Dust, an introduction.


The following piece I found was from 2006, if you believe the filing system I used when I transferred it to Google Drive. It was still in .DOC format and unconverted to either Drive’s format or .DOCX, which, apparently, Drive requires Word files to be in. I did a quick conversion and did a bit of copy-paste, cleaned up a few areas below, but the text is largely the original draft, minus about three paragraphs from the following scene before I abandoned the tale I apparently intended to tell.

If you’ve been here a spell, you might recall a piece or two with the same general feel as this one. As I said, I tend to iterate on stories until I find the voice that works best and, once I feel I’ve gotten a story out… I’m typically done with that theme for the time being. I’ve never quite written a weird-west story that met my interior imaginings, so you’ll probably see a few of it’s like in the future if you continue to read my tripe.

I didn’t know that the genre was called weird-west when I started these attempts. I grew up loving spaghetti westerns and fantasy, and was inspired to write my own after seeing what Stephen King did with The Gunslinger, the first of the so-called Dark Tower books. I never want to write a “Roland went to the Dark Tower” story, and I prefer more grit and gravel in my pseudo-westerns-fantasies. Think more like Clint Eastwood meets the TV version of Wild Wild West, and toss in fey troublemakers.

Actually, The Fields of the Nephilm song, Dust, was more of an inspiration than anything for this piece and I named my protagonist (McCoy) after the lead singer of the band as a result. I guess that’s as good of a place as any to start after this exhausting, long-winded forward…

Blood, I want to watch it rain
Got a heated slug at your brain
Dust we fade the same
Got a reasoning piece, now explain
Feelings come on and on
Killing, it’s all man-made
The rhythm of life is all too strong
So we burn it…
Come down, ride aboard the train
In this swirling pool
Of blood and brains
Well that’s fate, my mind is made

FotN, Dust

At times —

Sometimes, it seemed as if there was nothing but dust in the world, no matter which direction you looked.  The world was nothing but a shifting ball of dust these days, but he could remember when it wasn’t so. He had been a child back then.  Ages ago.  It had once been green and blue. Now, his world was nothing but dust.

Creaking leather harness, the soft jeweled jingle of silver spurs and the low growl of the wind washing sand over dust.  McCoy gathered his bandana around his face to filter out the blowing grit, reducing the amount that entered his lungs to a level that wasn’t really comfortable, but allowed him to breathe.  He had grown used to not breathing after all these years, but he’d never quite enough as to be oblivious to the discomfort of the layers of soot lining the inside of his chest.

But — things were as they were, and he couldn’t worry about those things he had no power over.

He had other concerns.

First, he had No-Man’s Land to cross. 

He checked his water supply.  If he was lucky, he had just enough to get him, and maybe his horse to the other side, if the horse was lucky. He’d named the horse Lucky with the small hope that he wouldn’t have to leave another innocent left to die in his wake, even if that innocent were just his horse.  There were also the dust-devils with which he had to contend.  While more of a nuisance than anything, they could pin him down in a shelter and decrease his chances of making it across the desolation with what little water he still had.  Limits of encumbrance never seemed to be factored into the plots of the old books and movies he enjoyed when he wasn’t working.  None of the characters ever seemed to have to worry about water, there was always some amazing oasis in the middle of nowhere when all seemed lost.  McCoy had traveled this road a long time ago and could attest that no such miracles existed in this wasteland.  Any water that had once been in this land had vaporized that day the Earth had shuddered and boiled.  He knew the smell of water, even at long distances, and there was none of that smell here.

His horse could only carry so much weight and, to the surprise of many, water weighed quite a bit.  So, even though McCoy hated the fact, he knew he could only bring so much water with him, and he’d kept it to about a gallon more than he expected he’d need to cross this forbidden land.

Again — things were as they were, and he couldn’t worry about those things he had no power over. Worry was about as useful as a man pissing into the wind.

Secondly, he had to start thinking about the man he was hired to kill.  The man had eluded, outwitted, or out-shot the others he’d encountered before McCoy’s name had come up as a man who could get the job done.  His target wouldn’t be an easy one – that much he knew already, based on everyone else’s failures.

