Courtesy of Pixabay
It was still pitch black outside when the ground began to shake which ultimately woke James up. He knew exactly what was going on – Ducköden has arrived.
He reached for the box of matches on the table and struck one to get some light going in the room. Spotting a candle on the kitchen counter, he walked over, lighted it up, then set off to wake up Tom in case he was still asleep. He was halfway to the door to the bedroom when Tom opened them and asked; “Ducköden?”
“Yeah. He’s waiting for us outside.”
“Let’s go then,” said Tom, mid-step to the front door.
“Slept well?” Ducköden asked before James fully made it out the door. He didn’t wait for an answer, and continued; “I gather you’ve figured what your last mission is, and also that you’ve come up with quite a plan for the two of you. The kid, the wives, homesteading in the middle of nowhere, you’ve thought of everything. After everything I’ve done for you, you value our friendship so little? You’re ready to backstab me because you’re assuming I’d backstab you?” He paused for a second, but seeing as neither answered, he continued. “Did I ever backstab you? James?” He looked over at James, “I was always there for you when you needed someone. And that’s how you repay me? By plotting to betray me? I was your best friend for fuck’s sake! Let me ask you two something. Why would I want to kill you two after you complete your part of the job? You’re no threat to me, so, why?”
“Why not? You don’t need us anymore then,” Tom spoke up after a few moments of silence.
“I half expected such an answer from you, Tom, but James, that you didn’t stand up for me is quite a surprise. Have I ever broken my word? Or not rewarded you for a job well done?”
Defeated, James nodded in agreement.
“What if we don’t do it? What if we don’t kill Fishnick?” Tom intervened, trying to defend his position, still in belief they have leverage on Ducköden.
“You’re free to do so, of course,” Ducköden remained completely calm.
“You wouldn’t kill us?”
“What for? There’s no reason to kill - or threaten - you. But I’ll ask you one thing. What do you imagine Fishnick to be like? Someone who would just let you live under his dome?” Ducköden shook his head. “We’re gods, my friends. We crave power and control. It’s in our nature. And Fishnick under that dome of his has no one to worry about. He’s even worse a tyrant than any of us.” He laughed at the two surprised faces. “What? You really thought He’s a friendly gardener who would gladly bake you an apple pie when you got there? Trust me, the world is better off without him, like with all targets you two had. Only He’s much, much worse.”
“Say we’re crazy enough to take this job. Would you then be so kind to answer all the questions we have?” James spoke up.
“Most certainly. Ask away.”
“Why us? Why our blood line? What happens to the dome when Fishnick dies? What-…”
“One at a time, James, please,” Ducköden interrupted him. “You two are descendants of Hessner, God’s only offspring with a human. But, unlike the rest of us, Hessner didn’t get any of the Godly powers. He was just another regular mortal who died of old age, but with one crucial difference. He was the only mortal who could absorb our powers without dying, and give them away. And because you share his blood - his gift, I was able to enhance your capabilities the way I have. Every other human would have died had I tried to do the same,” he paused for a few seconds before continuing. “You are not the only two, though. The only two under my protection, yes, but not the only two alive. Others have been training their own gunslingers, just like I have been training you two. Killing Fishnick is a race we all want to win.”
“But what happens when he does die? Does his dome cease to exist? And how does his power transfer to you?”
“Nobody knows for sure. The dome might hold, or it might not. Your guess is as good as mine. Now, when a deity such as Fishnick dies, the power remains within the body until harvested, which is why I needed someone like you two. Once you kill Fishnick, one of you has to harvest His power, or you can split it half and half if you want. Then, in case the dome persists, you need to come back outside and allow me to harvest it. If the dome falls, well… Let’s suppose it doesn’t.”
“Wait, you want the dome to persist? Why?” Tom was still feeling bad for what he had said, so James did the speaking.
“If the dome falls the others will know Fishnick died and we will all rush to site the same instant it falls. They all want His power, and trust me, they couldn’t care less whether the corpse they are harvesting it from is yours or Fishnick’s. It’ll be a bloodbath, a full-out war between the remaining 4 of us.”
“So if the dome doesn’t fall and we go rogue, we are then your enemy number 1?”
“Exactly. And everyone else’s also, of course.”
“One more thing, do we need to die for you to harvest the power from us?”
“No. You two are the perfect vessels. You can be given power, and you can then give it away. Only thing is, you need to willingly let go of it, which is why if I were you I wouldn’t use the power at all, not once. You don’t want to fall in love with power, trust me.” Ducköden made it clear He will show them no mercy if they tried running off. After a brief pause, he continued in a more cheerful tone. “I take it you no longer want to bring little James along, hm?”
They both shook their heads no.
