Monday, June 27, 2011


Under searing sun and over sandy dunes, Bennet rode his horse like a man edging to eternity and off the edge of the world, and finally, with it's lungs burned and collapsed from blood and sand and air, it died, toppling over, flinging Bennet and dying with a hideous croak. It panted and wheezed, blood oozing from its nostrils and over its tongue, which hung loosely from its mouth, its dark eyes glaring up at the demon sun in a silent curse.
"God damnit," Bennet said, rubbing his back and standing. He moved over and patted the horse and its heavy ribs, admiring the poor, exhausted beast. "You done good."
He looked behind him and to the sides, examining each horizon to make sure he was alone. Pale and endless desert stretched out and away from him, pock-marked with desert shrubs and cacti, polished white animal skulls glowing in the dusk light. Night was coming soon and it would be cold. From his reckoning, Bennet was still many miles out from any civilized town and he knew roaming bands of injuns and white men were scattered about this place, pillaging for gold or women or scalps.
Not having anything else to do, Bennet walked. He walked the way he was going when his horse had died. He did not, though he had thought of doing so, carve some flesh from the dead beast to make sure he had food. It did not feel right. The jerky and left-over tortillas in his rucksack would have to do, and he still had a full canteen of water and a quart of whiskey. As far as things went, it could be worse. He thought about the scores and unimaginable numbers of other men, of whatever creeds and colours, who had travelled this place by foot or on horse whose names had been lost to history and the world and its people. Lost not because they did not matter, or were of no consequence, but because that is the way of things - you are born and exist, you make a way in this world - everychanging and volatile - and then you are taken from it, if you are lucky it is sudden and quick, with a bullet or during sleep, or if fate is crueler, which she usually is, you are taken in pain and crying in the night for a mother or lover long gone.
It was in this moment that Bennet though on his own family since past. Vera had been one of the most beautiful ladies in Blackwater, where they had both grown up, and was often being called on by one gentlemen or another, of all ages, since she was twelve. Her mother did nothing to discourage it because a marriage to a good man was mostly all a lady in those parts at that time could hope for and no one did much to alter that fate. Odd exceptions cropped up, it is certain, "But that is for other people's children," Vera's mother had said, "not for my kin."
Of course, Vera did not want to marry Walter Stark, a growing oil baron whose wealth increased with his girth, growing also in senility, proposing to Vera at the age of fifty-nine when she was merely fourteen. Nor did she accept the proposal from Alastair MacReady who ran a troupe of actors all over the souther states and was also a wealthy man with lofty ambitions for the newly introduced "moving pictures" when she was sixteen.
"You wait and see," he said to her one day over iced tea, "Muybridge fellow was on to something! And I hear Edison is perfecting an American version - a better version! - called the Kinetoscope - you just wait, missy!"
No, Vera wanted a man who was much like her, quiet and enjoyed reading and did not feel bound totally by the world as it was. That was when Bennet sauntered into her sheltered life. He was a boy looking for work on a farm from the other side of the state and Vera's parents gave him a job as a stable hand. Bennet was twenty-four and has ridden across the state on a horse that was older than he was. To Vera, he seemed like something out of an old wives' tale and within a few months, they were married secretly and to avoid her parents' wrath, they fled the town to settle in Galston, Bennet taking up the business of blacksmithing and Vera giving birth to their daughter, Mina.
With humour, Vera noted the success of MacReady's prediction on motion pictures some years later, but at also having backed the wrong man. A Frenchman had invented and patented something called the cinematographe that was much more popular and regarded than Edison's kinetoscope. Soon enough, though, it seemed that America was going to war with the Cubans and the Spanish and Bennet took it upon himeself to serve his country.
"Don't go, Bennet," Vera said. "Stay. We need you here."
"I have to go," he said, putting his boots on. "Business ain't too good and they're payin' somethin' good to get on a boat in a uniform and look menacin' at Cubans."
He smiled and kissed her forehead. "I'll be back 'fore you know it."
"You better, mister man," she said and kissed him. "I ain't gonna wait forever - I'm still a pretty lady!"
"Prettiest in town."
"Shush you! Go on, git. I expect some letters from my brave soldier man!"
"I'll write," Bennet walked out the front door. "You better write back."
Vera only smiled and waved her own little wave and Bennet marched off to return a coward nigh half a year later. When he fell in with Sanguar in his gang of thugs, Bennet held his promise and made them as much dinero as they wanted, more, but after a year he grew weary of the trips out into the desert and demanded he be set free from his obligations.
"It don't bring me in nothin'," he said. "And these trips is killin' my business and ruinin' my family. I'm tired a comin' out here and givin' you money I ain't allowed to spend!"
"Careful, cabron," Sanguar said. "We let you live. That is an expensive thing, si?"
"I need to be free, so I can be with my wife, my child!"
"Muchos problemas, eh hermano?" Sanguar laughed, a gruff sound like a train crashing. "La familia también caro."
Sanguar laughed again and turned on his horse and left. Bennet did not return to the Mexicans for the next payment and when he returned from work the next day, he found Sanguar in his home, knives to the throats of his wife and child.
"Vera!" Bennet charged forward and stopped. "Sanguar, what do you want?"
"My money," he said. "As promised."
"Bennet..." Vera could hardly speak for the fear.
"Let them go," Bennet said, though his voice betrayed his own apprehensions. "Or I swear to god above I will kill you."
Sanguar smiled his black smile, rotten teeth glaring in the setting sun. The knife moved too quickly for Bennet to even see it and Vera clutched at her throat, blood exploding out in fountains and covering Bennet's face and front in red. Though he wanted to speak, for words to express his agony, his throat would not let him and he could only emit a cracked cry. His eyes glistened with tears and he dropped to his knees. A broken man. Two of Sanguar's men, among them Xavo, came and grabbed Bennet by the arms.
"And now," Sanguar said, "you find out the price of family and disloyalty."
Though you could not tell you how long he was held there in actuality, it felt like centuries, like men were born and crumbled to dust before Sanguar left his home. He sat there, bound and impotent and furious, as Sanguar violated his only daughter, tender and young, as she screamed for her father and mother, tears streaming down her angelic face. Bennet slumped over in a coma of emptiness and loss after Sanguar finally killed the poor girl.
"Nex time," Sanguar said as he left, wiping the blade he had used for the killings on Bennet's jacket, " I want double money."
Bennet said nothing. He lay there for hours after they had left, staring into the greying eyes of his wife and child, too young for death and too kind and innocent for a death like this.
All this and more Bennet pondered as he walked the desert alone, in the cold as night darkened the world. Ahead of him he saw and fire and hoped he was walking towards kinder men.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Apocalypse List

