The Medicine Man
By: Kevin Meeks
Bart “Raven” Morrison spun the cylinder around on his revolver, watching with scientific precision the way that the six chambers gleamed with their deadly cargo. His mouth crept into a devilish grin. He hadn't known a town yet which he couldn't place under his rule of six-gun terror. The name “Raven” quickly spread like wildfire across many a man's tongues. No one would stand up to him in a duel because of his ungodly speed. This claim was constantly tested by young men, eager to defend their families honor. To which he responded by shooting them down like dogs in the highway. His claim hadn't been bested yet, or else he'd be pushing up the daisies at the edge of town.
The dusty town called Smoky Gulch moved slowly, it lay a good distance off the well-traveled airship routes where the giant floating barges shuttled their cargo of people and goods. The people of Smoky Gulch often ignored the sound of their engines, continuing their business. Often retiring to the local saloon for a good drink, after a long day of work. It was toward this saloon that “Raven” Morrison walked, the rest of his posse had fanned out into Smoky Gulch to wreak havoc. Although the sheriff would have something to say about that. “Raven” Morrison's silhouette struck fear into those who saw it, like chickens ripe for the harvest. He was a tall man, wearing a long gray duster that flapped in the breeze, a black wide-brimmed hat was pulled down low over his eyes. His face was rustic, with a rough black beard, eyes like twin vipers piercing into people as he walked. Slung low on his hips were the guns in well-oiled holsters. Long-barreled six-shooters that would plant a hole in a man the size of a silver dollar. Not that he cared what the locals thought about his guns, because he didn't need to speak for them, the guns spoke for themselves.
A sound was carried on the wind of Smoky Gulch from somewhere off in the distance “Raven” Morrison heard the rattle of the Medicine Man's carriage as it creaked its way into town. It was a brightly painted monstrosity, larger than most wagons. Puffs of white steam occasionally burst from the metal pipe protruding from the top of the carriage. The gears within propelling the contraption without the aid of horses. Stenciled alongside the wooden exterior were the words
Dr. Frank Ateleton
Fixer, Trader, Alchemist
Bart scratched his head in puzzlement at the words on the side of the carriage. “All-keem-est” he said softly to himself, not knowing what in the world an alchemist was.
The carriage was unlike anything Bart had ever seen, devoid of horses the vehicle chugged under its own power. The large brass wheels gleamed under the sun, their spokes glinting as they turned. Perhaps it was brass, or perhaps gold Bart thought. Another oddity of the rectangular carriage was its lack of windows.
As the contraption rolled to a halt with a loud hiss, shrouding itself in a cloud of steam. Bart watched as a small ladder folded out on its own power, in the rear of the contraption. It landed with a small puff of dust in the street below. He continued to watch it in amazement, waiting for something else marvelous to happen, but nothing did. No one got out of the contraption, and no doors opened (not that he could see any). Giving up on this strange visitor he continued on his way toward the local saloon, boot-spikes singing with every step, his mind focused on his favorite fire-water.
Inside the Sheriff’s office, Sheriff Caleb Ryder and his Deputy Eric Tate had watched “Raven” Morrison's arrival into Smoky Gulch.
“I reckon there’s trouble brewing” Sheriff Ryder snarled as he spit out his tobacco into the brass receptacle on the floor hearing its light ping. The Sheriff was a strong man, not striking in features, but honest looking. He was just what this town needed, they needed someone they could trust. His deputy likewise had a look of honesty except for one lazy eye which never seemed to focus on anything.
“How do you know there's trouble?” said Eric as he reached over for his hat.
“I just have a hunch, it isn't every day that we get a vagrant and an outlaw arriving in town the same day” the Sheriff said as he motioned his hand toward the bevy of wanted poster that were plastered haphazardly on the wall. Almost half of them were for Bart “Raven” Morrison. Between the age of the posters it told the Sheriff one thing, the more dangerous Bart became, the more the bounty sum also increased. Right now it stood at $70,000 which was an insane amount of money, no bank carried that kind of cash.
“You thinking of cashing in on that outlaw?” Eric asked, pulling his six-gun out of the holster and twirling the empty chamber before loading it.
“Yep, what better way to retire comfortably. With a respected name and a lot of cash” Sheriff Ryder picked up his gun from where it lay on his desk and slid it into his side-holster.
“But he could also retire you permanently” Eric said.
“Then he'll have to learn that this is My town, and no one stirs up trouble in My town” the Sheriff poked his thumb at his chest with each emphasis on the word “My.”
“But he hasn't done anything yet”
“Don't worry. He will.” The Sheriff said as he donned his hat and walked to the door. Eric wasn't sure which man the Sheriff was referring to. Was it the outlaw? Or the vagrant?
“Raven” Morrison set the glass down on the bar top empty, for he had finished the third shot of whiskey which the barkeep had poured for him. She watched him through brass goggles which had multiple lenses stacked on the right eye, her hair was tied up behind her head. She was dressed in a low-cut white blouse which emphasized her assets. A dark skirt and tall leather boots completed the outfit. His coin clinked on the counter as he paid and strode out the door, pushing open the hanging doors with a powerful shove. A man in a blue waist-coat who looked like a banker was just about to reach the door, when he was shoved onto his rear end by Bart's powerful motion.