“That’s what I thought. I would’ve brought him along otherwise. Anything else you two wish to know?”
“How far is it? The dome… And what’s the size of it?” Tom spoke up at last.
“The beginning of the dome is about a two day ride away if you ride slow and stop often, but I believe you could make it in a day. And before you ask, the answer is no, I cannot open a travel canal for you. It would raise suspicion amongst the others. We’re all very cautious with everything going on around the dome. Which is also why I already stripped you of your powers. Oh, and the size? Roughly 100 miles across, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find that humongous fish.”
“When you say our powers… What do you mean, exactly? Can we still shoot or was that all you?”
“The shooting is all you,” Ducköden visibly relaxed - now being almost certain the two would accept the job - and spoke with a much more joyous tone than before. “I was gradually lowering my input as you two learned to shoot on your own, until at some point I didn’t need to enhance it anymore. The rest of your powers have more to do with general ease of life, rather than being a necessity. For example I altered your taste so all food tasted amazing, even if you sucked at cooking,” smiling ever so slightly at the grimaces of James and Tom as they relived the taste of burnt eggs. “On the bright side though, I also made sure you could never get fat.” it had been years since Ducköden last told a joke which made James crack out with laughter at an otherwise very mediocre joke. “Jokes aside, I made you stronger, increased your stamina so you wouldn’t get tired, lowered the amount of fear you feel and wrapped you in a shroud of mystery for the ladies,” He smirked again. “And some other fun stuff you don’t really need to know about. All for the low price of free. God would’ve made you work overtime at one of his churches, you mark my words.”
James’ face suddenly turned serious. “You mean pray, right?” He asked, uncertain of Ducköden's answer.
“You know of the Pope, right?” The two nodded. “You guys are related,” Ducköden was enjoying the surprised looks on their faces. “See, God is a narcissist. A very lazy narcissist. And He loves when others do all the work for Him. The Pope is His personal puppet, and let me tell you, God loves being worshipped. Praised. Admired.” The two could tell the hatred Ducköden feels toward God with every word He said. “The humans worshipping Him does literally nothing but boost His ego, and it’s the Pope’s job to keep them on their knees and praying. It’s sad, really, how many lies those people are told. I mean, they don’t need Him. It’s He who needs them. He essentially made them because he needed someone to praise him. To humiliate themselves for him,” His tone suddenly changed from serious and angry to a more playful one, “anyway, where was I? Right. The Pope. You know how a shoe has eyelets and a lace? Imagine the churches as eyelets, the Pope as the lace and God as the one pulling real hard on it, but thanks to His powers he never lets it break. Or sleep. Or even catch a breath of fresh air or a sip of cold water. All thanks to His divine powers making sleep redundant and being tired non-existent. You two boys, you two have it good, you’ve just never realized it yet.”
“Why do you treat us so well then? You obviously don’t have to.” Tom spoke up.
“I enjoy what others do for me when they choose to do it, not when they’re forced to do it. I couldn’t take pride in crowning myself the King of ducks, or the kind of whatever species or land had they not chosen me themselves. I would gladly be, and hopefully someday will be, ruling over this world, but not as a self-proclaimed leader. No. I want you to want me to lead you. I want you to stand behind my decisions, not because of fear of being fried like chicken, but because of trust. I believe you are more than mere sacks of meat to worship us deities. You deserve love and protection. Though, I’ll admit I have done or let happen some things to you two throughout your lives that I’m not quite proud of, but I believe you needed the experience. Pain is a powerful learning tool after all, and I believe you would never have turned out the way you have had you not suffered a little. Now, before we get all sentimental, are you guys all ready for the road? The sun’s waking up.”
Tom and James both turned east and saw the horizon glowing a dim blue, then looked at each other and nodded.
“I believe so,” James spoke in the name of both.
“Head off toward the rising sun and keep on going until you find the dome. Trust me, you will know when you find it.”
The Earth started to shake again and a portal in the ground began to open.
“I hope to hear from you soon. Good luck, both of you.”
The hole in the ground had grown almost wide enough to swallow Ducköden whole, and as he was descending he shouted “Don’t forget to pack your vitamins!” at the very last second before being swallowed by the sand and covered with dry dirt. It was clear at that point that Ducköden had finally relaxed and returned to his former, more humorous self, rather than being bitter the entire time. He must’ve been excited to finally set things rolling in his favor with the gunslingers taking the job.
The two laughed. “He’s a weird one, but I kind of like Him.”
“He grows on you, yeah. He’s got his rough times, but then again, who doesn’t? Come, let’s get ready for the road.”
The two went back inside, picked up their guns and holsters, and a bottle of whiskey and a pack of cigarettes each.
“You taking any food?” James shouted to Tom who was in the bedroom fitting his holster which he had left on the night stand.
