The hollow man and the zealot lay skylighting the vast desert on their stomachs
watching for anything mobile and columnular, squinting into the waves of heat
and the low hellfire sun which dipped crepuscular like a ball of blood.
Above the crest of the world the sun hung suspended, huge and balanced,
and the men fell in to watching it as if towed by a riptide into Andromeda and Ursula seas.
It set in a neon cataclysm, banded the faroff mesas, until all else became parentheticals and mud.
When the moon came out, it came out vanilla and strong
like the sunless flowering of night blooming jasmine
while from the distance rode a backlit man not deadtired nor horseworn before the floating circle
and the hollow man whose diction was three parts doggerel, whiskey, and graveyardsong
rasped smokily I tell thee wait; I have the time, the time.
He slid from under his belly a heavy revolver and spinning its cylinder made ready to kill.
Can’t hardly wait whispered the zealot who like all unwise men was mercurial
and who braided with such characteristic the strains of violence, insecurity, and assumption
and so saying he ran his hand through his short black hair as was his habit
and tendered the necklace of bleached doe’s teeth he wore for motives superstitious and bestial.
At a canter the rider lifted off his hat in that lonesome waste and the zealot spat in derision.
Hush hush hush! rasped his companion Hold your nerves and spit!
The rider came along across the shale, through the dwarf scrog and a crowd of desert bats
looking like some classical and celestial organism astride his white horse.
He wore a bandolier braced with bullets, pistols in his belt, a rifle across his back,
rode with the drumming energy of a raw heart while wondrousstar-staring as if the Leonids were at that
moment showering. He rode as if nothing lay or had ever lain in his course.
He rode as if, if he chose, he could empower a man to paint his godless world black.
The hollow man lay his thumb on the hammer of the revolver, cocking till it clicked and held.
He sighted along the barrel; just after he pulled the trigger the man popped crazy off his horse
and the hollow man seeing such sight rose and fired again and the horse fell
and so seeing turned his back and walked from that deathquilt without looking to see its pattern.
The zealot rose fingering his toothy necklace giggling at such dreadnought wanton force
then followed the hollow man, vanishing deep into the cobalt lit mesas and scrub chaparral.
The zealot and the hollow man sat sitting round a fire surrounded by soaring mountains
and near them sagged a dilapidated church, a steepled shack, with three rotten wooden steps
and inside: bare rafters termite ridden floorboards and a baptismal font of rose porphyry
carried by the zealot’s jackass through the metamorphosed and steep passes of the mountains,
and the hollow man sung singing, All the wicked man’s foibles and vile contretemps
the wicked man’s sins, the wicked man’s deeds, I make for free. I make for free. I have for thee.
And without a warning, the hollow man pulled from his holster his revolver and, aiming it at the zealot,
fired the gun six times in lethargic lethal succession and when the zealot dropped dead
the hollow man emptied the cylinder, refilled it with bullets, and left the fire burning,
for at his core he was empty, not full of hate, nor vengeance, nor malice, nor rot,
but full of no emotion, neither melancholic nor apathetic, just a husk of humanity in dread
shape with only a penchant for the spoken word and any skeletal song he might be heard to sing.
The Captain’s Company is a wild west tale of ruthless, barbaric bandits and their raid on a village that is isolated in the wastelands of the malpais.
Mountains scarred the dusk sky as the wain creaked along the ridges, grit and dust billowing beneath, while a man in a cotton jerkin sat upon a thwart leading a train of horses with loose reins through scores of leagues, through the grey and brown livery of the land.
Atop his wooden cart burned a lit brazier expectorating malodorous white smoke, and the brazier burned as its fuel the litter and leavings of the dross of humanity. Lying acrossways upon that brazier skewered through with a stick was the head of a blackened doe, the sharp stick having been passed through its ears, and the head all cooked until the flesh was carbonized and the driver, that partisan of violence and ciphers, dragged behind his wagon by a hawser a monstrous burin which graved upon the land a deep trail so that his track could be traced. And when the burin became stuck upon stones buried in the sediment, he only beat the horses carelessly, as thoughtlessly as if he’d learnt abuse by rote.
