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The Gunslinger

Daily Deviation
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By monstroooo
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"You mean you ain't never heard of the Gunslinger?"

The bar was almost dead at this time of night, and the question seemed to echo around the room - emphasising the sudden silence, rather than masking it.

"No, boy, I ain't."

Only a handful of stragglers remained, the dregs of the evening clearing the dregs of their whiskeys. The lights shone dimly, and everything moved lethargically in the warm Texas night.

"Well I'll be. I thought everyone 'round here knew the story of the 'slinger'," said one of the stragglers – a tall, skinny man wearing a pale cowboy hat. A battered guitar rested on his knee.

"I'm new in town."

They sat at the bar - the musician and the newcomer. The guitarist resumed a lazy melody across the treble strings.

"Oh really?" he drawled, fingers sliding slowly over the fretboard. "And how are y'all finding our little patch of dirt?"

"Whiskey's expensive. Women all look like men," the newcomer replied. "Music's terrible," he added, eying up the musician suspiciously.

"That's real gracious of you, friend."

A few lonely figures were scattered around the room. The barman slumped in the corner of the bar, snoring gently, his bald, sweaty head glistening beneath the red and blue neon bulbs. In a shadowy recess, a man sat alone at a table cradling a glass, hidden beneath his hat and coat. Elsewhere, an old gambler played cards alone. He placed each card down with a dry slap which rung dully around the room.

"He must be one them uptown genn'lmen," the gambler said, taking a swig from a brown beer bottle. "Must be all distinguished in his tastes, and such."

"I just know when I'm knee-deep in shit, that's all," the newcomer replied.

His companion at the bar reached behind the counter, took up a whiskey bottle with a sly glance at the sleeping barman, and refilled the two glasses.

"Well, at least our barmen are stupid."

"Yeah," said the newcomer, and threw back the whiskey. "You got that going for ya."

"We've got more than that, fella. We've got us a spectre."

"Sure you do."

"Oh yeah - a phantom, a wraith, or whatever you wanna go callin' it. Here in Manton, we got us a bona fide, unliving, ethereal being - the Gunslinger."

A card slapped heavily on the table. The gambler looked across at the musician.

"Come on now, boy, you don't want to go scaring the poor fella. Not so late at night."

"I ain't scarin' no-one. I just think our guest should know a little 'bout where he's stayin', is all."

"If you fix me another whiskey, you can tell me whatever you want," the newcomer said. "You can quit yer damn playin' while you do it, mind."

"Well, alright!" the musician said, resting the guitar uncertainly against the bar. He looked around the room, sizing up his meagre audience. The gambler shook his head and resumed his game. The man in the corner sat unmoving. The newcomer leaned heavily on the bar, staring into space.

"Story goes," he began, pouring a fresh drink as he spoke. "He's wandered around these parts as long as anyone can remember. Now I travel all over and I hear talk of him everywhere I go - right out from Tecumseh Valley and all the way beyond the Interstate. Mostly he's seen at night, but he's appeared at high noon, too."

"Seen doin' what?" the newcomer grumbled, half-heartedly.

"Searchin'," the musician replied with a grin. He sat forward on the bar and leaned in towards the newcomer.

"See, he's bin out there for - who knows - twen'y, fifty, a hundred years. Just searching for something. Ain't no-one knows what. Some folk, they say he's looking to get revenge on those who did for his lady. Others say he's just out for revenge on those who done him in. Still other folk swear he's an agent of the devil hisself, keepin' all us sinners in line."

The gambler tutted at this, giving the cards another keen smack on the table. The musician sat up straight in mock outrage.

"What? It's not like you ain't heard different, old timer. There's a lotta people say a lotta things. I even heard-" he added with a conspiratorial whisper, "-that he's the ghost of that crazy old bastard Wyatt Earp."

"Who?" the newcomer scowled, recoiling from the musician's whiskey-soured breath. "The hell you talking about, boy?"

The musician sat back in exaggerated surprise.

"Who's Wyatt Earp? Hell mister, just how far outta town you from? Wyatt was just about the meanest cowboy ever walked these sands."

"Don't make things up, boy," the gambler said between sips of beer. "You wouldn't want to go upsettin no ghosts, now."

