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August 30th, 2004, 05:58 PM
Well its been awhile and uni has officially finished so I thought it time to get on with a bit of writing, something a little different in the form of a western-fantasy thingy :D Feel free to join in, I have no idea where its going :)

As Stranger sat his horse, looking down on the small bustling town ensconced at the foot of the valley, Parius’s words of warning floated through his mind;

"It is always a woman that brings down the greatest hero, she cheats, betrays or worse induces him through guilt, honour or loyalty to lay down his all-powerful being, to sacrifice all that he may be for what? A whim? A dream? An ideal?"

Stranger smiled, though more rightly it could be called a grimace, Parius was a cynical old bastard yet in a way it was fitting. Fitting that he had returned to the place of his birth, a place that called to him like a lodestone, for a woman.
He smiled again, seeing once more the old man pacing the school floor, hands clasped behind his back further exaggerating the barrel chest from which echoed a deep, knowing voice. Memories of that voice still gave Stranger goosebumps;

There is another attribute about heroes that comes to mind, that they are the right people in the right place at the right time. Many will argue the reverse, that they are in fact in the wrong place at the wrong time, but these people do not understand the beacon call of immortality, the seduction of forever. Heroes lose, not the conflict but a part of themselves, a loved one or a dream of another life, removed by the expediency of whom they have become. Yet it is given willingly, a sacrifice at the altar of forever.

The smile left the man’s face as he considered the path down the valley into the village. It was steep enough to be dangerous for both rider and horse. Trees and large bushes grew onto the road offering cover to any would be assailants.
Five such men waited a hundred yards down the road from man and horse.
Jester snorted at this thought, fractiously trampling dust from the road.
“Easy greatheart, there is no danger here.”
The horse’s head turned to eye its rider, the look questioning his sanity.
Nodding sagely, the man stroked the great raven black mane of his trusted companion and, looking neither left or right, slowly motioned the horse into a walk. None of the men hiding in the undergrowth had shown themselves yet and Stranger felt no need to rush them, after all what was there to fear. He was Home.

It was a good fifty yards before the first man showed himself, stepping out into the road from behind a thick hedgerow on the right side of the road, six shot pistol gripped tightly in hand.
“Good day to you sir,” Stranger offered amiably, stopping Jester in the middle of the road.
“Get down of that there horse and lie down on the ground.”
Stranger looked at the road then back up to the bandit.
Just over five and a half feet tall with thick, greasy black hair the man clenched his old gun as if in fear of dropping it.
“The ground is very dusty my friend and these clothes are but clean on yesterday.”
“I am not your friend, idiot.”
“But of course you are, everyone is my friend – and I am Stranger, not idiot, that was my brother’s name.”
The hand flexed on the pistol.
“I do not think you are funny.”
“Nor did my brother, but then he always did lack a right good sense of humour. Pray tell what is your name friend.”
As the man was about to answer a second bandit strolled out from behind a thick elm tree on the right hand side of the road. This second man was a good arm’s length taller than his companion, which to Stranger, even on his horse, was very tall.
In the giant’s shovel-sized hands was a single-barrelled shotgun, very handy at close quarters.
“Do as he says moron and don’t even think of calling me friend.”
“Of course not, however there is a slight problem.”
“And that would….”
A pistol shot rang out before the giant bandit could finish his sentence.
Stranger looked warningly at the smaller man, smoking gun levelled ominously, before returning his gaze to the giant and the bleeding hole clean through his large right hand.
Jester shook his head vigorously, wondering why there wasn’t a similar hole in the man’s head.
“Now, now greatheart,” Stranger whispered, “it would not do to kill a man on our first meeting, besides you know how much she hates to see us when we’ve killed someone”
“Now then,” Stranger began with as much warmth as he could manage “tell your three hidden friends to come out and unload their weapons onto the road.”
The giant stared at Stranger, aware that he had not even seen the man draw his weapon, as if it had appeared out of thin air. Damned magicker.
“Lentel, Rosso, Vania do as he says.”
Three men shuffled out from behind a thick gorse bush on the left hand side of the road. Two were clearly brothers from their swarthy features and matching revolvers, the third was a corpulent, bald-headed man who brandished a long hunting knife in his thick, pudgy hand.
The brothers tipped their bullets onto the road in front of Stranger while the fat man sheathed his knife and threw it at Jester’s feet in disgust. The giant obviously ruled by fear rather than intelligence.
“That means you also friend.”
The first bandit unfroze and hurriedly walked forward adding his bullets to the pile next to the knife.
Stranger let out a long theatrical sigh.
“Your extra ammo as well please boys.”
Three dozen further bullets littered the road.
“Now toss your guns and any other sharp implements into those nettle bushes to your left.”
The shotgun was followed by the three pistols and four extra throwing knives that had been concealed on the fat man’s overlarge belt.
“I am sorry we had to come to this gentlemen but know this if I see any of you again or hear of you attacking folk, you’re all deadmen. Have a nice day.”
Turning Jester to the left side of the road, Stranger tapped his heels to the horse’s flanks and rode down the valley towards Home. Not stopping to see the outcome of the leadership restructuring taking place behind him.

