48,000 words/182 pages
Publisher: Manifold Press: www.manifoldpress.co.uk/category/authors-2/j
Publication 1 August 2014
Approaching middle age, Garrison Gaines is aware that all his humble hopes for the future have crumbled into dust. He’s travelling through the vast Unorganized Territories of the central United States when his path crosses that of Randy Everett, a young man who dreams of great adventures in exotic far-away locales – and, while no one can accurately predict the future, one thing is quite certain: that neither man will walk away from the encounter completely unaffected.
Bio: Jane Elliot has been writing novels, short stories, and screenplays for twenty years, winning several awards in the process. She believes that fiction can help promote understanding and acceptance of alternative and marginalized societal groups and most of her writing is focused on relationships, be they platonic or romantic, between individuals from all walks of life.
The vultures were getting closer.
Garrison Gaines blinked slowly, feeling the lids of his eyes scraping over his eyeballs like salt grinding into an open wound. The sight of the birds sparked a tiny flame of resentment in his gut. He’d always known he’d die alone, dammit, but at least he thought he’d be spared the indignity of having his carcass eaten by vultures.
His indignation only lasted a moment, though; he didn’t have the strength for any longer. Even that brief flash of anger had drained a little more life out of him, and he felt a wave of dizziness churning his gut and making him want to retch. He did his best to ignore the sensation. If he threw up now, he’d die choking on his own vomit.
Though, as horrible as that sounded, part of him thought the prospect of speeding things along would almost be worth the miserable few minutes it would take for him to finally expire. Half-buried as he was in dirt and rock and paralyzed through most of his body, he was already a dead man. The only question was how long it would take him to die from thirst.
One bird dropped a little lower than the rest and Garrison instinctively flinched at the sight. The pain, which had mostly died down to a full-body throb, abruptly lit his body in blazing agony. When his vision started to go black around the edges, he was damn near ready to sob in gratitude.
The birds were still there when he woke. The pain seemed slightly less, though that might have been because his thirst was nigh on overwhelming. His lips were chapped, his tongue swollen, and his throat raw.
Every time he swallowed, it felt like he was choking on grit.
Times like these, with Death breathing hard on his neck, a man found himself contemplating his existence.
Regrets and envy and speculation swirled in Garrison’s mind, mixing together until he hardly knew which was which. The chunk of metal tucked away in the hidden pocket at his groin. His stepfather turning him out as his mother watched on. The traps Garrison had set in the northern wilds before his ill-fated decision to cross the newly-created border into the United States. His horse, dead now and buried in the same rubble as Garrison. The whore he’d lost his virginity to, and her quiet sobs as he struggled to finish himself off so he could escape. The handsome cowboy he’d seen just last month, drinking in a saloon with women hanging off his arm.
What if he’d been handsome, like that cowboy, with lean hips and a broad chest? Would his life have turned out differently if he’d had bright eyes and a tapered waist? Would he have been able to find a wife if his features had been regular and his body lean?
Garrison swallowed, feeling the delicate tissue of his throat tearing. He could hardly blame women for choosing those handsome men over someone like himself; if he’d been a woman he would have done the same.
If only his luck had been better. If only the poachers had taken fewer of his traps. If only the price for beaver furs hadn’t gotten so low. If only he’d been able to ride out the price dip until it went back up again. It had been a hard time for a trapper, but he’d survived lean times before. If only he’d done so again.
If only …
But he hadn’t endured. He hadn’t waited. Instead he’d decided to turn his life on end, to take a chance.
He should’ve known better than to gamble with his life. He never did have much luck.
How long had he been lying here, half-buried under a death shroud of dirt and gravel? Hours? Days?
He’d spent much of the time unconscious and even when he was awake, he’d had a tough time paying attention to his surroundings, to anything more than those damned vultures circling overhead.
He was almost ready to let the birds eat him alive.
Anything to end the agony.
Through the pain, he could feel the lump of metal jabbing into the crease of his thigh. He’d thought it would change his life, that metal. He’d never guessed it would lead to this.
Garrison squeezed his eyes shut and two precious drops of water were wasted. He was grateful for their loss. It was long past time for him to die.
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