NaNoWriMo Day 1

Prologue

Missouri, March 1863

There was a cool tang to the air, despite the heat coming up and out from the barn as it really started to catch fire, and the panicked screams of the two mules and the scrawny milk cows carried sharply through it until Woodrell, the softest-hearted of the party, put carefully directed pistol balls into their heads. He was a cool-headed youth, and a deadly shot.

The house was being started as well now, and the noose was already hanging from the high sturdy branch they’d found overhanging the yard. The chicken hutch was pretty well torn up for kindling, and the chickens already stuffed into various rucksacks with their necks wrung, packed on horses and ready to serve as meals in future. Whatever of value the men had been able to find in the simple house was likewise packed, saving only the books, which even the least superstitious of them was not inclined to touch.

It was the Youngers who hauled old man Haverly out of his smoking house, together as they almost always were, and when they seen to the rope around his arms and chest and gotten him well settled with the noose, they went over to where Woodrell and Mackeson stood passing a bottle of rye back and forth. Cole Younger set to rolling a cigarette while Harry Branson took hold of their prisoner and the grim ex-farmer Wales took position his horse, the other end of the hanging rope affixed to his saddle horn.

“Ye’ll regret this, ye damned bandits! Ye’ll regret every day ye live, and for yer first century in Hell past that!” said Nathan Haverly, voice hitching some from the smoke of his burning home. He was perhaps sixty years, weathered by a passage of time that had hardened instead of withering, lank gray hair hanging like yarn past his narrow shoulders. Old Nathan’s face was like a much-used skinning knife, hard and sharp and cold, worn down to its essential form. His green eyes blazed under black brows, and his thin lips pulled back in a snarl to show his white teeth, still straight and strong in his bloodless gums.

“Shut up,” said Branson, not wanting to look as though he didn’t have control over his prisoner. His heart wasn’t as much in it as might have been, as hanging was never much to his taste, and though he wasn’t much known for fear when bullets or knives were at work, old Haverly’s reputation was an unchancy and menacing one at best.

“Doom, I see! Doom I call! Doom upon each one a ye!” Nathan Haverly, who men called a wizard, had raised his voice into something halfway between a human scream and a dog’s howl. He turned his head to encompass all of the party of Missouri guerillas in the sweep of his fierce emerald gaze, and hardened killers and brush fighters though they were, not a one of them held that gaze long. “Doom upon yer children! Doom on all yer blood and kin!”

“Told you to shut up,” said Branson, anxiousness and maybe some fear bubbling up to make him testy, and he puncuated his speech with the back of his left fist against the old man’s head.

Nathan Haverly moved quicker than a young man would. His head, neck, shoulders and all seemed to move with the same kind of boneless quicksilver lightningstrike flow that would be expected of a gunfighter’s shooting hand on the draw. That is to say, he moved like a striking snake, and with the same intent. Harry Branson felt sharp teeth sink hard into his left wrist before he understood what was occurring. his skin was cut, and his blood flowed, and the old wizard seemed to chuckle as he ground his teeth in a chewing motion and sucked it down his throat.

Branson took a Colt Walker revolver from his holster and jammed it into the old man’s midsection, pulling the trigger twice when the heavy barrel was well in place. Two heavy .44 balls ripped into Haverly, and blood flowed back out of him, baptising the gun barrel and the hand that held it. Branson shook loose, either hand dripping blood from varied sources.

“You’re a goddamned witch, Haverly,” he said. “You traffic with the Devil by light of the Moon by reputation, and by God your black books and box full of bones and witchery proves it well enough. But you hang now because you took money from Kansas sons of bitches to work your hexing devilry on your own Missouri neighbors. For that you fucking swing today!”

Wales took this as his queue to put his heels to his horse and pull the hanging rope taut.

Haverly was drawn to his tiptoes, but he grinned viciously with his crimson-smeared mouth. “Doom! I will see ye all in Hell with me, and I will stalk your children’s children until yer lines expire from the Earth! Doom! I will–” the balance of his intent was not expressed, for he was raised up now with his heels fully three feet from the dirt, and the noose was too tight to allow for more speech.

His eyes were undimmed for a while, though. As he strangled, legs kicking uselessly, he spun round and round, and glared at them all. As Wales tied off the rope around a convenient tree, and Cole Younger lit his cigarette and passed another to his brother, as Woodrell bandaged Harry Branson’s left arm and cleaned his wound with whiskey, and the old wizard voided himself and turned ghastly purple, he continued glaring.

After a few more minutes, it was over. With no more ceremony, the guerillas mounted and road away from the hanged man who still spun in the air above his farmyard. The pillar of smoke from the burning buildings rose up behind them as if to offer guidance to some party of Isaelites on their way to Hell.

These pilgrims road away from it that day, but one by one they found their road in time.

