Boot Hill - Finch Takes the Stage (a snippet)

Boot Hill - Finch Takes the Stage (a snippet)

A Story by Piper Sullivan

A snippet from my fantasy western novel, Boot Hill.


“Are they coming?” the wounded man asked, his voice gritty and shaken, panic-stricken.

Another string of louder gunshots rang out and I winced as if expecting a blow to the head. Passengers in the coach closer to the conflict screamed, and those in our cabin who were conscious and able mirrored them in scared, reactive response. Having no desire to reaffirm the man's already answered suspicions, I took a alarmed step away from him as fear for my own life overshadowed the burden of my responsibilities as a doctor. Shameful, really; but there were men out there, men more than willing to take the lives of others without a second thought or regret.

The staccato drum of bullets showering the steam engine's metal skin stopped for a few seconds—long enough to allow panicked and agonized screams fill the thick void—before resuming in quickened earnest. Somewhere amidst it all, someone was laughing. I stumbled back against the far wall of the cabin, ducking as low to the ground as possible to avoid the likelihood of getting caught in any kind of crossfire.

My fingers failed to cease shaking, though I forced them to work as I picked open the latches of my suitcase with great difficulty. A row of surgical knives with various lengths, widths and uses stared back at me, and before I had time to consider the consequences of my actions, I had grabbed one of the sharpest, more precise knives from its peg and hid it in my inner coat pocket. Shutting the suitcase, I pushed it behind me and sat down, unable to do anything else but wait in fear.

Moments later, the gunfire slowed and hurried footfalls sounded outside the cabin. A few men who had managed to come out of the derail with relative good fortune gathered their courage, stood and rushed to the nearest exit: a vestibule and walkway between the two cars. One of them shook the door open and lept from the coach, the other close in tow. I didn't move to watch them go, but the three purposeful gunshots that followed implied their fate well enough.

An uneasy silence fell upon everyone in the cabin as the vestibule door creaked open. A young man hoisted himself up onto the floorboards of our coach with great force, twin pistols at the ready, cocked. He strode inside, small in stature for his demanding, intimidating gait. His swagger was smooth yet casual, confident and smug. Aviator goggles from the airships of old clung to his face, a faded black bandana covering his nose and mouth. In a single sweep, he pulled the goggles loose from over his eyes and against his forehead, curved reddened lines indenting just above his cheeks and under his eyebrows. He blinked, revealing bright eyes like copper coins. Pulling the bandana free from his face and against his neck, the ghost of a smile spread across his lips.

He was the Splinters personified.

His gaze roved over the passengers as he took another portentous step, the spurs on the back of his boots and the buckles on the flare of his leather riding clinking. Long, forefingers rested just outside the trigger guard of each pistol. Dark hair swung from side to side as he moved, bangs clinging to his forehead like heavy curtains. My breaths quickened and my chest tightened, the gravity of the situation sinking into my stomach. I tried to remain motionless, hoping that his eyes would pass over me in indifference.

He casually scratched at the light scruff of facial hair framing his jaw with the barrel of his pistol, parting his lips as if preparing to say something. Instead, he maneuvered around the pool of blood, stooping to dig through the dead man’s coat and vest pockets, humming a lilting tune to himself all the while. Standing back up, he kicked at the man’s lifeless form before continuing on his way, halting at the woman who had pointed out my injury moments before. He raised his eyebrow in interest and clicked his tongue, eying her with a smile that couldn’t be normal, or completely sane for that matter. A thin, sickly looking man positioned himself in front of her, uncertainty betraying his weak-willed glare. The gunman pointed one of the pistols at the man’s face in disinterest.

"Have you no common decency? She’s my wife!” he choked out, wrapping a hand around his mouth and coughing into it.

The gunslinger’s eyebrows rose and he snickered. “Well aren’t you a winsome one,” he drawled. “Don’t flatter yourself, moneybags. I’ll just be takin’ that necklace of yourn,” he said, pointing a finger to the teardrop shaped stone of brilliant red hanging around the woman’s throat. “Surely nothin’ else from the likes of you.” He paused, that disgustingly pompous expression ever apparent. “'cept your wallet. I reckon I’ll be needin’ that too."

