The Most Dangerous Blog

Chicken Soup for the Bubonic Plague: Novel Excerpts, Short Stories and Essays

Wayword Scribblers, 3

366551_marmottes
A marmot.

 

I volunteered to lead our third meeting, where first we discussed Terry’s latest assignment: to write a short story, with a beginning, middle and end, on a single page.

In 2012 I’d had the idea for the below story, so I used this opportunity to finally put it on the page. I’d always considered it a longer short story of around 1,500 to 2,000 words, but it was fun transposing my aim to around 600. The others in the group thought the story worked well at this length, so I’ve reproduced it as follows:

Year of the Marmot

For several years running a few acquaintances and I held a small gathering at my apartment to celebrate in an offhand way the Chinese New Year. None of us were Chinese, nor was there an Orientalist among us, but we always found ourselves looking for relief from the dreary mid-winter cold, and enjoyed the red glow of Chinese lanterns and the warmth of plum wine.

This past February we rang in the Year of the Snake with particular enthusiasm. This was partly because I had come into some money and had moved into a new apartment better suited to more extravagant get-togethers. It was also partly because a dear friend of mine brought along the woman he was enamored with at the time, Wu Lin, an in-the-flesh Chinese firecracker.

The highlight of the evening was a horoscope reading performed by Wu Lin, who had brought along a book on the Chinese Zodiac, and who proceeded to read to each delighted guest, one by one, their fortune for the coming year. The readings amused us, as our fortunes often contained odd details that seemed more in line with the life of a rural Chinese peasant. When it was my turn, Wu Lin revealed I was to have an exceptional year, as long as I refrained from one activity — I was forbidden from eating marmot meat.

I’d never heard of a marmot, let alone considered eating its meat. The ban shouldn’t have mattered. (You’d never guess that innocuous moment was the beginning of my condition.)

The following day, a light hangover dulled my appetite. I nibbled on some flavorless leftovers but nothing more, and went to bed early.

The next afternoon I met several friends at a new bistro that had opened in my neighborhood. I was still not feeling hungry, but ordered a sandwich anyway and forced half of it down. My friends remarked at the excellent taste of the food. My sandwich was cardboard bland, but I was beginning to feel unwell, and mentioned nothing.

Over the next week I attempted to eat twenty different meals. I ate favorite dishes of mine at home, at restaurants, at a friend’s house. With each passing meal, it became more painfully clear that I had lost my sense of taste. I would hover over the food before eating, smelling nothing. Before each bite, I would pray for any flavor that could satisfy. And at night, awake in bed, I’d close my eyes and imagine a decadent buffet of filet mignon and steamed mussels, lamb chops and grilled sea bass, moist pastries and elegant chocolate desserts, each dish more delicious than the last. Yet the only food, real or imagined, that could make my mouth water, that could get my gut grumbling and have me licking  my lips in ecstasy, was the thought of marmot meat.

By March I had lost 20 pounds. I bought a new belt. Friends and colleagues became so worried that I saw a doctor at their insistence, but after weeks of tests he determined my condition to have no physical origin.

“If a dead tongue is the only symptom, then the likely cause is psychological,” said the doctor, pressing a pamphlet into my hands and referring me to a psychiatrist.

When a cold hunger takes hold in the depths of your stomach, you begin to fathom ideas never before considered. (Ideas like gutting a live, squealing marmot, stripping its coarse fur, tearing its bloody raw meat with your teeth, gnawing the last of its cartilage off the bones, cutting your tongue on its jagged bones as you hollow out the marrow, feeling satisfied at long last as the fatty flesh fills your stomach.)

Your being roars, as your lack of taste carves you into an empty cavern, engorged with the echoes of your growling stomach. You long to fill the void with marmot meat. You are gradually consumed by the idea of consuming.

The most terrible part of your condition is that you have no idea how to get any marmot meat.

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Wayword Scribblers, 2

thecodetable

The above table at CODE Patisserie & Plus in Ulaanbaatar is the very place where we sat and conducted our wayword scribbling.

 

For our second meeting Terry suggested in advance that we select an interesting news article on any topic and write a short story from the point of view of a real person featured in the article.

For as long as I can remember — even before my travels to the Serengeti and Brazil, and before my college years majoring in Latin American studies — one of my pet fascinations has been any story about reclusive jungle peoples that resist assimilation into the modern world and continue to survive in the same manner as they’ve done for millennia.

I bookmark any article I find on such recluse tribes, so when Terry mentioned the assignment I knew immediately the type of story I wanted to tell. In particular, I recalled the recent story of a man in Peru who was killed by an arrow shot by a native belonging to one of the last completely recluse tribes of the Amazon.

I reread the article, and quickly chose the real life narrator and angle with which I would approach the story. Digging deeper online, I found another article that offered more information about the incident. Links to the articles are below:

http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/lifestyle/2012/01/31/uncontacted-peruvian-tribe-emerges-attacks-tourists/

http://scottwallace.com/isolated-tribesmen-kill-point-contact-world/

When later writing the short story, I was unnerved by the fact that my narrator was a real living person that likely had been affected by this incident, a fact which made me think twice about my narrator’s every thought and action — a decent way to write any piece of convincing fiction.

Here’s the story:

Diego Cortija, Spanish Geographical Society, Peru

It was a complete shock. I couldn’t believe the words, spoken through the satphone by my grad student embedded deep in the Peruvian Amazon.

“Shaco’s dead.”

Shaco the aged Matsigenka guide, who knew each bend of the serpentine Madre de Dios River better than any man alive. Shaco the gray-haired gardener, who tended a plot on a sunsoaked river island near the peaceful frontier village of Diamante. Shaco the gregarious friend, who was the only local to communicate with Peru’s most recluse tribe, the Mascho-Piro. Shaco the six days dead, a Mascho-Piro arrow through his heart.

I heard the news of Shaco’s death and immediately took a boat upriver to Diamante. There I visited his wife and family, who had retreated to the village out of fear after the arrow, propelled from the bush by a member of the isolated Mascho-Piro, had punctured Shaco’s heart. Diamante men had recovered Shaco’s body the following day, and after a well-attended ceremony they buried him in the manner of the locals.

I had trouble understanding the reason behind Shaco’s death.

He, the two grad students on my geographic expedition and  I had been the last outsiders to see the Mascho-Piro, one of the few remaining recluse tribes of the Peruvian Amazon. They hadn’t been photographed for 30 years, until several months ago during the dry season when I snapped a group of young Mascho-Piro men with painted faces and loin clothes standing about the east bank of the calm Madre de Dios.