I was thinking about this last night when I couldn't sleep. Say it's the apocalypse, or some other kind of earth-shattering event, and you have the chance to get on one of the people-arks and get saved with a small percentage of humanity. What would you save? Think about it - you can only bring so much luggage, so let's say you can take 10 books, 10 movies/TV shows, 10 CDs and 5 other personal items along with clothes.
What would you bring?
NOTE: Films that are trilogies count as only one because they come in the same pack. Book series only count as one if they CURRENTLY come in a one book option. These items must come from YOUR SHELF AS IT IS NOW. These are in no particular order.

1. On the Road - Jack Kerouac
2. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - Hunter S. Thompson
3. Howl and Other Poems - Allen Ginsberg
4. World War Z - Max Brooks
5. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey
6. American Gods - Neil Gaiman
7. The Road - Cormac McCarthy
8. Night, Dawn and Day - Elie Wiesel
9. American Psycho - Brett Easton Ellis
10. A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess

1. Gross Point Blank
2. Apocalypse Now
3. Buried
4. Snatch
5. True Grit (Coen Bros version)
6. Indiana Jones Trilogy
7. Star Wars Original Trilogy
8. Back to the Future Trilogy
9. Firefly
10. Reservoir Dogs

1. The Shape of Punk to Come - The Refused
2. International Superhits - Green Day
3. The Empire Strikes First - Bad Religion
4. Billy Talent - Billy Talent
5. Highway 61 Revisited - Bob Dylan
6. The Living End - The Living End
7. Zoot Suit Riot - The Cherry Poppin' Daddies
8. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy - Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
9. Everything Goes Numb - Streetlight Manifesto
10. Decomposer - The Matches

Personal Items:
1. Camera and charger
2. Laptop and charger
3. Photo albums
4. A large notebook and a pen
5. A trypic of paintings done by Sam Henning hanging on my wall.

What would you save?

P.S. : These items may change as my collection grows or my tastes change.

