as well. Hi Steve, its great to see you as
always, & your here with another wonderful tale to tell
marvelous news!

ManOfWesternesse
04-23-2008, 05:18 AM
Re: At First Light

Steve! - damn good to see you back - and back with a bang too!
Nice chapter. Hope we get a chance to buy the published article!

Steve
04-23-2008, 12:34 PM
Re: At First Light

Ah, it's good to be back!

Jean, Brian, Linda, and a new friend (mia/susannah, pleased to meet you, hope you guess m'name)! I've really missed you guys.

I'm also glad to see you enjoyed my writing. More to come!

mia/susannah
04-23-2008, 01:28 PM
Re: At First Light

Good to meet you to Steve, and welcome back

ManOfWesternesse
04-23-2008, 02:55 PM
Re: At First Light


Ah, it's good to be back!

Jean, Brian, Linda, and a new friend (mia/susannah, pleased to meet you, hope you guess m'name)! I've really missed you guys.

I'm also glad to see you enjoyed my writing. More to come!

You've obviously been damn busy while you've been gone Steve. Two new novels completed? :thumbsup:
I like the 'More to come' bit!

Storyslinger
04-24-2008, 09:23 AM
Re: At First Light

I'm glad to hear that you've been busy Steve. Can't wait for the rest. Your work is always great, and this is no exception.

Steve
04-24-2008, 01:56 PM
Re: At First Light

*bows to Story*

Thankee-sai.

Steve
04-27-2008, 12:43 PM
Dear readers,

As some of you may have noticed, I haven't been around much lately. School, work, my love life. . . all of it has been kind of piling on as of late. Well, now I'm back, and I've been a-wordsmithin'.

Over the last few months, I've been tinkering around with a play, which shows my roots in Southern Gothic fiction as well as bringing about that good ol' post-apocalyptica that you've come to know me for. Well, I finally completed it two weeks ago. It is one of my favorite pieces, partly because I was able to do so much with it. It's called The Rain, It Comes A-Burnin', and I hope you enjoy it. With nods to Faulkner and McCarthy and even Stephen King, I someday hope this play will see the stage.

Feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Cheers, and thank you.

--Stephen J. Davis, playwright

Steve
04-27-2008, 12:44 PM
Re: The Rain, It Comes A-Burnin'


CAST OF CHARACTERS

In Order of Appearance

PROPHET—a faceless narrator
DARL BUNDREN
CASH BUNDREN—his older brother
MAMA BUNDREN—his mother
MOLLY BATH—a young whore
CARP BOONE—leader of the posse
JELLON LAMB—the town preacher
PHILO HOLFE—a parishioner
WIDOW ROTH—an elderly crippled zealot
ECKER ABELON—a junker 

Steve
04-27-2008, 12:49 PM
ACT I


SCENE I


A devastated and dangerous landscape infused with God’s drumming displeasure. What was once the safest, most prosperous place on earth has been reduced to a lawless, scantly populated wasteland. The machines have stopped. The government has fallen. At curtain rise there is a single light burning stage right where a PROPHET sits in a ring of stones. Like an ancient druid divining fortunes in the entrails of things. Behind him and to the right the soot-and-ash sky throbs like a rancid spiderbite and a foul rain falls in an incessant racket. It is important to note that we should not be able to see who the prophet is while he speaks his monologues throughout the play. The purpose, as we shall see, is to give distance to the events and place them in a completed past. The onstage prophet should nevertheless be within this circle of stones and while on stage should be kept in shadow save for the single light. And now we can begin. As the prophet begins to speak, the landscape onstage should become more visible.




PROPHETThe rain, it comes a-burnin’. An ill wind blows every day and every night shines forth an evil star and a day doesn’t go by that death doesn’t come knocking at your door. God left us that day. And he ain’t come back yet.


Lights come on at stage center. The audience should immediately feel the absence of sun, light, warmth—the world as it soon will be. The sounds of explosions in the distance. Low concussions like heavy timpani beats—death throes of civilization. Here the music should rise to a crescendo, balancing with the eruptions.



PROPHET
A screaming came across the sky. Fire spewed down from the heavens. The air filled with incessant shrills, scuttles, bloodcurdling howls. The machines stopped. The farmlands lay fallow, the soil polluted with toxins. O yes. I remember a time when years were quartered into seasons, when day became night. A time of dusks and dawns and suns and moons. But never again. No. Never again.


The thunder dies down for the briefest of instances to illustrate the point.


PROPHET
. . . for now is the time of Judgment.


Thunder crashes again as lightning flashes the stage in a brilliant flare, except for where the prophet sits in his oracle’s ring.



PROPHET
I remember it. There in the very blood of the air you could sense the most hellborn forecast. The devil was blood-bent. And then the rains came. An endless and boiling clamor that consumed the world that was and reduced it to a wet smolder. Like a great campfire pissed to smoke and ash. The crops—corn, wheat, tobacco—withered in its burning. But they were not the most important resource to be lost. The rains fell with blood and terrible laughter and the children wept. There’s a scripture in Lamentations that talks about how with their own hands compassionate women cooked their own children when there was no food to be had. Cooked and ate them. And that’s what happened with some of the smaller communes. A little boy or girl would get picked off the street and would end up roasted on a spit in that selfsame neighborhood and the parents would pay to eat the ones they birthed. All in good humor. But soon the weeping stopped. For God’s wrathful rain had one final, terrible consequence. What came down with the rain was worse that we could ever have believed. In Exodus the angel took only the firstborn. I guess this time around he thought it best to take the whole lot and the seed, too.


The thunder dies away and leaves only the rain. The prophet raises his hands to the audience as if placating them, begging them for mercy.



PROPHET
Gone were the voices of angels. Gone was the laughter of children like the clear peal of vesper bells. Forever lost. Those left began to turn savage. If the human race stopped with them, what was the point of going on?


The entire scene dims to black.



PROPHET
Those that died quick were the lucky ones. By the end of that first winter they were thrashing the whole world. Heads rolled, rolled, rolled down. Rivers of blood, sewers of gore, oceans of the wicked, headless, limbless. But the killing couldn’t go on forever. Eventually you’ll run out of people to kill. And so the boiling sea of blood and all the lopped and all the hacked-up humanity that swam within it drained from memory.


Lights come on downstage right revealing the exterior of a Baptist church partly in ruins. At the front is a sign bleached from the rain which reads LITTLE WATER WELCOMES YOU. Here a few REFUGEES are standing around the church to hide from the rain, their faces turned from the audience as though ashamed by their condition. Perhaps they are.


PROPHET
Then there was that one final purge. That is to say, not until the last of the wicked were plucked from the earth and cast back to perdition. The last mark of God’s condemnation was what they called the flux. A deadly plague that swept the land like the reaper’s scythe. You’d vomit all day, shit all night, break out in the most awful boils and rashes. What was worse was how fast it worked. You’d be laughing and breaking bread with your kin in the mornin’, go to bed sick and bruised and dyin’. No one knew how to stop it. They was some said it was God’s punishment for all the greediness and lies and sins of the flesh. Maybe that was it. And in the end it didn’t really matter. Every day over the next few years one house in the commune would be bedeviled by this selfsame flux, one family afflicted by its horrors. O, there were those rare folk, those who survived this malady and recovered, but they were few and far between.


The lights illuminating the old church and the refugees have dimmed to black.

PROPHET
When the bleeding came you knew it was almost over. If there was any justice in the world you’d die quick. Sometimes you did.


The lights come up in the church itself. In the chancel. The congregation of Little Water sits in their pews. Their heads are bowed in deference to the cross on the wall.


PROPHET
And sometimes you didn’t. Sometimes you found yourself knockin’ at death’s door and that was it. So the survivors banded together and burned the beds of the dead, the huts of the dying. It stank like a smithy. By and by the flux would burn itself out and the illness was gone. But they wouldn’t take chances with it. Without children to hold them down they turned to God. It all seemed to come back to God anyway. The communes that were left flocked to his altar to pray for his forgiveness. And the rains, they still burn. I guess that’s his answer.



Copyright © 2008 by Stephen J. Davis
All rights reserved.

Seymour_Glass
04-27-2008, 02:17 PM
Re: Smite the Land

I like it. The dialogue and punctuation kinda remind me of Cormac McCarthy.

alinda
04-27-2008, 02:21 PM
Re: Smite the Land

Intentional isn't it Steve?

