Friday 4 March 2011

Friday Flash - Dead Man's Hand III

The gunslinger woke with a start. He whipped out his pistols, pointing in all directions. His vision cleared and he realised he was alone. He gazed around the saloon. A shaft of moonlight fell across the floor beneath the swing doors. Empty glasses sat like islands in the sea of dust covering the tables.

The gunslinger hauled himself out of his chair and crossed the room. His boots knocked hollow against the wooden floorboards. He pushed open the doors, and the creak screeched in the eerie silence of the street.

The gunslinger walked out onto the verandah. He expected to see the soiled doves displaying their wares for drunken cowboys, or gamblers stumbling from one saloon to the next. At least one brawl should have spilled out into the street. The gunslinger saw and heard no one. Not even the howl of a plains coyote drifted on the night air.

The gunslinger walked down the street. He looked at the empty buildings, peering through windows and poking his head around doors. He wanted to call out but he realised he didn’t know where he was. He didn’t know any names to call. A breeze gusted down the street, and cards skittered around his feet. He bent to pick them up. Two aces, two eights and a Queen. The memory of a gun shot crashed in his ears as he looked at the bloodstained cards.

I must be dreamin’, he thought.

He reached the railroad. A black horse stood alone in the middle of the square in front of the shack that served as a station. It whinnied when it saw him, and nodded its head. The gunslinger walked over to the horse, marvelling at the sheen on its midnight coat. He ran his fingers through its dark mane, the silver streaks sparkling like starlight in his hands.

“Who do you belong to, big fella?” asked the gunslinger.

The horse turned his head and nodded at the fine leather saddle on its back. The gunslinger shrugged, put his foot in the stirrup, and boosted himself up. He swung his leg over the horse’s back and settled into the saddle. The stallion whinnied again, and set off at a trot. They set off over the railroad tracks. The gunslinger spotted a wooden sign beside the rails. Hand painted letters spelled out the name ‘Sticks’.

At least I know where I’m leavin’, he thought.

He tried to guide the horse but the stallion stayed true. The gunslinger gave up hauling at the reins and sat back in the saddle, watching the moonlit plain go by. The horse broke into a gallop, and ran towards the hills that rose from the plain like sleeping levianthans.

The gunslinger held tight to the reins as the horse careered down a path into a narrow valley. Skeletal trees clung to the sheer rock walls on either side, and the stallion’s hooves kicked up a fine spray of pebbles and sand.

The horse came to an abrupt halt as the valley widened into a small quarry. A young woman sat bareback on a pearl grey horse. Her black lips broke into a grin, and she waved as the black stallion brought the gunslinger nearer.

“You’ve made it!” she exclaimed. Her voice buzzed with a millennia of rot.

“Who are you? Where am I?” asked the gunslinger.

“Well you’re Wild Bill Hickok, and you’ve just come through the valley,” replied the young woman. Stars glittered in the depths of her midnight eyes.

“Care to explain that to me, little miss?”

“Why don’t you ride with me?”

The young woman rode down the trail away from Wild Bill. The black horse trotted after, flicking his tail. Wild Bill stared at the young woman when the horses drew level. The horses whinnied a greeting to one another.

“See, you have to understand that you’re dead,” she said.

Wild Bill stared at her in disbelief, unsure he had heard her correctly.

“I know, I know, it’s a lot to take in at once. But you’re dead. You’ve been dead for quite some time but that hasn’t stopped you wandering about through time, has it?”

“The cards...”

“Yes. Those blasted cards. You’ve been disrupting the timeline, shooting anyone that got the Dead Man’s Hand - or at least ensuring they got shot themselves. I’ve been trying to catch up with you for a while now.”

“So you’re....” Wild Bill’s blue eyes widened.

“Death. Yes. And you’ve been rather upsetting my system.”

The trail led into a lush meadow. Moths flickered above the emerald grass, their wings reflecting the light of the stars overhead. The sound of running water and laughter filled the air. Shades of people long gone drifted to and fro, pausing to converse with each other, the echoes of their voices reaching through the ages. Wild Bill recognised some of them as people he’d shot.

“I like you, really, I do. You’re one of the Universe’s true characters, Mr Hickok. But it’s time for you to find some peace now,” said Death.

“I guess I am kinda tired,” said Wild Bill. He stroked his moustache as he gazed across the meadow. His body convulsed in a deep yawn.

“You rest now. Leave the death side of things to me.”

“Alright, miss. I guess you know best and all.”

Death leaned over, and kissed him on the cheek. Wild Bill’s eyes closed for the final time.

* * *
This is the final installment of a loose trilogy based around the Dead Man's Hand, the hand of cards allegedly held by infamous gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok when he was shot in the back while playing poker in a Deadwood saloon on August 2, 1876.

Part I : Part II


Anonymous said...

Great ending Icy to a really entertaining and creative trilogy.
I love the line:
"Shades of people long gone drifted to and fro, pausing to converse with each other, the echoes of their voices reaching through the ages."
It's beautiful.
You recreate what feels to me like an authetic wild west. I can taste the dust, grit and stale whisky.

~Tim said...

This is delightful. [So, it's safe for me to return to the poker table now, right?] I missed the first two parts. I must go read them now.

Anonymous said...