After a brief silence, he came out the bedroom because he didn’t want to shout, and replied; “We can catch some along the way, no?”
“You’re right. Grab those two bottles over there. That’s all the food we need.”
They stepped out the doors loaded with booze, cigarettes and ammunition, and both whistled a piercing whistle so loud it could be heard at least 5 miles away. At gun point facing death just the day before, the gunslingers were now preparing to go on a journey together as friends. As father and son.
“You think everything Ducköden said is true? Or was he just trying to win us over to do this job for him?”
“He doesn’t usually lie, though I guess there’s only one way we can know for sure. We need to find that dome. Then, if what Ducköden said is bullshit we can still go back to the original plan of homesteading.”
“Well I’m happy I never praised God, be it true or not. Something never quite felt right with the idea of it.”
The two black horses – still saddled – came sprinting toward them, raising the dust toward the now already light blue sky, illuminated by no more than a glimpse of the morning orange sun.
James uncorked one of the whiskey bottles and they both had a drink – a toast for their last and most dangerous journey yet.
James straightened his back to stretch and they both heard it crack. “So this is what it feels like being old, huh?” He reached toward Tom who handed him over the bottle. “You think they got any spas for old people under that dome?” They both laughed, and James took a large sip of whiskey, then handed the bottle over to Tom.
“Now, now, you don’t get to slack just because you’re old. At least not alone” Tom raised the bottle, smiling, and took a sip. “I could sure go for a massage too.”
“It’s a deal then. If there’s good times to be had, there’s good times we’ll have.”
Magnum and Jaguar arrived and stopped roughly 3 feet from their respective owners – turning away from them – ready for departure.
“How did you get your horse? It looks exactly like mine, aside from that nasty nose ring.” James accepted the bottle that Tom had offered him and drank a mouthful.
“No idea. I’ve had it since… forever, really. One day I walked out the house and it was just… there,” Tom tilted his head, “you got it the same way, didn’t you?” James nodded. “I found it strange it didn’t age one bit, but it makes sense now. Ducköden gave us identical horses and probably swapped them out regularly so they wouldn’t get old and slow,” Tom took the bottle from James and had a drink. “And the nose ring, as weird as it looks, is actually quite useful. Maybe my horse is an upgraded version of yours,” he laughed and took another sip.
James looked back at the house he had built for himself in the middle of nowhere and his smile dissipated from his face. “So many years.” He took the bottle of whiskey from Tom and drank two mouthfuls of whiskey. “I’ll miss this place, but I know we’ll build a better one for the two of us. Six of us,” James recalled his time with Rosanne. “A family under one roof. No running away. No Wesley left behind,” he took another big sip from the bottle.
Tom first wanted to joke about how sentimental James got all of a sudden, but then reassessed the situation and replied on a much more serious note. “I miss little James. And her. I miss having a family,” their eyes met, “I missed having a father. I couldn’t be happier to have found you.”
It was the perfect moment for a hug, but none of them commenced. They both wanted it to happen, but for some reason felt it was awkward still. Instead, they gazed at each other’s eyes for about five seconds before Tom broke the silence with a question.
“What are you going to do with it? Grind herbs and fumigate it of bad spirits?” Tom ruined the sentimental atmosphere with a joke.
“Burn it down.”
“What?” James’ words took Tom by surprise.
“Burn it down. I’m not coming back here.”
“Yeah, but, why not just let it be?”
“Same reason we bury corpses. You wouldn’t want to watch my body slowly decay in front of your eyes if I died, would you? No. You want a grave you can pay your respects to. Also why I don’t want to know my house is slowly rotting away on its own with no one to look after it while I live somewhere new. Burn it down, and there’s an equivalent to a grave. I want to remember it as glorious as it is now, not see it broken and rotting, infested with roaches and snakes, in case I ever come back to pay my respects,” James looked at the bottle in his hand that was now only a third full. “Here’s to a new life,” raising the bottle and leaving no more than a sip of whiskey for Tom, to whom he then handed the bottle to.
“To a new life,” Tom finished the remaining contents of the glass vessel and let go of it, allowing gravity to do its work.
James pulled out a box of matches from his left pocket and looked at Tom. Their eyes met for a split second before James walked inside the house. He walked over to the nearest window and ripped off the curtains and threw them on the couch. He then took a bunch of 4 or 5 matches out of the box and struck them on fire. He waited patiently for the brittle sticks to ignite in full, then picked up the curtain cloth from the couch and set its end on fire.
