An eerie midday fog enveloped the town as he walked towards the saloon. It never really occurred to the drifter how strange it really was, considering he was in the middle of the western desert. Just shows how screwed up the world is nowadays, he thought to himself dryly. A little electronic bell dinged when he went through the door. At least this place has electricity. He took off his hat and looked around the room, scanned it more like it. His piercing grey eyes took in the surroundings, registering it all, down to the very last detail.
It was a small rectangular structure, probably 20X30 in dimension, with two benches at the sides, a few tables in the middle, and a bar way in the back. The floorboards were weathered and creaky from age, the wood on the tables and chairs discolored. The electric lamps emitted a dank yellow color, barely lighting the multiple dark spaces in the room. A rusty old juke box sat in the corner, the music droning out of it, souring the mood even more. The place was, in a word, gloomy. A place to match the people, he thought as he examined the customers.
A few men sat at the bar, stooped over their drinks, their clothes old and worn. One man looked over his shoulder at him. He looked into the man’s eyes and read them. They told of a brutal man, filled with hate, distrust, and violence. But they also showed of worry and fatigue. The man shuddered a little and turned back to his drink. The drifter smiled, Guessed he saw something in my eyes too, and didn’t like it.
He sat himself at one of the tables, his back facing the northern wall, so that both the door and the bar were in his vantage point. The last thing he wanted was to be snuck up on. As he rested his arms on the table, a young waitress emerged from behind the bar, notebook in hand, to take his order. He looked up and studied the girl. She was around twenty years of age, very thin, not too short, not too tall, long brown hair done in a ponytail. Her clothes were old and worn as well, but there seemed to be a bright glow to her complexion, as she probably took very good care of herself. But her eyes told her entire story. They were soft and blue, telling of a better life now long gone, replaced with one of despair and sorrow.
“May I help you, sir?” she asked, trying to be as pleasant as possible.
“I’ll just have a sarsaparilla, nothing strong,” he answered. She came back with his drink a few minutes later. He leaned back in his seat, sipping from the mug, as he watched the men at the bar in the corner of his eye. They were all watching him, staring him down, keeping a close eye on this unwanted stranger that had trespassed onto their territory. He sighed to himself. Has the world always been like this, or did catastrophe transform it into what it is now?
It had been seventy-five years since the chaos and destruction of World War III. It had originally been agreed that nuclear weapons were not going to be used at the beginning, but something went horribly wrong. One country threatened to launch their bombs, another one launched theirs in retaliation, and it went downhill from there. If it wasn’t for defensive laser satellites, anti-nuclear bomb shelters, and the work of a thousand or so scientists, everyone on Earth would be dead. But what was left behind was what some would argue is a life worse than death.
The world was now nothing but a barren wasteland. Scientists had been able to make some of the land fertile enough to plant crops again, but not as good as it once was. Things became worse when countless riots raged across the country. The weakened U.S. government could do nothing to stop them and soon enough the entire union was broken down into five separate territories. It was all nothing but a lawless, savage frontier. A land that wallowed in its own filth, where the corrupt and evil oppress the innocent, and where only the toughest would survive.
Does it have to be this way? The thought danced through the drifter’s head, Was it ever meant to be this way?
“Hey stranger!” The drifter swept his current thoughts aside and gave his attention to the man who yelled at him. “What’s with the coat? You expectin’ rain or somethin’?” He ignored the man and went back to his drink. His brown overcoat served its purpose, but was of no concern to the men at the bar.
The electronic bell chimed once again as the door swung open. The drifter averted his attention to the man that stepped in. He was a large man, one that ate well despite the hard times. He wore a black three-piece suit, clean and well-pressed, without as much as a speck of dirt on it. A long scar snaked down the left side of his face, and a devious smile was stretched across his lips. The drifter read his eyes as well. They boasted of a proud and malicious man, used to getting what he wanted by any means necessary. He walked towards the bar in a businessman-like manner. The waitress stood behind the bar, eyes wide with fear. The men moved aside so that the suited man could look the woman eye to eye. They all had wicked smiles on their faces.