This is the best yet, Icy.

"Soiled Doves" nod. Phrase of gold. Veiled reference, simply put.

Liked the Sticks ref, too. And the twist with Death was lovely. Knew he was dead, that had been worked towards nicely, but having Bill come to rest because of the killings, excellent.

Laurita said...

Great ending to a fine set of stories. This was nice and atmospheric.

Chuck Allen said...

This was a great ending to this series. (Although I hate to see it end.) It left me feeling rewarded for having read the other stories and the descriptions were fantastic. I could hear the boots knocking on the wood as he crossed the saloon.

Tony Noland said...

Great work. This was a thoroughly satisfying ending to the story arc.

Larry Kollar said...

I love how the Styx became a set of railroad tracks! Nice job of tying everything together.

Anonymous said...

Sticks = Styx ... very clever, Icy. And very well done ... I liked this a lot.

Cat Russell said...

Nice wrap up. And 'Sticks' was very clever too. Very enjoyable. :)

Lola Sharp said...

Voice with a millennia of rot! Love. I enjoyed this.

Since this is my first time here, I missed any previous pieces, but loved this on its own.

Have a delightful weekend,

John Wiswell said...

Fooled me, Icy. I thought the dead were going to come to him, zombie and Undead Nightmare style. But a ghost town that's actually an afterlife is a better kick. Do you still want me to record one or all of these?

Bevimus said...

This must be one of my favorite trilogies-ever. Really, the language is brilliant, the character you've created in Death is haunting (please find a way to use her in other stories!) and the trilogy sends us cruse-crossing through time after a gunslinger as confused as we were. You've got yourself a devoted fan here- well done!

Anonymous said...

I grew up on Westerns (and in the old West, a few miles from Billy the Kid's grave) and I really love how you've captured the feel of it. Beautiful writing as always, Icy.

Unknown said...

Love the language and the descriptions. Wild Bill sounded true to life. Very imaginative plotting. I've never seen Death in that guise in a story before, but it works. Good job.

Eric J. Krause said...

I really enjoyed this--this installment and the series as a whole. Neat way to wrap it up. Adds a layer of myth to it all. Well done!

Harry said...

Top notch times three Icy! Cool Twilight Zoney script in this one!

Anonymous said...

*face palm* I only got the Sticks/Styx reference when it was mentioned in the comments. You'd think I'd figure it out considering it's the final ep of the trilogy.
What a great way to end the series. The opening paragraphs were stellar. It is a very satisfying conclusion at the end. Solemn and sombre end, but just perfect.
Adam B @revhappiness

Icy Sedgwick said...

Justin - I'm really glad you've enjoyed it! I've tried to keep it as realistic as possible, despite the supernatural elements.

Tim - Yes, you can play poker now.

ibc4 - I'm glad you've enjoyed the series. I do love my Sticks puns.

Lauirta - Thank you!

Chuck - I'm a big believer in using senses other than sight in stories. Possibly as I'm so short-sighted myself!

Tony - Thanks!

FAR - I should have named the horse Charon...

Janet - Thanks! Glad you liked it.

Cathy - :-)

Lola - Glad you liked it! And have a great weekend yourself.

John - I figured the afterlife should look different for different time periods...and oooh you can record whichever you want! Interested to see what you do with them.

Bev - Oh Death pops up whenever she fancies. I've used her before in a couple of other stories but she's asked if she can be in a novel too (she's very polite). Glad you liked it!

Danni - It genuinely means a lot that someone "local" would say that! So pleased you enjoyed it.

John - Death has appeared as a woman before (Gaiman's done that) but I like my Death to seem unappealing and decayed but actually be quite a good sport.

Ericand Harry - Thanks!

Adam - ^_^

Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

Icy, I'd LOVE to see a movie like this. Wild Bill and Death, riding together. You paint a tremendous picture. What a wonderful story you've created. Bravo!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic ending to your trilogy! Beginning to end, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this.

Steve Green said...

A nice solid ending to the trilogy Icy, I liked the ghost-town feeling, I kept expecting to read of a tumbleweed rolling past.

Mari said...

Cool way of closing things up and explaining the second story's death. Loved this trilogy, Icy. :)

Anonymous said...

Your description of the enviornment really helps create the mood of this piece. I like the references to stars and darkness-death seems just like another beautiful place.

Ruchira Mandal said...

Neat closure- and loved the haunting description of the world of death. Could see and hear the shadows whispering.
My Friday flash is here:

Stephen said...

Like others, I loved the Sticks/Styx mythology applied to a western. It also plays out well with the old saying: "He lives way out in the sticks." Great stuff, Icy.

AidanF said...

Enjoyed the dialogue, particularly “Well you’re Wild Bill Hickok, and you’ve just come through the valley,” replied the young woman. Stars glittered in the depths of her midnight eyes. with her non-answer to his question. Amusing premise and fitting closure.

Raven Corinn Carluk said...

This was the perfect ending

Magaly Guerrero said...

"The gunslinger... the gunslinger... the gunslinger..." I like the refrain. It made me feel that once Wild Bill didn't have anyone else to kill, he would have to perish. And the way he found his end "convulsed in a deep yawn"? unique and disturbing enough to make me feel he paid for what he did.

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