Hereford Eye
August 31st, 2004, 04:47 PM
The giant’s parents possessed a sense of humor that the birth of their first and only child spurred to new lows. They name the boy Juan Ana Tou, the latter being a name surname they concocted for the birth certificate. Even in the 1800s, most giants had an aversion to being traced too easily by a government that might want to apply their talents to trades the giants wished to avoid.
So, Juan Ana Tou spent his life proving he could actually count all his fingers and toes. With that issue resolved, he spent the rest of his life avoiding champagne and music. Small wonder he had come to the leadership of this relatively unknown band of criminals on the fringes of nowhere. That leadership, of course, as he had known it would, had once again brought him to grief, this time a gaping hole in his right hand.
“I hereby tender my resignation,” he announced to the four men standing around him gazing stupidly at the hole in his hand from which Juan was sucking the blood. There was a lot of blood so there Juan was doing a lot of sucking.
“You cain’t quit,” Lentel said, “”cause we neber ‘lected you.”
Russo chimed in with: “Yeah, you was jes bigger den us’ns.”
Russo’s twin, Vania, as was his wont being the younger twin, echoed his older sibling’s words: “Yeah, you was jes bigger den us’ns.”
Jaime, all 5 and a half foot of Jaime, now made bold my the gaping hole in Juan Ana Tou’s right hand, added: “An’ ya din’t do no high shakes job, either.”
“If you idiots had inquired what my inclinations might have been, I would have declined the dubious honor you misbegotten members of a moronic majority bestowed on me.” The giant’s words were as bitter as the sting in his right hand. “I am quite content to allow one of you to assume leadership of this incompetent assemblage. Whoever eventuates may perhaps see fit to disenfranchise me and send me on my way?”
“Watch how you be speakin’ at us,” Jaime said.
“I merely intended that I’d go along with whatever your superior intellects may devise.”
“Why dintcha say so?”
“Enough o’ dat. Let’s get to decidin’ who’s in charge so we can go set dat magicker fella straight. We ain’t no gol darned pushovers, ya know?” The others all nodded sagely at Russo’s observation though Vania did cast a nervous glance down the road where the stranger had ridden and neglected to echo his brother’s sentiments.
“Okay,” Lentel asked, “how we gonna decide who’s in charge?”
“How ‘bout we vote?” Russo suggested. Naturally, he was immediately second by his younger brother who demonstrated an amazing burst of originality: “Yeah, how ‘bout we vote?”
“Who’d we vote fer?” Lentel asked.
“Don’t go votin’ fer me,” Jaime said. “I ain’t no gang leader type.”
“Well, do I look dat stupid?” Lentel asked.
Russo followed quickly as did Vania: “Or me?…Or me?”
“So, we cain’t vote an’ dat’s a fact.” Jaime said.
“Anybody else got any idea?” Lentel ask the question to the group at large but he directed his attention, as did the rest of the gang, to Juan Ana Tou. The giant shook his head, pointed to his right hand that he was now attempting to bandage. “The majority has already spake its will and pleasure that I am not the man to lead you. I most vehemently concur. If elected, I will not serve. One of you must lead or the coherence of this ragtag assemblage will evaporate and we can each pursue our separate destiny.”
“Huh?” asked Russo; “huh?” asked Vania.
“Decide the issue among yourselves. Perhaps by a melee, the last one standing anointed the new leader.”
“What’s dis melody you talkin’ about?”
“Melee, not melody. It is a brawl, a no rules, knock down, unmitigated, knuckle-busting fight.”
“Yeah, dat would work. Da toughest o’ us would be da leader,” Jaime said. “‘ceptin’ course for yourself,” he quickly added. Jaime seemed to realize Juan Ana Tou was in much better shape than he originally believed. No point in annoying the giant.
“Works fer me,” Russo said. “Works fer me,” Vania agreed.
“Yeah, dat ‘ll work,” Lentel said.
The four men stood in a loose circle, each regarding the other suspiciously, each wondering how to initiate the festivities without committing themselves to something they couldn’t back out of. As it happened, Jaime was the quickest thinker in the bunch. He looked Russo dead in the eye and said “sorry, compadre, but I’m gonna haf to put you down.” He strode forward into twin fists, one Russo’s and one Vania’s. Jaime collapsed with a smile on his face.
Lentel watched the action, his brain quickly traveling the path Jaime had beaten him to. “My turn,” he announced and walked into the twin fists. As he crumpled, Russo happened to see the smile on Lentel’s bruised and bleeding face and then the laughter rocking the giant’s body. Russo’s brain played catch up. He spun to swing at his brother who had expected something like that and was also swinging. For the first time in their lives, Vania beat his brother to the punch. Russo went down with a familiar smile on his face.
Vania was staring at his fist when the giant’s words registered in his mind.
“Tag! You’re it!”

September 1st, 2004, 05:42 PM
Memories engulfed Stranger as Jester trotted slowly down the steep, meandering path towards Home. Home.
He hadn't been there in almost ten years, so long and yet so short a time to be on the road. What he'd run away from no-one knew and neither did he much care to tell folks. There was some business that was nobody's business.

Jester whinnied as the road became uneven and pitted, the valley in which Home had been built was a dried up river bed that suffered occasional, mild flooding from the woods above the North slope.
Green as green could be, the lush valley was home to an interesting cornucopia of animals jokingly referred to as Home's pets.
Wolves, bears and coyote's never did come close on account of the traps which littered the towns boundaries.
Home itself was a moderately large townhood, no more than ten or so thousand occupants plus a few hundred seasonal workers and some idiots panning for gold in what remained of the river to the west of Home.
Originally built on the truncated spurs left by the rivers demise, Home had spread out to encompass most of the flat land at the valley bottom along with some of the not so flat-land at the boundary edge.
The only real flat land not used was the fifty feet that had been cleared around the boundary edge to the north, west and east of the town.
The south was dominated by a near vertical scree slope at least 500m high which not even the darnedest fool would think of climbing.
The boundary edge was cleared because Homens, as the outside world referred to them as, weren't all too hot on strangers. It was fair to say they didn't take kindly to outsiders unless they offered some thing of worth to the community.
And that was the telling word, community.
Between ten thousand odd, in both senses, folk you'd think someone wouldn't know someone else.
You'd be thinking wrong.
Homens had these incredible memories, see a face and they'd know a name, magick outsiders called it.