It was going to be a massacre, both of them wading in the blood, guts and brains by the time it was all finished; some of it might even belong to either or both of them.  McCoy knew this in the way that someone used to killing knows these things.  Before the confrontation took place, he’d have to make amends to all the souls he was going to help release that day.  McCoy was a cold sonofabitch, but the nighttime visitations by innocent victims sometimes troubled him.  He’d have to prepare for the next onslaught of nightmares, but the shades would hardly prevent him from doing what he’d be hired to do.  If, because of fate or stupidity on their part, they ended up tasting the lead in his gun – so be it.  He’d ask for forgiveness later.

He knew that the bounty, Mad Harney, was the colder of the two gunslingers.  Mad Harney would use the people around him as shields, daring any hired gun to show his meddle, daring them to break the tradition that prohibited the slaying of anyone not directly involved with Mad Harney’s crimes.  Then, when he’d found a more bulletproof shelter, Harney would dispose of his human shield to cut away the excess weight.  It would rattle the bounty-hunter he was currently engaged with enough that Harney would find a way to take advantage of the situation, and kill the opposition.

As much as he’d rather not kill anyone but Mad Harney, McCoy knew it would be next to impossible to accomplish the task without killing at least a few people before or while he killed his target.

It would’ve been easy, if McCoy were able to sneak up on his quarry, dispatch him in silence, away from the crowds.  But, there were stories that Harney held conversations with dæmons and other undead creatures.  These informants (or informants of a more temporal nature) would keep Harney abreast of any upcoming situation that might prove fatal to Mad Harney.  If McCoy had learned anything from the failure of others, he’d learned not to underestimate Harney’s uncanny ability to know when he would have fight once again for his life. Mad Harney was like as not already planning for McCoy’s arrival.

In his wake of unrelenting destruction, Mad Harney always left enough survivors behind to make sure the tales would be told.  McCoy had to spend most of his coin over the past few weeks buying drinks for reluctant storytellers who, when properly sauced up will burst into tears about how brutal a man Mad Harney had been when he came through their up to then, quiet little town on the outskirts of No-Man’s Land.  All the stories were the same – comments made by Harney a day, sometimes two or three, before another stranger would arrive and the town would erupt in a maelstrom of smoke and lead.  Many would be left behind, dead or dying, the resolution of the battle always being in favor of Mad Harney to the cost of one dead gunslinger looking to make a name for himself and to collect a bounty.  The numbers left dead in the town seemed of no importance whatsoever to Harney – he apparently scored his notoriety not on the bodies of innocents, but how many hunters he’d gunned down. The rest of the dead were charnel house harvest.

On occasion, there wasn’t a gunfight and the town would be spared the bulk of the killing.  Mad Harney had caught a few inexperienced bounty-hunters unawares, usually because they were well within their cups and hadn’t realized that he’d gotten the make on them.  He’d dispatch of these bounty-mongers quietly, but this seemed less-satisfying to his blood-lust, and he usually randomly killed at least a few more people as he rode out of town to sate that thirst.

McCoy wasn’t a very good man himself. But, he knew that Mad Harney was several levels of bad beyond even him, and the authorities accepted you sometimes needed a killer to catch a killer.

And, in a place that no longer knew the word justice, McCoy was about the only justice that might be found in this dust-ridden place.  That was part of the reason why he was hired – he was perhaps the only person who came close to Mad Harney’s wickedness, something that might allow him to succeed with this mission on the Borderlands.

He didn’t see any reason to avoid the inevitable any longer.  The sooner he started down that trail filled with death, sweat and dust, the sooner he could try to forget himself once again.  All the sooner that he could return to his bottle that awaited him at his home so far away, the sooner that he could numb the shades that haunted him every night.

Another creak of saddle-leather against his chaps as he adjusted how he sat on his horse, then with a coaxing grunt and a shake of the harness, he urged his mount down the broken path leading across the wasteland.  As he had planned it, the sun was just beginning to slip over the edge of the Earth, into the depths below him.  It would be cooler, this way, ensuring that they’d encounter fewer dust-devils and need less water, at least.  There were still the Wyrd Sisters, but he’d dealt with their type in the past.

The winds calmed and the dust began to settle as the night cooled.  They had no encounters that night, but the road, with the soft drums of his horse’s hooves against the billowing piles of dust.

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