Leaders of Men
He couldn’t say how long he waited or if he even slept like that. Days could have passed, weeks of waiting. Waiting for what? A sign? God to reach a hand down? A white winged horse? Maybe he was waiting to die.
Gage couldn’t say until he saw it and he eventually did. It came up as a dot on the horizon getting ever close until it took the shape of a group of men. As they got closer to the whorehouse they waved at Gage seeing him sitting on the stoop in his rocking chair. He just nodded and watched them come. There were about five of them on horseback leading a sixth on a rope.
Eventually they stopped their horses in front of the stoop and he could get a good look at them with the gun still on his lap
They were relatively young but looked capable and had a wry innocence about them as if they were all farm boys fresh from the tit.
Gage offered them a greeting and they returned it cordially and smiled although he could tell they held a heavy countenance.
“Good evening mister.” One of the young lads said as he approached with a wary smile on his face. He squinted with the sun in his eyes, lighting up boyish freckles on a ruddy irish face. “You wouldn’t happen to know the way into town would ya?” The boy asked earnestly like a child would. But he was tall for a boy and wore a man’s duster and stood as one and was broad with a light strawberry blonde hair and stubble on his chin. Loose springy hair on his head.
Gage shook his head.
“Oh that’s too bad” The young lad said sighing and stopping to look around. “Ya see, we was transporting a head’a cattle up from Bronson when this gang of escaped- err – you know. Them Kafta folk.” He sucked his teeth reluctant even to talk about it sighing heavily as if he were more disappointed than mad, as if it were his fault somehow. ”Well they robbed us sir, kilt one of us, lad by the name of O’Hare just cut him down like a beast.” He swallowed remembering it. “Butchered him like a hog for slaughter.” His eyes got narrow as he realised that he was probably closer to the truth than he realised. Lugs weren’t too choosey about the source of their food, we were different animals to them entirely of course. “They took as much cattle as they could and the rest stampeded off a cliff.” He spat on the ground. “But you see they left this one behind.” He gestured over to the tied up lugger, a smaller scrawny one. The runt of the litter certainly but no less dangerous. It was dressed as something like a plainsman or a farmer in a light coloured smock that was torn and dirty on bare feet. Although his kind rarely wore shoes and usually had no need of them as their feet were ususally clawed and toughened like the feet of a dog or cat. “One of the little ones and well sir, we’re planning on taking him into town to face justice there”. He paused and cleared his throat “We thought if we couldn’t get the cattle back we could at least see this done and go home with our heads held high.” The young lad smacked his lips and said “Who knows, he might even have a bounty on his head”.
“Why bother?” Gage scoffed. There was something Gage respected even in his mockery. Something only in men and only then of a certain kind, a sense of duty, even misplaced, a sense of making things right that only existed in men. Despite how bastardised this sense of honor was by a system that had learned to manipulate and putrefy it. He could still respect that but not in abstract. There was no duty to ideals or concepts or company only in blood and the soil it fell on, only that mattered. For the ideas could be soiled and stolen and changed ever so slightly as to flip them entirely.
The ideals could be and more than likely were based on lies. The concepts half baked drivel formed from the minds of men never to spill blood except with a pen. But the blood and the soil had been there much longer and would remain on when all the high minded ideals were dust and buried in rubble.
“I have a rope here”
“Erm, well” The young lad dithered earnestly. “Wouldn’t it be better just to take him into town Sir?”
Gage knew that taking him into town was a waste of time, they’d take one look at the little beast and start blaming everyone but him. To the state the luggers were a class of retarded children incapable of being responsible for their own actions. And any violence they commited was the act of a mislead minor. And any violence enacted upon them was the act of a savage monster to be scourned and derided and spat upon in the streets. The state would bring down some Cyclon lawyer or magistrate to blame men for making him work, oppressing him somehow. There had to be some way his actions weren’t a product of his own nature as nature was something the Cyclon abhorred in all forms. The idea to them of creatures having a nature was almost like a challenge to them, something to be tested and broken and moulded and changed.
The human officials would just ring their hands and differ to someone else too afraid to even make comment on it. They’d think about their little wives and children and their mistresses before saying anything that could put that in danger. A danger that was very real. Such controversies erupting from the most benale of mistakes or misteps or resistance. Just some loose tongued person taking for granted that they’d grown accustomed to living in a ‘free’ country. And could say whatever they liked were of course layed low. As all free men would be in turn until they were all gone. It was only that the land was so big and the list so long that they could grow to doubt that they would be next although not next as they were waiting in a queue.
