[USA / Closed] The Gunman
When he had ridden into the country the man had been alive for no less than twenty three years and though he had experienced much of the world and had believed himself to know most of it he held no prior knowledge of the country's carved and rolling landscape. How could he? No witness had been left to the reshaping of the world, this defiance of God, and though executioner and recipient comprise the story it is the third party who gives it life and tabernacles within his own soul what has occurred. This third party is then no third thing but the prime, for what could be said to occur unobserved? This was the very nature of the witness and so without one here too was a place beyond reckoning. Will halted the horse for a moment atop the draw lying above this molded land of grass and rivers stretching in no natural way to the basin of the Rocky Mountains, the mad plowing of the earth laid out as if by the designs of a terrible arachnid half-mad and blind to all save its limitless hunger and equal reach. The wind blew gently and it carried with it the sweet smell of flowers newly bloomed aside the mountain and with it he heard the distant cry of birds returning to fresh water and warmer climate. He nudged his horse forward.
One hundred years ago the last great people to lay claim to this had been devastated and had gladly joined in the mutual massacre of their enemies and of themselves, some hacked to death limb-by-limb still living with crude knives the size of cutlasses, others speared and their heads mounted as trophies in the middle of all that blood-letting and madness, and still more who were shot. Only a nameless and outcast few were left to march into the blood-red horizon toward oceans cold and peerless and as waved lead, going to places they knew not and that knew nothing of them and would not care for them as it swallowed them all to a soul. Therein and throughout he rode, talking and occasionally singing to his horse so as to give it comfort and to keep its company and to remember the sound of his own voice and that he still had a voice. He knew that there would come a time when his own voice would be silenced and he swore to remember this and to fear that inevitable abyss of quietude. He was a stranger to this land but that meant little to him, as while he did not know the particulars of this place he knew of places like it and would always be drawn to them, those grounds whose histories were as his own, where trench warfare and civil wars had forged and scarred a palimpsest of battle into a landscape of force---whose rivers ran as rivulets of blood from man-made cuts and whose land was as a body, a man ruined but alive and he sang softly to himself eying this and the setting sun as it burned like a brand driven into the stoic and still living earth. He carefully guided his horse over wide gullies and through rivers teeming with fish found nowhere else on this earth, deep-running and cold with the ice from the mountains yet shallow enough for him to cross. It was these rivers that had once been the fox-holes and trenches used in battles whose gore filled them with the bloodied mud of fallen bodies and the parts of bodies, where man and flesh and soil were married through iron and fire and the understanding men had of justice.
Together they tread softly around the divots blasted into the rocky ground by grenade and shovel and the charge of hundreds into the insatiable dark of death and the oblivion beyond, a death that for the rider had become so customary and familiar as a part of his history that it no longer held mystery for him nor did it hold fear and worse he worried as he and the horse maneuvered over rises now covered in flowers and the wild grass of the plain that it may never give him fear again. His history of death was apparent about him for in the way he rode and in how he wore his grandfather's guns and the rifle upon his back all of which marked him as a soldier and one meant to survive in a world built upon killing and dying. Such was he that had he not been born to the gun but rather into some foreign land holistic in its peace he would have found violence there and have been master of it.
He whispered to the horse his thoughts and told it stories from his own life about his childhood and how he had learned to shoot and who it was that had taught him to do this and he reflected on primogeniture and his right into and over this world of violence and violence past, over siblings lost in still birth or as infants and he would tell the horse that he believed God had taken them back as if He could permit no such thing as another like himself in a world such as this. He spoke of the first man he had killed when he was ten years old and how it had really been a boy his own age and not the father he had believed he would take his vengeance on. He spoke of how he would never get the chance to kill his father for his father had long been dead and that he only saw him as a corpse desiccated and unearthed out of a deeper grave than he would have given him, buried in a world away from here and from his native home. He believed that in some small way this was a blessing, for while the man's blood fueled him and he felt driven by ghosts and their histories built beneath his own and so alike to the life he had lived and how he would give anything to be rid of them and their charge it had spared him the blood of his father on his hands so that should he meet God he would say into the vastness of eternity that I did not do that: I did not destroy that which sired me. But he had already joined his ancestors and like them he would never be rid of the blood on his hands, and this he knew as well.
He spoke of how his native land was lost to him and from him as he was to it but that it didn't matter because there and to here the only life he had known or was allowed to know was through war and its tragedies and at this he grew silent, alone and treading slowly and aimlessly into that damaged and bygone world which did not reject or accept him but had no care for him and never would.
