Company of the Damned, Part 3
Odi awoke the next morning to the smell and sizzle of bacon, and the bitter scent of boiling coffee. The sky overhead was still tinged the bruised purple of night, lightening to a pale red just above the tops of the trees. Jaime sat on a stone next to the small fire, rolling a cigarette and humming to himself. He had just finished rolling the paper between his fingers when he noticed the boy stir.
“Got bacon, beans and some hardtack, boy. And some coffee if’n you’d like it. Ain’t got no sugar though, so it’s as black and bitter as the Deceiver’s soul.”
Odi pushed himself up from the rough dirt, and stumbled over to the fire. Rubbing his eyes, he leaned close to the coffee pot and took a whiff. Shaking his head, he scrunched up his face in disgust and sat down. Jaime just nodded as though this was expected and pulled a small tin plate and fork from the saddle bags laying on the ground next to him. Pulling two small biscuits from the pack, he plunked them on the plate, ladled beans next them and slid some bacon from the pan onto the plate. Handing the boy the plate and fork, which he took carefully, Jaime leaned back and put his cigarette in his mouth.
“Don’ eat too fast now you hear? Belly like yers is like to burst you fill it too fast.”
Odi, mumbled something incoherent and began to fumble awkwardly with his fork. He had just managed to get a forkful of beans to his mouth when Jaime snapped his fingers. A small, golden tongue of flame appeared above his thumb, dancing in the open air. Jaime lit his cigarette off it, then opened his hand and let the flame disappear.
The fork clattered off the plate and fell into the dirt.
“Is you a wizard?” Odi asked, eyes wide and mouth agape.
Jaime laughed, “Ha! That I surely ain’t me boy. That I surely ain’t.”
“But you just made fire with yer hands! That’s magic ain’t it?”
“Aye, well… I got a bit of the Knack, just enough to light a fire or throw me voice. But I ain’t no wizard. No, me only real magic is that of blade and bullet. “
Jaime puffed a bit on his smoke, and stared off into the growing dawn, ignoring Odi as he retrieved his fork from the dirt and polished it on his shirt. Going back to work on his meal, Odi tried to follow the old man’s advice and eat slowly; but it was a long time since he’d had a real meal, and he the only thing he really took his time with was the tooth breaking hardtack. While he ate Jaime filled a tin mug with coffee and slowly sipped it down as he finished his cigarette.
The boy was quiet for a few minutes as he ate, then he looked slowly up at Jaime, “Can you teach me?”
The man turned his steel blue eyes on the boy, searching him for several long moments. There was nothing of amusement or playfulness in his gaunt face. With his tanned, windburned skin and serious brown eyes set above hollow cheeks, there was very little childlike about him. It was clear he was deadly serious about learning magic.
“Might could teach you some of what little I know. But not today. Finish yer breakfast boy, we’ve got a trail to find.”
Odi nodded halfheartedly, obviously disappointed by the answer, and went back to scarfing down his meal. As the boy finished eating Jaime moved about the campsite, picking up his poncho, saddling his horse, preparing to leave. He picked up Odi’s stone, laying on the ground when the boy dropped it last night, and brought it over to set beside him. When he finished eating Jaime took his plate and scrubbed it with sand, as well as the pots and utensils, before tucking it all into his saddle bags. He surveyed the camp once more, before kick dirt over the coals and motioning for the boy to follow as he lead his horse from the stand of trees.
Odi sat for a moment more, puzzling over the events which had lead him to follow this gruff stranger. Then with a shrug he grabbed his stone, and stood to follow him out of the trees. This time it was a much more pleasant passage back to the plain. The sun had risen far enough to begin filtering through the trees, dappling the wood in green and gray, as shadows swayed in the morning breeze. He did not trip, or stumble, or walk into any branches this time around. When he emerged from the trees Jaime was mounted and waiting for him.
“Come on boy, hop up,” he said, extending his hand to Odi, “Now that I know you ain’t like to kill me, no reason you should have to walk the whole way.”
Odi approached him slowly, darting glances at the horse. He stepped carefully to within arms reach, then bolted back a ways when the horse nickered softly at him.
“Don’ mind Ohanzee son, he’s just saying hello. Long as I’m around he won’ hurt you.”
Odi cautiously crept back to the horse, and took Jaime’s hand, clutching his stone to his chest in the other. In a flash Jaime hoisted the boy up in front of him. After giving him a moment to settle in they set off at a fast walk, heading east into rising sun, returning to the dead men’s camp.
This one is a little shorter than the first; but I felt it was better to post now at the end of a complete scene, than to cut off halfway through the next scene or delay posting till later this week. If you’re just joining us, start at the beginning: Part 1.
Company of the Damned, Part 2
Odi followed the man for some distance into the night. In the darkness he relied as much on the clopping of the horse’s hooves, and sharp scent of smoke from the cigarette the man had lit, as on the silhouette he presented against the night sky. Though his feet were sore and he was tired, Odi spoke no word of complaint when the man passed by seemingly suitable campsites. Instead he felt at the sharp edge of his stone, and let his eyes rove over the horizon.
