by InkwellMachine (Benjamin Cook) – Grand Fiction Challenge winner – 2016
Like Snuffing Out a Candle
Eight days I’ve been travelling with the Pasaw’ri, now. Eight days. I’ve given them everything they asked for and more. Rifles. Ammunition. Whiskey. Hiring the caravan to haul it all out to this god-forsaken place was no small expense either. And still, after all this time, I have yet to see a single trace of the prize I’m after. I worry these people may have gotten the best of me.
Nevertheless, they maintain that there are gods in this wasteland yet. They say I’ll meet one, if I don’t turn tail and run before the raid. As much as I hate to admit it, that is a distinct possibility. I’ve never felt so anxious in my life. I suppose it’s a reasonable enough feeling, though; I’ve never seen a man kill before. Never even seen a man die.
However, for this most singular of opportunities, I do believe I’m willing.
The settlement was not as Roland remembered it. When he’d arrived with the Pasaw’ri raiders weeks prior, it had looked like a small, dingy town standing alone in the desert. It was by no means impressive, but at least it was something. A small bastion of life in the endless dirt and sand and nothing.
And now? A collection of toppled adobe homes and pale, husk-dry corpses. He’d watched the raid happen, seen dozens of slit throats, women and children carried away screaming, adobe homes leveled for sport. And still, looking over the wreckage, it was hard for Roland to connect this ghost town to the settlement it had once been.
Ben Beale turned over a clay brick with his boot. “Well shit, you sho’ do know yo’ way around. Gotta give ya credit fo’ that, Buck. How you find this place, anyhow?”
Roland shrugged. “You tend to find things. Godchasers go all over the place.”
Ben nodded to himself, stroking his black bush of a beard with one meaty hand. “I guess you would, huh? But’chu know, this here?” He pointed at a corpse slumped over the remains of an adobe wall. “This ain’t right. You follow?”
Again, Roland simply shrugged, refusing to make eye-contact with the big man. “Nature of the beast. Anyway, we ought to set up camp. You’ve got a big day tomorrow.”
“Yup. Sho’ do.” Ben pat the handle of his holstered revolver. His dark skin was beginning to blend into the dusk, but his teeth grinned as white as ever. “Been a while since I brought down a god.”
I wept when I saw the goddess. Like a child, I wept.
It was only the translator—Tene, I believe she was called—and myself, sitting on the cold ground among the dead, waiting. All the Pasaw’ri men had left soon after the raid, taking with them their horses and weapons and wagons full of plunder. But even with Tene beside me, I was alone. She refused to watch. Instead, she blindfolded herself and answered my questions all through the hours before dawn.
The goddess has no real name, but the Pasaw’ri call her the Pawli Ml’tya, which according to Tene means “Mourning Woman.” She comes with the dawn to drink the blood of warriors killed unjustly, and to slay their unjust killers.
But the killers were all gone. It was only Me, Tene, the corpses, and this radiant, porcelain creature, striding through the twilight.
I confess, I wept at her beauty. I wept at the grace with which she moved, the enormity of her presence. I wept at the incredible savagery of her feeding. Even after all the gods I’ve seen in my travels, all the wonders written into the pages of this journal, I fear I may never witness anything so beautiful again.
Roland stared at Ben Beale from across the dying firelight. He watched the slow rise and fall of his chest, listened to the wheeze of his desert-parched breath. Big ol’ Ben Beale. The man who killed a hundred gods. The oldest godslayer in the West. All three-hundred pounds of him, sprawled out on a bedroll, snoring through the night, and still wearing his gunbelt.
A warrior if Roland had ever seen one.
As he removed the pocket pistol from his jacket and start around the fire, Roland could feel his heart pounding in his head. His firing hand trembled under the weight of the gun. He’d left his boots by the bedroll so as not to make a sound, scorpions be damned, but he could still hear every grain of sand crunching underfoot.
He crouched beside Beale and leveled the gun against his temple. A thousands gods and creatures dead because of Roland’s research, and when it finally comes time to dirty his own hands, it’s one of the very men who put them down.
He pulled the trigger, praying this wasn’t justice.
Those fucking red-skinned Pasaw’ri cunts. They must have known. They could have warned me. They could have said something. Anything. I can’t live like this.
I haven’t slept since that night. When I close my eyes, I see her, burned into the darkness behind my eyelids. The subtle curve of her hips. The weight of her bare breasts. Her opalescent hair, floating on a breeze that isn’t blowing.
The blood. The sheen of glistening blood, so dark against her perfect, porcelain skin.
I lay here awake, reliving those hours over and over in my mind.
I have to see her again.
I have to feel her touch.
Roland sat beside the cold remains of what had once been the oldest godslayer in the West and watched the sun crest over the horizon, casting orange rays out through the purple dawn. His heart did not pound in his head. His hands did not tremble.
A familiar silhouette slowly began to grow within the halo of the rising sun. As it moved toward him, he only felt alive.