[It's been awhile since I posted last. Here's the latest installment of GOTBR. There's heaps of hard sex and violence here, so I felt moved to try to give it all a sweet center. Copyright 2009 by Charles Hoffman.]
CHAPTER SIX -- SHADOW’S REVENGE
Having gotten the drop on Sailor Clanton, Shadow quickly disarmed him and tossed his gun into a corner. Then she ordered him to strip. She turned the oil lamp back up while Clanton removed his clothes. When he was naked she noticed that his privates had shriveled to a small knot of goose-pimpled flesh. A loaded gun held inches from a man’s head will have that effect.
Shadow couldn’t resist some sort of cutting remark, “Not such a big man now, are we?”
“Screw you, bitch,” muttered Clanton. There was fear in his voice, tinged by helpless rage. Clanton enjoyed dishing out humiliation a lot more than he did taking it. He didn’t much like what happened next, either.
Shadow smashed him across the face with the barrel of the Glock, then struck him across the other cheek with the backstroke. It was payback for the pistol-whipping he had given her earlier. Clanton was rocked but managed to stay on his feet. He winced at the pain.
“Hurts, doesn’t it?” Shadow asked. Then, to Clanton’s utter astonishment, she put her gun aside. “Clanton, I’m going to give you more of a chance than you gave me,” she told him, “Let’s see if you can take me when I’m not tied up, without your gun and your boyfriends.”
It took a few seconds for it to dawn on Clanton that he had been granted a reprieve from a situation that had promised certain death. But once the realization took hold, he wasted no time to comment or mentally thank fate. Instead, he bored right in, lunging at Shadow and hoping to wrestle her to the floor.
Shadow had been expecting some such move and side-stepped it easily. She booted Clanton in the ass as he went stumbling by. Clanton went sprawling face-first onto the cabin’s dirt floor.
At this point it would have been easy for Shadow to pile on top of him and grind his face into the dirt. She was sorely tempted to force him face-down into the dirt until he asphyxiated. It was her plan not just to beat him up, but bust him up. She fully intended to leave him dead or permanently disabled. But she didn’t want to end it too quickly.
“Get up!” she snarled.
There were many who would have considered Shadow’s giving Sailor Clanton a second crack at her to be a reckless, foolhardy move. Clanton was bigger than she was, and stronger. Yet Shadow had put aside her anger long enough to weigh her course of action before committing to it. Clanton was no pushover in a fight, but he wasn’t as good as he thought he was. His penchant for taking on lesser opponents had given him an inflated reputation, in his own mind as well as others’. In terms of overall skill, he was Shadow’s inferior. Moreover, his physique, though impressive, was mainly for show. He looked pumped-up, even a little muscle-bound. He lacked the trim lines of a true fighter. And he would not be fighting in top form. He had been forced to strip naked at gunpoint, which rendered him more vulnerable in addition to being psychologically debilitating. Ending up face-down on the floor mere seconds into a fight also tended to undermine one’s confidence. Two cracks on the head from a gun barrel weren’t likely to help Clanton’s form either.
Clanton rose unsteadily and turned to face his former prisoner. Shadow shifted into her fighting stance. Clanton came at her, enraged, still seeking to overpower her by sheer force. He cocked back a clenched fist as he closed distance. Then he hooked his heavily-muscled arm at her as though determined to tear her head from her shoulders with a single blow.
Clanton’s hook to the head was poorly timed and executed, however. Shadow ducked under it with a supple weave of her body. She sprang up inside his guard, stung his face with a couple of quick jabs, then danced back out of range.
Clanton realized that he had a real fight on his hands and he wasn’t going to end this with one punch. He got down to serious business, assuming a boxing stance opposite his opponent.
Shadow was instantly aware that Clanton had sobered up and was now fighting with a clear head. She wasn’t about to let him get up to speed. Clanton moved in, flicking his jab. Shadow shifted to karate mode and deflected the blows with swats of her open hands. When her foe was close enough, she brought her booted heel down hard on his naked instep. She felt some of the bones crack as she counterpunched, then moved back out of range. Clanton wobbled unsteadily on his broken foot. Lame, he was a sitting duck.
Even so, Shadow remained wary about moving in on him. Unable to maneuver, his best bet would be to try to grapple. The smart move would be to soak up a few more of her licks in exchange for an opportunity to place her in some sort of hold or, failing that, simply seize her and hurl her to the ground --anything that enabled him to bring his greater strength to bear.
Given these considerations, Shadow refrained from rushing in. Instead she took this opportunity to taunt Clanton in the hopes of rattling him. She assumed a haughty demeanor, flaunting her naked breasts. “This is twice tonight you’ve come up short,” she said coldly, “Karla gave me a better fight.”
“You lousy bitch,” he grated, “Just let me get my hands on you.” His open hands trembled, betraying his urge to grab.
Stupid of him to telegraph that he’s going for the grapple, Shadow thought, What if I hadn’t figured it out already?
