Note: PLEASE REVIEW!! I crave feedback, analyze my work, take it apart, question my motives; my skills as a writer, just tell me what you think! (::sniff:: Yes, I know I’m pathetic :P )
Dawn came to the planet Gunsmoke in much the same manner as
everything else did, quick and harsh. Even as the first daggers of
sunlight stabbed into the sand, the scream of a small child punched
through the early morning stillness.
The staccato clap of leather-shod feet on concrete rang out in
response. Nicholas D. Wolfwood vaulted with surprising agility over the
rusty iron railing of the hotel’s front steps; the Cross Punisher
balanced over one shoulder. He hit the ground running and sprinted off
towards the scream’s origin, panting around the battered and unlit
cigarette pursed between his lips. “Breakfast,” he’d explained to
Vash after the sleepy-eyed blonde complained of his chain-smoking habit
from the relative safety of the shower.
As he pounded down the street, Wolfwood thanked God that he’d
gotten up so early, even if it had been with the selfish intention to
get his fair share of the hotel’s limited water supply for guest use.
Generosity got old extremely fast when one hadn’t bathed in a week.
The scream came again, filled with a fresh sense of urgency. ‘Almost there!’ he thought. A new shriek followed by the
unmistakable sounds of gunfire echoed through the boxy stucco buildings
of the city. A second round and a third in fast succession rose above
the keening wail of terror.
On either side of the street heads poked though the partially
open doors; eyes peered out from between curtains. A few brave ones
moved to stand on their front porches, shotguns loaded. A few stupid
ones trotted out into the street.
Nicholas’ mind went cold and blank as he skidded to a stop,
shoving the Cross Punisher through the cheap wooden door from behind
which the horrible sounds of the last minute had issued. The door
splintered and broke; giving way to a scene that made his heart freeze.
A chubby, mousy-haired woman lay sprawled in a widening pool of her own
blood. A little girl cowered in a corner, her arms flung protectively
over her head. A man, pot-bellied and unshaven, glared back at the
priest in the doorway. A revolver balanced in the man’s left hand
swung around to point at Wolfwood’s chest.
The Cross Punisher was free of its protective canvas and open in
an instant. With a flick of his wrist he stood, a pistol aimed in
reciprocation. Though his arm was rock steady, the rest of Wolfwood’s
body trembled with the force of his emotion.
A slow smile that could only be described as evil spread across
the man’s face but before Nicholas could gauge his intentions a fourth
shot blasted out. The little girl’s sobs stopped abruptly as she
crumpled to the floor like a wet piece of paper. One tiny hand flopped
lifelessly beside her mother’s, their outstretched fingers centimeters
from each other’s comforting touch.
Time blurred into eternity. Wolfwood’s eyes widened in shock.
His jaw clenched. The dilapidated cigarette fell from nerveless lips.
With a roar he squeezed the trigger, but the crack of gunfire came
instead from an open window as agony ripped though his shoulder. When
Nicholas glanced up a second later, it was to see the fat man slump to
the ground, clutching his leg. ‘Vash then,’ Nicholas thought without surprise, sweating from the
“Millie, don’t look!” Meryl warned from the doorway behind
“Mr. Priest, are
you alright?” the big girl’s voice called in genuine concern. She
was always genuine.
Vash was clumsily climbing though the window, but all Nicholas
heard was silence. The silence of the dead. Clicking the safety on, he
returned his revolver to its place in the Cross Punisher and moved
forward to kneel beside the woman and her daughter. The knees of his
pants were instantly soaked in their cooling blood, making the fabric
stick sickeningly to his skin. His arm went blissfully numb as his other
hand reached to feel for a pulse. There was none. Both of them were
He could have saved the child, if only he hadn’t hesitated. Damn! He closed the girl’s eyes. They had been hazel, filled with
flecks of green and gold, now flat and lifeless. Whispering a prayer he
pulled the unresisting bodies onto their backs, arranging them
side-by-side. ‘To hell with the
authorities and their investigations,’ he thought vehemently.
slowly became aware of voices as time reinserted itself into reality.
They were all around him now. Meryl was alternately growling at Vash and
the local sheriff while attempting to comfort Millie. Millie was
clinging to her petite partner and sobbing her gentle heart out for
people she had never met, let alone seen alive. Meanwhile, Vash was
patiently lecturing the now handcuffed murder on the virtues of love and
Then, with a shouted curse, the man lunged forward. His hungry
hands reached for the sheriff’s gun belt. Sighing almost inaudibly,
Vash planted the heel of his boot in the man’s temple.