They’d say it wasn’t the lugs own beast nature but it was the speciesism and bigotry men had shown the lug. This forced him to become the wild animal he was always meant to be. It couldn’t possibly be the other way around. No that would make sense, but that’s what the cyclone did. They made up down, left right and it worked, if it didn’t it confused people long enough that it didn’t matter if they realised they’d been had, it was already done. They’d been so skilled at it they’d completely flipped the moral teachings we had had only twenty years prior. Without our even noticing it as it had been done so gradually and enacted so henpeckingly.
We didn’t ask for these beasts in our land and we could’ve built our tracks without them and been better for it. It was the Cyclon that brought them here from some different world, or maybe they made them who knows. It was them that wanted them here because they were cheap and dumb and easily controlled. And if ever something went wrong it would never be them caught in the jaws of the monster. It’d always be some human dolt who would get the axe and if he was unlucky enough to live, the hammer would come down if he ever spoke up. He’d be called every name in the book, the names that stick and he’d never work again.
There was a pause as the wind blew and the rocking chair creaked.
“Hey wait a minute” Another lad from behind said. “We can’t just kill him without a trial, that’s speciesist.” The boy looked older than the rest and had dark curly hair with freckles on his cheeks and dark beady eyes. “We gotta take him to town.” the kid protested. Something told Gage it was this kid’s idea to take him to town in the first place. Overriding the natural recourse which would have been to bash the beasts head in with a rock on the spot. The Cyclon loved rules, they loved codes and dictums because they were always for everyone else to follow but them.
There was another silence and blowing wind and they knew what justice called for and since they couldn’t do it right now the one beast would have to do.
Gage looked at the sorry thing, it was younger but given a year or two and it would be just as deadly as the others. It had an arrogant look about it. It knew it was beaten and looked sorry but it was sorry it had been caught, not sorry about any crime it had done. The luggers never could feel sorry for crimes against humans because in their minds they were justified. They were owed whatever they stole for some past grievance told to them by the Cyclon. Every killing of a human was a revenge for some long gone gripe that may or not have happened. The Cyclon would have them believe that humans and Cyclon were one and the same and it was men that had enslaved them. There was no subtlety nor a mind capable of distinguishing it in a lug.
“If you even think of hurting this fella I’ll run into town myself and tell them everything” The nasally voiced kid with the curly mop of hair said. “He has rights, they’re thinking feeling people just like us, they’re our equals and we have to treat them that way or-“. He got off his horse to get around to the front so they could see his hand wringing and gesticulation like he was making some address to public office. Taking a few steps onto the porch and talking down to them like some cutpurse evangelist. “It goes against the very nature of this countries founding to kill this free man without a trial, we’re a nation of immigrants bound by our principles.”
The other boys made faces like they were swallowing some harsh uneccessary medicine, a lie forced down with teaspoons of sugar and grit. Their faces contorting as this little rat told them that this monster was their equal. When every sense told them that it was a monster that didn’t belong on this earth. A mix of shame and revulsion at the thought of swallowing this lie and someday even believing it themselves. And forcing it down the throats of others made them sick.
The boys looked at him with astonishment. The little rat boy had said all the magic words that made normal men cringe and prostrate themselves. To make the strong bow and scrape, make even their own fathers become humble and small and itinerant but not Gage. To Gage they were just words.
The little rat boy squinted angrily almost in tears and said “I’ll report you all and you’ll be the ones that hang!” He snuffled and continued pointing at them in turn before waving his arrogant little hand in Gage’s face as he sat in his rocking chair. Then turning around to address the boys once again as he could feel some movement amongst them “My father-“
Gage had heard enough and interrupted his feeble chatter with a blast from his shotgun into the boys side knocking him headlong into the dirt. He fell like the devil himself yanked the little snots chain. Hitting so hard he broke apart like a child’s doll wrapped in meat into squishy flabby pieces.
