No Living Thing

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
Difficulties encountered by a fugitive whilst being chased across the desert by a bounty hunter

Submitted: November 06, 2012

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Submitted: November 06, 2012

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No Living Thing

Borgias crashed into the wooden door, which gave way to his bulk, and fell to the dusty floor within. He rolled to one side and kicked the door with his feet. It slammed into the frame and swung back halfway. A bullet flew through the gap and punched a hole in the back wall. He kicked the door again and this time it closed to, though the latch was now broken. He got to his knees and sat back on his heels, breathing hard. More bullets hit the wall outside and he ducked instinctively. Blood oozed from a jagged gash on his left bicep. He inspected it briefly, decided it was only a flesh wound and promptly forgot about it. Pain was the least of his concerns.

The man riding towards the stone building saw Borgias disappear inside. He fired through the doorway as the door swung back, then aimed more at the walls. He was enraged. His captive had escaped and taken the water with him. He’d tied the bastard good to a rope and ordered him to walk ten paces in front of his horse as they trekked miles across the desert valley beneath a bitch of a sun. He must have slept in the saddle at some point and when he woke with a start and looked up, Borgias was gone and the rope was trailing empty in the sand. He saw tracks going east towards a mass of rocks and he’d turned his horse around and galloped in that direction. He stopped every so often to check the desert floor for footprints and adjust his route accordingly. Once he reached the rocks at the edge of the valley he also kept an eye for water, but found none.

Taking the horse across stony ground and between boulders had been hard and slow, but after fifteen minutes or so he’d seen his captive running through a dry gully, about a quarter mile distant. He’d chucked the horse and forced it onwards, removing the Colt from the holster at his hip as they went. When he got within a hundred yards of the man he took aim, not expecting a hit, but unbelievably winging his prisoner on the left arm. He could see a little spray of blood and Borgias faltered for a second, but then darted to the right behind a rock, part of which looked like a horse’s head.

Borgias looked around the hut he was hiding in. One room with a dirt floor, tin roof and a slatted window just to the right of the door. He did not want to die here. It was a barren place. He wanted to live the life and maybe die, many years hence, possibly in the arms of a beautiful whore. He needed a strong drink, but dismissed the thought and concentrated on how to get out alive. He was forty five years old, wanted in at least three towns and had nothing but the clothes he stood in and a small water skin half full of brackish water. He was just a meal ticket for every bounty hunter who’d heard his name. He wondered where he was. He’d lost track of position, partly because of the blow to the head he’d received when he was captured that morning and partly because he was unfamiliar with the route they were taking. He’d seen the Mantillas Mountains in the west, but still couldn’t orientate himself fully.

Escaping had been unexpectedly easy. They’d agreed if Borgias needed to relieve himself he just had to stop walking. The man would halt a few yards away and watch. Borgias had genuinely needed to open his bowels and worked the back of his pants with his thumbs. He hunkered down and let a hot stream of shit out of his ass. The odour was overwhelming and he’d expected a comment from the bounty hunter, but there was only the soft snorting of the horse, obviously unnerved by the smell of predator scat. Borgias turned round and saw the man asleep in the saddle. He didn’t hesitate. He pulled up his pants, shuffled sideways, sat down and worked his roped hands beneath his buttocks, below the backs of his knees and heels and out to the front. He managed to work the knots with his teeth and free his hands. He approached the sleeping rider, thinking to take the double-aught shotgun from across the man’s knees or his own Colt from the holster, but then noticed the water skin. His thirst was immense and so he decided to take that first and then snatch the gun. He gently eased the skin off the hook on the back of the saddle and stepped away, making sure he was directly behind the rider.

As he drank, the man woke briefly, looked about him, and then slumped forward again. The horse moved a few paces and stopped. The man continued to sleep. Borgias decided to just take the skin and leave. He wanted his gun back, but knew if he tried to take it there was a risk his captor would wake. The shotgun was gripped in the man’s hands, across his knees, and the Colt holster had a clip securing the piece in place. Any further movement would undoubtedly rouse him and, if that happened, the outcome was uncertain. Tempting, but not worth the risk. Besides, he felt weak from walking miles in the sun and knew he wouldn’t have the energy to fight back if something went wrong. He figured his best chance would be to disappear in the rocks half a mile or so to the east and so had left the man to his dreams.

