Slaughtering Horses by Scythe The Wicked [Reviews - 4] |
Disclaimer: Doctor Who is the property of the British Broadcasting Corporation and definitely not mine. I shouldn't be trusted with them anyway.
Author's Notes: Again, Iím not British. In this story Iím not even going to pretend to be. (Also, consider this pierce the author's Old Shame, kept here for archival reasons only.)
Well I am death, none can excel
I'll open the door to heaven or hell
Whoa, death someone would pray
Could you wait to call me another day
The children prayed, the preacher preached
Time and mercy is out of your reach
I'll fix your feet til you cant walk
I'll lock your jaw til you cant talk
I'll close your eyes so you can't see
This very air, come and go with me
"O Death" Ralph Stanley
When the stranger came, Declan was busy slaughtering the horses. They were not his horses; they had been confiscated from a nearby horse rancher who was suspected of supplying food to rebels, so Declan took fifteen of the twenty animals on the farm. He was killing them now.
He had tied the horses to a fence, tied them tight, so that their noses were nearly touching the fence itself. He took one a few yards away to the anvil by the road, tied them to it, then bashed their skulls in with a large hammer, cut their throats to be sure then limb them and throw them aside for Mikas the butcher to flay later. Declan was still deciding what he was going to do with the meat. Maybe sell it in the bigger town, or dry it for jerky for winter. He wasn’t sure yet, but he’d find something.
The sun beat down on him; he paused a minute to wipe the sweat off his forehead. Christ, it was hot. The heat was fucking everywhere. Coming down from the sun, rising up from the dirt; even the breeze was scorching. There was no relief from the heat. All Declan could do was spit into the dirt. His boots were drenched in drying horse blood.
Declan controlled the town of Redcot, and he thought he ran it well. Not just Redcot, but the whole damn region. This, this region, was his retirement. During the Struggle, when the Earth stopped sending resources for whatever goddamn reason those uptight fuckers had, the governments had collapsed leaving each city and region to fend for itself. Declan fought for Harris, and he was a goddamn good fighter; Harris appreciated that. They fought against the damn ‘tellects, smart-ass moralists who tried to run things as they did on Earth, with paper and contracts and bureaucracies and complicated laws that controlled where you could grow your goddamn grass. Declan was one of Harris’ men, and Harris took over the district, killed those uptight bastards who thought that because they could read a thick book they were better than you. Harris taught all those people who thought differently a lesson they weren’t going to forget any time soon and divided the land between the men who had fought for him. “Like the feudal system,” Harris had said, “like in the days when the kings were in charge and everyone had a goddamn place.”
This wasn’t Earth. This was Wildevont. Not “Wildevont Colony” as those uppity Earthen bastards had liked to call it. They didn’t have no goddamn fancy computers that could calculated the number of times a ox’s tail swiped flies off its ass to the fifteenth power. They didn’t have no hovering cars. They had might, muscle and brains, and men who had all three took power here. If those goddamn Earthens had a problem with it, they kept their mouths shut. No one had heard from Earth in twenty years and all those last calls were about solar flares burning the planet. Harris had just said those Earthens had probably grown so lazy with goddamn robots doing all their work for them they all probably just died tripping over their own shit and suffocated.
Declan had been one of Harris’ right hand men, and Harris had trusted Declan to control the area where Declan had grown up. So here he was, making Redcot his local ‘capital’ of sorts. He was in charge, and any fucker who said differently got his ass handed to him or just ended up dead.
He still worked for Harris, though. He had been holding a man for Harris for six months. Harris had captured a man working to help the goddamn smartasses and wanted to keep him alive. He had him sent to Declan, thinking it would be a hell of lot harder for the man to escape in the country under Declan’s watch and without any of his smartass friends to help him. Why Harris wanted the man kept alive was Harris’ business and Declan didn’t ask. He was Harris’ eyes and ears in this region. He made sure all the farmers sent twenty percent of their crops to Harris’ city, Machton, as tax. He kept these stupid farmers in check, and made sure none of them even thought of acting up.