Stung to fury, Clanton hobbled forward despite the pain of his injured foot. Shadow let out a loud “Ki-yi!” and raised her hands to deliver karate strikes. Clanton raised his own guard in response. However, Shadow’s move was merely a feint. When Sailor Clanton was in range she kicked him in the balls.
Clanton folded instantly, crashing to his knees. Shadow’s kick had been dead on. Since he was nude, Clanton’s testes were totally exposed. His injured foot made his stance awkward, leaving him wide open for a ball-shot. Shadow saw the opening and took the shot. “Accept what is offered,” Pops had told her long ago during training.
Shadow laughed at the sight of Clanton on his knees, clutching his groin and clenching his teeth against the urge to retch. Clanton flopped onto his side and curled into a fetal position.
After a few moments passed and he made no effort to rise, Shadow ordered him to get up. She suspected he was “taking the count,” faking the extent of his incapacity and stalling for time. In this way he could recover more fully while planning his next move. Shadow wasn’t having any of that shit. “Get up,” she repeated harshly, “Get up or I will kick and stomp you to death where you lay!”
After waiting as long as he dared, Clanton began to stir. He rose slowly and unsteadily. Before he was fully erect, Shadow knocked him back down with a side thrust kick. This almost proved to be her undoing. Instead of dropping, Clanton rolled with the kick and allowed it to propel him backwards --right into the corner where Shadow had tossed his gun. He managed to land face-down on top of it.
Within the space of a heartbeat Clanton was rolling onto his back, aiming the weapon. But Shadow had caught the move. With a speed borne of desperate urgency, she reached her own weapon, snatched it up, swung it towards Clanton, fired.
Both guns roared in the same instant. Clanton was still rolling his body as he fired. His shot went wild. Shadow’s struck Clanton squarely. She continued to squeeze the trigger. Three more of the heavy .40 slugs slammed into Clanton. His body jerked spasmodically, the automatic dropping from his twitching fingers. When Shadow stopped firing he slumped back and sprawled lifeless before her.
She pumped three more bullets into him for good measure. For several minutes she glared down at the bullet-riddled corpse. He bare breasts rose and fell as her breath hissed through her nostrils and clenched teeth. Her anger remained unabated. It was as though Clanton had escaped her in some way. She kicked the corpse savagely, again and again. She stomped down hard on it until she felt ribs crack. Then she unsheathed her knife…
The moon was setting by the time Mike and Lyle made it back to the cabin. Both were so drunk they could barely remain in their saddles. Lyle’s foot got caught in the stirrup as he attempted to dismount, and Mike had to free him. Eventually they managed to get the horses tied up. They headed around to front of the cabin.
Even through their booze haze, both instantly sensed that something was amiss. The door to the cabin was ajar. The wan yellowish lantern light spilled out through the opening. No sound could be heard from within save for a faint rustling and squeaking.
Mike and Lyle were gripped by a sense of foreboding as they approached the threshold. Lyle touched the door with a trembling hand. He pulled it slowly open on creaking hinges. Abruptly two large grey rats shot from within the doorway and vanished into the night.
Lyle flung the door open all the way. He and Mike stepped warily into the cabin. They stood aghast at what they saw within. The woman was gone, but they took scant notice of this. Before them in front of the fireplace a man’s nude body lay sprawled in a pool of blood. It had been mutilated and decapitated. Several more of the big grey rats feasted on the cooling flesh. On the mantel above them rested a human head -- the head of Sailor Clanton.
Mike screamed some incoherent blasphemy. Lyle pissed himself. They beheld a scene of nightmare and madness. It would have been horrific enough had they been stone cold sober. Seen through the distorted lens of their drunkenness, the gruesome tableau took on a genuinely hellish aspect.
Lyle felt his knees buckling. Then the floor came rushing up at him. He crashed to earth inches from the headless cadaver. The rats gnawing at the corpse hissed and backed up but did not scurry away. For a terror-filled moment Lyle was assailed by the sick certainty that he was about to pass out, knowing that the beasts would then be upon him.
To Lyle’s relief, Mike grabbed a poker and swung at the rats. He managed to drive them away and chase them out the door. He returned and helped Lyle to his feet.
“Oh dear God,” Lyle rasped, “Could she have done this? Bitch. Goddamn she-devil…”
Lyle rambled on but Mike wasn’t listening. He was gazing in horror at Sailor Clanton’s severed head with its oddly distorted face. It was then that he noticed something on the mantelpiece near the head. It was a folded piece of paper that looked to be a note of some sort. Mike picked it up and read the following:
IF THE LATE SAILOR CLANTON LOOKS LIKE A CHIPMUNK, IT’S BECAUSE HE’S GOT HIS NUTS STUFFED IN HIS CHEEKS. YOU’LL BE JOINING HIM IN HELL VERY SOON. YOU SHOULD BE FEELING WARMER ALREADY.
“What’s it say?” Lyle demanded.
Mike read it aloud, crumpled it, and cast it away. He was puzzling over what that last part meant when he smelled the smoke. Turning, he noticed a flickering hellish red glare outside the cabin’s sole window.
