Tag: western (page 1 of 2)

From The Vault: The Drifter’s Hand

Courtesy impactguns.com

Last week, I posted some Flash Fiction that put some old gods in new situations. This has been an interest of mine for some time. I thought I’d pull in some old stories of mine and see what else can be done. Like this one – The Drifer’s Hand.

It would be silly to try and translate every story from the Eddas in this way, but I still feel like there’s more story, here. I don’t know if I’ll do anything with it, but maybe… Just maybe… We’ll see, I suppose.

The Eddas are full of manliness, with epic tales of heroes facing down monsters and often paying a dear price for being who and what they are. And many Old West tales bring us images of stalwart, stoic men standing in dusty roads, eyes narrowed at an opponent, unwilling to back down even if it means a bullet for their trouble.

It felt, to me, like a match made in Asgard, and the result is The Drifter’s Hand.

You can read the text below, or download the PDF here. Either way, read, comment & enjoy.


For a good portion of the late 1800s, the Arizona boom-town Midgard was every bit as prosperous and populous as her sisters. She never quite grew to the proportions of Tombstone, though, and as the new century approached she began to shrink. There was talk of the railroad going through or near the town, but local lawlessness kept the Santa Fe people from really committing to any sort of construction.

The stranger approached Midgard on a strong but tired horse, his hat half-tipped over his eyes, his beard disheveled and lips cracked from the road. His boots were caked with mud and his duster had more than a couple holes in it, some natural wear and tear while others clearly indicated the paths of past bullets. He seemed heedless of the looks he was getting from Midgard’s locals as he rode into town, his horse unerringly heading for the nearest trough of fresh water.

As soon as his steed was positioned to wash away some of the dust from the road, the stranger swung down from the saddle, tying the horse to the nearby hitch. Removing one of his gloves, the man bent to the trough and drank some of the water himself. Flicking some droplets away from his beard, he turned and headed in the direction of the saloon.

His spurs tapped against the wooden floor. The mid-afternoon crowd in the saloon barely numbered a dozen, roughly half of them at or near the Faro table in the corner. The man behind the cards, a well-groomed gent with a dark waistcoat and thin mustache, glanced up at the stranger before declaring the player to his right the winner. The stranger removed his hat and approached the barkeep.

“I’d like a room, if one’s available.”

“Ain’t seen you ’round here before,” the barman observed as he placed a shot glass on the bar and produced a bottle whiskey. Seeing it, the stranger nodded. “You just passin’ through?”

“I’ve been on the road quite a while. Not sure if my last stop’ll be Tombstone or further west.”

The barman nodded, pouring the drink. “Well, there’s a room available for the night, if you want it. Dollar and a half a week to occupy it, and that entitles you to breakfast in the mornin’.”

“Sounds like a good deal.” The stranger was rummaging under his duster for his money when the saloon doors swung open again, permitting a stocky man in a widebrimmed hat to enter. The sash around his waist, the band at his arm and the kerchief tied around his neck were all the same color, the red of blood pumping from a gaping wound.

“Oh, horseshit.” The color drained from the barman’s face.

“It’s Tuesday, Dwight,” the newcomer bellowed. “Fenris wants their money.”

“I don’t have it all.” The man behind the bar, his hand shaking, produced a modest iron box with a handle. He opened it and pulled out a small wad of bills. “The rooms ain’t been full all week and not many people been stoppin’ by…”

“Stuff it.” The newcomer snatched the money from the shaking hand offered to him, and quickly counted it. “This is all? What about that city slicker in the corner?”

At mention of the corner, the crowd around the Faro table scattered. The man who’d been dealing raised his eyebrows at them.

“Looks like he just lost most of his profit,” he observed, not looking at the newcomer. “I already paid Dwight for this week.”

The newcomer slammed a fist into the table in frustration and grabbed Dwight by the lapels. “I oughta break your face. You holdin’ out on Fenris? You know that ain’t smart.”

“I’m sorry! I’ll have it tomorrow!”

“Tomorrow is when Fenris comes through here and burns this stinkin’ waterin’ hole to the ground!”

The sound of a gun being cocked echoed through the saloon. The newcomer’s eyes slid to his right, towards the barrel pressed to his temple. The stranger set down the shot glass with his right hand, the left occupied with gripping the Colt Peacemaker.