Declan missed the bigger towns, missed the constant activity during the Struggle, not goddamn baby-sitting crop growers. Still, Harris trusted Declan, and Declan wasn’t going to let his boss down. And times like these, killing goddamn beasts helped Declan feel better about being stuck here.
He was about to do the last animal when the Koontz kid came up the road, waving his arms and yelling, “There’s a stranger coming! There’s a stranger coming!” The ten year old was excited at the prospect of being the first in the town to know and share the news. Goddamn kids got so damn excited at newcomers. The older people, though, were weary of strangers, especially people from the bigger town. Declan stopped the kid, arresting his arm and tugging him back so the kid faced him. Declan hated the damn Koontz kid. Years prior the brat had made a crack about Declan’s bald head. Declan didn’t mind being bald, but he punched some the kid’s teeth out for being a smart ass. The kid’s father had come down a few hours later, whining and pissing about it, so Declan knocked some of the father’s teeth out as well. The kid’s teeth grew back; the father’s didn’t. Both had trouble looking Declan in the eye.
He asked the kid what he meant that a stranger was coming.
“A messenger, from Wildevont City! Asked about you, so I said you were here, killing horses.”
Wildevont City? That was two week’s walk away. Harris didn’t have any hold in Wildevont city; though years ago back when Declan was still with him Harris had mentioned maybe going over and taking it. He would have called Declan back to fight for him if he had plans about that.
“Get your ass back home, Koontz,” and he let go of the kid’s arm.
The kid ran away from Declan as if he was on fire, but he noticed that the kid didn’t run home, but to the stoop of one of the nearby houses. A couple people stopped from whatever they were doing to watch. Declan looked up the road and waited minutes until he finally saw a distant figure coming.
He expected the stranger to be a man like himself, well built, hardy, someone who could travel alone on the dangerous roads. He certainly didn’t expect the stranger to be a woman. But sure enough, walking up the road towards him was a girl of maybe twenty years of age. She wasn’t a thin girl, but sturdy, athletic. Indian, maybe, Spanish. Maybe something he’d spend a few dollars for a night, but she didn’t look like she was coming for that. She wore a long plain red brown cotton dress and sandals. She had a knapsack on her back, and on her hip was a medium-sized basket attached to a strap around her shoulder. On her arm, Declan noticed was a tattoo of a bird, a crow or raven wearing a red rope around its neck that snaked down her arm to her hand. Her long mane of black hair frayed in the heat.
She stopped a couple yards from Declan and looked him in the eye, not even sparing a glance at the dead animals he was standing by.
“I believe this is Redcot town?” the girl asked.
“No, it’s the fucking Taj Mahal,” Declan’s gravel voice responded.
He did not ask the girl’s name. “What the hell do you want?”
“I believe you’re holding a man for Harris.”
“What is it to you?”
“I’m here to collect him.”
Declan eyed her. “Yeah, I’m holding a man. For Harris. I answer to Harris, not some stupid cow.”
The girl didn’t nod, didn’t answer, but merely took out a clear bottle out of her knapsack and took a swig of water. She put it back in her bag then opened up the basket on her hip. Her hand reached in and pulled out a severed head. Tugging it by the scalp, she tossed it over so it rolled across the dirt to Declan’s feet.
It was Harris.
“Fuck!” yelled Declan and he stepped back. Harris’ face looked up in horror. His mouth was gaped open, one eye was closed but the other looked up seemingly into Declain’s own. He looked like he had been dead for at least two days. Declan fell backwards and pulled himself a few feet farther away from Harris’ horrified death-face. Declan could taste bile in the back of his throat and it took every ounce of his energy not to vomit.
“There has been,” the girl said calmly, “a relocation of power. Harris is no longer in a position of authority.”
There was a tone in her voice, a tone in her body that suggested a sort of glee in Declan’s reaction. It wasn’t pronounced; it was something he just felt. Her face was passive but wanted to smirk. Her voice calm but wanted to laugh.
