22.7.16

Apocalypse Riders


1.

The horses move across the land. Dust trails their steps. The two riders hold loosely on the reins. The steps are slow.

“We need to get to some water,” the rider says to the other.

“I think the injuns will get us first.”

A rider pulls the canteen from the saddle. The last of the water goes to his mouth.

“I’m out,” he says. “It’s horse piss from here.”

“The horses ain’t got piss to give.”

The horses move up the pass.

“Let the horses have the reins. They will take us to water.”

The reins drop, and the horses move of their own will. The sun moves across the sky. It bakes the land.

There is a hill. An Indian sits upon a horse.

“You see that?”

“I seen him. Can’t do nothing. Too far for a shot.”

The Indian rides towards them.

“Dumb Injun is coming to us. God is good to the white man.”

The Indian comes close. Paint streaks his face. Feathers stick from his hair.

The rider puts his hand to his pistol. The Indian stops. He tosses something to the ground. He rides off.

“What is it, Buck?”

Buck comes out of the saddle. He picks up a leather bag.

“It’s water,” Buck says. “Crazy Injun gave us water.”

“God bless his red ass.”

Buck rubs his chin.

“He’s just keeping us alive, so he can kill us later. Nobody does nothing good without a reason.”

2.

The axe falls. The wood splits. Calloused hands set up the wedge of timber for another strike.

"Daddy, do you ever wish you had a boy?"

The man looks at the girl.

"A boy instead of you?"

"Yeah."

"Darling, if God made anything more precious than you, He kept it for Himself."

The girl smiles.

Horses come over the hill. The men slump in their saddles.

"Darling, we got company. Go fetch some vittles."

The horses stop outside the cabin. Wood lay split and piled. A stream runs nearby.

"You men look rougher than old hide."

"We seen better," said Buck. "You don't mind our horses taking a sip from your crik, do you?"

"It's God's crik. God give it to good and evil, so take your bit."

The horses drink from the creek as the men climb from the saddles. They lean down and drink from the creek. Hands draw water to greedy mouths.

"Don't drink too much. You'll dry us out."

The men laugh.

The daughter brings out two plates.

"We got you fellers some beans and cornbread and molasses."

Buck and Johnny smile.

"You must be one of them saints like in the Bible," Johnny says.

"Ain't no saint. Just a man like you. I know what it is to be hungry and thirsty."

Buck and Johnny tear into the food.

"Damn, if that ain't good," Buck says.

Johnny looks at the girl. The girl looks down her dress at the ground.

"The Bible says that you may entertain angels unawares," the man says. "You fellows angels? Or you something else?"

Buck smiles.

"Angels and devils. What's the difference?" Buck says.

"You can stay the night," the man says. "Take some wood for your fire. Make yourselves at home."

"What do we owe you for all this hospitality?" Buck asks.

"You don't owe me nothing," the man says. "Just clear out by morning and stay away from my wife and little girl. I will kill you deader than hell if you put a hand on either one."

Johnny swallows hard on his cornbread.

"Mister, we are gentlemen. We wouldn't ever do such a thing," Johnny says.

Buck scratches his chin.

"I never took nothing that didn't belong to me," Buck says. "We will be out of here come sun up."

3.

The fire crackles in the night. The men recline in their rolls. Johnny draws a knife across some jerky, pulls a piece, and chews.

"You think God is looking out for us?"

Buck scowls.

"There ain't no God up there."

"How'd we get here then?" Johnny asks.

"Don't know. Don't care."

"Where do you think we go when we die?"

"We go back to where come from--a bunch of nothing."

Johnny shook his head.

"Who taught you to think like that, Buck?"

A stream of tobacco spit leaves Buck's lips and hits the fire.

"Ain't nobody taught me that. I'm the son of a whore. Too much evil in the world for God to be running things."

Johnny scowls. He pulls another piece of jerky.

"I think God is up there. He just puts up with a bunch o' shit for the time being. He works it out at the end."

Buck spits the tobacco wad in the fire. It crackles and burns as Buck pulls a fresh bit from his pouch.

"God don't do shit to men like me," Buck snarls. "Not one damn thing. Good and bad all die alike, and you got to enjoy all the meanness you can in this life. When you die, nothing matters."