Traildust PART TEN

Though he had gotten quite a head-start on him, the man was not worried about the American who had escaped after the gunfight. His escape had been amusing and impressive, something the man could rarely say about anyway on the wrong end of his pistols. The town he'd come from had fired at him but relented when the man had killed two of the guards. When he came into town the mayor addressed him with fear and anger.
"What do you want, you godless sonofabitch?" he shook a pistol at the man.
"A horse," the man said. "I got my saddle here but I need a new horse. Mine got shot."
"What makes you think we'd sell you a horse?" the mayor cocked the hammer on his pistol. "What makes you think I won't just shoot you down right now for what you done to my daughter?"
"Because you'da done it already," the man took his coin bag from his pocket. "And my coin is still good here. 'Sides, you don't know who's man I am."
The man smiled and it was so unnerving that the mayor holstered his piece and yelled for a horse to be brought to the man, for which the man parted with more gold than he preferred but he knew better than to argue under the circtumstances.
He had moved on now to another town within a day's ride. Before leaving the old town, though, he'd stuck around to watch the buzzards fly in and start picking apart the bodies of the dead men that lay strewn in the desert sand. The sun had already started to make them stink. Their eyes were grey and lifeless, arms stretched out towards weapons they could never reach.
The man pondered for a moment on where the soul might go after death, and if the final breath of a man was the soul escaping. He chuckled at this, musing on how many last breaths had gone unheard. A man was to be judged by the quality and character of his final words. That was what his father had always taught him and, if that were true, then many men he'd killed were of no consequence in the universe at all. Most spouted the same unoriginal blatherings of frightened dying men, cursing the man or his family or his soul. There were but a few that stuck to mind.
A man in a bar who had looked at him in a manor not to his liking had whispered in his ear before passing, "Shame I should die under this roof, surrounded by stinking, drunk men and not under the stars with my wife".
The man had liked that very much. Most injuns he'd killed had uttered something in their native, foreign tongue and most blacks merely prayed to the mercy of god. But, again, there had been exceptions. From what he could tell, white men and Mexicans cursed their killer's soul, black men prayed to god above for mercy and pity and injuns spoke in their unknowable tongue, probably speaking words to mother earth and the spirits and the animals. He hadn't yet killed a Chinaman, but looked forward to it.
Buzzards and creatures of carrion eat the eyes of the dead first, for they are soft and easy to get at. The dead men lay with eyes like black holes, bleeding, staring with no sight into the burning sun and sand while huge birds clawed at their chest and thrust their pointed beaks into their flesh. The man liked watching buzzards eat. It all seemed so natural to him.
It didn't take long to reach another town. One had popped up just under a day's ride away, as the sun lay high in the cloudless blue, and he had stopped in for some rest and food. He did not feel like drink or whores, he needed his mind clear for tracking the American. To clear his mind and think about where he would go, if he were a frightened man with a gunman on his tail, he took a walk around the small town on its dusty clay roads. Not long into his stroll he came upon a Jew wearing the typical long coat and hat of men of that religion. Two men were next to him, walking, and he heard one of the men say the word rabbi which he knew was the Jewish priest.
"You," the man said, "Jew."
The three men stopped and looked at him. Fear was already in their eyes.
"What do you do?"
"Me?" the man in the centre, with the coat and hat, gestured to himself. The man nodded. "I am a rabbi to these men and other Jews in the town, and to some people in towns around the area."
"That's like a priest, ain't it?"
The rabbi nodded. "It is, but for people of the Jewish faith."
"The Jewish faith."
The rabbi nodded again. The two men flanking him eyed each other, not knowing what to do.
"Correct me if my figuring is wrong, rabbi," the man approached the three Jews. They stood their ground. "But the Jews are not believers in Christ, are they?"
"No," the rabbi said, "we are not. We believe, for certain, that he was likely a real man, flesh and blood like the rest of us, but was not the moshiach, the messiah."
"How can you believe that?"
The rabbi shrugged. "It is in our faith, much like Christ is the foundation of yours. There were tennants for the moshiach to match, and Jesus did not match them."
"He did not live up to your Jewish expectations of the messiah?" The man placed his hand on his pistol.
"That is a matter for the Jews of the day," the rabbi eyed the pistol. "But no, he is not a messiah to us. We wait for ours, still, to come."
The man conisdered this a moment. "You are still expecting a messiah to come for you?"
The rabbi nodded. "That, too, is a tennant of our faith."
"Well hallelujah, for I have come."
The man drew his pistol and fired at the three Jews, striking each three of them in the heart. The two men flanking the rabbi fell down dead, but the rabbi still lived, clutching his breat. Many scared bystanders stood silently and watched. The rabbi's lips were moving and the man leaned down to listen to him speak.
"Your last words?" the man said.
"It is of no consequence that you kill me, for you only harm yourself. I am a man of god like any of your priests, and he shall look after me. You have felled to faithful men with me, and for this you will be punished."
"I've heard all this before, rabbi," the man put the gun to the rabbi's chin. "Anything else?"
"Though a bullet has felled me, the sun is still beautiful and the world is still here. I am nothing more than someone who existed and lived on a planet not entirely our own. You, too, are of no consequence at all."
And then, the rabbi died. The man stayed there for a moment, leaning over the still-warm body, and pondered the words. Before standing he whispered, "I've never killed a Jew before. Thank you, rabbi."
He stood, then, and walked away to his cabin where no one bothered him until he road out the next morning, in search of the American who had run away.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Traildust PART NINE