And there came after him a ragged lieutenant whose good eye was rimed by cataracts, and whose poor one was covered by a patch encrusted by mucus and blood, and there was behind them their crew slogging with horses through that calyx, that whorl of a valley surrounded upon by all sides mountains and the dust. There existed no liquid agent to slake any thirst, so the horses had foamed, and the limping animals had all dried of their lather some long time past. Yet the men continued to beat them, until one animal fell, and the men not even considering the future or perhaps making incongruous concessions to ritual or fortune or deity did not pause to butcher the bony beast, only left it exposed. When the men were some leagues further on, the moon lay in a crescent like the cushion of a lackadaisical, bohemian artist, and the horse was lost from sight. The men pitched their tents at the foot of the mountain, and they pulled from their pockets specie of gold and silver and muttering passed them about to study the faces and obscure origins of their dead makers.
When the sun rose in the morning, the lieutenant set down a dense sun dial carved of jasper, and aligning the gnomon with true north calculated the time, while the leader of that crew, having apathetically discarded both spit and the head during times previous, measured the altitude of the mountain with an iron sextant which he wore around his neck upon a lanyard. There was on that morning a man who would not rise, for he was sick with dehydration, and the lieutenant saying, So see this man’s true color amid this desiccant! did in fact remove from that man both his hands as an attainder, and burning the flesh from them, scraped passively the cartilage and muscle while he rode as a man is wont to whittle a stick, and the blind lieutenant was left with the bony remains of two hands that afternoon as the company passed up the mountains. When the men passed near a steep ravine, the lieutenant cast the bony hands into the gorge, and the men continued traveling. They turned a hairpin corner, found a spring of water was issuing forth from the granite, and the leader of them all put his lips and tongue to the wet wall in a kiss, and he sucked. When it was the last man’s turn to drink, he made haste despite his thirst, for the men were already riding further along the steep path, and in such circumstance he pressed his lips to the vadose wall which smacked of calcite and stone, and he drank.
At last the company reached the mountain’s peak, and they bivouacked in a fissure in the rock, without a fire that night, for their strength lay in their secrecy, and they woke before dawn, and by the time the sun rose they had descended down the mountain a quarter of its height.
The town below lay in a bed of silica, agate, yuccas, and aloe, and there was in it only one street and the leader of that company spit forward upon his horses, and he beat their flanks with a tawse riddled with glass shards. There were upon the horses’ flanks the scars of many beatings, and the animals screamed beneath that taxing thong. The burin acted now as an anchor by which to keep the animals from stumbling down the hill, for the heavy cart that the captain sat upon threatened at all times to overtake the animals from behind and to run them down, and so it would have if that great implement were not being dragged behind. The cart was loaded with the tools of miners: dynamite, powder, torches, picks, mattocks; and the weapons of fell armies: rifles, revolvers, grenades, machetes, bullets, shells, and even a chipped scimitar from God knows where. The town which lay at the foot of the mountain had by now onlookers filtering into the streets, and upon seeing the company in the mountains descending appointed a manciple to coordinate weapons and to revet the bank. A townsman glassed the party with binoculars, observing in that gruesome congress its cynosure and the wagon that he sat upon, and drawing his hand upon whiskers more salt than pepper, remarked, If that ain’t Dylan’s gang, I’m hanged from a honey locust. And indeed as Dylan’s gang approached, the desert town assumed a sepulchral air, as the men in the town barricaded themselves inside the hastily fortified bank: a bolus of eyes peering around pillars and single shot barrels steadied upon countertops, muzzles aimed toward the bank’s locked door.
At the edge of the town, Dylan halted the men with a raised hand, and a company man unhitched the burin from the wain. He spoke to his men in a voice rasping with effort, as if he’d lost his voice in a sickness and would never regain it, No one here is getting out alive. I am the last dynast of the devil’s family, the armature of the dynamo of chaos machines, and the cholera of men. We will hang the tellers and the bankers naked and dead by their wrists to a rafter, for it is only through displays of hegemony that we can grasp dolor and sublimate it, for in violence we express our sorrow and in violence we celebrate our sorrow! At the conclusion of such rasping, the men let out a muted, ragged cheer, and Captain Dylan opened the chest upon the wagon and the men distributed among themselves weapons of war, while the captain hung grenades from rings gusseted into his jerkin and slung rifles by their straps over his shoulders and with a cocked revolver in each hand at waist level strode into town without looking back even to see if his men followed behind him or fled, and the lieutenant grasping at sticks of dynamite, for he was an admitted poor shot what with his eyes, stuffed the dynamite into the pockets of his jacket and hefted a half full keg of powder from the trove and, stowing the barrel upon his shoulder and thus armed with the explosives and feeling inside him a desiderate for wanton cruelty, he began the walk into town
Dylan’s company walked right up the main and only street.