Steve
04-27-2008, 02:30 PM
Re: Smite the Land

Well, McCarthy *is* one of my literary heroes.

mia/susannah
04-27-2008, 03:23 PM
Re: Smite the Land

great short story Steve, keep writing and posting. Love to read them

mia/susannah
04-27-2008, 03:47 PM
Re: The Rain, It Comes A-Burnin'

Steve,

You are a very great writer as I am sure you know. I hope this play makes it to stage. I enjoy reading stories and plays that writers like yourself post here. Good job!!!

Seymour_Glass
04-27-2008, 04:31 PM
Re: The Rain, It Comes A-Burnin'

That's an awesome setup. I love it.

OchrisO
04-27-2008, 04:51 PM
Re: Smite the Land

While I think that you are a very good writer, the lake of quotation marks for dialogue just makes it look like you are biting McCarthy's style, because he has very much made that method "his" in contemporary writing. Should you publish anything and stick to that style, literary critics all over will most likely view it in negative connotation because of that If I were you, I'd look for another method if I felt that I needed some sort of gimmick beyond the strength of the words to make my writing stand out. I would recommend trusting in the strength of your words and not trying to manipulate the physical style, though.

Steve
04-27-2008, 09:53 PM
SCENE II



Early of a morning gray with daylight. A lantern hangs outside a stone hut on stage left. MAMA BUNDREN, a bustling and somewhat harriedlooking woman in her fifties, bends by an old woodstove and stokes the fire. There is an old kitchen table and three chairs, and a bunk near the rear. The door opens and her two grown sons enter, dwarfing their mother.



CASH
Morning Mama.


MAMA
Mornin. Mornin.


CASH BUNDREN, the elder and larger of the two, sits down at the table. Mama gets up from the stove sets a plate of gruel in front of him.



MAMA
How is it outside?


CASH
Well. It’s a mite slick outside.


DARL BUNDREN, the younger brother, takes off his threadbare stovepipe and sets it on the bunk. He shucks his heavy coat and sits down at the table. The brothers are junkers; scavengers of metal and refuse. The hut is made up of various bits of metal and wood they have foraged for.



CASH
We’ll be goin down to the valley today.


MAMA
(Shaking her head and wagging her finger)
It’s too dangerous to go down thataway, Cash.


Cash smiles at his brother. Mama sets a plate in front of Darl and sets her own down between them.



MAMA
So don’t you even start.


CASH
I reckon we could get a good haul down there.


MAMA
Darl, don’t you even pay no attention to your brother. He ain’t got no good sense.


She sits down at the table and she bends her head in prayer. Darl does the same but Cash spoons his gruel and takes a bite.

Mama looks at her elder son with great disapproval. Her hands are still clasped.



MAMA
Don’t you want to say grace, Cash?


CASH
O come on Mama. God don’t need to hear me say grace.


MAMA
If you want to keep eatin my food you’ll say it.


Cash sets down his spoon and grudgingly bows his head to pray.



CASH
(With great reluctance)
Good food, good meat, good God, let’s eat.


MAMA
Hush your ignorant mouth boy. If you ain’t goin to . . .


CASH
All right, Mama, all right.

(Bows his head again)
Bless this food to our nourishment O Lord and us to thy service. Amen.


FAMILY

Amen.


When they say this last Darl only mouths the word. The family then begins to eat, passing plates around. The lantern flickers outside as the rain falls.



MAMA
That water ought to be done.


Darl nods and silently gets to his feet and takes the pot from on the stove and pours steaming water into three cups. He blows on them and brings them over to the table. He puts one in front of each chair and then sits back down.


CASH
(to Darl)
Could make a pretty penny down there.


MAMA
I already told you no.


Mama gives Cash a withering look and he looks away at the stove. Darl is busy eating. Offstage a gunshot rings out, causing Mama and Darl to jump.



MAMA
(Sharply)
What was that?


CASH
Ain’t nothing, Mama. Someone’s out huntin.


Darl goes over to the door and looks outside. Mama pushes herself back from the table.



MAMA
Too close for hunters.


Cash gets to his feet as Mama starts for the door. Darl reaches over and takes an old .30-30 rifle from the corner and is on his way back out to the door when Cash intercepts him and takes it from his brother and slaps him on the back of the head with his open hand all in one motion as if he’d had practice at it.



CASH
Give me that boy, give me that. You get your coat on. Mama step away from there. We’ll be right back.


Darl pulls on his heavy coat and dusts off his stovepipe. Cash stands in the doorway with the rifle held loosely at his waist. He looks out in the rain and then looks back at his brother. The two of them step out into the rain and stand there. A moment later another shot rings out. Then another. Suddenly a figure bursts into view from stage right, causing Cash to raise his rifle and nearly squeeze off a shot.



CASH
Stop right there!


The figure freezes. It is a woman in her midthirties wearing a shabby robe. Her hair is a tangled gold. Her lips are blood-heavy and as clinquant as cut rubies. Her teeth are like pearls. She falls to her knees in front of them. Her name, as we shall soon see, is MOLLY BATH.



MOLLY BATH
Please. Please.


Cash and Darl look at each other. Molly looks back over her shoulder. Mama steps out after them.



CASH
Ma’am. Put your hands up.


MAMA
Fool son of mine. You put that gun down.


Cash lowers the rifle and steps back from Molly. Darl and Molly lock silent gazes.


MOLLY BATH
Please. Help.

VOICE
(Calling out from offstage)
Hold it right there!


Molly looks back with wide eyes as THREE MEN step into view, rifles and scatterguns in hand. Molly cringes back from them.



CASH
What is all this?


BOONE
Step away from that girl, Cash Bundren.


The man who spoke, CARP BOONE, steps forward with a rope in hand. Molly sees him and tries to crawl away. Boone reaches down and takes a swipe at her. Molly ducks and falls backward and Boone bends down and takes her by the arm. Darl steps forward to help and Boone points his rifle at him.



BOONE
I’d think twice before I’d get in the way, mutie.


He drags Molly to her feet.



MAMA
(Stepping forward)
What did that girl do?


Molly whimpers and tries to escape but the other two men step forward and seize her. Boone sticks his rifle against her belly.



BOONE
Get goin.


They drag the girl offstage. Boone walks after them when Mama grabs him by the collar. He looks back at her as though about to push her back but Darl and Cash step forward. This intimidating sight seems to change Boone’s mind.



MAMA
What did that girl do.


BOONE
What didn’t she do.


CASH
You was shootin at her.


BOONE
You want to know? Come down to the church and find out.



Copyright © 2008 by Stephen J. Davis
All rights reserved.

ManOfWesternesse
04-28-2008, 05:05 AM
Re: The Rain, It Comes A-Burnin'

It's damn good Steve.
Ordinarily I wouldn't read a play at all, give me a novel any day, but that reads very well.

ManOfWesternesse
04-28-2008, 05:11 AM
Re: Smite the Land

The story is good Steve, very damn good.

I've sometimes thought the same about the style question. I like the style & have no problem with reading it. But does OchrisO have a point regarding critical interpretation? I dunno- how are such things viewed?

Steve
04-28-2008, 01:25 PM
Re: Smite the Land

I'm glad you guys enjoyed it. The style is in homage to McCarthy, yes, but more toward Joyce's style.

Storyslinger
04-29-2008, 09:49 AM
Re: The Rain, It Comes A-Burnin'

Very well written! :clap:

Steve
05-02-2008, 08:55 AM
SCENE III



The interior of the old Baptist church. The congregants of Little Water are sitting in the pews as the town preacher, BROTHER JELLON LAMB, enters with leatherbound bible. The light comes on at the pulpit as he takes his place there.



LAMB
O brothers and sisters of Little Water! What shall we do with this day? What? Now that we have cleansed our souls in the sacred waters, what shall we do?


He holds the bible up in the air before him.



LAMB
Today is a day of reckoning. God watcheth this day and judgeth all. Through the sacred rite of baptism we have tilled the soil of our souls, we have readied the spirits for the seed of The Creator—God, Maker of All Things. Behold! The seed of the Lord shall sprout! In most the seed of the Lord will flourish, rich and green . . . but lo! There are yet those who grow, even now, black and twisted among us.


The rain seems to hammer a little harder in support of the preacher. Wetly, one of the parishioners—PHILO HOLFE—gets to his feet.



PHILO HOLFE
How shall we know, Brother Lamb? How shall we spot the black ‘n’ twisty plant?


The congregation approves the question with a low murmur. Lamb leans forward from his pulpit.



LAMB
I, Jellon Lamb, am a specialist in weeds! I am the hand that roots them out. They shall no longer say “I am the Branch of Life and the Branch of Death?” “The Stalk of Death are those that challenge the bounds of Decency, that wallow in lust and walk in the mire of unfaith and adultery , that worship secretly strange and vile gods.”



