She walked over to him her hair matted and limp from the recent rain storm, her cheeks were flushed from her climb and from her over cast green eyes he could tell that she was there to offer him bad news, news he wasn’t interested in,
“What are you doing here?” he asked his voice low and gravelly, he did not raise his eyes to meet hers but simply continued on with the task he had set himself; cleaning the barrel of his old Smith and Wesson
“You’re the Gunner, aren’t you?” she asked her eyes were set on him, unflinching
“And?” he asked his patience quickly wearing
“we need you, the town..” she began pausing as a tear rolled down over her cheek, he looked up at her then and sneered but did not speak a word, “the town has been over ruled, over run, taken over by the priest. He calls himself the ‘American brother’ and he’s like a disease, spreading and killing and nobody can see it, everyone worships him I don’t know what to do. There are only a few of us who can see it and we live in terror, hidden away, it took me weeks to work my way through the sewers to escape to get to you. You’re the only one left who can free us, break him, please” she begged clasping his grubby hand in hers, the greasy oiled cloth crushed between them. He looked her up and down, a thunderbolt scar had been burned into the flesh of her stomach, he knew exactly who she was, he knew where she was from and he knew the town she was talking of,
“Why should I?” he asked gravely, his eyes finally met hers,
“Oh! She gasped her hand falling from his and touched her bruised lips, his eyes were black like shadows at dawn, shaded grey and violet, they were near empty and hardened, no emotions lurked there,
“cause there are still people in that town who you care for, people who are relying on you like Mary” she said taking a step backward as she spoke the name but the step was not far enough and before she could take another breath the gunners left hand had clasped around her throat, he lifted her from her feet slamming her body down into the hot sand. Sharp stones send circles of pain spiralling through her body; she scratched and pulled at his thick fingers unable to speak to beg,
“you don’t get to say her name, do you understand me, you don’t think I know who you are, where you’re from you’re a whore, a dirty disease filled whore and you do not say her name, do you understand me” he snarled, she nodded as best she could and he finally released her. As she scrambled back away from him, coughing and rubbing her bruised throat she watched the gunner load his pistol, her heart hammered In her chest, he looked up and caught her eye, caught her thoughts and moved toward her though he did not do what she thought he was coming to do instead he knelt down on one knee, dust rose around him,
“you think I’m going to kill you…” he paused for a moment but it was not to let her answer instead he ran the butt of the pistol across her cheek “I wouldn’t waste one of my bullets on you sweetheart, no get up ‘cause you have until we reach the next town to tell me what happened and convince me that that shit hole deserves my time” he hissed the words in her ear before he stood and began to walk toward the setting sun.
As they walked into the night which had fallen hotter than the day had felt she recounted a story, a story that made a cold sweat prickle the gunner’s palms, a story of the devil in human disguise tormenting a town much too small to matter...
...When the American brother arrived he was broken and torn and bloody, covered in earth and agony, he was not a man to be afraid of, he was a man to pity, a man housewives accepted into their homes and nursed him in their spare bedrooms, they let him lay upon their best linen and eat from their finest china; they trusted him. Though he did not divulge his story and would not tell his secrets to anyone not even the sheriff; the whole town trusted him. He arrived on a day when the rain fell in light pin prick droplets, the air was warm and the sun shone brightly casting a multi-coloured crown over the town, he limped down the quiet lane passing by two people before anyone took notice of the stranger and that person was a child. The whole town heard how the little girl who had been walking along with her father had stopped just as they had passed the American brother, she had looked up at him with her innocent blue eyes, reached out and taken his hand as though she had known him for a life time. Apparently at the touch of the little girl the American brother had collapsed, he had been unconscious for nearly two weeks before he woke and finally told them his name, until that time they had referred to him as the ‘American Brother’ for wrapped around a festering wound on his torso was an American flag. Of course this was not his name, his real name was Priest, Priest Blakely, though he was in fact American and that had been all they had learned about the American brother. Two months later he was back to full health and the town had begun to fall under his spell.
She had been telling her story for only 30 minutes but already they had been walking for nearly an hour and a half, she had been reluctant to begin at first because of his earlier displayed fiery temper and it had taken her almost 45 minutes to begin then throughout the re-telling of the tale she had stopped and remained silent for seconds which had built into minutes. Now intrigued to know more about the American brother, the Gunner had forced himself to be patient and now that they had stopped to eat she continued on with her story...