The gun smoked under his blanket as the boys shook with fear but only for a moment. Because people only feared what they didn’t understand, and this made some sense to them instantly and the gun was only a surprise. They’d probably never even seen one this close before. There was a time when farm boys like this would be steeped in guns right out of the womb. They’d have been bouncing a shotgun on their knee while their father bounced them on his. But years of gun confiscations had left them little more than babes in the woods. Victims waiting to be robbed and murdered by monsters that roamed free, bound by no such laws. It was lucky they’d only lost one and hadn’t been raped for their troubles.
But there was some spark of boyish wonder in them looking at the gun and what it had wrought, a terrible wonder.
Gage stood throwing the blanket off his lap and said “I’ll get the rope.”
There was a little grumbling from the boy who had spoken to him first. He later introduced himself as ‘Jameson’ his partners were ’O’Shaunnesy, McDonald and Clarke the dead one’s name was Miller.
Gage instructed them to scoop up what was left of Miller and they dug another shallow grave. Not too far from the mass grave he just dug and laid his bones down there to be dug up by the coyotes and gnawed on.
It was getting later and there was some light protest. Worrying as they were about sanctions from the state. Gage assured them as he held the large bible that smelled vaguely of piss. That there was no greater sanctions than in this book if they allowed the thing to live.
There was some sense in that, although they swallowed with fear all the same. Knowing what he said was truth that spoke to their ancient past conflicting with the ‘truth’ of their modern age. It was a practice these country boys were slow to get used to and that’s why Gage knew he could use them. The age they lived in devoted itself to indoctrinating it’s young into thinking the thoughts in their heads weren’t their own property. And their natural reactions of disgust at the world around them was a result of their bigotry and small mindedness. And they had best to train themselves to be more tolerant of an alien race raping their planet. They were taught to suppress their instinctual reactions. Encouraged instead that they should instead try to befriend the monsters. If only they treated these creatures with love and kindness maybe then they’d decide not to rape and murder and see them as a source of food. To just keep putting your head in the mouth of the alligator hoping this was the time it would see sense and not bite. Failing in every sense that there was no sense to be had and in fact biting was its very nature, a sense of it’s own.
But instead of destroying the alligator or living in separation from it. Humans were forced to share a bed with it by people that would likely never even be in the same area code as the real throng. Sure the Cyclon had them as bodyguards but they made sure to pick the best most plyable subjects. Putting them through the most rigorous of screening and genetic manipulation. Further inhibiting them from turning against their masters with surgical implants in the brain.
They would never see the consequences of their actions and would never even care. For the life of one of their kind was considered worth a thousand of ours but they would never say that although we all knew it, deep down. No to the masses we were all brothers, all equals. Living together in perfect harmony towards a better future and this was the great lie that was repeated often.
The boys off their horses were all tall to average height. Strapping lads raised on beef and cows milk. Not like those scrawny city folk who were barely up to a cows eye and ate nothing but vegetables and bread from Europa.
They were strong lads raised for work, probably moving hay bales from an early age. Grown hardy and earnest from years of getting up early to milk cows and feed chickens.
Now seeking some kind of adventure or travel had taken to moving the cattle their parents had raised. The next generation of farmers and cattle folk that would keep the country crawling along on its belly. It had puzzled Gage to think how a snivelling brat like Miller had snuck into their group.
“His pa owns the bank, he’s the one got a lean on our farm, wanted us to bring him along to toughen him up, I don’t know what to tell him”. Jameson sighed as he looked at the poultry sum of dirt and rocks that made up Miller’s grave.
Gage breathed heavy with the bible clasped in both hands at his waist. He watched as O’Shaugnesy and Clarke put the noose around the young lug’s neck as he was seated on the back of Jameson’s horse. They tied the rope off on a branch and Gage opened the bible and started to read from it.
*Editors note, this part seems unlikely and inaccurate as all reports of the man known as Phineas Gage state that he was in fact illiterate. A common state of affairs for men of his time. The ability to read and write was not something commonly attained by workmen of his station and reserved mostly for the elites of the city. The aliens of which used a completely alien alphabet no human was allowed to learn.
He read a passage about justice and fairness and carrying a sword and they all listened with an earnest wonderment. As they’d most likely never heard anything like it in their whole lives nor would they be able to read and write. Their heads dipped as if they were at a funeral. The beast just howled like a kicked dog without any decorum or respect for the words at all. Just a baying disgusting cloying and begging and pleading for life when it so easily took it from others. Something in it knew it could try to appeal to us, to the mercy it had abused it’s entire life. The trusting good nature of man that had allowed these alien forces to usurp them.