He raises his hands to the rafters and curls them into fists and slams down both fists simultaneously, thumping the leatherbound bible upon the pulpit.



LAMB
“I am the sickle that hovereth poised at the foot of the Stalk of Death! I am the hand that roots them out.” They shall no longer say “I am the Branch of Life”—they who are the Stalk of Death!


The congregation roars its approval.



PHILO HOLFE
(Encouraged)
What must we do?


LAMB
There are few among them who knows who it is they prosecute. “The weed grows deep, and black are its roots. Scarlet is its demon flower!”


ALL
Amen!


LAMB

(Bows his head again)
Yea! O soldiers of the Lord!


He stands there for a moment, head lowered, hands extended. Finally the din quells and Lamb lifts his head.



LAMB
I think we have one brave soul here willing to cast the first stone. Mrs. Roth, would you like to come forward?


An elderly crippled woman shuffles forth. This is WIDOW ROTH. She fingers her crucifix, massaging the silver Christ to warmth.


WIDOW ROTH
Clearly, brothers and sisters, Satan has planted a thistle in God’s very soil.


As if on cue, the doors to the vestry burst open and Molly Bath is thrown to the floor before the congregation. Carp Boone stands there behind her.



WIDOW ROTH
And here the thistle! What evil here! O such is the lure of a good, strong set of legs!


MOLLY BATH
You crooked old cunt! Let me go! Let me go all of ye!


LAMB
Silence! Molly Bath! You have walked the path of sin and you shall no more!


MOLLY BATH
Let me go, you pompous turd! I’ve done nothing wrong.



The Widow Roth cackles madly like a witch from a fairy tale.



WIDOW ROTH
I know your words! Sinner! You are neither cold nor hot! So because you are lukewarm I shall spew you from my mouth! Filth! Demon from the mouth of hell! Cloven as the viper's tongue! Cloven as the hoof of Satan! Your words know only the alleyways of trickery and deceit! Speak not, for our ears are warned against you! Bloody lily of the muck-heap! Begone! Yea! Get thee behind me, Satan! A single strand of your hair would pollute the sacred Jordan River!


MOLLY BATH
You crazy goddamned bitch! Old crone! Withered tits a-swingin’! Let me go! Just let me go!


WIDOW ROTH
How dare you speak the name of the Lord in vain! Brother Boone, shut her up!


Boone steps forward and slaps the harlot in the mouth. Molly falls back but gets back to her knees. She points at Boone but it is at the jaundiced eyes of the Widow Roth she glares. Her bleeding lips pull back in a cruel, mocking smile.



MOLLY BATH
Why Carp, for shame! What? Never supposed to see me on my knees before you again so soon?


Tilting her head towards the battered harlot and straining at her clogged wheels in an attempt to motivate herself, the Widow Roth casts the congregation a sly, conspiratorial glance.



WIDOW ROTH
Lepers and harlots should be marked! Your shame shall not go unrecognized, whore!

(Proffers her hand)
Brother! The shears!


Boone steps forward with a pair of rusty shears in hand. The Widow Roth looks at him, her mouth twisted into a rebarbative smile of contempt. She reaches forward and seizes Molly by the hair and cuts a huge lock of it.



WIDOW ROTH
Whore hair! Slattern! May the flux poison your veins! Succubus!


She flings the fistful of hair to the floor, spitting out obscenities. Molly sits there weeping. Soon Brother Lamb kneels by her, lifting one arm by the wrist.



WIDOW ROTH
You have riddled this pious acre with sin and sloth! But your day has come! Out! Out! Get thee from our ground! Get out of here! Vile fornicatrix! Begone! While we still have a mind to let you! Base baggage! Minx! O defiless! Or is it better we burn you out? Wicked temptress! Witch! Out—or burn you we shall!


CONGREGANTS
Exile! Exile!


Amidst these chants Molly is dragged, bleeding and sobbing and cursing, down the aisle of the church. Near the back the Bundrens are standing there. She looks at Darl with haunted, pleading eyes as they haul her offstage. Lights go out.



Copyright © 2008 by Stephen J. Davis
All rights reserved.

Seymour_Glass
05-12-2008, 04:43 PM
Re: The Rain, It Comes A-Burnin'

This is really awesome. I want to perform it.

mia/susannah
07-05-2008, 08:48 AM
Re: The Rain, It Comes A-Burnin'

I have to say Steve. This is very good. I would love to see this become a playright.

Steve
09-29-2008, 04:08 PM
A sneak preview at one of the two novels I finished during my hiatus from the site:

http://i516.photobucket.com/albums/u327/Captain_Trips1958/Bookcover.jpg

Steve
09-29-2008, 04:10 PM
Re: In the Land of Hope


The author would like to express his appreciation
to his fellow writers and readers on TheDarkTower.com
for his long association and their dedication to the
craft.

Steve
09-29-2008, 04:12 PM
I






Dark was the night and the indian walked through the woods up to the old baptist church and he stood there in front of the heavy wooden doors and listened to the roof cringe beneath the merciless rain.

Lightning carved a brief scar across the leaden sky. The indian's face lit up in that one flaring instant, eyes black, lips fat and leechlike. The rain pelted hard against his neck and back, coursing down his bare arms in dark veins. He placed one hand against the heavy wooden door as if to divine some trace of the God it housed and pushed it open.

Not a sound. Only the roar of the rain as it crashed on the roof. The indian stood there just in the nave listening as a wind whistled through the valley and blew on through the eaves of the church. He turned and closed the door behind him. He walked on up the tabernacle with his boots squelching between the pineboard pews and leaving great tracks of mud on the warped floor. He walked up to the pulpit and stood there looking at it as though debating a sermon. Then he reached over his shoulder and wordlessly slid a huge bowieknife from its deerskin sheath on his back.

There were voices from the vestry. The indian looked over and saw there was a small stack of crates there. Dark bottles. An outrageous stench. Corn whiskey. The voices were growing louder and he could tell there were at least two. He listened to the voices and he crept silently over to one side of the vestry and held the knife in both hands as though about to perform some heathen ceremony and soon a man in brogans emerged from the shadows and the indian lunged forward and seized the man by the hair. The man tried to cry out but his throat was already cut. The indian stepped back. A jet of blood roped from the bleeding smile in the man's throat and hit the wall and the man fell to the floor and lay gasping for a breath that would never come. The indian leered blackly in the man's dying sight with a yellow grin, the hair black about his face like moss at night. The man jerked. Then he lay still. The indian stood breathing quietly as though nothing had ever happened. Another thunderbolt rent the blackened sky outside.

The indian stared at the dead man gaping up from the floor with alien indifference. He squatted down beside the man and took hold of his wrists and hauled him into the vestibule and out of sight. One of his brogans slipped from his foot and the indian walked back over and picked it up and held it in his hand and then he punted it across the tabernacle and then stepped back. It was a peculiar thing to all but him. He turned and stropped the knife against his thigh and walked back over to the vestry. He squatted and sat picking his teeth with a thumbnail as he waited for the other man to show up.

It turned out that he did not have to wait long. After a while he heard the man call out and not long after he heard footsteps. By and by the man stepped from the vestry. He was fat and had a mangy look about him. The indian rose to his feet and raised the knife. The man saw his shadow and turned and drew a singleshot pistol he had with him.

The indian struck out with the knife. A slick red scar down the man's paunch. He gasped and the gun went off. The indian hissed with pain as the bullet stitched an angle down his right thigh.

The man turned to run but the indian caught him. Cursing obscenely he dragged the man back and shoved him into the pulpit and then he took hold of him by the hair. The man struggled and sobbed and clawed at the indian's face. The indian then began beating the man's skull against the heavy wood of it. This he did over and over until he broke open the fat man's forehead and the brains trickled scarlet on the wood. He let go at last and the man fell down in a pool of black blood. The indian looked up at the wooden christ nailed to the wall and saw its forehead was stippled with blood. I don't know you, the indian said.




More to continue . . .

BillyxRansom
09-29-2008, 10:00 PM
Re: In the Land of Hope

This was awesome. :clap:

Frunobulax
09-30-2008, 12:34 AM
Re: In the Land of Hope

Can I have some more, please??

ManOfWesternesse
09-30-2008, 01:06 AM
Re: In the Land of Hope

Good Steve - damn good!