4.

A single candle lights the cabin.

Hands are folded. The father says grace. They all say amen. 

The father dips his morsel into the plate. He puts the piece to his mouth. The wife pours water into his cup.

"Where do you think those fellows are from?" she asks.

"Ain't no telling. I didn't ask. But they belong to the Devil."

"How do you know, daddy?" the daughter asks.

The father spoons some beans into his mouth.

"You either belong to God or the Devil. We belong to God, and we know it."

"Do those men know they belong to the Devil?"

"They know."

"And what happens when they die, daddy?"

"Ain't for me to say, darling. I leave it up to God. But those men ain't godly."

"Do you think the Indians will let them alone?" the wife asks.

"They let us alone. Indians can be real good or real bad."

"Do Indians belong to God or the Devil, daddy?"

"These Indians belong to God, darling. But they ain't to be messed with."

5.

The sun rises. The men tie their rolls and saddle up.

"We sure appreciate the hospitality," Johnny says.

"It has been a real pleasure having you here," the father says. "I pray that God will be with you on your way."

Buck spits tobacco juice.

"Your God ain't my god."

The father squints at Buck.

"I know who your god is," the father says to Buck.

"Do ya?" Buck sneers. "Here, I'll show you my god."

Buck pulls the pistol from his holster.

"This god always delivers. Do you ever pray for deliverance?"

The father stares hard at Buck.

"Buck, what are you doing?" Johnny asks. "This man has been real good to us. Let's ride on now."

Buck cocks the hammer on the pistol.

"I got a deal for you, neighbor," Buck says. "Admit Jesus was the son of a whore just like me or take a bullet for Him."

"Go to the Devil."

The pistol fires. The father falls to the ground.

"Buck. You did it. You done did it. What the hellfire have you gone and done?"

"You want to take a bullet for Jesus?" Buck asks.

The door from the cabin opens. The mother and daughter run to their shot father on the ground.

"Daddy! Daddy!!"

Blood gurgles from the father's mouth. Tears stream from their faces. The mother and daughter wail in grief.

"I never took nothing that didn't belong to me," Buck says. "That's cause everything belongs to me."

Buck gets off the horse and grabs the mother and drags her into the cabin.

"Buck, we can't do this."

"I can't not do this," Buck says. "Meanness is all I got. Get you a poke, Johnny."

Johnny looks at the girl. Her face is contorted in grief.

"It is hard the first time, Johnny. But it goes away. Get that poke."

"Was it hard for you, Buck?"

"It was never hard for me."

Johnny unsaddles and takes the girl screaming to the cabin.

The space is dark. There is only light from the door. Buck throws the mother on her bed. Johnny takes the daughter to the floor. Buck rips the dress from the mother and pulls down his pants.

"I been wanting to poke you since I got here."

The doorway dims. A shot fires. Buck howls. The father falls to the floor.

"That son of a bitch!!"

Buck writhes on the floor in pain. The mother jumps up and runs at Johnny. She hits him. Buck pulls his pistol and shoots her dead. The daughter screams. Buck shoots her. The cabin is silent.

Johnny looks at Buck.

"You OK, Buck?"

"I ain't OK. That bastard had more in him. Should have cut his damn throat."

Buck staggers with blood running down his backside.

"Burn this place down, Johnny. Let the injuns take the blame."


6.

Black smoke rises to the sky. Johnny rides upright. Buck rides slumped in the saddle.

"We gotta get that bullet out of you, Buck."

"I got two bullets in me already. Bullets don't kill me. They make me stronger."

Johnny looks to the horizon.

"I don't feel better, Buck. You said it goes away. I hurt something fierce."

Buck spits tobacco juice.

"You were always a weak son of a bitch. Should have made you kill that girl. Nothing burns it out like killing something. You get to kill the next one."

"Why do I feel like somebody is following us?"

"There ain't nobody following us," Buck says.

Johnny looks back at the smoke rising to the sky.

"Somebody's following us."

Buck looks back.

"There ain't nobody following us."

7.

It is night. The fire crackles.

"Are we going to Hell, Buck?"

Buck wipes blood from his bare back.

"You're in Hell now. Enjoy it. There's only Hell and nothing."

