Gunslingers of Black and White
Dead Man’s Valley
Fresh footprints in the dark red sand whisked away with the scorching breeze. The land was flat; even the mountains had worn away to mere hills. Orange clouds like stretched out cotton balls hung high in the three moon sky. The Three Ladies, as the locals called it, were gray spheres, each one bigger than the last. A quiet town stood between two maroon hills. Thick black slabs of tile dusted with sand roofed every building, and a tan clay made up the walls. During what would be considered nighttime in other places, was when the citizens went about their business. It was impossible to go out during the day, for the sun was too great and bright.
Worn, painted signs hung across barns, saloons, libraries, and the jailhouse. Ta’loo’ly, the town was named after the world’s greatest rider. Residents have memorized the tale by heart, even the few children. This was an old place, and it held its traditions by the throat. Newcomers or travelers were whispered about and were the source of a few excitements before they left. Mayor Jirlum turned his face away from such gossip, but he secretly kept an eye on it. He was an old Mayor, the oldest Ta’loo’ly ever held in office, but he kept things quiet, just how the residents liked it. No one had tried to take his title, except for Sunni, the old Sheriff. He had lost an eye and arm fighting off a hoard of Burglugs, or Burs for short. Since then, he hadn’t been the same. His wife had kicked him out of their home soon after he lost his job for trying to start a mutiny against the Mayor. It was impossible nowadays to see him not drunk, but if anyone did, they spun their cattleman hats backwards and spit, if they wanted good luck. It was a cruel joke, but some had claimed it worked. One of the few who didn’t join in, was Lady Gurland, the oldest resident in Ta’loo’ly. She only muttered “poor fool” under her breath and glared at any who took part in the tradition. She oversaw the ladies court, a house any lady of age could live in for a year if they wanted to learn mannerisms and how to take care of a household. It wasn’t an easy learning school, quite the contrary. She worked them day and night, never ceasing to let them rest until the last of the clothes had been folded, or the dishwashing was finished. But she did teach them how to read and write, which many couldn’t.
Young and spontaneous Draiden frowned upon such teachings, but the ladies couldn’t help but admire his handsomeness, even with his awful words. Jeena, a young farmer’s daughter, seemed to be the only lady without any interest toward him, and Draiden sought her like a madman. But Jeena had no interest in becoming a lady or his bride, and instead helped her father work the farm. Reed was very protective of his daughter, to say the least. He was young for an independent farmer, young enough to be sought after by the village ladies. But he kindly rejected them as well, which earned both him and Jeena the frustrating title of “infertile blood”.
But in this simple town, with all its business and whispers, was calm. That is, until the stranger arrived. Capped with a black pinched front hat, dark vest, worn boots, and two revolvers slung on each hip, he was the new source of gossip. The gold rope strung around his hat with matching buttons were not from this part of the world. He had stayed throughout the week at the inn run by Draiden’s mother, Silva. She had been in a shock when the stranger requested a room for three weeks. But each day, he left the inn, scouted the town, then made his way to the saloon before he returned back to his room. He looked the same as any other resident: pale gray skin, although his had more of an orange tint to it, with slashes of black tattoos down his left arm to represent his coming into adulthood, and slicked, black hair that was braided in the back. His nose seemed pressed into his face like a clay figurine, with beady black eyes, and an underbite that showed off his canines. Three red markings, jagged like a bolt, started from his right eye and ended right below his high defined cheekbones to represent his family house. The residents kept a watchful eye on him and marked down every detail possible.
Tonight, he acted differently.
He had come back early from his scouting and stepped into the saloon. As usual, when he did, the piano playing from before stopped and the few farmers with their own markings of green, yellow, and browns ceased their merriment. They continued hastily once he made his way fully into the saloon. He took his place at the bar, and in a gruff voice ordered the same thing he ordered every night: a cigar, and a glass of Blue Dane. Only this time, he ordered two. The bartender, a shorter man, plump around the waist but with skinny arms and a brown marking on his own round cheek eyed him suspiciously before he moved to carry out the order.
The stranger lit his cigar when it was brought to him and inhaled deeply. Red smoke trailed out of the tiny slits of his nostrils as he gradually let out his breath. Tapping ashes off the end, he grumbled something and took another inhale.
The batwing doors opened briefly, allowing a single figure to slide through. The piano man played right on through her entrance. Jeena straightened her skirts and glanced around the saloon. She had a gracefully thin face, oval with cheekbones less prominent than the stranger, and a flat nose as well. Three yellow circles were painted on her right cheek and one on her chin; her gray skin was redder than most. Her pointed ears stuck out from her brown hair, pulled into a low bun on her nape. Holding her chin high, she crossed the saloon to the stranger, feeling the gazes of other farmers on her back. She had uneasiness in her step, and her eyes, however guarded, gave her uncertainty away. With a click of her boot, she stopped by his stool with as much dignity as she could muster. When he ignored her, she cleared her throat. The second time, he muttered, “you’re not who I’m waiting for, lady.”