Stranger chuckled, magick he called it too - just not where anyone could hear him.
Jester snorted to regain his fool master's attention and, nodding toward the stable, trotted off down the road.
"Damn impatient for a horse so old if you ask me."
Jester's reply was not filled with humour.

Hereford Eye
September 2nd, 2004, 10:43 AM
Three gang members rolled over on the ground to grin at each other before rising and beginning the futile task of slapping the dust out of their clothes. When enough attention had been paid to the slapping of dust clouds, Russo led the congratulatory parade to his brother. Shaking his hand vigorously, Russo told his twin how proud he was that he, Vania, had finally made something of himself.
Lentel and Jaime pounded Vania on the back expressing similar sentiments, everyone caught up in the exhilaration of the moment. A new leader chosen, their problems behind them, the world was looking better all the time. It couldn’t last. They all knew that so none was surprised when Russo asked Vania: “What’s the plan?”
Russo was the most surprised of the entire band when his question received an immediate and positive response. “We’re goin’ after dat magicker jes like we said we was. To make dat possible, we need our weapons ‘n’ our bullets. Russo, how ‘bout you goin’ ‘n’ getting’ “em?” Vania smiled broadly at his brother.
“Like hell I’m goin’ into dem nettles!” Russo said, his annoyance with his baby brother made fully evident in the gesture accompanying his refusal.
“Do I haf to kick your sorry ass….agin?”
“You dint kick no sorry ass…..” and then Russo clamped down so hard he bit his tongue which set him yelpin’. He glared daggers at his younger brother but he headed off to the nettles to comply with Vania’s orders.
“You was sayin’?” Vania asked innocently.
“You know danged well that….” Russo started over his shoulder but thought better of it.
“What do I know, Russo?”
“Dat you is the leader o’ this band.”
“Thank you, Russo.” Vania turned to Lentel and Jaime. “You guys get them horses ready to go and be careful o’ dat coyote sitting over there watching us like we is the most strange thing he’s ever seen.”
“You want us to kill it?” Jaime asked.
“Slaying Homen’s pets is never a propitious act but on a day such as today calamity must certainly ensue should one attempt such a thing.”
“Juan Ana Tou,” Lentel said with thorough disgust, “would’ja kindly just ‘splain what it is you is talkin’ ‘bout?”
Vania saved Juan the trouble. “It don’t do to go killing Homen pets. We already got a magicker to worry us; we don’t need his pets riled up as well. Now, you gonna get dem horses?”
Jaime looked funny at Vania but his only comment was under his breath: “Shore seems to be takin’ to this leader thing, don’t he?”
As the two men headed off to round up the horses, Juan Ana Tou couldn’t resist expressing his admiration for Vania’s behavior. “Some folk hold the belief leadership is innate, a quality of the man, something instinctive and inherent. Others hold that groups produce the leaders they require at the moment of need. Still others posit the novel idea that circumstances nominate leaders. You, sir, give evidence for the gamut of opinion. Text books and laboratories await the outcome of this experiment with more anticipation than any since the day the apple inspired the recluse. Would you consider permitting my attendance at the playing out of your span of fame despite the possibility the span may not exceed fifteen minutes?”
“Would you mind repeatin’ that in words I can unnerstan’?”
“I would very much like to remain a member in good standing of this extraordinary band of miscreants.”
“Suit yerself, big fella. Can’t hurt havin’ somebody of your stature accompanying us.”
“I know; I heard myself, too. Other’s way o’ speaking just seems to rubs off on me.”
The coyote laughed as well though coyote laughter manifests more in the twinkle in their eyes and the shimmering of their tail as they take a shortcut through the next world to get where they want to go.
“Might one assume you have defined for yourself what success looks like, devised a scheme of action to attain that goal and are prepared to make this intelligence available to your followers?”
“When dey all get back with the implements of our trade, yeah, I’ll let you all know what’s happening.”

September 3rd, 2004, 08:38 PM
As Stranger tried, unsuccessfully, to catch up to Jester he became aware of a sound. The sound was a gasp, followed by another and another, rising to a veritable cacophany of indrawn breaths.
It wasn't rare to see someone new in Home so much as it was rare to see someone new you knew, in Home.
An odd paradox that had a few score of people scratching their heads in wonder.
As a greeting, Stranger contemplated, it was better than nothing and word was bound to get around sometime anyhow.

The stables to which Jester trotted enthusiastically, Mort's Honest-to-Goodness Stables, were well known to both horse and rider, Stranger had often used them whilst learning to ride in his childhood.
Grease and leather brough back fond memories for Jester, here he had taught the shy little boy how to travel on his back. No whip, saddle, reins or bit as his brothers and sisters suffered but an understanding based on equality and above all the ability to communicate.