A stout member of the Mascho-Piro had hailed our motorboat then as I clicked away with my camera.

What does he say? asked one grad student.

‘Go away, idiots,’ said the other.

No, replied Shaco. He is asking for machetes.

We watched them closely as we passed and rounded a bend.

From speaking with the locals of Diamante, it was their opinion that Shaco wasn’t a bridge. He was just a local native, assimilated, who happened to marry a Piro woman and understand a bit of the Mascho-Piro language. He was a farmer on a mid-river island, only speaking or trading with the Mascho-Piro once a year or so. He wasn’t a missionary or an agent of progress, pushing the frontier jungle. He wasn’t an arrow propelled across the river into the heart of the Mascho-Piro.

Together the villagers and I mourned his loss over cups of masato, and wondered in silence about those unknowns that lurk in the bush, that eye one another from opposite banks. What chasm between them had made Shaco their casualty?

I had a talk to give at the Spanish Geographical Society in Lima the next week, so I was scheduled to depart Diamante the following morning on a boat heading downriver. Before I left the village, I made a visit to Shaco’s abandoned island. I wasn’t worried about a repeat attack, as the locals said there had been no reported sightings of the Mascho-Piro since Shaco’s death.

As the early morning sun rose above the treeline, I stood in the garden patch, weeds already beginning to sprout in the half-tilled ground. I looked across the island and the river into the dense foliage on the far eastern banks, retracing the arc of the fatal arrow with my eyes. In that moment I glimpsed what Shaco saw in the moments before his death, after collapsing in his garden patch, yards from a river eddy that swirled against the current. The eddy’s upstream motion gave that patch of river an emerald tint, an anomalous sight in the otherwise muddy Madre de Dios. Such a hue would be remarkable, if not for the surging, looping, ever-thickening mass of green closing in around us on all sides.

I could almost feel the arrow pierce my heart. And then I left that place.

Wayword Scribblers, 1

After living two years in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, I’d met several American expat acquaintances interested in writing, and we decided to get together at a local cafe every two weeks or so to share our own work and do little creative writing assignments together. Of the seven of us, several including myself wrote for a living, two others had English degrees, and we all were looking for an outlet to expand our writing beyond our less-creative daily duties and drudgeries. We dubbed our group the “Wayword Scribblers.”

Terry, who’d been in Mongolia the longest, and who’d had the initial idea to bring the group together, chose the group’s first assignment, which was to select our favorite opening sentences of works, and then use the inspiration from those to compose the first sentence to a new short story of our own.

I was excited about the opportunity to explore new facets of my writing. This was the summer of 2015, and I hadn’t written a short story since 2013. For the better part of two years I’d been slogging away as a magazine editor and journalist, working on my novel during any creative writing free time I’d have. I had notes, outlines and hurriedly scratched down ideas for new stories, but never the incentive or social pressure to craft a story to a semi-final product worth sharing with others. After years with my head buried underground, slowly pickaxing deep tunnels with my novel and mining semi-precious gems from bedrock with my editing, I was looking forward to surfacing for some fresh air and a new perspective.

The Wayword Scribblers assignments gave me a chance to try my hand at something new, to learn from others’ stabs at our shared assignments, and to give and receive critical feedback.

As for our first assignment, a few years earlier when editing and rewriting my first novel, I began to pay close attention to stories’ opening lines and passages. When writing my current novel, a detective mystery, I read most of Raymond Chandler’s novels and short stories, including “Red Wind”, which has the great opening paragraph:

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

The opening lines literally put you smack in the middle of the evening’s menacing meteorology and localized geography. The image of knife-wielding “meek little wives” is unforgettable. Ending with an odd comment about a “full glass of beer” further adds to the reader’s disorientation.

For my own opening sentence, I was working at the time on a short story that would spin the rote “disillusioned expat” narrative in a new direction. I needed an opening sentence that was catchy, classical, and likewise as disorienting the Chandler example. Thus, I composed:

Romance needs heat, and for months I had trouble finding either in Mongolia.

The others in the group suggested I could add a word or two of detail about Mongolia and the cold, and now looking at it again I agree. Although “Mongolia” itself is quite a jarring noun, and it might be better to resist the temptation to tack any adjectives or modifying clauses onto the sentence.

Perhaps I’m best served by following Chandler’s example, and using a full paragraph of thrust to supplement the opening line’s punch.

 

 

Short Story Excerpt–The Surgeon

ganges, the surgeon

The Surgeon

After 3,029 open-heart procedures, 58 deaths during convalescence, 117 failures under the knife, 16 congenital, unavoidable demises, 63 articles in the Journal of Medicine (a dozen or so the standards in the field), two failed marriages, two failed relationships with otherwise successful children, and one lauded stint as Chief of Surgery at the thirteenth ranked hospital for Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery in the United States, Dr. Raskhan Shukla—balding, but without the paunch he remembered budding from the midsection of his father, due to his weekend hikes in the mountains around the city and his weeks where he spent an average of 57 hours on his feet while at work—renowned heart surgeon, had found himself alone in his Mercedes on his way to an empty home, when the freeway’s pattern of white headlights and red taillights recalled to him the vague ornamentation of some forgotten shrine, its flickering votives and spiced scents, and he realized he was still alive.
He told everyone he was leaving to spend the remainder of his days fly-fishing clear mountain streams, and watched their eyes dim as they wished him luck, and told him to enjoy himself. Only the woman at the American Airlines ticket counter and the TSA agent who glanced at his boarding pass knew of his one-way ticket to Varanasi, on the banks of the Ganges, with lay-overs in Shanghai and Delhi. The trip, the first return to his native country in 51 years, took 33 hours. He savored the taste of the dirty martini on his tongue as he left the air-conditioned safety of the plane, for he knew, as a blast of heat and the murmur of Hindi echoed down the jetway, that this was the last trace of habitual comfort he was to experience before the chaos of India overwhelmed him.
He spent several idle days acclimating to his new environment from the balcony of his modest hotel, taking the city’s pulse, until his feet grew restless. At the end of his first week, he found himself descending the steps of the Manikarnika Ghat, one of the many stairwells around the city leading directly into the Ganges, when he stopped to observe the unusual number of fires burning on the banks and barges about the river.
“Manikarnika Ghat is always burning,” remarked a cross-legged yogi. “Many come to Varanasi to die. To die here is to end the cycle of death and reincarnation.”
The heart surgeon turned to the yogi. “Is that why you are here?”
“Yes,” said the yogi, “and no.”
The surgeon noticed ashy soot darkened the facades of every building in the vicinity.
“There was a temple I visited once as a child,” said the surgeon. “I wonder if you might know its location. I think it must not be far from here. There was always a great quantity of sandalwood incense in the air, but it never entirely masked the smoke lingering from the cremations nearby. The temple was for Krishna, and portrayed him standing on a large serpent.”
“Such a temple I know well,” said the yogi. “I will guide you.”