The newcomer laughed and raised a glass to the old man, nodding.

"Oh, no," said the musician, solemnly. "You bet I don't. You know what they say about him. I can tell by the look in your eye. You know the stories," at this, he rose from the bar, staggering slightly as he slipped from the high stool, and slowly walked over to the gambler's table.

"The Gunslinger, they says, don't ever sleep. They say he don't ever eat. They say he turns into a huge Raven and flies away into the moonlight. Indian magic. You heard that one, right?" he sat down at the old man's table, staring alternately between the man and the newcomer.

"They say he kills who he wants to, when he wants to, and won't never give no reason why."

"I know the damn stories, boy."

"Then you'll know that if you're lucky, he'll just shoot ye. No-one survives one of his bullets. Grown men - tough men, mind - have died from a meagre flesh wound from his six-shooter. They just... wasted away like, on sweaty bed, feverish for weeks. Most die instantly - dead before they hit the floor. I heard it said that each of his bullets has a different carving on the tip. Indian curses. He might even have a curse for you, old man."

The musician leaned forward, and turned the last remaining card from the small stack in front of the gambler. A joker's harlequin face stared up from the dirty table, grinning madly.

"And then it's game over for you."

"What the-" muttered the gambler. "Ain't no damn joker in this pack," he said, and took a nervous swig of his beer. "Git away from me, boy, I ain't in the mood for your card tricks."

The musician just sat and stared wide-eyed at the joker. He seized the gambler's beer roughly and took a deep swig.

"I don't know no card tricks..." he wiped his mouth, slowly, and looked the gambler in the eye.

"What if you're unlucky?" grumbled the stranger from the bar, breaking the uneasy silence.

"What?"

"You said the lucky ones get shot."

"Oh," the musician breathed, rising slowly from the table. He drew himself upright and stared into the distance, adjusting his belt.

"If you're unlucky, stranger, then he'll come git you in your dreams."

"Enough bullshit now, boy," the gambler said, leaning back in his chair. "Barkeep. Hey!" the barman awoke with a grunt, leering at the gambler in bleary confusion. "I'm out of beer," the gambler said.

The barman grabbed a bottle of beer, strode over, and sulkily placed it on the table.

"He stalks through your mind while you sleep, see," continued the musician. "That's how he finds your secrets. That's how he learns your crimes. You can't hide nothin' from him in your dreams. Nothin'. Anything you done wrong, he'll know. And he'll haunt your dreams, day and night, until he catches up with you. And then there's the reckoning."

The barman returned to his station and began lazily wiping the bar with a filthy rag, muttering under his breath.

"Sounds like something I saw in a movie once," the newcomer said, unconcerned. "I don't think no-one but my ex-wife gonna be in my dreams tonight."

With a glance at the clock and a tired sigh, the barman gazed across the room. His eyes fell on the still form of the man in the corner. He squinted, trying to see closer. The shadowy figure held something in his hands. It glinted occasionally.

"I hope so, stranger. I truly do. Whoever the damn hell he is, and whatever the damn hell he wants, stories agree on one thing," the musician continued. "Ain't many who've seen him pass by and lived to tell after - but those who have tell the same stories. They say the ground wilts under his feet. They say plants die, grass scorches instantly, mud turns to ash.They say you can follow the footsteps where he walked - until they just... vanish," he said, waving his hands in the air for emphasis.

The barman's eyes hadn't left the figure in the corner. They widened as he realised what the man was cradling - a single bullet. He was turning it within his hands. It almost looked as if he were scratching the surface with a thumbnail. Scratching it, the barman thought, or etching it. He slowly turned an eye to the musician, who was still rambling on.

"Fewer still seen his face. Most who have just babble. They rant and rave about burning eyes. Some go mute like all the words they know bin scared outta them. Those with the steel to tell, they talk of his terrible gaunt skin; dark eyes smouldering like hot coals; face like all the life been sucked out of it. Ain't no softness in that face. Ain't no light. Just longing. Longing for whatever the damn hell it is he wants."

