Friday, June 15, 2012

Storm Halo

Storm Halo
Bobby Derie

The stranger came and brought the storm with him into the saloon, and the feller at the piano stopped. Wisps of black cloud hung around his brow like smoke, a personal thundershower that cast him in an eternal pall and damp. Water ran off thin, stringy brown hair, in rivulets down the pale and bloated creases in his face with eyes that looked red from crying, dripped from pruned fingers and left a trail of wet sawdust behind him as he made a line for the bar. He could have been a sailor lost at the sea come back to satisfy another thirst. Mud stained boots with rusty spurs the sickly blue-black growths that speckled his flesh where some resilient fungus had taken hold.
Sully met the stranger across the bar, met his eye without looking away.
“Help you suh?”
The stranger’s voice was a liquid, gurgling croak with a familiar drawl and bark, and every man in the bar knew him for a native of Georgia, and a man who had been used to giving orders. The particular shade of amber Sully poured in the glass could have been week-old horse piss left out in the sun, darker and redder than golden, but brighter than blood in oil. Wet coins clinked on the bar as the stranger reached for the drink.
The music didn’t resume play. Gamblers left their cards at the table. Two aging whores in sagging cotton skirts ushered a young girl with a painted face up the stairs, steps creaking. The stranger stood at the bar and sipped his shot, and the cloud seemed to rise a little from his brow and lighten, the fat greasy drops thinning out to a steady drizzle so he was soon standing in a spreading puddle. Behind Sully, the big mirror above the bar showed only the standing storm.
More money clinked down on the counter. Sully poured the same again. This shot disappeared down the stranger’s throat in a single horse piss-colored streak.
There was a click that echoed in the silence of the saloon. The room saw the stranger’s shoulders tense, the grey clouds thicken to black and begin to roil as it grew larger and more agitated around him. He turned his back on the bar to stare out at the room, and a sudden breeze seemed to blow. Cards blew off tables but nobody dared reach for them. The doors to the saloon began to swing freely.
One of the drunk cowpokes sat up in sudden sobriety, leveling his Colt Navy revolver. Somewhere far off came the sound of distant thunder, and that clap echoed in the bar as a brilliant spark leapt off from the agitated cloud. In the space between breaths it traced a lazy zig-zag path to the tip of the gun, which exploded in the cattlepunk’s hand. As if his scream was a signal, as one body the room reached for their weapons.
The storm broke in the room, a black maelstrom that kicked up dirt and sawdust into a blinding, stinging wind that whipped around and through the whole tap room, picking up empty bottles, cups, and loose articles to fling with the strength of a tempest. Some hunkered down against the wind, turned over tables for shelter against the pelting rain and debris. Others were less fortunate, exposed skin of face and hands shredded by broken glass, crawled toward the door as the wind rose to a hellish howl and the walls seemed to shake and moan. Sully came up from behind the bar with a shotgun, and received a blinding flash and crackle of thunder to herald his descent to hell for his trouble. The stranger stood at the center of chaos, and none in the room dared lift their heads to see the strange calm on his face. Lightning played out again and again in the room, until nothing moved or moaned.
The wind slacked by degrees, and the cloud thinned to a grey disc, circling widdershins above the stranger’s head, a steady driving rain pouring over the ruin of the saloon, washing bloody rivers from fallen bodies. He turned back to the bar, the mirror above it now spider-cracked, and reached for the bottle of whiskey to pour himself another shot.
There was the creak of a hinge. The stranger’s shoulders tensed. He turned around, still holding the bottle of whiskey. The woman framed in the saloon door had straw-colored hair beneath a dark wide-brimmed hat, and a heavy bone-handled pistol on her hips. Rainwater flowed like tears beneath dry eyes as the stranger assayed her.
“Silas Blackwater.” The name came out like a dry breath across the plains, full of honey-grain and the hint of buffalo shit.
“You ain’t got trouble with that name, miss. An’ you don’t want any neither.” He gurgled by reply, then added. “Don’t see no tin star.”
“Don’t see no need fer one, Mr. Blackwater. You recognize this here gun?”
She patted the handle of the pistol. Blackwater could see the wide bone grip, carved with a scene from heaven or hell, traceries and nails of blackened metal. There were six notches cut in that grip, exposing the pale grey-yellow of the inner bone.
“That’s right. You ready?”
Blackwater gave a phlegmy chuckle. “Are you?”
 The wind picked up. There was a boom and clap as of thunder that rattled windows, and a flash like a piece of glass caught the sun at high noon. Then the dull sodden thump of a body hitting the squelching mud of the saloon floor, and the tinkle of broken glass.

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