Anastasis–Excerpt from ‘The Hangman’s Valley’

anastasis murder
Chapter 19–Anastasis

The guards came for Robin. He held his breath to listen to their descent, and when he heard only the continued of shuffling of their feet, rather than the distant iron clanking of Peter’s cell door, he knew it was his turn to be summoned. They threw open his door and shoved a torch into the cell. Though this most recent spell in darkness had not been long, Robin was startled once again by the brightness of a single light.
“Greenbeak?” a guard bellowed.
“Yes?” responded Robin.
“You will come with us.”
The guards grabbed him under his arms and pulled him out of the cell. They pushed him down the tunnel and past the other doors. Robin thought the painter might call out to the guards, but perhaps the old man preferred others not to know he was alive after all.
They took the smoothed steps quickly, and after a time passed Peter’s door.
“Have no fear, birdy!” Robin heard Peter shout from within.
“We’ll come for you Peter!” Robin shouted back before the guards elbowed him in the stomach and he went silent from lack of wind.
Robin had no idea how long it took to reach the surface, but since he was at the bottom he imagined it may take a while. But even exhausting himself, walking through innumerable tunnels and up countless stairs, expecting light around every turn, or at the top of every stairwell, Robin still found himself with the guards, trudging along through dim, anonymous tunnels. He was beginning to get nervous, that the guards were lost, that this was a trick, that something horrible had happened above, that somehow, around the next corner, he would arrive back at his cell door, and be locked again inside while the guards went away cackling. He was caught up in these fears when the guard behind him grabbed him by his collar and pushed Robin into a very narrow corridor, as wide as his shoulders, with cold, smooth walls on either side, that ended abruptly at a dead end. Between the guards, in a single file, Robin was pushed forward through the constricted passage, and watched as the guard in front of him pressed a protruding stone on the wall. At first, nothing happened. Then a low, gravely grinding was heard, the sound of sliding stone, and Robin saw a sliver of light grow and fill the passage, and discovered he was at a hidden door.
Beyond the hidden door materialized a small, warm chamber, the walls covered in books, with a crackling fireplace off to one side that thoroughly heated the room and cast a warm glow. Though surprised not to have returned to the gatehouse Robin gladly stepped into the strange room, relieved to have arrived at such an inviting place after his long ascent. However, standing in a corner beyond the fireplace, initially outside the limits of his sight unaccustomed to darkness, Robin became aware of a robed figure, watching him.
“You two may go,” said the robed man. The guards exited the chamber, the secret door rumbling behind them. Robin discovered on this side to be a pedestal column supporting a marble bust, the head cast in shadows. Robin turned back and faced the dark corner, alone with the robed man.
“Are you…” Robin asked, his voice trailing off, betraying his uneasiness. The figure stepped from the relative darkness behind the fireplace and Robin saw an ancient, skeletal man with sagging skin, a hollow face, and a few last white wisps of spun hair. The man was smiling, though every last tooth was missing from his mouth; it was his eyes that seemed to glow with a rich smile, or an incurable madness.
“The Prince you ask? I do not have that honor,” said the old man in an ancient voice. “You will meet your Lord and Master momentarily—” the toothless man spat and struggled with his words before holding up a finger for Robin to wait. Reaching into the pockets of his robes, the old man procured what looked like a small golden box, which he shoved into his open mouth, pressing it to his gums. The ancient man smiled again, two rows of golden dentures, and resumed speaking with less difficulty.
“A gift from the Prince—a most exceptional being—to replace the weak teeth he took away from me as the result of a minor punishment,” said the robed man with a smile, his eyes glazed above the gold. “I will bring you to him shortly, but when I overheard your story I had to meet you first myself. You know, it’s not often that one gets to meet the Prince for the first time. I’d be overcome with excitement, if I were you.”
Above the fireplace mantle Robin saw a tapestry of the same red cross he had seen several times before.
“Are you a priest?” Robin asked the man in the brown robes.
“Ex-priest,” the man said. “We are all excommunicated out here. My name is Father Gaspar de San Borondon, and I have served the Prince loyally as his counsel since our arrival in the valley. And what is your name?”
“Just plain Robin.”
“Hello, Robin. You are aware of at least a handful of the magnificent truths or rumors of the Prince, no?”
“Well, I don’t know, sir—” Robin’s eyes flashed to a door next to the fireplace, then went again to the tapestry above the mantle. Father Gaspar saw the movement and stared at the cross for a moment before stifling a burst of emotion.
“You’ve seen that on the gun, no? That is the cross of Saint James, and it has meant many things to us throughout the many years. Some fear by now it means nothing, but that is not for them to decide. Read the rest of this entry »

Short Story–The Last Moor

santiago matamoros

This entry is both a short story and the next chapter in the saga of ‘The Hangman’s Valley.’

