Saturday, April 10, 2010

Common Words #11: A Scene from the West

It's been a long week, and while it wasn't a particularly trying week for me until the very end, now that it's over I'm in the mood to celebrate the weekend, even though it's not a long one. Today I'm going to leave the news of the Toronto election and the rest of the world at the doorstep. It's too nice of a day outside to dwell. Instead I'm going to post another bit of creative work.

This bit is the first scene of a story, a science fiction Western set in 1876 Montana, that never went beyond the working title "Siobhan Super Adventure." It reads as having been modified last on December 22, 2006, and so it probably reflects a slightly more halting grasp of the craft than I have now. Could be that one day I'll decide to go back and give it a thorough rewrite, see what I can find that shines.


Siobhan Cameron had never really known anger before the day they killed her horse.

The first shot went wide, and that was the only thing that saved her. A bullet that had probably been meant for her instead sliced through the air a few feet above her head, giving her a few precious instants to dodge Death's icy scythe. She threw herself off Brendan's back into the bushes that flanked the path, confident that a legacy of gunfights had taught her horse to get out of harm's way when the gunpowder burned.

There was another crack of artificial thunder, and her horse went down as a screaming, quivering thousand-pound sack of flesh and bone. Siobhan peered out from between the leaves and got her first clear look at her attackers, and felt the rage bubble up as she drew a bead on the closest. He had the typical look of a six-gun highwayman, rough and ruthless.

There were five men in all, equally scruffy in dress and tactics. They'd been amateur enough to spoil their chance at a clean ambush, which suited Siobhan well enough. She wasn't in the mood to give them an opportunity to learn from their mistake before Judgement Day.

They were advancing now, likely to see if she was still a threat. Siobhan was expressionless as she aimed at the leader. She'd killed her share of criminals in situations less just than this, and when she pulled the trigger it seemed to have no weight at all.

Her revolver thundered. The first man stopped as if he was suddenly yanked backward, fell, and was still. His confederates scrambled for cover, but it was futile. Siobhan hadn't scraped out a living in the lawless frontier on wits and charm alone. Two more shots, good straight ones, and two more men were swallowed by the Reaper's shadow.

The last two men were brave, she had to admit. Most bandits would turn tail and flee if they'd seen their friends cut down with hardly a chance to act. Siobhan caught one of them levelling a rifle at her hiding spot, one that looked powerful enough to blow her apart as sure as a stick of dynamite. She fired fast, without regard for careful aiming. He pinwheeled into the dust, rifle discharging as he fell, and there was blood mixed in with the dirt.

"Shit! Shit!" The last man's reserves of courage had run dry, and he was chasing after them, back into the deep woods. Siobhan held her fire once his back was to her. There wasn't any honor in killing a retreating enemy, and she knew all too well that honor made all the difference. Putting a wounded enemy out of his misery, though, was something else entirely.

Once she was confident that she wasn't walking into a renewed ambush, Siobhan stepped back onto the path and kneeled beside Brendan. The horse was making a few quiet, painful neighs, but she could tell the life was flowing out of him fast. She put her arms around his neck and held the dying animal close, unable to stop her own tears.

"It'll be all right in the end, Brendan, it will," she whispered, her old accent striking through the pain. "Just sleep now. It'll all be better soon. Close your eyes and think of the meadows, now. Find your peace."

The horse's breathing got shallower and shallower, and Siobhan wished she had the medical knowledge to save him, or at least keep him blinking until she could walk him to a doctor. Far too little time had passed when Brendan wheezed and fell silent. She felt a piece of her own soul tear itself away at that moment, perhaps to make sure that he wouldn't be lonely in whatever world waited beyond.

When she rose to her feet again, she left her sense of mercy on the ground. She stalked to where the rifleman had fallen and found that he was still gasping for air, albeit weakly. There was no sense of satisfaction in what she was about to do, no revenge, only justice that had to be done. Siobhan's coin purse may have been light enough to not matter, but she knew well that Charon took payments in kind.

The man was terrified, but that didn't stay her hand. If he'd been too stupid to know that it had been fated to end like this - if not her pulling the trigger, than someone else - he didn't have any business living. Siobhan drew her gun down to point at the center of his chest, and placed a boot on his neck to make sure he didn't try to scramble away.

"Please, good God, don't do this!" he wheezed. Without her boot, and the weeping wound just above his waist, he probably would have been shouting. "Have some goddamn decency! I can tell you... I can help you..."

"The only help you can give me is some fucking peace of mind," Siobhan said with a level look barely restrained. "You won't be killing any more horses, today or ever."

She fired. The bullet tore through the man's torso and buried itself in the dirt beneath. The man convulsed and the air filled with the stench of death. Siobhan was no stranger to it, but that didn't mean it was something easily tolerable. She holstered her revolver and stood still for a long, silent moment, summoning the strength to go on.

After a few moments of introspection, Siobhan gathered what belongings she could salvage and headed down the path, following the tracks of the man who'd fled. Her burning temper was barely cooled by the soft, mountain breezes that had brought her to Montana. True justice would only be served once she eliminated the menace the gang of ruffians presented, totally and completely.

It would be a long walk, but Siobhan Cameron was not a woman to shy away from a challenge.


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