Tuesday, October 10, 2017

d55 Blood Meridian Encounters

Blood Meridian is the finest murderhobo literature I know. It also manages to make riding horses through the desert non-monotonous and even gripping for hundreds of pages. I've been thinking for a while now about how to learn from it to elevate my own descriptions of overland travel.

I'll get to that post eventually. For now, have some encounters for your crapsack near-apocalypses and westward deathcrawls.

  1. He sees a parricide hanged in a crossroads hamlet and the man’s friends run forward and pull his legs and he hangs dead from his rope while urine darkens his trousers.
  2. An enormous man dressed in an oilcloth slicker had entered the tent and removed his hat. He was bald as a stone and had no trace of beard and he had no brows to his eyes nor lashes to them.
  3. When he passed back through the town the hotel was burning and men were standing around watching it, some holding empty buckets. A few men sat horseback watching the flames and one of these was the judge.
  4. Come evening he tracks a spire of smoke rising oblique from among the low hills and before dark he hails up at the doorway of an old anchorite nested away in the sod like a groundsloth. Solitary, half mad, his eyes redrimmed as if locked in their cages with hot wires.
  5. He went down a narrow sandy road and as he went he met a deadcart bound out with a load of corpses, a small bell tolling the way and a lantern swinging from the gate. Three men sat on the box not unlike the dead themselves or spirit folk so white they were with lime and nearly phosphorescent in the dusk. A pair of horses drew the cart and they went on up the road in a faint miasma of carbolic and passed from sight. He turned and watched them go. The naked feet of the dead jostled stiffly from side to side.
  6. He’s left behind the pinewood country and the evening sun declines before him beyond an endless swale and dark falls here like a thunderclap and a cold wind sets the weeds to gnashing. The night sky lies so sprent with stars that there is scarcely space of black at all and they fall all night in bitter arcs and it is so that their numbers are no less.
  7. They slogged about in the dark of the lot, coming out of their boots. The kid had his knife now and they circled crabwise and when the man lurched at him he cut the man's shirt open. The man threw down the bottleneck and unsheathed an immense bowieknife from behind his neck. His hat had come off and his black and ropy locks swung about his head and he had codified his threats to the one word kill like a crazed chant.
  8. His head was strangely narrow and his hair was plastered up with mud in a bizarre and primitive coiffure. On his forehead were burned the letters H T and lower and almost between the eyes the letter F and these markings were splayed and garish as if the iron had been left too long. When he turned to look at the kid the kid could see that he had no ears.
  9. By noon he was on the prairie again and the dust to the north was stretched out along the edge of the earth. By evening the first of a drove of cattle came into view. Rangy vicious beasts with enormous hornspreads. That night he sat in the herders' camp and ate beans and pilotbread and heard of life on the trail.
  10. When he found his mule there was a small fibre bag tied to the animal's rope and inside the bag there was a cupful of dried beans and some peppers and an old greenriver knife with a handle made of string.
  11. He walked around the side of the church and entered the sacristy. Buzzards shuffled off through the chaff and plaster like enormous yardfowl. The domed vaults overhead were clotted with a dark furred mass that shifted and breathed and chittered. In the room was a wooden table with a few clay pots and along the back wall lay the remains of several bodies, one a child.
  12. The wolves loped paler yet and grouped and skittered and lifted their lean snouts on the air.
  13. They watched storms out there so distant they could not be heard, the silent lightning flaring sheetwise and the thin black spine of the mountain chain fluttering and sucked away again in the dark. They saw wild horses racing on the plain, pounding their shadows down the night and- leaving in the moonlight a vaporous dust like the palest stain of their passing.
  14. That night they rode through a region electric and wild where strange shapes of soft blue fire ran over the metal of the horses' trappings and the wagonwheels rolled in hoops of fire and little shapes of pale blue light came to perch in the ears of the horses and in the beards of the men.
