Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Reward

Disclaimer... The following story is a purely fictional account. Any relationship to any real person living or dead is coincidental. The narrative deals with male-on-male sexual themes and with torture and death. It is intended for mature readers who wish to view such material, and for whom it is legal to do so.

Copyright (c) 2009 by Ferdinando Neri and POW. For spam prevention, animal names have been added to the authors' e-mail addresses. Remove the animal name to get the actual address: ferdinandoneri zebra at yahoo dot it, POWauthor zebra at yahoo dot com. This story may be freely copied and distributed so long as it is copied in its entirety, unchanged, including the author credit information and disclaimer. The authors welcome feedback.

The Reward

Vultures. Three of them, circling over the hill. There's a carcass there. An animal. Or a man. I'll go and see. The town's not far and I'm not in a hurry. No sane man would be: Boca Caliente is an asshole, the last place where you would go. But I'm not here for pleasure.

I'm tired. I spent the last three days riding. My ass aches and my nuts too, as if thousands of red ants were feasting on them. But when I get to that damned town, I won't have any time to rest.

I ride my horse towards the hillside, where a vulture is slowly landing.

Yes, there's a carcass, two carcasses. Men. I approach and I dismount. The vulture is slamming his beak into one man's belly, but when he sees me, he flies away. He doesn't go very far. He knows that the prey is his. He'll come back. Food for vultures never lacks near Boca Caliente.

Two big men, naked, one over the other: the one on the top has three holes in his back. Here in Boca Caliente you usually don't die in your bed, unless you are stupid enough to sleep when some "friend" is looking for you.

I can't see their faces, so with my foot, I turn the man on the top over and I let him drop near the other one.

I know them both. Dutch and Dan. Two bounty hunters, like me. They were after English Paul. They found him. No, he found them. I laugh. They won't claim their reward, now. How much is it? $10,000, I think. For the Jackal it's twenty grand.

They have a lot of holes in their bellies and chests, but they both died hard... I mean, they were both hard when they died! A few hours ago, no longer. They haven't begun to rot yet. With the tip of my boots I play with Dan's nuts. They're large and hairy. Too bad he won't use them anymore. I laugh again.

I leave the corpses where they are. I hide between some rocks, not far from the corpses, and I wait. I want to see the vultures devouring them.

The vultures go on circling above the carcasses and finally one of them lands. He begins to cut into Dutch's belly. A second one. And a third. Now they're hurrying to land. They're afraid to be cut off from the feast.

One of them is severing Dan's big cock with his sharp beak. It's not easy, but he manages to do it. At last he's got the tasty morsel. But a second vulture wants it, too, and he tries to take it from his rival's beak. I laugh.

There are five vultures now. They have opened the men's guts. One of them is devouring Dutch's balls.

It's been fun looking at them, but it's time to go. I get up, fish out my cock and I piss. I mount on my horse and I ride towards Boca Caliente, the paradise of all the outlaws, murderers and cutthroats coming here from the States. Less then fifty miles from the border.

The Jackal is here, I know it. I followed his tracks. It won't be easy to capture him. Does he know I'm hunting him? If he does, I could become the hunted instead. The Jackal has killed two sheriffs and three bounty hunters. But he's the best prey from California to Texas. And I'll have him.

Boca Caliente was a Spanish town, but when the river dried up, it was abandoned. Now the old town is in ruins, and the new one is little more than shacks and tents. It's a perfect place to hide. Nobody here asks you where you are from or what you are looking for. Dangerous questions.

I reach the saloon. The Jackal is more than likely inside.

It's a Mexican place, but a lot of Americans go there. The bar is dirty and the floor is covered by mud, but the place is full of people. I look around and I go up to
the bar.

I take a glass of whiskey. My throat is parched. I drink and pretend to enjoy what has to be the worst whiskey on the whole continent while I look at the people. I don't see him, but there are too many people. I could ask to the bartender if he saw a man like him, but it would be a mistake and in this game a mistake means death.

My glass is empty. Just as well.

I have to spit, but there is no spittoon. I spit on the floor, like all the other men.

I look around again. There's a large-ish group at the poker table. I walk over, pretending to be interested in the game, but of course I don't give a damn.