Sweat poured into Bennet's eyes as the sun burned down over them. Rifle cracks echoed over the landscape, small tufts of sand exploding upwards with each missed bullet, each avoided death. On the other side of the dead fire was Xavo, swearing loudly to himself and to the sky in his native tongue, reloading shot after shot. Most of his bullets went wide or high, but Bennet didn't judge. His shots weren't hitting home either. A seething buzz past his ear and was gone - a shot meant for the head.
"Holy Mary, mother of god," Bennet said to himself. "I ain't never asked for nothin' afore, but if you will let me survive this here gunfight, I'll try and be a better Catholic," a sandy explosion by his other ear, "ah, to hell with it."
He reached over the top of the sandbank and fired all six shots from his six-shooter. Then, silence. No shots, nothing. A voice came sailing to them on the wind.
"How about we put down our guns?" it said. "I done waylaid your friends, sure, but I'm sure we can come to some kind of arrangement."
Xavo and Bennet exchanged a glance.
"I'm thinkin', friend," Bennet said, "that you have us figured for fools."
"Not at all, but for smart men who want to live."
"That we do. I'd like to continue living for many years ahead, if it is possible and within the realm of things likely."
A pause. "It can be arranged for you to live."
"Basta!" Xavo said and jumped up from his hiding spot. "Morirás por su fechorías a mis amigos!"
He fired his two loaded pistols at the voice, loud cracks bursting the air around them like glass. When he was done, clouds of smoke hung low over the open desert, clinging to everything like cotton. The wind cleared it amidst a stunned silence and when it did a final crack sounded and Xavo dropped to the sand, a red hole in his forehead.
"Jesus Christ!" Bennet dug himself deeper into his sandy dugout.
"Your friend has broken our accord," the voice carried on. "And now you must die."
"He didn't speak for the both of us!" Bennet yelled back. His heart thudded against his ribs, a beast trying to escape his bonds.
"I'm afraid he did."
Rifle cracks. Thuds and sany eruptions. Bennet looked around for a way to flee. His horse was not five paces away. He knew he could make it to the horse, and figured if he rode by cluthing to the side of the horse, using it as a shield, that he ought to be able to escape. He crawled through the sand on his belly like a snake, bullets whizzing overhead, until he reached his and Xavo's horses. But before jumping up and out, he thought for a moment. He turned, digging himself into the sand, and took aim with his rifle and checked the magazine. Two shots left.
"Better make 'em count," he said aloud to himself and stared down the site.
He could see his enemy's horse, standing by the way where the shots were coming from, digging its hooves idly into the sand. Looking down the barrel of the gun, Bennet remembered the shooting advice he'd first gotten from his father.
"Breathe in," he's said, "and squeeze the trigger back tight halfway through your breath out."
Bennet breathed in slowly and fired as he breathed out. The shot went far wide and went off into the distance, probably to land in some cactus or rock.
"Come on, damnit," he said to himself. "Shoot that damn horse or yer a dead man!"
He breathed in slowly and as he breathed out - crack! In the distance, the horse went down, its limbs flailing around until it crashed to the sand in a cloud.
Now was his chance.
Out loud, he counted to three before jumping up and thrusting forward. He landed in between his and Xavo's horse and climbed up against the side of his own horse. Grabbing the reigns of Xavo's horse, he smacked the horses into motion and they whinnied and sped off into the desert. A rifle crack felled Xavo's horse. The horse fell in an explosion of sand and blood. By the time the man realised that Bennet was on the other horse, he was too far out of range. A Winchester repeater can only shoot so far, and five hundred feet is out of that distance. Not to mention while moving.
Bennet urged the horse on, looking over his shoulder for a bullet that would turn his life to darkness.

The man crept from his dugout and went over to the camp where he'd lain his trap. There was a new body now, the man he'd just shot. He looked in the distance at the dust trail of the escaping man but did not care. Bending low, he examined the dead Mexican's face.
"You must be Xavo," the man said and spat on Xavo's face. "No mas, no mas."
By Xavo's hands, the man saw that he had two pistols with blade attachements to the barrel. He took these up and smiled.
"Well, I'll be," he said and pocketed them both. Collecting the money and gold teeth from the dead around him, he turend around and took his saddle and bags from his dead horse. He made for the town from which he'd come. Whether they liked it or not, they were selling him a new horse and by morning he would be riding after the American who'd escaped. Soon, the vultures would come and the only evidence of the fight would be bones, blood and stories.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Traildust PART EIGHT

