Half-penny

©2022 Michael Raven

It all ended somewhere between a grunt and a chuckle.

Her first inclination was that she had been stung by an angry wasp as she lurked in the high rafters of the stable, watching for him, meaning to thwart any escape he might try to make. Malcolm, as always, would take point in the operation to capture or provide justice at the end of a barrel for MacLeod, for “crimes against humanity”. Logan, as always, was Malcolm’s backup for those times when their bounty, as always, would try to run until they could run no more. It was her sacred duty to provide the backstop to such attempts and she had been damned good at it.

Until now, it seemed.

It was the chuckle, one oozing with gloat, that caused her to suspect it hadn’t been a wasp stinging her at all. Wasps weren’t known to chuckle. Or grunt for that matter. It was the sour smell of rank moonshine on his breath that gave away MacLeod. That, and the wet warmth spreading from Logan’s kidney, along with the piercing pain as her brain made the connection to a more likely source for her discomfort.

“Well, fuck,” was what she breathed out as she melted into the dry rot floors of her crawlspace hidey-hole in the stable.

“That’s right, sister,” hissed MacLeod under his breath. “You are about as fucked as one can be fucked. Take yourself a little nap now while I take care of that clown you run with.”

Logan turned her head towards the direction of his voice and watched MacLeod clean her blood from his hunting knife, a big, self-satisfied grin painted on his face. “You know,” he said in a whisper, “I honestly regret being forced to kill you. It’s a damned shame. So young. And full of unrealized potential.”

Logan watched the dust dance in the sunlight leaking through a crack in the siding. MacLeod pointed tip of his knife in Logan’s direction. “You… You had skill and finesse. Mal… well, as I said, he is little more than a clown. I eat his kind for breakfast. You should have left him after the last gig. Your talent was wasted on a two-bit partner like Mal.”

“I would have, it was time to move on, but… he asked…,” Logan felt the world beginning to fall away. “…nicely”.

MacLeod chuckled and slipped his knife into the sheath at his hip. “Sad tale of wanting to retire? Wanting to take up ranching or some other bullshit scheme?” He made a broad gesture toward the stable interior. “I’m guessing he wanted to take up selling horses. More his speed, if you ask me. He could live vicariously though the clientele as they came in looking for fresh horseflesh in pursuit of lowlife scum like me. Or maybe one of those rundown honkytonks every little town has. Those places can be rank with gossip, you choose the right location.”

MacLeod shook his head. “It’s always something. Always an escape from this life. But never a complete escape.”

Logan was fading, and quickly. She didn’t want her last moments to be listening to this asshole chat up frontier philosophy. But she needed to know before she crossed the River.

“How?”

MacLeod raised an eyebrow at that. “Magick.” When he saw Logan’s blank stare, he continued. “I thought it was common knowledge, girl. I consort with some rather unsavory folks and they taught me a thing or two.” He dug into his breast pocket and showed her a handful of etched bone, fur, and feather tied in rawhide lace. He tossed it to her. “You can have that one, Logan. It might have a bit of dweomercraft residuals seeing as it hasn’t fallen apart yet, but it’s fair spent about now. Not that you would have much use for the arcane arts in your current state.”

He laughed at his own joke; quietly, full of air, but it was laughter all the same. Logan wrapped her fingers around the bone charm, clenching it as tight as she could in her fist. It radiated warmth. “What is it?”

“That’s all I needed to walk the shadows right up behind you and give you a little poke. It’s a simple fetish, a basic bit of skulduggery — good for thieves, pickpockets and ne’er-do-wells. Mostly, it’s a handy thing to escape certain doom. Otherwise, it’s more of a gimmick than any real dweomercraft. A child could use it: just grasp on and become one with the shadows.”

“But,” he continued, “apparently Mal neglected his homework again and didn’t hear or care about the rumors. It’s not like I’ve hidden my predilections for all things occult.”

“He… doesn’t believe in… magic.”

“So, a clown and a fool. You really should have left him. I’m sorry to have had to kill you. Like I said, you would have been promising, had I the time to give you a reeducation.”

“No one is more sorry than I am,” she muttered.