“I think now’s a good time to leave,” he told the newcomer.

“You lost your marbles, stranger? This ain’t your concern.”

“I plan on sleeping here. If you and whomever this Fenris guy is plan on burning the place down while I’m sleeping in it, I’d say that damn well makes it my concern.”

“Fenris ain’t one guy. Fenris is a force of nature! It’ll sweep through this town like a plague outta the Bible!”

“Well, you can tell Lucifer all about it when I send you to meet him. Which’ll be in 5 seconds if you don’t haul ass.”

The newcomer’s face slackened, his eyes flicking between the hard countenance of the stranger and Dwight’s disbelieving expression. At the fourth second, he swallowed. “This ain’t over.” He backed away from the gun, and then shook a fist at Dwight. “This ain’t over!”

“It is for now,” the stranger said. “Disappear.”

He did. Dwight poured the stranger another whiskey.

“Nobody’s stood up to a Fenris man for months. You must really not be from around here.”

The stranger knocked back the shot. “Mind telling me who or what Fenris is?”

“Wolves of Arizona.” The voice came from the man behind the Faro table, who stood and walked over to join the stranger at the bar. “Thieves, bank robbers, kidnappers and murders. Just the worst sort of cowboy. Most of ’em just wear the red sashes. Fenris folk go the extra mile with those red kerchiefs and armbands of theirs.”

“Heard most of the cowboys were down near Tombstone.”

“So they are, stranger, so they are. One for me too, Dwight.”

“Right away, Mr. Frey.” Dwight produced a second glass, cleaning it quickly to pour the dealer his whiskey.

“Needless to say,” Frey went on, “you’ve made yourself an enemy, and one that won’t easily be placated, Mister…”

“Tyr. Jim Tyr.”

“Pleased, Mr. Tyr. Arthur Frey, at your service.”

“You can just call me Jim. Mr. Tyr’s my father.”

“In that case, Jim, why don’t you call me Art?”

Tiwaz rune

“So why are we playing poker now, instead of Faro?”

Art shrugged. “I like changing the game. I call.”

Jim rubbed his trimmed beard and considered his hand. Three threes wasn’t a strong one but it wasn’t bad, either. He didn’t fold. The locals at the table did. Art turned his cards over, showing a straight. Jim leaned back and gestured to the pot.

“All yours.”

Art smiled a bit and raked in the winnings as Jim turned back to his supper. Dwight had waived the fee for his room earlier, and after coming back from a bath and shave, Jim had found a plate of warm food waiting for him, also courtesy of the barkeep.

“I hear you ran off one of the Fenris boys.”

Jim stopped in the middle of slicing a bit of chicken with a dull knife.

“He was hassling Dwight and threatening to burn the place down. I’m sleeping here tonight. Didn’t want to wake up on fire.”

“An understandable concern, stranger, but most folk around here don’t want to piss off the Wolf.”

Jim looked up. The man standing over him wore a dark patch over his left eye and the star of a United States Marshall.

“They aren’t afraid of you, I take it?”

“They know I can’t be everywhere at once. And when I’m gone they think it’s fun to shoot my deputies. Always have plenty of witnesses to say it was self-defense or some such, though. Everybody’s afraid of ’em. They, on the other hand, don’t seem to be afraid of anything.”

“They should be. Every man’s got the same blood, same skin, same tendency to die when shot or stabbed.”

“Now there’s a pitch-black observation.” The Marshall leaned on the bar. “Where are you from anyhow, Mr. Tyr?”

Jim bristled. “Back East. Grew up around Arlington.”

“You fight in the war?”

He looked at the Marshall. “Yeah. Did you?”

Before the Marshall could answer, the doors of the saloon burst open. Three men walked in, all wearing the red of Fenris. Dwight ducked behind the bar and the music stopped.

“Odin! Where is he?”

The Marshall turned. “Right here next to me, Luke Hundr. And you ain’t taking him tonight.”

Luke stalked towards the table, his two cronies in tow. Art made a move to stand, but Jim shook his head. He stepped away from the others and hooked his thumbs in his gun belt.

“You looking for me?”

Luke scowled. “Hear you pulled a gun on my man Butch.”

“Butch was shaking down Dwight for money he didn’t have. He threatened to burn the place down. Since I’m sleeping here, I asked him not to.”