After firing his useless shots, more in temper than anything else, the bounty hunter dismounted, cobbled the horse near a small, dead tree and surveyed the building. A simple stone structure with a tin roof, long abandoned by the people who’d lived or worked there. God knows how they’d made a living in this empty place. Maybe herding, but herding what? There were strange markings on the walls, like faces, painted in what must originally have been red, but were now a dirty brown. The bounty hunter thought about just walking up to the door, pushing it open and taking his prisoner, dead or alive, but there was something that checked him. He wasn’t certain. There was something that unnerved him about this place. Already the sun was going down and the shadows were growing.

Borgias peered out of a broken slat in the only window. He tipped his head to the right so his left eye was above the sill. He didn’t want the top of his skull blown away before he’d had a chance to look out. He could see the horse and the tree, but there was no sign of the man who’d captured him. With one eye it was difficult, but he judged the distance to the horse to be about forty or fifty yards. He could run it in ten seconds or so, but then he’d have to uncobble, mount, turn around and ride. The timing wouldn’t be enough, he was sure. A bounty hunter who’d made the mistake of falling asleep and losing his prize was going to be alert. The man would be able to fire off at least two or three shots before he even got to the horse. And this one was good. Hadn’t he hit his arm at a distance?

Shadows grew as the sun sank. The man shrugged his shoulders against the cooling air and wondered whether to set a fire. The sight of it would be both a distraction and a focus for Borgias. He didn’t know what to do for the best. Two hundred rested on Borgias’ living capture, one hundred if he brought back a corpse. He considered his options and his finances. He needed a hundred and fifty five for his creditors and a further fifty for supplies. He could pay off seventy-five; almost half of what he owed, and wait a few months to purchase a fresh horse. He thought for a moment. That seemed like a plan. Catching Borgias alive, this desperate and violent man, might prove problematic a second time. Besides, there was at least a two day journey to Poblo, the nearest town where Borgias was wanted, and anything could happen with a live prisoner, especially this one. A corpse would be easier to manage, despite the heat. He therefore decided to kill him and be done with it. A hundred would do. He would just need to make sure he hit him in the chest. He didn’t want to obliterate the man’s identifying features with a head shot.

Borgias sat back against a wall. His heart pounded. He knew he had only a short time to make a decision. The dark was falling and this might give him a chance. The only way out was through the door or the window, both of which faced the same way. This was both good and bad. One way out was only one way in. He heard footsteps outside, to the front of the hut, then slowly round the right side towards the back. The hunter was obviously checking escape routes. Suddenly, there was a shrill chittering sound. It stopped abruptly and the footsteps too. Borgias guessed the man was at the far back corner. He considered running out, but decided against it. Not enough time to mount. He was best where he was, let the man make the first move. There was the possibility he would try and use fire to smoke him out, but there was nothing to burn in the hut and little wood around the place. Borgias felt he needed more time to think and for the moment he was safe inside. And he had the water, what little was left.

The man walked over to the front of the hut, but didn’t attempt to go inside. He feared the momentary blindness a darker place would bring and this Borgias could use to his advantage. He had no way of knowing where in the hut Borgias was, but guessed near the door. Besides, he didn’t know what the hut contained, maybe tools that could be used as weapons. He walked round the right side and towards the back of the building in a wide arc, keeping one eye to the front in case Borgias made a run for it. He guessed there wouldn’t be any other way out and he was right. As he turned to go back, there was a sudden noise, very loud, very close, like a cicada, but more urgent. He stopped and the noise ceased. The sun had slipped behind the rim of the western mountains and soon it would be night. He felt cold and a tiny spasm of fear gripped his belly. He didn’t like this place and was wary of night creatures. He decided to light a fire about ten paces away from the front of the door. Sitting some distance directly behind it would make him all but invisible to an emerging Borgias, while he would be able to see his quarry very clearly in the firelight. It would also be a comfort and afford some protection against roving predators. Keeping one eye on the hut, he chopped a few twigs and small branches from the tree, gathered some rocks and placed them in a little circle. He used an old rag for kindling and set the fire. Within minutes it had caught and he cut down more wood for later. He guessed he might have enough to last the night.

Borgias remained seated on the floor and listened in the gathering dark as the man walked back to the front of the building. Shortly after, he could smell smoke and hear the spit and crackle of flames. He risked a sideways peek through the broken slats of the window and saw a small fire. He could not see the man, but could make out the bulk of his horse off to the right. He sat back down again, realising the man’s plan. He could not now leave the building without being seen. He knew he should have taken the risk to kill him earlier in the day.