"Getting a little nostalgic there, greatheart - was I really so little."
Jester sent his friend a thought-memory, clear as a picture, of a young Stranger attempting, with minimal success, to mount a younger jet black stallion.
Rubbing Jester's mane, Stranger barked out a laugh.
"You were prettier then, old boy."
An attempted nip his just desserts.
"Do you wish to stay here, while I go say hello?"
Jester sensed his friend was not looking forward to the unescapable reunions. He sent him a thought-image of a woman slapping a man silly.
"I guess old age means a loss of subtlty."
The image was sent again.
"Very funny, I'll take that as a no."
Stroking Jester's nose, Stranger forked hay into the space and with nothing more pressing to do set off for the House.
"I'm gonna hate myself for this," he muttered to no-one in particular.
The image of the woman was sent again.
"Drop dead, it won't be that bad."
Even from a few hundred yards away he could hear the amused naying.

Hereford Eye
September 6th, 2004, 09:56 AM
“Me and Jaime was thinkin this whole thing over again and we’re kind a wunnerin bout how come you is giving all dese orders, Vania? We know you from way back and you ain’t never said a word all your own and now yer spoutin orders like you was born to be king or somethin.”
“It’s all very simple, compadres. I kicked your ass and you made me boss. Should we try again?”
“I’m willin,” Jaime said. He and Vania squared off in a classic Marquis d’ Queensbury fashion, their left hands resembling left uppercuts caught in the act. They circle each other cautiously, first left and then right. Just as it appeared something would happen, Vania dropped his guard. “Now, you do remember what this’ll mean, don’t you, Jaime?”
The question caught Jaime unprepared. For the split second it took for the full import to sink into his consciousness, Vania’s right hand crossed the distance between them to land squarely on Jaime’s nose. Adding to the indignity of finding himself seated on the ground, again, with legs spread akimbo, his arms barely propping his frame, his nose was leaking red stuff.
“I guess I’m still the boss,” Vania said looking around his audience. There were no nay-sayers to be found.
“Now, y’all gather round here while I splain the plan.”
Four would be ruffians obeyed instructions. Vania took his knife from its scabbard and make a long mark in the ground. “This here is Homen.”
A huge guffaw applauded his work. Russo commented “it ain’t Homen; Homen is over there and down that path. That’s just a mark on the ground.”
“No, Russo. This is a map I’m makin.”
“Where’d you ever learn bout maps? We ain’t never seen one; I’m damned certain o that.”
“Never mind where. Pay attention. This here scratch in the ground is meant to give you idiots the idea of what Homen looks like. Helps to stir your memories if you got any and shows what you ain’t never seen if you ain’t never seen it.” While Vania was explaining, a coyote shimmered in from nowhere. It took a seat on a patch a little higher than the rowdies and contented itself with scratching its side and watching Vania conduct his class.
“So, Homen looks like a scratch in the ground?” Lentel asked.
“If you was to be up where eagles fly, Homen’s street would look like this scratch in the ground.”
“Why dint you say so. If you’d just tell us dese things, dat we is supposed to think like eagles, we’d might unnerstan. We ain’t stupid, you know.”
“Okay, think like eagles, then. Now if that is the street and this end is the end of the street we are at, then this first building,” Vania made an “x’ in the ground, “is the general store.”
“Eagles think general stores look like cross marks?”
Rather than argue, Vania agreed that eagles think general stores look like cross marks. He made another x to the right of the first and named it the boarding house.
“Guess all them buildings look like x to eagles, huh?”
“Yeah, they do.” Then Vania filled in the other x that eagles saw looking at Homen. Having a clear picture of their destination in their minds, Vania took a dangerous route. He changed the subject.
“Now, what we is goin to do is we ain’t goin to try to kill no magicker lessen we have to. He embarrassed us and we is angry as all gitout at that and he must answer to us for such a thing. But he is faster with that gun than anyone we ever heard tell of and we don’t need to get each other killed just cause we got ourselves embarrassed. Right?”
The gang agreed. After they agreed they took another look at Vania. He might not be just another pretty face after all. The coyote seemed to approve as well. It rolled over and over in the dust as if caught up in full coyote approval of Vania’s budding plan. On the other hand, the coyote may have been scratching its back.
“Now, my idea is that we embarrass that magicker by making him want to pull that gun but knowin full well he cain’t cause we got him covered every way from sundown.”
“Yeah,” from four different mouths encouraged Vania to continue on.
“Now, one problem we got we ain’t talked so much about and dat is dese animals runnin round here. Like ole Mr. Coyote over here.” The coyote sat up and bowed its head as if accepting its due.
“Dese ain’t your reglar animals. Dese animals is all magicked up and dat could be a problem.” The coyote nodded its head in sage agreement.
“How many kinds do you spose dey got all magicked up?” Jaime asked.
“From what we seen in da last couple o days, you got to figger de coyotes is magicked.” The coyote nodded agreement. “And I’m pretty sure I seen me a bear or two and a couple o wolves.”
“As well mine orbs have rested on the visage of a pair of urso major and at least a third score wolves inhabiting the country side.” the giant said.
“What’d he say?” Russo asked.
“He agreed with me,” Vania said. “I figger they ain’t no more than two coyotes cause them rascals normal don’t like crowds. They can be as sociable as wolves but – given their druthers – they’d jest as soon be on their own.”
“So, what we goinna do about “em.”
“We gonna keep “em on our good side.”
“No,” Vania corrected Lentel. “we gonna keep us on their good side.”
“How we gonna do dat?”
“We gonna have us a little git together and discuss dese things wid dem magicked up animals.”
“Vania, ol son, how we gonna get dem animals togedder in one place; I ask you dat?”
“We gonna invite them, o course.” Vania stood and turned to the coyote. “You think you could get dem animals to come pay us a visit, brother?”
The coyote stared at Vania for long seconds. Vania didn’t know if the beast was considering his request or pondering his gall at claiming kinship with the coyote.
“To what purpose?” the coyote asked, its voice a pleasant baritone that seemed way to powerful to be coming from that scrawny throat.
“To introduce ourselves, fool around a bit, discuss our plan and maybe talk you folk into not interfering in the business we must conduct.”
“Fool around?”
“I thought we might have us a contest.”
“What kind of contest?”
“A wrestling contest, of course.”
“Coyotes don’t wrestle.”
“But bears do and Juan Ana Tou ought to make a fair match for a bear, don’t you think?”
Juan Ana Tou came to his feet in protest. “I protest. My cooperation has not been secured; I have no commitment to such an undertaking.”
Vania came round on Juan Ana Tou oh so slowly to take some of the discomfort of having to look up at the man. “Ain’t you da one who asked to tag along?”
“Well, yes, certainly. I did sue for that privilege but nothing in that contract hinted in the least at a sporting match with a bear.”
“It’s the price of admission, Juan.”
The giant took his time answering. Arguments pro and con raced through his mind leaving fleeting wrinkles on his brow. In the end, he acquiesced. “Very well, jefe. If that is the price of admission, I will tender the payment though I must observe this leadership you practice verges somewhat more on tyranny than benevolence.”
“If you’re trying to tell me I’m in charge; I’ll accept that.”
Turning back to the coyote, Vania asked: “well?”
“We accept your invitation…..brother. The bears particularly accept. It’s been a while since they have had any exercise.”

