Currently reading: Novella: By The Fire (The Stranger) – Prologue / Chapter 0
Novella: By The Fire (The Stranger) – Prologue / Chapter 0
Posted on 28th April, 2017 - By Jonathan Hezzlewood
When I initially wrote The Stranger, it was to practice finding my “writers voice”. With this I also wanted to write dialogue, as well as action; maintaining a fast-pace, without sacrificing detail.
Anyway, today we continue the journey with another tall tale of Stranger times.
Welcome back to the world of; The Stranger…
By The Fire (a tall tale of Stranger times): Prologue
She scrambled backwards kicking at the dirt, the skin of her bare heels scrapping against the rough surface of the stone beneath. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she sobbed, crying out for help, her voice echoed against the canyon walls and carried out into the darkness.
The smell was horrible, a mixture of alcohol and stale sweat. He loomed above her, the campfire flickered against his face, the moving shadows morphing his features into a hideous image – one she would never forget. She tried dragging herself back further, but his strong hands gripped her ankles, and he pulled her towards him. Her dress caught on the stones beneath and lifted up, tearing. The soft skin of her thighs and bottom grazed against the stones, making her wince.
He was laughing, there were other men laughing too. One directly facing her in the distance, his back to the path they had brought her up moments ago. Another stood – knife in hand – over her brother, who was bound and gagged, led on his stomach facing her way. The man stood with him; pushed his head firmly against the dirt, so he couldn’t look away.
His eyes glistened with tears, he was trying his best to scream, but all she could hear was his stifled cries, the cloth they had forced into his mouth making it so no words could be identified. He was two years younger than her, a boy of ten and two, but the fury in his face was that of a man. The last man – that she could see – was knelt to her right, less than ten-foot away, rubbing himself through his pants, a big ugly grin on his face.
She looked back to the man straddled over her, who had started unbuckling his belt. Crying, she pleaded with the man “P-please, d-don’t. P-please mister-” she forced her thighs together as tight as she could. “I can g-get you m-money.” She finished.
He laughed. “Ain’t no money, we turned y’place upside-down ‘n inside-out, same as ya Pop’s head.”
“Woooo wha’d a mess that were!” called the man watching her brother. As he spoke he repositioned the flat of his boot on the boy’s head.
“Mmmm it sure were that, son-o’ a-bitch damn near blew my hat off!” exclaimed the man knelt to her side. His eyes met with the man knelt over her. She followed his gaze back to the man atop of her, who continued “That’s right, Dwight here nearly met the man upstairs. Luckily your Daddy’s rifle came in handy for caving his nasty skull in!”
“HE WAS A GOOD MAN!!” She shouted. “We did nothin’ wrong. He asked you to leave, he asked…” She trailed off.
Fresh tears ran down her face.
“’Sides, if there is any money we’ll find it. After we’re done here we’ll take you back there ‘n you can find it f’us.” The man brought his face towards hers, and she spat with all her might. He smiled and licked the spit from around his lips, then pushed his forehead against hers, gritting his teeth he said. “Yeah we’ll take you back there, after I’m finished with you. Then Dwight and Buck back there too. Billy there-” he nodded his head in the direction of the man with his boot on her brother’s head. “He has a different taste to the rest of us. No doubt like to have the boy, to do with as he please.”
He unbuttoned his trousers and pulled them down around his thighs. “Now, where were we?!” he grinned.
Grabbing the backs of her knees, he forced her legs apart. She fought to keep them together but he was too strong. She screamed for help once more. Grabbing her hair he forced her head to the side, and bit her neck. She cried out again, pleading as he ran his tongue across her left cheek. She could feel him pressed against her, his excitement rubbing across her tummy. “This is gonna hurt sweetie.” He knelt up – hooking his arms behind her knees – and pulled her towards him.
“Hey Al, Al!” Buck said through a hushed voice.
The man on top of her stopped, and staring into her eyes he shouted back. “WHAT!!?”
“What you on about?” he said, looking over his shoulder towards Buck.
“I can here footfalls…” He paused listening. “Sounds like just one, on a mount. Coming in slow.”
Buck could hear the sound of hooves against the dry clay and sand of the ground. Coming this way, or passing by? He wondered, listening into the pitch-black of the night. They slowed further, barely able to hear them now.
Al’s voice called in the background. “Well, is someone joining us?”
Ignoring Al, he strained his neck forward, head turned slightly, his left ear pointing down the path.
Gone. Nothing. All quiet.
Buck faced forward, having one last look before returning to the show. He leant forward, lifting his back foot off the ground, as if the extra distance gained by doing this would help him see better.
He staggered back – startled by the sudden appearance of a long black face arriving out of the darkness. Raising his pistol, he aimed above the horse’s head, to where the rider would be sat. Yet as the horse continued forward it soon became apparent that it was alone, rider-less.
Dwight had gotten to his feet and joined Buck to see what it was all about. The horse walked past them both, not at all deterred by the aggressive manner in which the men carried themselves, pistols in hand. Its big black eyes seemed to meet the stare of both men as they stepped aside – one to the left, the other to the right – as the lone horse continued through the camp off to the side of White Venom Pass.