“You’ve got it wrong, stranger. Butch wasn’t going to do a thing on his own. WE will burn this place down. We put up the money for Dwight to open this little establishment, and if we want to burn it down since he can’t pay us, we’ll do just that.”

“Not in city limits,” Odin said. “You got a permit for this land, Luke? if so, you’ll want to evict Dwight and foreclose.”

Luke waved a hand dismissively. “That takes too long. I want my money or my land. If I can’t have one I’ll take the other.” He smirked at Odin. “And I know you got a hangin’ to be at tomorrow, Marshall. Got that nasty murderer Surtur locked up an’ ready to swing. Wouldn’t want to miss that, would you? Been chasing him, what, ten years?”

Odin’s eye narrowed and his mustache curled around his face in a frown. Luke looked past the Marshall at Jim.

“Tomorrow, you meet me out in the street or I burn this place down with you in it. Got it?”

Jim crossed his arms. “So you and all of your boys can shoot me at once? I didn’t fall off the stage yesterday.”

“It’ll just be you an’ me. We’ll settle this.” Luke smiled unpleasantly and tipped his hat to Odin. “Have a nice trip, Marshall.”

The Fenris men left in short order. Jim rubbed the bridge of his nose.

“Regretting pulling that gun on Butch?”

“I don’t do regret, Marshall. I take it he’s met men in the street before?”

“Many a time. Like I said, always plenty of witnesses saying the deputy or other poor sod drew down first. They say Luke’s got a sense for traps. Any time more than a couple of my men have been waiting for him to show, he doesn’t.”

“And I gather Luke won’t be showing up alone.”

“Probably not.” Odin patted him on the arm. “Nobody’ll think the less of you if you’re gone before dawn.”

“And leave them to burn Dwight’s place down? No way, Marshall. I’m not letting a mongrel like that run me out of town, and Dwight’s place is better standing and unscorched.”

“I have to agree.” Art Frey had resumed shuffling the cards, but wasn’t paying much attention to them. His eyes were on the men discussing the showdown. Music was playing again and people were going about their business. “This is our town, Marshall. It doesn’t belong to Fenris.”

“Art Frey, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.” Odin looked the gambler over with his good eye. “Siting here behind your cards for months not doing a damn thing about these hooligans. Why now?”

“They never threatened Dwight like this before. It’s be a very lean time. He hasn’t had lodgers, nor I many punters. Dwight and I got a good partnership going. I don’t want to see it end in flames.”

“Do you even own a gun?”

“Matter of fact, I do. Damn peculiar Henry rifle. Most people find it’s too heavy in the barrel or the stock, but if you know her balance and how to use it, the damn thing very nearly aims itself.”

Odin looked back to Tyr, who shrugged. The marshall then ordered three whiskeys, drank with the men and replaced his hat.

“I need to see to Surtur’s transportation. We’ll be gone before dawn. I wish I could delay but the judge is eager to put this on in the books. Good luck, gentlemen. You’re gonna need it.”

Odin left the saloon. Art turned to Jim.

“I hear you served in the war?”

“51st Virginia. You?”

“I’m a Massachusetts man, myself.”

They drank their next shot of whiskey in silence.

Tiwaz rune

The horse at the hitching post turned to Jim, as if to ask a question. The drifter saw the look, knowing what it meant.

“I don’t know what I’m doin’ out here, either.”

The dawn broke over Midgard, painting the town and the surrounding parched lands in pinkish reds. The stagecoach with Marshall Odin, his prisoner and deputies had already rattled out of town. The sound of hooves brought Jim’s attention back to the street ahead of him. Around him, the signs of the shops swung in the morning breeze. The large sign for the livery stayed in place, dominating the second floor of the barn on the north end of town and sheltered from the wind.

Jim stepped away from his horse, hands held at shoulder height. He didn’t want to get shot before Luke Hundr had a chance to get off his ride. Eight men on horses came around the corner and down the street. Jim frowned.

“I’m here like we agreed, Luke Hundr.” He waved his right hand. “My gun hand’s empty. I thought you said it’d be just you and me.”

Luke smirked as he swung down from his horse. The other Fenris men stayed mounted, and Jim saw one of them was Butch, the beefy face under the wide-brimmed hat leering at him. Nobody else was out in the street or even near windows Jim could see. That was probably a safe bet on their part.

