Sunday, 28 August 2011

Shoot-out at the Ignorance Saloon


Right I will  from time to time be putting some of my short stories up on here. This is one that I wrote a while back but have just finished polishing up.

*****

Science's horse was acting skittish, which was unsurprising given that the rocky terrain was certainly hiding at least a few nasty critters. Science reached down a smoothly patted the creature on the side of the neck. “Whoa, there.” Her voice was soft and calming. “There's no need to worry.” Science sat back. The horse turned it's head to the side so it's right eye was fixed on it's rider. “Fine there are reasons to be concerned but from an entirely statistical point of view they are unlikely.” The horse seemed to take this as a satisfactory response and continue picking it's way through the rocks with caution.

Science turned her piercing blue eyes back to the horizon, she wasn't expecting any trouble but that didn't mean it wasn't coming. It had been a long ride from Knowledge and Ignorance was still a few hours away. It didn't help that the track between the two was overgrown to the point of non-existence. It also didn't help that she didn't want to be here, she'd had to leave the deputies in charge of the town and she knew that without her keeping a firm hand on the reigns back there it would be hard for Common and Sense to keep things straight. But this was personal and if the news she'd heard was true then she had to ride to Ignorance, and ride as hard and fast as she could. Unfortunately as fast as she could ride was turning out to not be tremendously fast and now the earth was rotating her away from the sun. The path was becoming a bit clearer up ahead and Science could make out the faint glow of Ignorances dim lights towards the horizon. As the horse made it's way towards the clearer region of the path, she started to pick up some speed and her mind flashed back to two days ago in her office.

*****

Science shifted lazily in her sleep, unfortunately this made her fall out of her chair. As she collided with the floor she pulled herself up from behind her desk, she stood about five foot five with olive skin and long black hair. She was just straightening herself out when she looked up to see a man standing in the doorway.

“You the sheriff?” the man asked, Science squinted at him but the sunlight shining in from behind him made it impossible to get a good look at his facial features

“What made you form that hypothesis?” Science asked still trying to piece together exactly who she was talking to, the man had girth that much she could be certain of. Whether this was the result of being wealthy enough to be well fed, a slow metabolism or a genetic predisposition was another matter entirely, Science never jumped to conclusions. As her pupils closed to adjust to the lighting conditions she was able to make out the burning ember of a cigarette in the man's mouth. “Please don't smoke that in here... there's incredibly strong evidence to link the smoking of tobacco products to lung cancer”

The man dropped his cigarette on the floor and brought his foot down on it with a twist that ground the embers into the sturdy timbers of the floor. “Well this is the sheriff's office and that gold star on your jacket would add further weight to my theorem” The man replied.

“Well you've got me bang to rights.” Science replied

“I've got some information that may be of value to you.” The mysterious stranger replied.

“What sort of value?” Science asked her curiosity peeked.

“The sort that would be beneficial to both of us,” the stranger replied, “seems that a certain outlaw that I know you've got a hankering to take down has set up shop in the town of Ignorance, you familiar with it?”

“If I was the gambling type, I'd wager that you already know I am, Mister.” Science responded, Ignorance was a lawless kind of town about two days ride from Knowledge, she'd been dealing with rustlers and snake oil merchants out of that town for the best part of her career.

“Well it seems that the locals in that region have a new employer. A man going by the name of Superstition.” The stranger responded. No sooner had he finished talking than Science grabbed her guns from the hook behind her desk and headed for the door. “So you're interested then.”

“Interested? Sir, I don't know who you are but if you don't step out of that doorway right now and let me leave I'll put more holes in you than it's medically advisable to have.” Science looked to her guns and when she looked up the stranger was gone.

She'd ran over to the saloon to grab her deputies and leave them a few simple instructions, and the general store for some key supplies and she'd been on the road to Ignorance within the hour.