He then dropped the still burning matches on the couch so they didn't burn his fingers, and held the cloth suspended in the air still, allowing the fire to properly build up. Once a solid foot of the fabric was ablaze, he tucked it under the couch to make sure it would catch fire, and left the house through the front door, closing it without so much as the last look. Tom was just out the door, smoking, and offered him a puff of his cigarette, that he willingly accepted.
The fire inside the building was building up fast, and they could soon hear the crackling sound of the burning wood.
They stood not even 10 feet away and watched the house become engulfed in flames as the fire spread over the entire building.
“What do you say we try switching horses?” Tom proposed.
“Why? You grew tired of watching that nose ring all the time?” James joked.
“Not really, I just wanted to see if our horses are any different.”
“Yeah, sure, why not.”
The two walked over to the horses – now roughly 30 feet away because they were uneasy with the fire – and climbed into the saddles. They watched the house burn and ultimately collapse in on itself when the foundation finally gave up.
“I guess that’s that then. Let’s go!” James pulled on the reins and directed Magnum East toward the rising sun. With a swift kick to its ribs, the horse went into a gallop.
Tom followed suit and quickly caught up to James, now riding much slower.
“Seems to me they run just the same. How about a race?”
“The first road we come across is the finish line.”
“Go!” James shouted, and the two both kicked their horses and pulled on their harnesses, forcing them into a gallop.
The two gunslingers were both riding their fastest, but there was no real knowing who was in the lead. One moment James was an inch in front of Tom, then in the next Tom took the lead by an inch. In such a manner they rode side by side for at least 20 miles, until both horses got tired and slowed down tremendously, eventually coming to a clumsy walk.
“Safe to say the horses are equal. We, however, are not,” James mocked Tom as he had to fix his Stetson.
“Ha-ha,” he gave him a dead serious look from under his hat.
“Look on the bright side, kid. At least you didn’t lose it,” James was enjoying himself. The two were very competitive by nature, and James wouldn’t let his victory run silent. “You’d be risking a damn serious sunburn then. Unless you’d wear your underwear on your head instead,” James laughed out loud again.
“You want me to say that you’re better, don’t you? Is this really so important to you? What are you, five?” Tom tried to make himself the victim, but they both knew had the situation been reversed, Tom would also have made a big deal out of his victory. “Fine. You’re better.”
“Now, now, that doesn’t count. Say it like you mean it. Look me in the eye and say it.” James was enjoying himself a little too much.
“You’re not going to stop until I say it, are you?”
“Nope,” James replied with the most mischievous voice. It was like he became a teenager again.
They rode in silence for about 20 seconds or so, when James started bugging Tom again. “So? Who’s the better one of us?”
“Oh, grow up dad. You’ve got 29 years of experience on me, of course you’re a better rider. Now can you stop? You don’t have to always be the best, you know.”
“I know, I know. I was just messing with you. Testing you. Pushing all the buttons to see how you react. After all, I need to know you inside out to trust you completely.”
“I’m your son for fuck’s sake. Don’t you think it’s obvious you can trust me?” Tom got visibly upset and was now borderline shouting.
“Well, you did want to shoot me still yesterday.”
“I had a job you crazy man!”
“Alright, calm down. I should’ve known you share my temper, and I should know I can trust you as my son. It’s just I never had a real partner before. I never needed to trust anyone but myself. I’m somewhat afraid, that’s all,” James pulled the cigarette pack out of his pocket and lit one for himself.
“Same here, but that doesn’t mean we need to act like chipmunks to one another.” Tom then pointed at the cigarette pack in James’ hand who threw it to him. Tom also lighted one up.
They rode slowly and in silence for about fifteen minutes when Tom lit himself another cigarette.
“Toss me one too, will you?”
Tom threw the pack of cigarettes to James and it was then that James noticed Tom’s thumbnail was rather long.
“I see you play the guitar,” James broke the silence. “I do too. You play any other instruments?”
“The harmonica,” Tom was still somewhat annoyed.
“Should’ve guessed. Me too! I carry it with me at all times, and I am pretty sure you do too. Want to play a piece together?”
The two both reached into their inner pockets and pulled out their silver harmonicas.
“Something lively, what do you say?”
“You start and I’ll join,” by now, Tom’s face turned from a frown to a smile. They both loved to play the harmonica.
With a cigarette in one hand, James brought the instrument to his mouth and began playing a melody unknown to Tom. He kept on playing for some time until he finally realized Tom wasn’t joining in.
“Why don’t you start and I’ll join?” Tom asked and took a puff of the cigarette smoke.
Tom raised his harmonica and with the first blow got completely consumed by playing and the music and forgot all about the world around him. Shortly after, James followed suit and they rode together in musical harmony toward the rising sun.