September 15th, 2004, 02:06 PM
The saucepan was the first thing to hit him, the first of many. The noise of flying utensils hitting something solid was interspersed by blasphemous words from a soft female voice that would have made a sailor blush.
“Who in the bloody hell do you think you are?”
“Don’t answer that, don’t you dare answer that as you’re a-thinking to?”
The smile was wiped away by a sieve.
“I just….”
“Don’t you think to be talking all outsider-like to me, you and I have nothing to say.”
There was a brief pause into which Stranger made another brave attempt;
“I just came to say howdy and….”
The sight of the knife draw opening was enough to stop him.
There were, Stranger recalled, two different Annalise smiles.
Firstly there was the warm, vivacious type that always, always got him in trouble.
Secondly there was the broad, not-reaching-her-eyes smile that always, always got him hurt.
Younger, before he had sense, he used to call it the cowpat smile.
“Don’t you be thinking about using that term or I will make thou holier than thou art already.”
Warning signs always revolved around religious verbage, in this case she was mighty annoyed.
A compelling fact about meeting your soul-mate, the person who completes you is that they inevitably know what your thinking, even when your trying to do as told and not think.
“Don’t be thinking…”
“Gosh damnit woman I am not thinking, I am not attempting to think nor will I, in the very near future, be hoping to think – especially not if you throw that sword you have in your hand at me.”
Annalise looked guiltily at the ten-inch cutting knife she was weighing to throw.
The situation deflated a little.
“Sorry,” she offered apology with a shrug of her dainty shoulders, “let me find something a little smaller.”
Stranger dived out the door he had attempted to enter five minutes earlier as a six-inch gutting knife whistled over his head and disappeared into a bush of stingy nettles five feet away.
“I see you still throw like a girl.”
Had there been a line drawn Stranger was certain at this point he would have lost it a fair few miles ago. A click signalled that both barrels of a shotgun had been loaded.
“Damnit woman why do you always bring out the worst in me.”
On reflection yet another poor choice of words.
“Lise could we just talk honey.”
A lead-based warning pounded the dirt at his feet.
“Don’t you honey me.”
Hands in mock surrender, after all he didn’t want to shoot the woman unless he had to, Stranger attempted to appease the savage beast.
“So, uh how do you want to do this?”
A crowd had gathered by now to see the high jinx and so far they were getting their money’s worth.
“I’m not sure, keep them hands high and give me a chance to think.”
“Shoot the varmit, I won’t mind,” came a mocking cry from the crowd.
Stranger looked round at the gathering.
“Shut up ma.”
The crowd laughed.
Returning his gaze to his beloved he was pleased to notice the shotgun had been lowered …… an inch. At least it meant she was thinking, although the downside was it could just be about where she was going to shoot him. Damn temperamental women folk, especially Annalise and his mother, never could get a word right and always they managed to get him swearing.
“Ok come in before I start feeling embarrassed for you, and leave the pistol on the porch steps.”
It was, he knew, going to be a brief reprieve.
Especially when his mother walked past him up the porch steps and into the kitchen.
“You were lucky boy.”
“Sure don’t feel like it.”

“Shut the door.”
“Yes ma’am.”
“And don’t yes ma’am me neither.”
“No ma’am.”
“Sit down there.”
“Whatever you say.”
“Not likely.”
“Within reason it may be.”
“Uh huh just like last time.”
“No not like last time, this time I’m listening.”
“More fool you.”
“Yes ma’am.”
The knife draw was open again.

