Friday, December 15, 2017

WEIRD WEST FICTION: Night of the Six-Gun Gorilla

I adapted this from the original story (by an anonymous author) which first appeared in The Wizard magazine in 1939. It's in the public domain now and we're free to do as we please with it. First order of business was changing the ape's name from O'Neil to O'Shea. Also had to figure a way to make the gorilla smart as a man, and give him know-how on guns. Once done, it was just a matter of taking Anonymous' 80K words about a rundown gundown and tightening that up something
fierce. As a result, several months in the original piece is now one night. 

One hell of a night.

Chapter 1: An Association of Apes

Bart Masters threw down his pick with a grunt of relief. It was almost dark now at the bottom of the shaft. Bent and scarred by a lifetime of toil, sixty-two years felt like two hundred. If he was ever going to spend all the gold he’d torn from the earth the last couple years, he’d have to quit for civilization. Today’s haul and everything stashed under the floor of the cabin, it was more than enough.
It was time.
He finished packing the last bucket and tugged the rope. Foot on the rim, he shouted, “Hoist ‘er on, O’Shea!”
Simple as slick, up he went. Breaking into the crisp air of early evening, Masters grabbed the crosspiece above and stepped out.
“Thanks, son.”
The gorilla shuffled away from the winch handle.
“Hoo,” he grunted. “Heh.”
A tremendous creature and Masters was still taken aback at times. Hunched but huge, at least six foot. Glossy black as a coal broom with a face like a nightmare. Cold weather creature, from what Masters could discern – from its love of daytime shade and evening frolics in the brisk desert – but New Mexico had treated it well enough. ‘Least up in the Cristobals this time of year. Spring was always kind.
The old man had never up and asked where the thing had come from, though part of him figured if he did, it might answer.
It had to do with the scar above its eye, certainly. Oh, there were others. The creature contained an entire history of some terrible practice head to foot. Rakes along its skull, its chest. Long scrapes and trails visible when the breeze moved the fur on its arms and legs. But the one on its head was the thing. A puckered hole in, with a pink, hairless exit around back.
Which had to be a bullet. There was no other explanation. Something had creased its brain and cinched up the years Mr. Darwin said held the apes and men apart.
When Masters had found the beast shuffling dust on the horizon as he’d dragged his wagon to the claim, there was no denying the craft in its eyes. The grunts when Masters had leaned in the saddle to coo at it like some pet. No words, but the ape had gestured back the way it came and even gave some small shrugs, as if to say:
I got real problems back there. What’s going on up this way?
Did it understand like a man? Masters had decided it did. At the very least, the animal seemed to understand Masters, little as it could tell of itself. He’d named it for his own wife Maggie, gone to the fever years back and since, found something of comfort in the thing’s company, if not outright friendship.
Now, the old man directed the bucket into a few sacks and got them loaded on the horse. O’Shea knuckled beside, long arms out front to tuck its legs and do his hop-gallop down the edge of the mountain toward the cabin below. The last bit of sun winkled on the creek flowing beside it and Masters had to smile.
Dragonfly Mine, he called his piece of the world, and there’d been no better stroke of luck around it. Either in the gold itself, or chancing upon O’Shea to help him turn it out. The beast had fallen right to work, easy as pie.
Even got down in the shaft at times with the pick and shovel. Masters felt foolish speaking like he did to the animal, spouting odd thoughts throughout the day, but damned if it wasn’t easy. He just knew there were notions in that creature’s mind. Thoughts of loves and hates, pasts and futures.
Everything was in them eyes, the way they looked right at him. Felt shameful to consider, but Masters often wished that bullet had gone deep enough to knock some words loose.
“’Bout time, I think,” he said, swinging a leg off the horse. Without being told, the ape grunted over and helped unload the sacks.
“How ‘bout you?”
O’Shea snuffled, cradling one of the sacks like an infant.
“Civilization? Y’all got one o’ those?” Masters untied the other sack and let it drop, to give the horse some relief. “Some ape society?”
O’Shea grunted again ‘hoo, ho-ho’ and waddled up the porch, shaking his head.
‘Ape Society.’ You’re a card, old man.
Masters led the horse to its corral around back, a horizontal post next to the outhouse and tool shack. Charity was a fine Appaloosa, quick and strong and made stronger for all her work hauling out the mine. He went in the shack for a blanket and feedbag, tying oats on and heaving the saddle off. He draped the blanket in its place and gave her a pat. Wiping his hands on his front, he took in the sunset one more time with a deep, satisfying breath.
It was just touching the top of the woods at the end of the grassy field. This, just past the creek. The woods carpeted another slope, steeper than his mine was and continued down toward town. From just above the mine, it was easy enough to see the place out there.
Copper Drop was built on the paraje Fray, the last hospitable land on the Royal Road, the Camino Real just before Jornada Basin. The Royal itself ran 1500 miles, Mexico City to Santa Fe and oh, dangers abounded. But that southern piece through the basin, 100 miles to the border, was considered the worst of it. They called it Jornada Del Muerto, or Dead Man’s Route.
A powerful hell, made worse for the fact the mountains followed you the whole way, hiding the Rio Grande behind ‘em. ‘Least ’til Fort Selden, but most were dead by then.
Powerful hell. Only seemed right a shitty minin’ burg like Copper Drop sat at the head of it.
Be good to finally leave. Good to be back in the world with telephones and canned fish and that new kinda water closet. Shit, Yale gone and give some nigger a goddamn degree! Oh, they could do anything back in the world. A man met it head-on or got to runnin’. And no man ran that damn fast.
The old man sighed.
Inside, the gorilla had already pried up the loose boards and stowed their day’s take. While he sat beside the black-belly stove picking burrs from his coat, the old man set about some supper.
They chatted over it, or, Masters did, spooning stew at his little table while the ape retired to the corner. Here, he fed up on some grass and flowers from the wooden bin. O’Shea and the old man went out of a morning or night, picking flowers and thistles and tying them in bundles for the beast to eat.
The ape mostly grazed the land on his own – eating as much as he did everyday – but their picking expeditions were a way to relax. And the little bundles were like bites of food at a man’s table, when Masters was taking his own evening meal. O’Shea could use a chair and sometimes sat across, but seemed to prefer his corner.
“So, you ain’t said much,” Masters said, licking out his bowl and setting it on the shelf. He stared at the Territory map on the wall, then took up a log from beside the stove. He cleared his throat and creaked open the front to toss it in.
“So, then.”
O’Shea grunted.
“Back to town ‘fore long? No?”
The ape munched and snorted and waved a hand.
Foolishness. I can’t be among Men.
“What’s that?” Masters imitated the gesture. “You sayin’ no? Why the hell not?”
O’Shea held out his foot, that brand burned into the heel. The number 9 in peculiar script, inside a circle.
Where do you think this came from?
“Well –”
He let it go and whapped a palm over his eye, at the hole there.
And this?!
“C’mon now, not all’re bad. We’ll take it slow, maybe –”
O’Shea stood with a snarl. It wasn’t aggressive as such. Masters had never feared for himself around the gorilla. But he knew when enough was enough. He held up his hands and looked at the floor with a sigh.
“Conve’sation over.”
The gorilla stared at him.
“Don’t have to go nowhere y’don’t want.”
O’Shea snorted again.
Uh huh.
He knuckled to the door and pushed outside.


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