Six Cylinder Sunset
One of the best shots left alive, Paladin travels from town to town helping those most in need.
Times, they were a’changing. The continent had been settled, explored and cataloged from sea to shining sea. Families had sprung up where wilderness had been before, suburbs and cities where plains and bison had been. Blood had fertilized the great rolling fields so that crops for as far as the eye could see would grow and feed a nation of hundreds of millions.
The world had grown up, and it had grown out. There was danger, sure. There was danger everywhere, you didn’t have to look hard for it.
But it was a different sort of danger. It was the kind of danger that came from just breathing, from getting up in the morning, from taking a shower. To encounter any kind of real fight for your life kind of danger, you just about always had to go looking for it.
Y’know, there was a time where the world wasn’t like that. Not so long ago, you didn’t have to go looking for danger so hard. Danger came from living out on the edge of the unknown, from settling the wild and taking what it gave you, no apologies. Danger lurked around every corner, followed you home at night, woke you up in the dawn. Danger was a fact of life, it was what made you hard, what kept you fighting for breath, for dirt, for grain. Danger was what taught you how to live.
There was at time, once, not too long ago. A time when men and women walked these very lands. Men and women of legend, with nothing to keep them safe but their wits and the steel by their side.
Folks, I don’t mind telling you that I weep at night for those times long gone. I weep for the lives we live in the lap of luxury, making us fat and soft. I don’t mind telling you one bit that I am a man out of time. An anachronism, if you don’t mind my pulling out a dictionary. I am a man that yearns for days gone by, and for a fight worth fighting.
Those times are long gone. But you folks, bless you all, you folks aren’t too different from me I’m thinking. You came here to see a show, to see what life used to be like when men and women fought and died side by side for what they believed in. I can see some of you here in the crowd, your eyes are sparkling with the imaginings of something greater than we can hope to accomplish. Grand adventures, terrible passions, and the life truly lived.
Well, I can’t promise you folks a life truly lived, that’s something you have to go out and seek yourselves. But I can promise you grand adventure today, danger behind every corner and men and women risking it all to show you what life used to be like. How legends came to be, and how
The ground shook, and screams swept up from the audience. The speaker looked around wildly and grabbed for a railing that had been set up on the edge of the platform he was standing atop. He gripped it for a moment as the ground continued to shake and to rumble, until finally it subsided. He looked around, then smiled back to the crowd as a collective sigh arose from the hundreds gathered together on the bleachers.
“Didn’t I promise you danger around every corner?” he chuckled, then straightened his black button up shirt, yanked at the belt with a silver revolver in the holster, and pushed his black cowboy hat back a bit.
The crowd chuckled nervously along with him, but began to relax. It was weird, an earthquake in central Texas, but it wasn’t wholly unheard of.
“Alright folks, I think that might be the Almighty telling me to hurry it along, so what say y’all we get to the shootin’?” He smiled and drew his pistol, spinning it first clockwise and then suddenly reversing trajectory and sending it spinning counterclockwise before returning it to its holster with a fluidity that was born of years of dedicated practice.
A grand whoop went up from the crowd, and the man in black turned to duck back behind the curtain, ready for the show to begin. But before he could pull the curtain completely to the side, all hell broke loose.
The ground shook again, this time far more violently, immediately pitching the man in black to the wooden slats of the stage. He couldn’t see it, but behind him he could hear the screams of the hundreds in the stands surrounding the stage cut short in an ear-splitting crash, and punctuated by the wailing and whimpers of those dying few.
He steeled himself, and looked back. Where before had been a crowd eager to see him and his troupe perform, now there was only rubble and blood, with arms and legs thrust violently towards the heavens, reaching for some sort of salvation from the wreckage that had trapped and crushed them.
But there would be no salvation. The ground swayed and buckled, and he could hear the screams back stage followed by a sound like buildings falling on each other, then flame belched forth from behind the stage and set the curtain ablaze. He rolled back, away from the sudden inferno, and forced himself to his feet. The ground continued to sway, but he somehow found his sea-legs and made his way off the stage before it collapsed. Open ground, I have to make it to open ground he thought, forcing his eyes away from those already lost to the disaster. There was no way he could save them, not now. He had to get help.