The bounty hunter sat about twenty paces behind the fire and watched the door. He thought it unlikely Borgias would attempt an escape, and he wanted to keep him there till morning when he could see more clearly. The flames lit the walls of the hut and those strange shapes, like faces, made him think of magicians and witches. He concentrated on the door again, but in the periphery of his vision the shapes seemed to move. He chided himself and resolved to think again of how he would spend the bounty. He was also hungry and very thirsty and considered taking a nick out of the horse’s flank, but couldn’t risk leaving the fire or taking his eyes off the door. Besides, he was concerned for the horse and didn’t want to take its fluids. Instead, he reached into his breast pocket and brought out a small flask. He took a nip and then closed the lid. As he put it back into his pocket he heard that strange chittering sound again. This time, though, it seemed to come from several directions and was piercing to the ear. The horse shuffled where it stood and shook her head, snorting loudly.

Borgias needed a plan, but none was forthcoming. He expected there would be no action till the morning. His only chance tonight was if the bounty hunter fell asleep, but he had no way of telling this, unless the man snored like a pig. He risked a peek out of the window and saw the fire blazing merrily, but little else. Night had truly fallen. Then that odd noise came, the shrillness of it boring into his skull. It was louder than before and made him start, but just as suddenly as it began it stopped. A moment’s silence, then it came again, but from a different direction. Between times, he could hear the horse becoming increasingly restless. This chittering back and forth continued and put Borgias in mind of hunting calls and response. Then it stopped once more. All was quiet, save for the mare’s distressed whinnying.

The man stood slowly and looked about him. The dark shapes of the rocks and the stone building and the horse were all he could see in the fire light. No suspicious movement, but those sounds, when they came, seemed very close. He pulled Borgias’ Colt, then re-holstered it and took the double-aught from the saddle which he’d taken off the horse when he’d tethered her. He murmured words of comfort to the frightened animal. He checked the barrels were loaded and held it at ready, his right forefinger resting on one of the triggers.

As Borgias sat in the dark hut, a tremendous crash came from above, as if something had fallen on the tin roof. A scraping sound compelled Borgias’ eyes to follow the progress of whatever was up there as it made its way from one end to the other. At this point the chittering became intense and filled the dusty room with threat. Borgias scrambled to the far left corner and crouched with his back to the wall. His bowels suddenly griped with an urgent need to open again and he quickly pulled his breeches down and squatted. His shit was like water and stank of illness. He retched, his heart hammering, and groaned as another spasm ripped through his stomach. The sounds outside stopped briefly, but were soon replaced by a scuffling noise at the door. There followed a series of grunts and snorts, much like a dog sniffing at a rabbit hole. Then the shrill chittering recommenced, even louder this time, followed by a gunshot, a brief scream and the horse neighing wildly. Then a silence so absolute Borgias thought for a moment he’d gone deaf.

The man’s eyes scanned his immediate vicinity, boxing the compass every thirty seconds or so, his ears sharp to any unusual sounds. As he was looking towards the area to the left of the hut there was a loud crash on the roof, followed by a slow scraping, like bone on metal. His eyes snapped in that direction and took in a shape darker than the night sky, swaying gently from side to side. His attention was then drawn to the door of the building where another figure had suddenly materialised. He raised his shotgun, the stock firm in his right shoulder, and pulled a trigger. The report was deafening and all but drowned out his own scream as something from behind gripped the top of his head.

There was now a commotion of high pitched squeals, gutteral snarls and many footsteps rushing towards the front of the building. Borgias remained crouched in the back corner, the backs of his legs and breeches covered in his own mess. He didn’t care about this, gave it not one thought, as he stared dumbly at the closed door. His skin was moist with sweat he could barely afford and his heart pulsed thickly in his throat. A quiet whimpering came from his mouth and he hugged his drawn up knees. The water was on the other side of the room, below the window, but he didn’t dare retrieve it. He became aware of his whimpers and made an effort to silence himself. He waited in the dark, expecting death to barrel towards him through the door. Every so often, the frenzy outside would die down for a few minutes to be replaced with sharp cracks and wet, sucking noises. Occasionally, something would come to the door and sniff loudly underneath it, then go away. Whenever this happened, Borgias’ fingers would dig into the backs of his calves and the whimpering would return despite himself. He would gape at the door, waiting for it to open any moment and reveal whatever it was outside

He sat there through the night, the scrapings and growls and scuffling worming through the hands clapped to his ears. Gradually, as grey light filled the room, the sounds died down and eventually stopped. Borgias remained where he was for hours after sunrise. When he felt confident enough to move, his muscles protested violently and he had to spend a good five minutes or so slowly straightening his legs and shakily massaging his thighs and knees. When he finally stood, he had to hold onto the wall as a wave of nausea and vertigo swept up his throat and filled his head. He clutched the waist of his breeches and pulled them up, aware now of how ill he’d been. He staggered towards the window and peeked out as he had the previous day. He could see the fire was gone, but still smoking a little. He looked left and right and tried to make sense of the scene before him. He could see where the horse had stood and could make out a leg and hoof, sticking up at an angle from a dark mass. He slowly tilted his head up and looked out with both eyes. He could see nothing of the bounty hunter.