When they finished playing their musical piece, they both took a deep relaxed breath and just observed the nature around them in silence. The slow ride turned into the equivalent of a meditation, with their minds completely blank of anything but peace. However, as always, at some point certain thoughts arise that cannot be put down. In Tom's case, he noticed a group of wasps flying over a cactus not far from them and sunk into his own thoughts. “Who are the other two?” He thought out loud.
“What do you mean the other two?” Without proper context, James couldn’t have known what Tom was speaking about.
“Right, sorry. It made sense in my mind. You said there’s 5 of these deities still out there. So far you’ve told me about Ducköden, God and Fishnick. That’s three. Who are the other two?”
“Waspira and Taranta, which, as pretty obvious from their names, are God’s kids with a wasp and a tarantula.” James was still in a very calm state of mind – almost a delirium – and put very little emotion into his words. He was merely stating facts.
“That’s strange. I was expecting a tiger or a lion or something like that,” James was taken aback by James’ words. “Then again, I’d never have thought a duck could be amongst the last five alive.” Tom smiled and lit himself a cigarette, then threw the pack to James.
James fired up another and continued in the same tone. “A duck is far from my first choice would be also. But Ducköden’s smart. Very smart.” James was still stuck in a state of tranquillity. He was used to achieving such a state for the sake of making long distances appear shorter – he was, after all, used to riding in solitude.
“Did you ever meet them?”
James laughed and snapped out of his peacefulness. “Waspira and Taranta? Hell no! I’d either be dead or on the way there if I did.”
Tom laughed along and continued with his questions – there was a lot of information he still needed to catch up with. “And do they have gunslingers of their own?”
James nodded. “But there’s no knowing how many. Could be just one, but could just as easily be several.”
“Wait. If they have plenty, why does Ducköden only have the two of us?”
“About that. I don’t quite believe we’re His only two. I mean, really, with the amount of women I’ve fucked, I’d be surprised if none got pregnant, unless Ducköden took care of that too. Who knows what could have happened to those kids, I just know I never heard anything about them.” James somewhat laughed to himself, but the wrinkles on his forehead indicated he was indeed a bit worried about his own words.
“And these two, Waspira and Taranta, are they stronger or weaker than Ducköden?” Tom spoke up after a brief pause.
“In terms of sheer strength, likely about the same, but I hear they’re more muscle than brain.”
“And god? How strong is God compared to them?” Tom wanted to put the information in proper perspective.
“It’s not like there’s big differences between any of these four. Quite insignificant, really. That’s why they all want to kill Fishnick. They all want to gain the upper hand.” James inhaled the cigarette smoke and continued without blowing it out prior to speaking. “If there was one substantially stronger than another,” he exhaled the rest of the smoke and took a breath of fresh air, “everyone else would most likely be under a protective dome just like our friend Fishnick.”
“Imagine if they all joined Fishnick under His dome.” Tom and James both laughed.
“I’d imagine they wouldn’t be gardening.”
“You think? I’m sure they’d at least be digging,” the two burst out laughing even more, but Tom couldn’t let go of his curiosity and continued as soon as the laughter died down. “You think they wouldn’t befriend each other at that point?” He had only found out about this entirely new world of deities a day ago and so wanted to know everything about them and try to understand them best he could.
“And forgo their dreams of absolute power? No, no, no. They’re all fucked up in their attic. They would do whatever they could to kill everyone else, just to be more powerful themselves. That’s the thing about power, Tom, it takes over you.” James remembered Ducköden’s words and continued. “That’s why Ducköden warned us about taking Fishnick’s power. Once you get ahold of such a godly power, it’s hard to let go. You only want more and more, and never give it away. Ducköden is afraid it could corrupt us.” James smiled slightly to himself. “Then we’d have all of them want us dead. So let’s not go there, shall we?”
They rode in silence for a short time again, smoking their cigarettes, when Tom got curious again.
“So which one of us is taking the power?”
“It’s a little early to discuss that, isn’t it? Though I vote myself. I am older and wiser after all.”
“How about I take it and you hold me accountable to make sure I pass it on?”
“No go, son. You might just kill me and then get yourself killed. It’s safer if I take it.”
“Why would I kill you?”
“Don’t know, you tell me. You’ve tried once already, for a much stupider reason.”
Tom wanted to yell back at his father, but instead took a deep breath and tried to relax himself best he could.
“You’re just never letting that go, are you?”
“In such situations, probably not. As I said, I’m older and wiser than you are. I’ve seen more shit in my life than you have. I’ll take the power and make sure it gets passed on. No compromises.” James was firm with his words.
Tom was desperate to at least reach a compromise. “What if you and I take half each? That’s fair.”
James remained calm – staring at the horizon in front of him – and shook his head. “Then it’s two ways it can go wrong, instead of one.”