Though the sandstorm had faded away into the night, the man remained in the town. He was close enough to his destination that he could afford some moments to himself and he had not seen the riders he was looking for enter the area yet. He had paid a man to tell him once the Mexicans had showed up. For now, he remained in the town. He had arrived last night, during the storm, flashing his gold and pistols. Food and beer and whiskey had been brought to him a plenty by whores of his choosing, lined up by the mayor of the town.
"Pretty, ain't she?" he said, gesturing to a short, buxome woman with dark hair and frightened eyes.
The man grunted. "Who is she?"
"My daughter."
"I'll take her," the man pulled the girl close to him. She squealed, afraid. "And them ones, too."
He pointed to two women who could easily have been twins, no older than the sixteen of the mayor's daughter.
"Of course, sir," the man ushered the two women into a storage room. They re-emerged with food and wine and were escorted to the man's house. The man stood in the middle of the town square and pushed his lips onto those of the small daughter of the mayor. She tried to resist but his arms were strong, his hands wandering over her thighs and buttocks. People in the square looked away, left. The man smirks and dragged the girl with him to the house with the other women. Her screams echoed out into the world, uncaring, as he violated her over and over again.
In the morning, he pulled on his britches and stepped out into the glaring sunlight of the day. The storm had passed, leaving everything covered in a thick layer of sand. A messenger came to him.
"Sir," he said, panting out of breath, "sir, the men you was lookin' for, I think they just come in from the south!"
"You sure?" the man pulled on his duster and hat.
"Well, I reckon it. Three Mexicans, one with a red bandana around his hat."
The man flipped the messenger a coin. "Buy yourself a whore."
Tipping his hat, the boy left. The man saddled his horse and packed up his belongings and rode swiftly from the town, ignoring the smiling mayor spitting pleasantries, smirking. It was not until the man was out of sight, hidden from his prey, that the mayor would find his daughter. Blood covered the walls and floor. Her once pretty face was cut from the skull and stuck to the wall in a macabre grimace, the eyes staring out at a world they no longer knew. In blood, on the walls, was written "thanks be to the lord". The girl's gut had been cut open, the sheets soaked with thick redness. The other two whores were found bound and gagged in the closet, nary a cut on them. It is said that the mayor's wife's cries could be heard for miles and days, cracking the air like lightning. But the man who killed her daughter heard nothing of it.

Bennet and Xavo were riding side by side when Xavo finally spoke, the first words since they'd left town.
"There, up ahead," he said. He leant over and rubbed his leg. "I can see Sanguar's hat."
Bennet, too, could see the unmistakeable red bandana wrapped around an old brown hat, sitting on the Mexican's head, while he sat in the sand contemplating gold and murder.
"Finally," Bennet said. "It was damn far out this time."
Xavo nodded. It was only when they were within a stone's throw that they saw the blood. Like a map of veins spread across the sand, it had sunk in dark and thick. The Mexicans sat in upright positions against saddlesm. Their horses were gutted, sitting around them, strips of meat removed.
The two riders steadied their horses, who whined at the sight of the dead animals. Bennet shushed and petted his, cooing it to being still. Once it was, he climbed down and explorded the site.
"Madre des dios," Xavo had climbed from his horse, too, and walked beside Bennet. "What has happened?"
"Can't rightly say," Bennt leaned down to look at Sanguar's face. A knife stuck out, a note pinned against his forehead. Bennet took the note off and read it. "But it appears that someone is not so keen on our fake money business."
Bennet passed Xavo the note, who read it, mumbling each word aloud in the manner of men reading their second language.
"Puta madre," he said, throwing the note down. "Who is this who tries to stop us?"
Bennet got up, looked around. "Don't know, doesn't say."
Beyond the town nearby a ways and some shrubbery over the lip of a small valley, there was nowhere for an ambusher to hide.
"But it seems to me like we should leave."
Bennet had barely spoken the words when small explosions in the sand caught his eyes.
Thuk, thuk, thuk.
The rifle cracks came to his ears a split second later and he dropped to the ground.
"Too late," he said to himself. "Looks like we have to shoot our way out."
Xavo cocked his two pistols, raised them close to his chest. "Si, and maybe only one of us will leave."
"Or neither of us."
And the two men returned fire in the direction of the gun-cracks, hoping to hit anything.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Traildust PART SEVEN