Chapter 17–The Last Moor
Robin slept in darkness and awoke in darkness. He saw nothing when he opened his eyes; heard nothing when he held his breath. He was certain of the darkness as total and complete as he was certain he was still alive. Robin figured his position to be somewhere near to the center of the earth; or at the very least well beneath the castle and deep into the mesa. At the bottom, as the Colonel had said. He was alone and at the bottom of a mountain.
He knew he was in a locked cell. The walls were rough rock and the ground was packed earth and there was what felt like a door made out of iron. He had no memory of how he arrived there, having been beaten by the two guards who dragged him away from the gatehouse common room at the orders of the Colonel. He could lie down on the ground in the cell and stand up, but those were about the only comforts he had. After a while, he actually counted those two comforts as blessings, as he knew he might have accidentally knocked himself unconscious on numerous occasions had his cell been any tighter.
He slept for all the time his body allowed, until his awakening mind snatched without success at the last threads of some unremembered, peaceful dream, and his eyes opened of themselves, forcing him to arise in a place of nightmares. Robin thought he must have slept a week. His body ached from sleeping on the ground, but felt somewhat better considering the bruises he had suffered from the beating. Hunger did not bother him yet, nor the necessities of nature, which afforded him an opportunity to stare in the direction where he suspected was a ceiling and ponder his environment. He thought his eyes might gradually adjust to the lack of light, to give him some minimal picture of his surroundings. But he was not nocturnal. He was lucky his other senses were active enough to tell him he was still alive. He felt the bowels of the earth, smelled the ancient musk of the cell, and heard his regular breathing, unrelenting, which kept his body alive.
Soon, the sound of his breathing overpowered his other senses, until he feared the noise would drive him mad. He stopped breathing for a moment to give his ears a rest, but the noise continued. Robin was in the midst of thinking he had lost his mind when he realized he may not be entirely alone at the bottom after all. He resumed his breathing, quickened by excitement, and sat up.
“Hello?” Robin said to the sound of the other breath. It stopped short at the sudden nearness of Robin’s voice. It resumed a moment later without a response, perplexing Robin.
“Hello!” Robin said again, this time louder. Robin heard shifting of a body coming from somewhere not too far beyond his iron door.
“No,” struggled a voice, old and weak. Robin stared into the darkness and smiled at the discovery of company at the bottom.
“No?” responded Robin “I just want to talk, that’s all.”
“No!” said the old voice. “You’re another plague of my imagination!”
“I swear, sir, I exist, so you don’t have to worry none,” Robin said to comfort the old man. “I ain’t no fake spirit troubling your mind. I’m just trying to make conversation.” Robin heard silence on the other end, but after a time the old man spoke again.
“What…is your name?” the old man asked weakly.
“My name is Robin, sir.”
“What a beautiful name. I cannot recall the image of a robin, or of any bird in flight for that matter, but I remember how their shape and their motion used to make my heart soar.”
“What is your name, sir?”
“I do not remember. I’m not sure I ever had one. It has been too long since I’ve been down here. I heard you arrive yesterday, but I believed at the time it was only my mind playing one of its many tricks.”
“Yesterday?” Robin asked, “I’ve been here only one day?”
“Yes. You ask, what is one day when it feels like an eternity? The question I ask myself is what is an eternity, when it feels like one day? Or a single moment? I have a constant feeling down here that I am unborn, in my mother’s womb, on the day of my birth, and this is the last blackness I will see before I enter the next world!”
“You have no hope of freedom?”
“What is freedom when the sun would melt my eyes, and the wind would tear my skin? I’ve known fear, but not in here. My umbilical cord to the darkness is not severed yet!” Robin was about to respond but the old man went on. “The forces of nature do not frighten my imagination in my condition. I feel only a remote sadness to be deprived of the one great joy in nature—color. Do you remember it?”
“Color?” Robin asked in surprise.
“Yes!” the old man gasped excitedly. “You remember it, don’t you? The only color I possess here actually possesses me, this blackness, and it is indescribable. But you, you still know colors, do you not?”
“Well, sure,” said Robin, “aren’t they hard to forget?”
“Everything is forgettable,” said the old man, “everything but…”
“What?” Robin asked.
“Are you aware…” began the man in a hushed voice, “of a certain painting found above, within the castle of Aguila, depicting a valorous cavalier lancing a cowardly infidel?”
“The painting? Of the Conquistador and the Arab? I saw it only yesterday!”
“It is the one thing that has stayed in my memory, even after all these long years. Or, I should say, the whiteness of the infidel’s robes; that is the one image that has never been able to shake itself from my memory. How white I made his robes, right before the unavoidable slaughter; or murder, or sacrifice, whatever you wish to call it. Sometimes that whiteness is all I see. And maybe to you, who remembers every color for your mind is yet fresh, this is nothing, but for me this is my one great comfort.”
“Old man, what do you mean ‘how white you made his robes’?” Robin asked curiously.
“Child, have I not told you? I am the man who painted that work—my masterpiece! I am the artist whose brushes brought life to the story of Santiago de Alcanadre and the Last Moor! That story was told to me, and so vivid was its relation that I completed the painting in a single day and night, as if possessed by some sprightly muse of the ancients. Though my own candles died out, one by one, a single image of the story burned itself into my mind that night and I let its flames flow through me in the act of inspiration; and though it has been many centuries and the flickering embers are near to ash, there is still enough fire in me for one last retelling.”
And so the painter told Robin the story of the Christian Cavalier and the Last Moor.
******
Robin was asked if he could imagine a great land, full of many peoples, good and bad, weak and strong, that had been divided in two for many long years. Robin said he could. Robin was then asked if he could picture how joyful and exuberant all true patriots of that land were when that land was united once again after years of strife. Robin said he could. Robin then was asked if, once that land was united, could he believe in an enemy, a common enemy shared by both former halves that was the scourge of their land and all true patriots, and an obstruction to expansion and the true destiny of a growing kingdom. Robin said he could. Then Robin must surely understand that once this enemy was destroyed, the only thing that stood between the kingdom’s flaw of mortality and the lands of the undying was the setting of the western sun? Robin did. So was the fate of Spain, the painter said, in the year of Our Lord 1469, when the Iberian kingdoms of Aragon and Castile were united by the marriage of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.
The Reconquest of a peninsula over centuries had returned a land if not a people under the iron banner of Christianity. Redemption was at hand, and all that was required was a final ascension of Christian saviors and Muslim martyrs in one of many final battles between peoples on the Continent. The last bastion of western Islam threatened to regroup beneath the twin hills of Granada, and a clash was imminent. Santiago Ebro de Alcanadre, an experienced Moor-slayer of no small renown, would later thank the shared God of Christian and Muslim that he was on His chosen side. From the seat of his horse and on his feet he had fought in battles in every part of the Two Kingdoms, throughout every part of the peninsula no less, and he longed for a land not stained by the blood of Reconquest. During the day he beheaded infidels and at night he dreamed of a people, somewhere beyond the ends of the earth, who had no blood to spill, and no spirit to madden them.
But the blood was to continue to flow, he knew, as long as the Moors remained in the land of the Two Kingdoms. That is, until the last of the infidel armies made their retreat, and rallied on the plains before the hills of Granada. A great siege ensued, equal parts attacking and waiting; where waiting for the besieger was to only postpone victory, while waiting for the besieged was torture before certain death. The city of Granada was cut off and sealed, and as supplies dwindled desperation set in. Prayers offered five times every day under the siege were to no avail, and gradually amongst the Moors a great scheme was concocted. Across the Straights were whole kingdoms of rich and powerful Moorish allies, who would be eager to help their brothers in plight, if only notified in time.
