Untitled Cattlepunk Speculative Piece
February 18, 2014
The wind sounded mournful as it flew gracefully over the dunes and hills that made up the four miles of territory I had come to call home in the last five years. I had come here from far across the desert, from a town that still had a single, lonesome tower staring out into the darkness. Waiting and watching for the first rays of sunlight and dreading the coming cloak of night for generations. Thousands of eyes have lived and died in that tower, keeping watch so that the horrors of our world can be kept safely at bay. A tower that houses the relics of a bygone age. Gleaming steel swords. Armor made hard and fast. Shields of boughs bent to shape and sheathed in iron and leather. Relics left to be oiled by the eyes that watch now. Eyes that see the old ways and their safety but must watch, vigilant, on the new ways. On the Scourge that eats the steel, that brings diaphanous destruction where it goes.
A soft flutter, of wings beating against the wind determined to find somewhere safe from the dust and dirt, is all that it takes to alert the town to fear. That one little thing, creeping and crawling toward safety, eats steel and bone. Consumes all that it can touch with little exception. The worst of it, though, is when the damn things die. They break into a powder so fine that it seeps through denim masks, a powder that with just the right spark turns into a raging inferno in the blink of an eye. A powder that turned lush forests, rolling green hills, and verdant farmland into a desert of pain, misery, and fear.
Scrub grows now, and cacti. New plants, some engineered by alchemists and some that were here but didn’t have a purchase, didn’t have a way to get what they needed. Not until the fire burnt down all around them but left them standing. Uniquely built by the hand of fate, by the accidents of struggle and power, to withstand such intense fire.
From one of these mighty survivors, the towering trees that most call bloodwood around my little stretch of prairie, a man came down. I knew he was there. He let me know, subtly, several days ago. His name was Enrique Salvador. Most around here knew him as Abbot, though, or El Cazador. He finds initiates for the Marshals and brings them here, to the four miles of dirt and dust I call home now so that they can learn.
He climbed down slowly but carefully, not letting me see where the handholds were or where the traps were. This was his house and I was simply visiting. I heard him land with the soft whisper of well oiled leather and stilled iron. He sauntered over to me with the slow deliberation of a teacher, heavy with wisdom dewing on his tongue. He tossed me a flask, an old glass hip flask full of the damn near lethal stuff he called whiskey, and he sat down across from me by my cold fire.
A single flash, no more than a star blinking on then off in the haze of the distant sky, and he exhaled a single playful twister of smoke into the old fire pit. His fingers wove a jig for it, mixing it around to the silent waltz he heard somewhere in his mind.
“When you were a child…” His voice was old and cracked, like the leather he wore, but was measured. His tone even and thoughtful. “You learned of the gods and heroes, yes?”
The question hung in the air, pregnant like the moon. Full of possibility. Full of impertinence and childhood. Full of mistakes.
“Yeah.” I am not, as they say, good with words.
He nodded slowly and took a long drag, letting each syllable of his next sentence spin and sidle with smoke. “And what did you learn from those stories?”
I grunted, we’d done this before. We’ve had this conversation. “The big things, the things that make me, that make us, what and who we are. Honor. Bravery. Compassion. Dedication.”
He nodded thoughtfully. It was the same answer. We both knew. Word for word, pause for pause. Even the grunt was as tired as my boots.
“And when you were older…” More smoke, hanging in the air, writing out the script again. He knew what I would say. “You heard the stories again, yes? What about then?”
I sighed long and low. I let the silence fill between us again, let us both bask in the middle times, those times before the story got along to be getting along. “I learned context. Nuance. I learned that to be brave it sometimes takes sacrifice. I learned that to be wise it sometimes takes making mistakes. I learned that to have honor is to sometimes do something you never thought you’d have to do. It’s takin’ life one thing at a time and doin’ your best. Regardless of what the gods think of what you’re doin’.”
He nodded, an old sage nod like he knew the secrets of the words now that he’s heard them three hundred times. “Do you remember when you came here?”
Now this was new. Something I wasn’t expecting, not in a hundred thousand years. I shook my head, “’Course I do, you damn near killed me!”
He smiled, a knowing smile. “What did we damn near kill you with?”
I looked at him, bug eyes, from across the camp. “That big damn gun up in that keep of yours! Damn near took my head clean off and it was aiming at my hips! Killed my horse with fright, it did.”
He stood up, snapping his cigarette out, and tossed a package in front of me. “We are here to teach you something new. Things have changed.”
I unwrapped it slowly and there, in well oiled leather with a string of rounds, was my very own nine shot, single action revolver. The Big Iron. The thing that made you a Marshal.
“I’m gonna learn the creed?”
He chuckled and shook his head. “No, something more important. Something bigger than the big things.”
I looked at him as I belted the gun on. It felt good on my hip, already resting just right where I liked it. “What’s more important than somethin’ that big?”
He offered me a cigarette and took a drink. I whispered and my fingers danced, a spring of fire welling up between two of my fingers and setting the weed alight. “Nuance, Maria, nuance.”
With that he stalked off into the darkness.