The musician paused to light a cigarette. As he did so, a great rending squeal came from the corner of the room. The man sat there slowly slid his chair back. It bit into the wooden floor as it moved - grinding in a terrible, rasping shriek.

He rose to his feet. A battered leather coat spread down to his ankles. It hung open and heavy over his tall, gaunt frame, just about revealing a gunbelt lined with bullets. He strode toward the door, heavy boots thudding as he went. A broad rimmed hat, turned down at an angle, veiled his face in shadow.

The musician stared as the man crossed the length of the room, his cigarette hanging limply from his mouth. The newcomer had twisted round, grimacing against the noise. The gambler held a card in mid-turn - another joker, trembling slightly in his hand. The barman slowly moved a hand under the bar, feeling for the ancient shotgun which sat beneath the lacquered surface.

Just before he reached the doorway, the man stopped and raised his head. The light caught his face, revealing terrible gaunt skin; dark eyes which smouldered like hot coals, and a face that looked like all the life had been sucked out of it. The lips - thin, greying and cracked - moved.

"Grace," they said, in a low growl like distant thunder. Then he turned, hiding again those darkly smouldering eyes, and started to walk heavily out of the door.

The musician looked around and took the cigeratte out his mouth with a trembling hand.

"Say what?" he asked.

The figure stoppped in the doorway and turned his head. The light just about caught a skeletal, sunken cheekbone as he said.

"I'm looking for Grace."

And then he left. Everyone in the bar sat in shocked stillness, listening to the heavy thud, thud, thud of those terrible footsteps.

Until they stopped, suddenly.

Silence hung around the bar like smoke.

Slowly, uncertainly, the musician rose form his stool and crept, as quietly as he could, toward the door. He peered outside. In the dim light, he swore he could see grey footprints which almost seemed to have burned into the pavement. Of the strange figure, there was no sign.

He was about to return to the bar when a raven startled him - swooping out of a black shadow and flapping gracelessly into the night.
I recently stumbled across a couple of things which caught my imagination: some engrossing horror stories and atmospheric artworks, coupled with a growing love of westerns. And then I found this [link] brilliant sketch. Shortly afterwards, this story trickled out of my brain over a couple of evenings.

I don't think this is going anywhere - but I just wanted to introduce a character, hopefully with some style. Horror was a distant aim - but I certainly wanted to capture some suspense. A major reference point was Steve Buschemi's fantastic monologue at the start of Desperado.

In any case - I hope y'all enjoy it.

Edit 4th May 2011 - It seems someone enjoyed it - this received a :icondailylitdeviations: today!

Edit 18th May 2012 - A year later, spookily enough, I've had a DD! :faint: Unebelievable. So much love to ~Janoera and ^Beccalicious for this! Thank you to everyone for favs and comments :love:

Cover Art

I'd like to say a huge thanks to :iconoffo:. Not only did his picture [link] help inspire this story, he's also let me use the sketch in my preview image. I think it's a fantastic sketch - it's dark, sinister and full of character. The simple ink style and the rough-around-the-edges feel only deepen the atmosphere. They say a picture tells a thousand words, right?

A Brief Disclaimer

I'd never heard of Stephen King's The Gunslinger when I sat down to write this. As advised in comments below, I've since read the book - which was excellent - and noted the similarities - which are spooky. But despite the similar narrative styles and themes, King's brilliant book played no part in the genesis of my own simple story.

20th December 2010
Published:
© 2010 - 2020 monstroooo
Comments275
anonymous's avatar
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WyattW5's avatar
Nifty story, I am not sure Wyatt Earp was the Best Western reference for this character but I like it none the less.
GallusVarius's avatar
GallusVariusHobbyist General Artist
Hmm. The last part, where it said he was looking for 'Grace.' Gave me a few philosophical hints.

Grace from who?
Why?
And what kind of grace?

