Monday, October 02, 2006

The Duel

An eagle circled low over the town, a lonely dark shape in a darkening sky. Below, desert sands rose and fell in the breeze, like ghostly veils in the twilight. This was a ghost town, and somehow its streets seemed emptier than the desert wastes surrounding it. Nothing stirred, not a sound was heard, not even in the bar that wore on its walls bullet holes from happier times. Now not a soul was inside, only rickety chairs placed precariously on top of creaky tables, and a film of dust covered each and every bottle behind the counter.

Somewhere a clock chimed. And from each end of the high street came a horseman. Both moved forward warily, and then both dismounted, their spurred heels hitting the dirt in unison. One threw off his coat, revealing the blue-gold finery of a musketeer beneath. The other smiled, slowly cast his gloves to the ground, and placed one hand on the hilt of his wickedly curving sword, half hidden by his coat.

By now the two men were only a few metres apart, and the hatred in their eyes charged the air between them. Finally they stopped and stood facing each other, right in the centre of the road running through the centre of the town.

“It’s not too late to turn around,” said one musketeer.

With the sound of rasping metal the other man drew. “I’ve always said you’d be a better man if you followed your own advice,” he replied.

“So be it,” said the first, and released his own sword from its sheath. Then, clasping it with both hands before his face, he bowed a swordsman’s bow.

The other man simply made a suggestive movement with his hand. And then, in less than a blink of an eye they were on each other, their blades flashing and biting, whistling through the air and cutting through the silence. As they thrust and parried their boots kicked up a shroud of dust that billowed around them, sliced now and again by shining quicksilver or a flying coat-tail.

After a while they spun, and the first man stood with the other’s horse at his back. But then they whirled again, and again and again, and soon they became one and the same, just another swirling dust devil in the desert.

But finally one man drew blood, and his rapier was flecked with crimson. The second musketeer looked down with surprise, and what he saw caused his stomach to turn and his grip to fail. He dropped his sword on the ground in front of him and sank to his knees. A slight wind ruffled his hair.

The victor gazed at the loser sadly. If anyone had been watching they wouldn’t have been able to tell them apart. He stood behind the kneeling man and raised his sword, an executioner in all but name. The loser swallowed and stared at the sky for the final time. There might have been a tear in his eye.

The winner raised his arm high… and then his phone rang. He cursed, but dropped his blade and frantically went through his pockets. Finally he found his mobile, and, walking away to a polite distance, answered it.

The loser sighed, half from disappointment and half from relief. At least now he’d be able to think up some suitable last words. But what to say? Here, in the closing moments of his life, the musketeer found himself with his last ever mental-block. The name of a lover perhaps, he thought. But that seemed so predictable. Besides, he hadn’t that many to choose from and they weren’t the most elegant of names. What about a promise of otherworldly vengeance? But then again, he didn’t want to seem like a bad loser…

Suddenly, the perfect words slipped into his mind. The man smiled. Last words like that would be remembered.

At last the winner returned, with his phone back in his pocket and his sword back in his hand.

“Sorry about that,” he said.

“No problem,” replied the loser. “Happens to me all the time.”

And so the executioner raised his arm again. The loser opened his mouth to utter his epitaph, and, tragically, his mind went blank.

“Hang on...” he began, and died.

The victorious musketeer looked at the body in front of him and sighed. That was the second piece of bad timing within the space of five minutes. Oh well, he thought. There’s plenty more where that came from.


Today I saw a girl sitting at a table opposite her boyfriend, a fork in one hand and her mobile phone in the other. Her eyes were distant when she laughed; his fixed studiously on the plate before him. The candle flickering between them went unnoticed.

He ate in silence and she never stopped talking. Until, that is, he finished eating, and placed his cutlery on his plate with an air of finality. Just then, by total coincidence, she finished her conversation, put her phone back in her pocket, and, picking up her knife, smiled at him sweetly.

There is a time and a place for talking on your mobile phone. Choose it wisely.


Anonymous said...

j00 b cRaZyt.

Haven't read the whole story, only the beginning, but still. Just the first few sentences of the text make me shiver when I think of how good you are at writing. :D


Anonymous said...


I hope the 'guy' at the dinner table was her in disguise.

Pascal Chatterjee said...

I'd like to think that she was the cow in the hurricane. =)