Even the concept of the good neighbour in the book he held was twisted and used to promote their agenda of tolerating the intolerable. Taking in those that would eventually destroy us. As if the book Gage held sewed the seeds of extinction for it’s own people in it’s pages. As if man were not meant to live at all but to be used and thrown away.
It continued to howl over the words. It so desperately wanted to continue living but had no idea why further than the animal need to continue to exist and propagate its dna. What could this thing do if it were allowed to live but eat and consume? Could it write a sonnet or paint a painting or create a house. Gage could do none of those things either but the potential was there, this thing could not even dream of that like a wolf could not be a pig.
It’s existence was momentary, a link of moment to moment pleasures punctuated by the pain of others. It couldn’t see other things anymore that it could conceptualise of it’s own existence. It just was. No reason to wonder why. It didn’t have the pressure put on it to act a certain way as men did, or to aspire to anything greater than being a beast. Although in the media the few specimens that were of note to be more than most of the lot were lauded and held up as an example to the mean. As if this one well behaved dog was an apt representation of the mass of rabid wolves that made up their ranks. We were supposed to ignore the murders and the rapes that had become all too common in this border towns and even in the major cities. Although funnily enough they were always one sided as for most humans it was impossible tell the Kafta women from the men. No one had ever heard of a man raping one of their women or even trying. If it had happened though it would have been all over the news and you’d have probably heard of it all the way in Europa. They’d probably be making plays about it over there, operas and poems, expressing their deep sadness and empathy for the poor monster.
“No kill” It sputtered gutterily. “Please, no kill”.
The young men looked at eachother and felt some twinge of regret and revulsion.
The sun was setting and it cast amber streaks along the sky, it was a warm afternoon with a cool quiet breeze.
The boys froze and couldn’t say anything, “Amen” Gage said as he clapped the bible shut. He slapped the horse on it’s hind quarters and it started to kick and try to take off. With a yank it didn’t move and for a moment they were all puzzled as to why it didn’t drop it’s rider and let him dangle with a crack and quick pop as they’d hoped. Ending the poor creatures suffering as quickly and as humanely as possible. The same sadly couldn’t be said for the boy O’Hare. They mentioned he lay dying with his guts hanging open in the dust as they ate and bit at him while he still lived. The screams of which they would never forget.
They’d only managed to get away because the beasts were much more interested in the cattle than they were the men. Attacking O’Hare just because he yelled at them.
At once Gage knew the problem, the vile thing was holding with his feet to the stirrups. Got them loops around his clawed toes keeping the horse in place with the strength of his legs. The will to continue existing had conjured up some monstrous feet of strength.
But as Gage got closer he saw the truth of it under lamplight. The monster had buried it toe claws into side of the horse and it was bleeding horribly but unable to move. Pinned and being slowly disembowelled by the sharp claws of the lug on top.
Gage spat with rage and took out his shotgun again and painted the tree with the innards of the beast, the barrel smoking angrily.
The thing didn’t even have the decency to die like a man, instead choosing to be cut down like a beast taking the life of an innocent animal with it. Gage was disgusted in himself in even considering involving the bible and giving the thing an actual service. It was just a savage animal and needed to be put down as one and not thought of further.
The boys were in a state of shock, especially Jameson as he undoubtledly had a connection with that horse, he probably raised it himself from a fowl. Tears formed at the tender lads cheeks and his mouth quivered with rage and sadness but lacking any real direction. A deep anguished sigh came out of his mouth and nothing more, he didn’t know what to do about it.
The lug was cut in half at the waist and swung against the tree with the force of the blast, it’s top half and it’s arms swinging loosely.
“Cut that thing down” Gage spat.
The boys gathered themselves and did as they were told, Clark and O’Shaunnesy cut it down as Jameson patted the maine of his horse which he had named ‘Molly’.
As he mourned Molly the others dropped what was rest of the lug on the ground and then they went about constructing a fire as Gage instructed. They gathered up pieces of the broken furniture and they constructed a pire to burn the body of the lug and the horse.
The boys stood around it looking sullenly into the flames for a while. Gage sat in his rocking chair waiting for the flame to die.
Something had changed in the boys but they didn’t really know what. Only that the world they came from wouldn’t have them back after this and they wouldn’t want it to.