*****

It seemed like it had been much longer than two days ago, but in actuality she'd been travelling at speed so time had been going a little slower for her, from a relativistic stand point. She was approaching the borders of the ramshackle pile of lawlessness that was Ignorance. Science rounded the post office and found herself on what passed for a main street out in the sticks. At the opposite end of the street stood the Saloon the noise that carried towards her on the wind sounded like a brawl had crashed into a party. The street contained the usual, a livery, a general store, a gun smith a black smith a doctor's and an undertaker's, Science had yet to visit a town that didn't contain these items but the size of the undertaker's and the number of coffins out front seemed to indicate a predilection towards violence in the area. She hitched her horse outside the post office and walked slowly and deliberately down the street.

As she approached the saloon she reached down and cocked the hammers on her revolvers. She reached the doors and as was about to head inside when she had to stop to allow a fight to pass by. Two toothless prospectors fell down the steps Science had just climbed and proceeded to continue brawling on the dusty floor. From muffled things they were saying it seemed they arguing about voodoo versus prayer as a road to riches. Science ignored this and stepped inside. As she pushed open the doors, in a startling break from narrative convention, everything carried on exactly as it had before. The pianist in the back of the room near the stairs was playing a song that a few people around him were lending lyrics to. Science had never heard the song before but it seemed to be based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the definition of irony. She stepped towards the bar and pulled out a bar stool.

“What can a get you, Missy?” The old timer behind the bar asked.
“A glass of purified dihydrogen monoxide.” Science replied, the old timer looked at her blankly. “Purified water.” She clarified.

“Purified, ye' say, 'fraid we don't carry that.” The old timer responded. “Don't really see the point of it myself”

“Of course” Science muttered under her breath “What have you got that's in a sealed bottle and doesn't have alcohol in it?”

“Well we've got a few bottle's of Dr Thaxton's Curative Remedy, some o' the regulars like it with they're whiskey.” Replied the old timer.

“I'll take a bottle of that” Science replied as the bottle was passed to her she glance at the label which promised it would cure the common cold, back-ache, muscle spasms, ugliness, cancer HIV, AIDS and pregnancy. While she didn't believe any of this it did taste refreshing. “I'm also after some information.”

“What sort of information is that young miss?” The old timer asked

“I'm looking for a man named Superstition” Science replied

The old timers face dropped and he froze for a second, then with surprising speed he was face to face with Science. “Now why does a pretty young thing like you want to get involved with a man like that.”

“We're old acquaintances” Science replied

“Well I'd stay clear of him, ye' hear. No good comes of messing with that man.” the old timer muttered.

“Why not?” Science inquired

“Folks round here say that he's in league with the devil.” The old timer replied. “His skin's bullet proof and hard as iron he can summon flame from nowhere and you'll never see a luckier sonna bitch at the poker table... I'd quit smirking if I were you young miss.”

Science reached up and grabbed the old timer by the back of the head and pulled him closer to her “Just tell me where he is.” Science replied as she slid back her duster to reveal her glistening pistols.

“Well he should be at the poker table outback.” The old timer replied pointing to the a door at the other end of the bar.

“Thank you kindly, sir.” When Science stepped away from the bar two dollars were sitting underneath her now empty bottle. The old timer snatched the money and shuffled through the door behind the bar and went down to the cellar he knew trouble when he saw it and he'd seen it in that young ladies eyes.

As Science pushed the door open it let out an very loud squeak and everyone at the table turned to face her with the exception of a black wide brimmed hat which only juddered slightly. Science pulled out her pistol and pointed it right at the hat.

“Hello, Science” The hat said as everyone else in the room scrambled to the exit.

“Hello, Superstition” Science said staring into the mirror on the other side of the room. Superstition had gotten older, since she'd last seen him, and it showed, he was still immaculately well kept in his black hat, black suit and black bow-tie. His face was pinched and he had a few wrinkles and his hair was grey but it was still the same man she'd chased out of Knowledge all those years ago. “You're a brave man showing your face in my neck of the woods.”

“Well where else would I go?” He replied his voice as smooth as silk.

