Eli closed his eyes for just a moment. In that moment, hours could pass, or days, or mere seconds. It didn’t matter. That moment was his. He saw the double doors of a dingy saloon. Through those doors float the off key jarring tones of a piano played poorly. Stepping through the rickety doors Eli came across a dark, smokey room. The brightest light in the room was directly opposite the door. A chandelier hung out of the smokey mist, suspended by ropes unseen over a bar. Behind the bar was a face both familiar and alien. Eli began to stride across the saloon. Big, echoing steps bringing him closer to the light. As he moved, he saw vague shapes in the smoke around him: Tables and chairs, patrons with cards and others just watching. Their eyes reflected the light of the chandelier, like will o’the wisps in the dark. As they winked, the reflected light flickered, as if things unseen were beckoning to Elijah. He ignored them, and walked on.
As Eli came closer the barkeep called out to him. Voice slightly distorted, he asked, “What’ll it be stranger”. Eli took a seat at the bar as he responded, “A shot of the usual Mani”. Voices in this place seemed both distant and close, almost like they echoed before you heard them. “If yea have a usual, you know the price. An the price always comes first and last.” Mani grinned as he said this, as if he had cracked an amusing joke. “You want a story do ya Mani. I’m afraid to say my stories aren’t that interesting these days, are you sure”, Eli’s expression was grim, as if he had said something especially sour. ”Pay the price or leave the bar, there are no tabs here Eli”, as Mani said this he held his hand out expectantly, as if waiting for some coins. Eli’s response was to reach out and take it. As Eli took Mani’s hand, he remembered the last few days and began to speak.
A few days ago, I awoke on a horse, naked, riding in the desert. I was tied to the saddle. Why was I tied to the saddle, riding through the desert naked? I was doing it because I’d lost my last bet with you Mani, ya old bastard. Thinking on it, it’s rare that I actually win bets with you. Still, could have been far worse. With that thought I passed out again. I know I know, that’s a bit of a melodramatic start, but I felt the need to set the scene. So next I know, I’m having water splashed on me face by a giant hairy bear. As I looked around, I start to notice people laughing at me. I was still on my horse but now I had stopped in a small town. An the giant bear in front of me was asking what i was doing riding into town naked, like id had some say in something so daft. With a closer look it clearly wasn’t a bear, just a man. A really big, hair everywhere kind of man, but a man none the less. As I clambered down from my horse, I shrugged off the questions, buckled on my two peacemakers and shoved my way through the crowd to a trough of water where I promptly dunked myself and mooned all the lousy people staring at me. Can’t say it was a pleasant sight, who knows how long I’d been on that horse in the hot desert. Can’t even wipe yer arse in the middle of a sandy nowhere, let alone clean it off in a stream. Still, serves ‘em right for laughing at a stranger.
I dunno how long I had my head in the trough, but from there I went into the nearby saloon. Your ruddy conditions meant I had to hire a room before I could put clothes on, an I was sick of the chafing, so that’s the first thing I did. Inside, I’m stopped by the local lawman before I can escape to the room id just rented. The man talks my ear off until he eventually comes to his point. Wants to know me name, seems to think its interestin when a fella comes sauntering into a town naked. Seems to me he’s a bit of a weirdo but whatever. I try to lie, but my tongues still dry and it sticks in me throat, so eventually I give up the ghost of it an hand him me name. Finally, I gets to my room and puts some clothes on. I’d spent the last of me money too, so I headed on downstairs to engage in some harmless pocket emptying with the locals. They have barely a penny to any of them though, and I only come out ahead by 10 cents. Still, while I’m there I start to notice how on edge this place is. People talking about murders and whispering under their breath about new strange people. The place seems a bit too spooked for my liking, so I decide to head on over to the sheriff’s office.
He’d told me I had to check in with him see, and bother though it was I ain’t about to start any fights I can avoid. On the way I come across the hairy man from earlier. I remember him asking some old fella in the saloon for some help finding a man. There were offers of payment on the table, so I spoke up. Being poor an all, I was looking for some work. Apparently the man is looking for someone, a bad someone. I was looking for money to cover me bills, and a cause to keep me occupied so I signed on, I mean whats the ‘arm right. From then on I was to call the man Big W. Strange name, but who can complain when you come into a town naked. In the sheriff’s office the local law asked me what I was doing in town. I shrugged off the questions as just travelling and start asking about the man that Big W is looking for.
