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About the Author

Tim Pratt is a fiction writer, poet, sometime teacher, occasional performance artist, and recent graduate of the Clarion Writer's Workshop. He has poetry upcoming in Asimov's and probably some other places. He lives for the time being in Santa Cruz, California.

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Outside In: Review by A.L. Sirois

Bleeding West

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Kentucky Tom Granger stood in the dust-beaten main street of a town called Tolerance and faced the Spirit of the bleeding west. Wooden buildings lined the hardpacked street, discolored to gray uniformity by the sand-laden desert winds. Tom had crossed the Arizona border to reach the town, but Tolerance was not in Arizona, or any other state, either. Tolerance was simply in the west.

The seventeen badges pinned on Tom's ragged shirt glittered in the high sunlight, one for each lawman he'd killed since coming west. An ancient razor-strop hung around his neck like an untied scarf. His twice-great-grandfather had fought with the Kentucky volunteers in the War of 1812 and helped skin Tecumseh, the Indian chief who fought with the British, in 1814. The dangling strop, made from the flesh of Tecumseh's back, constituted the Granger family's sole heirloom.

Tom wore a pair of Colt .45 Peacemakers with plain wooden grips. He didn't go in for ivory inlays or engraved initials. Tom's guns were killing tools, and in their simple utility he found a powerful symbol of a lost time.

The Spirit of the bleeding west stood under the high noon sun, nevertheless casting an impossible shadow that stretched all the way to Tom's feet. The Spirit didn't move, and Tom couldn't make out anything but its huge hat, and its hands hanging motionless above its gun butts. Tom coughed, then pulled his bandanna over his nose. He'd grown accustomed to dust over the years, but the dust in Tolerance seemed thicker, dryer, and more abrasive. This dust could get into his lungs and slice like diamond chips until he spat blood.

Tom drew a deep breath through his bandanna. "I want to ride with you!" he shouted.

The Spirit, a faceless silhouette, did not react.

A wet, gurgling laugh came from Tom's right. He turned, drawing his gun, and saw a man leaning against a hitching post in front of the Trail Blossom saloon. A dead horse lay beside him in a broken-legged pile, still tied up. The man (or thing, Tom thought, gripping his guns more tightly) wore a black banker's suit and a bowler hat. His gray skin glistened, and while his green eyes had no pupils, Tom could see the amusement there.

Tom lowered his gun. "What's so funny?"

"Oh, nothing," the thing in the suit said. "Just thinking how one man's hell is another man's heaven." He cocked his head. "Come on in, stranger. I'll buy you some firewater."

"You'd better not be laughing at me," Tom said. He glanced up the broad street. The Spirit of the bleeding west had moved on, but it wouldn't go far.

"Stranger," the thing said seriously, "In Tolerance, I'll do anything for a laugh."

* * *

(continued)

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