The Devil Delivered and Other Tales

BOOK: The Devil Delivered and Other Tales
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To Peter Crowther, with love

 

CONTENTS

Title Page

Dedication

The Devil Delivered

Epigraph

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Revolvo

Epigraph

Part One: Culture Quo

1. In Which a Man Seeks Diagnosis

2. In Which Conspirators Conspire

3. Meeting the Throwback

4. Ambition’s Slow Burn

5. Lessons in History

Part Two: The Peers

1. In Which the Diagnosis Is Revealed

2. “You’re Our Man, Max!”

3. The Ends of the Line

4. Anything but Craft

5. Homo Vegetabilis

6. The Late-Night Hate Session

Part Three: The Fruitful Church of Disobedience

1. Thursday’s Lounge

2. The Sanger Sock

3. The Table Invites

4. The Dance of Dances

5. Discoveries

6. Escape!

7. Revelation!

8. Liberation at Last at Last

9. And They Shall Be Rewarded

10. From on High

Fishin’ with Grandma Matchie

1. This Is Where I Want to Start

2. No Rest for the Wicked

3. Lunker, Where Are You Bound?

4. The Devil, We Say

Tor Books by Steven Erikson

About the Author

Copyright

 

THE DEVIL DELIVERED

 

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.…

Would you leave this place then,

where bread is darkness,

wheat ill-chance,

and yearn for wickedness

to justify the sternly

punished;

would you hold the driven knife

of a tribe’s political

blood, this thrust of compromise,

and a shaman’s squalid hut

the heart of human

purpose;

would you see in stone the giants

walking the earth,

besetting the beasts

in dysfunctional

servitude, skulls bred flat to set

the spike—

would you flail the faded skin

from a stranger’s flesh,

excoriate kinship

like a twisted flag from bones,

scatter him homeless in a field

of stone;

where tearing letters from each word

stutters the eye,

disarticulating skeletal maps

to uplift ancestry into ageless

lives, progeny schemes are adroitly

revised.

Bread is darkness,

wheat ill-chance,

and all around us

wickedness waits.

vii) tall boy

 

PROLOGUE

Entry: American NW Aut.
B.C.
8675
±
600 years

Larger shadows walk with the coyote, elder cousin ghosts panting the breath of ice.

He watches them, wondering who will speak first. The coyote seems a likely candidate with its nose lifted and testing the air. Human scents riding the wind, now fading, slipping beneath the overwhelming stench of sunbaked meat, its touch on canine olfactory nerves an underscored sigh beneath the old scream of death.

The coyote pads down the slope, winding a path round the dusty sage, pauses every now and then to read the breeze, cock its ears in search of wrong sounds, scanning the low bluffs on the valley’s other side, then continues its descent.

He watches the coyote, waiting. It might be the ghosts will speak first. It might be that, after all. They’re big, bigger than he’d thought they’d be, more than shadows as they slip closer, moving stretched and tall, shoulders bunched and heads swinging as if conscious of crowding tusks—a hunt long over, a hunt less than memory. But it may be that their days of remembrance are over.

The coyote is close now, and he can read its life. Like others of its kind, it has adopted a band of humans. It follows them in their wanderings, down onto the flats where the grasses grow high; and when the giant bison migrate north to the forest fringes where the bitter prairie winds are slowed, frayed by the trees, the humans migrate with them. And in their wake, the coyote.

The animal clings to their scent, sometimes seeing them but always at a distance. The animal knows its place—at the edge of the world, the world the humans now claim as their own. The world, reduced to a piece of flesh.

The stench hangs heavy here, in this valley’s dry basin beneath cliffs. Here, where the humans have made another kill.

The coyote pauses, ducks its head and sniffs the trampled red mud around its paws. It licks blood-soaked grass. Behind it, the shadow ghosts pace nervously, hearing yet again the echoes of competition, the battle they’d lost long ago. Still, the carpet of dead is welcome red.…

He smiles at the coyote, smiles at the ghosts. He stays where he sits, among the thousand-odd dead bison that had been driven, by a band of seven humans, over the cliff’s edge. Here and there around him, evidence of butchering on a dozen or so animals, most of them yearlings. Some skinned. Others with their skull-caps removed, tongues cut out from their mouths, eviscerated. A sampling of biology, enough for seven humans. More than enough, much, much more than enough.

Bison antiquus. Bison occidentalis.
Take your pick.

A breed above. Ghost cousin shadows of the smaller bison that now cover the lands. Born in an age of ice, once commanding the plains, grazing among mammoths, giant sloths, horses—beasts whose time had ended—and now, with this final kill, so, too, ends the time for the giant bison.

Punctual as a cliff’s edge.

Smiling, he watches the coyote crouch down beside a gutted bull and feed. One last time. A world emptied of
Bison antiquus,
barring a holdout enclave in the forests north of the Winnipeg River.