“You can bet on it.” She said in a strained manner. “I am Jeena Willum, a farmer in this town.”
He turned his attention away from his cigar and stared at her without expression, although she had the feeling he could see right through her. “If you say so.”
Her eyes fell and she nearly stepped back, but she forced herself to stillness. “A lot of folks are talking about you. They say you’re not from around these parts.”
“Rumors aren’t too good of a thing to listen to.” He retorted, glancing toward the entrance briefly before he returned his attention to her. “But I can’t say they’re wrong.”
“I want—” She grimaced at her pleading tone and started again, “I’ve never been past the Cliffs, sir, and I do wonder what’s out there.” Her head tilted questioningly.
The stranger thought for a moment, red smoke trailing out of his mouth. Finally, he said, “much of the same landscape. Flat, curvy in some points, cracked in others. Much the same. But to satisfy your curiosity, Burglugs have gained more territory near the Edge, and cities, like this town but bigger, are in a frenzy.” Tapping ashes into the ashtray, he nodded, “you’re better off here.”
Her mouth tightened in the edges, turning more gray than reddish, “thank you, sir.” When he turned back to staring off into the distance as if she wasn’t there, she turned on her heel and headed out.
Folks started to exit one by one, heading back to their duties before the sun rose. They murmured close to each other, though, with words of “stranger” and “Jeena” and “less brains than a Burglug”. The last left in the saloon, besides the piano man, the bartender, and the stranger, was the old sheriff. He swallowed every drop of liquid in bottles and swayed to the piano’s tunes drunkenly with hiccups and laughs. Neither bothered the man at the bar and his cigar.
But then came the swish of the batwing doors, carrying a fresh, dusty breeze with it. Boots thumped along the floorboards, a steady, sure walk. It took its time to reach the stranger, but when it did, he didn’t stir from his stool.
A man with whiter gray skin, a blue slash of a marking through his right eye, and a thick jaw line stood by the stools while he shed his outer brown coat to reveal his white vest beneath. Gold buttons lined his vest and his gambler hat. A thick pink scar curved through his flat nose, and as he rolled up his white sleeves calmly to his elbows, as if he had all the time in the world, he revealed his tattooed arm to be badly burned. Moving the flaps of his vest, he showed off a nasty dagger and a thick pistol on his hip. He finally took his place on the stool next to the stranger in black. Without a word, he pulled out his personal cigar and lighter.
The bartender eyed the two warily; one stranger was enough to stir the whole town into restlessness, but two in three weeks was a whole new level. He jumped when the one dressed in white called to him, “bartender, a Blue Dane.” But before the bartender could move, the first stranger slid his second glass of blue alcohol to the other without a word. Anxiously rubbing his hands on his apron, the bar man quickly said, “if there is nothing else, fellas?” With their silence, he abandoned his position and headed toward the piano.
When he was out of earshot, the man in white puffed out a cloud of red smoke and spoke, “you’ve been a hard one to follow, Landril. But follow, I did.”
The stranger in black rubbed his thick thumb along his glass before he took a swig of the blue alcohol. When he set it down, he murmured, “I got tired of running.”
“However it came to be, only one will walk out of this here. I think we both know that.” He made sure his ashes didn’t drop on his white coat as he leaned over to take another swig of Blue Dane. To an outside eye and a distant ear, it didn’t look like the two exchanged words at all. But they shared a common history, their paths had crossed each other’s more than once. Earlier in their lives, they could be in the same room without sharing animosity between them, but times were different. Their past history could not make up for what was lost between them, not ever.
Landril spoke after some time, “how is Ellina?” The question would have started a death match between them years ago, but it only caused a small grimace from the other.
“She is as fine as she can be.” The white vest one chewed the tip of the unburnt side of the cigar before he added with a growl, “so is your son.”
Visibly relaxing, Landril exhaled deeply. “That’s good. Real good.” He stared at his half empty glass, as if he could see all his mistakes in the liquid. “Brann, if there is still a chance you would hear my word…”
“It’s too late for that.” Brann’s voice raised but he quickly settled it down. “Far too late.” He said, quieter. Staring into his own glass like it was a mirror reflecting his life, his facial features hardened; the corners of his brown eyes pulled forward to make them look even more like a sideways diamond than they already did, and his white-gray jaw tightened. “It ends today. All of this.”
“It ends.” Landril agreed softly. The idea gave him a sense of peace. “One way or another it ends…” He nodded again, the thought seeming sweeter with every passing second.
Brann pushed himself to his feet and gulped down the rest of his drink, slamming it roughly on the counter. He folded his coat over his burnt arm and, tipping his hat to the bartender that was speaking quietly to the piano man, exited the saloon.