A heavy sandstorm began to blow in from the south and Bennet had to wrap a torn piece of cloth across his nose and mouth to breath. The Mexican popped up his coat collar and fashioned them together with a string sewn there for the purpose. The world was blurred and hazy, the horses whined and bucked, wanting to turn their eyes away from the sand and the wind.
"We oughta stop somewhere," Bennet said, his voice loud to call over the howling winds. "The horses ain't gonna make it and we're gonna get lost out here! I'm certain there's a town not far from here to the north-west."
"No stopping, cabron," Xavo said. "We're already tarde, we need to meet the others."
"Where the hell are they? We never been out this far for a meet before. The hell's goin' on?"
"Cállate y ven, we're almost there."
As if on message by god, Xavo's horse bucked him off in a fit of pain and fear and kicked its way north as fast as its tired legs would take it, its hind legs stamping on Xavo's left leg as it fled from its master.
"Puta madre!" The Mexican got up to try and follow the beast, but tripped over into the sand. He let out a murderous cry, swearing revenge on the animal and the world of beasts and men. Thick blood pooled out from his leg and soaked into the yellow sand, balling in chunks and sticky rivers. "Help me, hijo de puta!"
Bennet climbed down off his horse and stood over the Mexican. "I think it's time you told me just what in the hell is goin' on, Xavo."
He pulled his six-shooter from his thigh holster and let it hang there in his hand. The Mexican looked from it to the eyes of the man holding it and back again. He swallowed and scratched at his dark and patchy beard. His eyes darted back and forth, a trapped animal backed into a corner.
"Pinche cabron," he said. "There's nothing going on, si? Sanguar just wants to have a talk with you, hablar, es todo."
"Talk about what?"
"Business, cabron, negocio, dinero."
"What in the hell's changed from normal?" Bennet cocked the hammer back on the pistol but didn't raise it from its languid position by his side. Xavo jerked his eyes to the pistol. Slowly, he looked back up at Bennet. His eyes were serious, unmoving, dark with anger.
"It's getting harder to move the fake money," Xavo pushed himself into a sitting position with his palms. "The townspeople and their intendetes are hiring mercenarios, los Pinkertons, to drive us out of town. They're starting not to take the pesos, we need to make more American dolares. Green money, cabron. They killed three of our hermanos so far!" The Mexican stopped and eyed Bennet carefully. "Sanguar figured that since you are un herrero, you could make some pistolas y fusiles. Guns, cabron. Sanguar wants guns."
Bennet looked down at the man. His eyes narrowed. "I don't make guns."
"Eres un herrero! You can make guns!" Xavo lifted his arms in the air, fists balled, shaking them at him.
"I can make guns, but I won't make guns."
"Por que, cabron?"
"'Coz that's gonna come back to me, and killin' folks ain't what I'm for. I'll make you some green back, American dolares. I'll do that. I said I'd do that, I owes you that much. But I draw the line at pistolas. No pistols, no rifles, nada. You ain't gonna come up here and just up and kill Americans 'coz they ain't liable to take the fake money I made for ye. That's a problem you gon' have to sort out yerself."
Xavo was silent for a moment that stretched for the creation and destruction of whole worlds. Finally, he cracked open his voice like an earthquake from under the sea. "Sanguar no sera feliz."
Bennet thumbed the hammer forward and holstered his gun. "Then let him be un-feliz." He reached down and helped the Mexican up onto his own horse and began leading it by the reigns in the direction of town.
"No, I figure we lay low until the sandstorm blows off, then we go talk to your man Sanguar."
Xavo nodded a curt nod and they continued off into the blankness of the desert storm. Once at the gates of the small town, whose name was printed on no sign visible in the storm, Bennet spoke with the mayor who met them at the gate at the behest of the men with guns who manned the entrance to the town. He explained that they were trapped out in the desert on their travels and that his companion had been hurt when his horse had gone mad from the sand and fled, kicking him to the ground. They mayor nodded and took them to a small, empty cottage next to the jail and brought them some food, strips of dried burro and chili, and water. He also sent for a doctor to examine Xavo's leg, who wrapped it in bandages and told him not to put pressure on it.
"The bone is likely broken," the doctor said, putting his tools in his back. "It will set, but you will have a limp. It won't be too bad if you don't walk on it for a short while."
Xavo swore at the man in his native tongue, cursing his family and his sex and his dog. "What am I suppoed to do, eh? Just sit around or ride?"
The doctor looked at him and sighed. He went out for a moment and returned, brushing sand from his hair, and gave Xavo a shot wooden cane.
"This will help lift the pressure from your leg while you walk. If you're careful and vigilent, you won't require one for the rest of your miserable days." And with that, the doctor was gone.
They slept the night in the town, the storm not letting up until the following morning. The mayor gave Xavo a new horse in exchange for his rifle. Grumbling, Xavo mounted the new horse and spurred it onwards, Bennet following. It wasn't until their way out of town that they found Xavo's horse dead curled in on itself like a cold and frightened child, its lungs filled with sand.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Traildust PART SIX

The head made a wet slap and a dull thud as the man dropped it on the table. The hessian sack he had packed it in had turned a dark brown with dried blood, the rest of it caked in desert dust. Smoke curled up from the cigarette of the man sitting in front of him. It was his desk the head had been set down upon. A plaque on the wall named him as Jack Crawley, Officer of the Law, Commended for Brave Services to the People of Galveston, Texas. He reached forward and opened the sack from the top and pulled it down over the severed head. Dead eyes stared out from the preacher's face, contorted in a frozen look of everlasting horror.
"Jesus," Jack said. "He's an ugly fucker, ain't he?"
"No prettier nor uglier than your average nigger." The man spat onto the ground.
Jack coughed up a laugh. He unsheathed a knife from his waist and stuck it into the man's mouth. A small cut and a cold tooth tumbled into his grimy palm. Jack handed the tooth up to the man.
"This'll part of your payment, as well as the coin," Jack turned to unlock a safe behind him. He withdrew a small coffer of gold coins and passed them across the table. "Thanks for the good work, son."
"Thanks fer the money." The man put the coins in a pouch hanging from his belt.
"I got another job for ye, if you're interested?"
The man raised his chin at the man. "Go on."
Jack smiled. "There's a bunch of Mexicans sneaking counterfeit monies into the cities of the United States."
"What kind?"
"Mostly pesos and the like, but folks on the border still take 'em as payment. Word is, though, that they're starting to ship in fake American bills, too. That don't sit to right with me."
The man nodded.
"I'd like ye to kindly go on down Mexico way and convince 'em to just go ahead and stop."
The man nodded, again.
"I'm supposing I can count on you?"
The man spat. "Usually do."
Jack smiled, shook the man's hand and gestured for him to leave. The man left.
"Jimmy!" Jack called. A small man with a weasel-like demeanour and a large bald patch came in.
"Yeah, Mr. Crawley, sir?"
Jack threw the preacher's head at Jimmy, who caught it despite himself.
"Put that on a stake out in the courtyard and tell the Smythes and the Collinses that they can come see the head of the man responsible for defiling their daughters."
Jimmy turned to leave.
"Tell 'em also, Jimmy, that their pay is due."
"Of course, Mr. Crawley." And Jimmy slinked out of the room.
Outside, the man unhitched his horse, took out a small compass and then close it. He squinted at the horizon towards Mexico and kicked his horse. Hoof clops and dust lay behind the man and covered the world.