I see him here, playing. I know him, I saw him in Santa Fe, two years ago, when they were going to hang him. During the night he managed to strangle the deputy and he fled. Yes, he's exactly like I remember him: a tall, strong man, between thirty and forty, with fair hair and beard and blue eyes. I avert my eyes: I don't want him to notice that I'm looking at him.

OK, now the game begins.

Boca Caliente, Mexico, September 1873. Not exactly the pinnacle of civilization, the man currently known as "the Jackal" thinks as he gazes down from a nearby hill at the barren little town. The dusty brown hovels and dusty brown tents are hard to distinguish from the dusty brown sand of the surrounding desert. Beautiful it may not be, but it would suit his needs for the moment.

He picks his way slowly down the hill, pondering as he goes. The details of Boca Caliente may be unique to this stretch of northwestern Mexico, but the big picture is one that has repeated itself over and over throughout human history. These little outlaw havens keep popping up in all times, all places, because in any human society there are always those who can't force themselves to live by the rules. Sooner or later, they break free, floating like driftwood on the sea until the currents wash them up into places like this.

The thing the Jackal always keeps in mind, though, is that these places are not lawless, despite what the governments in far-off Washington and Mexico City say. True, they do not live by the laws of the conventional world, but they do have codes of behavior of their own - codes that are very strictly enforced.

The Jackal knows the rules. As he walks into the town, he makes sure the dried blood is visible on the cuff of his jacket. He meets the eyes of the men he passes but does not speak, neither challenging them nor allowing himself to be challenged. The easiest way to get killed in a place like this is to hide weakness with a facade of strength, like a rooster strutting and crowing proudly when in truth, under all the bluster there is only a clucking chicken. The kind of men who gather here can see through that kind of pretense in an instant. Better to actually BE strong, like a lion, or a wolf... or a jackal.

He walks through the swinging door into the shade of the saloon and pauses to allow his eyes to adjust to the dim light. His pursuer is, of course, not here yet. The Jackal hopes that he has chosen well, that the man he picked is bright enough to follow the clues he has been given, but not so bright as to question why those clues were left for him at all.

The Jackal knows many of the men here, but not all. New driftwood constantly washes up on this shore, and the Jackal has lost interest in learning the names and backgrounds of every new face that shows up in town. So many of them either wander off or get themselves killed within their first year that he now only bothers to learn about the men whose faces he sees twice.

He greets Miguel at the bar with a nod. Miguel pours him a shot of Cuervo from the stash that he keeps in his locked safe. Almost everyone else who comes in here gets the usual rotgut, but Miguel knows to break out the good stuff when the Jackal comes to town. The Jackal may be willing to forego many of the comforts that life has to offer, but good tequila is not one of them.

A lithe, brown-haired señorita appears next to him in a whisper of rustling fabric. He glances over at her and is not surprised to see an unfamiliar face. The women who make their living working the saloons in these parts usually learned quickly to avoid the Jackal because of his appetite for more than just a quickie in the back room. Clearly this creature with the nineteen-year-old body and the forty-year-old eyes has not yet heard the stories.

Sometimes, the Jackal welcomes the distractions that a woman can provide. But not today. He shrugs her off and she drifts away.

Time passes. A poker game gets going, and the Jackal eventually joins in. As soon as he sits down, two of the old-timers stand up and leave the table, but the Jackal is not out to take anyone's money today. In fact, those who know his reputation for cardplay would be astonished at the amount of US-minted silver he manages to lose over the course of the game, almost as if he is trying to give his money away...

It is during the game that his target walks into the saloon. The bounty hunter is forced to spend a few minutes at the door while his glare-adapted eyes adjust to the dimness inside, giving the Jackal plenty of time to look him over unnoticed. He has arrived a bit earlier than the Jackal had expected. Perhaps he did not notice the gift left out under the broiling sun? But that's impossible; he must have seen it. The Jackal rubs his thumb absently over the crusty patch of blood at the end of his sleeve. Perhaps he has misjudged the hunter's temperament and tastes? Or perhaps the man is just fast. Time would tell. If things didn't work out today, there would always be other opportunities.