Steve
09-30-2008, 06:11 AM
Boyd lay back with his hands laced about his head on the warm clapboard raft and listened to the cicadas dirge in chorus on the riverbank. The morning sun spun like a molten platter in the sky. Not a cloud in sight. The crates were tucked away beneath the brown tarpaulin bound down with twine and his clothes were piled in a loose wad on top. His father's revolver was in there as well. There had been a fire two nights before and although most of the smoke had drifted from the valley the sky appeared poisoned and somewhat discolored. It did little to discourage the mosquitoes and gnats though. They swarmed in dirty brown clouds amid the sawgrass and on the water. Boyd kept slapping at them but it seemed futile. He lay there with all the summer insects humming and far above his head a jayhawk banked in a lazy arc.

He pushed himself up on one elbow. He scooped a hand in the muddied water and wet his face. He saw the flash of carp in the river, all but invisible to see in the sandy flow. Breaking the hellish sun on their backs like daggers. Any other time he would be drawing a line out here for them but not this day. He had a job to do and he meant to see it through.

When he sat up his vision boiled for a moment and he held his head until it passed. The air around him throbbed like a swollen tooth and it would be hotter yet. He reached for his hat and fanned his face with it and put it on. Then he stood and shuffled over to the transom of the raft and urinated into the teacolored current.

Here was a boy who shambled when he walked, his hands long and his hair hanging loose about his thin shoulders. Here was a boy who would be a man before long and he was painfully thin with the rack of his ribs visible.

He turned back from the transom and, pants about his ankles, squatted.

Shit, he whispered. There was not a soul around to see him and yet his face burned and when he was done he hurriedly buttoned his fly.

The raft scudded down the river passing skeins of sawgrass and rucks of cattail. Now and then the raft would drift closer and closer to the bank and Boyd would have to take the long birchwood pole and push himself back into deeper waters or else he'd run aground. He picked up the pole and hefted it in his hands. It was nine feet long and as big around as his arm and worn smooth from years of use.

He poled the raft away from the snared watercress and then sat crosslegged on the warm boards. There had once been orchards here. This land had gone to ruin some twelve years before when the drought had come and the branches had grown withered as the bones of lepers. The drought passed but the valley had never fully recovered. Now he boated along past mossed appletrees and tasseled fernwood that lined the river like Pilate's soldiers.

When the raft rounded a bend in the river the smoke grew thicker. He raised his head. A hellish backdrop of fire in the distance swaged by dark clouds. It all had a tainted feel to it. He leaned and spat. Well, he said.

He squinted in the growing haze and watched the riverbank carefully. The trees mirrored in the lucent brown water. His father had told him he would go ashore soon after he went around the bend. There would be a signal. He never said what. Boyd sat and looked through the gaps in the trees, past the mossed palings. The smoke was settling over everything now and could feel the heat from the fire baking the land.

The air exploded with three sharp cracks. One right after the other. On the third he saw a yellow flash burst on the shore like the formation of some failed star. He swore under his breath and under that ten o'clock sun he poled the raft toward the grassladen bank and the prow nudged up the silty landing and the cargo beneath the tarpaulin rocked and clanked together.

Boyd glassed the area. Crossing from the trees were two men. One was indian and the other white. He watched them. They paused and the white grinned. The indian had the gun in his hand and the white had a jug. Boyd turned and pulled his shirt on. He tucked the revolver in his waistband and took out his knife.

The indian stepped aboard the scow and pointed with the pistol. His face was amass with scars. You little son of a bitch, he said.

I didn't do nothin, Boyd said.

The indian looked at the cargo bound under the tarpaulin and Boyd saw that he was barefoot. He gestured at Boyd with the pistol and Boyd took his knife and cut the twine and stepped back. There, he said. All of it.

What's your name.

Boyd.

The white stepped aboard and pulled away the tarpaulin like a magician preparing to unveil some great act of fakery. There were half a dozen boxes there and all were filled with quart bottles. The white grinned blackly at Boyd. The indian said nothing. The white set down the jug he'd carried with him and pulled the stopper from one of the bottles and sniffed it. Then he took a swallow and it dribbled from the sides of his mouth and he nodded once. The indian turned and Boyd saw two more men coming out of the country. They stood on the bank and one by one the white started handing the boxes over to them which they in turn set on the grass. When this was done the white stepped off the raft and he and the other two men picked up a box each and headed into the trees. The indian turned back to Boyd. He reached into his pocket and brought out a wad of bills. Here, he said.

Boyd took it. How much is it?

The indian didn't answer. He was looking out at the fire burning in the distance. Boyd could see several scars across his arms and hands and what looked like buckshot pocks salted his throat. He turned and looked back at Boyd. In the smoky light he looked like a gorgon. I saved your life this morning, he said.

Boyd blinked at him. What do you mean? he asked.

I killed a shiteating dog, the indian said.

Boyd looked at him.

The money's all there.

I know it is.

Well then what is it?

Boyd shook his head and the indian spat.

They stepped off the scow and Boyd bent down and picked up a box. It was heavy and it rattled in his arms. The indian stood there watching him. Boyd looked at him and the indian pointed at where the other men had gone. Boyd turned and walked into the woods like a pilgrim enroute to his death.

When he returned from delivering the box he saw the indian was sitting on the raft like an anchorite in the hazy summer day.

I could kill you now, he said. If I wanted to.

Yessir.

The indian looked him up and down. Where you from?

Where am I from?

Yes.

Staunton.

How's the pussy up there?

Boyd shrugged.

Your name's Boyd.

Yessir.

Don't sir me.

Yessir.

Who's your pa?

Boyd told him.

You don't look it.

You know him?

No.

Well what do you mean I don't look it?

The indian had picked up the twine and had wrapped it around his hand like a poultice. Now he untangled it and dropped it to the floor of the raft like a killed snake. Go on, he said.

Go on?

You ain't deaf. Get out of here.

Boyd bent to pick up the birch pole. Yessir, he said.

Tell your pa I'll be up there to see him.

Who are you?

Who.

What's your name?

Don't got one.

What do you mean?

I don't got a name. Now get out of here before I shoot your head off.




More to continue . . .

ManOfWesternesse
09-30-2008, 06:19 AM
Re: In the Land of Hope Chapter 1

Damn Steve, I like this! Is this a finished novel?

Steve
09-30-2008, 06:27 AM
Re: In the Land of Hope Chapter 1

Yes, Brian, this novel was the first of the two I completed in rough draft.

Dave!
10-03-2008, 02:27 PM
Re: In the Land of Hope Chapter 1

:) Very Descriptive, and entertaining as well. I like the use of similes in this, and will be keeping my eyes peeled for more. Great job!

Steve
01-18-2009, 08:44 AM
THE SCALPHUNTERS

by Stephen J. Davis


"There are no principles; there are only events.
There is no good and bad, there are only circumstances."
--Balzac



There is no more chilling sound than the cries of a dying child.

Grace burst out of the house, her steps hastened by the shrieks upon the wind.

“Jimmy come quick!” she cried. “Somethin’s happening to Joe!”

The first thing she saw was a man standing in the tall grass on the edge of the pasture. Then she heard the anguished cries again and saw the boy.

Her young son was crawling in the grass toward the house. His fingers were hooked in the earth as he dragged himself along and blood licked the edges of his skull like fire.

“Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa . . .”

It was a horrific sound, a wailing that trailed off into hoarse hitching sobs. In the moment before her husband raced from the barn, she realized with terrible clarity that her son had been scalped.

She saw Jimmy then, running full gallop, from the half-finished barn. He hollered out and the stranger turned toward him. Even over little Joey’s squalling Grace could hear the snick! as the man thumbed back the revolver’s hammer.

“Now hold up there, hoss,” the stranger said with dreadful calm. “I don’t want to have to shoot you but I will if I have to.”

“You son of a bitch. You scalped my boy.”

“Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa . . .”

The cries of the boy were deafening.

The stranger lowered the pistol a little and knelt to the grass. He wiped the blade of his knife on his pants and then pinched something out of the grass.

Grace covered her mouth, realizing the man was holding her little boy’s scalp in his hand.

“Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.” She fell to her knees in terror and grief.

“Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa . . .”

The haunting cry was like a lingering note in a dirge. The stranger wiped the scalp on the grass and then tucked it in his belt.

Grace bent down and gathered her son into her arms and held him close. Blood and tears fell onto the earth. If not for the gentle shaking of the boy’s body as she held him close, Grace would have thought the boy dead.

“Why have you done this?”

The stranger stood up and pointed the gun at her husband, who was trembling with rage as his wife and son sobbed in front of him. Grace thought he wasn’t going to say anything. Then he whistled piercingly and looked back at her.