Bennet awoke earlier than Jake and packed up the campsite. He ate some leftover meat and beans for breakfast, the tortillas and fillings cold but still moist enough from being covered away from the desert sun.
The sounds of a horse made him turn around and a rider was approaching them at speed. He stopped and reared his horse just at the edge of the camp.
"Gringo," the man said.
"Hello, Xavo," Bennet said. "How are ye?"
"Who the fuck is that?" Xavo gestured with a strange pistol, a blade jutting out from beneath the barrel.
"Jake. He sort of invited hisself along."
"Hey," Xavo jumped down and kicked Jake's boot. Jake woke with a start, snorting. "What you doin' out here, gringo?"
"What's it to you, amiga?"
"Hoo, got some balls on you cabron. I got some balls, too." Xavo took the pistol and thrust the blade down into Jake's forehead and fired. The pistol ball shot out the back of his skull with bits of brain and a splattering of blood. A river of patterns, like veins of old copper, shot along the sand, staining the desert. Jake walked among the ghosts.
"God damnit!" Bennet yelled. "Now why'd you go and do that for?"
"I don't like being sassed, hermano. Vamos, vamos. No quiero llegar tarde."
Bennet took a look at Jake and sighed. Xavo went for the dead man's boots.
"I wouldn't be doin' that if I was you."
"Por que?"
"Wearin' a dead man's boots is invitin' a world a pain you ain't needin' or wantin'. Mala suerte."
Xavo eyed the boots and Bennet alternatively. He left the boots and climbed on his horse. Bennet did the same and they clicked their horses forward into the sun of the day, the white dust looking like an endless mirage created by mistake by some meddlesome god.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Traildust PART FIVE

The sun was beginning to set and the winds were blowing in cold from the East. Coyotes barked and howled at the dustcloud-covered moon. Specks of fires burned on the horizon, but riders couldn't be seen for miles. The two riders stopped. Bennet looked off into the distance and then behind him and scratched his nose.
"We ought make camp here for tonight," he said, dismounting. "We'll continue on tomorrow."
"How far you goin', Bennet?" Jake said, climbing off his horse and lashing it to a nearby cactus.
"Far 'nuff. 'Bout another day's ride. If'n we're lucky it'll be a little less."
"What was it you said you had to do out there?"
"Didn't," Bennet tied his horse to a leafless shrub. "You don't gotta come along."
"I don't mind."
Bennet sat in the sand and carved himself a hole in the sand. The top was warm but just two handfuls down and it was cold. He pulled down his rucksack, dug into it and pull out some beans, sun-dried burro meat and some tortillas and put them down next to him. After a few tries he stoked up a fire and got it going so that the gods could see them clean and clear. Putting the food on a flat rock he pushed it towards the fire and smelled the food as it cooked.
"Is that all you got to eat?" Jake asked, moving closer to the fire. "Just that Mexican stuff?"
"Yeah, what of it?"
"Just don't seem good enough is all. I always keep m'self goin' with whiskey and American-style chilli. Maybe some cornbread if'n I got it."
"Well, guess each to his own."
Jake pulled some cornbread and whiskey out of his saddlebag and started eating.
"You already had whiskey," Bennet said.
"I did."
"Then why'd you take some a mine?"
"'Coz I asked and you gave."
Jake laughed at his own cleverness and Bennet ignored him, turning the strips of meat over to cook them evenly. Silence passed between the men, filled only by the sounds of a desert night. The specks on the horizon surrounded them on all sides. Fires lit by men like them, travelling, covered in desert dust and sweating in the sun, freezing under the moonlit night.
Smoke spiralled off of burnt edges and the food was ready. Bennet wrapped some beans and meat in a tortilla and ate, washing down every other mouthful with whiskey. When he was done he took some cigarettes out of his jacket pocket and lit one up, leaning it into the fire and pulling it in for a drag. Spirals of tobacco smoke lingered in the air like dust devils, mixing and mingling with the ember-laden fire smoke.
"Pass me one a them?"
"Y'got yer own."
Laughing, Jake reached into his vest pocket and pulled out some short cigars.
"Wouldja look at that?"
Putting the cigar in his mouth, he leaned his face in towards the fire to light it up. Smirking, he sat back up. The smell of burnt hair lingered. Bennet nodded at the man's beard and Jake shrieked as he patted the singed and glowing ends. Bennet growled a low laugh.

