Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Last One Standing Tall #7

A Fantasy-Western Serial


Reed watched as the men rifled through his possessions, such as they were.

Considering the shotgun barrel pressed against his temple, he decided he had better just let them do as they pleased for now. Not that he could have moved much anyway since they had bound him like a bale of hay. If he moved too much the coarse ropes cut into his green flesh, weeping precious fluid. Healing himself would only weaken him eventually, so he let the wounds sit open for now. Somehow he managed to tolerate the burning sting there.

A tall man gulped down water from one of his canteens, water dribbling down his narrow chin and splashing on his flannel shirt. Reed had never seen someone drink so greedily. Did they not have enough water in this town?

"Dammit Pete! Don't drink it all!" Another man said as he grabbed at it spilling some, but the tall man thrust it away, splashing more out. At this rate it would be empty long before they could finish what was left.

"Hank!" Pete finally shoved him out of the way. "This one's mine. He's got another 'un there."

Hank snorted. After a quick glance, he picked up the other canteen, tested its weight a bit. He seemed satisfied because he popped off the cap and tilted it back. He lurched forward, choking, then spat onto the ground several times. "It's fulla dirt!"

"Gimme that!" Troy snatched the canteen from his hands.

"You can have it," Hank said as he vigorously wiped his mouth in his sleeve, spitting again for good measure.

Troy poured a handful of dirt into his palm before replacing the cap and setting it down on the table just inches away from where Reed was sitting. Reed relaxed slightly, glad he didn't empty it. Without the dirt to keep his roots refreshed, he wouldn't last more than a day in the desert. Troy crushed the rich dirt between his bony fingers, holding it up to the lantern's light. He sniffed it a few times, looking like an grizzled prospector searching for a gold nugget. For a moment his eyes widened. He nearly ran to Reed, grabbing his shoulder.

"Where the hell did you get this?" Troy shoved the sample to close to Reed's face. "This is good soil!"

"From a friend," Reed said evenly. The old man's breath smelled like spicy jerky.

"Friend, eh? That Mr. Reinheart ain't nobody's friend."

"He is not my friend," Reed replied quickly, "He chased us from--"

"Aha! So you're not alone," Troy grinned, showing his teeth, crowded together. "Where's your accomplice hiding?"

"I do not understand that word."

Troy plucked a leaf off his head. Reed gritted his teeth, the pain was brief but sharp.

"Then allow me to clarify, boy, who are you working for?"

Reed didn't know what to say. Troy plucked three more all at once. Pain flared as Reed winced, involuntary tears forming in his eyes. When he didn't respond again, Reed felt him grab a good portion of his remaining leaves. He gasped as his head snapped back, forcing him to lean backwards over the chair. His glare was like a hawk's, lacking mercy.
"I'll stop yanking when you start yakking, plant boy. I'm not in the mood to play guessing games."

"Troy!" The woman from before ran forward, her ruffles bouncing with her agitation. "Stop that!"

He did not release his grip. "Lacey, get back down there with the others right now."

"No!" She stomped her foot. "I'm tired of hiding away like this. We should be out there looking for them, not holding up in here and interrogating whoever happens to stumble into town!"

They glared at each other for a long moment, Troy's fist still holding tight.

"You're Sheriff. You're supposed to protect people, not torture them."

Troy wrenched his head forward, feeling like a hundred daggers stabbed at his scalp. "Does he look like a normal person to you?"

"Look at yourself! You're as bad as that Reinheart fellow. You don't deserve your badge anymore."

Troy released Reed's leaves and he lowered his head. They hurt, but at least he hadn't ripped them out.

Loud footsteps echoed across the darkness outside the circle of lanterns. "Uncle Troy!" A young boy appeared at his side, tugging on his sleeve. Reed could see his pale, frightened face.

"Just a second, Curtis," He waved him off and turned back to Lacey.

He grabbed onto him tightly. "But they're coming back again, Uncle Troy! I saw 'em coming from the River. Honest!"

Troy stared him down, locking eyes with him, but the boy didn't waver or look away. He looked around and saw that everyone was waiting for him to say something.

"Damnit, don't wait for me! Everybody get out there now." The men began scrambling around, loading guns and talking loudly. "Pete, you and your men take the east-side, Hank, your group covers the back. I don't want them getting in here."

Lacey grabbed his arm, "We gotta stop this. It ain't safe here anymore and you know it. We're running out of food."

"Lacey, you and Curtis get back down in the storm shelter with the other ones left. You lock it and don't come out til I give the all clear."



"At least gimme something to fight with!"

"You get down there right now or Heaven help me, I'll drag you down there myself."

"I'd like to see you try," she said, holding her chin high. She stared him down.

Lacey squealed as Troy picked her up, ruffles and all. She beat her fists and kicked violently as he carried her across the room. They disappeared down a staircase, and Reed could still hear her protests, Curtis silently tagging along behind him as everyone else rushed about in all directions. The door to the outside opened as the men ran out. Light flooded in. He could now see dim outlines of worn, broken furniture, barricading the boarded windows and doors, but it was soon lost again to darkness as Troy came by and turned out the oil lanterns hanging above him, twisting the little knobs.