“It’s been a long ride, ma’am,” he said. “And pickings are slim out here.”

Little Joe shrieked with pain again and Grace tightened her embrace, whispering comfort in his ear. When she looked up she saw two other men coming up from the pasture, a decrepit old mule trailing behind him.

When they arrived one of the men walked over to Grace and knelt down. She held her son close and shrank back, rocking little Joe in her arms. The man reached over and grabbed a fistful of her long black satiny hair and fingered it almost lovingly.

“Oh aye, Johnny, she’ll do fine,” he said in an Irish lilt to the stranger who had scalped the boy.

“Let them alone!” Jimmy bellowed, stepping forward.

“Now quit your hollerin’,” said the Irishman. “I was just havin’ a gander at the lovely lassie here. She’s got real soft tresses, too. We got a bleedin’ Rapunzel here.”

The look of terror and anger in Jimmy’s eyes frightened Grace.

“But this’n ain’t got much har at all,” the third man said. He was a dimwitted brute by the looks of him and he had a bucktoothed leer about him. He jabbed a bowie knife in Jimmy’s direction and chuckled muddily.

“You got a point there, I reckon,” the first stranger said. He shrugged a little. “Go on and do it.”

At those words, Grace covered her bleeding son’s body and began to cry again.

As she held her little Joe, Grace watched as the brute drew his own revolver and shot her husband through the head.

The Irishman whistled as the man fell back with blood bubbling from the fist-sized hole in his skull.

“Did ye see that bastard’s head come apart?” he crowed. “I ain’t nivver seen brains like that in me life!”

Grace ignored him, rocking her son. Johnny had walked over to the tattered mule wobbling behind them. He pet it once, then put the muzzle of the pistol between the mule’s blind eyes and blew the top of its head off.

“Why are you doing this?” Grace cried. “We don’t have nothin’, why are you doing this?”

“Just doin’ our job, ma’am,” Johnny said. He cut some of the straps from the dead mule and tossed the parcels there to the brute, then studied at the house and the barn that would never be finished now that Jimmy was dead. Then he stalked over to Grace. With the Irishman’s help he prized little Joe from his mother’s clutch.

She screamed and thrashed around in a frenzy.

Little Joe shrieked for his mother and scrabbled madly to get back to the safety of her bosom. The Irishman licked his yellow teeth and wrapped his long arms around the boy in a bear hug. His pale face was flushed with delight.

Another figure approached in the distance. A tall boy on horseback sped toward them on a rheumy-eyed mare that wheezed as it trotted. Before he had stopped the horse, the tall boy was dashing, running over to them. Grace saw him and at first she thought that perhaps the boy was their savior, but within seconds she realized the boy also had a belt of scalps.

The tall boy rushed over to Johnny. The Irishman stood rooted, holding little Joe in his arms.

“Wha’s happenin’, Jake?” he quipped in his thick accent.

“Lawmen coming,” the tall boy said, out of breath. “Five miles out.”

Little Joe’s crying grew louder.

“Would you shut that kid up, Charlie?” Johnny said to the Irishman before turning back to the boy called Jake. He asked how many there were and Jake said a round dozen, all armed to the last man.

Grace heard none of it, instead watching the Irishman grab her son’s skinned and bloody skull by the temples. She cried out beseechingly but the Irishman did not seem to care as he drew his knife across the boy’s throat in a bloody smile.

Little Joe’s cries tapered to gurgling gasps, then those died away as he himself died away. Grace wailed again.

Johnny turned back to her. “Ain’t nothin’ we had against any of you, understand,” he said. “It’s just how it turned out.”

She wanted to gouge this man’s eyes out, would have if she could, but she found all of her strength had poured out with her tears and her family’s blood.

“Go round up them horses yonder,” Johnny told his men, not looking away from her.

The brute and the tall boy moved swiftly and gathered the three horses stabled in the unfinished barn. The Irishman let go of little Joe’s body and he fell facedown in the grass, his lifeblood seeping deep into the earth. Grace crawled over to him, her body wracked with sobs as the two men watched her in her pain as she cradled her dead son.

The others came back with the horses already saddled. They watched the woman covered with blood and tears as she grieved for her dead. Johnny Quickborn, who was still staring down at them, glanced back over at the open prairie. He could sense them coming now, and they would be coming hard.

“Let’s get going.”

As they mounted up, he bowed his head at the woman and offered her a smile. It was of gentle condolence. Then he shot her.

ManOfWesternesse
01-22-2009, 05:28 AM
Re: The Scalphunters

A strange one Steve.
For me it has no point, no purpose beyond the violence. maybe I'm missing something here?

Steve
02-14-2009, 10:26 AM
This is an excerpt of my attempt at a zombie film... it's my first stab at horror, pardon the pun.

Anyway, please tell me what you think.




FADE IN:


1 EXT. OFFICE BUILDING - NIGHT

An office building, well past sundown.

In one of the windows, we see a strange blue glow.


FADE OUT.



2 TITLE


IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT


FADE IN:


3 INT. CONFERENCE ROOM - NIGHT

The strange blue glow is coming from... a POWERPOINT PRESENTATION.

DAVE GRIMSEY is twenty five. He wears a rumpled shirt and tie. He looks very stressed as he attempts to rehearse his presentation before an unseen audience.


DAVE
... and as you can see from this, uh,
this chart here...

GARY (O.S.)
What chart?

Dave's POV of the audience reveals a man leaning back in his chair--this is GARY NEWSOME, his sardonic co-worker. You know the type.

Dave looks back and sees--no chart or graph on the slide.


DAVE
(hurriedly)
Oh shit. Sorry. Let me --

He hurriedly clicks the mouse. A graph pops up. Gary snickers.


DAVE
Ahem. Anyway, as you can see from this
chart here, stocks are projected to
flourish... um, to flourish... uhhh...

GARY
You're sinking, man.

DAVE
I know, I know... oh Christ, I had it
earlier... uhhh... oh! Stocks are
projected to flourish over the next
six to eight months with an increased
profit margin of 11.2 million dollars,
`and --

GARY
I, uh... I don't think that's a decimal
point there, Dave. I think it's just
a spot on the board.
DAVE glances back. Sees he's right.


DAVE
(grins sheepishly)
Yeah. 11.2 million dollars won't sound
like a whole lot of money to these
guys, will it?

GARY
Are you kidding? These shitheels probably
walk around with 11.2 million in the
pockets of their Brioni suits, man. Keep
going.

DAVE
Yeah, right... um, where was I?

GARY
"Increased profit margin of 112 million
dollars"...

DAVE
Oh right... with increased profit margin
of 112 million dollars that, with your
investment, will multiply tenfold.

GARY
(sotto)
And add to that 11.2 mil in your pockets.

DAVE
(laughs)
Yeah...

GARY
Okay, Dave. Bring it home.

DAVE
(changes slides)
Okay... so in conclusion, ummm... in
conclusion, we feel... we feel... how
do we feel, exactly?

GARY
How about "We feel that you should
write us a big fuckin' check, Mr.
Nagasaki or Mitsubishi or whatever-
the-fuck-your-name-is..."

DAVE
(dryly)
I think it's Mr. Miyagi, actually.
You know...

DAVE AND GARY
(together)
"Wax on, wax off."

They laugh... and then Dave sighs and sits down and puts his head in his hands.


DAVE
I'm dead, man. I'm never gonna be able
to pull this off tomorrow. God, why
did I ever volunteer to do this...He sighs- and Gary comes over and claps him on the back.


GARY
You'll be fine. A couple more run-
throughs and you'll be set.

DAVE
Yeah, I guess you're riiaaaaagh--
(lets out a TREMENDOUS YAWN)

GARY
I wouldn't yawn in your presentation
if I were you, though. Want some
coffee?

DAVE
Please. I could use a break from
all this crap anyway.

GARY
My ears feel the same way.


4 INT. BREAK ROOM - NIGHT

GARY and DAVE walk down the hall and into the break room. The lights are on when they PUSH OPEN THE DOOR...


TED
(mumbling)
...come on, give it to me fucker,
come on and...

TED FIELDING (31) reminds us of the typical office drone. In the crook of his arms he's clutching a sheaf of printouts. He's shaking the vending machine, trying to get a bag of Skittles that has seemingly snagged.


GARY
Hey Ted, if you're gonna dance with
it, I'd put some music on.

Gary reaches for the radio in the corner and turns it on. A RADIO BROADCASTER's voice:


RADIO BROADCASTER (V.O.)
Since four o'clock this afternoon, the
death toll has...