“Shit!” he cried, “She’s set the fuckin’ cabin on fire. Let’s get out of here.”
Mike made straight for the door, Lyle a step behind him. As he opened the door to step out, he was deafened by loud rifle fire. He was struck in the face by splinters and chunks of wood torn from the doorframe as bullets slammed into it.
Mike took a quick step back, colliding with Lyle and sending them both sprawling to the floor. They quickly shuffled over to the protection provided by the thick walls on either side of the doorway.
By now flames had sprung up around other parts of the cabin. The interior was starting to fill with smoke.
“We can’t stay in here,” Lyle said, his voice edged with panic, “And if we go out she’ll shoot us. Can you see anything out the window?”
“I can’t see nuthin’, but I think I heard the horses run off.”
The flames were growing higher by the minute and starting to eat through the walls. The heat was becoming unbearable. Both men realized the peril of their situation. The front door was the only exit. Attempting to escape through it they would be silhouetted against the light within. Even if they doused the lantern they would still be visible against the flames --sitting ducks for the shooter. But the alternative was being roasted alive.
Once again they tried the door. Once again they were driven back by a hail of lead that zinged inches past their heads.
“That was close,” muttered Mike, “Close enough to hit us if she wanted to. She wants us to burn in here.”
Mike doused the lantern, leaving only the unsteady flickering glare of the flames. “Stay low,” he told Lyle as they made another dash for the door. He hoped that the smoke now pouring from the cabin would furnish concealment.
Mike rushed to the door in a crouch, then pitched backwards as hot lead tore through his chest. Another crack of the rifle and Lyle fell as though struck by a thunderbolt.
Shadow arose from her chosen position on the fringe of the woods. From there she had gunned down her prey. The cabin was now fully engulfed in flame. She looked upon the inferno in grim satisfaction. Setting the fire had been easy. Heaps of rags and kindling soaked in kerosene had been set in strategic locations. Twists of paper served as simple fuses to be lit when the time came --once her marks were in place.
After Lyle and Mike entered the cabin, she had appropriated the rifles and Clanton’s horse, and set the other horses loose. Then she lit the fuses and waited for the fun to begin. Those in the cabin had no chance. Clanton’s rifle was designed for hunting, but its scope was state-of-the-art military issue. She had no problem placing each round exactly where she wished. Lyle had gone down with a bullet in the heart. The round she sent through Mike’s chest tore through both his lungs. He would probably drown in his own blood before he burned to death.
Shadow had no compunctions about her actions. Clanton and his crew were a nasty bunch. By reputation and by Clanton’s own boasts, they were known to have wronged many a man and woman. Such persons had now been avenged. But more importantly, Clanton and crew had fucked with her royally. There was no way she could let that shit slide.
Christian stood nearby, holding the horses. He passed no judgment on Shadow’s vengeance. He had followed Shadow into her world of his own free will, and was obliged to accept that world’s grim unwritten laws. Here, it seemed, people settled their own problems. Any qualms he might have felt had been eased by the sight of the black bruise the barrel of Clanton’s automatic had left on Shadow’s face.
Together they watched the cabin burn. Christian said, “I hope the fire doesn’t set these whole woods ablaze.”
“I don’t care if it does!” Shadow spat bitterly. Then the last of her anger abated like a storm blowing itself out. The cabin collapsed upon itself, sending up a huge cloud of sparks and embers. But the clearing was fairly large and the fire did not spread.
The fire had burned down by daybreak. A thick column of black smoke drifted skyward from the blackened smoldering ruins. Fog had come in with the dawn. The clearing looked like some misty realm of the dead. Shadow turned away from the smoking heap of cinders that formed a cairn over the remains of her enemies. “Let’s go,” she said.
They saddled up. Christian placed a rifle in the long saddle holster and slung another over his shoulder. Shadow likewise slung the rifle she had used over her shoulder. She also had Clanton’s automatic. It was chambered for .45 ammo. She briefly considered re-arming Christian with it; he was big enough to handle the more powerful round. But she quickly thought better of it. Automatics had slides and safeties to work. These could prove difficult for a novice shooter, especially under stress. Better he stick with his revolver.
They headed south along a narrow trail, avoiding the more traveled roads. The pair rode in silence for awhile. Christian finally spoke up.
“Uh, listen, I’m sorry about last night. I mean, I didn’t mean to stare at you like that when I came in and found you. It’s just that…” he paused before taking the plunge, “…well, I’ve never actually seen a totally naked lady before.”
Shadow was stunned by the revelation. She almost laughed but managed to stifle it so as not to embarrass him. Then she thought of something.
“What are you talking about? You saw me at the Go-Go Lounge back in Wheeling.”
“I averted my eyes, actually.”
This time she did laugh. “You are something else, Churchy.”
Christian made no reply. He didn’t want her to know the whole truth. He had been sorely tempted to gaze upon her nakedness. However, due to his repressive Victorian upbringing, he was very easily aroused. If he had actually watched the strippers, he ran the risk of becoming tumescent. He would have been mortified had any of the rough Border Region crowd call attention to a visible erection in his pants.