Without a word, Luke drew his pistol and shot Jim. The impact of the bullet half-spun the drifter to his right and sent him to the dirt. Jim had been shot before, which didn’t make it sting any less, but helped him fight down the sense of panic that always came with it. He saw his right hand, ruined, pumping blood into the dust.

“I told my first lie when I was six years old,” Luke told Jim as the hooting from his men died down. “I ain’t quit since then.”

“Yeah, well. I may not have the experience you do, but I ain’t always a hundred percent truthful either.”

Luke cocked his head to one side, leveling his pistol. “Really? Do tell.”

“For one, I ain’t alone either.”

From behind the livery sign came a loud crack. Butch was taken right off the back of his horse, a hole opened up in his chest. The others’ mouths opened in shock and Luke turned to see what’d happened. That was his mistake. In a flash, Tyr grabbed the pearl handle of his Colt with his left hand, drew the gun and fired. His shot caught Luke in the shoulder, spinning him fully towards his men. Jim rose behind him, the wide eyes of the mounted Fenris men on every move he made.

“For another, I’m a southpaw.”

The second bullet shoved Luke to the ground, his skull shattered from the impact. Tyr, his right hand at his side and streaming blood down his leg, aimed his gun at the next Fenris man. When another tried to draw down on him, the Henry rifle made itself heard again, dropping the offender. The remaining Fenris wheeled their horses, and two more were shot down as they rode for their lives.

Jim sank to his knees. He holstered his gun and raised his right arm with his left hand, trying to slow the bleeding by elevating the wound. Art Frey appeared beside him minutes later, the Henry rifle slung over his shoulder. His clothing was still somehow immaculate, despite having to climb into the trestle of a stable in the dark.

“Here, Jim.” Art handed him a flask, which Art discovered was full of single malt scotch. He nearly coughed when it hit the back of his throat. The gambler helped him to his feet. “Let’s get that hand looked at.”

“Whatever hand I’m holding next, Frey, it’s going to beat yours. I’m feeling pretty damn lucky today.”

Art chuckled. “I’ll take that bet, Tyr. Now, let’s make sure you don’t bleed to death before I take the rest of your money, too.”

~ fin ~

Flash Fiction: Flint Smoke

Courtesy impactguns.com

For the Terribleminds Paint Color Title Scheme challenge.

“Whiskey. Best make it a double.”

He didn’t always start his time in the saloon this way. Most days here saw him talking with one of the girls, or hitting up the poker table. But today was different. A lesser man might have ridden for an extra day or two to avoid something like this. Put off the Reaper for one more day.

“Gideon Thomas!”

He wasn’t one of those men.

He looked up from the bar. Sunlight caught the kicked-up dust in the saloon in amber streams. The man who’d called his name sauntered in his direction, half-rusted spurs clicking on the oak floorboards.

“It ain’t noon yet, Pete. We ain’t settling up ’til noon.”

“You can’t ride in here like yer cock o’ th’ walk an’ expect me an’ my boys t’ just wait around fer ya t’…”

“You’re spittin’ on me, Pete. I told you, we’re settling up at noon.”

“Well, if ya give me th’ money now, I can f’rget I ever saw ya. Go back t’ Bear-Paw an’ tell ‘im…”

“Better stop right there, Pete, all that thinkin’s going t’ make you keel over.”

Pete frowned. His face was a particularly ugly patchy combination of ruddy white and repeatedly-sunburnt brownish, and his breath stank.

“I’m gonna enjoy puttin’ a bullet in ya.”

“See you at noon, then.”

Pete huffed and stormed out. The barkeep poured the whiskey. Sunlight played in the shotglass and its contents.

“You’re awfully calm for a man about to face one of the deadliest gun-hands in seven counties.”

Gideon drank down the whiskey. “If he’s as deadly as they say, I won’t have no worries come noon-time. If not, I got no reason to be worried in the first place.”

“You’ve got a strange philosophy there, friend.”

“It’s worked so far.” Gideon stood, laying a couple bills on top of the shotglass. “Thanks for the drink.” He looked up at the clock behind the bar. He had about five minutes.