_ “I rode into town naked because I lost a bet, is it really that important?”_
Behind the sheriff is a wanted poster of a young woman. She looks kind of lonely up there, so I take note. Still, I can only question the useless lawman behind the desk for so long before I get bored so we leave the office. I turn to Big W outside and pull a card from me pocket. I’m looking to know the face of the man Big W is looking for and this trick was the easiest way I could think to find out. Except big W is an eager and possibly crazy man and quick as look at it he snatches it from me and flings a gold coin my way. I start walking quickly away from the man towards the inn. Thing is, I dunno what to do. The card of course would disappear in but a moment with a flash of smoke an some sparks, an I have no idea how to explain that way. The big man had it, an I wasn’t about to start wrestling with a stranger for a card that doesn’t exist. As I walk away I catch myself praying under me breath for him to just put it in his pocket. If he can’t see it, it won’t make a fuss ya see, so if he had just put it in his pocket he might have forgotten it even existed. Even as I hear the heavy footfalls behind me and the laboured breathing, I try to tell myself there is no problem. I lie so hard I start to believe it. Big an Hairy hands grasp my shoulder, and quick as a flash i turns to my pursuer. “What was that” growled Big W, like a trained bear he was, but with wind pipes. I try to play it off as a trick to sharpen the man’s focus. Seriously, I’m standing there working this lie, all the while shuffling a deck of cards and pulling tricks with them. I try so hard I start to think the lie is truth. I mean, if I believe it surely this giant of a man will. It nearly comes to bullets, but Big W relented. As far as I know he believed me, but I tell ya I’m gonna be more careful in future.
We headed to the pub from there. Big W wanted to see his employer. Eventually we find ourselves sitting at a table with a bunch of strangers. Opposite from me is Big W, and next to him is a small skinny old Asian man in a coat too big for him. Across from them are two women. I recognise one of them as the woman from the wanted poster in the lawman’s office. She’s a lean sort, but roped with muscle. I tip her a wink for her good sport. Even give her a bit of a twinkle and a poke about it to boot, and to her credit she barely startles. Or at least that’s what I’ll always tell her, since she looks like she could snap me in two. The other lass had a mean look to her and a big gun on her hip, but otherwise she’s a right good lookin’ philly if ya get me drift. They’re discussing a room upstairs, and a woman they all seem to be looking for. Days before I arrived in town, someone shot up some of the local whores upstairs, and at best guess the lass they are looking for was one of them. Apparently she stole a horse, and the lass with the bounty was looking for her. As I’m sitting there, it strikes me as awfully odd that I don’t know anyone’s name. I push the conversation towards that, and discover the big hairy fella’s name is Wallace. From that, the stern young lady introduces herself as Mae. I missed the other two names though, but two out of four ain’t half bad odds if I were to bet on it, so I let it slide.
We spend half the day chatting and the rest of it drinking. The five of us are breaking into a room at ten at night, and that’s a bloody long time to wait on yer own, so we talk about our lives. Or at least they do. I listen. Since you only want one story though Mani, you can ask them for theirs. At ten we gather round some door, and discover it’s locked. Were a right great bunch of thieves eh, we forgot to even get a key. Still, apparently we had to climb over to the room from the room next door. Out the window no less. A couple of storeys up to boot. Honestly, I aint got a lick of a chance without a bit of extra help, so i try to cheat my way across while the others debate what to do. Cept I mess up the spell and have a panic attack Instead. I play it as fear of heights, and act all dizzy. When they ask me about it I do a bit of a swoon onto the bed in the room, where I promptly pretend to be asleep. No need to worry my new compatriots. At least, that’s the goal. So off they went. Out the window on a piece of rope one of them took around to the other room. I just sorta lay there and calm down. After a while I fall asleep. Cant really remember much from there. Honestly I don’t care about the whore all that much. I wasn’t involved, it has little to do with my goals. Well, honestly I don’t have any goals. Really, I just want to try helping people. Fat chance of that in this messed up world eh.