“Hey, why don't you watch where ----” The man caught himself after seeing Bart's black eyes boring into him like an awl. “Sorry sir, allow me to get out of your way.” The man shook from the fright of seeing Bart's menacing glare. It was a cold gaze, a killers gaze. The frightened banker scrambled away, not wanting to grace the undertaker's shop later. “Raven” Morrison's reputation preceded him in most cases.
“Raven” Morrison walked calmly past the man and out into the street, reaching up to adjust his hat as the slight breeze billowed his gray duster behind him. A short man with intense eyes watched “Raven's” actions. The short man knew that “Raven” couldn't see him, since he had the curtains drawn over the windows of his brightly colored medicine wagon. And the fact that people often saw what they wanted to see. And he wanted them to see only the wagon until the time was right.
The Medicine Man, Dr. Frank Ateleton. Most people just called him Dr. Fate, due in part to the strange items he sold, but mostly because people were too lazy to say his first and last name, so they would shorten it and combine the two. Not that Dr. Frank cared much, his biggest concern in the world was making a profit. He adjusted his bow-tie, smoothed his coat-tails and perched a brown silk top hat on his head, as he prepared to step out into the streets and expose his wares to the public.
He was wearing a smile, with which he could have sold you an acre of rocky wasteland and you'd be enthusiastically happy about it, with no hard feelings towards Dr. Ateleton. Beneath that smiling visage he had quickly set up a table displaying his wares. And what strange items he had indeed. Glass vials held an assortment of colored liquids, some bubbled of their own accord, others smelled quite rank. Delicate musical boxes, whose clockwork-gears turned in precision to play three different songs. Bow-ties that would tie themselves once they were placed against a gentleman's collar. And fans for the ladies which after being wound by a key, would move of their own accord, requiring no exertion of the holder. After he had peddled his various wares to practically every townspeople who walked by his wagon, Dr. Frank looked up to see Black Bart strutting towards him, gray duster fluttering behind him.
“Well bless my soul, it's another customer” Dr. Frank exclaimed with enthusiasm as he smoothed his cream colored coat, beneath his coat was a burgundy vest and a yellow tie. He paused then added “And what might I interest you in today sir.” This outburst however didn't place a smile upon the grim looking man in the gray coat. “Raven” Morrison screwed up his eyes, looking at the doctor, as if trying to determine if he was a friend or a foe.
“I might be a customer, keep that in mind. Or I might change my mind and decide to plug you” he snarled and began to bring his six-shooter up from his holster. But before he even got it clear of the leather, Bart heard the click of a gun hammer being drawn back. He couldn't believe it, how could this medicine man draw faster than he. Bart hadn't even seen a gun in the man's hands when he was talking to him, and now he had the drop on him.
“Sorry, just a reflex action” Dr. Frank smiled as he lowered the gun, thumbing the hammer back down. He watched Bart relax then Dr. Fate began to smile. It wasn't a normal smile, it was the kind of smile of a man with a secret. But that secret would undoubtedly come with a price.
Sheriff Ryder continued his determined walk out of his office. Eric, his deputy had refused to accompany him, on account that Bart Morrison hadn't done anything yet. And more importantly, deputy Eric was just plain scared. Sheriff Ryder hitched up his gun-belt and tipped his hat to the ladies who were walking down the street. They giggled and drew out a fan that moved by itself. Sheriff Ryder rubbed his eyes, clearly he hadn't seen what he just thought he saw. But there it was. The ladies were carrying fans that waved of their own accord. Had Sheriff Ryder been a little more intelligent, he would have noticed that the fans were propelled by a spring-mechanism which had to be wound like a pocket watch. But instead he stood there looking at the women, all googly-eyed in amazement by the contraptions they were holding.
The Sheriff continued walking in a slight daze, uncertain of what was coming over this town. First a peddler arrives in town, and no sooner than he does, the townsfolk are carrying items that look like they’ve been bewitched with black magic. There was only one thing for the Sheriff to do, and that was to confront this Dr. Fate and try to get him to move out of town. His presence here was stirring up the townsfolk, almost as if he was putting a spell on them.
Two things stood in the way of “Raven” taking over the town of Smoky Gulch, the first was deputy Eric, and the second was his superior, Sheriff Ryder. He decided to start a ruckus in town, so he gathered up his posse. His mind had formulated the perfect plan to get rid of both lawmen. If he knew his opponents, the Sheriff would more than likely send his deputy for any minor upsets like vandalism.
“I'm coming to get you varmit!” Raven Morrison yelled, his face twisting up like he was going to spit. The Sherrif's deputy, Eric stood up from behind the large barrel he was hiding behind and dropped his hand to his gun belt. Eric's fingers brushed the wooden handle of his revolver as two sharp consecutive gunshots filled the air. Raven Morrison had drawn his own gun in a blur of motion and fired twice, striking the deputy in the chest and hand. As he fell down bleeding, Eric watched the brass gleam on the spent shells as Raven twisted out the chamber. There was something odd about his gun hand. Eric thought he saw it gleaming as brightly as the shells as his vision was overtaken by death.