“Good afternoon, Miss Elizabeth,” the man said, evil smile still playing on his face. “I was looking through my records this morning, and I couldn’t help but noticed that you have abstained from making your payments. Now that makes you two hundred dollars short of paying off your loan, now doesn’t it?”
The waitress began to apologize, her voice shaky and filled with obvious terror, “I- I’m sorry, Mr. Kaiser, I don’t have the money right now. If y-you could please give me another week and get a little b-bit more business then…”
“Oh, I’m afraid that I can’t do that,” the man interrupted, feeding off her terror. He looked at the men around him as they stood up, menacing looks on their faces. “You see, I already gave you enough time to pay me off. Still you refuse to do so, and now I’m afraid I have no choice but to take more desperate measures.”
The waitress began to back away from the bar, beginning to become frantic, “No! Sir please! Give me another chance, please! I’ll give you what you want, just don’t hurt me!”
The men began to close in on her, boxing her in between the bar and the back wall, when they heard an even-toned voice behind them, “Leave the girl alone.”
Stunned by the brashness of the voice, they turned to see the drifter out of his seat, staring them all down with stone-grey eyes. “Mind your own business, you!” the man named Kaiser barked, trying to intimidate him.
“She already told you she did not have the money,” he replied with the same even tone, “There’s nothing you can do about that. Leave her alone.”
A smile crept across Kaiser’s face, “Well boys, look at this. A wish-be hero, come to save the day.” The men laughed as they turned from the waitress and began to surround the drifter.
“I don’t want to fight you,” he replied, undaunted by the men. “But I will if I have to.”
The men laughed even harder. “Oh yeah? You think you can fight all of us?” one of them said, “I’d like to see that.”
There was a great tension in the air as the drifter poised himself, ready to strike, “Very well. You leave me no choice.”
To his assailants, it all happened in a matter of seconds. To him, it all happened in slow motion. In one swift movement, the sides of his coat were thrown aside to reveal a belt with two holsters that held a pair of twin Magnum revolvers with polished wooden handles bearing an imprint of a white bat with beady green eyes on each of them. Time seemed to stand still to his eyes as he grabbed one gun in each hand and lined them up with two of the men and shot them with precise accuracy before they could even grab the guns at their own sides. Before any of them could react, he struck another man with the butt of his gun across the head and ran for the waitress. Grabbing her hand, he shouted “Run!” as he pulled her from behind the bar and out of the saloon, knocking out one more man and shooting another. They dashed into the fog as two shots from the men’s guns flew haphazardly by them. He pulled them into the shadow of another building and began listening for the assailants. He heard Kaiser shouting at the men, “Find them you fools! They can’t be far!” His voice was followed by more voices.
“You look over that way!”
“Get your rifle, he could be anywhere!”
“Dadgum it! This fog is too thick!”
He turned to the waitress, “Stay here. I’ll take care of them.” Then, with one gun still in hand, he moved around the corner of the building and began peering into the fog. He soon saw two shadowy figures wandering about aimlessly, unable to see him in the distance. He raised his gun and, with aim unhindered by the blinding mist, took down the figures before they could even react. He quickly began to tread as quietly as possible to a new position, as the gunshots may have given away his position. Another shadowy figure began to enter his sights, one with what seemed to be a rifle in his hands.
I need to conserve my ammo, the drifter thought to himself. I guess I just have to be a little fancier with this one. With soft quiet steps, he began to sneak up on the rifleman until he was only a couple steps in front of him, the man still unaware of his presence. The rifleman was beginning to become frustrated, “Where are you! Show yourself coward!” Then, with lightning fast speed, the drifter leapt out of the fog and punched the man across the face. He then grabbed the rifle from his hands and struck him in the gut with the butt end. The man doubled over in pain and hit the ground, eyes filled with shock from what had just occurred. The drifter turned around to see a few more men running through the fog to see what the commotion was about. He shot them all down with the rifle, the gunshots ringing through the town.