He walked around the saloon a bit, running his fingers over the green felt at the poker table, tipping his hat to the pretty blonde in the little pink dress, listening to the tinny piano. If things went wrong, he didn’t want to go out without some good sensations rolling around in his brainpan.

Taking a deep breath, he stood at the door and waited. He closed his eyes, said a prayer. The church bells began to chime. On the twelfth toll, he pushed the doors open and stepped outside.

Pete was leaning on the hitching post outside, and standing in the middle of the street was the man they called Bear-Paw. He was a large man, bulky and imposing, with long wavy hair the color of soot under his wide-brimmed hat, and a fuzzy beard. Rumor had it he’d gotten his handle for being mistaken for a bear at night more than once.

“You’re a man of yer word, Gideon Thomas.” He had a deep, rumbly voice. His thick thumbs were stuck in his gunbelt as he watched Gideon move into the street. “Most men would rather settle up with me than make this sort of appointment.”

“Most, but not the half-dozen you’ve already killed.”

“Oh, it’s more than that. It ain’t just stand-up fights in alleys that put men in these paws.”

“So I’ve heard. But that’s just on the side, ain’t it? Ain’t you spending most days out lookin’ for coaches to rob?”

Gideon saw Pete go for his gun out of the corner of his eye. Bear-Paw held up a hand.

“Best be careful what you say, friend. Most of my crew has a bead on ya from here.”

Gideon didn’t look. He knew Bear-Paw was telling the truth.

“Not sure why you needed your whole crew for this. It’s just you tryin’ t’ steal from me.”

“You cheated.”

“Still waitin’ on that proof. All I know is a flush beats a pair of deuces any day of the week.”

Bear-Paw fround, bent at the waist, and spat. Chewing tobacco spattered in the dust with a dark brown stain.

“I want my hundred dollars back, you cheatin’ son of a bitch. Pay it up now or I take it outta yer hide.”

“You’ll do no such thing, Bart Jones.”

The big man blinked at Gideon. He hadn’t known Gideon was acquainted with his real handle.

“Come again?”

“You’ll do no such thing. I know you’re wanted in other counties for theft, destruction of property, and back east you got started killing your wife. Warrant on you is still good.”

Bear-Paw stared at him. Then, he started to laugh.

“You gonna take me in all on your lonesome, little man?”

“Nope.” Gideon whistled.

From behind the Saloon’s sign, around corners of buildings, and even under sombreros and ponchos, men emerged with guns drawn. Barrels shone cobalt blue, held to the heads of Pete and the other miscreants in Bear-Paw’s crew. Gideon smiled and pointed around the scene.

“Now, that? That’s probably cheating.”

Bear-Paw scowled, going for his gun. Gideon’s hand moved of its own accord, drawing his Peacemaker and thumbing the hammer. He fired before Bear-Paw’s revolver cleared his holster. A ribbon of red flew through the air and Bear-Paw went down, his knee shattered. Gideon holstered his trusted companion as the Marshall approached, his mustache groomed as always, pin-striped vest immaculate, silver star glistening in the sunlight.

“That’s good work, Mister Thomas. Not many men would walk into one of Bear-Paw’s ambushes like that.”

“Well, thank your men for me, Marshall. Not every day you grab a Bartholomew Jones, especially not in a trap like this.”

The Marshall smiled, removing a billfold from his vest and counting out five hundred dollars. The green bills crinkled as Gideon took them and tipped his hat.

“You need me again, Marshall, you know where to find me.”

Bear-Paw was growling obscenities as the Marshall cuffed him, and Gideon walked back into the saloon.

“Barkeep! I’ll take another whiskey, if you please.”


Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.


Bunraku is a preposterous title for a film, and also slightly pretentious. It refers not to a character or a location, but rather a type of Japanese shadow play, a theatrical production using puppets that tells broad stories based on archetype and fable. It’d be like naming Flash Gordon “Raygun Gothic Adventure with Queen.” Or Taken “Liam Neeson Driven Suspense Action”. Or GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra “Giant Letdown.” On the other hand, nobody can accuse Bunraku of being less than what it promises in the title, and if someone is disappointed by the film, it should not be on the basis of said promise. And if you’re an ignorant Westerner who doesn’t know what bunraku is, the opening sequence gives you a demonstration while the narrator sets the scene.

