Once upon a time there was a man, nay, a legend called Stormcrow. He can best be described as a miserable sod who hates hobbits. I use him as a vehicle for poking fun at the fantasy genre (I’ve read enough to be allowed to do so). You might want to check out his first adventure – Any Crow In A Storm – before continuing but it’s not compulsory. Besides how would I know. Or indeed enforce it.
In this the second episode of his adventures he finds himself in the wild west for no practical reason…
Under the gaze of the noon-day sun the land was quiet. Nothing stirred save the occasional plume of dust coaxed from the ground by the warm, summer breeze. The gentle whickering of a horse was the only sound to disturb the hot, heavy hush until it too became quiet.
Silence ruled in this dusty place.
At the edge of town a man approached through the rippling haze. He placed one foot in front of the other in the manner of one who has been beaten down by the incessant sun but not yet broken. As he reached the middle of Main Street he paused next to the deserted undertakers with its half-finished coffins spilling out beyond the porch. He spat in to the dirt and crossed to the general store. Above the “back much later” sign on the door was the same wanted poster he’d seen in every one-horse, two-dog, three-times-a-lady outpost this side of Halfrow.
Wanted: Dead or Alive. Reward $100 to be collected in person from Mayor Silence.
The man nodded slowly. The reward had grown as fast as the legend and today was collection day.
Turning back to the street a creaking sound to his right caught his attention. He stiffened as he tried to place it and then relaxed as he watched the rusting sign of the Sheriff’s Badge swinging above the saloon door as it caught the hint of a zephyr. Hands twitching just above gun level the man took one last gulp of baked air, dropped his hands back to his sides and strode towards the bar.
As he entered the saloon Silence greeted him. He waved back at the mayor and then turned his attention to the brooding black-clad form hunkered over the bar. On the opposite side of the worn, wooden counter a nervous looking barkeep dabbed at the beads of sweat forming on his balding pate with a threadbare handkerchief. The barman’s eyes flicked from the stranger at the door to the man at the bar while the fingers of his right hand fidgeted and fussed with his ample moustache. After much flicking, fidgeting and fussing the man in black grunted and tapped his glass ominously on the bar. The barkeep flinched at the sound of glass striking wood, picked up the half empty bottle of rye and began to pour.
Deep in his cups the huge bear-like form paid no further mind to the stranger at the door or the recently retreated barkeep. He just sat there in his highly inappropriate midnight cloak, hunched over his liquor, thoughts unknown. If the previously encountered zephyr had been of a mind to wander (as only zephyrs do – real breezes generally trot) in to the saloon, then make its zephyry way to the bar and disturb the thick dark cloak the man wore, the unmistakable movement of feathers would have been witnessed by All and Sundry (resident drunkard and part time blacksmith respectively) as well as everyone else within the Sheriff’s Badge. Zephyrs however are not to be trusted and the one in question merely wandered along Main Street before dying an inevitable and windless death just outside Old Ma Adams’ place.
The stranger at the entrance cared nothing for the zephyr’s demise or the ruffled feathers it could have been responsible for. His focus was on the man at the bar. From where he stood staring at his quarry it was difficult to tell where midnight cloak ended and ebony ten-gallon hat began. The effect was disconcerting and it took him a moment to find his voice.
“You the one they call Stormcrow boy?” His voice rang out like a colt-45 in a particularly echoey barrel.
Around the saloon an entire cast of unmentioned people stopped whatever it was they happened to be doing. Their previous actions didn’t amount to a hill of beans and certainly play no part in this story. The black figure ignored this complete lack of description, raised his glass, drained it and placed it back on the table all in one fluid yet precise motion.
“Sit down boy,” said Stormcrow in a voice that was somehow soft, compelling and amused all in one. His words gave rise to more tension as well as birthing the adverb socompelsedly.
The man pulled up a stool and did as he was asked. Stormcrow produced a second glass and, after filling it to the brim, passed it to the stranger.
“Yes it is,” replied the stranger immediately wishing he could take it back, “but I didn’t come here to drink with you. I came here to kill you and claim my reward from the mayor over there.”