With all the men down, he looked towards the direction of the saloon. That just leaves one left. After checking the rifle’s chamber to see it was out of bullets, he threw it to the ground and drew his pistols and made his way towards the little building. In the doorway he saw Kaiser trying to peer into the thick mist in order to see what had occurred. He saw the figure of the drifter coming toward him and mistook him for one of his lackeys.
“Well, is he finished?” he shouted to him. The drifter came out of the obscurity of the fog as he said, “No. They weren’t able to finish me at all.”
The suited man stepped away from the doorway, eyes first filled with shock, then replaced with rage. “You have no idea who you have just crossed boy!”
The drifter stepped into the open doorway, only a few steps away from Kaiser, his stone-grey eyes piercing straight into the man’s eyes. “I believe I do sir. I have just crossed a rotten loan shark, obsessed with power and money. A man that uses deception and intimidation to get his own way.”
He tightened his grip on his guns as he declared, “Well I cannot with a clear conscience let men like you hurt innocent people.”
He lifted his right-hand pistol, and shouted, “You must be brought to justice for your crimes!”
Kaiser laughed and shook his head incredulously. “Justice? You don’t get it do you? I own this entire town! Every last bit of this land belongs to me!” he cried out as he gestured around himself dramatically. “I am the law here! As far as anyone is concerned, I am the only justice! What I say is what is done, and I make sure things are done my way! Where’s your justice now, boy?”
The drifter was silent for a while, still staring the man down, deeply thinking about the man’s question. After what seemed like ages he finally responded, “You say these things because you think you have power. Have you ever considered that your power is only temporary?”
Kaiser seemed taken back by the inquiry. He continued, “Someone more powerful than you can come and take over this town right before you. And even if no one comes and takes your little empire you can’t live forever and when you die, all your power will be as nothing.”
As he explained, Kaiser’s rage began to grow. He wondered who this imbecile thought he was, saying he had no power. Still the drifter continued, “All your work and all your schemes will all go to waste. You never had any real power. So now sir, I ask you: Where is your justice now?”
With that last question Kaiser snapped, “Enough!!” and suddenly pulled a semi-automatic handgun from within his suit coat and aimed straight for his chest, “I’ll finish you myself!”
Time seemed to freeze to the drifter’s eyes as he took aim, raising his left hand and positioning his pistol with nearly-inhuman precision. And before Kaiser could even react, he sent a bullet whizzing across the back of the hand that held the handgun searing through the skin. Kaiser dropped the gun and howled in pain. Then in a flash the drifter raised his right-hand pistol and shot out his knees. They buckled under his weight and Kaiser found himself crouched on the floor, trying to shake the pain and dizziness out of his head. Still half-dazed, he looked up to see the barrel of the drifter’s gun pointed at his head.
He breathed heavily as he looked up at the drifter, “Well, what are you waiting for?” The drifter simply glared down at him. “Aren’t you going to kill me? Do it, coward!” he shouted. The drifter spun the pistol in his hand and placed it back in its holster, “No.” Kaiser looked at him dumbfounded, “What?”
“If I killed you in cold blood, I would be no better than you.” The drifter replied, “I shall never stoop to such a level. But be sure I will make sure you pay for what you have done.”
Kaiser simply stared at him, then began to laugh, first under his breath but soon grew gradually until it sounded completely hysterical. As he laughed he began to speak, “You really believe I would be defeated so easily?”
The drifter noticed that he was reaching for something on his belt. He pulled out one of his guns again and shouted, “What are you doing?”
Without hesitating at all, Kaiser pulled out what seemed to be a small black device and flipped the switch on it, “I make sure things are done my way!”