...By the third month Priest had half of the town mesmerised with his charms, it had begun simply with the children, they sat and listened to him tell stories from the hood of an old mustang, they were completely engrossed as he told his tales and they followed him around like the rats had followed the pied piper, like the children had in the fairytale. Then it spread to their parents no doubt through the tales of their children who would have so enthusiastically talked of the American brother, the adults soon became obsessed with him, he was who they spoke of, who they dreamt of. They gave him the things he wanted though he never asked too much of them and so nobody noticed what was going on. Soon only a few were left, a few who pretended, who wore their masks of compliance so that they could survive, though he had never made any move of violence toward anyone they knew something, they knew that there were people disappearing, people who were on the street one day and were not the next. She knew that girls from the thunder rooms, who had conveniently left town, had not and she knew that the town was changing, discretely morphing...
“Changing how?” he asked the thick black coffee making his voice seem even more rough and haggard
“I don’t know, it’s just a feeling, he had this effect upon everyone” she answered back
“But not you, not your friends” he snarled back his trust faltering
“I don’t know why just listen please” she begged regretting instantly the sharp tone she had taken with him as he glared at her over the rim of the white coffee mug, she knew that neither the table between them nor the people in the diner would stop him from slamming her face into the lemon table top...
...4 months after he had arrived Priest the American brother, who did in fact speak with a southern New Orleans accent, began to buy up the property in the small town and by the 6th month he owned the whole town, people an all. The town and its people had begun to resemble that of a cult though nobody from the outside seemed to notice and those who did either disappeared or quickly became integrated. By the 7th months passing those who didn’t believe; those who hadn’t become integrated had taken to the sewers, they had gone into hiding in fear of their lives. The American brother had somehow convinced everyone that he was going to create the ‘American dream’ right there in their little town and then he had somehow replaced the dreams of the towns people with that of his own, it seemed as though they had become one singular mind. Those hiding in the darkness, stealing food and water gradually began to dwindle, no one knew if they had been killed or if they had turned and some had sworn that they had seen their old friends laughing in the windows of bars.
“They gave up” he said coldly
“that’s what I think, we were all beginning to consider giving up, turning…” she replied though she did not make eye contact with him, his eyes scared her, she didn’t know why but there was something with-in them, something dark lurking just beneath the surface.
“What stopped you?” he asked
“A rumour, a myth” she replied with a slight smile...
...Just when all hope was near gone a myth began to surface, a rumour of a man, no one knew where it came from or what its origins were or even if it were true but it gave the people left something to live for. It began with a name, The Gunner, and developed into a story of a man, a man who had been born in the town, born into loneliness and nothingness, his mother having died during birth and his father a dead beat who turned up deceased only a week later, his life was thwart with agony and despair but despite this he grew up wiser than his years, strong and determined. Some believed that he was a titan, un-touchable, kind and selfless and then one day everything changed, he loather the town and its people who had amongst them raised him, he became cold and despondent; rumours told of a broken heart of a whipping whirlwind had come along one day a ripped it to shreds, he had be lost in the storm, his love and kindness, his soul lost in the flood.
“If that’s what the myth held then why believe that I would come back or even give a half a god dam?” the gunner said, he spat the words at her,
“I found where the rumours started, with a small boy, a boy who has never met you, who has never been told heart warming, censored bed time stories about a handsome hero; a boy who found a name carved into a n old oak tree, ‘Gunner Man’, he adopted this name, this person as his hero, his superhero and he began to tell a story, a story of a Gunner Man returned from the pointless bloody battles that rage on only to find his home unrecognisable, preached over by a priest, a town in a hypnotic trance. He watches from the shadows, caked to the ankles in oil and mud mixed with the blood of stolen innocence, he breathes deep, his breath thick and smouldering as he exhales, his eyes fixed and dark, blacker than night turned so by all of the terror he has seen. He waits and watches and at the right time he makes his move raging like a feverish stallion, burning into the night to take back his town” She fought not to make eye contact as she recounted the young boys story, one she had heard him tell many times but she could not help it and as she looked into his nightshade eyes she was sure that she caught a glimpse of the bright, electric blue that they had once been, “he told that story to everyone, child and adult until one day he vanished and when he did they, we started to believe that what he said, the man he spoke of was real. It didn’t take us long to find proof that you were, though we were warned that you were far from the hero the boy made you out to be” she regretted saying the last few words as she watched him grind hid coffee cup into the table top,
“And which thoughtful citizen told you that?” he asked through gritted teeth,
“An old guy by the name of John though mostly people just call him Johnny 99” she replied and what he did next shocked her; he answered her with a slight grunt and then a smile played at the edges of his lips,"Old bastards still alive, huh” he said almost to himself, “how about I tell you a story” he said catching her eye” and so unfolded the story of Johnny 99.