The woman glanced from her husband to the outlaw in dazed hesitation, then removed the necklace and held it out to the man. He holstered one of his guns and curled his fingers inward in impatience—akin to the movements of a spoiled child—before snatching it up into the palm of his hand and examining it with avid eyes. He waited for the man to hand him his wallet and after he complied, the gunman opened the fold and fingered through the money with his thumb and forefinger. Then, with a simple, cheerful smile, he continued on his way. My hand tensed around the knife weighing against my chest.

“Name’s Finch. I’ll be robbing y’all now if you don’t mind. And,” he paused, reclaiming the second gun from the holster and waving it above his head as a reminder, “I don’t think most of you will.” He nudged the tip of his boot against the foot of another inert body. “For those of you who got any guns, pig stickers or pokers, it’d be right smart of you to remove them from your person right about now. My boys,” he said, clicking his tongue and tossing his head back a bit in recognition of those who must have trailed in behind him when I wasn’t paying attention, “won’t hesitate to pack some iron into your proper little heads. The last thing any of us wants is a mess on our hands, yeah?” He laughed. The same laugh I'd heard outside the cabin not minutes before. It was unmistakable.

The passengers drew in taut breaths, and the clatter of metal struck the floorboards in compliance to the outlaw's recommendation. Unable to part with my knife for no reason other than unadulterated fear of being noticed, I left it hidden; at least I had the mind to remove my hand from inside my coat.

The three men joined their leader. Part of his gang no doubt, watching his back with the utmost of caution and fiercest of loyalty, waiting for someone foolish to pull a gun on their boss, the one who held their morally ambiguous world together. Then I caught sight of a familiar face. The boy who had been sitting next to me on the train stood directly behind Finch, his gun also cocked, though pointed straight at me. He repositioned his pathetic excuse for a straw hat on his head, hair falling down around his face, and glared at me.

Finch began making his rounds to the passengers huddled in the tight confines of the suddenly tiny train car, showing no partiality to the conscious and unconscious alike. He maneuvered his way through the center aisle of the train, demanding the passengers to empty their baggage so he could sift through and take whatever he had a penchant for: rings, necklaces, wristwatches (he seemed particularly interested in pocket watches), wallets, coin purses and any other personal items the man thought valuable. He picked up a small revolver one of the men aboard had dropped, examined it and handed it to one of his men.

The silence that had come with Finch’s arrival was interrupted by another stream of gunshots that rang out near the steam engine. I flinched, not daring to move even the slightest to look out the broken windows. Finch straightened and looked behind him, like he was questioning his men without a word. The three gunmen exchanged nervous glances, one of them assuming the responsibility as he brushed past the others and leaving through the conjoining boxcar to investigate. The two remaining men closed in, fixed on their boss.

Finch continued down the aisle, though his interest seemed to have waned. He didn't bother to loot through the two men opposite me, and for a moment I thought some twisted form of fortune had been bestowed upon me. That is, until he looked right at me mid-turn, frozen in place. His stare rested on me, going blank before his eyes widened. One of his lower lids twitched. He took a slow step in my direction, then another, shoving a heap of men's clothes out of his way with the heel of his boot. My heart crept up my throat as he came closer to me and I all but sank down to the floor in horror.

“Well, well, what have we here?” he said, crouching before me.




Shameless plug! If you'd like to read more (as I will not be posting more than a couple pages of my novel in public) please see my Livejournal here:

© 2009 Piper Sullivan

Author's Note

Piper Sullivan
Not all of it may make sense without the rest of the context, but I hope it's at least entertaining.

What do you think about Finch? What about the narrator? What do you think will happen? What do you WANT to happen? :) Thanks for reading!

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Very well-written. Descriptive, and full of authentic dialogue. A pleasure to read.

Posted 14 Years Ago

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2 Reviews
Added on September 29, 2009


Piper Sullivan
Piper Sullivan

On the Mountain, AZ

Excuse me while I kiss this guy/the sky. Greetings! I don't have much to say but I guess I shall start from the beginning. I go by Piper around these parts and I'm 20 years of age. While I always f.. more..