As the horse furthered its way into the camp, Billy stepped away from the boy – still bound and gagged on the floor – and started toward the horse. Her coat glistened in the campfire light. Billy could see a pattern down the right side of the horse, strange markings that looked similar to a spider-web, or shattered glass. The pattern started at the stomach and spread out across her side and up her neck onto her face, where it thinned, fanning out like lightning, with the two final forks coming to a stop just around her right eye.
Both Buck and Dwight walked a few steps further out into the darkness, in the direction from which the horse had arrived. Scanning the barren from left-to-right, neither could see any sign of a rider.
Al – still knelt over the girl – watched as the horse walked towards him. Straying to the left, the horse came to a stop in-front of first-of-the-two campfires that were burning bright.
The girl was struck by a sense of wonder, as this majestic creature had appeared out of the darkness and temporarily halted the horror she was enduring.
The horse lowered its head toward the fire, as if warming its face, then, sat with a thud – sending a faint cloud of dust and dirt a couple of feet into the air.
As Al got to his feet – still standing proud – his trousers fell past his knees stopping at his boots. He looked at the horse, and the horse seemed to look straight back at him. “GO ON! GET OUT’O HERE!” he yelled, waving his arms at the horse.
Dwight walked over to help try encourage the animal to leave. Loosening off a round into the ground next to where the horse sat. The loud bang echoed off the sandstone hillsides, hitting the sheer-faces and bouncing out into the darkness.
The horse sat there.
At that moment, their rides began to stir, stepping restlessly on their feet. Al turned and looked to see what – if anything – had spooked them. The gunfire. He thought. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, all four horses were still strapped to the make-shift hitchin’ posts.
“Com’on git outta here you dumb son-o’ a-bitch!” Dwight kicked dirt at the horse. But she didn’t budge.
“Maybe she wants to watch?” Al laughed and looked back down at the girl, his grin widening. “Looks like we’ve got an audience.”
Her blood ran cold.
Something moved in her peripherals, out from the darkness to behind Al. A hand grabbed his left shoulder and spun him around which was followed by an agonising squeal – not too dissimilar to the sound a pig makes when being brought to slaughter.
As Al collapsed to his knees – blood pouring to the floor from between his legs – the dark blur shifted towards Dwight, who had turned sharply upon hearing the bone-chilling shriek behind him. As he reached for his shooter, his throat opened to the kiss of a blade slicing through his skin, tearing at the flesh. Clutching at the open wound, Dwight stumbled and fell onto his backside, gargling blood and gasping for air. She led there stunned, watching as his watery eyes met hers. In shock, he tried getting to his feet but failed, falling face first into the dirt beneath – his body twitching slightly as it gave its last fight for air.
Buck – having drawn his pistol upon witnessing the attack on his two friends – raised his arm. The girl saw the mysterious figure shift and something flicker mid-air before meeting its target. Buck made a small yelp as his head flung back and before falling on his side, the handle of a knife sticking out from his left eye-socket.
Billy ran at the attacker screaming. “D-i-i-i-e!”
The figure stepped forward quickly, crouched momentarily; before throwing dirt into Billy’s face. He slashed blindly. The figure countered, bringing a left forearm up to block the downward swing of the knife. As the blade arm bounced away, the figure brought its right arm across grabbing the wrist of the hand holding the knife and twisted, which was complemented by a loud snapping sound as Billy shouted out in agony, dropping the blade to the floor.
In one motion, Billy’s right leg was kicked out. As the foot of the figure continued past, it was brought back with the force of a train sending the boot heel into the side of Billy’s knee, snapping the leg.
She sat up watching. Billy’s scream was stifled as the figure picked him up by the throat and threw him down – back first – into the open fire.
Burning embers, dust and smoke were thrown into the air, glowing in the darkness that had now hit the left side of the camp. The figure stood over Billy – groaning and coughing on the floor – and raised its right leg, bringing it down on to his head with a dull crunch. The man on the floor was now still.
A distant howl cried out in the darkness, followed by two more howls in reply.
Stepping out from the darkness stood a man, cloaked in a dark hat, and a long, weathered, brown coat. He had saved both herself and her brother from pain, humiliation and almost certainly death – this man, this stranger.
He stepped over Al – who was now curled up in to a foetal position, whimpering – and lowered his arm toward her. Taking his hand, he lifted her to her feet.
She swayed a little – as dizziness took over, blood rushing to her head. The stranger placed his hands on her shoulders, and crouched to her level, meeting her eyes. “Steady.”
His eyes were steely-cold grey in colour, yet she could see warmth behind them, above which lay sandy-brown eyebrows. An old scar – what looked to be a constant reminder of a battle from the past – ran deep from his top lip, up to the side of his left nostril and across his cheek – ending suddenly. Following past the line of the scar, she could see that whatever it was that had caused that damage hadn’t stopped there; part of his left earlobe was missing too.
He continued. “You good? Can you stand?”
The girl nodded, answering silently.
The stranger released his hands and stood. Turning, he stepped back over Al – the once proud leader of a group of horrible men, now a whimpering, pathetic coward.