“Who the fuck are you?” he said.
“Same as you. Just someone who fought on the winning side of a power struggle and keeps working for the winner. Mine’s just a more recent struggle.”
He stared at her, stared at her calm passive eyes and wanted to stab them out.
“Where is he?” she asked slowly.
Declan looked behind him. Some of the townspeople, having heard of the stranger had gathered. There were about twenty people staring at him and the girl, but were weary (and smart) enough to keep a good distance. Declan stood up quickly, cursing himself for falling. He looked at the girl.
“He’s in a storage building out back.”
“Bring him here,” the girl ordered.
Hands shaking, he found himself turning and walking in the direction of the cell building. He yelled at two men standing nearby in the crowd, “Hayes! Mathers!” and indicated for them to follow them. They did so, and the three men walked together the minute’s walk through the town towards the building in question. All the while, Declan’s mind was stained with the image of Harris’ head and the look of horror on that face.
The building where he was holding the man for Harris was small; it had previously been used for storing food, but Declan had modified it just for the internment. He grabbed the large key ring on his belt that held a key to every building in the town and took the one key that opened the door and entered.
The room was sweltering, even worse than outside and dark as hell. The man was sitting on the floor, his hands hanging from chains above his head. When the door opened the man winced and turned his head as the sudden flood of sunlight hit his eyes. He was a tall lank man, much thinner since he had arrived. He wore a brown pinstripe suit, filthy now after wearing it for months. He wasn’t much physically, Declan thought, he figured with one good swing of a bat he could break all the bones in the man’s chest, but goddamn,, the bastard was smart. He had already escaped three times. The first time it had taken Declan hours to find him; finally he found him hiding in a hayloft a mile away and Declan had set the barn on fire to smoke him out.
The second time, the bastard had enlisted the help of the woman Declan had ordered to bring him food and drink daily. Declan still didn’t know how she had helped him out of his chains but he had found him within the day in the woman’s house. He knocked the man out and hit the woman with a fire poker, striking her across the ribs. He hadn’t meant to kill her; just teach her a lesson about helping the bastard. He had learned that the woman had died two days later from the wound. Declan had thrown the body in the cell with the bastard and left it there two days to teach a lesson about escaping.
The lesson hadn’t stuck. The last time the bastard escaped he was gone for three days. Declan had a search party mounted and they finally found him in the woods four miles away. That last time Declan had to take some liberty and he broke the bastard’s legs.
The man’s eyes adjusted to the influx of light and rested on the large frame standing in the doorway. “Good afternoon Declan,” he faintly smiled, tired but unbroken, “how are you today?”
“Shut up,” Declan said, and resisted the urge to punch the goddamn bastard in the face. He hated the sonuva bitch. He had literally broken the man’s legs two months before, but the bastard was still smiling, still cocky as hell. That smile, god how he wanted to take his hammer and smash in every one of those teeth. It seemed that everything he had fought against, every goddamn cocky know-it-all fucker who thought he was better than him was packaged in this bastard.
He walked over and unlocked the chains holding the bastard’s hands up. The man’s hands automatically went to his wrists, massaging them after months of being shackled nearly twenty-four hours a day. “Hayes, Mathers, drag him over where the bitch’s waiting.”
Not needing anymore instructions, Hayes and Mathers walked over to the man and each took one of his arms and slung it around their shoulders. They followed Declan back to the anvil where the girl was waiting. The bastard was taller than both of them, and his feet dragged along the ground.
When he got back to the anvil, Harris’ head had disappeared. Declan bit back; he didn’t know if he would have been able to look at that thing again. A small wagon had appeared and Declan was calculating who the girl could have paid to bring it down.
The two men dropped the bastard down a few yards from where she was standing. He landed on his knees and he hissed in pain as he inhaled and he leaned forward and began a coughing fit. Declan was sure the bastard was about to vomit, but no, he just coughed. Sensing that Declan had no more use for them, both Mathers and Hayes walked back and melted into the baited crowd. At least another dozen people had joined the group, observing the procession from a safe distance.