A shadow passed over him, blotting out the sun. He stumbled out of the fair grounds, and looked up into the sky. There was nothing to see. The blue that had been there only moments before was gone, replaced by an impenetrable black. The ground rumbled more violently, and he could see plumes of ash shooting into the air at wild angles all around him.
And then came a sound he would never forget. Screams shattered his mind, sending him hurtling to the ground, his hands clasping his ears in desperation, his eyes wide in shock and horror as the sounds assaulted him. It was like nothing he had ever experienced before, and before he could even begin to form any kind of rational thought a series of great sillhouettes burst forth from the desert and took to the obsidian skies above him.
Their wings were leather, and must have been fifteen feet from tip to tip, at least. Their bodies were reptilian, like some sort of great dinosaurs arisen from their long slumber. They had great talons that looked like they could rip a man from crown to crotch without so much as a thought, and eyes that glowed great and red in the little light that the eclipsed sun afforded. A dozen, maybe more, took to the skies and spread from one horizon to the next, disappearing into the great darkness that had engulfed the sphere.
Finally, after what seemed a lifetime, the shrieking stopped, and he slowly dropped his hands from his ears. He could feel wetness on his palms, but he didn’t care. He stood, and noticed that the ground had stopped shaking. He turned, shaking, to look for his car but stopped suddenly. Not six feet from him stood a man, sillhouetted by the flames of the fair grounds that were now entirely ablaze. He was tall, inhumanly so, his fingers long and seemed to bend in more joints than was reasonable. The flickering light revealed a simple vest resting upon a well fitted shirt, the sleeves rolled up to the elbows. The pants were of a similar quality, if a bit old fashioned. He wore no shoes, but the long, long feet didn’t seem to mind the heat of the sands in which they rested.
His skin was impossible to really discern the color. Sometimes it was a dark ebony, others it was a pale white, a reddish brown. Colors flowed into it, then bled out the other side.
“Did you summon me here, ape?” he growled, his voice echoing across the wastes surrounding the man in black. It was hard to tell, but the tall man’s eyes seemed to glow, red, like the creatures that had flown from the ground. The man in black tried to speak, but found he had no voice. “Hm, no, it wasn’t you. There is no power in you, you are but a mortal man, doomed to die.” At that the man smiled, and began to slowly walk forward.
Each step seemed to resound in the flames behind him, each step seemed to scream DOOM and DEATH and MISERY. The man in black began to weep, his vision blurring as he watched and waited for the end to come.
Then he felt it. The horse’s head, forged in silver, that graced his palm suddenly. That’s when it all changed. Suddenly, without thought or intent, thunder and flame boomed. Once. Twice. Three, four, five times. Smoke poured from his fist, flame roared forth in great fury. The tall man slowed, his smooth steps now halting, less certain.
“What—what did you—“ he croaked, liquid bubbling from his shark toothed mouth. “Your death, is— is mine!”
A final boom swept up from his right hand, the line of silver almost glowing in the darkness. Thunder cracked and lightning flashed, and sand flew up as an inhumanly tall figure dropped to the ground at the man in black’s feet.
He breathed out slowly, calmly, and flipped the Colt Army .45 first clockwise, then counterclockwise, and finally returned it to his hip. He stepped over the rapidly dissolving body, and walked to his car.
The car was where he had left it. 1967 Ford Mustang, solid black save for a white Knight chess piece painted on the hood. A horse’s head, matching the one that adorned the grip of his Colt. He swept into the driver’s seat, and kicked the engine to life. The stereo glowed and hummed to life, the familiar theme song playing over the speakers like a mother’s lullaby. The tires squealed and rubber burned as he left his old life behind him.
Have Gun Will Travel reads the card of a man.
A knight without armor in a savage land.
His fast gun for hire heed’s the calling wind.
A soldier of fortune is the man called Paladin.
Where do you roam?
Far, far from home.
He smiled as the radio played, and sped off into a new world, filled with demons and soulless monsters. A new world, with danger around every corner.