Shadow wondered if she had hurt Christian’s feelings by laughing at him, even good-naturedly. She said, “And besides, you did just fine. You saved me from that Chester guy. If not for you, I’d still be tied up in Sailor Clanton’s unburnt cabin.” And, she thought to herself, You are going to be seeing a whole lot more of me real soon, you lucky bastard.
Further down the road, Shadow informed Christian, “I’m looking for a place to hole up. I’ve had a rough night. I need some place to fall back, rest up and lick my wounds. And I could really use a bath.”
Shadow knew where to find what she needed. They left the road they were traveling and headed west along one of the east-west routes that led to and from the New Settlements. It was almost noon when they arrived at a rustic inn located along the trail. The inn consisted of several primitive log structures in keeping with the frontier environs. A large main building housed a bar and grill. Surrounding it were some small cabins.
The travelers tied up their horses in the rear of the main building. They entered the tavern and ordered lunch. The meal was simple fare: chicken-flavored foodpaste fried in a skillet and served with some garden greens.
Shadow paid for the meal and a cabin for the night. She requested one with a tub as well as a bed. The innkeeper gave her the key. She and Christian went over to stow their gear.
The cabin was small and dark, but the bed was big. It was common for travelers to share a bed in those parts, as in former times. Shadow removed her duster and hung it up. She now wore Sailor Clanton’s red mesh tank top in place of the one that had gotten torn off in the fight with Karla. Her nipples were plainly visible through the nylon garment, which did more to emphasize than conceal the ivory globes of her breasts. It was a sight that caused Christian to catch his breath. Shadow noticed and thought, Just wait, boy. You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.
In the meantime they had their work cut out for them. The tub was just a simple metal affair that had been placed in the middle of the floor. They had to get a fire going in the fireplace, draw water from a pump outside, bring it in and boil it in a cauldron over the fire.
When the tub was full of hot steaming water, Shadow told Christian, “I’ll go first. After last night I need a bath more than you. Don’t worry; the water will still be plenty hot when you get back.”
She gave Christian the key. He went out to feed and water the horses. When he was gone, Shadow undressed. She did not bolt the door from the inside, but kept her Glock close at hand.
When she was naked, she slowly lowered herself into the bath. The water was piping hot. She had to lower herself into it gradually, letting it creep up over her body inch by inch.
When she was fully immersed, Shadow relaxed and allowed the heat to ease away the aches and hurts of the past two nights. She luxuriated in the warm water smiling contentedly, in no hurry to leave the tub. At length there was a knock at the door and Christian’s voice from without; “Are you decent?”
With a wicked little grin, Shadow said, “Yeah, sure. Come on in.”
Christian entered the cabin and stopped short when he saw that Shadow was still lolling naked in the tub.
“Close the damn door!” she said sharply, “You’re letting cold air in.”
Christian, by now accustomed to instantly obeying her commands, shut the door behind her without further thought. The flames from the fire in the hearth lit the room redly. Shadow rose from the tub, wisps of steam curling about her. She stood before him, her lovely nude body dripping wet. “Besides,” she said coyly, “Do I look indecent to you?”
Christian did not answer. His mouth had gone dry and his tongue seemed to have swollen. He stood rooted to the spot, transfixed by the incredible sight of her.
As on the previous evening, Shadow had to snap him out of it. “Well, make yourself useful,” she commanded, “Fetch that towel on the bed. Get over here. Dry me. Chop chop, Churchy!”
He came to her as though drawn by the pull of gravity. Unfolding the large bath towel, he stepped behind her and draped it about her shoulders. Then Christian got to work. He started by patting dry her shoulders, then her upper arms. Lifting her damp hair, he dried the back of her neck. After drying her upper and lower back, he stopped.
“Lower,” Shadow instructed in a husky voice.
Christian patted dry her backside, thrilling to the touch of her firm rounded buttocks through the towel. He bent to work on her thighs and upper calves. Straightening up, he reached around her to towel off the front of her body. He avoided touching her breasts until she took hold of his hands and pressed them there.
“That’s good,” she whispered as she stepped out of the tub. She wrapped the towel about her, tucking in a corner of the damp cloth to hold it in place. Seating herself on the bed, she reached for a smaller towel to dry her calves and feet.
“Permit me,” Christian said somewhat meekly as he picked up the towel. Without being told, he kneeled before her and dried off her feet.
When he finished, she bid him to rise and led him over to the fireplace. The flames and the steam from tub and cauldron had made the small cabin interior quite warm.
“Time for you to get a bath,” she informed him. So saying she removed his vest.
Christian objected feebly; “Aren’t you…”
“Hush,” she whispered as she began to unbutton his shirt. Her fingertips lightly caressed the bare skin underneath, sending thrills along his nerves. She peeled off his shirt and cast it aside with his vest. He remained passive as she unbuckled his belt. She unzipped his pants and let them drop to the floor.
