Friday, August 14, 2015

Minor Story

One less slave on the run, one more slave for the catcher.

Lexington stood over John, whose shoulders hurt from the cuffs bound behind him and whose back hurt from the whip's slashing earlier. John was sweating, breathing hard, but not looking away from Lexington, not looking towards him either. Lexington's eyes hid inside the shade of his worn and torn hat, but his smile's white stood out from the twilight's increasing darkness. Lexington's handgun kept a safe distance from John's head, and there was no urgency in its grip or hold on things. The gun smiled, too, and also hid away what the chamber held inside.

"One left, John. The cylinder's spun. Your life is in God's hands."

"You being god now?" John turned his head only so far as to see Lexington's eyes, but Lexington did not see his right eye. Subtle.

"We are all in God's hands, John."

"You the one with the gun."

"Now, now, John, that's not fair. You're the one with the legs and the feet."

"You the one who chased me."

"And you're the one who gave up. God favors the wicked and the willing, and especially the willingly wicked." His thumb placed itself on the cock of his revolver. The skin pushes out and turns white, and Lexington feels a little tint of pleasure in his hands. A twitch inside himself.

"You, the sickest." Sweat tickles down John's face and pulls at his chin hairs as they fall. Life clings to its last moments. The sweat climbing into John's open tears on his back burn and sizzle. The sting makes every moment sharper. Why like this? Why does it have to end like this? After all we've been through. After all we've tried. Why can't a man die free?

"For believing in God's justice? For believing that God is honest when He says that He creates vessels for destruction to reveal His Glory? For believing that God means it when He says that He murdered the first-born children of murderers to show how His murder is to be more feared?"

John didn't answer. There's no response to the insane delusions of righteous killers. Only, there's a chance, maybe, people who believe in insane things can be convinced with Reason. Is John the sort of man who can persuade a righteous killer to stop? How do you convince someone to put aside their hatred or their fear or their ignorance, and see humanity? But you can't. You can't convince the insane to think sanely about their insanity. Righteousness is just willful epistemic blindness. It is stubbornness in the face of evidence. It is zealousness in the face of challenge. It is craftiness in the face of logic. It is inertia of the mind. You can't fight it.

But John had been fighting all kinds of injustices. The whole world built to enslave and cripple didn't hold him down. It only gave him new scars, "New skin for new wine" his mother called them. "The darker the scars, the headier the juice," he heard one time. John knew you can't fight anxiety with facts, horror with joy, insanity with science, or racism with words. You have to evade and out-maneuver.

"Say you right. Say it is like you say. How you and I know it's not the other way round? Maybe I'm the hammer and you the vessel. Maybe I'm the angel of death and you the baby."

Lexington's lips closed but the smile grew intently. Not pleading? Not begging? Arguing? Finally, finally. Thank God.

"That's a good point, John. You could be the one to kill me. How would I know? But it seems there's a simpler response for me."

"You shoot me."

"Right, good. I refute it thus."

"You not shoot yet."

"No, not yet. But if God's justice is on the move all around us, it's just a matter of time. I am a patient man. I knew you had to stop. We all stop eventually."

"Resting not stopping."

"Okay. So tell me, how do you get out of this one?"

"You let me out."

"Heard that one before. Seen how it ends, John."

"Not like this."

"No, it was much quicker. People like quick things, so there's more of it eventually."

"Then take your time."

"Thank you, but you're the one taking it. Tell me how this ends."

"I said. You let me out."

"Okay, so there's really only two ways I see that happening. Either you convince me of your humanity and I let you out as a gesture of good faith in fellow man. Or you incapacitate me in such a manner that the only way you let me go is in exchange for the key to your cuffs."

"There's a third way."

"I'd rather not think about that one, John."

"There's a fourth way."

"Hmm, now there's a possibility. I didn't think about the possibility of some third party intervening."

"Always a chance."

"True, but in my experience, it's not often enough. Still, I don't see how any one could sneak up on us here. I followed you in, and you ran into this dead end. My back's to the ridge here, and there's the twilight. Anyone coming into this scene is blinded by the light, and I'll see them coming."

"You think you got them. Just like you think you got me."

"John, you can't read my mind. You can't know what I'm thinking. But I can see by your outfit that you're not a cowboy. I can see by your sweat that you're done with running. I can see by your knees that you're thinking of escape. How to escape quickly by waiting for the right moment, the last possible moment, to jump out of this scene. Your thoughts betray you. Your body deceives you. Your knees, your neck, your chest, your fingers, your dark hidden eye. They are all my spies."

"You think this is funny?"

"I do. I do think it's funny."

"Not laughing."

"Neither am I."

John breathed more easily, slowly, dwelling on the air and sucking its last sweetness out. He didn't look at the gun. The gun is pointless. It's the eyes. It's the line of the pupil as it falls into the darkness. That's where you see the souls of people. Are they clear lines? Are they endless abysses? Are they clouds and shadows? Are they changing and jumping, sliding or grumping? John saw nothing in Lexington's eyes. The dark light was not there. It was all a shadow underneath a hat, and the terrible white line smiling and talking. The sweat didn't cling to Lexington; it just fell.

John took a breath, and he spoke.

"Maybe I die here. Maybe you the one shoot me. But I live on inside you now, you do that."

"Then letting you out has a double-meaning, doesn't it? If you live inside me, then letting you out of me is getting clear of you."

"Not that way. What lives inside us, never goes away. It eats and eats and eats until its born at the end. Like the Bible say, 'the worm eateth and do not die' but we die there."

"Are you my worm?"

"Maybe."

Lexington cocked the hammer back slowly. The cylinder advanced a chamber. The metal clicked softly. The leather softly brushed. An otherwise pleasing breeze helped awaken the stings on John's back.

Lexington paused and looked up for a moment.

In the sky shaded purple, you see a lot of things stand out from the dominant blue or grey or white earlier in the day. The stars and the paint on the great revolving dome around us. It's a ceiling. An edge. People who study science in school learn there's no ceiling. They learn it's all empty space, going on for thousands of millions of light years, filled with the occasional cloud of galaxy and gas. But you get outside and away from all the cities and the noise, and it's a dome. There's a surface, a place where if you strove hard enough, you could touch it. The demons come from the moon, and the gods come from beyond even that, but at the dome's surface, somebody walked on it and painted stars and shapes.

Lexington wanted once in his life to see it like this, but the city lived inside him and wouldn't give it back.

"John, I think I have enough worms."

John closed his eye.

The last thing you see is better imagined.

But this won't be the last thing John sees.

***

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