In the cover of darkness on the night of a new moon the finest representative warrior beneath the banner of the Crescent and Star slipped down the walls of Granada and stole past the Christian siege lines with a single message for the Muslim world. He was never seen. He never would have been discovered had he not been betrayed the next day by a captured infidel spy, who was violently tortured before accepting the amnesty of a quick death for information, at which point he revealed to the Conquistadors the Moorish warrior’s secret mission, the ultimate goal, and the western road on which he covertly traveled.
Many cavaliers assembled and offered their services for the honor of the duty to hunt this Moor to the last and save the newly reconquered lands from fear of foreign invasion. Many offered their lance, and there was a great clamor of bloodlust, until one spoke the name ‘Santiago Ebro de Alcanadre;’ famed Moor-slayer, and the one Conquistador fit for the assignment. How could they know that at that moment Santiago Ebro de Alcanadre, having not been present to offer his lance, was then asleep, dreaming of bloodless lands across infinite oceans? Nevertheless, he was chosen in a unanimous vote by all those assembled, and within the hour he was awoken and sent to his glory with earned, solemn dignity.
The night was dark, as said, but the western road was well known to Santiago Ebro de Alcanadre, once the loyal subject of Castile, who had ventured when he could on any road that led him west. He rode fast and hard, on a horse that was surely better cared for than the one the Moor procured, and by morning he had picked up the trail of a man fleeing with determination, near due west on a road eventually ending at the sea. The ports were Christian, however, so Ebro, as he was known to his peers, knew the Moor would avoid them for their great risk, and seek some less worn path, where he may stumble upon an idle cove and the boat of a defenseless fisherman. These thoughts were natural to the hunter of Moors, whose speculations turned out to be deadly accurate.
In a certain place in the geography between Granada and the sea there is a patch of rotten earth that, over millennia, has decayed from fertile lands to sand and dust; an undesirable, arid desert the traffic of life circumvented in those days with no little pleasure. It was the Moor’s reckless decision, nevertheless, to weigh his hopes against his fears, and decide his only recourse in the rescue of an entire culture, people, and history, was to cross this desert; to arrive ever more expediently at some sleepy coastal village on the other side full of seagoing vessels. Yet the Moor knew the risk to be so great that he paused in his flight to pray, facing the rising sun in the east; and it was at this moment that destiny decided Santiago Ebro de Alcanadre, Moor-slayer, should crest a distant ridge and spot his quarry, bent toward him in the act of prayer, pleading with their shared God. Finished with the prayer, the Moor counted his blessings and raised his covered head only to see a solitary figure in silver armor atop a frothing horse, and he knew behind that one man stood the armies and the power of all the Two Kingdoms and Christianity; and a part of his soul died for he knew his quest was hopeless. Yet the Moor ran on, straight into the scorched terrain of the desert. The cavalier in his armor followed behind at full speed, with the desire to end the chase quick and soon. But quick it was not and soon his horse was slowed by desert sand and lack of water, and Ebro feared to kill his ride before he killed his prey. Luckily for both, the night arrived, accompanied by the disappearance of the sun and the arrival of cool winds. After the dark sky of the night before, the Moor spent this night, his last on earth, awake beneath the beloved sliver of his crescent moon; and he would have felt at peace, one with God, had it not been for the other man close behind, riding ever closer, consumed by the endeavor to make that oneness with God an inevitable certainty.
By morning, their horses plodding with deliberate steps through unending waves of sand, near to collapse from the exhaustion of the chase, the Moor-slayer, having behaved as his brethren outside Granada in his siege of the body and will of the enemy, knew the time for deliverance had come; the answer to the prayers of one half of God’s people through the destruction of the other half. The warrior Moor’s horse was mere yards away from Ebro when it finally died on its feet, martyred by the sun and the lack of sustenance, having shared an equal burden in a cause so desperate. Horse and Moor tumbled to the sand and for a brief moment it looked as if the fall had done the work Ebro had been sent to ensure. But the Moor regained his stance and continued his fruitless task on foot, never giving up till the last.
His sandals lost, stumbling across the hot desert, the Moor was on the verge of accepting his bloody fate when he heard a cry from the heavens and looked to the sky—a seagull! How it made the Moor weep, his tears the only drops of moisture it seemed the desert had seen in a thousand years. Ebro neither saw nor heard the bird above, possessed as he was by the hunt; he truly being the most experienced of the peninsula’s Moor-slayers and knowing the full extent of the Moor’s potential for trickery. Ascending a final dune, the Moor was about to reach its peak and behold a vision of magnificence when the sand gave way and he fell, sliding down the hill to its bottom where awaited the cavalier of Christianity. Santiago Ebro de Alcanadre knew not, when the Moor opened his mouth and spoke his final words in the grunts and clicks of his language, whether the warrior cursed him or begged for mercy. It made no difference to the Moor-slayer, for he rode him down and slew him with his lance as if he were the last man on earth. The white robes of the Arab were stained red, as dark as the cape of the cavalier, and for a second time that day the desert received a liquid memory of its fertility.
His duty complete, the Moor-slayer dismounted his quaking ride and walked the path of the Moor up the dune, as if his disappeared footsteps had paved an eternal road and not been absorbed by infinite grains of shifting sand. Where the Moor failed Ebro succeeded, and at the top of the dune he was greeted by the endless blue of the sea. Through the undulating waves, equally eternal in their indifference to passing creatures as the sand, Ebro saw the same paved road of the Moor, and knew, though he had not the sight to see such a distance, along this path and at the ends of the earth there existed a people and a land where there was no blood and no spirit, only the immutability and immortality of time; and he descended to the shore, and thereby in a day or so found a fishing village with the boat he required. Nevertheless, it was many years before he could attempt to make such a journey to those lands, but he never forgot or lost sight in his mind of the paved road west and the first man who began that long road while alive, and arrived there after his death.
Thus ends the retelling of the story of the Christian Cavalier and the Last Moor.
******
“When they come for you,” the painter with the eye for color said at last, “tell them I’m alive. I’m still alive, down here! I don’t think they know that. It’s been too long. Everybody may be dead, or have grown old and lost their memory. I can’t even remember what I did to be so far down here for so long. Maybe I took some gold from the Prince. I know I wanted to. Or maybe it was a girl. I wanted that, too. I don’t remember. Maybe I’m down here for nothing, no reason at all! That must be it, because I can’t remember. Not just the reason I’m down here, I mean, but the sun, and the stars, and the wind. Do you have news of them? Do they still exist in the universe as they once did for me? I can’t remember. Maybe I shouldn’t, that’s probably a good thing. Just tell them I’m alive. The Prince or the sun or the wind. Please, before it’s too late; before I forget even what the darkness of this abyss is like. Please, just tell them I’m alive!”
“How did you come to hear such a story like that?” asked Robin in earnestness, before the painter succumbed to madness.
“It was told to me by the Moor-slayer himself, when the painting was commissioned.”
“The Moor-slayer told you, in person, even after all these years?” Robin asked.
“Yes; and a great many other stories does he have, Santiago Ebro de Alcanadre, the Marquis of Cibola, and the Prince of the Valley of Gold…”