“Will you children stop it for lawds sake, have mercy.”
Though voiced as a question, Stranger’s mother never said anything she didn’t expect to be obeyed. It was the universal law of mothers, do as I say not as I do. But at least Annalise listened to his mother, which made one of them.
“Now Ran what in tarnation are you doing here and why didn’t you come to see me first.”
There it was, the end of the reprieve. She never called him by his full name which seemed kinda strange given she was the one who gave it to him in the first place.
With no guaranteed outs, Stranger opted for honesty, a certain mistake but the one least likely to get him killed instantly.
“Had to come see how Lise was doing. I was coming to you next ma, honest.”
“Grown an honesty bone have we.”
This was going to be ugly.
“Look both of you enough. I am not seventeen anymore, I wish I was but I ain’t. You think I wanted to leave, ha, choice would be a fine thing.
I never heard you shouting at dad when he went ma, in fact I remember you being proud as punch. To my memory I remember the same look on your face too Lise. Ok I had to do, what I had to do, you both knew that. But now I’m back and things can be different if you let them. But that’s one mighty big if.”
“How is your da?”
The muted voice and change of direction told Stranger he was getting through.
“Good, if a little tired. He’s been out West trying to negotiate between two big tribes – they were killing way too many folk. Got real dangerous but he sorted them out last I heard.”
Apart from a small nod, his mother gave no other response she’d heard him.
“Would you like a brew?”
Annalise was by the stove.
“That’d be mighty kind.”

Hereford Eye
September 16th, 2004, 02:48 PM
At the top of the hill on a day when the clouds made their medicine off stage allowing the sun to beat down with unfettered intensity, four desperados sat in a circle with coyotes, wolves, and bears. As the hosts for this party, the men shared their fixings -grits, guts, and gin - with the animals. The latter’s reactions reflected their preference for fresh food. They sampled, gagged, and declined….except for the wolves and the gin. That seemed to be a match made in heaven forcing the cowboys to put extra guard on their limited stock.
Six rounds into the picnic, the bears decided the time was ripe for the first round of the wrestling match. Juan Ana Tou winced at the suggestion; he’d been hoping the booze would erase certain memories. It didn’t; it heightened the anticipation. Juan hoped the booze he hadn’t drank would offset that that the bears had consumed. Indubitably not the behavior of an honorable sports enthusiast, he conceded to himself, but reflected an understandable desire to continue this existence absent a time out for bone, tissue, and ligament repair.
The wolves applauded the bears’ suggestion using all four paws. This placed them on their backs howling with laughter at their inebriated state. They rolled in the dust kicking a covering screen while the youngest crept low and slow towards a handy gin bottle. The wolves whooped and cussed and sang using the attention their behavior invited to further divert attention from their ploy. The scheme might have work had not the dust tickled Jaime’s throat causing him to jerk the bottle to his lips just as the wolf pounced. Man and wolf considered the situation, smiled, and shared a drink of the gin but Jaime did not release his hold on the bottle. The wolves stopped carrying on.
The coyotes watched the affair with a measure of tolerant disdain. “Better ways to accomplish that than kicking up a dust fuss,” the male observed. The female nodded agreement.
The bears had gathered in a circle, arms around each other, pounding backs, and barking encouragement to the huge beast at the center of their attention. “C’mon, Grumpy, you can do this.” “Hey, old bear, he’s no competition at all.” “Grumpy, Grumpy, he’s our bear.”
“Grumpy’s number one; the human’s number last; Grumpy’s gonna beat that little human’s ass.”
Abruptly, the noise died, the circle opened and Grumpy marched forward. Juan Ana Tou met him half way. “Good day to you, mister bear. I hope your health remains in good order and that of your family and friends. It’s a beautiful day and, should you so desire, we can take the time to smell the barrel cactus or to pet the tarantula wandering by. Time is of no essence. The universe remains ours to enjoy and my own inclination tends always to indulge myself in that manner.”
“Name’s Grumpy and the universe can take of herself. Let’s get to it.”
Grumpy reared, spread his arms, raised his head to the heavens as if in supplication for aid in the endeavor he now undertook. His prayer complete, with great strides, Grumpy closed the distance to Juan, the bear walking on hind legs, fore legs spread akimbo announcing his intent to greet his opponent with a crushing hug.
