This is actually a sequel to a story I haven’t finished writing yet. I’m a terrible person. Reave Cannon features in The Paranormal Cowboy Story With No Name, but this is set some time later when he’s on his way home from whatever happens in that tale. It therefore contains spoilers for something which you can’t have read yet because it doesn’t exist, exactly. I hope you appreciate the paradoxical nature of that warning and please remember not to cross the streams.
Reave Cannon sat on his horse and watched the interesting spot form a couple of feet above the desert scrub about half a dozen yards in front of him. He sipped water from his canteen as the spot became the outline of a man, edged in hard white light but containing forms and patterns that shifted and strained unreasonably. He thought about leaving, but the horse seemed to be hypnotised. He shrugged. It had been a strange year, he shouldn’t be surprised when the very air turned bizarre right in front of him.
With a speed that would have shocked anyone else, the uncanny shape flexed, snapped into a portrait rectangle and became stable. The air steamed around it. A chill blew from it. And then there was a man standing in it. Reave pushed back his hat.
“Of course it’s a doorway” cursed Reave “why in the hell would it be anything I could ignore?”
“You!” said the figure. The man was wearing a wide brimmed soft hat that shaded his eyes. His shirt was untucked and fell clear to his knees, which were also where his boots ended. His arms were bare and covered in strange brands. Reave doubted this meant he collected cattle.
“Mornin'” said Reave in an effort to be neighbourly.
“I am come to face the greatest warrior of this place. Take me to him!”
Reave thought about this for a moment. Sheriff McClure over in Snakehead was a hardass, and Black Jock Scott was known to be a stone killer, but he was back in Deadwood. That sort of left Walter Limpquist, the Marshall from Two Rock.
“Sure thing, sir” said Reave. “If you’ll follow me?” The man stepped forward, waved his hands, muttered a few angry syllables and then stepped into the air. He walked to where Reave’s horse (currently called Horse while Reave tried to think of a better name) stood, sat cross legged on thin air and looked expectant. Reave reminded Horse it was time to move, then gently persuaded him into a trot and finally the loping canter that ate up the miles without really tiring either of them. The man kept pace without apparent effort.
“Tell me what is so renowned about this mighty one of yours” insisted the man, out of nowhere.
“Well,” said Reave “He’s quick. Fast. You know.”
“Is he renowned?”
Walter Limpquist wasn’t a name easily forgotten, so Reave felt no shame at all saying he was.
“Is he often challenged?”
That was actually true. Quite a few people heard the name Walter Limpquist, US Marshal, and thought they’d be able to bag themselves a U.S. Marshall. To date, no one had succeeded. Plus, if Reave remembered Walter correctly he sometimes forgot how to tie his shoe laces or became so hopelessly entangled in bed that he’d been forced to marry in order to have someone on hand to rescue him.
“Often challenged” said Reave “never bested”.
“This will be sport indeed” said the man, and though he spoke more, at length, it was at this point Reave Cannon stopped caring or listening.
Two Rock had three streets now, which was a whole street and a half more than the last time Reave had been there. He stood outside the Marshal’s Office while the Man went through his speech again.
“Are you sure this is the proper form of words?” asked the man.
“Yessir” said Reave. “The correct words. As they should be spoke.”
“Excellent. Then I shall begin.”
The man walked to the door of the Marshall’s Office and battered it with a branded fist.
“Marshall Walter Limpquist, I’m calling you out!” he bellowed.
After a moment, the door opened and Walter Limpquist stood in it, wearing a pair of pale brown denim dungarees, a grey undershirt and his hat. He was blinking, barefoot and grey haired. He struggled to slip on a pair of wire framed spectacles, and having got them in place he goggled at the stranger.
“Calling me out? Great Mary, is it noon already? Reave Cannon! I see you lurking. This is your nonsense I assume.”
“Man’s called you out” said Reave.
“Yes! I have called you out! Pit your puissance against mine, mighty warrior.”
“That is…I mean to say…” stuttered the man. he swallowed and looked Walter in the eye. “They tell me you used to be fast” he said. That did it. Walter’s head snapped straight, his eyes focussed as if seeing the man for the first time.
“They talk a lot” said Walter. “They don’t always talk true.”
“It is the same in my world also” agreed the man “but you shall face me today and we shall discover if you do possess speed. Come. Bring your six guns and pit them against my war thirsty arcane power.”
“Just one gun” said Walter as he stepped back into the office. There was the sound of rummaging. He came back out with a sawn off double barrelled shotgun, open to accept shells, which he promptly dropped.
“Oh, damn, look at the…” Walter knelt down to pick up the gun and shake dust and grit off it. Then he had to be helped to his feet by Reave Cannon. Reave backed away slowly. Walter attempted to load a shell. It slipped out of the barrel while he was trying to remember where the other shell had gone. Eventually he had both shells loaded and attempted to holster the gun. He wasn’t wearing a holster, so the weapon ended up tucked in his dungarees but with what was left of the stock hanging out at a right angle to the barrells. Walter looked at the branded man and smiled, which turned to dismay as the sawn off slid slowly and gracelessly into his clothes and down one denim leg. By the time he’d hopped around and retrieved it both shells had worked their way out again and the branded man could only watch and sigh as he struggled to load it a second time. Finally, with both rounds seated correctly Walter snapped the weapon closed.
“Now then…” he said “….eh…where were we?”
“They said you used to be fast” said the branded man, with the sort of weariness that comes from having wasted an entire afternoon waiting for a cancelled bus. He’d gone from being poised to unleash his power to standing with his shoulders slumped and a look of profound disappointment on his face. Walter emptied both barrels into his chest, flicked the weapon open and had another two shells loaded before the startled corpse had hit the floor.
Walter looked at Reave.
“Last time you were through here, you were chasing something. Catch it?”
“Mighta” said Reave. “Last time I was through here, this place was smaller.”
“Urban sprawl” said Walter in the same tone a man might use to describe the contents of an overflowing privy. “Used to be you could step out onto the street and see the whole town. Now, you got to go to the end of the street and turn a corner.”
“Ain’t to my liking. Who was this man?”
Reave thought about the way the man had stepped into the world from somewhere else, his effortless levitation, the uncanny brands that covered his skin, the aura of certainty radiating from him and the eager way he’d spoken about conflict.
“Just some asshole” said Reave Cannon. Walter nodded and they went to find someone who would sell them whiskey.