Fangs of the Diamondback

There was a hush over the saloon, an eeriness that drenched the patrons in trepidation as they stood petrified, limbs frozen in their place and their breaths suffocated by the stillness. The stools, decrepit and faded, seemed to bend towards the source of the fear, bowing almost in unworthiness. Their mushroom heads reeked of alcohol, decayed fruits spilled by decaying people. The bar itself, the communal waterhole of wild masculinity, still held those spirits, those sacraments of freedom and community, upon its hallow mahogany bosom, nurturing them and holding them until the moment would return that the good drunkards would end their good show and come back to drink, to enjoy life.
     But that moment of blackened frivolity would not await some, for there was a shootout to be had. Justice to be exacted, to vindicate the good name of machismo where the blood of the weak would be drawn and the strong would cement that underlying fact of which all these men, subject to the bloodlust of No Man’s Land, knew. It resounded itself in the boredom and nihilism that drove each man to insanity, but all the while made them embrace the life they knew all the more. It is not the man who can draw the quickest, but rather the heart that stills itself in cold indifference when that gun is drawn, that shall make him king. Today, it seemed to the patrons, suspended in a world where everyone seemed to materialize at one location while leaving all their business frozen in time, that such a decision would be made. Today, a new hero will be known.
   They congregated at the windows, shattered and dusty, and so did every man, woman and child down the miserable wretch of the street that passed through Devil’s Gullet. They were buzzing in anticipation at the spectacle of which legends walk from and nobodies are dragged from, forever forgotten; where the roar of gunfire speaks the worth of men in a great conflagration of the moment; fire and smoke spew out into the world like that of St. George’s dragon to intimidate and make the world shudder. Vesuvius in a metal barrel. Gods of men they were. There was no other number more important in this world than the obituaries your name brought. But the men were silent. What words could such contestants, locked in the abyss of a single contract of life and death, of immortal fame and nihilistic forget, say to one another? Silence was conversation enough.
There were three men on this particular day, in this particular arena. The first was Harrison Butch, a man as curt as his name suggests. He stood as a mountain of muscle and ruggedness, albeit his face was scrunched and very much repugnant to look at.  The sun’s blistering pangs bludgeoned his body and face, for there was no hat he had to protect himself, nor was there any hair save the brisk pricks that ran erect down his scalp. His eyes, dark and shallow, seemed ever so focused on his target and, never taking his gaze off, rolled his neck into sudden cracks, like whips, that almost roared with gunfire themselves. The people expected him to win, by sake of strength alone, for there ought not be disagreement on whether a man who could best a grizzly could best his opponents: the slender one and that other one waiting in the gaping mouth of the alley between the post office and the saloon. That is, if the slender man opposite of Harrison weren’t Reaper Ridley.
Reaper Ridley wasn’t merely slender, but a sickly gaunt, repugnant in his own way with the cavernous cheeks of his face riddled with scars. His eyes were considered supernatural on account of their astounding range. Also, they seemed to exist outside of his eye sockets. His nickname, no doubt, was the result of his fingers, bony and stretched in anticipation of grasping the escaping soul of his victims, and that creepy rattling when he toys with his firearm, tapping rhythmically in excitement. The tintinnabulation of death, some would call it if they were aware of what the former word meant, so rather they call it Death’s Drum Roll. Reaper Ridley was an average height, but his flowing poncho, thin and desiccated, hid his mortal feet and made him seem to glide when the wind would blow. It also draped over his clacking arms, arresting thought as to how long his legendary arms really were and aroused the imagination of everyone as to what was hidden in the darkness of the Reaper’s poncho. His soulless, hazy eyes scanned the township, tracking Harrison for any weak points, and then fixated on the third man, a complete unknown.
  The former two were men of ill repute, gun-wielding titans who had made their crimson mark throughout the land,  making the hearts of bureaucrats up in the cities stop with fear. The third man was unknown; a face never gazed on before, a scuffle of boots never seen before, a dialect that had never been heard in this region before.  Both men eyed him incessantly. They couldn’t figure him. So, as the moment of judgment dawned closer on the barren road towards notoriety and doom, their bodies slowly shifted towards him. His face wasn’t visible, cowering behind a coiling scarf rattling with wooden bells, leaving only the nonchalant glare of his emerald eyes under the shade of his cascading brown hair. It danced in the brief bouts of wind that panicked through the town, mocking the tension with its whimsy. The stranger was lean, the contours of his arms punctuated by the breaching veins that sought to escape in their excitement. His white shirt, unbuttoned, revealed the horrendous scar coursing down his abdomen into his tough breeches, slightly hidden by the slight strike of hair that ran from his chest.
    Reaper Ridley and Harrison Butch, having both scrutinized their nameless opponent, faced each other, the eyes of the world trying to discern on what sparked in their minds, what wildfires blazed so passionately in this endless stare down where their eyes spoke the most eloquent of diplomacy in complete concordance with the other. Children, in their anticipation, tried to sneak outside, but were quickly saved by their mothers who herded them back into the buildings. Harrison Butch chuckled, the coarse wind of his breath blew back the town, people hustling to find appropriate shelter. As did Reaper Ridley, his gum-less teeth jagged and putrid with the murderous stench of death as his smile seemed incapable of nothing more than wrenching the hearts of those who view it, a sadist’s smile. Butch has the smile of a bully, a tyrant who joys himself at the misfortune of others so often he makes it his mission to do so. No one could see what smile the stranger had, no one truly cared, no one thought he had a reason to smile.