Courtesy Picturesque Films

In the not too distant future, mankind has waged war to the point that people have finally taken notice of how atrocious, unnecessary and dehumanizing modern warfare actually is (the actual warfare, that is, not the first-person shooter). Guns are universally outlawed in the wake of some sort of war-driven cataclysm and folks now have to get by settling their disputes with edged weapons and bare fists. The most powerful man east of the Atlantic with these methods is Nicholai the Woodcutter and his nine numbered assassins. Into Nicholai’s favorite casino comes a nameless Drifter who’s quick and deadly with his hands, while his favorite restaurant’s owner has a nephew who’s a driven but compassionate and well-spoken samurai. Can you guess how these two strangers are going to get along? If you guessed “they team up to take down Nicholai and the colorful array of supporting trained killers”, try not to break your arm patting yourself on the back.

Bunraku is a film that seems to have no time whatsoever for things like character or plot development. What it plays on is themes, mood and metaphor. That said, the character work that does happen isn’t all that bad. Josh Hartnett continues to demonstrate the sort of chops that earned Clint Eastwood his immortal spurs, while his samurai friend is played with surprising conviction (if a bit of melodrama) by Gackt. If you can tear your eyes away from these fine specimens of driven and handsome young men, you’ll find Woody Harrelson in an understated mentor role while Kevin McKidd give us a villain arguably more memorable than his imposing boss, played by none other than Ron Perlman. The other actors, including Demi Moore, don’t have much more than bit roles but we’re honestly not here for introspection as much as we are for spectacle of seeing Slevin & an extremely attractive musician take on Hellboy & Poseidon.

Courtesy Picturesque Films
Lucius Vorenus got himself an excellent tailor.

Unlike your typical Hollywood big-budget explosionfest, Bunraku‘s style comes from its unique setting, composition and pacing. The best thing about it is how stylistically striking the whole production is. Some of the longer shots are truly impressive in their construction, while transitions and even entire scenes are works of art in and of themselves. It’s the sort of film where ‘eye candy’ extends past the attractive cast and bright orange explosive special effects. It’s also something of a low-key musical, with a pervasive but atmospheric score adding tension and pace to the many fights, which have the energy and passion of large production dance numbers without everybody breaking into song. With this sort of energy and drive coupled with a unique aesthetic somewhere between a Western and an Akira Kurosawa film, here’s always something cool to look at, which means Bunraku will not leave you bored.

It may, however, leave you somewhat empty. As I said, there’s very little depth to the characters or plot. Playing as it does on broad themes and the sort of metaphorical storytelling reserved for fairy tales and the like, Bunraku isn’t going to set the world on fire with its story. And as impressive as the sets, shots and fights are, many viewers may draw parallels between Sin City or Kill Bill. For better or worse, Bunraku does have a much more diverse color palate than Frank Miller’s work and not as much verbosity or as many oblique references as Tarantino’s. It’s a kissing cousin to these other works at most, and it goes about its simple but stylish little tale with admirable gusto, unfettered by Miller’s monochromatic cynicism or Tarantino’s obsession with grindhouse flicks and Uma Thurman’s toes.

Courtesy Picturesque Films
You wish your bartender was this cool.

If anything, it reminds me most of indie darling and Game of the Year, Bastion. The bright colors, vibrant combat, initially simple characters and even the smooth tones of the world-wise narrator immediately bring that experience to mind, in a very positive way. While Bunraku lacks the ultimate emotional depth of that game, it does keep your eyes occupied and imagination delighted for its running time, and on its visual panache and enthusiastic presentation alone I’m going to give it a recommendation. It’s not groundbreaking or anything but it’s at least trying to go about storytelling in a slightly different way, even if the archetypes and themes are older than dirt, but I’d rather have an older fable told well than a pandering remake or sequel of a recent work take up my time. Although, in the latter case, you can replace the words “take up” with the more accurate and expedient “waste”. I’m glad I spent some time with Bunraku, and if you’re looking in your Netflix Instant queue for a production with a great deal of panache, a bit of whimsy, some grown-up themes and unapologetic devotion to unique framing devices, I think you will be too.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

Flash Fiction: The Gunsmith

Courtesy impactguns.com

For the TerribleMinds flash fiction challenge, Must Love Guns.