Gary tunes the broadcast over to a music station -- soft MUSIC, the type heard in elevators: pleasant, but annoying. It's "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" by Dionne Warwick.


TED
Dance with it? I'd buy it a drink if
it didn't act like such a fucking
BITCH --

He smacks a hand against the glass helplessly. Dave sidles past him.


DAVE
Let me?

He walks up to the machine and then slaps it on the side once with his palm. Ted watches as we hear a soft THUNK! -- his candy is free.


TED
(retrieving it)
Howdya do that?

DAVE
It's a gift.

TED
Working late, too?

TED rips open the bag of Skittles and begins munching on them.


DAVE
Yeah. I'm just going over this big
presentation I gotta do tomorrow --

TED
Oh yeah, yeah, the Japanese thing.
Yeah, you better nail it or the boss
will nail your ass to a board.

DAVE
Thanks, Ted. Anyway, Gary's been
helping me go over it a coupla times
before we go home.

GARY
Yeah, I'm acting the role of the big
Japanese businessman, and Dave's the
intrepid young sales rep out to make
the big bucks.

DAVE smiles.


TED
Well, friends, I'm shoving off. These
TPS reports can wait till morning...
Beth's been riding my ass about
spending more time at the office than
at home.

GARY
Well, maybe if you spent more time
riding her ass instead of the vending
machine, she wouldn't feel that way.

They all LAUGH.


TED
Hell with you guys... see ya tomorrow.
Good luck, Dave.

DAVE
Yeah, see you later, Ted.

GARY
'Night, Ted.

CU on TED as he walks out and CLOSES THE DOOR BEHIND HIM.


GARY
(sotto)
What a putz...


5 INT. HALLWAY - NIGHT

As the tranquil MUSIC continues to play...

TED walks down the deserted and darkened hallway, jacket slung over his shoulder.


6 EXT. PARKING LOT - NIGHT

We follow TED as he PUSHES OPEN the door and walks into the night. The parking lot is all but deserted.

Ted wanders over to his car: he digs in his pocket for his keys; he hits the button and his headlights FLARE UP and he goes over and unlocks the car.

He digs in his pocket and pulls out his cell phone. He dials.


TED
(the phone RINGS, then:)
Hi honey, it's about eight-thirty and
I'm headed home now. I'll pick up some
Arby's on the way -- call me when you
get this. I love you. Bye.

He hangs up. He HEARS movement behind him. He turns.

A FIGURE is limping toward him -- we can't really see it in the dark. Ted squints.


TED
(nervous)
Hey, who's that?

The FIGURE limps on closer, in the beams of the light... he is pale and bloody, and he MOANS.


TED
Holy shit, man. What happened to you?
Hang on, I'll call 911...

The FIGURE closes in, Ted shrinks back uneasily... and then the FIGURE suddenly tackles Ted, snarling as he rides him to the ground, smashing him face-first into the asphalt.


TED
Get off me, you fu --

Ted SCREAMS and struggles to get up but the FIGURE grabs a clutch of hair and lunges, teeth-bared, for Ted's throat... the tranquil MUSIC continues to play.

FADE OUT.


Copyright © 2009 by Stephen J. Davis.




What do y'all think?


:shoot:"Each man under my command owes me one hundred Nazi scalps... and I WANT MY SCALPS! ~ Lt. Aldo Raine :shoot:

LadyHitchhiker
02-16-2009, 09:05 AM
Re: In the Dead of Night

Oooooooooooooooh.... me likey ... :huglove:

ClicheGuevara
02-16-2009, 10:44 PM
Re: In the Dead of Night

Very nice, too bad the putz gets it first. . :lol:

Steve
05-08-2009, 12:19 PM
That's right, Palaverites! I done made me a film:

http://blip.tv/file/2089481

It's a horror flick in the styles of the Coen Brothers, and it was a blast to film. A few more projects are in the pipeline, but I wanted you all to see it first.

Love,

Steve

Steve
05-11-2009, 10:53 AM
Re: Days Gone Bye

Oh, and comments would be greatly appreciated!

Jean
05-11-2009, 12:15 PM
Re: Days Gone Bye

connection is slow today, I'll wait for a better time - sometimes my server is galvanized into a more active life

gsvec
05-11-2009, 03:00 PM
Re: Days Gone Bye

So far so good, Steve - I wanna see the rest!! http://i191.photobucket.com/albums/z288/Nymphsin/Smilies/diezombie.gif

Steve
07-11-2009, 12:22 PM
Ladies and gents,

At the behest of Jean, I give you a preview of one of the five screenplays I completed whilst on hiatus. Enjoy!

Steve





The Twilight Country

An Original Screenplay By

Stephen J. Davis




First Draft






1. FADE IN:
WIDE SHOT THE DEVIL'S BAYOU

Sunset bleeding red as Hell on the glassy sawgrass swamps of an Alabama bayou. The voice of an old man:


Voice (off)
If the Devil ever had hisself a backyard, then it was the bayou. If you ain't never been down there--well, hell I don't know how you can even imagine it.

The swamp hums with life, as the voiceover continues.


Voice (cont'd)
. . . They say they's hardly another place in God's world where it gets so dark in the daytime.

The dark swamp landscape is surveyed in a long slow pan.


Voice (cont'd)
Only the godawful desperate or the plain goddamned would ever try an' live out there. It's everthing in the swamps to cut you or sting you or sting you or burn you or poison you or swallow you whole. Gators, tigers, snakes of all kinds. Then you got ever kind of bug in Hell buzzing in your ears. . .

The pan has brought into frame a balding middle-aged man with a round, open face. He walks toward us with an axe slung over one shoulder. This is REUBEN CROSSWAITHE.


Voice (cont'd)
. . . and the swamps is the worst of it. Lord only knows what-all's been swallered up in that godforsaken muck that won't never again see the light of day. You got a million stories buried in the bayou ain't nobody heard but the Devil.

Crosswaithe stops and lowers the axe, looking down at something on the ground.


Voice (cont'd)
No one ever knew them swamps better than the bootleggers. And no bootleggers knew 'em better than the Ashleys.

We cut to the:


REVERSE

A wooden contraption with a fat barrel at the end of it. Something else that looks like a butter churn. It's a whiskey still.


Voice (cont'd)
Now the oldtimers, they'd tell you a hundred stories about the Ashleys and the crimes they did.

Crosswaithe kneels down beside the barrel and grunts as he prizes the top open with his fingers. He peeks in.

His face is reflected in the dark rippling liquid inside.

Crosswaithe purses his lips but remains unfazed.


Voice (cont'd)
Now we all of us heard the stories--about the bad blood between John Ashley and Billy Crosswaithe, and the war the Ashleys had with Yankee bootleggers who tried to cut in on their territory.

After a beat Crosswaithe gets to his feet. Then he raises the axe over his head.


Voice (cont'd)
Thing is, so many stories have been told that there's hardly no way of knowing the truth.

Crosswaithe swings the axe down and splits the barrel apart- moonshine gushes like blood.

He starts hacking at the rest of the still, chopping it into kindling.


Voice (cont'd)
. . . It probably don't really matter all that much anyhow. Lies make the legend.

Crosswaithe sets the axe down. He stares ruminatively down at the carnage he's wrought. Tight on his face.

For the first time the man speaks:


Crosswaithe
All right then.


BETWEEN HIS FEET

Streams of moonshine trickle between his boots into the swamp.

CUT TO BLACK



2. CUT TO:
RAIN

A loose shot looking over Reuben Crosswaithe's shoulder as he walks up to a house in the bayou.

He comes up on the porch and starts pounding on the door loudly until it swings open and RED ASHLEY, the hard-looking patriarch of the Ashley clan looks coldly out at Crosswaithe.


Crosswaithe
. . . I need to talk to you, Ashley.

Red
Do you now? Well come on in out of the rain and let's talk . . .

Crosswaithe
No. I want to talk to you out here.

Red stares at Crosswaithe. A beat.

Then Red takes his hat from a nail beside the door and steps into the yard and closes the door behind him. He follows him out.


Red
. . . All right, Reuben, what was it you wanted that had to be said in the rain?

Crosswaithe
I wanted to tell you somethin. I found your whiskey still on my land and this is what I come to say. Now, I don't care if you make whiskey till you're ass deep in it. . . but don't make it on my land. If the law found that still, they'd come down on me, not you.

Red gives an almost imperceptible shrug.


Red
That's about the way I figured it, too. Did you bust it up?

Crosswaithe
You damn right I did. Broke that whiskey too.