Then one must define was grace is. I have a definition, but don't know if everyone thinks the same, so the answers to these questions can vary.
Azarathian-Mage's avatar
Azarathian-MageHobbyist General Artist
I think I either read or heard a story similar to this when I was a kid. I don't remember where, for certain, or the title of it, but I remember the story from somewhere. It wasn't this, I know that much, but it was similar.
RedArticWolf's avatar
RedArticWolfHobbyist Traditional Artist
I love this! :D I think the Wild West is really cool. I especially, like how you added the raven to The Gunslinger's mysterious characteristics :D I really like how you described him too!
monstroooo's avatar
monstrooooProfessional Writer
Thank you! I appreciate you stopping by to read and leave a comment :) :cowboy:
RedArticWolf's avatar
RedArticWolfHobbyist Traditional Artist
:D anytime! Cowboys and Gunslingers are awesome! ^^
LuckyRoulette's avatar
LuckyRouletteHobbyist Digital Artist
Exceptional!

Your dialogue is superb and the suspense that built up to the end was perfectly paced. I couldn't tear my eyes away from your words even if I tried, but why would I dare to try ;)

Only one thing though!

I dare not assume what time period your story takes place in though I'd like to guess the usual 1800s western setting?
If so, the only thing I'd nitpick about would be about using the ghost of Wyatt Earp as the speculated Gunslinger (during the dialouge exchange). Using Wyatt Earp would put your story either post or during The Great Depression (As Wyatt Earp knowingly died in 1929, the year the stock market crashed)

My suggestion would be for Wild Bill Hickock (who eventually became a lawman but had manslaughter/murder charges against him and started his early life as a fugitive from the law) or Pat Garrett, the murderer of Billy the Kid :) That's if you wanted to place your story closer to them Wild West days ;)

Again, amazing read and amazing characterization and dialogue. I'm a sucker great dialogue and you certainly nailed it! Cheers!
monstroooo's avatar
monstrooooProfessional Writer
Thank you for the lovely comment! It's really brightened by day to discover this :)

The time period is deliberately left vague (it's supposed to be set in the timeless era of the late-night bar), but it's a modern-ish story. I think I pictured it taking place in the 70's, when some of my American music heroes were in their prime (I'm a sucker for Outlaw Country). There are a couple of clues - a reference to neon lights, a reference to a highway - but it is a touch subtle. It's a known problem which, I feel, it's too late for me to solve now :giggle:

I could have picked on a range of western legends, and maybe Wyatt Earp wasn't the best :blush: But I'd watched Tombstone (the Russel/Kilmer version) around the time of writing this, and his name was on my mind :)

Really appreciate the feedback on this. Have yourself a lovely week. Stay away from ghostly cowboys, y'hear? :cowboy:
Sret's avatar
You inspired me enought to put up my own story, The Deathseeker, I even put a link to this story so you get all the fame :)
monstroooo's avatar
monstrooooProfessional Writer
Hey cool, thanks!

A little extra fame never hurt anyone, right? :)
MethusulaComics's avatar
HOLY HECK THIS IS AWESOME!!!!!! :iconimhappyplz:
monstroooo's avatar
monstrooooProfessional Writer
Thank you! I appreciate y'all stopping by :cowboy:
MethusulaComics's avatar
no problem, y'all have a nice day :)
DailyLitDeviations's avatar
Your wonderful literary work has been chosen to be featured by =DailyLitDeviations in a news article that can be found here: dailylitdeviations.deviantart.… Congratulations on your DD!

Be sure to check out the other artists featured and show your support by ing the News Article. Keep writing and keep creating.
monstroooo's avatar
monstrooooProfessional Writer
What a pleasant surprise, thank you! :heart:
Sarcastic-Student's avatar
This is interesting.
monstroooo's avatar
monstrooooProfessional Writer
I hope that's not sarcasm :paranoid:

:giggle:

(thanks for the fav etc!)
Sarcastic-Student's avatar
It's not. Don't worry.
monstroooo's avatar
monstrooooProfessional Writer
:heart:
thisismyringtone's avatar
I'm from Texas...
monstroooo's avatar
monstrooooProfessional Writer
I love Texas! I hope to visit some day.

Thank you for the fav :cowboy:
thisismyringtone's avatar
haha. prepare some fans, it gets so hot in during the summers. duh. your welcome, nice story.
Sret's avatar
I liked it, that all I can say.
monstroooo's avatar
monstrooooProfessional Writer
That's all I'd want to hear :)

Thanks for stopping by!
anonymous's avatar
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