Saturday, March 24, 2012

9 Days of Madness presents: A Stranger Comes to Town, by Christopher Grant

Christopher Grant is the last of the featured authors this time around that I'm meeting for the first time. Checking out his extensive writing and editing credentials though, I must have been living under a rock!


This guy writes atmosphere so thick  that dust clouds puff off the screen, and femmes so fatale the mere mention of their perfume is enough to get you high. His plots are tight, and the twists are fair - what more can you ask for?


As with the other "new" authors I've met this year, I'm definitely keeping my eye out for more by Christopher now. And it's with great pleasure that I present: A Stranger Comes to Town.


~~ 9DOM ~~




A STRANGER COMES TO TOWN 
Red dust, for as far as the eye can see. When the sun sets on it, it looks like spilled blood. Appropriate, I think.

I've been here for two weeks. The first day was next to useless. The stab wounds had been taken care of professionally, well-cleaned, stitched up and wrapped or bandaged. Leg would heal properly given time. Didn't have time.

But it's always been this way, hasn't it?

One night, fictional worlds exploded out into reality.

Or was it the other way around?

Killed my old man.

Did what?

Took a gun and shot him dead.

That's how all of this started.

In the distance, two riders are approaching. One rides a pale horse. Coming out of the setting sun, they look like Death and Pestilence. As they reach me, I see that they are Death and Pestilence.

"The future's uncertain and the end is always near," Death says to me and continues riding past me.

"You should cover your mouth when you cough," Pestilence says and rides on after his friend.

I kick my horse in the sides and we move towards the setting sun.

A half mile on, I find a red horse sprawled out, its rider full of buckshot, his dead eyes open and staring at the heavens. He is missing an arm. The horse once had fire in its eyes. Now there is only cold gray. It looks up at me and tries to snort. I pull my shotgun and grant it mercy.

Another half mile and a black emaciated horse has succumbed at last to its hunger. It is eating the bony leg of its master, who is trying in vain to ward it off.

"Help," he says. Half of his face is a bloody mess, the wound's origin lost in the blood.

I give him all the help he needs, blasting the horse, then him.

Around the bend, there's a cave and I decide to set camp there for the night.

I dream various dreams during the night.

In one there is a woman. Red hair. She grabs me up in her arms and suddenly, we're airborne. She is naked and I notice that I am, too. Suddenly, we are making love in a room somewhere in the future. There are men and women all around us, watching us. I am close to orgasm when she dissolves into water and becomes nothing more than a puddle on the sheets of the bed.

In another dream, I am shaving in a mirror when I notice that I have two reflections. The first of these is my face, normal, clean-shaven and more modern than now. The second is my face but not normal. I am baring my teeth and growling. I have become something else. I can't stop myself from doing whatever it is I'm going to do next. I charge at the mirror. It shatters.

I wake up, breathing heavily. I can't seem to control my heart. I feel heavy, tired. Finally, I calm myself and fall back to sleep. The rest of the night is uneventful. The dream, however, stays with me all throughout the next day.

Two days later, I ride into a bustling boomtown, past a saloon and a hotel. The railroad has just gone in on the outskirts and tourism must be the town's major source of income, though, for the life of me, I cannot figure out what this town has to offer that any other town doesn't.

Down the street, I see a brothel, with the demimonde hawking their virtues, mostly their breasts, at the passing cowboys, as well as proper gentlemen with wives that are buttoned all the way to their necks. The proper gentlemen most definitely have hard-ons and are attempting their best to walk with them and pay sly attention to the source of their torment. Whether that torment comes from their wives or the whores, flip a coin.

And there she is. The red-haired woman from my dream. Same nose, same eyes, same mouth.

She's dressed differently, though. Dressed differently for this time. Most women don't look like she does. A hat like mine, a duster, a pair of leather gloves. She wears trousers like a man, wears a white shirt under a vest under the duster. She walks the boardwalk, getting catcalls from the men, getting middle fingers from the whores. "Dyke!" one shouts in her direction.

She walks past me, pauses and turns back to face me.

"Martians speak in clipped, short sentences when they speak at all," she says before she continues on her way, going into a gun shop.

I hitch my horse down the street and enter a saloon. The men inside are traders, buffalo hunters, gamblers, gunslingers, killers, officers of the law, miners, bounty hunters and men out of work spending their last dime.

I head for the bar and place my foot on the rail.


"Whiskey," I say and the man behind the bar pours a shot. I down it. I feel every eye in the place on me. "Again." I down it and slap a fifty cent piece on the bar.

I go back out the double wing door and walk in the direction of the gun shop.

The red-haired woman is just coming out when I reach the shop.

"How bad?" she says.

"Bad," I say.

*
She fucks like a woman is supposed to fuck. She doesn't just lay there, she gives as good as she gets and, when she comes, she doesn't bite her lip and keep quiet. She shouts that she's coming and she comes like she's on fire.