Red's voice is harder:


Red
Now, you ortn't done that.

Crosswaithe
Why, goddamn you. If the son of a bitch hadn't been so heavy I'd of dumped it in your front yard. I don't know who you are or where you come from. Nor what kind of operation you run here. But I'll tell you one thing: Don't mess with me. If piece one of that thing goes up on my ground again, me and you goin around and around.

He leans toward Red. The cords stand out on his neck.


Crosswaithe (cont'd)
. . . You hear?

Red
I never took a order in my life from a tenant-farmin redneck, and I ain't about to start now.

Crosswaithe seizes him by the front of the shirt and slaps him hard. He shoves Red back into the mud and draws a knife.

Red lands sitting and fumbles in his pocket.

He pulls out a nickel-plated derringer and fires.

A hole opens up in Reuben Crosswaithe's gut and he pitches to his knees.


Red
Why don't you say somethin now, bastard? Ain't you got some more say for me? Hunh?

Crosswaithe
Unghh. . . it fuckin' hurts. . . oh Jesus Christ. . .

Red
You better call on somebody closer'n that.

Behind him, a boy's voice CALLS OUT from the open door:



Boy (off)
Pa?

Red
(looking back)
. . . Shut the fucking door!

The door slams shut.

While Red's back is turned, Crosswaithe has grabbed his knife and lunges forward, slashes down Red Ashley's side.


Red
Goddamn you!

One hand pressed to his side, he fires down at Crosswaithe's head. It gouts blood.

He staggers back clutching his side. Blood streams through the hand pressed to the wound.


Red
. . . You son of a bitch. You raggedy-assed son of a bitch!

He sits down in the mud beside the dead man, hissing with pain.



3. CUT TO:
CLOSE SHOT RED ASHLEY

Dragging Crosswaithe's body to the edge of the swamp.

A belt bound around the rag pressed to his bloody side. As he stops he kneels down beside the body.

With one hand he paws through Crosswaithe's pockets. After a beat he pulls of a gold pocketwatch. He tucks it in his shirt.

Then he sits down and kicks the body into the bayou. It rolls in and slowly begins to sink.

Red watches.

Finally:


Red
Get your last look at this world. It shore looks dark in the next one.

The body slips into the darkness.



4. CUT TO:
THE HOUSE

Dark, lit only by candles. The door swings open and Red fills the room with raw and jagged life.

His son looks up at his entrance. He is dark-complected, with a gaunt intensity unexpected in a boy his age. This is JOHN ASHLEY.


John Ashley
Good God. What happened to you?

Red
Fell off the porch. Go get that whiskey out the cabinet.

There is a long, motionless beat. He starts to take the rag away from his side but the layer pressed against his skin sticks, its loose weave bound to his skin by clotted blood.

He pulls very gently and winces as blood starts to flow again.

He drops the rag to the floor.


Red
If this don't beat any damned thing I ever seen!

John Ashley hands him a bottle of whiskey. Red peels his shirt off and throws it to the floor, then opens the bottle and pours whiskey all over the gash in his side.


Red
God-almighty-damn!

John Ashley bends down and picks something off the floor. It's Crosswaithe's gold watch. He looks over at his father.


John Ashley
What's this?

Red
(still in pain)
It's a present fer you.

John Ashley
Where'd you get it?

Red
At the gettin place. Do you have to ask so many questions?

He limps through the door into the next room. As the door clicks shut we CUT TO BLACK, and from black we:



5. CUT TO:
THE WOODS INTERLUDE SEQUENCE

Although it is day, the tree cover gives an effect of almost cathedral-like darkness. The sun filters down through the leaves in gently shifting patterns.

We hear only the sound of the wind and the creaking and groaning of tree limbs in the breeze.

In this scene the angle is low--almost ground-level. The sun dapples the floor of the forest, which is carpeted with pine needles.

Suddenly in the foreground two BOOTED FEET walk, slow motion, into frame. Sunlight ripples over them, making them seem almost alive. With a whoosh of rustling leaves they stop in front of SOMEONE on their knees before them. There is an almost dreamy silence until . . . a GUNSHOT!

As we fade out, we hear a distant rumble of thunder.


Excerpt from The Twilight Country
Copyright © 2009 by Stephen J. Davis
All rights reserved

Steve
07-11-2009, 02:26 PM
Re: Days Gone Bye

Anyone else?

Jean
07-12-2009, 12:30 AM
Re: Days Gone Bye

with my connection, I can't watch at all: it gets stuck every five seconds http://i91.photobucket.com/albums/k291/mishemplushem/Facilitation/bear_sad.gif

Steve
10-13-2009, 05:26 PM
This is a short hardboiled noir story I wrote. It's basically James Ellroy + David Lynch. Please give me some feedback!

-- Stephen J. Davis



THE SAX MAN’S REBOP
A Short Story by Stephen J. Davis


I am a ghost. I haunt the sewers and the subways by day. By night I come up from my hell and I howl at the moon until the clouds finally scatter and I can see L.A. in all its pimply corruption and damp-palmed lust. I love it.

I’ve been a squatter here for a couple years now. I generally keep to the subways; they’re usually pretty warm even by California standards. Plus I can raid the vending machines if I come across any spare change. Which ain’t often. A couple of months back, the gods decided to cut me a break. One of the machines went haywire and started vomiting up candy bars all over the place. I must’ve grabbed over two dozen of them before the security guys showed up. I lived off that heavenly bounty for a couple of weeks; I still had most of the wrappers crumpled in my saxophone case.

I am a sax man, though I haven’t been playing long; eight, maybe nine months. I’m not that great at all, to be honest; usually it only nets me a couple of quarters when I start bebopping on the subway. I taught myself to play by ear – it’s mostly honks and flub notes, but once in a while I’ll get going on some simple tune like “In Dreams” or “Crying.” Actually, the only half-decent songs I can play are Roy Orbison’s. My biggest gig was when I played backup sax for a low-rent jazz quintet at the Hellhole, a cozy little club down Tijuana way. The bandleader got himself knifed by a couple of gringos in a back alley after the performance, so they never called us back to TJ for an encore.

So I started spreading my love of jazz on the subway, blasting out “Pretty Woman” or “Running Scared” for spare change. It gave my something to do, and something to call my own. I managed to scrape up enough to buy a new reed a few weeks ago. It was worth it – kinda. I still can’t play for shit.

It sometimes gets be in trouble, though. Like yesterday, for example.

I’d really been cooking that afternoon – blasting the chorus from “Only the Lonely” over and over – and I was just settling down with a pint of Johnnie Walker Red Label when he came up to me. I didn’t notice him at first, not until he had me shoved against the wall with a .38 socked against my throat. Just like that.

“Listen up, shitbird,” he said. His voice was broad Boston guttersnipe. He was tall and fat, with a huge flat head that grew straight out of his shirt collar and the palest blue eyes I’d ever seen. He wore a double-vented blue suit. He looked like a gone-to-seed refugee from the L.A. Rams middle line. He looked shrewd, he looked mean; I listened up. “Only reason you’re not dead is ‘cause you don’t know shit, capisce?”

I capisced, all right.

“Me n my employahs, we own this subway, okay? We say what goes on, and we say what gets played. You dig? So either you stop playing that thing” – he jerked a thumb at my sax case – “or we’ll stop you. We’ll shoot your ass dead, is what I mean to say.” He rattled me a couple of times for emphasis. “You got the picture?”

“In Technicolor,” I sputtered.

“Good,” the suit said. Then he made sure his point got across by roundhousing knuckle dusters into my midsection, left-right, one-two, wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am. I remember retching, I remember being shoved back against the stone wall of the tunnel.

Then I remember nothing.


* * *

I came to a couple of hours later in a sour puddle of Johnnie Red and my own sick. I squeezed my eyes shut and picked myself off the cold concrete. I looked around. My sax case lay a few yards away; the suit had given it one hell of a boot after I’d blacked out. Woozy and rubberlegged, I went over and picked it up. There was a size 12 dent in its side, but otherwise it looked okay.

I looked left and right for the brute in the blue suit, but he’d already taken a powder. Good, I thought, and gasped. My chest ached like my ribs had been cracked.

I flipped the latches on the case to make sure the contents were safe. But when I opened it, something caught my eye. A white rectangle tucked between the B and A keys of the sax; it looked like a business card. I pulled it free and took a look at it. It was blank except for two lines in very small type:


SIDNEY “BIG SID” KUPCINET
PUBLIC RELATIONS

I laughed at the thought of the gorilla who’d punched my lights out as being “public relations” for anyone; then I remembered what he’d said about my sax playing and I stopped. I balled up the business card and dropped it in the cocktail of Johnnie Red and vomit. I closed my sax case and moved on. And I haven’t played since.


