AUDIO SHORT: Holiday Spirit – Part of the Biad Chronicles

We’ve been working on DEATH OF A BOUNTY HUNTER, a full-cast audiobook with steampunk, western, sci-fi, and fantasy overtones. DEATH OF A BOUNTY HUNTER is part of a larger world we’re building, and all the stories that take place in that world are part of The Biad Chronicles.

Read the story below, or head over to our Patreon page to listen to audio version for free! It’s read by Benjamin James, who voices FANCY DUDE in DEATH OF A BOUNTY HUNTER.

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Holiday Spirit

By Nathan Scheck

“T’is is far enou’ for today.”

The slim rider in the dusty gray bowler slides off his horse, feet crunching into the gravelly dirt. Grimacing at the state of his attire, the Eireman—aptly named Fancy Dude—gives his vest and trousers a few cursory pats. The resulting cloud of dust provokes a defeated sigh, and he pulls a handkerchief from an inner vest pocket and wipes his tinted spectacles clean. A small victory at least.

Tucking a few strands of bright red hair back up under his hat, he turns to the large misshapen roll of canvas and rope draped over the rear of his horse. He checks a few of the knots holding the outer web of cords in place, and begins to fiddle with the straps anchoring it to the saddle. His companion, a massive man on an even more massive Clydesdale, continues to lumber on into the sunset.

“’Ay! Dammit, Gary, ye ox!” After a moment, the huge horse grinds to a halt and Gary looks lazily back over his shoulder. Fancy throws up his hands. “I said we’re stoppin’! Me arse aches and t’is spot is good as any. In t’is cold, e’s gonna keep jus’ fine!”

With an effort, Fancy shoves the bundle off his horse. It hits the ground with a muffled thud, one end flopping open momentarily to reveal the toe of a cheap boot.

***

The campfire flickers, lofting sparks up to meet a small flurry of snowflakes on their way to the desert floor. Silhouetted against the firelight, the smaller of the two men looks up at the night sky and takes a drink from a silver flask.

“Well, ain’t t’is a great bucket o’ weepin’ lard, Gary? Got ourselves a bit o’ snow jus’ in time for the blessed ’oliday!”

The larger man, bundled tightly in a tent-sized duster, merely grunts.

“Like they always say, ya can’t ’ave a proper Arrival wit’out a little snow.” Grinning sarcastically, Fancy leans back, elbows in the dirt. “Jus’ gets ya in the mood, ya know?”

Gary offers no comment.

Fancy, undeterred, continues: “You gotta celebrate ‘love an’ toget’erness ’ sometime, ay? And when better t’an on the darkest day o’ the year?” He takes a drink. “An’ then ya’ better make sure you scare the youn’sters shiteless!”

Absently flexing his empty hand, he begins to sing…

Come on ye’ kiddos, an’ see what I say;
Package a present and leave it to lay.
Place at t’ pole so the Vist’or can view,
So ’e gets the gifts an’  ’e ain’t takin’ you.

Fancy takes another long, brooding swig from the flask. “Now that’s how one goes about bringin’ a whole dollop o’ fun t’ any ’oliday! Bribin’ some vengeful ghost wit’ a bunch a’ goodies. Builds character, prob’ly.”

He pushes himself back up into a sitting position, locks his arms around his knees, and kindly allows silence to fall on the campsite.

***

The flask lies discarded in the dirt, forlornly reflecting the light of the guttering campfire. Fancy looks up and stretches his back.

“Ain’t no matter,” he mumbles, in seeming response to a lengthy internal monologue. “But what if ’e is real, an’ ol’ Nan’ really knew what she was doin’? Legends’re based on truth, ay?”

He sneaks a glance toward his companion, hoping his audience is still awake.

“How ’bout t’is, Gary,” he says loudly. His hands flick to his belt and return with a pair of well-worn dueling pistols. He spins them deftly around his trigger fingers. “We ain’t ’elpless kids no more. So once we collec’ t’is bounty, we hunt down t’at damn Visitor!”

Gary finally turns his head.

The Eireman continues, excitement growing: “’course, we need to find us a witch ’r two first… t’ Visitor’s gotta be usin’ magic, but we got our own connections.”

The pistols twirl faster.

“So, we get a posse toget’er. We hunt ’im, we catch ’im. An’ then…”

The pistols stop with a snap, pointing into the fire.

“BAM! We deal with ’im t’ correct way. Jus’ like ol’ smarty-pants Higgins over t’ere.”

The fire glints off his bright, too-wide smile aimed at the trussed-up roll of canvas lying in the shadows. Gary emits a gravelly chuckle.

“Doin’ the world a favor, right? Greatest pro-bono bounty in all of ’istory!” He collapses onto his back, pistols pointed skyward. “You hear t’at, ya great…” The guns waggle vaguely, “…thing?! We’re comin’ for ya! Hope ya enjoy all t’ pretty packages you get t’is year, ’cuz you ain’t gettin’ no more!”

The solstice sky offers no response except for the latest batch of snowflakes, and his arms drop to the ground. “Anyhow, yer gettin’ nothin’ from us t’is fine night,” he mumbles, awkwardly shoving the pistols back into their holsters. “Just a promise o’ lead from ol’ Fancy an’ Gary.”

The campsite enjoys a moment of silence, then begrudgingly endures the snores.

***

Fancy pushes himself up and shivers in the pre-dawn gloom. The remains of the fire glow a mostly useless red, and a thin dusting of snow covers the ground. Gary stands near the horses, one hand resting distractedly on the flank of his Clydesdale as he stares out at the slowly brightening horizon.

Fancy stands, snatching the flask on his way up. Rubbing his arms, he trudges stiffly toward Gary and the horses. “Gary, I ever tell you yer stupid barn of a coat is t’ best idea you ever—”

He stops. His head snaps around to the campfire, then back. His eyes dart between Gary, the horses, and the oblong snowless space near Gary’s feet… where the canvas bundle should have been.

Regaining his composure, Fancy forces a smile. “Ah shite, Gary—you scared me for a secon’! What t’ hell did ya do wit’ Higgins?”

Gary turns and meets Fancy’s gaze, an odd, thoughtful expression carved into his ogre-like features. Then he laughs. And laughs, and laughs.


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