"You sit tight now. I'll be back," Troy said in the fading light as Reed's eyes tried to adjust to the darkness, his shadow was the last thing he saw as the outer door closed.

It wasn't long before he could hear loud rumblings approaching. It took him a moment to realize that it was the sound of the cars that had been chasing him along the river. Gunshots fired from all directions and continued for several minutes. He couldn't tell who was winning or losing.

He figured it out though when the door busted open and four men rushed inside. He didn't need to see to know they were part of Reinheart's gang. They headed straight for the door, not even stopping to look around in the shadows where Reed was bound. The door went down easily as they shoved their bodies hard against it. Screaming and wailing echoed up from the shelter below as they entered. Reed twisted. He couldn't just let them attack the people hiding down there. Reed struggled to work the ropes loose but the knots were expertly tied and they only cut into him deeper.

He knew then. He had one choice if he wanted to get free. He had never tried it before. Wouldn't have dared to before now. Taking a deep breath, he rubbed his wrists back and forth against the ropes, letting them cut him deeply. The pain ignited like a bonfire. Every instinct was crying out for him to stop but he persisted and yelled as he finished the job. He held in his panic as more internal fluid leaked out of him. His left hand held on briefly but the right snapped off cleanly. He didn't realize this until he vaguely heard them slap wetly against the ground as the ropes fell from his wrists.  He knew he had to close the wounds or he would lose too much water and die of dehydration. He gritted his teeth and concentrated all of his healing at his wrists. Would they grow back?

For a moment, nothing happened. Then to his relief, he could feel new fibers growing and sealing, new fingers sprouting from the stump of his wrist. He still felt the pain of losing them, but it was fading. Once they were fully formed he struggled and grew his arms long enough so he could bend and reach the knots pinning his arms down. Once they were loose, he freed his legs and stood up, a little dizzy. He extended an arm and snatched up the water canteen and drank what was left, feeling only partially recovered at best.

Even so, he ran towards the cellar, nearly bowled over by the men returning up the stairs with sturggling captives thrown over their shoulders. They hadn't expected anyone to be there waiting for them and it caught them off-guard. There were four of them, but each of their weapons were holdstered, giving Reed the advantage.

The men freaked at the sight of him as he extended his arms into vine whips. They scrambled for the door. He threw out his new left hand, extending his arm, but he was so tired and could not reach enough to grab all of them, just the last man. The others fled out the door, their victims still screaming. Reed would not let this man escape. He tugged, his vines tightened around his leg and he crashed down hard, dropping the boy who he recognized as the one who had alerted Troy. Curtis rolled over on his side, groaning.

Reed went to him. "Are you alright?" He offered him a hand, but the boy swatted it away.

"How come you helped me? I thought you were one of them."

"I am not."

The cars he had heard approach roared to life again outside. They both looked out the door as the vehicles rushed by, fast as the wind itself.

Reed went back to the fallen bandit and began to tie him up with the ropes he had freed himself from. The boy hesitated for a moment. He then knelt by Reed and helped him tie up the groaning man.

When they had finished they went outside. Men lay everywhere, most of them injured but more than several looked dead for sure, bleeding out onto the dusty ground. Reed could not tell if they were townsfolk or Reinheart's men. They all looked the same to him, but he felt a strange pity nevertheless, and also anger. Humans killed their own kind so easily! Reed would have gladly given his life to save the last members of his kind.

One of the corpses grabbed his ankle as he passed, pulling him down to the ground hard. Troy had been playing possum in the road and got onto his knees, pulling up his shotgun and aiming straight at Reed's face.

Two small hands grabbed the barrel and shoved it away. "No!"

Troy's face paled when he saw it was his nephew holding on tightly, shaking in fear. He jerked it back and forth, but the kid wouldn't let go. "The hell's gotten into you Curtis! Let go!"

"No, he helped me! They broke in and were trying to take me an' Polly an' Lacey and--"

"Lacey! Where is she?"

"They took her." Curtis pointed to the tire tracks leading out of the town. "They got Polly and Fran too."

Troy lowered his gun. He let loose a string of sentences that Reed couldn't comprehend at all. The boy winced at his words, so he supposed it was something strong. He finally stopped and wandered over to one of the railings which was falling apart like everything else in the town. Reed saw that he was favoring one side and saw a dark patch running down his leg.

"Seems I owe you an apology, Stranger," he said slowly, leaning on the rail for support. "Doggone it, if I haven't gone and done it again!" He tore something off his shirt and threw it on the ground. Reed saw it as it came to rest in the dust: a polished metal star.

Curtis picked it up and tried to return it to him, but Troy shook his head.

"Your sissy was right, Curtis. I don't deserve to wear that badge anymore..."

Continue to Part 8?

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