* * *

A couple nights later I’m back on the prowl. It’s late, and I’m trying to get some shuteye. It’s one, maybe two in the morning, and I’m cooping next to the storage lockers, right underneath the security camera. It’s the only place you can sleep around here. If they see you this close to the lockers, they’ll get antsy and send a cop to chase you off. It’s happened to me a time or two. But as long as the camera can’t see you, you’re fine. So I prop my sax case against one of the lockers and tuck myself into the corner and try to doze off.

But I can’t sleep. Can’t tell you why, exactly. It’s not the lights; they’re on all hours and I’m used to it. But eventually I just give up and start staring up at the ceiling. There’s a beautiful mural spray-painted up there – truth be told, it’s the real reason I sleep around here. It’s of a woman, a statuesque redhead straight from a G.I. pin-up. She’s wearing a one-piece bather and she’s got a smile on her face that I can’t even begin to describe. It’s sort of sweet and tired at the same time, and it makes me think of Florida. That’s where I grew up, before I breezed out to L.A. They say it’s the same, all beach and sea, but it’s different. It’s cleaner out there, you know? More livable, you know? You know? You –

“You know she ain’t real, right?”

I’m up on my feet in the blink of an eye, sax case in hand, my heart jackhammering in my chest. There’s a guy standing to my left, leaning against the bank of lockers. He doesn’t look at me, only at the bathing beauty on the ceiling. He’s pale, like he was wearing white pancake makeup. He’s got a little hoop around his ear. He wears a satin smoking jacket, and one of his hands has an Ace bandage around it. He looks like he’s about to fall asleep, and yet he’s wide awake at the same time. Mellow.

“Christ, man, you scared me.” I’m clutching my chest, making sure my heart doesn’t burst out and escape.

“She’s not a real person,” this cat’s drawling, eyes almost closed, slightly swaying on his feet. “She’s an idea someone had a very long time ago. An angel of redemption who sees all and understands everything. In this day and age, that’s an impossibility. Or at least, it is in the world as it exists.”

I start to relax. A ghost like me sees a lot of reefer smokers and hopheads down in the subways and the gutters I inhabit. Shit, can’t say I’m any better. I used to do acid a long time ago, back when I could afford it.

Then the man looks down at me, and then his eyes open reaaaaaally wide. And all of a sudden, I can’t move. I’m paralyzed, with something screaming in my head like a banshee. Because this man’s got eyes like four hundred watt bulbs, the kind that look straight through you down into your soul, and doesn’t like what’s there. The kind of eyes God has on a bad day.

“But ideas have power, Andy,” the guy says, and I’m afraid to ask him how he knows my name, because I get the feeling this man’s like a cobra, about to kill me.

Then his eyes go back to slits, and he looks over my shoulder at something. I turn away reluctantly, afraid to take my eyes off of him. And I see him walking toward me, the goon in the blue suit, Big Sid Kupcinet is coming and hell is coming with him, in the form of four thugs that could be Big Sid’s brothers. All of them are wearing blue suits and every one of them has a gun.

“Run,” the man in the smoking jacket says to me.

I don’t need to be told twice. I jump past him and tear off like an antelope being chased by a pack of hyenas. I’m fast, sprinting full out, and I’ll run until I pass out. It takes me a while to realize why I feel that way: my sax case isn’t in my hand.

I skid to a stop, meaning to look back, but that’s when I hear the ka-raack! of a shot and the tiled wall of the subway splinters over my shoulder. I let out a scream and throw my hands over my head and beeline for the nearest cover, which turns out to be the ladies’ room. I don’t hesitate for a second; I’m diving through the door and huddling behind it, making myself small, wedging myself in behind the doorframe. And then I hear the screaming; it’s coming from just down the hall.

Sooner or later it stops, but I don’t take any chances. I wait a few more minutes until I’m sure the coast is clear, and then I poke my head out the door and look around.

The subway platform is a cordite-reeking slaughterhouse. Big Sid Kupcinet and his brethren lie dead on the floor, bullet holes oozing blood all over them. Brain spatters leaking yellow fluid cover one entire wall. My first coherent thought is that the goons had ended up shooting themselves up while shooting at me, but I tear my gaze away from the mangled corpses and something else catches my eye.

It’s the guy in the smoking jacket. He’s standing in the middle of the carnage, like a horse sleeping on its feet. He’s holding something in his hand, but it’s not a gun. It’s my sax case.

I grip the doorframe and pull myself up. I start feeling a hollowness as I walk toward the guy, fearing him more than I’d feared Big Sid. But the sight of my prized possession in this man’s hands puts the kibosh on that little dance of terror. I say, “Hey, man, that’s mine.”

I don’t think he hears me at first. He’s just standing there, waiting... and then whoosh! eyes open really wide. And I suddenly realize just how much blood is on the floor.

The guy looks at me, his cold eyes boring into me like poison darts, and I look away, committing the carnage around me to memory. The dead man nearest to me had no face left; blood and cartilage fragments covered what remained. I think that it might be Big Sid, but how can you tell? I know I will carry this sight with me to my grave.

Looking back up, I feel cold all over; my breath comes in spurts. I’m afraid of what the guy in the smoking jacket’s going to do to me, and I wonder if he’s going to bludgeon me to death with my own saxophone. I suddenly realize the man doesn’t even have a single scratch on him, and he’s got blood all over his hands.

Then the man throws out a smile that’s pure charm. “I like Roy Orbison, too,” he tells me. The words serenade over the scene, as though he hadn’t just butchered five men a few minutes earlier. “You don’t get any better than ‘Blue Bayou’, in my book.”

I try to smile back, parting my lips and grinning my teeth in what feels more like a rictus of pain that anything else. The man holds out my sax case. “I think you might want to get a new case, though. There’s a big dent in it.”

I take it numbly, feeling sticky warmth on the handle and I realize it’s blood. I nearly drop it in shock and the man starts to laugh. High feminine laughter that sounds hysterical in my own ears. Then, still laughing, he turns and walks away down the tunnel.

He stops once, only once, underneath the mural of the lovely beach beauty. Without looking back he says, “Don’t worry about the security camera. It can’t see you.” And then he tips his hand to the paint-and-pastel goddess above and walks on into the shadows, still laughing that mad laugh. I don’t know if I’ll ever see him again, and I don’t want to.

All of a sudden, I realize where I am. I tear from the bloodbath and highball it down the tunnel, hoping I don’t run into any of the subway dicks that start asking questions about the blood on my hand. The only thought running through my mind is how Florida’s looking this time of year.

And I wonder how they like their Roy Orbison.


* * *

Two weeks later, the sax man was dead. Shot by a cop on the Sepulveda Platform, two blocks down from where he’d met the mystery man. The cop had needed some extra arrests for his record, so he’d tried to pick up the sax man for loitering. Naturally, things didn’t work out that way, so the cop dropped off the body with a friend of his at the coroner’s and hocked the man’s sax in at a local pawnshop. The cop figured he’d done worse things in his life, and besides, City Hall was putting a lot of heat on them these days to keep the subways clear, especially after the bloodbath a couple weeks ago. The election was coming up next month, after all.


© 2009 Stephen J. Davis

Steve
07-30-2013, 09:58 AM
Re: Billy Said Keep Going

Wow. I am surprised that this still exists in some format.

I abandoned the story in 2008, and I gotta say, my flirtation with McCarthy-esque verbosity has gone the way of the dinosaur. I couldn't even imagine writing in this style today. It is nice to be able to look back and see where you've been, as well as shake your head in good ol' embarrassment and say, "Wow, was I really that bad?"

Jean
07-30-2013, 10:47 AM
Re: Billy Said Keep Going

First: of course it exists. While bears are not extinct, they will preserve everything their friends have ever written or said.

Second: your separation from McCarthy is one of the best news I've heard in a long time.

Third: when will we see something new? Any style will do.

Steve
07-30-2013, 04:24 PM
Re: Billy Said Keep Going

McCarthy is still a favorite, but his particular style isn't quite where I want mine to be. Still, it was helpful to write in that vein for a while, and I did pick up some good tricks from it.

Something new? Hmm... I've been writing steadily, with a couple of finished manuscripts in varying stages of revisions and several screenplays in the works. I may post some tidbits here and there.

Jean
07-30-2013, 09:38 PM
Re: Billy Said Keep Going

Please do.