“No. You would hold me accountable, and I would hold you accountable, and we would both let go at the same time. It’s the best option there is.”
“Tom, no. I have decided already.”
“We need to both agree on the decision, not just you, you know. I’m taking half the power. There. I decided also.”
“No,” still keeping his cool.
“Well, no to you too! I’m not going to let you take everything and possibly turn on me! You can get us both killed you know! Why would just you get to feel how-…” James realized he had said too much and quickly stopped talking, but only for a swift moment. “You don’t know if the feeling of power will overwhelm you.” Tom tried to save himself.
“Is that what it is you want? You want to know how it feels? This is bigger than you, Tom. It’s not about feeling how it is being a god.” James lost his cool and his temper took over. “It’s about helping the least fucked up deity fuck the rest of them up, okay? Making the most out of a fucked up situation. Unless you want some dude in full plaid playing with all life on this planet like it’s a fucking bagpipe. Is that what you want?”
“Well, no, obviously, but don’t tell me you’re not interested in what it feels like.” It was as if Tom was possessed by a higher power – or highly drugged – stuck in a state of euphoria. His eyes shone as if he was talking about the greatest of treasures.
“Tom, just because you’ve achieved a lot in your life already, and are now bored stiff with yourself, doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to do. You’ve only just well begun your journey.” James tried his best again
“You didn’t answer my question because you want it too, don’t you? And you don’t want to share it with me, yet you have the nerves to call yourself my father.”
“For fuck’s sake, Tom, listen to yourself! You haven’t even had a whiff of it and it’s already taken over you! And of course I want to know, who wouldn’t? But it’s not about that! It’s about passing it on, if it is even going to be needed!” James made sure to greatly emphasize the if. “We don’t even know yet if the dome will collapse or not when Fishnick dies, and you’re already trying to claw your way to the riches.”
“Oh shut the fuck up! I don’t want to hear another word about this, okay? Not until you get ahold of yourself. You’re acting like a 5 year old kid who wants candy. Besides, Ducköden already gave us powers before, right? And since I don’t feel much different now that he’s taken them away, I don’t think having a bit more would make that much of a difference.” Not even James believed his own words. He and Tom both knew the difference between the power Ducköden had infused them with and the power Fishnick possesses was several magnitudes - certainly not only a bit.
The two then rode in silence for what felt like an eternity, when James' stomach growled with hunger. He looked at Tom to see if he heard it or not and their eyes met. They were both hungry.
“How about we stop in the shade there?” James pointed at a large tree in front of them and wiped the sweat drops off his forehead with his sleeve. With the sun now almost at its highest it was blazing hot, and with their powers gone they were both sweating like pigs, but they didn’t want to admit they were feeling hot – both stubborn as always.
Tom, still under the effects of their argument, only nodded in response.
The two dismounted their horses and sat down onto the cold floor, their legs crossed in front of them. James undid his belt holster and placed the gun beside him, then leaned back onto his arms to enjoy the colder temperatures and shook his head. “We’re not going anywhere in this heat, no, no, no. We’ll travel at dusk and dawn, but spend the noon in shade, what do you say?”
Tom, as much as he would love to deny it to appear tougher than his father, couldn’t help but agree with him that the heat was too much to handle. “Yeah.” A drop of sweat fell from his nose when he nodded. “We’re under no time limit anyway.”
The two both laid back onto the cold soil and let go of their worries. They both very much needed a break from the scorching sun.
With their thoughts roaming free of all constraints, Tom's mind boiled up something interesting. “Wait,” he started, without lifting himself up or even opening his eyes, “if our bloodline represents the only people who can receive unearthly powers, … Are witches related to us?” Tom moved his head in James’ direction but still didn’t bother with opening his eyes – he didn’t want to be blinded by the sun.
“That’s right, yeah.” James’ mouth hardly moved.
“Are they being trained for the same purpose we are?”
“I don’t know for sure, but if you ask my opinion, I don’t think so. After all, improved physical capabilities are very welcome under a dome that allows no magical powers, and whatever way you look at it, we’re stronger than women are. I like to think of them more like test bunnies. Everything’s tested on them before it’s implemented on us, the gunslingers.” James paused for a bit, then moved his head in Tom’s direction. “At least that’s my theory. I never even met a real witch. The ones being burned aren’t the real witches, far from so. No, real witches are probably more like us. No way they’d let themselves be caught and killed.” James grunted while getting himself up. “Come, let’s kill a rabbit or something and rest later. I’m hungry.”
“A rabbit?” Tom still didn’t move, or even open his eyes.
