Simon Heller got out of the tent he’d set up among the cacti the previous night. This morning, it was surrounded by kelp. The Unwaking had decided today that it was an ocean bed, sans seawater. That was all right with Simon. He was tired of rattlesnake.
He started the morning with basic maintenance, oiling the wood and leather of his left hand. Then he had breakfast, a bit of cold pork from a tin and some leftover snake. He resolved today he’d catch a fish. Maybe even a shark. Maybe even a whale, if he could find one. He could live weeks on a whale, if the weather kept.
His long, black hair, streaked with gray, was tied back to keep it out of his eyes. His clothes were all black and silver. He wore a long coat that could be tossed off easy if he got into a fist fight. The old silver badge he kept tucked into a pocket of his shirt. He rarely wore it these days, but it was nice to know it was there.
As he broke camp, his horse shuddered a few times, and collapsed. He swore at it a couple times and then got out the kit. It took a bit of finesse and a lot of hammering, but he soon had the damned thing moving again, belching out steam and smoke as it went.
The sun was glowing a dull red overhead. This was part of the reason he hated Tuesdays. The sun they got on Tuesdays and Thursdays wasn’t good for anything. He much preferred the sun they got Mondays and Wednesdays, which was bright and yellow, and much the way he thought suns should be. Of course, some people like the blue-tinged sun that rose on Fridays and Saturdays. It could be worse, he thought. It could be Sunday. Those were always dark. Luckily, the Law had killed Sunday, so he didn’t have to put up with that anymore.
Other than a change in vegetation, the landscape remained mostly the same. The mesa four miles back was still there, though now there was kelp and seaweed floating up from it, and an old shipwreck leaning up against its side. That was good. Sometimes the Unwaking changed everything. Then it got really easy for a man to get lost. Even one like Simon. Once, he’d wandered three weeks before he finally ended up in a town so small it hadn’t even had a name. That was where he’d lost his hand. He’d traded it to a Longwalker for better eyes.
Right now, those eyes were picking up a small shape far off, moving among the kelp. It was hard to make out, since the kelp kept getting in the way, but it seemed to be a man. And he seemed to be coming Simon’s way.
He wasn’t overly worried. Bandits would be coming at him from the sides, or maybe coming out of the dense kelp bed to the east, where they’d have the benefit of surprise. Most folks who wandered the Unwaking didn’t go looking for trouble. And Simon had gone to great lengths to look as troublesome as possible. Between the rifle slung across his back and the six-shooters at his sides, he wasn’t the sort folks crossed easily.
Simon watched the man walking toward him. There was something odd about the man’s gait. His legs weren’t bending at quite the right places, and his arms were too loose. Still, plenty of things walked the Unwaking that weren’t human. Not all of them were dangerous. He dismounted anyway, wanting to be as mobile as possible. He knew he could outrun any horse ever built. Besides, he didn’t want to risk the thing giving out on him if things got ugly.
As the man got closer, moving around the purple kelp that floated in the air, he started to move more naturally. The bends in his legs got a bit closer to where they were supposed to be. Now his gait was looking familiar. It should. It was the same gait Simon used.
Now Simon unholstered his pistols. Things trying to be other things usually meant trouble.
The thing (Simon could no longer think of it as a man) was close enough that he could see its smile. He knew the smile, and the face it was attached to. It was Ruther’s. Ruther was a gambler from Nowhere City. Ruther had bought him a five dollar lunch once. Simon had a bad feeling that this wasn’t really his friend, though, and he wasn’t going to get a chance to pay that five dollars back.
The thing started running, and the sounds that came out of the mouth sure as hell weren’t human. It sounded like a rusty gate trying to speak Navajo, as interpreted by a violently ill cat.
Simon shot the thing in the head, but it kept moving. He put his pistols away and pulled out his rifle, took aim, and fired.
This time, its head exploded, as heads tend to do when interrupted by a thirty caliber rifle round. However, there wasn’t any blood or brains. Just an odd flesh-colored mess. The body kept moving, running through the kelp. It tore the fronds as it moved unerringly towards Simon.
Simon watched it thoughtfully, then raised his rifle again, took careful aim, and shot off one leg, and then the other. The thing fell into the sand. Now it was crawling toward him, hand over hand. He moved forward until he was just a few feet out of its reach. It struggled towards him.
The places where he’d shot it were a mess, but again, there was no blood or anything else. Just flesh, if you could call it that. It looked a bit like a frayed jellyfish. It smelled like spoiled dough.
He wondered then if dough actually spoiled, of it just got moldy, the way bread did. Nonetheless, if dough did spoil, this was how it would probably smell.
He backed away as it got closer, watching it. It no longer kept the pretense of moving like a human. Its arms bent in any direction as they pulled it along the ground. He wondered how it knew where he was, since it didn’t have any eyes or ears to guide it. It was an amazing creature, he thought.
He reloaded his rifle and shot off its arms. Then, he built up several small bonfires around the bits of the creature with kelp, seaweed and driftwood that had been floating along in the breeze. He collected the used shells, and was soon on his way.