  15. up from the offside of those ponies there rose a fabled horde of mounted lancers and archers bearing shields bedight with bits of broken mirrorglass that cast a thousand unpieced suns against the eyes of their enemies. A legion of horribles, hundreds in number, half naked or clad in costumes attic or biblical or wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skins of animals and silk finery and pieces of uniform still tracked with the blood of prior owners, coats of slain dragoons, frogged and braided cavalry jackets, one in a stovepipe hat and one with an umbrella and one in white stockings and a bloodstained weddingveil and some in headgear of cranefeathers or rawhide helmets that bore the horns of bull or buffalo and one in a pigeontailed coat worn backwards and otherwise naked and one in the armor of a Spanish conquistador, the breastplate and pauldrons deeply dented with old blows of mace or sabre done in another country by men whose very bones were dust and many with their braids spliced up with the hair of other beasts until they trailed upon the ground and their horses' ears and tails worked with bits of brightly colored cloth and one whose horse's whole head was painted crimson red and all the horsemen's faces gaudy and grotesque with daubings like a company of mounted clowns, death hilarious, all howling in a barbarous tongue and riding down upon them like a horde from a hell more horrible yet than the brimstone land of Christian reckoning, screeching and yammering and clothed in smoke like those vaporous beings in regions beyond right knowing where the eye wanders and the lip jerks and drools.
  16. The seep lay high up among the ledges, vadose water dripping down the slick black rock and monkeyflower and deathcamas hanging in a small and perilous garden.
  17. The way narrowed through rocks and by and by they came to a bush that was hung with dead babies. They stopped side by side, reeling in the heat. These small victims, seven, eight of them, had holes punched in their under-jaws and were hung so by their throats from the broken stobs of a mesquite to stare eyeless at the naked sky. Bald and pale and bloated, larval to some unreckonable being.
  18. There was a bazaar in progress. A traveling medicine show, a primitive circus. They passed stout willow cages clogged with vipers, with great limegreen serpents from some more southerly latitude or beaded lizards with their black mouths wet with venom. A reedy old leper held up handfuls of tapeworms from a jar for all to see and cried out his medicines against them and they were pressed about by other rude apothecaries and by vendors and mendicants until all came at last before a trestle whereon stood a glass carboy of clear mescal. In this container with hair afloat and eyes turned upward in a pale face sat a human head.
  19. they saw one day a pack of viciouslooking humans mounted on unshod indian ponies riding half drunk through the streets, bearded, barbarous, clad in the skins of animals stitched up with thews and armed with weapons of every description, revolvers of enormous weight and bowieknives the size of claymores and short twobarreled rifles with bores you could stick your thumbs in and the trappings of their horses fashioned out of human skin and their bridles woven up from human hair and decorated with human teeth and the riders wearing scapulars or necklaces of dried and blackened human ears and the horses rawlooking and wild in the eye and their teeth bared like feral dogs and riding also in the company a number of halfnaked savages reeling in the saddle, dangerous, filthy, brutal, the whole like a visitation from some heathen land where they and others like them fed on human flesh.
  20. In the morning when they had saddled their mounts and were assembled in the square to ride out they were approached by a family of itinerant magicians seeking safe passage up-country as far as Janos.
  21. the riders were beginning to appear far out on the lake bed, a thin frieze of mounted archers that trembled and veered in the rising heat. They crossed before the sun and vanished one by one and reappeared again and they were black in the sun and they rode out of that vanished sea like burnt phantoms with the legs of the animals kicking up the spume that was not real and they were lost in the sun and lost in the lake and they shimmered and slurred together and separated again and they augmented by planes in lurid avatars and began to coalesce and there began to appear above them in the dawn-broached sky a hellish likeness of their ranks riding huge and inverted and the horses' legs incredibly elongate trampling down the high thin cirrus and the howling antiwarriors pendant from their mounts immense and chimeric and the high wild cries carrying that flat and barren pan like the cries of souls broke through some misweave in the weft of things into the world below.
  22. They were four left out of a party of seven that had set out for the mountains to prospect for precious metals. They had been barricaded in the old presidio for three days, fled here from the desert to the south pursued by the savages. One of the men was shot through the lower chest and he lay propped against the wall in the office.
  23. Someone had reported the judge naked atop the walls, immense and pale in the revelations of lightning, striding the perimeter up there and declaiming in the old epic mode.