“Well that's an interesting point. Where have you been?” Science asked as she circled round, not for one second taking her gun off of the man in black, and pulled up a now empty chair.

“Lots of places, I worked my trade up in Education for a while, pulled a few years over in Guesswork as well. Always a place for someone who knows how to put on a show.” As he said this he held out his hands to the show he was unarmed.

“I hear you've got a few new tricks up your sleeve since we last met.” Science waved the gun at his forearms as she said this. Superstition reached towards left forearm with his right hand and rolled his sleeve up to reveal an metal device that seemed to hold six or seven cards on a folding spring. “Real classy.” Science muttered and the man in black shot her an evil look. “Lose it.” Superstition undid the buckle holding the device on and threw it across the table. “Other arm.” Superstition placed his left hand on his right arm. There was a whirring sound, Science rolled backwards off of the chair just as the flames licked over her head. She stood up in time to see the door to the saloon swing shut, in seconds she was out the door with a both a pistol in each hand. Superstition was already at the other door and the crowd in the saloon itself had scattered to either side leaving a clear path down the middle of the room. Science ran across the room straight to the door. At the last second she jinked sideways and dived through the window just as a hail of bullets hit the doorway.

She hit the ground, rolled through the shower of broken glass and was upright as Superstition started to swing his gun towards her. Science let out a flurry of bullets straight into Superstition's chest. The effect was statistically insignificant, the bullets ricocheted as if they'd struck iron one of the bullets grazed Science's face leaving a long red groove on the side of her face. Superstition cackled.

“Didn't you know I'm bullet-proof!” He yelled at the sky like a lunatic. He brought up both his guns to point towards the law-woman. She darted sideways and dived into the metal horse trough by the hitching post just as the bullets flew all around her. She held he guns above her to keep them out of the water as she felt more bullets thud into the side of the trough. Science stayed still her mind working faster than it had done for years.

“Two guns, six bullets in each, twelve in total, six hit the door, four flew past me as I dived in here and two just hit the outside of this trough.” Science rose from the water like a tidal wave both guns pointed at the man in black who had used her thinking time to reload and was bring his guns up to shoot. Science new she had one shot at this, she dropped the gun from her left hand and grabbed the remaining pistol with both hands. Steadied her line of sight, breathed out slowly and squeezed the trigger. The bullet was airborne for less than a heart beat but it was a long heartbeat and Science imagined she could almost see the bullet fly. As the bullet collided with Superstition's right forearm a metallic smash was heard and suddenly his arm burst into flames, as the flames spread up his arms he fought to extinguish the blaze, which spread to the rest of his jacket. A crowd had gathered at the door of the saloon and watched as Superstition pulled off his jacket to reveal two metal plates one front one back held in place on his upper body by a series of leather straps. Superstition swung his guns up towards Science who by now was standing right next to him with a gun pointed directly at his head.

“Don't even think about giving me an excuse.” Science said as the water dripped down her forming a puddle on the floor. Superstition paused for a moment and dropped the guns, he stood up straight and looked Science straight in the eye.

“You gonna kill me sheriff?” He asked with a hint of laughter in his voice.

“No” Science dropped her gun and before Superstition could even think about moving Science's fist collided with his jaw. “I'm going to show you for what you are.”

*****

Within minutes Superstition was hog-tied naked to back of Science's horse and Science was ready to leave. Stripping the trickster had led to discovery of several other mechanisms and tricks all of which the law-woman had gathered into one bag that she was now fastening to her horse. The townsfolk had dispersed as soon as they'd gathered most of them muttering about upsetting Superstitions army of ghosts or what not. Science wasn't concerned, these people chose to live out here in away from the enlightenment of civilisation as long as they stayed here they could think whatever they wanted. With her captive and his bag of tricks securely fastened Science climbed on her horse pulled out and in another break with tradition rode of into the night.


Science built the Academy, superstition the inquisition”
Robert Green Ingersoll 1833-1899

Science is the law-man of ignorance”
Unknown Metaphysical Westerner

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