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

Wednesday 2 March 2011

Why I Write

I keep meaning to write some kind of blog post on why I write. I normally trot out the same old schlock about how I've always written, and it's never really occurred to me not to. Stories pop into my head and I write them down. As the meerkat would say, "Simples."

However, while that is still true, I think it does go deeper than that. After all, I've always been able to run but it doesn't mean I do (I don't, as it happens. I prefer swimming and Pilates as forms of exercise. Running looks so...ungainly) Yesterday I posted the link to my story, The Sought After Smile, which had been published in the new issue of Luna Station Quarterly. The link was shared on Facebook (seriously, what did we do before social networking?) and someone posted a comment to say it had really cheered them up after a crap day. You know what I did? I smiled (and I am not an inherently cheerful person).

Do you know how ace that feels, to know that something you wrote actually helped to improve someone else's day? That a simple work of fiction could cheer someone up in just a few moments? Ah, escapism. You can't beat it. I suppose I whiled away many a lonely hour as a child, caught up in an Enid Blyton adventure or whizzing through another Roald Dahl, and if I'm completely honest, I still seek solace in books now. To my mind, if I can provide someone with a few moments away from the troubles and stresses of their existence, then that is a job well done.

Yes, it's true. I have no lofty pretensions to creating high art, to leaving a literary legacy that will see schoolchildren pore over my work 200 years from now, to winning awards or changing the world - no, I just want to entertain people. I like to think I'm more Guillermo del Toro than Michael Bay, but the intention is much the same.

Of course, that's not the ONLY reason I write. At the moment, I'm working on a Western novella, tentatively titled Guns of Retribution, about a bounty hunter named Gray O'Donnell. I've written the first draft, and I'm now polishing the rough edges before I send it to my completely awesome beta readers. I'm a natural pedant so if a plot point sticks out like a sore thumb to me, I assume it'll be a red flag to others, so I won't put anything out in front of people until all the narrative logic has been resolved. Now, for one reason and another, I've had to take a couple of breaks from redrafting, and I finally got back into it on Monday night. Re-reading the opening scene, I almost cried - it was like being back among old friends again. Sure, they're imaginary friends, but they're friends all the same.

Writing is an inherently solitary path, but in a perverse kind of way, we're never really alone. We're constantly living out adventures in our heads, chatting to people we've invented, and endlessly creating new places and things. Of course, if most people say they hear voices, they're considered insane, but writers are exempt from this particular social convention.

Good thing, too. I wouldn't dare tell Liss Hunt to shut up.

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Submission success

Greetings, citizens.

I'm rather chuffed to announce the publication of a couple of my pieces - Unforgettable was picked up by Escape into Life, while The Sought After Smile is now live on Luna Station Quarterly!

Now, down to brass tacks. My post on how to cope with rejection over on Fuel Your Writing seems to have struck a chord, but now I'm planning one on how to approach the submission process in the first place. Where to look for titles, how to decide what to submit - that sort of thing. I know it can be daunting and confusing, and I want to try and help you to make it as hassle-free as possible.

So here's where you come in. If you're never submitted before and you have any questions, leave me a comment and I'll try to make sure I answer any questions in the article itself!

Monday 28 February 2011

Photo Prompt 22

Twenty-second prompt, ready and waiting.

If you want to use the prompt, all I ask is that you include a link to this entry and a credit to me for the photograph, and that you post a link to your story in the comments box below so I can see what you've come up with! If you don't comment on this entry, then I can't comment on your story.

The twenty-second prompt is Parrots.


All photo prompts are my own photography - you can find more of it on Flickr.