“Tidy whities,” she muttered disapprovingly, more to herself than to him, “Have to get you sexier underwear, Church-boy.”
As in a dream, Christian felt himself being swept along as she helped him step out of his pants and shoes. Finally Shadow yanked down his underpants to reveal the erection the bulge in his shorts had so blatantly indicated.
“My, you are a big boy,” she cooed teasingly as his stiffened member sprang free.
Christian was breathing heavily. His erection was red and throbbing. It seemed like he was ready to explode. That would never do. Once things started rolling, she didn’t want him to come too quickly.
Shadow reached down and took hold of his penis. Christian started to squirm.
“Now just relax,” she said soothingly, entrancingly, “Just trust me. Believe me, I know what I’m doing. Nothing is your fault. It’s that bad girl Shadow…”
After quieting him down, she began to gently masturbate him. It didn’t take long to bring him off. He groaned loudly as though in actual pain as he ejaculated into the fire.
Christian staggered, weak in the knees. Shadow placed his arm around her shoulders to support him as he leaned against her.
“That one was medicinal,” she informed him, “The next one will be more fun, and you’ll last longer.”
She guided him to the tub and helped him as he got in. The water was still nice and warm. Shadow picked up a washcloth and began to bathe Christian.
When he was all clean, she helped him out of the tub. She removed the towel she had been wearing like a sarong, and used it to dry him off. Now they were both naked. When he was dry, she took him by the hand and led him to the bed.
Christian allowed himself to be led. He was still a bit wobbly as he walked. He seemed dazed, almost like he was on drugs. Shadow knew that she was rocking his world. She was very understanding and patient with him.
When they reached the bed, she pressed lightly on his shoulders with her fingertips to ease him into a sitting position. “Just relax, Christian sweetie,” she said soothingly, “Just trust me, okay?”
She lifted his legs onto the bed. Another light touch of her fingers got him to recline. When he was resting against the pillows, Shadow climbed into bed alongside him. She smiled warmly at him.
Shadow leaned in to kiss Christian. He responded clumsily. “Don’t pucker your lips,” she told him, “I’m not your mother.” Or that little tight-ass you dragged me around looking for.
Shadow now proceeded to teach Christian how to kiss. He was a fast learner and quickly got the hang of it. When she sensed he was ready, she threw in a little playful tongue action. Before long they were locked in a passionate embrace..
Shadow felt well pleased with herself. Church-boy was coming to life. She had broken the shackles of his “moral” inhibitions and gotten his young red blood boiling. Now he rained hot kisses on her lips, face and neck. His hands roamed freely over her. He cupped her breasts, marveling at their warmth, their smooth roundness.
She was groping him as well. Her fingers lightly caressed his ball sac and felt it grow tight. Moving on, she was delighted to discover that his member was as rigid as an iron spike.
He was ready. She was ready. It was time. She rolled him gently onto his back once more. “Just relax,” she whispered, “And let me do all the work.”
She mounted him then. Straddling his body, she lowered herself onto him and guided him in. She began to ride him, slowly at first, gradually building to a more vigorous tempo.
Christian surrendered to her and let the experience wash over him. He felt himself responding, thrusting upwards to meet her downward plunges. He looked up in awe at her superb young body as she rode atop him. It was like a thousand forbidden fantasies come to life. His blood roared madly in his ears as he gave in completely and reveled in the sheer physical delight. Was he not a man, after all? And here was a woman who could tempt a saint.
Shadow could sense his climax nearing and timed her moves to his. That way she would be able to get off just as he did. She felt his body beneath her begin to shudder and convulse.
“Jesus Chri--” Christian blurted, biting his lower lip to keep from taking the Lord’s name in vain.
Shadow came then as well. Her body tensed as her orgasm rocked her. Then she collapsed on top of Christian. They lay together gulping air for a few moments. When their breathing returned to normal, she kissed him softly. Christian had bitten into his lip hard enough to draw blood. He now saw that blood smeared across Shadow’s lips like lipstick.
They disengaged and lay curled in each other’s arms for a long time. Later, Shadow left his side momentarily to add wood to the fire. Watching Shadow’s nude form cross the cabin, Christian felt a warm glow of manly pride. To think that he had possessed such a woman!
After awhile they coupled again, feverishly. Finally spent, Shadow smiled contentedly. She snuggled against Christian. The door was locked and bolted. The crackling logs in the fireplace shed a cheery warmth. Shadow drifted into a blissful slumber.
It was well past daybreak when Shadow awoke. There were only ashes in the fireplace now. Daylight filtered through the one small window, filling the cabin with a sickly grey half-light.
Shadow was startled to discover that Christian was already up. He had gotten dressed and was now seated in the room’s sole rickety chair. And he was crying. He wasn’t racked by anguished sobs or anything. He just sniffled and wiped away tears as though remorseful about something.
“What’s with the waterworks?” Shadow demanded, perplexed, “It wasn’t that bad, was it?” Like he would know.