“Yes, well, be as that may, I’m not one for leaving loose ends to dangle in the breeze.” He removed his sixgun from its travel-worn holster and pointed it at Logan’s forehead. “This chat has gotten overlong and I have a certain matter of killing a bounty hunter to take care of.”

“Won’t the gunfire warn him you’re coming?”

“Your beautiful and brilliant. Of course it will. He’ll hear it coming from the stable and know that either you or I are likely dead. And, you might not know this, but he’s one of your biggest fans. Naturally, he’ll assume to got the jump on me and not expect me to walk out of the stable, my gun aimed square middle of his chest. As I said, he’s a clown.”

“I also can’t risk letting you just bleed out,” he added. “Not very respectful, or intelligent.”

“Well… I’m glad you don’t mean me any disrespect.”

“Never,” he said, solemn. “It’s only business.” He sighed. “Time to die.”

“Time to go fuck yourself.”

He shrugged. “Crude, but I understand the stress of your situation.”

Logan watched as his finger squeezed the trigger, drawing back the hammer. She closed her eyes and…

“Fuck me. Fuck me sideways, you sneaky little bitch. Where’d you go and blink off to, eh?”

Half of Logan’s face was in a pile of horse manure, but she didn’t move, didn’t make a sound. She laid there, hoping she wouldn’t lose all of her blood as she did so. The fetish crumbled in her hand. Now it was completely spent.

Unlike Malcolm, she believed in magic and knew the basics of its use.

“Logan?” It was Malcom, just outside the stable door. “I think you can come down from that loft, MacLeod is one slippery bastard. I think he skipp–“

Somewhere overhead a cannon roared to life and very little remained of Malcom in the morning sun pouring through the stable doors. More magic. Ordinary bullets would have left more than the meaty pulp left behind. She watched as MacLeod jumped to the straw floor, feline. He gave the scene a casual review, toed a hunk of flesh that laid in the quickly coagulating blood and spoke to no one direction in particular.

“Well, it seems as if I won’t need to ensure your dead. My work is done here and I could tell you are in no condition to pursue.” He holstered his gun. “A bit of advice, if you manage to survive that little pinprick I gave your kidney… Find another career. You’re good, damned good for a skiptrace. But it’s dangerous work, as Mal has discovered. You’re too pretty and smart for this kind of life. Use those brains and get yourself out.”

MacLeod stepped gingerly over Malcolm’s viscera and remains.

“Have a nice day, Logan. Things can only get better. Life: my gift to you, if you can manage to keep it.”

Logan watched as MacLeod walked up to Harriet, her horse, and jumped on.

“Giddyap,” he said, snapping the reins.

Logan only waited a few minutes before calling out for help and trying to left her face out of the dung. To their credit, the townsfolk had been listening for such a sound and the local sawbones rushed in to try and staunch the bleeding.

Then, she let the darkness wash over her and she surrendered to the void.


First draft, so there’s probably some broken parts as a result. I wrote (in my head) most of the scene while taking a shower this morning, half-assed some work when no-one is working at my office this week. Then I sat down and wrote directly as a post. I didn’t know Mal was gonna die how he ended up dying. I didn’t know that MacLeod was almost a gentleman. I didn’t know Logan would have a horse named Harriet that MacLeod would ride out of town with. For that matter, I knew none of the names when I sat down a short bit ago. I know it could use a heavy edit, but I like to toss things out into the wild in an unpolished state (it helps for when I decide to try and take something further, then I have raw posts for copyright reasons).

It was fun. I’m not sure if I’ll expand on it, but it feels like a decent premise to build from. Logan, bounty hunter and magic initiate. Weird West vibes, but if I take it and expand, it will be to subvert the “desert on a horse with no name” trope — I’ll probably eschew any further Hollywood tropes, or at least move away from the desert and mesa thing. Sixguns, certainly. Horses (or some other mount), likely. Tumbleweeds… let’s reimagine tumbleweeds as something, I dunno, less evocative of dust, sand and sun.

Where would Logan go once she is patched up? Will she take MacLeod’s advice? Or will she hunt him down? Or is it “just business” and she holds no grudges. After all, she’s put more than her fair share of holes in bounties over the years… Forgive and forget?

We’ll see if I feel any story remains in this or if it is another of my one-off vignettes.

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