Parody/satire of The Gunslinger, copyright of Stephen King. This story is for non-profit purposes of private entertainment only.
The man in flannel fled across the desert, and the shitslinger followed.
He had been in pursuit of the man in flannel, neither gaining perceptibly nor falling further behind, for nearly seven years. In that relatively short time, the shitslinger had lost his mind. Gone were the companions he no longer remembered. Gone too were the big revolvers with their worn sandalwood grips. These days, the shitslinger had a more crude means of subduing his enemies.
A method that was self-explanitory.
He no longer had an objective, other than his ceaseless tailing of the man in flannel. He no longer recalled why he was in pursuit, or what he wanted to make the man in flannel do when at last he caught up. There was only one cadence in his time-addled brain: Make him finish it…make him finish it….make him finish it…
On this night—whether it was before or after midnight the shitslinger neither knew nor cared—he came upon the leavings of the man in flannel. There was nothing unusual in this. He had been following just such spoor for years, always cold and sterile by the time he’d come to them. The remains of a campfire, and perhaps also of a meal.
This was, on the surface at least, no different from countless other evidences of the man in flannel’s essential humanity. Earth scuffed from his shoes—strange shoes that left cabalistic markings on the ground, swirls and loops and even words—leftover scraps from a thankless supper. The fire was left always in wind-shattered designs, light ashes scattering the ground in a rough circle.
The shitslinger sifted through these ashes now, not looking for anything in particular, just liking the idea of touching something that the man in flannel had touched, however briefly. The connection was almost spiritual, for the shitslinger in much the way the eating of the kill’s heart might have been for a native warrior on his first hunt.
There was no doubt that this fire had been the man in flannel’s creation. The fuel was paper. In a world where such stuff was the rarest of rarities, the man in flannel always burned paper.
Usually, and this time was no exception, the shitslinger found bits that hadn’t burned completely. There was always writing on it, cramped and spidery chicken tracks that he never bothered reading. They were unimportant, like everything else in this dead world. Besides, in the back of his mind he knew that there was some power behind it, some magical force in those button-hooks that might be dangerous to him. The ashes themselves were safe—the magic would’ve been purged in the flame--but the unburnt bits could still have some terrible power.
As it always was the great denouement of this ancient ritual, after sifting through the leavings the shitslinger placed the flat of his palm on the ground where the ashes lay. Always before the earth had been cold.
This time, it was warm.
The shitslinger stood, paying no heed to the gunfire sound of his spine popping as he did so. He scanned the darkened landscape, knowing that the man in flannel must be near.
He caught the movement out of the corner of his eye and spun, his intact left hand dropping to the seat of his blown-out dungarees as he did.
“Stop! Don’t do it!” the man in flannel cried, standing up behind the clump of sage with which he’d so poorly hidden himself. “You caught me. Okay. I was sick of running from you, anyway.”
The shitslinger had never seen the man in flannel from this close up before. He was fascinated, as he had been by nothing in many years, by the man’s appearance. Far from the mythical, ageless being he had long imagined, the man in flannel was aged, haggard, and clearly had been severly injured in the recent past. He was tall, gaunt, and his black hair was dusted with gray, as though the desert itself had deposited its colorless sand there and it had not been shaken off. He wore thick spectacles and carried a pack on his back.
He did not, in fact, wear flannel, the shitslinger saw now, but rather a shirt made out of very much the same material as his faded blue jeans.
“Finish it,” the shitslinger croaked, his voice the dry dust of the desert itself. The sound of it shocked him. He had not heard it in many years.
“I can’t,” the man not in flannel said.
“Finish it!” the shitslinger said again.
“Don’t you see? If I finish it, my career is over!”
Once more, the shitslinger’s left hand dropped to the seat of his pants.
“No! Don’t!” the man not in flannel said. “All right, all right! I’ll do it! Anything, to get you off my back!”
The man not in flannel lowered himself to the ground with effort. From his pack he produced a pen and a large pad of paper. He wrote.
All through that strange, long night he wrote. It might have been a year long, or a hundred. The shitslinger did not know. All he knew was that he had somehow split, become two people. The one, his present, dilapidated self, remained in the darkness of the desert by the side of a man who wrote by starlight only, page after page of magic words on an apparently inexhaustible supply of paper. The other, a self long-since forgotten, in quest of the grandest of glories, old friends again beside him, and the big guns with their worn sandalwood grips again on his hips.
Finally, as the first light of dawn at last crept over the eastern horizon, the haggard man in glasses threw down his pen.
“There, it’s finished,” he said. “And so am I.”
The gunslinger smiled, and stood. He offered the man his hand.
“You’re not finished,” he said, helping the man to his feet. “You’re only just beginning. Goodbye, old friend.”
And he vanished.