The Audience–Excerpt from ‘The Hangman’s Valley’

veiled woman
Chapter 16–The Audience
The Riders entered Aquila. They walked down a boulevard flanked by balconies, beneath the golden luster of the city’s tiled roofs that crowned Aquila with greatness. Robin let his eyes soak up the splendor until he blinked, overwhelmed by a richness that spoiled his vision. The city of Aquila upon the upper plateau, the capitol of the Prince of Cibola, dazzling in its gilded immensity, was grander and more profound than any city Robin thought possible. It overflowed with columns and walls, squat palms and cramped alleys. The style of each construction was similar to the mission of Santiago el Mayor or the Old City of Blood; much different from the town where Robin had grown up. The main boulevard was lined by two-storied, brick and stucco houses, with arched windows that peaked at a subtle point. Down certain avenues, Robin was treated to stunning vistas where the land beneath the city suddenly disappeared and the valley was visible for a great distance. Vines seemed to grow everywhere; up the walls of buildings and across the boulevard; tangles of plants and neon flowers of unknown names hanging from second floor verandas and dangling all the way to the cobbled ground in a way that was distinctly tropical. It seemed to Robin, from the smooth, red and gold bricks that paved the streets to the squared layout of the city, that a uniformity of vision governed its design. And rising above all creation, at the northern extremity of the mesa, materialized the pronounced structure whose buttressed foundation Robin had seen from beneath; its dome in the fashion of the east, or rather, the ancient East. Perhaps it was the gilded façade of this structure, its golden surface so pronouncedly fresh, which gave the rest of the dense city its tone of compact perfection.
Some might have seen the golden decoration of the city as a mask or disguise, worn to keep some secret nature hidden under a blinding surface. Robin saw it as he saw himself, as if the gilt surface of the city was his own skin; and he wondered if, like him, beneath the surface, there was some secret nature not hiding but maturing, waiting to reveal itself as equal to its golden shell when ripe.
Leading his horse down the wide central boulevard, draped overhead with creeping emerald and lined by the fronds of massive green palms, Robin began to look for the people that inhabited the gilded city; but the streets of Aquila were empty. Here, as in the valley, animal life was recluse. The Riders marched alone along the abandoned boulevard. Ahead, before the dome, Robin saw a great open space; a ceremonial plaza, also empty, positioned at the center of the mesa. At its heart was erected an ornate yet relatively small fountain made entirely of gold. Robin, ever curious, strained his neck to look into the fountain, but the column of Riders was not quite near enough for a glimpse. Something, however, stirred at the edge of his vision. Robin instantly had the uneasy feeling he was being watched. It was as if many pairs of eyes followed his every step. His eyes flashed to the second floor balcony directly above him. Spotting movement behind a pointed arched window recessed above the veranda, Robin saw, to his wonder, a feminine figure, hooded and veiled, with green eyes exposed toward the column of Riders. The green eyes disappeared behind a latticed screen, used throughout the city in place of glass, but Robin still felt he was being watched. He turned from balcony to balcony, window to window, and discovered with alarm veiled shapes hovered behind every one, silently peering at the Riders; bodily screened from view and left only the vibrancy of their eyes to welcome the return of men.
“Are those…women watching us?” Robin leaned forward to ask Vermouth.
“Girls,” whispered Vermouth, “and though I always love to chat, now would be the most inopportune of times. As they say in Cibola: silence is golden.”
Robin nodded. The silence of the girls gave Robin the impression the golden city was undying; a mask removed from time and the unpredictable oscillations of the universe. The gold burdened the city with an implied permanence; a promise of perpetual occupation, whether by life or dust. Robin tugged at his red duster, as he felt a desire to escape such a place.
In the midst of this feeling the Riders entered the plaza and, passing beside the golden fountain at its center, Robin was given an opportunity to look into its depths. He saw blackness, which at first appeared very smooth, like the surface of a pond at night. This seemed strange to him, as it was only dusk, and the city and sky were yet alive with color. But the contents of the fountain were black, opaque even; impervious to the gold of the fountain and the red ceiling of the domed earth. Robin had a strong urge to reach his hand into the dark pool and see his own skin from within its blackness. He stopped himself when he noticed the even surface of the pool was not permeable and liquid but dense and solid, filled with a billion of grains of black sand.
Turning left, the column of Riders continued away from the fountain and crossed the plaza into another lush boulevard. West, between the end of the boulevard and the limits of the mesa, soaring above the golden haze of roofs framed by twilit clouds, loomed the spired, Romanesque castle; the largest building in Cibola, built of the same rubicund, gold-veined stone as was found throughout the valley. Marching up the boulevard approaching the castle, Robin observed far fewer veiled faces and far more shuttered windows. The golden brightness of the city disappeared as they passed under the realm of the castle’s shadow and the vibrancy of colors was subdued by a dismal gray. The only gleam Robin noticed came from a pale worm, which had somehow wriggled its way underfoot past the tight cobbles of the boulevard. Read the rest of this entry »

The Pauper–Excerpt from ‘The Hangman’s Valley’