Placing the sole of his boot on Buck’s face, the stranger withdrew the knife from his eye socket, and wiped the blood and fluid on the corpse’s dusty shirt. He flicked the knife over his palm by the handle, as he walked over to the boy. The blade now pointing toward his elbow, he cut the ropes that tied the boy at the wrists and ankles.
As he sheathed the blade, the boy pushed himself up and knelt for a moment, before getting to his feet and launching himself into the girl’s arms. Their embrace was strong and full of emotion. They didn’t speak, just held each other tightly and sobbed, relieved to be alive and out of danger.
The stranger walked around the camp collecting anything of value. He took knives and pistols from the three dead men, dropping them all in a pile on the floor in the centre of the camp. He stepped over Al once more, who now appeared to have lost consciousness, and ducked beneath the thick, stained white sheet that had been used as a windbreak for the crudely constructed shelter. Inside he found a gun belt, complete with pistol; most likely belonging to the man – who was now missing a vital part of his anatomy – curled up outside. A knife. A pouch full of coins and a handful of small gold flecks, too small to be considered nuggets.
They had released their embrace when he returned from under the shelter. Both looking at him, the boy stepped forward.
“Thank you Mister-” Another howl echoed out through the darkness. “-for saving my sister’n me. It was a very kind deed.”
The boy looked at the stranger, expecting a reply but got nothing. Instead, the stranger held his gaze for a moment, then turned his head to the black-grey appaloosa – still sat in-front of the fire enjoying the warmth – and made a short clicking sound from the back of his throat; very similar to that a revolver makes when you thumb back the hammer.
The horse got to its feet, the hind legs lifting its body up, the front legs staying where they were. The horse stepped back from the fire, turned and walked toward the stranger. As he ran his left hand over the horse’s nose, her eyes closed and she nickered in response.
The boy thought it sounded like the horse laughed gently through its nostrils. A smile touched his face.
“Good girl.” The stranger ruffled the hair between her ears from side-to-side. “Now let’s load up n’get these young’uns some-place safe for the night.”
The horse seemed to fully understand the man, even to the point of nodding her head – or so it seemed – whilst nickering once more in agreement.
The stranger patted her side and she walked over to the items the stranger had placed on the ground earlier.
From behind the saddle he removed a thick bundle of material, untied the twine holding it together and – with a quick flick of the wrists – rolled out a woollen sheet across the ground. After placing the weapons on the sheet, he swiftly rolled it back up and tucked it back behind the saddle.
As he walked over to loosen the mounts that had belonged to the four kidnappers, he noticed the girl was stood by his horse, her hand raised as if to stroke her. He spoke, startling the girl by saying. “She’s called Chet,-” he pronounced it, Sh-ay. “-short for Ricochet.”
Recovering from the initial jolt out of her daydream, the girl stepped closer and stroked the horse. “Hello Ricochet, I’m Jayne.” The horse lowered its head to get a more thorough stroking. “And this here’s James, my brother.” Jayne gestured her free hand toward the boy stood behind her. Ricochet blew gently through her lips, greeting both of them.
“She likes you it seems.” The stranger smiled, walking back over to her, leading the other four horses by their reins. Jayne’s face beamed, her eyes glistening in the campfire light.
Stopping in-front of the children he said. “Well, let’s find someplace to shelter for the night, get plenty of rest, then we’ll make the journey back to your Ma and Pa’s home on the morrow.”
James spoke up “Mister, our Pa’s dead, those bastards killed him!”
Jayne continued for him “And our Ma was taken from us when she brought my brother into this world.” The girl turned to her brother and spoke softly “Y’know Pa wouldn’t want you to talk that way, cussin’ and all.”
“I know.” His eyes had filled with tears, but he wiped them away before they could run down his cheeks.
“Let’s find someplace to rest up for now. I passed a farmhouse on the way through, we can back-trail and be there shortly.” He walked one of the quarter-horses forward to the boy. “What age are you both?” he asked. Placing his foot in the stirrup James said “I’m ten and two-” and pulled himself up into the saddle, the horse didn’t seem to mind, or even notice. “Jayne is two years my senior.” He finished.
The stranger noticed over the shoulder of the boy that the girl had already chosen a horse and helped herself into the saddle.
Another series of howls rang out from the black of night. Getting closer thought the stranger.
James was small for his age, at twelve years old the boy hadn’t quite reached the four-foot mark yet, but the stranger could tell that the boy was strong of frame, with the potential to be a good grafter despite him lacking height.
“What about him?” Jayne nodded to the would-be rapist led on the floor, curled up.
The stranger walked over to the remaining campfire, kicking dirt up over the flames with his boot, smothering them. “Leave him to the coyotes.”
“Is he still alive?” James asked.
“For now.” The stranger replied coldly, walking back toward them. He took hold of the remaining horses’ reins once more, and stepped up to Ricochet, lifting himself into her saddle.
The stranger signalled to move on. “Ki-Kik.” They gently set off forward, Ricochet at the lead, leaving three dead bodies and another mortally wounded in their wake.
To Be Continued…