Topic: First Chapter
Addition information and ordering links at my site:
Looking Glass Portal
Swimming Kangaroo Books, January 2007
Swimming Kangaroo Books
ISBN: Paperback: 1-934041-18-1
MS Reader 1-934041-17-3
Other formats available: Mobi, PDF, HTML (no ISBN's are assigned)
Looking Glass Portal © 2007 Larriane Barnard
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part without permission.
Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons, living or dead, or events is purely coincidental. They are productions of the author's imagination and used fictitiously.
The staple gun popped, sinking the metal bracket into the fence post and pinning the twisted strands of barbwire. Done was the last post, the last piece of wire, and the last staple needed to repair a short section of a long line of fence, but it would only be good for a time. Tomorrow or the next week, or next month another post would rot or another staple would rust through to loosen another strand of wire or two, or three. The job finding and tightening those loose wires or felled posts was endless. When the man doing it was in pain, it seemed all the more futile. He wondered again what the hell he was doing as he straightened, the simple movement causing him to grimace and flinch.
"I ought to give it up, Boss," he said to the big, bay gelding that was ground reined and waiting for him.
He crossed to the horse, whose ears pricked up to listen. Garrett Maniam chuckled softly. He dropped the staple gun into a pouch on his tool belt and unfastened the belt from his narrow hips to put in his saddlebags.
"But you and I know I lack good sense."
His shadow stretched out in front of him when he turned from the horse. The dark shape mocked him with no indication in the silhouette of the weakness eating away at his strongly built body. The only reason he was still working at even so minimal a job was because his condition wasn't visible. The first time any employer knew of the constant pain in what appeared to be a strong back and muscular legs or saw those legs crumble uselessly under him, for no matter how brief a time, Garrett would be fired. Six feet plus of solid muscle at one hundred and ninety pounds, he still looked fit and strong at what Garrett called the way wrong side of forty, though he knew the years of constant pain had etched lines in his face to make him look older. The body, however strong, was useless when the lower half suddenly went numb and lifeless. No employer wanted a possible liability like that around.
With a rock for a seat Garrett stretched his right leg out to dig into the thigh pocket of his chaps for a cigarette and matches. The first heavy draw of smoke was held in his lungs as he flipped the match out but not away. Years of habit had him hold the match to cool first while his slate blue eyes stared out over the hills of scrub oak and juniper of the high mountain desert. He exhaled slowly, pushed the worn and stained hat back from his brown, gray-streaked hair, and leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. A nerve played in jerks along the edge of his strong jaw before he spoke to the horse again.
"Been thinking, Boss, I ought to take that pistol out and strap it on my hip." The horse nickered at him. "Could be anytime," he went on conversationally. "Hate to be caught down on the ground where I couldn't do anything about it."
He drew deeply and the smoke drifted out of his thin lips. Garrett didn't expect anyone to grieve over his death. He'd made sure during the last twelve years of his life that there was no one to care, no one but the horse that stood a few feet away.
Boss moved closer to Garrett, knowing the man was through working. Being of a herd nature, the horse sought companionship. Garrett, a man with natural herding instincts as well, had forced himself to be a loner. Over the years the bond between animal and man had grown strong.
The horse played at the rolled-up sleeve of Garrett's faded denim work shirt with his upper lip. The attention drew Garrett away from his pensive thoughts and brought a full smile to his lips. "You're damn near worthless," he told Boss with an affectionate slap on the neck. "And quit slobbering on my shirt."
Boss sucked in air, swelled his chest. A neighing followed, complete with a spray of saliva while Boss swung his head up and down in acknowledgement of the conversation. Garrett stood quickly to avoid what he knew was coming. When Garrett grabbed for the saddle horn to keep from falling the horse understood the sudden need to stand still and steady. The quick movement had caused an onslaught of intense pain through Garrett's back and down his legs, taking his breath away. He hung there waiting for normal breathing to return and the pain to lessen.
"It's getting bad," he gasped when the horse turned his head to nuzzle at his shoulder. His jaw clinched while he pulled up and got his legs back under him. He was covered in sweat as he put his full weight back on his legs. The pain told him his legs weren't at the stage of giving out completely, not if he lessened the strain, and he eased down to the rock. With his breathing almost back to normal, he talked with a sardonic half-smile.