The wind blew a hot breeze, and there were the sounds of scuffling about, of final preparations from within the bank, and a few mutterings from Dylan’s company. Dylan himself fired the first shot when the men were still some ways off from the bank, and he shot straight through the bank’s door, then ejected the spent smoking casing, and reloaded. With a whoop, the men stormed the bank, loping and shooting, and when they drew near the entrance the snipers on the rooftops began to pick them off, but Dylan’s men howled and were indomitable, and the flimsy lock upon the bank door gave way at the second shoulder thrown into it, while from inside the rifles were fired, and more of Dylan’s men were shot down like dogs.
There was a score of men inside the bank, and all were in the end beheaded and hung from their wrists naked as the captain ordered, and the vault of the bank was blasted open, and from that trove more gold and silver bars were thrown into the coffer, and a man who had lain in hiding rose above the counter suddenly, and with a single shot he terminated the life of the lieutenant and for his efforts, the townsman was hung upside-down and naked from a rafter while a company man slit his throat with a bowie knife so that the townsman’s death, among the many others, might serve as a terrible example and cautionary tale.
There were folk screaming from rooftops, and all were ignored.
Captain Dylan shut the trunk of the chest and locking it with an iron padlock bade his men to saddle up, and they did, a new man riding to the fore in replacement of the late lieutenant, this new man with a jacket whose mantle was of fox fur and he was without teeth and in such raiment he stank of something foul and wicked, and saying only very little the men beat their horses into activity and began the journey towards a distant town, their faces to the setting sun, their shadows lying long behind.
I met a fellow in the bar last night
Who thought he was William Tell
Wanted to shoot a beer can off my head
I told him to go to Hell.
But he gave me a look like the last buffalo
Dying out on the plains
So sad and lonely it made me act
Like I had forgotten all of my brains…
The barman told us to take it outside
But I told him that I liked where I was
Sitting in front of that big saloon mirror,
Listening to the neon lights buzz.
I took up a bottle of cold Miller Lite
And I set it on top of my head
But when the fellow stumbled ten paces off
I figured I’d soon end up dead.
He cocked back the hammer on his Colt three fifty-seven
And as I watched the cylinder turn
I froze up with my brain full of spiders,
And my stomach crawling with worms.
He closed one eye, and I saw the gun waving
Not a few inches upwards and down
And I cautiously asked him whether he meant
to shoot up the ceiling or into the ground?
The fellow slurred, “I used to do this when I’d hunt antelope
I’d calculate the angle, the distance, and slope.
I’d never miss then,
I’d put bullets through hearts,
For gunmanship is nothing but poise and practice and smarts,
And I possess each in equal parts!”
He stuck his tongue between his lips
And told me to stand very still
And as the barrel waved before my face
I turned a snake green, and I felt very ill.
The fellow slurred, “Whatcher eyes wide for?
I won’t do you no harm!”
Then he licked his lips and drooled a little spittle,
And then the fucker shot me—right in the arm!
The bullet knocked me back against the bar
And the patrons all screamed and ran
A tequila bottle shattered, my stool fell and clattered,
And I heard a shout of “Goddamn!”
Well I clutched my arm, and I started to stand
When I saw the fellow aiming again
I started a prayer, and I leapt out of there,
Talking fast on my way to, “Amen!”
He fired the gun, and the mirror blew out,
Shards of glass flew all over the place.
I poked my head up over a table
And found him aiming the gun at my face.
So I made myself scarce as the gun fired again
And destroyed a bottle of gin.
“Ceasefire, truce!” I shouted to him,
“The bottle’s broken—you win!
If you want me to tell folks you shot it first try,
By heaven, I’ll put it in song!”
“Can I count on you?” he slurred in a shout,
“I want ’em to know I don’t shoot wrong!”
“You can count on me till the end of your days,
From now until the end of all this!
By the time I’m done talking
The people will say, There goes the man who never once missed!”
“Well, I suppose that’s allright,” the drunk fellow said,
“My friend I’ll take up your word.”
Then he looked all around and he put the gun down,
And he said, “I’m sorry I shot up the bar.
But to see the mirror blow out
And hear folks scream and shout
Well that’s enough to make a man’s day.
And after all no one got hurt, just men being men,
Let me buy you a drink, my new friend.
This’ll all turn out right, the world’ll keep turning,
And we’ll all end the same in the end.”
I said I could use a beer and cigarette,
As I picked myself up off the floor.
“A cig?” he said, “I could shoot the cherry off it, I bet.”
And I took off running—right out the door!