His fingers, stained with soot and grease, ached to their bones. He removed the visor he’d worn during the process and reached for the nearby cloth. He couldn’t take his eyes from his work as he pulled the towel over one hand, then the other. By the light of the forge and candles, the effect was nearly hypnotic.

The pistol had started life as a standard Colt Peacemaker. A couple of dollars at a general store would have picked one up. But the order had been for something special. The case had been made for the weapon to become one of a kind. Bittersweetness slid through the smith’s synapses as his cleaned hands gently picked up the gun.

He’d laid gold filligree into the handle, like vines climbing up the ivory. Ivy leaves here and there caught the light, their leaves made from tiny shards of emerald. The result was a grip less likely to slip from a gunman’s fingers, singular in vision and still clear of purpose. The metal of the pistol’s body and barrel were engraved with scenes of nature, the heads of wolves, eagles and moutain loins appearing here and there. Lovely but dangerous, that had been the motif.

He checked the cylinder slowly, one click at a time. Boring the chambers out of a fresh block had been a painstaking task. He’d only been able to make room for five cartridges, but the stopping power of the .50 calibre shells used in the old Remingtons was still quite decent, and she’d be guranteed to make one hell of a racket. Satisfied that he’d cleared the block and barrel of all obstructions, he turned from the workbench to the counter and laid the weapon for the customer to see.

“Do you know why I stopped making guns?”

He paused, removing his spectacles and reaching for his pipe. His customer waited patiently while he lit up his cavendish and took a long pull.

“I’d heard of a shoot-out near Barstow. Outlaw ran afoul of a couple Marshalls. Crowd was followin’ the lawmen, as they do sometimes, and the outlaw just started shootin’. Marshalls took him down quick as you please, but before they could the bastard had shot a little boy.”

He turned the revolver on the counter so his audience could see his initials on the butt of the gun.

“Every gun I make has my stamp. So when they took the gun from the dead man they brought it to me, told me what’d happened. Turned out the outlaw’d been seventeen, and I’d sold this to his father a few years back. The boy stole it when he turned to robbin’, and now it’d put a bullet through a little boy’s spine.”

The customer said nothing. The gunsmith studied the other for a moment, puffing on his pipe.

“Been makin’ horseshoes an’ farm equipment ever since. Until you walked in.”

He laid his hand on the gun, feeling the engraving and fillagree under his fingertips.

“This is without a doubt the finest gun I’ve ever made. It’s beautiful, powerful an’ compact. The Devil himself is gonna come t’ fear it, provided you ain’t usin’ it for any purpose o’ his.”

“Let me tell you what I’m going to do with it.”

The gunsmith waited. He put the pipe back in his mouth.

“I’m going to pay you what I promised for this gun. And then I’m going to find the men who took my little girl. If they return her safe and sound there will be no cause for me to even fire this weapon.”

The customer reached out for the gun. The gloved hand took a hold of the ivory, gold and emeralds. The pistol spun on one finger for a moment. The other hand pressed the rod to eject the cylinder. Blue eyes looked through the bores, then the gun was shut again. The customer tipped her hat up to regard the gunsmith evenly.

“If they’ve harmed a hair on her golden head, I swear by God and His archangels I’ll put every single one of them in the ground with this gun.”

He studied her for a moment, this haunted and driven woman who’d come to him for a gun. She’d told him of the night her girl had been taken. Her eyes no longer had the redness of tears, and by all measure of such things she’d be beautiful, and when she first arrived in town she seemed no different than other pretty girls looking to make money on the frontier. But standing there, in a man’s riding clothes and holding the finest gun he’d ever made, the gunsmith considered for a moment that maybe she could swear by God and His archangels with such resolve because she knew them on a rather personal level.

He pulled a box of Remington .50s out and dropped it on the counter.

“You’re gonna need these, and I ain’t gonna charge you extra for ’em.”

Movie Review: True Grit

I grew up with Westerns. The big music and booming voice of John Wayne is something I’m quite familiar with. Unfortunately some of my childhood memories are a bit spotty, and the only thing I really remember from the 1968 version of True Grit is the famous scene of The Duke riding towards four men with the reigns in his mouth, a rifle in one hand and a six-shooter in the other. So I walked into the 2010 version of the film with an open mind as a fan of both the frontier genre and one Jeff Bridges. I knew it was a story of a headstrong teenage girl, Mattie Ross, hunting down the man who killed her father with the enlistment of the aging, overweight, one-eyed drunkard Marshall Rooster Cogburn. Other than that basic premise and the knowledge that this is a straight adaptation of Charles Portis’ novel rather than a remake of Wayne’s Oscar-winner, when the lights went out I went into this one cold.