No Home In This World Anymore

Missouri, September 2011

The Driver was near the southwestern corner of Missouri, savoring the night. He wore tight black jeans with gleaming rivets, black boots with steel taps on the toes, a white western shirt with a bolo tie, and a black leather jacket with a number of zippered pockets. All that covered a long and spare frame that stretched out more than seemed right, and in motion gave some the impression of a spider. His hands, in particular, long-fingered and white as they were, tendons standing out like puppeteer’s wire under the skin, seemed unwholesomely arachnid in their nature. His face was long, and somber as a hanging judge’s, framed on the sides by long black sideburns that came to an end level with his wide narrow knife-wound of a mouth, which often held an unlit cigarette that moved around like a conductor’s baton. Above the mouth was a long narrow blade of a nose, two black eyes warded by black-framed sunglasses in daylight hours, a high narrow forehead, and a glistening slicked-back pompadour that received frequent attention from the comb up his sleeve in idle moments.

The care he leaned against matched him. 1955 Cadillac convertible, gleaming black and chrome under the gas station fluorescents, upholstered in white leather and featuring a shifter capped with a custome silver skull. The original radio had been replaced with a small but elaborate digital music player that was currently pouring the honeyed voice of young Elvis Presley out of fine modern speakers. It was somewhere between midnight and three AM, and the cool air was sweet to taste.

We should eat,” said the passenger.

 

The Driver didn’t make any noise nor motion to signal it, but he assented.

 

No one else around. Just the boy behind the counter, alone tonight.” The passenger’s voice was a faint whisper of steel against a whetstone, coming to the Driver’s ears like a stray wind-borne tatter, but it came from the passenger’s seat. “It will be easy, though there is not much to him.”

 

The gas station had four pumps under a pavilion that drenched the lot in sharp fluorescence, and outside the spread of that light the moonless townless world beyond was an ocean of black. The highway was the only real thing in it, and it only existed as far as it could pick up scraps of that cold burning deathlight that the humming tubes tossed down. The only walls in the world were those that made up the sides of cheap box that served as a convenience store. The topic of conversation was lazily flipping through a months-old issue of Maxim and thinking it was about time for a cigarette, not paying much mind to his sole customer on the other side of the window and the parking lot.

 

Not much at all,” said the Driver. “Nothing there for me. Waste of my time.”

 

Food is food,” said the passenger, “and there is plenty of blood in him.”

 

That suits you, all right. I just don’t see the profit in it for me, especially since I’ll be doing the bulk of the work, killing him and burning the place down after and all.”

 

Young fools don’t yet know the value of taking all you can when ye can. Ye’ll learn yet, if only you’ll pay heed to yer master. Ye’ll do well to remember who it is that’s the ‘prentice, boy.”

 

They went back and forth a turn or two more, and the clerk turned a page, glancing up to look at the strange fellow arguing with himself or his empty car in the night. He applied himself to the magazine again.

 

Two minutes or so later the door chimed, and he looked up just in time to receive a narrow steel blade across his throat, across it and deep into it. By the time he had gotten over the surprise of it he was already gurgling out the last of his life, and the pain didn’t make any great inroads into his awareness before it got washed out with the tide of lassitude as everything ebbed one last time.

 

The Driver had donned one of those disposable emergency ponchos, taken from his copious trunk, before starting his butchery. On his way out, he intended to replace it with a couple from the convenience store’s stock, along with whatever food and drinks and such caught his eye. Before that, though, he had to finish things, opening the arteries in the dead man’s arms and legs and letting everything flow out. A rust-colored mist flowed in through the door and spread itself over all this crimson, and soaked it up with messy slurping sounds, getting thicker and brighter as it absorbed the murdered blood into its own essence.

 

While the passenger was about its meal, the Driver sullenly set to taking his own sustenance. Not much power in this dead man, not much mana or chi or psyche or whatever you’d like to call it. What best served the Driver’s wants were magicians or seers or faith healers, and next best was folk of particular strength of will or liveliness, be they bon vivants or staunch puritans. Such were the best souls for eating, but even a nothing of a man like this one had something to offer, he supposed.

 

Like a goddamn diet Coke,” he said. “I hope you’re enjoying the hell out of his juices.” And with poor grace, he jammed his thumbs into the dead man’s eyes and began the chant. When the vapor began to rise from the corpse’s open mouth, he lapped it up with greedy movements of his tongue and lips, swallowing everything the dead man had been.

 

Twenty minutes later the gas station was a pillar of fire, and the black Cadillac was cutting a swathe through the nothingness of the moonless night. Its headlights conjured the road into being as the two killers rolled into Oklahoma.

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One Response to “NaNoWriMo Day 1”

  1. Read it again for the fourth time.

    You’ve got the gift, brother.

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