So, apparently we have to be at the train station at 6. I find this out when I’m rudely awoke by one of the lasses. Apparently I stole her room for the night, and she needed her stuff. Still, at least I was involved. Not really awake, but I was involved. So, we all trundled off to the train station, at six in the morning, with dawn barely on the rise. All me kit was on my horse short me clothes and me guns and a few spare bullets since I figured we’d be moving on after this. I mean, as far as I could tell the man Wallace was looking for wasn’t here. If he was as evil as Wallace said he was, then we’d be moving on soon. He seemed like the driven sort to me. Still, Train station first. Well, the train moves into the station. It’s a giant monster of a train with steam blowing everywhere, dozens of folks running around loading and unloading and all manner of activity. Cept, it was six in the morning. There weren’t any passengers to be loaded, no wagons for stock. All these folks were running about with nowhere to go. As we looked closer we saw them running into various stores and houses. They’d run in, and then they’d run out carrying boxes of stuff. Looked to me like some kind of early morning raid. Just swoop in while everyone is asleep.
So, I headed over to the nearest man. Started barking orders at him, asking what he was doing. Ya know, like any lawman ever. Started yappin on about jurisdiction and rights an such, and what was in them boxes. Fella kept trying to step out of the conversation but I kept pushing him. Eventually, I cheated a bit. I reached into my pocket, and pulled out the thing I needed most. A lawmans badge of all things. Waved it in his face for a bit, then put it away. I like to call that move the Winchester since much like the gun it’s in and out of your jacket so fast no one knows what’s happening. As far as I could tell, it worked too. The fella started babbling about how he thought everything was sorted and how it should all be ok because it was arranged with us sheriff folk nice an early. See, I knew the lawman was a sod. He’d set up to rob the townsfolk blind, and what could they say about it. Nothing, because he’s the law. Well, I’ll sort him out. At least, that’s what I will do. See, just as the fella in front of me was spilling all the goss, his head explodes in a shower of blood and bone. No kiddin, he was a foot away from my face, and he just popped. Quick as that the other fella’s on the station started pulling guns and shootin’ at us. We shot back an then the train starts bloody moving. Quick as we could we bolted for it, trying to get on. Best I could tell the bullet that blew my chatty fella away had come from the cabin, and by the time I got there the wanted lass and Mae the scary philly were fighting some other bird. Well, I say fighting but really they were just beatin’ her silly. I put one of my pistols to her head, and the other to her gut an told her if she moved id blow a hole in her one way or the other. Honestly, in that position who would move. Two guns trained on her an a bunch of people waiting to dump figurative hay on her head. Still, the plucky lass tries to dodge. Hell, she succeeds too. At least, her head doesn’t come off her shoulders, but she takes a gut shot. So there we are, on a train barrelling out of town, with barely any idea what’s going on. An that’s about that for now.
As Eli stops for a breath, the barkeep pipes up, “Eli, Eli stop. That there is barely a beginning. It certainly doesn’t have a middle and an end. If the price of a drink and a game is a story, it’s got to be a story with a beginning, middle and end. You want to drink here, so give me a story”.
Eli looks thoughtful for a moment before replying.
“Alright Mani, I’ll give you a story. Once, I was hired to kill a man” Eli pauses as he picks up a shot of whiskey.
“That there is a quick beginning Eli, and..” The barkeep leaves the final word hanging.
“And so I travelled across the desert to find him” Eli brings the drink to his mouth.
“Oh come now lad, don’t leave us hanging like that!!”, Mani looks around at the patrons exasperatedly.
“An once I found him, I shot him dead and never bothered to collect the bounty”, with that Eli tips his head back and swallows the shot whole.
“Now that’s what I like to hear. Welcome to the Devils Hollow lad. Have a seat, maybe a drink. Play some cards, have a good time, and always remember if you have a story, you’re welcome here”, as Mani finishes talking he starts pouring drinks for the whole bar, a massive grin on his face and a dark twinkle in his eye.