Juan felt the approach as much as he observed it. The massive legs pounding the hind paws into the ground sent empathic shivers through the giant’s not unsubstantial frame. Juan held his ground calculating madly while appearing to be rooted in fear. Juan stood half head taller than Grumpy but the bear probably carried a third more mass.
Vania selected this moement to jump between the combatants, arms extended as if he might have the power to separate two such much massive beings should they decide to ignore him. “Wait a minute! Wait a minute! We know what the stakes are here but we don’t know how we decide who wins?”
“There isn’t any question about who wins,” Grumpy said. “This man will know he’s been beaten.”
“Ah, yes, I can see your logic, Mr. Bear. But, supposing Juan wins; must he kill you to prove he’s won or is a simple fall enough?”
“One fall? Goddess, man, anyone can get lucky. Can’t be decided on one fall.”
“Then how many falls? Two, Three?”
Juan Ana Tou gave Vania a very sharp look that prevented the gang leader from continuing to count. Grumpy turned to his supporters, his huge shoulders shrugging his question. One yelled that “two out of three is always a good measure” so Grumpy turned back to Vanial. “Best two out of three. Does that work?”
“Works for me,” Vania said as he stepped out the virtual arena.
Juan had a new question: “Do you mind, sir bear, if I remove this shirt. The sun seems to not encourage its wear.” “Can’t take mine off,” Grumpy said, “why should you get to take yours off?” With that, he moved on Juan.
Too quickly as it turned out. Momentum built and could not evaporate before it carried Grumpy past a sidestepping giant who extended his own massive right arm to become an unyielding bar that caught the bear in the throat. Grumpy’s body continued its forward progress even though his head and neck were held in place. When Grumpy’s legs ran out of elasticity, they tried to walk up the air. Bears are not constructed to walk up the air. Gravity always takes hold. Despite the bear’s enormous strength, gravity won.
Grumpy found himself on his back staring at the cloudless sky.
He scrambled to his feet. Looking at Vanial, he said: “You see what I mean? Anyone can get lucky.” The bears howled their agreement by devoting themselves to another round of cheers: “C’mon, Grumpy, you can do this.” “Hey, old bear, he’s not so much competition at all.” “Grumpy, Grumpy, he’s our bear.” The coyotes grinned at their realization the bears omitted the one about beating the human’s ass.
Grumpy rounded on Juan Ana Tou. “Gonna do it slow and painful this time. No overconfidence in this bear. Just plain hard work and concentration.”
“I totally concur, sir bear. A most fortuitous event that last. Contrary to the most optimistic human expectations. Conceivably contrary to the laws of nature. Except, naturally, gravity is a law of nature that exercised its prerogatives at the most opportune instant. Perhaps, nature agreed with gravity. Impossible to analyze on the basis of such negligible evidence and the absence of the particulars to testify on their own behalf.”
Juan mumbled and stumbled, dancing in and out the bear’s range, chattering constantly. Grumpy became annoyed at this lack of closure. The bear increased its pace attempting vainly to grasp the human and squeeze the life out of him.
Suddenly, it appeared for all the world that Juan tripped while backing up. He fell. While Grumpy debated with himself whether to pounce on the giant’s form and claim a fall or wait until the human regained his feet so that he could continue his plan to crush Juan Ana Tou into half the man he was, Juan Ana Tou arched and spun his body, the friction of the ground anchoring his torso. His legs inscribed a huge arc with momentum gining every inch of their approach to the bear’s ankles.
Bears are not slow animals. In need, their quickness can be surprising and deadly. In this instance, Grump was so caught up in his debate, though he caught the motion of Juan’s legs in his peripheral vision and began to side step, his reflexes were just that tardy that Juan Ana Tou’s legs slammed into the bear’s right ankle. Like a house of cards, the bear’s leg gave way, its body overbalanced and Grumpy was again on his back staring at the sky.
One bear claimed foul; another claimed a draw as both combatants were on the ground so both could be said to the victim of a fall. The coyote came into the conversation. “Grumpy did not cause the human’s fall but the human did cause Grumpy’s fall. Two out of three to the human.”
Bears and the wolves have always acknowledged the coyote’s superior reasoning powers. All debate ceased.
“You’ve won, humans. As we agreed, we will not interfere in your plan to humiliate The Stranger. Be advised, though, this agreement will not last into perpetuity. Nor will it permit you to attempt physical harm on the man.”
“How long do we got?” Russo asked.
“That is the question, isn’t it?” the coyote answered, he and his mate shimmering away from the picnic without further comment. Abruptly sober wolves paced off as well. The bears moved away, each taking a turn consoling Grumpy on the ridiculous outcome of the wrestling farce.