The girl did not move, but just eyed the man carefully. When he finally recovered, the bastard kneeled straight as he could and looked back at her. She took a few steps forward.
“The Doctor, I presume?” she asked.
There was a brief silence before he answered. “Yes, and who do I have the pleasure of speaking to?”
“My name is Lythia Parson. I’ve been sent to collect you.” The girl’s voice was now softer and kinder, a hell of a lot kinder than it was when she was presenting Harris’ head.
“And for whom, may I ask, are you collecting?” the bastard returned.
The girl took a piece of paper out of a pocket and Declan could tell it was a photograph, though he couldn’t make out what it was of. She walked forward and handed it to the bastard.
The bastard stared at the photograph, confused, surprised, dazed and a dozen other feelings Declan didn’t care (or know) to name. He spoke aloud and his voice was filled with emotion. Declan both enjoyed and reviled the possibility that the bastard was about to start crying.
“That’s not possible,” he said, first in a low whisper, than in a louder and stronger, “she’s dead.”
The girl smiled comfortingly, “She said you’d say that. That’s why she had me bring the photograph. It was taken just a month ago, you can tell,” she indicated something on the photograph. The bastard just stared at it, still in a bewildered state.
“You should have seen her face when she learned you were still alive,” the girl continued. “She was both laughing and crying and yelling at the same time. She would have come herself but they need her in the city; she sent me instead. She told me to tell you she’s got the Tardis, she got a hold of it and it’s just waiting for you.”
The bastard finally took his eyes off the photograph and looked back at the girl. “She’s fine?” His voice was suddenly steady.
The girl nodded. “She’s fine.”
“I don’t imagine,” the bastard began somewhat returning to his smartass demeanor, “That Mr. Harris would be too pleased with my removal.”
“Harris is dead,” the girl flatly replied. Her hand did not motion for the basket.
“I’m sorry,” said the girl, “it took me so long. I had to journey a long while to find you; that’s no surprise. I much more would have hoped to find you in a warm bed.”
“Ah, well,” said the bastard, “if you knew me, you’d know the likeliness of that happening.”
“I know,” she paused, “Can you walk?”
No, of course the fucker can’t walk, Declan thought, Why the fuck did you think we had to drag-
“I think-” the bastard stated, and to Declan’s surprise, slowly but surely stood up without aid. What? For fuck’s sake, he himself had broken that man’s legs only two months ago. How the sweet fuck had they healed? That wasn’t humanly possible-
The bastard shakily began walking, and it was then that Declan’s vision went red. He realized that the hammer he had used to kill the horses minutes previous was laying inches from his boots. As the bastard walked passed him, Declan quickly reached down, picked up the hammer and swung it at the bastard’s legs. There was a loud crack as the newly-healed bones broke again, and the bastard let loose a scream of pain as he fell on to the ground. Declan raised the hammer to finally kill that fucking bastard, land that hammer straight into his face so that bastard would never smile that stupid fucking grin again.
He barely had time to register the girl running towards him. He didn’t even really register her hand had moved until she slammed into him, and he felt something push into his gut. The hammer dropped into the dirt, inches from the bastard’s shoulder. He noticed the look of awful surprise on the bastard’s face and he looked down. Declan didn’t even know the girl had even had a dagger, but there it was, the handle sticking out of his belly. Blood, new wet human blood, began flowing onto his shirt from the wound. He didn’t fall, but stepped forward.
The girl picked the hammer and with both hands swung it into the side of Declan’s head. Declan felt excruciating pain as he registered his jaw breaking into several pieces. He screamed an awful animal sound and staggered back, but he did not fall. He didn’t (“Goddamn it Declan,” Harris had laughed, “You’re like a Goddamn Ox. You’re a fucking Goddamn Ox is what you-”) fall. He was sure blood was pouring out of his mouth, and he heard the bastard scream “Stop!” and saw the girl swing the hammer one last time. After that, black.