As he caught the dark look on Stormcrow’s face the cheery wave from Mayor Silence turned in to a shrugged and somewhat incongruous “What’s a guy gonna do?” Silence wilted under the intense scrutiny and a completely unnecessary “Fuhgeddaboudit” died on his lips.
“Why don’t we just get this over with?” said the stranger pushing the still-full glass back towards Stormcrow. “We ain’t getting any younger.”
Stormcrow drained both glasses and shook his head. “What’s your name son?” he asked in a weary tone.
“Billy. Billy ‘Two-Guns’ McGraw.”
“Why ‘Two-Guns’ Billy?” said Stormcrow without looking up.
Billy looked embarrassed for a moment and fidgeted in his seat before anger rose in him and he slammed his hand down on the bar. “That’ll be on account of my two guns mister which you’d already know if you knew anything about the wilds of the west. Round these parts I’m considered the greatest two gun shooter of them all! Ain’t nothing I can’t hit at a hundred paces whether I’m blind drunk, sober as a priest or anywhere in between. I’ve killed more men in these parts than most of the fellas in here have had cold dinners or hot women. Mustang Sally, Minnie the Moocher, The Rhinestone Cowboy…I shot the lot of them! Hell, I took out Benny and the rest of his Jets gang on account of him whistling funny! I’ve shot John…”
“You’ve only got one gun.”
“…and the rest of the Ewing County bandits…wait a minute, whatchoo say?”
“Gun, Billy. Singular.”
“Well now you just hold on there for one lousy moment mister…I don’t know where you get off casting doubt on good folks and their rightfully earned names…” Billy’s shoulders slumped as some frantic tapping at his left hip confirmed the truth.
Stormcrow met Billy’s eye and nodded, conveying as much sympathy as is possible with a single nod.
“I don’t believe this,” said Billy, “I was sure I had it when I came in to town.” His face took on a broken look and his voice assumed a strange English twang. “This was my big chance and I’ve only gone and blown it. I’ll be the bloody laughing stock I will!”
Stormcrow considered this for a few moments as he filled and then drained another glass. When he set the glass down his speech was a little slurred, not that you would tell from the way it’s written.
Billy looked up at him, eyes filled with hope.
“Think,” said Stormcrow, “Where was the last place you remember having it?”
Billy tugged at a nondescript earlobe. “Well…I definitely had it when I left Halfrow…I didn’t stop at Bullethole Ridge or Freckle Gorge…” Billy slapped his forehead, “Of course! I stopped for a quick snack just short of town next to that little grove of oddly shaped cactuses and I must have left it behind.”
“Cacti,” said Stormcrow.
“Cacti,” repeated Stormcrow.
Billy glanced down at his chest. “But I’m not wearing one.”
“One more of those and I’ll shoot you myself,” said the barkeep who had re-appeared for no discernible reason.
“Sorry,” said Billy. His face broke in to a wide smile. “Perhaps I should be ‘Two-Puns’ from now on eh? Eh?” Billy laughed alone. “Oh come on, it wasn’t that bad…guys?” Billy stood up in a huff. “Fine, I’ll be off then.”
An awkward moment passed fairly awkwardly before Billy let out a nervous little laugh. “So…um…don’t go anywhere then…coz…well…y’know…”
Meeting Stormcrow’s bitter stare Billy realised that mimicking the click of a pistol cock, shaping both hands in to guns and hinting at a “PuhPOW!” motion was probably not his finest hour and he dropped his hands back to his sides and walked towards the door.
As Billy left the bar and Stormcrow resumed drinking, a strong gust of wind galloped in to the bar ruffling the black feathered cloak draped over Stormcrow’s solid frame. With a look of horror on his face Mayor Silence leapt to his feet.
“BILLY! WAIT! IT’S A TRAP! THE WIND ALWAYS BLOWS STRONGEST AT THIS TIME OF DAY AND…”
A harsh, metallic grating sound followed by a brief scream, a plaintive gurgle, a moderately dull thud and a spasmodic scratching noise filled the air.
“…I’ve been meaning to fix that overly large rusting metal sign above the saloon…” finished the mayor before slumping back in to his chair.
“Probably built by bloody Hobbitssshhh,” muttered Stormcrow before passing out.