"What am I going to do with you, huh? You're too old to make a decent cowpony." He gave a short, bitter laugh. "No one wants a cripple in a wheelchair and a broken down old horse. Think there's going to be a miracle come along and save us?" Boss snorted and shook his head. Garrett laughed again. "Me neither. So what do you think? I can just turn you loose out here and bang." He imitated pulling the trigger with his finger pointed at his temple. "No more problems."
Boss tossed and shook his head, making Garrett smile crookedly at him. "Okay, I'm not quite ready to give it up, but I don't know why." He stood and grimaced, caught and held his breath briefly. "There isn't anything around the corner up here I haven't already seen, and I'm not going anywhere else."
He looked for the cigarette he had dropped and crushed it out with the high heel of his riding boot. Just as his hand closed on the nearest rein, Boss threw his head and backed, yanking Garrett off his feet. The smell hit Garrett as he landed on his knees. It wasn't like anything he had ever smelled before, and as a working cowboy he had smelled some of the worst. The odor was like something between a skunk and a rotted carcass. The stench drove Boss wild, and made Garrett sick. He held his breath and crawled in a desperate attempt for the reins.
"No, Boss," he cried out.
The fence with its flesh tearing barbs was behind them, and Boss was too panicked to see it as he whirled and lunged. Garrett got one foot under him only to go down when something hit him in the back. He saw Boss hit the wire as he fell. He saw the wire snap and whip as the ground rushed up to slam him in the face. He heard Boss's screams of pain and terror. His own terror began.
Garrett couldn't move.
The source of the smell was like nothing he had ever seen, fact or fiction, and it wasn't dead. A man, almost as wide as he was tall and about four feet in height, stood before him. He had the face of a Neanderthal and was dressed in furs. The stench from him gagged Garrett as the creature flipped him to his back. Garrett's stomach heaved, and he felt as though he would vomit while he lay flat on his back unable to move with the foul-smelling creature leaning over him and grunting like a pig.
Garrett's mind fractured as the smell nearly suffocating him . One part of his mind thought he would vomit and drown in his own puke, which was an absurd worry when a few minutes before he had been calmly contemplating blowing his own brains out. The other part of his mind screamed in an effort to will the pig-grunting man to hear and help Boss. Neither part of Garrett's mind understood why he couldn't move. He couldn't even close his eyes and, to judge from what followed, that was just how the pig-man wanted him.
The creature dragged Garrett by his hair to the rock where he had sat moments before and propped him against it like a floppy, rag doll. The thing backed off and grunted while blunt, square-shaped hands dug through its fur covering to pull out a slim, narrow box. What looked to be no more than a spot of light shot out, and a rapid succession of grunts followed as the thing leaned down to lift Garrett's arm for Garrett to see what it had done.
This can't be real. He must be delirious, or in the grip of a nightmare. No spot of light could punch through flesh and bone leaving his arm hanging, bloodlessly, attached below the elbow by only a thin string of flesh. That was something straight out of Star Wars, and he wasn't in any movie. It couldn't be real. He had to wake up. Boss's screams were real. They had fallen. That had to be what had happened. He was unconscious, and Boss was hurt. He had to wake up.
The thing stepped back, pointed the box, and a second spot of light shot out. The same succession of grunts sounded as it moved back. Garrett decided it had to be a sick laugh as the thing grabbed him by the hair and pushed his head down to see the bigger hole neatly punched through the right side of his chest.
"Let me wake up!" Garrett's mind screamed as his head fell back, and the thing moved off again. "I've got to help Boss!"
The thing jumped, squealed, and shoved its hands into the fur wrappings. Its stance changed to defensive, as stiff and as straight as its height would allow.
A girl, as beautiful as the man was ugly, moved into Garrett's line of vision. Corn-silk hair hung down to her waist, and a full billowing gown of pure white covered her from her neck to the ground. She floated rather than walked toward the creature, holding out her hand. The thing protested the obvious demand with squeals and grunts. The girl sang. It wasn't words, but musical notes that alternated with the sounds the thing made until it gave her the box it had so quickly hidden.
When she turned to face him, Garrett wanted to smile. She was a woman actually, not a girl, probably in her early twenties, and her eyes were the color of wild Bachelor Buttons, a brilliant blue violet. She was a dream as lovely as the creature was grotesque, but more importantly, she only looked to where Boss screamed and thrashed for the tormenting sounds to stop.
"Thank you," Garrett thought, knowing without seeing that she had helped Boss. ‘Thank you," he thought again, when she sank down beside him and with a brush of her hand closed his eyes.