After somewhat less than an hour they stopped at a stand of scraggly trees, which appeared only as a blotch of blackness against the gray-white sea of moonlit grass. The old gunslinger hopped down from his saddle, and turned for the first time to see that the boy had indeed followed him.
“Good lad. We’ll sleep here tonight. The ground’s hard and I can’a risk a fire, but yer welcome to me poncho if’n you need a pillow.”
With that he led the horse into the greater darkness of the trees, leaving Odi to follow -or not- as he chose. For a few long minutes the boy stood, searching the shadowy shapes before him and listening to the gentle whisper of the breeze dancing across the plains. When he saw and heard nothing suspicious, he slowly walked in among the umbrous leaves.
At first the swaying limbs of the grove blotted out the moon and stars, plunging him into a pitch dark gloom. He stumbled over roots, and felt sharp ended twigs stabbing at the soles of his thick calloused feet; and even once took a branch in the face, etching a line of pain across his cheek. But after a bit he came out into a small clearing, to find the horse already unsaddled and brushed down, and Jaime settling in against a tree. He glanced over at the boy briefly when he entered the clearing, then nodded over to a rumpled roll of cloth laying on the ground and closed his eyes. Odi looked from Jaime to the poncho and back again, before walking over to it and laying down. He lay very still in the dark, his stone clutched to his chest, but did not close his eyes.
Later that night, as Jaime lay sleeping, the boy stood in the moonlight, sucking his thumb and watching. He hefted the weight of his stone in his hand, and took a small step forward. When Jaime didn’t stir, he stepped closer. After a few minutes of silent, slow, progress, he stood over the sleeping man.
In sleep the hard edges of his face softened some, but he still looked like something carved from desert bedrock. Odi stood, watching the slow rise and fall of his chest for some time, before he raised the stone over his head, gripped in both hands. Poised to kill, he rose to his tip toes, when his eyes caught on the soft green of an apple that had rolled from Jaime’s pack. Exhaling slowly, he lowered the stone and turned to walk away.
“Smart move, boy. It’d have been a real shame to kill you.”
Odi glanced back in time to see Jaime close his eyes once more, and the flash of moonlight on the barrel of his six-gun as he tucked it back in its holster.
“Now get some sleep, I aim to rise with the sun.”
Odi stumbled back to where the poncho lay, letting the weight of his stone fall to ground, before curling up and slipping into a deep slumber.
Continued: Part 3
So I started writing a random scene at work the other day, and it’s started to turn into a story that I like. I have no idea where it’s going, (ok that’s not entirely true, I have some idea) but I’m excited for the journey. And I want to share that journey with all of you, so I have decided to post it in serial. I will try to post a new scene at least every three days, but I will only post if I feel there is enough to form a satisfying piece of the story. So, without further ado, it begins:
Company of the Damned
The dying embers of the fire cast a ruddy glow in a dim circle around the camp. A single flame danced behind the charred log, too feeble to brighten the night beyond. Here and there around the circle lay the dark forms of men, still and silent in the gloom. The savory scent of roast bird and charred brush-hopper still lingered in the air, though only bones and husk remained, piled beside the fire pit.
The boy crouched in the tall grass just beyond the campsite, studying the still forms on the ground. He struggled to remain as still as the Stone Men of the Espanic deserts out west, ears tuned to the slightest sound, dark eyes watching for the rise and fall of breath in any of the vague shapes laying before him. In one bony hand he clutched a rock, painstakingly shaped to a ragged edge on one side; the thumb of his other hand was stuck firmly in his mouth. Crouched there on the balls of his bare feet, clutching his rude weapon, the boy quietly sucked his thumb as he waited; watching until the moon rose high enough to reveal the dark stains pooled in the sand around the fallen men.
Wary still, though it seemed safe, he cautiously scooted forward, edging his way slowly into the dim glow of the fire. Ears still straining to catch any sound above the soft hiss of the embers, he set down his stone and began picking through remains of the dead men’s last meal. With the practiced motions of the ever hungry he quickly tore even the smallest shreds of meat from the bird bones, before cracking them open to suck the marrow inside. When he had garnered all the sustenance he could from the bones, he picked up the charred husk of the brush-hopper and scrapped the juicy flesh from the carapace with his stone. There was little enough left, but to a boy whose ribs showed clearly beneath his filthy rags, it was a feast.
Hunger assuaged temporarily, the boy licked the grease from his fingers before wiping his hands on his tattered pants. Standing, he warmed himself for a moment over the fire, warding off the chill of the late summer night, and turned to the body lying nearest to him. Roughly, with no trace of reverence or fear, the boy began rifling through the man’s clothes. Finding nothing in his pockets the boy began patting back and forth across the fabric, searching for hidden bulges among the folds.
“You’ll find little enough worth taking here, lad,” a gruff voice called from the darkness, “whoever did fer these whoresons will have made off with anything of value.” (more…)