  24. Everywhere in this high parkland deer leapt and scattered and the hunters shot several from their saddles and gutted and packed them and by evening they had acquired a retinue of half a dozen wolves of varying size and color that trotted behind them singlefile
  25. They were ciboleros down from the north, their packhorses laden with dried meat. They were dressed in skins sewn with the ligaments of beasts and they sat their animals in the way of men seldom off them.
  26. toward the morning just as the moon was down we come upon a band of wolves. They scattered and come back, not a sound out of them no more than smoke. They'd drift off and quarter around and circle the horses. Bold as brass.
  27. The malpais. It was a maze. Ye'd run out upon a little promontory and ye'd be balked about by the steep crevasses, you wouldn’t dare to jump them. Sharp black glass the edges and sharp the flinty rocks below.
  28. a lean blond bear rose up out of the swale on the far side where it had been feeding and looked down at them with dim pig's eyes.
  29. That night they camped in the ruins of an older culture deep in the stone mountains, a small valley with a clear run of water and good grass. Dwellings of mud and stone were walled up beneath an overhanging cliff and the valley was traced with the work of old acequias.
  30. The following evening as they rode up onto the western rim they lost one of the mules. It went skittering off down the canyon wall with the contents of the panniers exploding soundlessly in the hot dry air and it fell through sunlight and through shade, turning in that lonely void until it fell from sight into a sink of cold blue space that absolved it forever of memory in the mind of any living thing that was.
  31. The grounds were strewn with bones and knappings of flint or quartzite and they found pieces of jars and old baskets and broken stone mortars and rifts of dried beanpods from the mesquite and a child's straw doll and a primitive onestringed fiddie that had been crushed and a part of a necklace of dried melonseeds.
  32. That night they were visited with a plague of hail out of a faultless sky and the horses shied and moaned and the men dismounted and sat upon the ground with their saddles over their heads while the hail leaped in the sand like small lucent eggs concocted alchemically out of the desert darkness.
  33. Five wagons smoldered on the desert floor and the riders dismounted and moved among the bodies of the dead argonauts in silence, those right pilgrims nameless among the stones with their terrible wounds, the viscera spilled from their sides and the naked torsos bristling with arrowshafts.
  34. The raiders went through the village at full gallop and turned and came back….Within that first minute the slaughter had become general. Women were screaming and naked children and one old man tottered forth waving a pair of white pantaloons. The horsemen moved among them and slew them with clubs or knives.
  35. He was watching a rise to the north where a band of mounted Apaches were grouped against the sky.
  36. From a slight rise to the west of the camp the fires of the enemy were visible ten miles to the north.
  37. A company of mounted troops passed out from behind a wall at the north end of the village and turned into the street.
  38. All to the north the rain had dragged black tendrils down from the thunderclouds like tracings of lampblack fallen in a beaker and in the night they could hear the drum of rain miles away on the prairie.
  39. Before dark they encountered laboring up the western slope of the mountain a conducta of one hundred and twenty-two mules bearing flasks of quicksilver for the mines.
  40. They'd not trotted half the length of the town before they had drawn about them a following of rabble unmatched for variety and sordidness by any they had yet encountered, beggars and proctors of beggars and whores and pimps and vendors and filthy children and whole deputations of the blind and the maimed and the importunate all crying out por dios and some who rode astride the backs of porters and hied them after and great numbers of folk of every age and condition who were merely curious.
  41. He was trotting north on the plain when he saw another horseman on the grounds before him perhaps a mile distant. He could not make him out and he rode more slowly. After a while he saw that the rider was leading the horse and after a while he could see that the horse was not walking right.
  42. in the long light of the evening he saw from that high rimland the collision of armies remote and silent upon the plain below. The dark little horses circled and the landscape shifted in the paling light and the mountains beyond brooded in darkening silhouette. The distant horsemen rode and parried and a faint drift of smoke passed over them and they moved on up the deepening shade of the valley floor leaving behind them the shapes of mortal men who had lost their lives in that place.