Afterwards, she kisses me and rolls out of bed. I watch her naked ass sway as she goes to the basin, pours some water into it and takes a rag and wipes her cunt clean.

She comes back to bed with a bottle of something dark and takes a swig before offering the bottle to me. I taste her on the bottle and drink.


"Why are we here?" she asks me, laying down next to me, putting her head on my chest.

"What do you mean?" I seriously don't know what she means.

"Here, now, instead of where we should be," she says.

"Where should we be?" I ask.

"Not here," she says. She grabs hold of my cock. I'm not limp but I'm getting there. I don't want to get there. I want her to work her magic again and get me hard again and let me fuck her again.

"Where then?" I ask.

"Do you remember the flash?" she asks me. "Before we were here."

I nod and drink more of the liquid in the bottle. It is fruity and good.

"I was on the street," she says. "I was about to get in a car and then...I was riding a horse, naked. I came into this town at night and broke into a general store to get some clothes. I don't know how to live here."

"I killed my old man," I say. "This is how it all began."

She sits up and looks at me. Her face is hard now.

"You did this?"


"I think so," I say.

She lays back down, her head against my chest, her hand on my cock.

We are silent for a long time.

*

The sun wakes me. The sound of gunshots make me realize that she's gone.

I go to the window and outside, in the street, I see her. Her body is in the dirt. She is looking up at the heavens.

I throw on my pants and rush down the stairs.

Her shoulders is shot to shit.

She's gritting her teeth.

Somewhere else, this would be easy to fix.

Here, I'm not sure. If the bullet is bouncing around in her shoulder, it might tear the shoulder apart. If it's lower, she might be drawing her last breath.

She might lose the arm completely.

She's whispering something to me.

"I want to go home," she says.

And then she's gone.

*

I'm in a room with a dim bulb hanging from the ceiling over a white table. Across the table, a man in a white lab coat sits and observes me. I simply stare at him.

A heartbeat and then he produces a pen and writes something on the chart in front of him.

"So what is it you wish to talk about?" he says.


"Going home," I say.

"I'm not sure that that's possible," he says. "Progress needs to be shown."

"Progress," I say.

"Progress," he says.

I've been here for an indeterminate amount of time. I can remember her red hair, her smell, the way her skin felt, her last words to me. After that, I have no idea what happened.

And then...here.

I am a prisoner. I know this because I am allowed one hour out of my cage and I see all other prisoners. Some of them mill about in the yard. Others, like me, are regulated to a hallway or, at best, a commons room.

There is a black guy named Heath. Not sure if it is his last name or his first. He plays chess. Ten minutes earlier, he took a bishop and stabbed it into another prisoner's windpipe. The guards watched it happen, removed the body and left Heath to continue to play.


I sit down across from Heath. Ten moves and I defeat him. Heath bows his head to me in acknowledgement and then tries the bishop trick with me. I'm too quick for him, reach out and grab his forearm, snap it in two, take the bishop out of his hand and toss it across the room. My hand works so much better than a chess piece. To his throat, fingers around his windpipe.

"You're one of them or you're working for them," I say. "I'm on to you."

The guards step in and swing truncheons into the back of my knees and I let Heath go. He should get his boo-boo looked at as soon as possible. I might have hit an artery.

"Progress," I say as they take me back to my cage.

*

I dream three dreams that night.

One:

I'm in a long hallway. Down at the end of the hallway is a blackness that slowly creeps towards me. I turn and face the other end of the hallway. A light is speeding towards me. Somehow, the blackness makes it to me before the speeding light. As they collide, I am thrown from the hallway.

Two:


Red dust. Blood red when the sun hits it. I am back in the West. There are four riders approaching me. One rides a pale horse.

Death, Pestilence, Famine and...the red-haired woman.

Death says, "This is the end."

Pestilence tells me to wipe my nose.

Famine simply pokes my ribs.

The red-haired woman asks me if I would follow her into hell.

I say, "Yes."

"Then follow me," she says. She rides ahead of me but she is too fast and I lose track of her.

Three:

I am in a bar. South Something. There is a nude dancer at the center of the room. Her tits are obviously fake. She shakes and shimmies down the pole.

A cop is sitting next to me and asks me if I want to buy some cocaine. I know he's a cop and tell him to fuck himself. He leaves the club.

Ten minutes earlier, a man named Heath served me a whiskey. I downed it. "Again." I downed it.

I walk outside and there she is. The red-haired woman. She wears a silver skirt and a red shirt tight against her body. She looks at me as she passes, heading for the gun shop down the street.

I start to walk in the opposite direction and then head back toward the gun shop.

When I wake up, I'm standing in front of the gun shop.

She comes out of the gun shop, a revolver in her hand.

"How bad does this make me look?" she asks me.

