733 words by Stanley Lieber
By the winter of 1861 I hadn't seen another human being in six years. My gun had rusted, but that didn't much matter as for the majority of my time on the mountain I had been completely snowed in.
My graph hadn't perturbed itself in months. I thought it might have simply shut itself down, protesting inactivity. I couldn't muster the interest to scan its core for flaws. I considered cannibalizing it for parts.
I melted some snow from the window and sloshed the water around in my mouth. Brine. I spit it out on the wood floor. Opened the cabinets for no real reason; there was no food left.
I contemplated trying to dig myself out.
I got my legs attached and unlocked the front door. A flat wall of beige snow, suspended where the sunshine should have been.
Voices, from behind the wall.
My first thoughts ran to annoyance. I hoped they would move on. Anyone up here at this time of year could only be seeking after help. Two voices meant they would be unlikely to take no for an answer from a lone hermit such as myself.
A gloved hand poked through the snow, groping around as if to stave off asphyxiation.
I prepared myself for unwanted conversation.
The strangers were polite. Dug out the front step. Offered me provisions when they noticed I didn't even have a stove for cooking. I distracted them with talk of the astronomical data I had been collecting. The younger fellow was able to follow along to some extent, but both seemed lacking in the fundamentals so I let the subject drop.
I do not recall now which of them first broached the topic of their extra horse, but they talked me into stepping out front to inspect its injury.
The reader will have seen this coming. I was several paces into the front snow drift when I heard the door lock behind me.
Their provisions were still loaded onto their horses.
I ran some calculations in my head and decided that the horses could probably make it into town. It did take the better part of the day to make the journey.
Everything had changed. The general store had expanded to include a bar and eatery. The grand hotel was now a school house. Inside the old court building, the whores were now wearing shoes. No one seemed to recognize me.
I bartered the two oldest horses for a new rifle, a flint and a sewing needle. I wouldn't need food. I made love to a whore in order to blend in with the other drifters; it was frowned upon by the constabulary to leave town without first engaging the local labor pool. Civilization and tradition had conspired to keep me within city limits until after dark.
I fell asleep without replacing my eye patch.
When I woke up, it was gone.
"'Haus Mold'," laughed the hotel manager, reading from my card. "Your name's a joke, right?"
"It's an Indian name," I said.
My bad eye focused on him and I assumed he must have caught a glimpse of the internal mechanism because he started when it whirred to life.
"Right. You're an injun." He gestured sarcastically as if he were jerking off.
I glanced over at his daughter. The whore I had bedded. He noticed this and his voice trailed off.
As my boots hit the dirt outside the hotel, the snow was just starting to pick up. The first big storms up the mountain would have rolled in the night before. The pass would be buried until spring.
I made a backup of myself and dropped it in the mail to New York. Just in case.
As I approached my horse, a shot rang out. Its echo clashed against the wooden slats of the general store, the school and the casino. My horse tipped over like a grandfather clock, brains pushing out of its impacted eye socket. I noted that we had both contrived to lose the same eye.
I turned and raised my new rifle, returned fire. It was no surprise to me who I'd killed.
"Fair fight!" some idiot exclaimed.
"Squash it," I barked. "Increase the peace."
I rode west. Once out of town, I removed my clothing and walked beside my horse.
The snow eventually gave way to desert.
To be continued...