  43. It was a lone tree burning on the desert. A heraldic tree that the passing storm had left afire. The solitary pilgrim drawn up before it had traveled far to be here and he knelt in the hot sand and held his numbed hands out while all about in that circle attended companies of lesser auxiliaries routed forth into the inordinate day, small owls that crouched silently and stood from foot to foot and tarantulas and solpugas and vinegarroons and the vicious mygale spiders and beaded lizards with mouths black as a chowdog's, deadly to man, and the little desert basilisks that jet blood from their eyes and the small sandvipers like seemly gods, silent and the same, in Jeda, in Babylon. A constellation of ignited eyes that edged the ring of light all bound in a precarious truce before this torch whose brightness had set back the stars in their sockets.
  44. Midmorning of the day following they crossed an alkali pan whereon were convoked an assembly of men's heads. The company halted and Glanton and the judge rode forward. The heads were eight in number and each wore a hat and they formed a ring all facing outward.
  45. On that range they saw wild bulls so old that they bore Spanish brands on their hips and several of these animals charged the little company and were shot down and left on the ground until one came out of a stand of acacia in a wash and buried its horns to the boss in the ribs of a horse ridden by James Miller.
  46. They found the lost scouts hanging head downward from the limbs of a fireblacked paloverde tree. They were skewered through the cords of their heels with sharpened shuttles of green wood and they hung gray and naked above the dead ashes of the coals where they'd been roasted until their heads had charred and the brains bubbled in the skulls and steam sang from their noseholes.
  47. Even with the sun up it was not above freezing and yet they sat their horses half naked, naught but boots and breechclouts and the plumed hide helmets they wore, stoneage savages daubed with clay paints in obscure charges, greasy, stinking, the paint on the horses pale under the dust and the horses prancing and blowing cold. They carried lances and bows and a few had muskets and they had long black hair and dead black eyes that cut among the riders studying their arms, the sclera bloodshot and opaque.
  48. Two days later they encountered a ragged legion under the command of Colonel Garcia...Of these some were without hats and some without pantaloons and some were naked under their coats and they were armed with derelict weapons, old fusils and Tower muskets, some with bows and arrows or nothing more than ropes with which to garrote the enemy.
  49. On a rise at the western edge of the playa they passed a crude wooden cross where Maricopas had crucified an Apache. The mummied corpse hung from the crosstree with its mouth gaped in a raw hole, a thing of leather and bone scoured by the pumice winds off the lake and the pale tree of the ribs showing through the scraps of hide that hung from the breast.
  50. Upriver they encountered in camp the remnants of a wagon train laid waste by cholera. The survivors moved among their noonday cookfires or stared hollowly at the ragged dragoons riding up out of the willows. Their chattels were scattered about over the sand and the wretched estates of the deceased stood separate to be parceled out among them.
  51. The doctor had been bound for California when the ferry fell into his hands for the most by chance. In the ensuing months he'd amassed a considerable wealth in gold and silver and jewelry. He and the two men who worked for him had taken up residence on the west bank of the river overlooking the ferrylanding among the abutments of an unfinished hillside fortification made from mud and rock. In addition to the pair of freightwagons he'd inherited from Major Graham's command he had also a mountain howitzer - a bronze twelvepounder with a bore the size of a saucer - and this piece stood idle and unloaded in its wooden truck.
  52. When they reached the wells at Alamo Mucho the sun was low before them and there was a figure seated at the rim of the basin. This figure rose and stood warped in the quaking lens of that world and held out one hand, in welcome or warning they had no way to know.
  53. That day there was no sun only a paleness in the haze and the country was white with frost and the shrubs were like polar isomers of their own shapes. Wild rams ghosted away up those rocky draws and the wind swirled down cold and gray from the snowy reeks above them, a smoking region of wild vapors blowing down through the gap as if the world up there were all afire.
  54. He saw piles of gold a hat would scarcely have covered wagered on the turn of a card and lost and he saw bears and lions turned loose in pits to fight wild bulls to the death
  55. They were led by a pitero piping a reed and then in procession a clanging of tambourines and matracas and men naked to the waist in black capes and hoods who flailed themselves with whips of braided yucca and men who bore on their naked backs great loads of cholla and a man tied to a rope who was pulled this way and that by his companions and a hooded man in a white robe who bore a heavy wooden cross on his shoulders.

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