“Just shoot whatever moves, I don’t care. I’ll go gather some wood and greens and start us a fire.” James put on his hat and picked up his gun, then set off toward the patch of dry grass to get some tinder and kindling. While picking up everything dry he stumbled upon, he also picked up all he could use as spices. It was common practice for him to boil the herbs and spices along with some whiskey to make an aromatic syrup he glazed the meat with prior to roasting it over a fire.
With James gone gathering, Tom had no other choice but to get himself up and find an animal to shoot at. He straightened himself up, cracked his spine both ways and the knuckles on his fingers also, straightened his hat and set off the opposite way of James, stopping after about 300 ft. He then pulled out his trusty revolver, sat down with his legs crossed and eyes closed, and listened carefully. It didn’t take long for him to pick up something in the distance, and eventually recognize it as a rabbit. ”What a coincidence.” He listened for a few seconds longer to determine which way the rabbit was going, then slowly removed his shoes and eventually raised himself up to a crouch. With the revolver in his right hand, he began moving stealthily toward the rabbit’s alleged location.
”There you are.” Tom smiled to himself as he caught a glimpse of the brown fur happily hopping between the grass leaves. He stretched his pointer finger and placed it gently on the trigger, raising the revolver slowly toward the target, supporting his shooting hand with his left – all the while sneaking his way closer. The rabbit made a sudden turn in direction and was now running toward Tom instead of away. ”Why not have a little fun?” Tom’s face turned into a grin with his thought. He straightened his back and carefully put the revolver back into its holster. He then placed his right leg about shoulder width apart from his left and slightly bent his knees – assuming the dueling position. He locked eyes on the rabbit and allowed his right hand to hover freely over the revolver. He wanted a good challenge for himself – to see if he can still shoot after Ducköden had taken his powers – and waited for the rabbit to jump and while it was still in mid-air, he rapidly pulled on the pistol and fired a single round just moments after. The rabbit’s last jump ended with a very ungraceful landing. Tom smiled again, lit himself a cigarette then proceeded to walk toward the now red ball of fur to pick it up. “Pretty good. Must be around 3 pounds.” Holding the carcass by its ears he walked back to his shoes, put them on and made his way back to the tree where he skinned his catch.
James got back shortly after with everything needed to start a fire. “Let me guess, a bunny.” Since he was approaching Tom from his side, Tom’s leg was blocking the view of what he had in is hands.
“Yeah,” he raised the skinned body for James to see, “and you? Found anything good?”
“It’s not like the spices I had lying back home, but I guess it’ll do. It’ll have to.” James laughed and walked over to a dry patch of soil and began with building the fire. Tinder first, then the kindling. “You start the fire while I go get some bigger sticks, alright?”
Tom raised his hands in protest, to show James they were all bloody, but James was already on his way away from him. “Sure,” he muttered to himself, making a face. He put the rabbit down, reached into his pocket to grab the matches and the pack of cigarettes, and crouched next to the half built fireplace. He took one cigarette and put it in his mouth, then with a single match started the fire first, and then his cigarette. With nothing else to do, he sat down on the floor, closed his eyes and relaxed.
Not soon after he could hear footsteps closing in. Unsurprisingly, it was James. Tom ignored the footsteps until James got very close and dropped all the wood down to the ground.
“This should do. Load it up, and I’ll get the rabbit and seasoning ready.” James hinted to Tom to get up and be useful.
“You know what? How about I cook today?”
“I’m not saying no, but… Why?”
“Well, judging by yesterday’s eggs,…”
“Real funny.” James’ face had sarcasm written all over it. “Fine. You cook this time. Let’s see if you can do any better.” It was obvious James half wanted Tom to screw it up.
“You didn’t really set the bar high,” Tom laughed. “By the way, did you by chance find any cumin?”
“Yeah, sure.” James didn’t even bother to look at Tom – showing no signs he’s giving the herb over to him.
“So… Can you… Give it to me?”
“I didn’t find any, dummy, I’m just messing with you. But hey, I'll make sure to put it on the grocery list for next time.”
“There’s no need to be rude just because you can’t cook.” Tom poured some extra oil on the fire. “What did you find then?”
James reached into his pockets and pulled out some fresh and some dry herbs without even bothering to tell Tom about his findings. “This.”
“Just put it over there,” Tom pointed at the ground next to the skinned rabbit. “I’ll go clean my hands and you take care of the fire and prepare the spit, okay?”