Declan’s body fell to the ground like a heap, dust flying as the mound hit the dirt. The blood pouring from both his gut and his mouth slowly spread, eventually reaching and mixing with the blood of the horses he had slain earlier that day. There had been a few screams from women in the crowd, but no one stepped forward. No one stepped forward to fight the woman who had moved so fast she was almost a blur, and certainly no one stepped forward to avenge Declan.
Parson reached down and pulled the dagger out of the wound, wiping on Declan’s sleeve and returning it to the hidden sheath in her dress. She leaned down beside the Doctor, “How’s your legs, he hit you pretty hard.”
“They’re both broken” he said, stopping to hiss in pain, “again. I can reset them myself-”
“How’s the pain?” Parson interrupted.
“Manageable,” he replied, and Parson chose to ignore the Doctor’s strained breathing.
“Hold on,” Parson said and stood to walk back towards the crowd. The Doctor watched as the crowd stepped back as she approached them, but did not run from her. He could not hear what she was saying, but she began conversing, at first with one boy who was standing at one of the house stoops, and then with one of the men who had pulled him over by the anvil. He saw her hand the man a small bag and something smaller to the boy.
Parson then walked over the fenced field and opened the gate. Slowly, carefully, she walked to the last horse standing there, humming softly. The horse was nervous, and there was something terrible in its eyes. Parson untied its rope and whispered something in its ear. The creature snorted, but followed as she led it out of the field and to the cart and harness Parson had purchased from one of the villagers while Declan was getting the Doctor from the storehouse. She harnessed the horse and tied the harness to the cart.
The man she had bought the cart from approached again, carrying the other item she had asked from him. She folded and set the thick blanket in the cart. She thought about leading the horse closer to the Doctor so she would not have to carry him as far to get him in the cart, but she did not believe that the creature would want to go towards the dismembered bodies of the other horses. Instead, she waved to the crowd, calling the one named Hayes over.
She went back to the Doctor, who was staring at Declan’s corpse. It took Parson a second, but she leaned down and closed Declan’s eyes.
With the help of a silent Hayes, using chopped boards from the fence and strips of a blanket from her bag, Parson made splints for the broken legs. The Doctor noticed she did so with the effortlessness of someone who had been long used to dealing with wounded.
“Come on,” she said to him, “she’s waiting for you.”
Hayes and Parson carried the Doctor to the cart, trying hard not to further aggravate his broken legs. The Doctor grinded his teeth and hissed, but didn’t cry out. Parson admired him for that.
“Goddamn it!” he yelled, as they accidentally hit one of his legs getting him up into the cart and onto the folded blanket.
“You’re learning the local language,” Parson commented and paid Hayes a gold coin for his help.
The Doctor watched as Parson rifled though her knapsack and wrestled out a green flask, passing it to him.
“For the pain.”
“What is it?”
“Specially made whiskey with a sleeping agent,” Parson said, stepping up into the cart and taking the reins. The Doctor took a sip to test it, then a fuller swig.
The mysterious sleeping agent worked very quickly, he noted, and although his legs still hurt, he was finding himself caring less and less about it.
“What was the bag for?” he asked her as the cart began forward onto the road and under the loving pall of the woods that shadowed over the long road.
“That bag you gave them back there.”
“That? For burying Declan. Assuming they take the effort to bury him. From traveling through the area I’ve come to understand all of Harris’ men are about as popular as the plague, and have a victim list as long too.” She noticed the Doctor’s head nodding off.
“We can get your legs set in the next big town, we can find a proper medical doctor,” she said and she heard the Doctor mumble something in response. “It’s a fortnight ride to the city; she’s waiting for you there.”
The last thing the Doctor remembered before his eyes closed and the drug took its full hold was the shade of the trees above him and Lythia Parson talking gently to the horse. And he thought she started singing to the animal, singing what sounded a soft lullaby.