He sees them now, all around, more ghost shadows, dull herbivores, shoulders bumping. And at the herd’s edges: the coyote’s dark kin, the cautious breed of dire wolves. Other predators in the beyond, others who’d run out of prey at human hands: lions, short-tailed bears, smilodons.

It seems then, that he is the one who must speak first. “Among the world’s killers,” he whispers.

The coyote looks up, fixes gray eyes on him.

“Among the world’s killers,” he says again, still smiling, “only we humans seem capable of seeking and finding new animals to hunt, new places to flatten underfoot in a jumble of bones. An accurate observation?”

The coyote resumes feeding.

“Oh, sure,” he continues, “you’ve an alacrity for adapting, there on the edge of our world. And your human host is far away now, well into their rounds. Does being so far away from them concern you?”

The coyote downs a mouthful of flesh. Flies buzz around its muzzle.

“After all,” he adds, “their scent’s growing colder by the minute, isn’t it.”

The coyote doesn’t bother looking up, just shrugs. “No trouble,” it says. “I need only test the wind, and find the smell of blood.”

A good answer.

He sits and watches the coyote feed, while around them the shadow ghosts howl at the empty sky, the empty land. In those howls, he hears the kind of smile reserved for shadows lost to the world. A smile he shares.

 

ONE

TO JOHN JOHN FR BOGQUEEN:
Out of the pool, into the peat. Found something/someone you might want to see. Runner 6729.12 for the path, just follow the footsteps moi left you. Ta, lover boy, and mind the coyotes.

JIM’S STORY

Saskatchewan, Dominion of Canada, August 9,
A.D.
1959

Bronze flowed along the eagle’s broad wings as it banked into the light of the setting sun. Jim’s eyes followed it, bright with wonder. His horse’s russet flanks felt hot and solid under his thighs. He curved his lower back and slid down a ways on the saddle.

Grandpa had clucked his palomino mare ahead a dozen or so steps, out to the hill’s crest. The old man had turned and now squinted steadily at Jim.

“What do you see this time?” Grandpa asked.

“It’s just how you said it’d be,” Jim answered. He remembered what his grandfather had told him last winter. There’d been a foot of wind-hardened snow blanketing this hilltop, and the deep drifts in the valley below had been sculpted into fantastic patterns. They’d covered the six miles from the farm in the morning’s early hours, jogging overland and using the elk-gut snowshoes Grandpa had made the day Jim was born, nine years past. And he remembered what Grandpa had talked about that day—all the old, old stories, the places and lives that had slipped into and out of the family’s own history, on their way into legend. Batoche, Riel, McLaren and the Redcoats, and Sitting Bull himself. It was the family’s Métis blood, the old fur trade routes that crossed the plains, and of course the buffalo. All a part of Jim now, and especially this particular hilltop, where heroes had once gathered. Where they had talked with the Old One, whose bones slept under the central pile of stones.

Jim let his gaze drop and scan the space between the two horses. The pile remained—it had barely broken the snow’s skin last winter, but now the hub of boulders threw its lumpy shadow across the west half of the Medicine Wheel, and the rows of rocks that spoked out from it completed a perfect circle around them.

“Who Hunts the Devil,” Grandpa said quietly.

Jim nodded. “The Old One.”

The wind blew dry and hot, and Jim licked his parched lips as Grandpa’s blunt French and Plains Cree accent rolled the words out slow and even, “He was restless in those days. But now … just silence.” The old man swung his mount round until the two horses and their riders faced each other. Grandpa’s weathered face looked troubled. “I’m thinking he might be gone, you know.”

Jim’s gaze flicked away, uneasily studied the prairie beyond. The sun’s light was crimson behind a curtain of dust raised by the Johnsons’ combines.

Grandpa continued, “Could be good for wheat, this section.…”

The boy spoke slowly. “But that’d mean plowing all this up—the Medicine Wheel, the tepee rings—”

“So it would. The old times have passed, goes my thinking. Your dad, well, soon he’ll be taking over things, and that’s the way it should be.”

Jim slumped farther in his saddle, still staring at the sunset. Dad didn’t like being called Métis, always said he was three-quarters white and that was good enough and he didn’t show his Indian blood besides. Jim’s own blood was even thinner, but his grandfather’s stories had woken things in him, deep down inside. The boy cleared his throat. “Where did your grandpa meet Sitting Bull again?”

The old man smiled. “You know.”

“Wood Mountain. He’d just come up after killing Custer. He was on the run, and the Redcoats were on their way from the East, only they were weeks away still.”

“And that’s when—?”

“Sitting Bull gave your grandpa his rifle. A gift, because your grandpa spoke wise words—”

BOOK: The Devil Delivered and Other Tales
4.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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