September 18th, 2004, 02:34 PM
The mood was silent, the strained silence of a morgue that was just waiting for something to happen. Shouting, bawling and telling off Stranger could deal with, but the eerie peace that pervaded the room was something new to him. New never normally meant good either.
Staring straight at the wooden floor with head between his hands, rubbing the bristly stubble rapidly growing into a beard on his chin, Stranger tested the mood of the situation.
“I know this is all a bit fast, my return an’all, so I’m gonna go down to the wash houses, get me a bath and a shave. Then to the tailor for some new pants and a shirt, perhaps stop by the bar and have some food and a beer. After which I’ll come back and maybe talk?”
By directing the question into open air and not offering it to either of the women he loved, Stranger hoped the ambiguity would allow him enough space to depart the suffocating silence.
The tut tuting coming from over his shoulder, by the stove, deprived him of such a wishful notion.
“Going down to the bar huh?”
“Or not. I could come straight back from the tailors.”
“You been gone what, ten and four years? And now you want to go down the bar! Probably have yourself a nice ol’ time with all the fools around here who ain’t never left Home and …. and …come back filthy drunk and fall into bed with me!! With me!!!”
Suddenly Stranger longed for the silence. He took a long calming breath.

“No I wasn’t thinking anything like that. I was thinking to get myself cleaned up, give you and ma a bit of time to, you know, digest my coming back. Then we could discuss how things is going to be now.”
“Yes discuss, like adults Lise, we ain’t children no more.”
“Well some of us ain’t.”
“So what? What you think I been doing for the last fourteen years, huh? Sitting on my ass, twiddling my thumbs?”
“I…..I don’t know, I hadn’t really given it all that much thought.”
“Exactly, you don’t know.”
“Look …. I….”
“I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing. I’ve been killing men. Evil men. Bad men. Ruthless, nasty sonsofbitches who’d kill their own ma for a copper coin. I have seen things I pray you never see. I have seen women, crazy mad women. I even had to kill a few.
Some of them been real pretty, real pretty, was tempted and tested a few times. But I said no. I said no because in my mind I had this image of this beautiful woman, she was slim and blonde with incredible cornrow blue eyes and a damned smile fit to take my breath away. I dreamed I’d come back a hero, to see that woman again, to see that smile and know she was happy to see me. Because it meant I’d have come home.
Can you get that through your thick skull? Only reason I’m alive when other, better men are dead, is you. You.”
He was shouting at the last and she was crying, those overlarge cornrow blue eyes were full to overflowing. He hadn’t meant for that to happen. It was the one thing he promised himself over and over again he’d never do, but he always found a way. Always lost his cool.
“Oh jeez Lise, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get all het up on you.”
“I deserved it.”
“Whist woman, you don’t deserve nothing like that. I been gone a long time and I ain’t earned the right to talk to you like that, not ever. Can we start again please?”
With tears in here eyes Annalise wrapped him in the embrace he’d dreamed of from the moment he and his father rode away.
“Welcome home, sugar.”
He heard the words but held on tight, not daring to trust his mouth to form the words. There was a lot of time to make up and a lot of hurt to bury.

Hereford Eye
September 23rd, 2004, 01:22 PM
Coming into a town, any town, after a long time on the trail ought to be a relaxation, a winding down of the spirit and a relief for the bottom. The more refined taste might think about the pleasure of a bath; the less refined the pleasure of a soft bed fully equipped with a soft sleeping partner. Any taste can speculate on the pleasure of a meal cooked by someone other than yourself who knows what they are doing around a pot and pan. And whiskey, too. There’s no finer anticipation than the thought of the feel of a good rot gut going down.
When you’re entering a town to conduct some business that you suspect might not be as popular with the townsfolk as you just spending your money and moving on, then coming into town carries an edge, a rasp on the nerves, an urge to look back over your shoulder every few seconds to see who’s coming up behind you. You enter into a bar expecting to fight your way out. You expect every person you meet to offer a challenge of some kind and you most fully expect whatever officers of the law the town might sport will be on your butt as quick as you dismount.
The gang rode in, dismounted, tethered their mounts, entered the bar, ordered a whiskey, all without a raised eyebrow to be seen. Most unusual thing that happened was the bartender asking Juan Ana Tou what kind of person he was.
Juan asked a question in reply: “What kind of person do you think I am?” The bartender got all sheepish and quickly tried to set things right if they were getting wrong.
“Don’t mean no offense, mister. We just don’t see many like you in these parts?
Juan’s temper notched a degree before he got out: “Precisely why might that be? Is it that few black folk visit your particular paradise and none are welcome?” The bartender looked a little relieved at that question. “Oh, we get plenty of black folk, mister. Just not so many as big as you are.”
“Oh, that,” Vania cut in, “he’s jes a giant; that’s all.”
“Never knew that giants really existed,” the bartender said, the awe in his voice appreciable.
“We are around in the present tense, sir. My family comprises a bare minimum seven extent beings and that assertion dismisses the probability of recent births among them. We are a fertile breed,” Juan Ana Tou corrected, his annoyance still not totally abated.
The bartender found his way to another apology: “Don’t mean no offense, mister. Still getting over the shock of how big you are, I guess. How ‘bout the house buy you your first, will that settle things down?”
Juan Ana Tou allowed as how that would go a long way towards unruffling his ruffled feelings.
When all four men tasted their first sip and nodded approval at the horror making its way down their throats, the bartended became inquisitive again.
“Where you boys from?” he asked.
“You ever hear of Hole in the Ground?” Lentel answered.
“Heard of Hole in the Wall but not Hole in the Ground,” the bartender said. “That’s where Butch and Sundance hang out, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, they did before we moved “em on.”
“You moved Butch and Sundance on?
“Yeah,” Vania said. He said it kind of shy as if embarrassed by the fact that Butch and Sundance had to do his bidding.
“But your buddy here said you was from Hole in the Ground” the bartender objected.
Russo answered: “He was talkin’ out his butt, again.”
Lentel took offense: “Was not talkin’ out my butt. Think I don’t know when I’m talking out my butt?”
“No, I don’t think you know,” Russo answered. Vania kept the conversation going with: “Like we allus tells you, Lentel, you don’t know your butt from a hole in the ground.”
The crowd laughed, even Lentel though his laugh came from around a corner so it wasn’t quite as loud or good natured as the others.
“What you boys up to?” the bartender asked.
“Looking for a fella.”
“How’d you come to be looking for him?”
“He did us a wrong turn back on the trail, there.”
“You aim to kill him?”
“No, sir, that ain’t our style. Not our style at all. He did us wrong and we jes aim to even the score, embarrass him a little bit, somethin’ like that, you know?”
“What’s he look like?”
The party discussed the stranger’s looks for quite a while even though the bartender recognized the description immediately. His job as bartender didn’t include being a locator service or a matchmaker or anything close to that line of work. Besides, he figured their target would be making an appearance sooner or later with or without his explaining that fact to these boys.
He underestimated them as he soon discovered. That free whiskey gone, Vania looked around the empty bar, thought for a minute, then order his gang to their places.
"You remeber the plan right?" he asked each of them.
"Yeah we get behind or we get on dem "x"s and wait till you get 'im out in da street. Then, you call him out and make 'im back down where the whole town can watch it happen."
"That's the plan, alright. Now git movin," Vania order before turning back to the bartender. "Believe I'll have me another of those, if'n you don't mind." He smiled as he said it. "You kin keep me company till ole what's-his-name hears we're here and comes to take care o' us."