A loud beep resounded through the saloon. The drifter looked up and determined where the sound came from. Looking towards a small wooden door at the back wall, he ran over and threw it open. It was a closet that held a large propane tank and generator that powered the saloon and connected to the side of the tank was connected a makeshift bomb with a timer now counting down from thirty seconds. Eyes wide, he turned to the man. The maniac! He must’ve set this thing up to keep the girl under his thumb! Kaiser continued to laugh, more hysterically than ever.
The drifter darted for the front door, Kaiser’s laughter ringing through his ears. He dashed out the door finding the waitress outside, trying to make out what was going on. He grabbed her and pulled them both to the ground as he cried out “Get down!” The deafening sound and the wave of heat of the explosion rushed over them. The drifter felt pieces of debris pelt his back. They raised their heads and turned to see the smoke-billowing shell of what was once the saloon. The waitress’s eyes were filled with shock as she stared at the carnage, shaking her head in disbelief and spoke under her breath, dismay in her voice, “No, this can’t be…” The drifter looked at her with sorrow in his heart when he saw something tumble next to him in the corner of his eye. He reached out and picked it up to find it was a piece of the brim from his cowboy hat that he had left inside. He angrily threw it at the smoking heap, a thousand curses going through his mind. He stood up and offered his hand to the waitress who was still sitting on the ground, “Here. Let’s get you out of here.”
She looked up at him, eyes filled with tears, and took his hand. He lifted her up off the ground and helped her walk away from what was once her only life.
Two days passed and the drifter and the waitress found themselves in another town not too far away. The drifter had driven them there on his motorcycle that he had hidden on the outskirts of town. Both were completely silent the entire trip. He checked out a room for her at the local inn and paid all of her expenses in advanced. The sun began to set as they stood together on the inn’s front porch, the drifter ready to leave, when she finally said, “I want to thank you for all you did for me.”
He turned to look at her, a little surprised, “Why are you thanking me? I had just destroyed your very livelihood.”
She turned and looked into his eyes, “You saved my life, and I can never thank you enough for that. No one else in my entire life has ever stood up for me the way you did.”
He turned from her, trying to hide the fact that he was beginning to blush, and replied, “Well thank you, Miss Elizabeth, isn’t it?”
She nodded and said, “But may I ask you what your name is. You never introduced yourself to me.”
The drifter looked out in front of him as he replied, “I’m afraid I can’t give you my name. I just like to see myself as someone who hates to see innocent people hurt.”
“I see,” Elizabeth said, a little disappointment in her voice, “So where do you plan on going now?”
“Not sure really,” he stated, turning to look at her, “I guess wherever I am needed.”
She smiled at him, “I can think of a lot of places that need someone like you. But I hope to meet you again someday.” The drifter simply remained silent, not knowing what to say.
As they made their final farewells, the drifter rode off westward down the long deserted road. He began to think to himself, I was able to save her, but I also destroyed the only place she could call home. Have I really helped at all?
He then remembered her warm smile and began to smile as well. Maybe it was worth it. I saved her life, and what is a saloon compared to that? As he rode a little further he saw an old light pole on the side of the rode that had what seemed to be a piece of paper attached to it. He slowed down to read what it said and despair began to fill his heart again. And yet, I still wonder if any of this is really worth it? Am I really helping people, or simply making the problem worse?
He turned away from the poster and kept riding. Everything I do seems to end horribly one way or another. He once again thought of Elizabeth and her thanks and shook the dark thoughts from his head, But I have to keep on doing this. If I don’t, no one will. He left the poster flapping by its corners on the pole, the sign of an old tragedy:
Dead or Alive
By order of the President of
the Westward Territory
“The Grey-Eyed Hurricane”
- Title: The Sharpest Eye
- Artist: Joey Bass
- Description: Story I wrote a few months ago. A little lengthy but I hope you enjoy.
- Date: 01/12/2011
- Tags: sharpest
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