He crept to the door and gently pulled it open with his foot. It swung back lazily and stopped at halfway. The sun was high and would be cruel today, he knew. He went back to the window and picked up the water skin. He unplugged it and took a swig of the filthy tasting liquid. There was so little left now, less than he’d thought. It wouldn’t last the rest of the day. He put the skin back on the ground and cautiously walked to the door again. He strained his ears for any sounds that may indicate threat, but could detect nothing. He inched forward till he was just outside the door, quickly surveyed the front area and then looked up at what he could see of the roof, ready to run back inside. He could see nothing there. He turned round and crept towards the dead fire. The stench from the horse carcass was overwhelming and he had to turn away and breathe through his mouth. Flies, like little black clouds, hovered above its mutilated corpse. He quickly looked back at the roof, which he could see more of now, but there was nothing. He expected the bounty hunter was either dead or seriously injured or else miles from here and would not pose a threat to him, at least not today.

He scanned the ground, noticing the innumerable scratches, odd prints and brown stains in the dirt. He wanted his gun and whatever other useful objects the man may have left behind. After that, he needed to get away from this place as fast as he could on foot. He thought of the remaining water and hoped he’d find another source within an hour or two. As he circled the small camp area, he saw a leather boot jutting out from behind a boulder. He slowly went towards it and found it was partly eaten, but still attached to a leg, the right. The leg was almost fleshless and the bone scored in many places. He continued searching and found other body parts, including a broken lower jaw with most of the teeth missing and a bony hand, but no sign of anything else. He returned to the horse carcass and found the double-aught stock, but no barrel. Even the saddle had been half eaten. The Colt was nowhere to be seen.

Borgias decided to look behind the building and it was as he passed to its left side he saw another bony leg attached to the lower half of a torso. The pelvis was clearly visible with strands of muscle and flesh still hanging from it. The belt and holster were round what had been the waist and both had been chewed. A few crushed bullets were scattered nearby. He looked about some more and found the Colt half buried in sand behind the building. He picked it up and examined it. It seemed to be intact. He opened the chamber and found it full. He wanted to feel its recoil in his hand, that familiar pull on his wrist. He pointed it at the sky and squeezed the trigger, closing his eyes and hunching his shoulders at the sound. He half expected a fear of discovery to overtake him, but the report was healthy and immensely comforting and Borgias thanked all the gods he’d never believed in. He returned to the hut, picked up the water skin and quickly walked out in a northerly direction. He turned back once to look at the strange building in the middle of nowhere, hoping he would never see it again.

The sun was indeed cruel and he avoided the desert valley, preferring the rocks and boulders. They afforded some occasional shelter from the heat, but even then Borgias found it hard going. He guessed it was three in the afternoon and that sundown would be around eight. He had five hours to find water and shelter. He did not want to be left out in the dark in this place. He judged he could walk about ten miles in the time he had left before nightfall, but wasn’t sure if that would be far enough away from whatever it was that attacked the bounty hunter. He considered turning back after two and a half hours and searching for the hut if he hadn’t found any shelter by then, but dismissed this. Although he’d been relatively safe there, he didn’t want to go back. He continued walking past the point of no return, which left him both relieved and fearful. He was living on borrowed time, but clung desperately to some semblance of hope.

His head kept drooping as he walked and he had to make an effort to look up every so often and check his bearings. He wanted to keep the mountains on his right and the sun behind him, but had to adjust his course many times after looking up and finding the mountains to his left and the sun on his face. He didn’t know how this happened, but wondered if he was falling asleep for brief periods as he walked. His throat and skin burned and there was a throbbing pain deep in his temples. His vision would blur and sometimes he had to stop for fear of falling over. Once, he found himself on the ground, dizzy and sick, and knew he'd gashed his forehead. Through slitted eyes he could see a smooth, perfectly black stone near his left hand. He lay there panting for too long and struggled to get back on his feet, scuffing the dry dust around where he'd lain.