mesa1
Chapter 15–The Pauper
At sunup the line passed beneath the unsound fort. They left behind the dead in the corral as the dried blood turned brown, its redness sapped into the earth. The twin buttes of the Old City idly watched the line depart. Robin nodded to Vermouth as they set out. No longer made to limp, he rode upright in the saddle, one more slave crossed over to the ranks of the Riders. Beyond the Old City, the land sloped gradually downward, accelerating all matter toward a distant vortex somewhere west, as if to fill an unknown, insatiable void.
On the other side of the buttes Robin saw the Golden Road, running along the horizon and disappearing behind a distant mesa to the west. Between Robin and the mesa, the sloping land was incredibly lush. A small river coursed down from the southern mountains, spawning fields of verdant grass and oaken grain. It was as if he stood at the shore of some new, infinite ocean, which God, having practiced before with blue and grown bored, here attained similar perfection with green. Robin leaned over his saddle to get a closer look at the beauty beneath him and dodged a moist clod of brown dirt splashed up by his horse. No longer did they ride a sunbaked, dust-packed road; here the road, like the land, was made of a muddy, rich soil, deep and fertile, owing its bounty to the river.
“Cibola,” croaked a voice beside the road. Robin looked from his ward to a cluster of bushes ripe with berries.
“Who’s there?” Robin asked, raising his whip.
From the bush stepped a figure in a dark cloak. His face was obscured by a hood, and Robin recoiled from the sight of the figure as the memory of the masked hangman surfaced.
“The inner valley, ringed by six of the Seven Cities.” The hood figure raised a cloaked arm west.
“It’s beautiful,” Robin said, staring at creation.
“Beauty,” the figure said, “can be deceiving.”
Robin looked for the Prince’s capitol around the mesa, indistinguishable at times from the ashen clouds. “And Aquila?” he asked.
“Aquila is at its center.”
“I don’t see it,” he bemoaned.
“None possess the eye to see the true city,” croaked the anonymous figure in a raspy, weathered voice. “The true city may only be observed from above by the eye of an eagle, or of God; or from below by those of a worm, or of Satan. All mortal eyes fail to behold the true city, blinded by gold as they are. The eagle sees no gold; nor does worm, nor God, nor even Satan. They all have in common what they see, and what they see is the edifice of a permanent universe, and transient souls.”
The hooded figure knelt down beside the road and stretched out his hands with upturned palms. He rocked on his knees, and Robin heard the strange sound of sniffing coming from beneath his hood. Robin felt a growing uneasiness at the man beneath the hood. He shook off thoughts of the hangman, focusing on any information the stranger had of the city.
“Sir, you were talking about the Eagle City. Please go on—I’ve never been there myself and I’m very interested in its true qualities, having so far heard only heard rumors.”
“Rumors are falsehoods,” spoke the stranger and his sniffing stopped. The voice was different, suddenly strong and smooth, overflowing Robin’s ears with robust tenderness. “The truth is the truth. There is only the golden lie and the red truth, both which you will find in great quantity in Aquila. One rumor you speak of is the city referred to as the Eagle City, as you say; but today no eagle sets his eyes on the city, nor God; so like all the others this rumor is false. Aquila is the Worm City; as Worms are the creatures of Satan, their whole existence spent underground, wriggling ever away in his inferno, their slimy ringed bodies armored against the combustion of demonic fire. And we exist in Gehenna. This is the truth. Aquila is a city today only seen by the Devil. Verily, this truth is so great; I must receive proper compensation before I continue.”
“But,” said Robin earnestly, “I have nothing to give.”
“That is your rumor and that is a lie. I can smell it on you;” soothed the stranger, “I’ve smelled it since you came up the hill. I smell it over the ripeness of the berries and the wretchedness of your person and the foulness of your horse’s hide. You have gold. And not much methinks; otherwise I’d have heard it, too.”
Robin stared down at the hooded man, but saw neither his eyes nor any characteristics of his face; he was allowed only the opportunity to read the expression of his voice, which, to Robin, seemed pure and sound, as if simultaneously possessing the elegance of youth and the gravity of old age.
“You are right, sir,” said Robin. “I do have a gold piece. I didn’t know it was possible for people to smell it, but I won’t pretend to hide it from you.” Robin took the piece from his pocket and held it in front of his face in hopes to get the stranger to glance at it. But the man remained unmoved.
“I see the gold well enough,” said the stranger, “and for that much I can reveal to you a great truth.”
Robin, uncomfortable in the knowledge that the gold was smelled on him, tossed the coin down to the stranger with little regret. The stranger snatched the coin out of the air with pale fingers and brought it to his face, inhaling its scent with a deep longing. Read the rest of this entry »

The Duel–Excerpt from ‘The Hangman’s Valley’

goya duel

Chapter 14–The Duel
As the days marched on, Robin began to ruminate on the seeds of an idea at once both incredible and mad, to the point where he was unable to shake it from his mind no matter how hard he tried. It was a crazy plan, impossible even, he told himself, but there must be a good reason for him to be thinking about it so often. He was a Red Rider, in a position of some advantage over the slaves. He thought of the possibility of freeing them, here and now. He questioned his options and his courage. There was a right thing to do, but neither Don Alvarado nor anyone was there to guide him through the right course of action; he had to decide for himself.
Robin was unsure of whether he had a great idea in his head or if he was being impractical and impatient. He spent most of his moments awake second-guessing his idea, rejecting details and making no progress on an actual plan. Besides himself, nothing stood in his way except one hundred Riders and the Coyote. But, if Vermouth was on Robin’s side, and if Peter could be found, then together they might be strong enough to begin convincing the others to overthrow the Riders and return to Don Alvarado. That meant abandoning his meeting with the Prince, but, feeling the guilt of the two he had personally condemned, he thought a thousand freed slaves might be worth it.
It had been several slow days of marching slaves and dusty winds since he had seen Sister or Peter. If Robin was to act it was now or never, before the line entered Cibola and joined with the rest of the Prince’s army. The red land of shrubby dirt and sparse buttes rarely afforded Robin any geographic advantage. Day after day, it weighed down his mind till it was heavy with knowledge there was likely no escape. His whipping arm was strong but tired from all the pain it had caused his mind. The sun, directly above, napped at noon and baked the whole world in its daydreams. Robin sighed, feeling strength from the sun but powerless as doubt circled his mind. He escaped the guilt, letting his eyes move away from the clanking line of misery that he was compelled to stare at every day from sunrise and sunset, raising them above the arid valley, dazzling but inescapable, to rest upon the moist blue heavens.
“Pardon me, Rider, sir,” said a crisp voice on the line, breaking Robin’s wandering spell.
Robin looked down and saw Vermouth staring back as he limped forward, led by the line chained to his manacled hands.
“What’s up, Vermouth?” Robin asked.
“I noticed we’ll be nearing the Old City, probably in a few short hours, and I was wondering if there was any word on the sacrifice for tomorrow.”
“Sacrifice?” Robin asked.
“Ah. So it seems you have no word. If it does come to your attention, do let me know.”
“We having another hanging, is that it?” Robin asked, disheartened.
Robin saw the other slaves look from one to another in quiet fear. The younger men in his ward, the ones who possessed the most to lose, that possession being time, quickened their march to the increased beat of their hearts.
“Most sorties pass through the Old City without much in the way of fanfare, but the Coyote, for some unknown reason, always makes a rather large sacrifice; one in a manner that is suitably bloody. While I’m a little less versed in the history of the valley, I am quite familiar with popular rumor. Though the historical answers as to why are somewhat vague, the city, today, is infamously well known as the City of Blood.”
As Vermouth spoke, Robin glimpsed sprouting through the horizon the first of the Seven Cities of Cibola, built around a pair of buttes that had the far-off appearance as of forming an arch, for their tops seemed to merge into one, and underneath which apparently continued the road west. At the base of the northern butte was an old mission, very similar to the one at the beginning of the Keystone Pass, with many buildings of newer, wooden make branching off from its walls. Robin was not surprised to observe again the absence of any life or activity, human or otherwise, amongst the city beneath the arching twin buttes.
“That’s it there?” Robin asked, pointing to what he saw, as if to make sure it was not a mirage.
“Yes, the one and only. A humble city of humbler times.”
“Why is it abandoned?” Robin queried. “I remember hearing of a town near us that everybody left when I was a kid because people were getting sick and they discovered that the drinking water had too many minerals in it, and it was dangerous to folks’ dispositions. The water being the one reason the town sprouted up in the first place, everybody left. A few families moved to our town, is how come I hear about it.”
Vermouth gave a sigh that seemed at first to belong to a storyteller’s levity; but, when it was followed by a moment of silence, Robin wondered if some painfully forgotten grievance had surfaced from within the hunchback.
“Like your story, the fate of the Old City was once decided by the whims of a cruel nature. But its history is very long and infinitely sad,” continued Vermouth. “If one can tell the entirety of the story in brief—with a word, no less—it would suffice only to say: the Prince; for it is his cruel nature that decides the fate of those who live and breathe and drink water in the valley. All the Seven Cities suffered such a fate. Only Aquila, the capitol, remains.”
Robin was about to ask for more details but the Coyote and several officers were seen hurriedly riding down the line. Read the rest of this entry »