“No, no, of course not,” Christian answered wistfully, “It’s not that. It’s just that my first time was supposed to be on my wedding night.”
Shadow was utterly bewildered and not a little angry. She had really thought she had made a man out of him. But now it looked as though the grey shades of his stultifying upbringing had reclaimed him.
“What is your friggin’ problem?” she said scornfully, “I can’t believe after a night with me you would still be mooning over some little candy-ass.”
“Oh, you don’t understand,” he replied in a hurt voice, “I was saving myself for marriage. When I was in school I took a purity pledge. No sex before marriage. I gave my word before God. I swore in Jesus’ name.”
Shadow glowered at him as she began to hurriedly dress. “And here I thought you were a man,” she said bitterly, hoping to hurt him, “And you go and start with this sissy shit. You are a real piece of work, Church-boy.”
When she finished dressing she pulled on her duster. She went out, slamming the door behind her.
Outside, Shadow mounted Incitatus. She rode off, galloping into the hills. She pressed the horse hard and did not stop until she reached the crest of a high summit. From this vantage point she could see mountains, hills and valleys spreading out below and rolling off into the distance. There was a large outcropping of flat rock. The day was clear for once. The sun was well up and warmed the rock with its rays. The outcropping furnished an excellent seat for taking in the view.
Shadow tied the pinto to a tree branch at the fringe of the woods. She began to rummage through one of the saddle bags. Presently she drew forth a small bag of marijuana and some rolling papers. Shadow was not an habitual pot smoker, even though she grew and sold the stuff. But from time to time she would use it if she wanted to relax and think something through.
After taking a seat on the outcropping, Shadow rolled herself a joint. She lit it and inhaled deeply. After a few hits on the joint her tension had mostly vanished. A few more and she was feeling really mellow. The sun shining on her and the sun-washed rock beneath her felt warm and pleasant. She relaxed and let her mind drift. Before long she was thinking of her last lover.
It was almost a year ago now, during the last deer season. By tradition, Westsylvanians observed the hunting seasons of the old Commonwealth so as not to deplete the wild game. That season she had been staying by herself in a tiny cabin near Tionesta. On the fateful day she had been hunting alone in the forest. There was about two inches of new snow on the ground. It was bitter cold, and she had seen little game afoot. Presumably most of the deer were bedded down. Finally, she discovered some fresh tracks. She trailed the deer for miles. At last she found it standing in a clearing. She had a nice clean shot at it.
She raised her rifle, took careful aim and squeezed the trigger. The shot crashed loudly and the deer dropped to the snow. Right away, Shadow sensed something amiss. The gunshot had reverberated too loudly to be an echo. The deer had jerked as though struck twice before falling.
Shadow stepped cautiously into the clearing. She was not surprised to see another hunter emerge from the woods. She raised a hand in greeting. The two approached each other and met over the fallen deer.
“I think I hit it first,” Shadow said, “But we--”
“You’re a woman!” the other exclaimed, almost incredulous.
Shadow’s heavy winter garb had concealed her gender until she and the man were very close. “Thanks for noticing,” she said, “Is there a problem with that?”
“I never thought to see a woman carrying a gun for deer. You must be Westsylvanian.”
“Naturally enough, since we’re in Westsylvania.”
“I think not,” he said as he consulted an electronic device strapped to his wrist, “This is Pennsylvania. You crossed the border awhile back.”
Show-off, Shadow thought, You and your fancy satellite tracking. All the satellites of the Old Union had been blown out of the sky during the opening days of the War. To this day none had been replaced.
“I am afraid you have entered the Islamic States illegally,” the man said bluntly.
Screw you, pal. “Well, I hope you’re not going to be a dick about it. Look, I’ll just head back.”
Abruptly the man’s tone changed and became more friendly. “Please forgive my appalling lack of manners. It is easy to lose one’s way in this wilderness. And the afternoon grows late. Were you to start back now, you may well find yourself still some distance from shelter when night falls. Allow me to offer you the hospitality of my hunting lodge. It is not far from here. And we can share the deer.”
“Fair enough. Let’s lighten our load a bit.”
Shadow unsheathed her bowie knife and impressed her fellow hunter with her skill in field-dressing a deer. Together they placed the gutted carcass on a sling the man provided.
Between the two of them, dragging the deer through the snow proved easy work. Along the way they introduced themselves. “You are very handy with a gun and a knife,” said the man, “Muslim women do not possess such skills. Of course, I should have expected different from a woman of the Border Region. I’ve visited Tionesta and some of the other border communities. My name is Yusef Davis.”
“I’m so very charmed to make your acquaintance, Miss Tamar Lane.”
Pretty smooth, Yusef, Shadow thought, “Likewise.”
They did not have far to travel. Less than thirty minutes of hiking brought them to Yusef’s hunting lodge. It was located along a winding dirt road, and similar structures belonging to others could be glimpsed further up the road. Yusef’s cabin was fairly large, with several outbuildings adjacent. Before entering his cabin, Yusef knelt in the snow for his evening prayers. Shadow thought he looked very serene.