The horse whinnied. He ran his hand along its neck, apologizing. “Come on now,” he said, “You know I'm here, even if I'm quiet. Give me that much.”
The horse made no further sound but kicked its head back to acknowledge its rider. He nodded in return and told the horse of how he had started with violence in his life and was exceptional with it as a man might be to a faithful lover but that he despised this mistress for what it had robbed him of and had forced him to take from others. After some time he sang to the horse, filling the dusking sky and the grasslands with his voice. He sang of his friends and family and allies and too of their own friends and the families he believed they had and how he had been a leader of them and of men and women and he sang of how all of that had passed from his life impossible to hold on to, as if he had tried to clutch a world of sand to his breast and like each grain sliding through his fingers so too did their lives leave his own and this fallen world of sand may well have been his heart and he thanked them for what they had given. At the end of his singing the sun proper had sunk into the earth so that all above and before him as he rode was a sea of red fading into a black without spectrum. It was here on this earth reshaped by man's will and love and evil and their bottomless sorrow that he stopped, timeless between the dawn and the dusk into a world which so well became him.
The rider watered his horse at one of the many meandering streams, taking from his saddlebag the last of the oats he had bought. He poured these into the bowl of his hat and held it to the horse's mouth to eat while he stroked its long face with his free hand. When it had finished he pressed his forehead to the animals face and felt it breathe beneath him, closing his eyes as he and it felt the cold of the night begin to settle over them. He took a length of rope running from its bridle and tied it off to a pine tree near to the stream. The tree was young and supple enough to be pulled over entire should the horse bolt but he trusted that it would stay.
The horse paid him little mind as he set up his camp, clipping at the grass while he began to build his fire.
The rider turned to gathering anything around him that would burn, piling dried twigs and grass and what he supposed must have been a fencepost at one point but was now nothing more than a lump of wood wrapped in rusted barb wire. He turned this over in his hands and looked out over the darkening horizon and its elliptical glow dimly red like the forge of some elder god who had hammered out the round world and worked at it still, unaware of its own mindless rage against the world and men and the hearts of men and he found no explanation in him for the fencepost. He spat into the dirt and tossed the clump of wood barb wire and all into the brush with the other tinder.
He started a fire with little trouble using his grandfather's methods and the skills he had learned through living in wilderness and war, a blanket from the horse's back wrapped around his shoulders. Above he saw the endless black give way to countless points of light and gentle swashes of color, a map to stars and galaxies and worlds of which he had traveled to in dreams and in a life that seemed to him little more than a dream. To his side the horse stood silent and vigil as if it would be his guardian and he smiled despite the cold and in the coming wind there was again the scent of flowers and he breathed them in wind and night and fantasy.
He watched the fence post burn and its coils of barbed wire glow bright red as they twisted and seared into the burning coals and the burning ash, a writhing heart raging from the earth caught between the intensity of its moment of resurrection from the land and its inevitable death as nothing but dust blown forever by the wind and the twisted iron it would leave behind. It sat at the center of his camp and he saw in it decades of dormancy drift away as ash caught in the thermals of his fire to be lost amidst the sea of stars and the infinitude of the night.
Across the plains coyotes howled and wolves cried out to the moon as they ran panting and hunting into the night, enacting ancient rituals sacred and understood to them and their kin and to nothing else, worshiping in their own way the deer and rabbits and bison that they hunted and ran with. As the moon rose higher he saw in its primal light their distant figures racing against the ground and over the hills and he saw too the deer that they were hunting and they disappeared all together as one moving force over the furthest hill like a dream fading. Their calls to one another and to the earth and the cries of the deer they hunted bellowing out in their dying and bloody bawls reached him only faintly until all was silent again save the wind and the crackle of the fire and the clipping of his horse at the grass around it. He sat alone and cold in the dark and he strained to hear these sounds of the hunt once more but nothing returned, and in clasping his hands together he prayed for the first time in over a decade, pushing them closer to the fire as he bowed his head. He asked God to bring him back to his own birth so that he might try again, so that he could regain every moment and life lost to him and so that he could live his life understanding it as he did now having come to the end of one way and he asked God if He held time in His hands. Do You have a body God? Do You stand above earth and Heaven and do You hold in Your hands time and my time? Do You have hands God? Can I with my bloody fingers pry back time away from Your hands? Can I wash these hands of mine clean with that time You hold? He sat silent, his fingers clasped before him toward the fire until he slowly drew them to his face and he held his face as one might hold their soul before the dying of his fire and the stillness of the heart it contained.