When Jake had finally fallen asleep, Bennet stared up into the sky. Star stretched across it like a blanket, small pockets of light in the never-ending darkness. He put his fingers into a gun and aimed up at the stars, one by one.
"Bang," he said.
He did this for a while until he felt weary and the world turned dark with sleep. He dreamt of nothing but walking to the market and buying bread. Eating cereal from his favourite bowl. Gold falling from over-stuffed coffers.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

On Dreams

I recently read an article written by a friend of mine about his adulation, joy and love for the Duke Nukem franchise and the finally-being-released-after-a-14-year-delay Duke Nukem Forever. He talks about the hope, the knowing, the faith that Forever was always going to come, no matter how many delays or how much mud the name was dragged through.
Even after 3D Realms - the Apogee company responsible for Duke - closed down, he held fast and it was picked up by Borderlands' Gearbox. And now, after all these years - more than half his life - the game is being released and he has joyfully played the demo after all that waiting.

Despite having never really talked about it before, that is exactly - exactly - how I felt about Starcraft 2.

Starcraft was one of those games that defined my childhood. Besides some fairly unknown games like Gizmos and Gadgets, Treasure Mountain, Operation: Neptune and some more known games like the Worms franchise, Fury 3 and Myst, Starcraft was the game I played with my brother every week; the game I had LAN parties, inviting a dozen friends over to play; the game I loved but (if I'm to be honest) was never very good at. But I didn't care. It was so much fun.
This was, of course, back when a game's story mattered a lot. Sure, the graphics may be a little dated now, but still amazing for its time, but damn was that story engaging with characters I loved. I still remember how I felt when Sarah Kerrigan got merged with the Zerg. I to this day regret the death of Fenix and his subsequent rebirthed Dragoon form. I still identify with James "Jim" Raynor. And, at the end of Starcraft's amazing expansion pack Brood War, I knew that Starcraft 2 was coming. I knew it. I felt it.

I liked to dream that it was coming just around the corner, and we'd finally meet the Xel'naga, the ancient race in the Starcraft universe. I finished Brood War in 1998. And then I waited and I waited.

There was no word that there would ever be a Starcraft 2, but I knew. There had to be. They wouldn't leave the story like that, begging to be finished, begging to be continued, heard, seen. Internet and PC Magazine rumours abounded about this game. "It's coming!" They cried. "Just you wait!"
There was fan-made art and all sorts of things to keep our hopes up that the game was coming. It became a joke amongst my family and friends. The game was coming, we knew, but it also wasn't. It gave us something to look forward to. Something to want.

Then there was Blizzard's biggest game delay mess-up. If you know Blizzard, you know I'm talking about Starcraft: Ghost. The game was going to be a third-person shooter-style game, sort of like a Splinter Cell in the Starcraft universe. We would finally see the inside of the battleships, see the Zerg up close, see what every character really looked like and how they lived. It would have been like what World of Warcraft did to the Warcraft universe - you can see it, experience it, be in it.

Delay after delay after delay. The came never came. There were press releases and exhibitions, "It's coming," they said. "It is. We promise."
And it didn't.
Then, disaster struck. Blizzard changed development companies over some dispute or another and all of the work that had been done - pretty much the entire game mind you - was deleted, erased and made as if to start over. They never did. The game development never recovered and Ghost was dust in the wind.

A light, though, a light came through. It happened in May, 2007. We got it. Released at E3 and then on the word-spreading web, we got the first teaser for Starcraft 2. It was simple. A man - a criminal - being unleashed from his chains and bolted tight into the overwhelmingly large suit of marine armour.
"Hell," he said, a smirk and a cigar. "It's about time."

Yes. Yes it was.

From then on, art and gameplay trailers came and finally, on the 27th of July, 2010, we got it. We were given Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty. And we loved it. Sure, there were problems - lots of them. No LAN capabilities, only online play, regioned multiplayer, but hot damn, we had something. The story continued and it was glorious.

To be released in 3, 40-hour gameplay installments, starting with our future selves, the Terrans, the game promised to be an epic of immense proportions. In between missions you got to explore the battlecruiser on which Jim Rayner took residence. You saw the models, moving and speaking, of these characters, not just small talking faces in a war-room or short cut-scenes - these were people, damnit!

It finally came. And now, we wait on part 2. And part 3.