After he arose, they hung the deer in a shed. This task completed, Yusef escorted Shadow into the lodge. The interior was spacious with ample room for four beds and other comfortable furnishings. “Sometimes companions join me,” Yusef explained, “But this year I was hunting alone. Or so I thought.”
Inside the warm cabin, the pair removed their heavy outerwear. Beneath his cold weather garb, Yusef was dressed simply in jeans and a plaid flannel shirt. Shadow was pleased to note that he was trimly built and ruggedly handsome. He sported a thick head of tousled brown hair and a short beard that masked a strong chin. He looked more Nordic than Middle-Eastern.
Shadow pulled off her headgear and shook loose her hair. She removed her orange hunting coat, brown outer pants, heavy boots and thick woolen socks. Her remaining garments were her customary black. She wore very tight pants and a turtleneck sweater. Barefoot and clad thus, she resembled nothing so much as a mid-20th Century beatnik.
The cabin was furnished with electricity from a wind and solar powered generator. There was ample power for lighting and small appliances. After getting a blaze going in the fireplace, Yusef prepared coffee. He and Shadow relaxed in comfortable chairs.
“You brew an excellent cup of coffee,” Shadow told her host, “That’s high praise from me.”
“And you are most enchanting,” Yusef replied graciously, “And Tamar Lane is a lovely name, very poetic. It brings to mind Tamerlane, the great Muslim conqueror of Asia.”
“That’s what my dad thought. What about you? You don’t look Mid-Eastern. I mean, I know you have to be Muslim to be a citizen of the ISA, but how far back do you go?”
“My maternal grandfather was Syrian,” Yusef said with a smile, “But the rest of my forebears have lived in central Pennsylvania since before the Flood, or so it would seem. I’m a mix of German, Scots-Irish, English, supposedly some Delaware Indian if you go back far enough.”
“Our family backgrounds are sort of similar,” Shadow replied, “Except for the Syrian, of course. I’m descended from the original settlers of Westsylvania. But tell me more about you. Do you have a wife? Girlfriend?”
“No and no. My mother would like me to settle down, but I’m not really much of a ladies’ man.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
As they spoke, Shadow noticed his eyes straying to the soft mounds of her breasts, so inviting beneath the sweater. She got up to pour more coffee. Her ass was admirably displayed by her tight black pants as she walked. She could feel Yusef’s burning gaze.
“How about a refill?” she asked as she poured herself a fresh cup.
“None for me, thanks. It’ll keep me up, and I like to turn in early.” As though that were a cue, Yusef rose from his chair. He busied himself stringing a rope across the cabin like a clothesline and hung blankets over it to create a screen.
“That should afford us both some privacy,” he told Shadow, “Take one of the beds over there. Just turn the light off when you’re ready.”
“Oh, you’re no fun,” Shadow chided, “Is there anywhere a girl can freshen up?”
“Why, yes, as a matter of fact. The small building next to the shed where we hung the deer is a sauna. I built it myself and am rather proud of it. It’s just the thing to relax you and ease away tension. I usually unwind there before retiring. By all means feel free to make use of it.”
“You first,” Shadow said, “You’re the one who wanted to turn in early. I’ll just sit and enjoy some more of the coffee until you’re finished.”
Yusef disappeared behind the makeshift screen and undressed. He emerged wearing a heavy robe and slippers, carrying some towels. He exited the cabin quietly.
Shadow sat alone for awhile and sipped her coffee. She smiled. She had taken quite a liking to the handsome stranger. He seemed very manly, yet gentle and good-natured. He was certainly worth getting to know better, especially now. The cold winter months had come. The days grew short. It was going to be a long cold night. And she had been too long without a man.
Shadow was not normally quite so impetuous, but this time it seemed right. With a sudden firm sense of resolve, she rose from her chair. She undressed and wrapped a large towel about her. Then she slipped out the cabin door.
Outside, night had fallen. Shadow stepped out into the frosty air. She was traveling no great distance, and so ignored the bitter cold and the snow beneath her bare feet. She approached the nearby outbuilding that housed the sauna.
Shadow entered the sauna and shut the door behind her, cutting off an icy blast of wind that tried to follow her in. She took a seat on a bench opposite a startled Yusef. “Thought you could use some company,” she said.
Yusef was taken aback. He was nude, with only a small towel draped over his loins. He glanced about to see where he had dropped his robe. It was out of reach. To retrieve it he would have to rise and in doing so expose himself. He could only fidget nervously.
“Why don’t you just relax?” Shadow asked, her voice soothing. “It’s so nice in here.” She spoke the simple truth. Outside was a chill winter night. Within the sauna it was as warm and moist as a tropical rain forest.
“Miss Lane, this is most inappropriate,” Yusef objected, “You should leave. Have you no modesty?”
In answer, Shadow stood up and let her towel drop. “Apparently not,” she said. Her nipples were still erect from her walk in the cold air. Her supple nude body was as white as the snows and rapidly becoming slick with dew droplets of sweat. “Still think I should leave?”