He found no water, no shelter and now the sun was sinking. He’d drunk the last drops in the skin and had seen nothing in the landscape of rocks and sand to indicate any other source. It was a dead place, fit only for ghosts. He found it increasingly difficult to focus and knew he didn’t really know where he was going. As he walked, a phrase kept turning over and over in his head, but it made little sense; ‘in this place, no living thing shall be harmed by another.’ It was like a hangover mantra; sickening and meaningless, yet compelling. He shuffled his way through the interminable rocks, those strange words coiling round his thoughts. The shadows grew.

Suddenly, he stopped. He stared at his surroundings. A pricking sensation worried the nape of his neck. There was something about this place, something he didn’t like. The rocks. That one to his left. Did it seem to be similar to one he’d seen before? They all looked alike, but this one had an unusual outcrop that reminded him of a horse’s head. He gaped at it and realised with horror that the hut was just beyond. He’d walked in a pointless circle. He looked around him. There was no doubt; he was back where he’d started.

As the sun dipped behind the distant mountains, he heard a sound he knew he’d been expecting all along, though still it chilled his heart. It came from the right, high pitched and threatening. More calls came to him on the cooling air, but to the left of him now. They came louder, calling and responding, so many voices in the night. As darkness deepened, he thought he saw something moving forty paces or so in front of him. He knew he was being surrounded. He raised the Colt and fired blindly. The echoes of the report bounced against the rocks and the chittering grew more urgent. He fired again. Then once more, but he knew it was hopeless. He had no choice. He ran in the direction of the hut, aware now of dark shapes on both sides keeping pace with him, closing in. Bile filled his throat and his legs felt as if they would give way at any moment. He felt something clutch the back of his shirt as he reached the door, but it let go as he pushed against the wood and fell into the room. He jumped to his feet and slammed the door shut. He leant his back against it, his breath ragged. Frustrated snarls and scratching and that hateful chittering filled his ears.

He couldn’t understand how he’d managed to walk in a wide circle most of the day. The water was gone and there would be little hope now of finding any tomorrow. He wondered if he’d actually left this place, if he’d slept the whole day and merely dreamt of his attempted escape. He looked about the room as darkness gathered. If the previous night showed anything, he would be safe till morning; but what then? Another day’s wandering only to return to where he was now? He thought of the markings on the face of the building. He wondered what they meant, whether they were good or ill. Then those strange words came to him again; ‘in this place, no living thing shall be harmed by another.’ It was both a blessing and a curse.

He hefted the gun in his hand, trying to enjoy the weight of it, the way it fitted in his palm and the sense of belonging he liked to think it felt, pressed against his flesh. He slid down the door and sat, staring at the back wall. He could hear movement all around, scuffling and snorting at the door behind him and scratching at the walls and window. It made his flesh crawl and he wanted to move away, but decided he felt safer keeping his weight against the wood. He knew they wanted him, wanted to rip the living flesh from his bones, drain the blood from his veins. He waited in the darkness, his throat parched, lips cracked. His breath came fast and shallow and a pulsing pain worried his left eye. The sickness in his bowels was gone, but his stomach still cramped. He could hear the carcasses outside being picked over again and imagined sharp teeth gnawing at the bones. Sometimes there were scraping sounds on the roof, the tin creaking and bending under the weight of pure menace. His eyes remained open throughout the night, although he lost awareness several times. He sat for eternities till the sun rose on another day and the sounds outside faded.

He got himself up and turned to face the door. He pulled it open a little and stood looking at the scuff marks and strange prints in the dust, the long scratches on the lintels. Bones lay scattered, but there was no stench. They’d picked everything clean. The sun was unrelenting and he stepped back within the shade of the hut. He knew he couldn’t walk in the heat and the prospect of another night in this place filled him with dread; he could no more face the light as he could the dark. The noises of the night before echoed in his skull and the memory of yesterday’s sun still burned his skin.

Leaving the door open, he turned slowly and shuffled to the middle of the room. He lay down and stared at the ceiling. ‘No living thing’, he whispered. Images of the last few days flickered across his mind’s eye, mixed with disconnected scenes from his childhood and youth. The fingers of his left hand drew slow circles in the dry dirt, while his right came up towards his face and put the lips of the Colt near his own. He closed his eyes and conjured up that beautiful whore. He could hear the rustle of her fine silk dress as she lay down beside him. He could feel her fingers in his damp hair, her cool breath on his face. ‘Borgias’, she said and kissed his mouth, banishing the noises from his head and the heat from his flesh.


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