Nicholas rose wordlessly to his feet, shoving his way past a
sweating deputy who had been given the task of dragging the unconscious
killer off to jail. Wolfwood snatched up the Cross Punisher from where
it had slumped against one wall; and nearly dropped it. Pain flowered in
his shoulder; his had reflexively clenching into a fist. He would never
get accustomed to being shot. It simply wasn’t the kind of thing that
got easier with practice. Angrily he picked the weapon up, cradling the
crossbeam in the crook of his left arm and strode outside and into the
shadow cast by the building. The onlookers from before were shaking
their heads and calling to their neighbors as they returned to their
lives feeling completely unaffected.
He squinted at the sun, then at his watch. Ten minutes. It had
only been ten minutes since he had jumped the rail of the hotel’s
He wiped his
hands clean on his thighs; the dark slacks were already ruined. He was
just lighting a bent cigarette he had fished out of one breast pocket
when Vash came to stand beside him. For a moment the humanoid typhoon
simply stood there, saying nothing. Wolfwood didn’t even spare the
blonde man a glance, but instead focused on the familiar buzz of tobacco
smoke as it curled though his lungs.
“Nick,” Vash’s voice was soft and thick. His mechanical
hand reached out to touch his friend’s arm, but instead twitched
against the coat sleeve. “I’m
Nicholas turned to study the other man’s face. As usual the
feared $$60 billion outlaw was crying, the turquoise eyes spilling over
with unimaginable sadness and regret. Not for himself, but for the other
people of the world. For the dead. For him, for Nicholas D. Wolfwood.
“I know you wanted revenge, for their sakes,” he continued,
still somehow managing to see the best in people. The sound of Millie
blowing her nose inside the house nearly drowned out his words.
“But,” he paused to wipe his eyes on the back of his sleeve and
Wolfwood wrested control of the conversation.
He wanted Vash to say something, to accept or deny his
accusation. Nicholas knew what he had said was unfair, but it didn’t
matter. He shook his head. It mattered so much. He didn’t know what to
think. Like getting shot, watching people die while you could have made
a difference just didn’t get any easier. Especially when that person
was a child. Vash continued to stand unmoving, weeping soundlessly.
In that moment Nicholas wanted to hate the man next to him and
once again angry words flooded to his lips. Instead he heaved a sigh and
ran one bloodstained hand though his messy black hair. He looked and
felt like a total wreck.
“It was good that you didn’t kill him,” Vash said by way of
completing his earlier sentence. He stood up straight and plastered on
one of his fake smiles, the kind that only Wolfwood seemed to see
Nicholas didn’t even bother to remind the gunman that it was
Vash who had rescued the murdering bastard from his vengeance. No, the
broom-head knew that. He was aware of things in a way that most people
didn’t know existed.
quickly deflating, Wolfwood found himself wallowing, exhausted in grief
and self-loathing. A sick part of him was almost envious of the dead
child still lying inside the house at his back; at least she had been
innocent. Like Vash. But not him, he was alone, isolated by walls of
violence and bitterness. He had lost his innocence so long ago it was
sometimes hard for him to believe he was only in his thirties.
He must have
been quiet for a long time because when he looked up at his friend’s
face, the blonde man’s cheeks were dry, his eyes clear as he stared
across the street at only something he could see, patiently waiting for
Wolfwood to come to terms with himself. Abruptly Vash turned to face him
and this time the hand brushed the now half-forgotten wound in his
shoulder, making him grimace and suck in air around gritted teeth.
“You’re still bleeding. We should take care of that,” grinned
sheepishly, the beauty mark under his left eye suddenly hidden under the
thick spread of auburn lashes. “Sorry for shooting you by the way.”
right, no problem,” Wolfwood nodded. “I just want to do one thing
first,” he added, once more entering the house. He barely felt the dry
crunch of the remains of the door beneath his feet as he moved into the
cool dryness of the front room.
laid a bed sheet over the bodies, but browning patches of blood had
soaked through. Steeling himself, Nicholas dropped to crouch beside the
shrouded forms and bowed his head. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. He
wanted to say something more, he needed to, but no more words were able
to surface from the dark depths of emotion. He felt for all the world
like a broken Magic 8 Ball.
At a loss, he
stood but something on the floor caught his eye. A row of glass
figurines, animals and flowers had once stood on a shelf over a
soot-filled fireplace, but a flailing arm or an angry fist had toppled
most of them over. A tiny china ballerina, faded with age had fallen
from the mantle to the brick of the hearth, shattering the delicate
white legs. Picking it up, he turned to face Vash though his
contemplative gaze never left the soft curves of the ballerina’s
smiling face even as Millie and Meryl returned with the town coroner in
so good at philosophy, so answer me this. Is life nothing more than
this? A collection of broken nick-knacks?” He gestured at the row of
came the soft reply. “Life is putting them back together.”
“A dab of
glue to help patch things up!” Vash smiled so that Wolfwood couldn’t
bear to look at him.
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