She saw the passion flame in Yusef’s eyes and had her answer. The next thing she knew she was in his arms. They locked together in passionate embrace. They kissed, his lips crushing hers, breaking off only long enough to gasp for breath. She could feel him grow hard against her. He became erect almost instantly, even though the steam-bath’s air was muggy enough to make a man drowsy.
She yielded as he pinned her against the wall with his body and, standing upright, entered her and began thrusting. Her long legs locked about his waist and drew him in deeper. Her arms snaked through his as her hands clutched his broad shoulders for support. Her nails raked his back. She climaxed with a wildcat screech. He gave a few more vigorous thrusts before exploding inside her.
The lovers sank to the floor where they lay spent, drenched in perspiration. Their strength returned gradually. They rose unsteadily and toweled each other off. Shadow remained weak as a kitten. Yusef wrapped her in a fresh towel, donned his robe, and carried her back to the cabin.
That night they slept soundly and serenely in each other’s arms, snug beneath warm blankets while the cold wind howled outside. They awoke before dawn and renewed their passion, then drifted back to sleep. They remained in bed throughout the long grey morning, leaving it only long enough to consume a simple breakfast.
Later in the day they butchered the deer. They enjoyed a hearty venison supper. Shadow stayed another night in the cabin. She and Yusef parted the following morning. She returned to her camp with her share of the venison.
Looking back on it now, Shadow felt a warm glow. The time she had with Yusef had been good. But they both knew that they could have no future together. Could she have a future with anyone? That question bothered her.
Shadow finished smoking the joint and resisted the temptation to roll another. Pot-smoking made her more introspective than was her wont. She didn’t usually sit around brooding, but right now she felt moved to examine herself and her motives, particularly in regard to the men in her life.
Christian and Yusef. Church-boy and Mosque-boy. What was it about them that had drawn her to them? They had both just been trying to clean up --in a bath and a sauna-- and she had to make them both get down and dirty. What was up with that? Did she take some secret delight in knocking these religious types off their high horses?
With Christian there was something more. She recalled the moment he had shown her the picture of his runaway fiancée. Shadow had loathed her on sight, she now realized, and had belittled her time and again; tight-ass, saccharine little candy-ass and so on. Had she been insanely jealous of a picture? Had the whole thing really been about stealing Christian’s cherry from Angel, his betrothed? And if so, why not? Some buck had undoubtedly stolen her cherry from him. When he finally realized that, he would thank her. It was for his own good.
Or was it? Maybe she was just a bad person. Like that time…don’t go there, don’t go there…like that time when she had actually toyed with the idea of “consoling” Pops after Steffy died. And what had that been all about?
No wonder she didn’t enjoy getting high so much anymore. Still, she realized the importance of dragging subconscious shit to the surface. Ignore it and let it fester, and it could trip you up later.
Having confronted her issues, Shadow felt mentally more relaxed. The sun was nearing its zenith now. The day was very warm. The rock outcropping on which she sat was big enough to stretch out on. She removed her duster and spread it beneath her. She lay back for awhile, just basking in the sun’s rays like a lizard. She was almost straight again when some clouds started to roll in. It never stayed sunny in these parts for very long. Time to leave this place.
Shadow rode back to the inn. A sheepish-looking Christian awaited her there.
“Thanks for coming back,” he said.
“Why wouldn’t I come back? I just needed a little time to myself.”
“Well, I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t. I behaved like an ass.”
She waited for him to elaborate.
“I didn’t mean to carry on so about my chastity vow,” he said, “The truth is that if I had really wanted to stop what happened between us, I would have. But I didn’t want it to stop. I wanted it to happen. I wanted it more than I’d ever wanted anything. And now I’m glad we made love.”
“Oh Romeo, Romeo, wilt thou can the ‘make love’ bullshit? We fucked, okay?”
This was like a dash of cold water in Christian’s face. “Well, it was more than that to me. And you’re not fooling me by acting hard. I think you’re a good girl, Tammy.”
Now it was Shadow’s turn to be taken aback. “Look Church-boy, you can call me Tamar or you can call me Shadow, but if you ever call me Tammy again I will knock your teeth out.”
“Well, in that case I won’t,” Christian replied coldly.
“Aw, forget it,” Shadow said, her voice softening, “Sorry to be such a bitch. It’s just been a hell of a few days. Let’s get the hell out of here.”
Shades of evening were gathering when they rode into view of Pops’ cabin. It had only been a few days, but to Shadow it seemed like years since she had last laid eyes on it. Now she was greatly cheered to see Pain come bounding into the yard. A few moments later, Pops emerged from the cabin.
Shadow swung down from Incitatus and ran to him. She threw herself against the older man, her arms encircling his waist, hugging him fiercely. Pops returned her embrace. He stroked her hair and kissed her forehead gently. Shadow was certain of more trouble ahead. For the moment, however, she felt safe in Pops’ massive arms.
Next: Thunder of the Feud