Almost as quickly as night fell upon them, morning arrived. Time is funny, it had a way of moving quickly, or too slowly, as if it couldn’t make up its mind. Just when he thought he had a firm grasp of it, it slipped way like a fish in a river. The moon began to hide itself beneath the horizon as the sun crept of from its resting place. All the world’s critters began to wake, to move and leave their burrows and dens as if hearing some imperceptible sign to do so; their body clock’s alarm sounded and they went about their usual business.
The earth stirred.
Horses nickered, impatiently paced left and right, bit and reared at any agitation. They know, the man with bells thought. It’s like they can see what the day had in store for them. Horses were good companions, they had a third eye, God’s Eye, they seemed to be able to see trouble a mile away. Bells for the bell tower.
Men woke from their tents, cracked their backs and stretched their appendages. They drank their coffee as if it were the only thing left in this world; both hands clutching the hot cup in the cool morning, watching every drop of black liquid flow into their mouths. Some spiked it with a little lightning fuel while others seemed perfectly content with replacing the former with the latter all together.
But when the spurs – his spurs – could be heard, ‘tom foolery,’ as he called it, ceased. Lightning fuel was stowed away, talk of past lovers, whores, would-be’s flings and every other big fish story under the sun never made it passed the lips of any camp member. Eerie silence – perhaps in awe or fear – followed him through the camp like creeping death. Salutes, nodes, gestures and other signs of approval were always shot his direction, though it seemed he never noticed when they did right; only when they did wrong.
David Slud – “it’s Sluh-d, not Slood” as he was apt to correct – was asleep in his tent. While men around him roused and got about the day’s business, he slept. His hair was disheveled; a belly that did his homely looks no favors burst out from a shirt that had bunched itself high on his chest. A thin line of drool crept down his cheek and made a puddle of substantial size which his face was currently residing. He lay on his back, snoring like there was no tomorrow (which in his case was absolutely true).
The familiar ring of the spurs danced in their ears. They were made of something different than the usual iron – God’s steel is what he called it, though titanium was closer to the truth – that gave it a special song every time he moved, like small bells were being rung. The song stopped in front of the sleeping man who was more apt to be called Slug than Slud.
The wind pushed itself through the grass, tent flaps lazily waved in the breeze, some said they could hear another man’s thoughts. Time stood still.
“Excuse me,” the man asked, looming over Slud. His face was patient, almost barren of facial hair save the shade of what his beard could be, already this early in the morning. He was cool, even tempered and his lined face suggested he had lived through enough to know his way around their twisted world.
“Excuse me, sir.” He said again.
If Slud heard, he made no sign.
He kicked him, it was more of a nudge really, the same way a mother might seek to rouse a sleeping adolescent. Slud the slug kept his eyes and mind shut.
The man stood upright again, and looked at his watch – another relic from that other time – and clasped his hands behind his back, sighing. He turned to one of the men flanking him, “wake him.”
“Aye,” the bowlegged man said and moved over to David Slud’s sleeping body. Being less of a mother and perhaps more of the likeness of a deputy (though he was far from it), he kicked Slud hard in the ribs. Even in his deep sleep Slud let out a solid oof! like the wind got knocked out of him. His eyes were slower to wake than the pain in his torso, his mind even more so. He looked about, eyes slits above his crooked nose and unkempt mustache, desperately trying to make sense of the look of pity on everyone’s face.
“Nice of you to join us,” the man said. “Would you happen to know what time it is?”
Slud looked at him as if he had asked him the meaning to life, ‘why we die’ or if he knew the Lawd Jesus Christ personally. His eyes darted and lips parted but all he could utter out were a few, “I…I…I…”
“Of course you don’t. You don’t have a watch, I’m quite certain you couldn’t tell time even if you did have one. But I am a man of habit, so I’ll ask again: do you know what time it is?”
The cogs in Slud’s brain seemed to be firing now, his eyes and ears were doing work finally recognizing the six foot danger that stood before him. “I dun’ know, sir.” He responded, the words elongated, “It’s like ‘ee said, I dun’ have no watch.”
“Well, now we’re getting somewhere.” He said with a smile not too genuine. The man leaned down again, as to make sure Slud could look him directly in the eyes. The man had small, but brilliantly pale blue eyes. Eyes any girl could easily get lost in, had they not come as a package deal with the rest of him. “Tell me, at what time were we meant to break camp?”
He searched for a minute, “sunrise, sir?”
“That’s right, and what time is it?” Slud didn’t answer, “I’ll give you a hint, where might be the sun?”
Slud broke eye contact and brought his gaze to the burning fireball in the sky, one that had just recently breached the horizon. “Sunrise, sir.”
“Wrong again, Mr..?”
“Slug—I mean, Slud. It’s Slud.”