An ending. It was finally sinking into Landril’s mind. It sounded better than any song he ever heard, better than the best drink and lady he had. He pressed the bud of his cigar into the ashtray and swallowed his Blue Dane in one last gulp before he too stood and tossed a tip onto the counter. He eyed the batwing doors, watched them settle back into place. Once he left them, he would have his ending. One way or another.
Stepping onto the porch of the saloon, his eyes instantly found Brann. He had tossed his jacket over a rocking chair outside of the ladies’ house, and was cleaning a thick, silver handgun. Red light gleamed coolly between the cracks of the metal, and the gold hilt was marked with a symbol that matched the paint on his face. He didn’t look up at Landril, but they were both aware of one another.
Landril didn’t need to check his weapons to know they were in top peak condition, as he liked. Instead, he made his way further down the maroon dirt road and positioned himself there.
Brann noticed his waiting, but didn’t pick up speed. He blew down the length of the barrel and nocked it back into his sheathe. Finally, he stepped down into the dirt road as well and eyed Landril. The town square’s clock ticked quietly, a low rumble, but they listened intently. It was a countdown—their countdown. Tick, tick, tick….dong!
In a blink, their guns were out and firing. Blazing red lasers—one from each gun—shot toward one another. Landril’s hit Brann in the shoulder, and Brann’s hit him in the leg. They both weren’t aiming to kill on purpose. They wanted to make death come slowly for one another.
Gritting his teeth, Landril forced himself to his feet and raced behind a bundle of barrels as lasers raced past his head. Dust clouds formed out of his wild dash, creating a momentary fog cloud. He caught his breath and stared at his burnt thigh. A blackened hole was shot straight through, no thicker than his thumb. It stung but he pushed the pain to the side of his mind and listened intently with shaky breaths.
“Come on Landril, you want to finish this too.” Brann’s voice carried through the dirt clouds. It seemed to be far to his right, but it took Landril a split second too late to remember his trick. A knife slashed down on him from above, stabbing him in the shoulder. He let out a groan and spun on the ground, accidentally using his bad leg to kick the barrels back into his attacker.
Brann tumbled backwards to smack his head on a wooden post, thick blue blood slipping down his forehead. He lay there briefly, in a daze, before he pushed himself up and examined his surroundings. Landril was nowhere to be seen, and he had his knife. Before he could let out a snarky comment, a vague figure with Landril’s hat rolled in front of him. He let out a hail of lasers upon it in an instant, tearing holes through it until there was nothing left to see. He frowned when he realized it was a target dummy. He reached forward to rip the hat off, when a red light flashed through his hand. Brann dropped to the ground to take cover and cradle his hand. In the next instant, he was tackled, and his gun was tossed across the dirt road.
Brann bridged and tossed Landril off him, following him in the motion so he was on top. But with his first punch, a fire-hot pain racked through his bad hand. He screamed in pain before Landril smacked him over the head with the butt of his gun, more blood pouring from the now larger wound. It flooded his eyes; he clawed at them vigorously to clear them when he felt his back tumble into the ground. A blade—his blade—was pressed against his neck.
“Where is Ellina?” Landril growled close to his ear.
Brann kept his eyes squeezed shut, but he was well aware of his situation. “Far away from you.” He hissed as a cut formed on his neck.
“A location, Brann.”
“After everything you’ve done? You think she will ever want to see you again? After what you did to her boy? My nephew?”
“What should concern you is this blade on your throat.” The cut deepened a tad. “Coordinates. Now.”
Brann grimaced. The dirt around his head felt muddy from his own blood, and he knew his white clothes were orange by now. He shifted his foot only slightly, to feel around, when it bumped into a hard chunk of metal that was no doubt his gun. “Dead Man’s Valley.”
The blade released its hold on him, and Landril stood. His eyes remained on his opponent for a minute longer; his hat was tossed to the side, revealing his balding head, marked with scars. The man clad in black remembered when his old friend had first received those wounds, and suppressed a shudder. He collected his own hat and dusted it off before turning down toward the stables. Pain throbbed sharply through his thigh and shoulder, sickly thick blood warm on his clothes. An anticlimactic feeling filled his gut; the fight had been short. Trailing dust clouds behind him from limping, he heard the sound of a gun clicking. He paused.
“I said only one of us will leave here alive.”
Landril barely had time to turn when a red hot laser blasted through his chest. As he fell, the world blackened around him; the last face he saw was Brann’s, and his last thought wasn’t about an ending he longed for moments before, but about unfinished business. Then, there was nothing.
About the Creator
I’ve been a storyteller for as long as I can remember. Every chance I could get I was either writing, drawing, or telling anyone who’d listen my stories. Throughout high school I self published three books on Amazon. Enjoy my short stories!
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