     “What’s yer name, stranger?” boomed Harrison Butch in his ravenous smirk, never actually taking his gaze off of Reaper Ridley’s clouded blue eyes. His voice was thunderous and had this slurring drawl to it, as though to elaborate the dullness of his mind.
“Well, back where I’m from, I reckon they had something sort of like a nickname for me. I forgot my real name. And other people never got it.” The stranger was calm in his answer, a sort of spice in his voice, and it hardly resonated as much as Harrison’s did, but it was present. It was a tranquil strength.
   “Ye gonna tell us what yer name is or not, then? I ain’t have time for stories.” Harrison Butch’s massive hand drew close to his left holster, a crocodile skin beauty he crafted himself from the animal he slayed, and the Rugers pistol lurking within. His right foot, ever so slightly, began to shift away from the road towards the alleyway, all the while still staring down Reaper Ridley.
   “Yep, it was a weird nickname, really, and they kinda just gave it to me, not like I asked for it. But I kept it.” The stranger egged Harrison Butch on, throwing stones at his temper, knowing fairly well of Harrison Butch’s reputation.
   “I swear if ya ain’t gonna give us your name, I’ll come there crush ye with my bare hands, varmint.” The veins in his hands bulged with violent blood coursing to tear through their dermal restraints and unleash gratuitous macabre on the unsuspecting man. The stranger, all the while, simply stood unfazed. He stared into the horizon beyond the rotting roof of the building across, unconcerned as to what awaited him. An ending, but however the end would come he would not know, in the guise of denouement, what it would bring him and whether the reasons the man took up violence would be satiated. Sadly, far too often are endings just beginnings.
   For the long moment before he answered, there was a blood halting silence, just putting the air on still panic and the whole town shifted their eyes back and forth, that uncertain desire of witnessing, of Schadenfreude. Then, “They called me Diamondback.”
  “Is that so? Well, then. I guess it’s en’ of the road for ye, Mr. Diamondback.” Harrison Butch wasn’t interested in histories or curious names, despite how unwarranted they were. Some names were obvious, for the person that carries the name slowly became the one-dimensional manifestations of such names and no longer did it matter how they came into possession, for the former identity had been forgotten. It soon seemed as though they were born into such a name. Others weren’t so obvious; struggles with reputation and identity. That incessant conflict to maintain a pedestrian life, to clear the storm of notoriety as the gusts of fear and admiration dragged you into the chaos, the oblivion of identity and the whims of the world. No longer master of your own fate, but puppet to its well-known tragedies. All heroes die, all villains die.
Nonetheless, Harrison Butch, in but half a moment, seized his Rutgers, yanked back the hammer, raised the barrel. It met Diamondback’s brow. Butch smiled contemptuously in victory. But, it wasn’t. His vision staggered. He looked down and watched helplessly as he heard the trickle of blood and the warmth escape his body.
Across the way, there was a wisp of grey smoke rising above Diamondback’s right holster and he saw the Starr revolver in his hands, barely moved. Then his face, barely affected. Harrison Butch clutched at his left breast. Slowly the shock dissipated, agonizing pain settled as the sanguine tears rolled through his trembling hands; a perfect shot.
     Reaper Ridley’s hands disappeared into the darkness of his poncho and taken from within were two daunting LeMat revolvers, rare double barrel weapons, that hissed great flares of glory within the batting of a single eyelash and consumed his face in creeping smoke.
Diamondback whipped his shoulders around so that they faced his assailant, but stood steady his feet beneath him. He took the blows. Blood belched from his chest and from his leg, spurts that splattered all over the colorless earth. He couldn’t be faltered, though. He coiled his fingers as he cocked his second metallic fang, his Colt revolver, and spewed the condensed venom, pellets from hell, in a mind-shattering fusillade. All five remaining bullets were spawned and spent in under three seconds, digging deep into Reaper Ridley’s crusting body like maggots, regurgitating his worn meat back into the starved soil.
    There was a hush yet again, as the thunder from the tempest of warring cannons, held so skillfully in three men’s hands, ceased. The clash of titans had resided in less than a minute and within that minute was decided a cult worship, a following of admiration that watched this stranger, this Diamondback, walk from the fallen bodies of bygone legends. One Reaper Ridley, known in his pedestrian life as Richard Stone, and another Harrison Butch, never known other than by such.
     He looked to the crowd and demanded a doctor to make himself present, and still the people watched in wonder, forgetting that the slayer of gods is but merely a man, for even the gods were men themselves. However, Diamondback had joined that pantheon of new, whether he liked it or not; he who had overthrown the remaining artifacts of antiquated legend, Zeus who had defeated Chronos. A doctor eventually emerged from the anonymity and worked on his bullet wounds. Cheers of laud would become the war cries of envy, but no one knew it, yet. All that was known, not only in this town of Devil’s Gullet, but soon throughout the whole West, that Diamondback and his Fangs had slain Reaper Ridley and Harrison Butch. Copyright 2014
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