Courtesy Paramount Pictures

The Coen Brothers, filmmakers known for quirkiness and scenery, seem to have taken all of their quirks out of the equation and focused on the authenticness of this Western experience. In addition to capturing the breathtaking landscapes that made up the untamed territory into which the protagonists ride, they also encapsulate some of the finer details of that period of American history. Houses, courtrooms and shops look lived in, hand-built, rough and tumble like the people within them. Guns sound off and kick realistically. Nobody uses contractions. It sucks you in very quickly and you can almost feel and taste the dust of the road.

Every bit as authentic are the performances. In general, nobody here can be accused of phoning in a performance, or telegraphing if you will. What shows this off are some of the briefest performances managing to stick out. Barry Pepper and especially Josh Brolin are very effective frontier villains for the short time they’re on screen, and Dakin Matthews as the blustering shopkeeper with whom Mattie must haggle in the film’s opening cement the tone and timbre of the piece. Most of our time, however, is spent with three disparate yet inextricably bound individuals, and every performance here is solid gold.

Courtesy Paramount Pictures
Don’t let the pigtails fool you. She’s not to be trifled with.

Hailee Steinfeld is in the mix with some heavy Hollywood hitters and yet comes out as just about the best performer in the movie. Her portrayal of a fourteen-year-old girl doggedly pursuing frontier justice breaks down all kinds of barriers that some would find insurmountable. She’s brave without being fearless and it’s clear that she’s grown up fast and hard in a world that would have her staying at home, crochetting and waiting to get married off to some landowner. Intelligent, well-spoken and tenacious above all, Mattie’s an immediately memorable character. Hailee’s work is Oscar-caliber, and while I haven’t seen The Fighter yet and can’t say for certain she got snubbed, it’s difficult for me to reserve judgement.

For all the fun that gets poked at him, Matt Damon really earns his spurs as Texas Ranger LaBeouf (boy, am I straining the Western puns or what?) who’s looking for the same man as Mattie for different reasons. He comes off as an arrogant, city-clicker dandy, but that might be a smokescreen to obfuscate just how dangerous he really is. Faced with the inplacable Mattie and the slovenly Cogburn, LeBeouf has to demonstrate patience was well as tenacity in the pursuit of his own goals. Damon does a great job with this, elevating a character that could have ended up as Cogburn’s sidekick as someone that stands entirely on his own.

As for Jeff Bridges… what can I say, that man can act. As if playing both ‘the Dude’ and Obediah Stane hadn’t demonstrated his range in recent years, his inhabiting of Rooster Cogburn once again shows just the kind of performance he can bring to the table. When you look at Rooster in this film, you’re not seeing Bridges in any of his other roles, you’re seeing a one-eyed lawman who isn’t afraid to bust a few rules to do his job, loves his liquor almost as much as running down the bad guys and demonstrates a hilarious tendency for understatement. As far as I can tell, John Wayne was playing the role as Rooster, while Bridges is Rooster, at least for this film’s run-time.

Courtesy Paramount Pictures
Just about every time he opened his mouth, I was grinning.

If I have any complaints about True Grit, it’d be linearity. There aren’t many diversions in the story and no major twists to speak of. As much as a straightforward storytelling exercise is not necessarily a bad thing, there are those who have come to expect a level of complexity in the narrative that this movie lacks. However, the characters have more than enough depth and nuance to make up for this, and the acting and scenery are so captivating that you’ll want the film to continue, not because there’s more story to tell but because these characters are such a delight to watch.

Stuff I Liked: Realism and authenticness in this Western go a long way. No actor turns in a bad or lackluster performance.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: A little more development of Ned Pepper and his gang would have been cool, but really wasn’t necessary for the story so I understand why we didn’t have it.
Stuff I Loved: The scenery is absolutely breathtaking, the three principles are quite stellar and the movie as a whole stands on its own as everything a good Western yarn should be.


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