Sheriff Ryder upon hearing the report of the shots, rushed out into the street, his own weapon in hand. “Nobody stirs up trouble in my town!” he said defiantly as he looked up the street, but couldn't see where his deputy had been gunned down.
“Can I be of assistance?” a voice said from the shadows behind the sheriff. He jumped a bit, startled at the man behind him. He stepped out of the shadows the sheriff recognizing him as the Medicine Man, complete in his cream jacket and burgundy vest. He was wearing a smile which held back a great secret.
“I really don't think you can, Doctor Fate. You'd just be wastin' your time” The sheriff had no sooner gotten the words out of his mouth, when the Doctor demonstrated his lightning fast draw again. The sheriff's eyes widened as he tried to make sense of this man.
“How can you draw that fast! Its uncanny!” he said incredulously.
“I'll let you in on a little secret, but it will come with a price” The Medicine man quietly said to the sheriff as he rolled up his own sleeve.
The Sheriff was astounded by the contraption that was strapped to his arm. Golden wires ran up the length of his forearm. Every few inches, several cogs interlocked, forming a web of torque. At the elbow of the device, a small key jutted out.
“Watch as I turn the key to engage the mainspring.”
The Sheriff watched as the Medicine Man twisted the key around in its socket, increasing the tension in the mainspring. When it could click no more, he pressed his foot down to the earth, which in turn pulled a chain that ran down his leg. The device released its energy causing Doctor Fate's arm to whip down to his side-holster, snapping back up with gun in hand, ready to fire.
“Unbelievable” the Sheriff exhaled.
“Guaranteed to win you almost any duel” the Medicine Man said with a smile.
“With this in hand, I'll win my town back”
“Perhaps you'd allow me to further explain the features of this device” Doctor Fate continued.
“Nonsense! I've seen enough!” The sheriff yelled, pushing him aside. “Just strap this device on me, and let me give Raven what's comin' to him.”
“Okay sir, I did try and warn you” Doctor Fate said as he unhooked the contraption from his arm, and proceeded to install it on the sheriff.
The sheriff walked down the street, a furious revenge boiling in his blood. He knew the man who was responsible for gunning down his deputy, and he intended to make him pay. His confidence had soared after Dr. Fate had given him a demonstration of the clockwork device which he now wore on his right arm. The gears and wires enshrouded his arm like the carapace of a metal insect.
“Come on out Raven! My deputy may have been easy to kill, but I'll not give you the satisfaction of letting his death be for nothing!” he screamed as he walked down the center of the street, his boot-spikes ringing with every step. In the distance the sheriff could see a gray cloaked figure with a black hat, guns slung down low in holsters.
“So now you want revenge, is that it sheriff?” Raven called out with an attitude. The Sheriff pursed his lips together “Actually I just want the money, and clear streets” replied the Sheriff twisting the key at his elbow. The two men faced each other from the opposite ends of the street, iron determination framing their faces.
“On a count of three, we walk ten paces, turn and fire” said Raven.
“Not on your life, It's my count we'll go by!” drawled the sheriff as he obviously didn't trust this varmint an ounce. The two men sneered at each other like vicious dogs on a leash. Out of the corner of the Sheriff's eye a man in a resplendent cream jacket with a burgundy vest came walking, it was Dr. Fate.
“Can I be of assistance, gentlemen?” he said with that same golden smile.
“Yes, would you mediate this duel so I can kill him” Raven Morrison said, drawing his gray duster back to rest his hands on his holsters.
“The honor would be all mine” Dr. Frank said, touching his hand to the brim of his brown silk top hat in a nod.
“On my mark, shake hands, walk twenty paces, turn and fire. And may the quickest draw win.” His eyes had a certain fire about them when he mentioned the quickest draw. By now the townsfolk had heard about the duel and crowded by the saloon to watch it play out. Several people exchanged bets on who the winner would be.
Sheriff Ryder inserted the key into his arm device as he turned his back to Raven. The gears ratcheted as he increased the torque on the mainspring with every twist. He was smiling as he walked. He felt like this device would finally allow him to end Raven's reign of terror, and it would put in a good word for his promotion at the capital in the capture of this outlaw. The hands of the two men twitched nervously as Dr. Frank called out again.
“Turn and fire!”
It was a well-rehearsed dance of death. The two opponents pirouetted slowly around, and a single gunshot was heard as both men drew. They both fell to the ground clutching their hand and screaming in agony. It hadn't been just a single shot, rather both men fired at the exact same time with the aid of the clockwork-device and both shots had flown true, shattering their hand and the quick-draw contraptions. With his work done here, Dr. Fate mounted his wagon and traveled into the distance amid a massive fog of steam and smoke. He had solved another problem, adding two more men to the list of those who will never again draw a gun in anger.