“—Slud. The sun has risen. The time has passed. It can rise no more than a man can after a long night in a Bethany’s Brothel. The act isover. This moment is no longer for sleeping, or for breaking camp. The time for all that to be done, is done, finished, kaput – so to speak.”
Slud lay stupidly in his makeshift bed, using his elbows to prop himself up, his hair was a mirror image of his mind, hopeless and chaotic. It seemed he couldn’t tell whether he should start running, or crying. Perhaps both would be most appropriate.
“I can’t have sloths amongst my band of merry men, can I? What kind of example would I be setting for the rest of these fine men here?” his arm swept among the camp, a thin smile accompanied it.
“Would people take me seriously, Slood?”
“N-n-no, sir. They wouldn’t.”
“So, my intelligent friend, what should I do with you? If I mean to make true our reputation, and don’t turn it into that of nap crazed teenaged boys who can’t even do a God’s honest day’s work, what must we do?”
Slud, being slow, was beginning to recognize the repercussion of his acts. Frantically, he stood up from his bed, he did his best to smooth out his hair and pull on his boots. He began to gather his belongings, heaping everything in his arms wordlessly and shoving them into the nearest bag.
The spurred man tittered, he stopped Slud with the click of his tongue and wagging of his finger. “What did I say, Slood? The sun hasrisen. That time is gone. No, no, it is far too late for this.” He turned to the bowlegged man next to him, “take his horse. Make sure he is part of the advanced party.”
Slud at first said nothing, his jaw gapped as his mind sought to wrap itself around what was happening. “Sir, advanced party? Who be the advanced party?”
He smiled again, that same thin uneasy smile spread itself across his face. “Well, partner, that’d be you.” When Slud said nothing, the man poked him in the chest and said, “you be the advanced party” in a mocking tone not too different than Slud’s own.
“Breagen,” he said to the bowlegged man again, “relieve him of his food and water rations.” Taking one more quick look at Slud, “and take his boots. Those seem mighty fine, it’d be a damn shame to stain those and, by golly, the miles ahead of us would just ruin them boots, don’t you think, Slood?”
He said nothing, even when the men relieved him of all his possessions – food, water, keep sakes from home, and his guns – he said nothing. It wasn’t until Breagen shoved him hard in the back – “Move!” he cried and kicked him again in the ribs when he fell to the ground – that Slud began to whimper.
“The two degenerates are in this desert!” the spurred man cried, turning from the broken man and addressing those around him. “Two for our four dozen! They are hopelessly out numbered, and no more than a day ride from us. Do we want them to get away?”
“No!” they cried.
“Do we want them to commit their betrayal again? Do we want them to mock our Father?” There was a seething bite to his voice now, each word a clear pronunciation and proclamation of judgment.
“Kill ‘em!” like crazed fanatics they all joined in chorus, adding their own flavor of malevolence.
“Then look at poor, Slud here” he emphasized the uh in Slud and gestured his direction. “The sloth is what I see. I see a lazy man who cares not about the adulterers that set themselves upon one another like lusting devils. We shall make an example of them all. Because in the eyes of God all men are wicked. All are gluttons, greedy, and sloths. We are all murderers, and jealous of one another and full ofwrath. But most of all, we are prideful. We are imperfect beings! It is with His glory that we are made reborn.”
“Our lord and savior!”
“Thanks to ye, I am reborn, Blithe!”
In a misstep not true to his character, Blithe smiled, a true smile, if only for a moment. Time is odd: it’s gone as soon as it’s there. The corners of his lips crept up slightly on the edges, and then it was as if it was never there in the first place. He regained his composure and addressed the man who called out to him. “I’m just doing the good Lord’s work, keeping our souls true and our cause just. Look toGod for your thanks. Look to God for your strength. Look to Him for guidance. Look amongst each and every one of you and know that it is our God given duty to act as his hand! To act as his will! Now is the time, the hour, the moment to make them pay. We send them to God for judgement!”
The crowd of men cheered, they raised their fists and guns into the air. Blood crazed eyes and a blood crazed hunger passed easily amongst the men, like it was all they were capable of. Like it was their programing, that they just needed the word, the phrase, the purpose and they’d go on a spree. It was in their blood.
“So ride with me! Mount up, arm yourselves and carry a long rope for tonight two adulterers will hang and be made one, in holy union with St. Eli as witness! Bells for the bell tower!” Men moved, they ran and gathered up their belongings, bed rolls and tents were packed away. Guns were hung on hips, and slung over shoulders if they were big enough. No more talk of whores, has-been’s, would-be’s, lighting fuel or big fish.
Today, the talk was of two new bells for ol’ St. Eli’s bell tower.
It woke, but not with the skittering sounds of waking creatures. The earth stirred with the thundering sound of horses and the monsters that rode them.