“Sure. At least I can be of some use. I’ll go find some Y shaped sticks.” James called behind Tom – who was already on his way to his horse – while looking through the sticks he brought back from his last trip, seeing if any of them were Y shaped. “Must’ve forgot about those.” He got up and left to search for two Y shaped sticks he could use to make a spit. On his way out to get the materials to make the spit, he noticed a hole in the ground, no bigger than an inch in diameter. He crouched down next to it and there just happened to be a stick nearby. He picked it up and slowly inserted it into the hole until he couldn't push it in any further – be it because the cave had a curve to it or because something was in there. He poked it a couple of times, then just as he was about to pull it out and continue his way, the stick moved on its own. He removed the stick and waited patiently for whatever moved the stick to come outside and present itself in the sunlight. It was a cricket just as James had anticipated, but not quite the way he imagined it. The cricket was inside a brown lizard's mouth, half swallowed already. ”A nice addition to the rabbit,” the thought sprung to his mind. James didn't hesitate to grab the lizard and smash its head against the floor long enough to knock it out – of consciousness or of life, it didn't matter.
With the treat in his hand, he got up and proceeded with the search for the two Y shaped sticks he found shortly after along with all the sticks they needed to maintain their fire. With everything he needed to find – and more – James left back toward Tom in hopes he had already begun preparing the rabbit and seasoning.
By the time James made it back under the tree Tom had already driven a stake through the rabbit and covered it in seasoning.
“Getting old, are we? What took you so long?”
James let go of the sticks he picked up, dropping them on the floor, and showed Tom the lizard he caught.
“Nice catch! I think there’s enough rabbit for now, though, so let’s save the lizard for later.” Tom remarked.
James nodded and crouched down to pick up the two Y shaped sticks. “I got the sticks we needed for the spit,” he laid the two sticks aside to first load the fire with some more wood, then drove them into the ground to allow for the rabbit to be placed on top of the fire. With the rabbit already prepared, Tom didn’t hesitate to place it over the burning flames. The two sat down and relaxed again - their mouths watering as they waited for their meal to be done.
“Have you ever worked a regular job?” Tom asked after a brief silence.
“Only as part of Ducköden’s jobs. Sometimes I needed to infiltrate places and I acted like I belonged, but to legit do something other than killing? No. Never. You?”
“Same here. How about the military? Even been there?”
“No. I never wanted to meddle with the military. Bullshit politics, bullshit rules, idiot people in charge. I was never the man for wars either. They’re like dick measuring contests, only no one truly wins. You? Ever been?”
“Two weeks. I needed to kill some sergeant, but other than that, no, I wasn’t.” Tom turned the rabbit over to its other side so it wouldn’t burn.
They sat in silence, recharging their energy, and Tom kept turning the rabbit so no side would get burnt. At some point he got up to turn the rabbit, and noticed it was nice and crisp on all sides.
“There. All done. And since you were so kind to let me cook, I’ll let you have the first bite.” Tom offered the stick to James who looked puzzled at first, but then accepted it.
“That’s it?” James asked at last, having held the stick for at least five seconds and inspecting the rabbit from all sides.
“What do you mean? What more could it need?”
“Well, I… Make some kind of a syrup with spices and whiskey and glaze it over the meat. Never mind, I just cook differently.” James was almost ashamed to admit.
Tom shuddered with disgust. “That… That is exactly why your cooking sucks.”
“No, really, it tastes good.”
“Maybe it tasted good when you still had Ducköden’s powers, but trust me, you don’t want to try and eat that now. Go on now, take a bite of the rabbit, or I will.”
James took a small bite just to get a taste and almost immediately after took another – much bigger – one and passed the rabbit to Tom. He couldn’t speak with his mouth full, but was nodding with approval.
“It appears I’m the cook from now on.” Tom smiled and took a large bite also, passing the rabbit back to James.
Bite by bite they finished the rabbit in full, and with their stomachs full they both relaxed and leaned back onto their hands.
“How about we rest a little now and continue in an hour or two?” Tom asked, and James nodded. Sated, Tom didn’t feel like getting up and taking care of the fireplace. “So, I do the cooking and you do the cleaning, right?” There was a visible smile on Tom’s face when he said that.
“I’ll clean the place up today, but don’t push it, kid.” James grunted on his way up, then began digging into the ground with his bare hands – throwing the removed soil onto the fire to put it down. After he had thrown on a hefty amount of dirt and the embers kept on crackling from under it, he stood on top of it and trampled it until the crackling sounds finally gave in and the smoke stopped seeping through.
Feeling full, James wasn’t too fond of the smell of meat he had to himself, and so in an attempt to deodorize he lit a cigarette. It wasn’t that the cigarette smoke smelled any better, but he was used to it. With the cigarette in his hand, he sat himself down on the floor and finished it in peace. He looked over at Tom – who was now lying on his back with his Stetson covering his face – and decided to follow suit. James, too, laid on the floor in the tree’s shade, covered his face with his hat and fell asleep. There was no use trying to continue their way in such heat – or with their stomachs that full.
Note: The link will become active once Chapter 2 is written in full.
Disclaimer: This text is part of a work in progress. All content tentative to change.
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