Resting Place–Excerpt from ‘The Hangman’s Valley’

adobe village
Chapter 13–Resting Place
The more whipping Robin did, the less he noticed its repulsiveness, until by dusk his arm was tired and his mind was dumb to each new crack he sliced through the air, and every bloody line he traced on a slave’s back. If they stumbled, he whipped them. If they paused, he whipped them. If they talked, he whipped them. It was wearisome business. Robin whipped halfheartedly most of the time, but he knew the whippings still stung. The Captain watched him, watched them all, keeping his subordinates in check. And Robin, as an overseer, as a Red Rider, monitored the people he had only earlier been marching with. It was expected of him to whip, and so he performed his duty. He pushed the pain of others out of his mind, and by the end of the day, the only soreness he felt was in his arm. He was glad of that, for the pain he suffered as a slave on the line was much worse. He felt lucky to be wearing the red duster.
The duster kept the manacles off his wrists. The duster gave him hot corn paste and salt beef. The duster gave him a horse to ride during the day and a bedroll beside a fire at night. The duster also gave him a different warmth; the warmth that came with having a power and superiority over one’s fellow man. It asked of him only to apply the whip and obey without pause the commands of the Captain.
“It’s not so bad,” he whispered aloud that first night, as he cried himself to sleep. The duster gave him hope.
The whip was back in his hand the next morning. There was a hunchback in his coffle who was proving to be an especially trying charge. In addition to the aberration the young man had a limp, which slowed his pace often enough that Robin’s whip had turned his hunched back, a large target already, into a mesh of welts. That morning, however, he was bothered most by the slave a row ahead of the hunchback, an old man who frequently succumbed to fits of coughing.
When again the old man stopped his march and bent over to force the phlegm from his lungs, Robin raised his whip. Robin felt sorry for him, but he was holding up the line. The coughing man’s manacled partner was a much fitter man, so Robin judiciously applied the whip to the partner. The man barked in surprise to suffer the punishment of another. He gave Robin a menacing glare, but the point was made and the coughing fit stopped. The manacled partner frowned, fuming at Robin and the old man, but the coffle started again. Once more the line was a perfect column of silvery movement.
The marching was steady for the rest of the morning. By the afternoon the heat was strong and Robin spent much of his energy trying not to drift off to sleep. Robin kept himself awake by thinking of Peter and Sister, and how he might escape with them. He had looked as much as possible as a Rider, but he was not allowed to wander too far up or down the line during the day. At night in camp his opportunities were even more limited, as he had either watch duties or was being watched. He reasoned Sister was still with them somewhere, but he feared for Peter. Worst of all, the Prince’s revolver was still in Robin’s saddlebags, which had last been on Sister. Most likely, they were looted, and the revolver was taken by one of his fellow Red Riders. The only possession Robin still had on him were his clothes from Don Alvarado and Madame Olalla and the defective golden coin with the hole in the middle which he looted from Carolina’s buggy. But he was headed west, toward Cibola, and that fact gave him peace.
Much later in the afternoon, the Captain rode down the line toward Robin. The slaves referred to him as the ‘Coyote,’ for he was wild and lean, but both ‘Captain’ and ‘Coyote’ were names uttered with equal respect and fear. Around the Captain hung his red duster, open and loose, an ill-fitting piece that overcompensated for a lack of natural insulation. Every time the Captain neared Robin felt a hollow coldness springing from the man. Despite being so skinny, the Captain had a voracious appetite; on the previous night Robin, had passed in front of the Captain’s tent at the center of camp and watched as he devoured a feast of thick wine and red meat with the other officers of the Rider Corps. Another Rider whispered to Robin the Captain ate like that every night. That surprised Robin, who thought the man was skin and bones, and looked like he survived on just the corn paste they fed the slaves. Robin stopped his horse as the Captain approached, the slaves continuing to march with their eyes concentrated on the ground and ears pricked up for news.
“Hey there, boy,” said the Captain reining up. “You still feelin’ green?” The Coyote cleared his nose. “Or might you be startin’ to feel a little Red, now?”
“Red, sir. Very Red.”
“Good. You one of them fellers who we lasso comin’ out of the cliffs the other day, aintcha.” Robin knew it was not a question. “I like that, cause you know already what it’s like when my rope’s a-comin’ for your exposed parts. Keep that in mind, and we’ll make a Rider of you yet, boy.”
“Yes sir,” said Robin.
The Captain leaned in to Robin for a private word. “Now, I need me two necks from you, so send me up the chaff and that’ll be it for the day. We’re comin’ to our resting place up ahead.”
“Very good, sir.”
“What’s good? You lookin’ to rest? Getting’ tired?”
“No, sir,” barked Robin in monotone.
“You think it’s good you have to send me a couple necks, is that it then?”
“Yes sir,” Robin replied in the same voice.
“Well then, I guess you must think you’re the reddest Rider in the whole Corps. Well, you still look green to me. Green as a girl’s puke. We’ll see though, won’t we,” the Coyote chirped as he kicked his horse onward down the line to speak to the next Rider. Read the rest of this entry »