This week’s post came to us from our good friend down in Southampton, Joe Baldwin. A lot of writers are afraid to explore the world of science fiction. Some will claim that it’s not a serious genre, it isn’t worth writing about and nobody in their right mind will take it seriously. For these reasons it is often overlooked when works of fiction are being considered for awards. Thankfully, writers like Joe are carrying the torch and showing us that writing about monsters and superstition isn’t just for children.
Rose opened his eyes, closed them again and breathed a deep sigh. He felt the sun bear down on his lined and marked face, making his skin a burning coal fire. Another day. Rose hated daylight. He loved darkness. Darkness was quiet, solitude and stillness. Daylight was the desperate riding into town, the fingers on cold steel and the minds on murder, the blood seeping onto the parched sand like the petals of the flower whose name he shared. What Rose wanted, more than anything else, was a day off.
Instead, he got to his feet and walked slowly to the tub. His body ached. He winced with every breath, tracing his fingers over the dark bruises on his ribs. The taste of last night’s liquor was still on his tongue, and he felt like a scorched wasteland inside his mouth. As he climbed into the water he was already picturing himself walking into the store and buying ten bottles more to get himself off to sleep. But that was a long way off. He still had the struggle of another day to get through before he could enter that blissful paradise.
After his bath was done, he picked up his holster and stepped out into the street. People bustled to and fro, the dark blues and blazing reds of ladies dresses stood out against the bone coloured sand. A gaggle of children ran past kicking up dirt and laughing as they chased an ancient dog around the road. The dog wheezed and whined, the sound made Rose think of an old chair creaking. He glanced at the wall of the station across the way, at the posters in black and white of the monsters who lurked beyond the town, roaming the hills and hiding in the weeds like slugs. There were too many faces on the wall. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d taken one of the posters down. One of the monsters had killed another a few weeks ago and drawn a red line through the deceased’s face. That was the most recent development on the wall.
Rose entered the sheriff’s office. The entrance stank of old smoke and whisky. He could hear shouts coming from the cells. He wandered down the corridor, the sunlight glinting on the iron bars, down to the cell at the end, the shouts getting louder the closer he got.
“Where is he?” someone snapped. It sounded like Aceveda. There was the sound of breaking bone. Screams.
“They just… told me they’ve got your boy…Macullen…up by the mountains in the west… at your favourite spot they said.”
Rose turned the corner into the cell. Between his two officers, Aceveda and Garth, was a thin man dressed in blood stained rags. Terror was written all over his face, his mouth shaking and the saggy flesh beneath his bony cheeks quivering. Garth had one hand clasped over the man’s wrist, and Rose noticed his spindly fingers twitching like beetles against the grimy wall of the cell.
“Who’s got him?” asked Rose.
“Doradio. He sent me to you. He wanted me to give you the message.”
“We gotta go and get Macullen” said Aceveda.
“Since when did you start caring about anyone?”
“He’s one of us. We got to”
Rose wondered how long Aceveda had been out here. After the darkness gathered, and the rain fell like needles, Rose stood in the doorway of his house, staring at the wall across the road, watching the rivulets of water soak the posters. The faces dissolved in the rain. The small victory he had gained in that terrible gorge was washed away by the world. That’s life said a voice in his head.
Life was reaching the top of the mountain and finding Macullen’s lifeless body and realising death was staring you in the face. It was the hole in Aceveda’s head glistening like a river. It was Garth lying against a blood stained rock. Life was the wind whipping up the gravel so that it landed sharp as glass in an open wound, it was Garth’s screams and the instinct for mercy inside you that made you raise your weapon and put him out of his misery. It was the sense of having climbed a mountain when you found Doradio’s body amongst the fallen and you thought at least your friends have been avenged. It was life that you walked down the mountain road in search of.
He had not swallowed a drop of liquor. The bottle was cold and wet in the rain. He stared at his face, darkened and bent out of shape in the glass. Blood was dripping from his arm and he realised that he had cut himself on one of the rocks during the ambush. After he had cleaned the cut and bandaged it he spotted his revolver lying on the table where he had left it. It was completely out of bullets, and it occurred to him that if one man came into the town with a gun Rose would be unable to protect anybody. Then he laughed to himself, wondering who the gunfight in the mountains had protected.
Most of the people in the town would have gone about their business, buying cigars, climbing in stage coaches and playing cards and none of them knew that death was leading Rose and his men on a merry dance. There was no one left to protect anybody. Only Rose. He would need to ask for more help from one of the nearby towns. No one in his own town would volunteer. The best of them had died in the mountains. He opened the bottle and drank deeply. But the warm feeling of abandon wouldn’t come. He drifted off to sleep while the rain fell, dreaming of a day off.
It’s interesting when a writer dares to combine genres. In this case, Joe does a good job at inserting a western vibe into this science fiction piece, or is it the other way around? Although the persona of the hard-drinking cowboy has been done before, the air of mystery and that surrounds Rose’s wall and what lurks in the hills gives the character another element for us to ponder.
Join us next week for a new post and happy reading in the dog days of August.