"Bad," I say.

*

"Where was I?" she asks me, her head on my chest, her hand on my cock.

"I don't know," I say.

"Where were you?" she asks.

"I don't know."

"What are we going to do about that?" she asks.

"I don't know."

We are silent for a long time.



*

When the sun wakes me in the morning, she is gone.

I pull on pants and rush to the street.

She is sitting on the stoop, smoking a cigarette.

She holds the gun in her right hand.

"If I shoot this," she says, "I shoot it to kill."

She looks at the gun, takes another drag on the cigarette.

"Will you follow me into hell?" she asks me, her blue eyes looking up at me.

"I will," I say.

"Then follow me," she says and starts walking down the street.

I follow her.


~~ 9DOM ~~

Christopher Grant is a writer of crime and noir and of bizarro/experimental fiction. He is also the editor/publisher of A Twist Of NoirEaten Alive, and Alternate Endings. 

11 comments:

  1. I believe you already know my thoughts on this, so all I'm going to do this time around is bow my head in acknowledgment. No bishops to the windpipe.

    The word metamorphosis comes to mind. I'm watching something unfold on the other side of the screen, a Rorschach gone completely out of bounds. Thank you for giving me the occasional camera angle straight into your mind.

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  2. If this has a deep meaning then I am not smart enough to get it.
    I liked it though. Liked it a lot. Riders On The Storm played in my head as I read this. I loved the dreamy fractured quality.
    Good job.

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  3. This had a great bizarre, surreal quality. Another great addition to 9DOM

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  4. My mind was playing the characters, images and atmosphere like a movie. The fragments and flashes pieced together were disturbing, and since it played like a movie in my head, reminded me a bit Tarrantino. The ending brought the story full circle. Really enjoyed this!

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  5. What's awesome is that the bizarro-tinged elements here are the sanest points of the story, and the flashes of "reality" show the main character to be even more gone than we could have previously imagined.

    The narration has elements of noir, but applied to the western setting it's fresh and powerful.

    Too many great things to pick just one. So I'll say that the ending was fantastic.

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  6. I thought the ending was fantastic too. I really enjoyed how you kept returning to scenes at slightly different angles, as if your character were escaping into these worlds to overcome or forget his troubled past, and kept reworking them in his mind until he got it right.
    Great work, Christopher.

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  7. Thanks to everyone that read and enjoyed A STRANGER COMES TO TOWN.

    Becky, I know your feelings about A STRANGER COMES TO TOWN and I thank you very much for both those and those that you expressed here and so much more.

    S.K., I'm sure if you look at it long enough, you can draw your own deeper meaning. That's what art and fiction are supposd to do: allow for the interpretation of the reader. I didn't intend one way or the other to place deeper meaning in it but, at the same time, it's there if you want it. Glad you enjoyed the story.

    Laurita, I'm glad you liked the bizarre and surreality to the story. The bizarre elements were the most fun to write, allowing me to stretch my creative legs and play.

    Jodi, the Tarantino comparison is extremely flattering. I'm also glad that it disturbed you (I know that sounds strange but I mean it in the most thankful way) and that you caught the full circle ending, which really does tie it all together.

    Chris, I can't thank you enough for taking this story on for the 9 Days Of Madness. I had been looking for a place to go with this story and then Rebecca Bohn mentioned 9DOM and I knew it would fit, but the story was beyond the word count. I am in your debt for taking it on.

    Erin, thank you, too, for catching the full circle ending. What you say is dead-on about returning to the scenes from slightly different angles. This is what kept the story from spinning out of control, which it could have easily done.

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  8. Christopher absolutely brilliant narrative. You never leave any spare meat on your prose, but this has been chiselled to the bone with a scalpel. I love the mixture of dreamscape and Western. Highly evocative from the first line to the ending.

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  9. Like I said before, strong everywhere and, underneath the seeming chaos, a tight hand on the reins. Had some Fellini to it, some of the color of that guy.Present tense works great. It makes the rents in the fabric of reality and the same rents in the surrealist delusions play perfectly off each other in bizarre combination until, after a while, I quit tryng to keep track and just enjoyed the ride through madness.

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  10. Richard,

    Thank you, my friend, for the kind words. What was the most fun with this story was just letting go and letting the story be told. Sometimes you feel like you have to run herd on a story and get it all just right. The only think I felt like I needed to control, as said above, is keeping it from spinning out. And that was easily fixed by the repetition of scenes, just tweaking them slightly.

    I really believe that more writers should just give themselves over to the story and go from there.

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  11. AJ,

    Thank you, my friend, as well.

    You, as a reader, did exactly what I suggested above to writers. You gave yourself over to the story and let yourself go, riding the crest and fall, like a surfer on a wave.

    I'm absolutely flattered by the Fellini comparison and thank you for that, too.

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