Johnny puts another stick to the fire.

"I think Hell feels like I feel right now."

"You're gonna feel a bullet if you don't shut your damn mouth about it."

"Don't you ever feel bad about nothing?"

"I felt bad once," Buck says. "I poked a woman and killed her with her baby in the crib. Felt bad about the baby not having a mama no more."

"What did you do?" Johnny asked.

"I went back and put that baby out of its misery. Didn't feel bad about it anymore."

Johnny becomes sick. Vomit jets from his mouth and nostrils.

8.

"Somebody is following us."

Buck grimaces as he slumps over in the saddle.

"There ain't nobody following us."

Johnny looks behind him.

"Buck, there's somebody following us!"

Buck looks back. Four riders are on the horizon.

"Probably injuns. They ain't following us."

"If they ain't following us, why are they getting closer to us?"

Buck takes a draw from his canteen.

"Let's just get gone, Johnny."

Buck and Johnny spur the horses into a gallop. They ride hard.

"They are coming for us, Buck."

"I know," Buck says.

Buck and Johnny cut down a ravine. They gallop up a hill. They run the horses through the trees of some woods. Then, they hit the open plain.

"They're still following, Buck. They don't stop."

The riders are closer.

"Their horses are faster than ours," Buck says.

Dusk approaches. The sun sets.

"I can hear them, Buck."

They look back and see the riders. Torches blaze in their hands. They can hear the gallop of their horses.

"Who the hell are they, Buck?"

"I don't know, and I don't want to know."

Buck's horse slows down. They enter some woods. into the trees

"What's wrong, Buck?"

"My damn horse is pulling up lame. If you can't run, you gotta fight."

A look of fear crosses Johnny's face.

"Yellow Johnny. You are a damn coward. Run and hide."

"They might kill you, Buck."

"Dying ain't no different than living to me."

Johnny rides away from Buck.

Buck dismounts from his horse. He checks his pistol.

"I'm ready for you sons of bitches."

The four riders enter the clearing. Buck's horse gallops off. Johnny watches from a distance as the horsemen circle Buck. Buck raises his pistol to shoot. A whip cracks and knocks the gun from his hand.

"I ain't sorry for nothing!!"

Whips crack as Buck falls. Buck howls in agony. The whips crack and crack again.

Johnny gasps as he sees Buck being lashed. The torches come at Buck, and Buck is set ablaze. The man's wails of torment fill the night.

"Nothing!! Nothing!! You bastards!! Not a damn thing!! Nothing!!"

Johnny is white with fear.

"God help me."

Johnny spurs his horse into a gallop and rides away.

9.

Johnny is slumped in the saddle. The horse staggers and collapses. Johnny gets up and moves.

"Gotta keep going."

He looks over his shoulder. The riders are coming.

"Gotta outrun these bastards."

Johnny falls down.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done it. Don't let these injuns catch me."

Johnny looks up. He sees an Indian on a horse.

"I remember you," Johnny rasps.

The Indian looks into Johnny's eyes. A smile crosses the Indian's weathered face. He rides away.

The riders are on Johnny. Johnny staggers to his feet. Johnny pulls his pistol and fires. He fires again. The shots are wild. He drops the empty gun. He feels the lash on his back.

"I did it. I'm sorry. I did it all. I'm sorry."

The lashes bite into Johnny's back. Blood streaks from the wounds. Johnny falls and staggers. The whips keep cracking.

"I'm going to die in these sins," Johnny screams. "God help me. God, please help me."

There is a river. Johnny stumbles and staggers as the horsemen whip him and whip him again. Johnny looks back, but he sees only the darkness under their hats. A whip cracks across his face ripping blood from his cheeks. Johnny falls into the water.

"I can't swim."

Johnny crawls into the water. The current is strong. Johnny fights and feels himself going under. It is dark under the water. He struggles upward for air. He paddles and finds himself on the other side. Johnny lies prostrate on the muddy river bank. He looks back across the river.

The four horseman are across the river. Johnny cannot see their faces. He cannot see their eyes. He sees the riders turn and ride away.

Johnny looks up into the sky. The sky is blue. A few white clouds move across the blue. A smile spreads across Johnny's face.

THE END