The hunter moves to the bar and grimaces at the taste of the whiskey Miguel pours for him. He looks around the saloon, trying just a bit too hard not to be obvious about it, then wanders seemingly idly over to the poker table. The Jackal suddenly raises the pot to two hundred dollars, and offers only a shark-like smile when the queen that he needed fails to appear and he loses it all.

"Well, looks like Ah'm out," he says, then stands up and heads for the door. Outside, the blazing sun is finally heading toward the western horizon. Soon the night will come, bringing darkness with it.

The Jackal lopes unhurriedly down the dusty street. He makes his leisurely way out of the inhabited part of town toward the old Spanish ruins. Few of the locals ever visit there - rumors of ghosts and vengeful spirits keep them away, even during the daylight hours. At night, when inky blackness smothers the huge stones, it is all but certain that no one will intrude.

He does not need to look back to see if the man he has chosen is following him.

I have to wait, so I'll wait. I'm in no hurry, even if I don't like this place.

The Jackal is betting a lot of money. He likes to gamble. Today he is risking far more than he knows. He's risking his life and he is going to lose it.

He'll lose his life and I'll gain $20,000. Or I'll lose my life and he'll gain his. We'll see when the game reaches its end.

Like the poker game, it seems. The Jackal has lost and now he stands up. He's going out. I breathe deeply. Now, now. My cock is stiffening, as it often does when the time of killing is approaching. Killing or being killed.

Slowly I move towards the door. When I'm outside, the light almost blinds me, even though the sun is going down and the shadows are starting to grow.

I look for the Jackal. He hasn't gone far. He's walking slowly down the street. I follow him. There are a few men moving and others sitting or squatting in a group along the front of a store, but I don't look at them. I look towards the end of the street and the setting sun, but I keep an eye on him, too, while I lead my horse to an out-of-the-way spot and tether him there.

The Jackal turns into a side street. It leads to the ruins of the old Spanish town. The perfect place for killing him.

Because I have to kill this bastard here, in this town. I can't let him get away: I could lose his trail. And I know better than to try getting him alive out of Boca Caliente and back to the States. He's too dangerous. They want him alive or dead. Dead is better, much better. Killing him and getting his corpse out of this asshole will be difficult, but from the Spanish town it would be far easier: usually you don't meet anyone there, they're all afraid of the ghosts. It's silly: grown men afraid of ghosts, like children.

I move slowly and finally I turn, too. It's a little street, some huts on both sides and the ruins of old stone houses ahead, but far away.

I can see him. Nobody else in the street. That's good, since nobody can see me following the Jackal; but it's dangerous, because if he turns, he'll see me alone in this desert street and he'll suspect.

I walk slower, so the distance between us increases. I stay against the walls of the shacks on the right side of the street and I keep my hand on my pistol. If he turns, I'll have to kill him immediately, but here it would be an ugly affair. He has some friends in this town, I know. If a son of bitch like him can have friends...

He doesn't turn, he doesn't look around: he seems to be very self-confident, but my situation is still tense.

The Jackal picks his way across the uneven ground. Along the way he occasionally thinks he hears noises produced by his pursuer, but the hunter is skilled - the sounds could equally well be natural. He does not turn around to look.

At last he crosses over the dry, heavily-eroded bed of what was once a small river. On the far side are a few adobe homes, open to the elements and slowly decaying. At one time, the Jackal remembers, it was impossible for a man to walk as he just did without getting his feet wet. The river never ran dry; cattails and desert willows grew lushly along its banks. The Spanish mission and the town around it thrived, the center of an extended clan of landowners and their ranching operations.

But those very same ranchers sowed the seeds of their own destruction. For thousands of years, the grasses that grew richly throughout this territory had soaked up stormwater in their roots, slowing it so that it percolated gradually into the rivers, which ran all year long. Then the landowners brought cattle, far more than the land could support, and soon enough the grasses were gone. With no vegetation to slow it, the water from the infrequent but intense storms washed straight into the streams and rivers, flowing immediately out to sea and leaving only eroded gullies and parched ground behind. Inevitably, the people left, the town died, the mission closed its doors.

The Jackal has long since ceased to wonder at the magnitude of human folly.

The buildings grow larger around him as he nears the center of town. On one side of the central plaza stands the onetime mayor's house; straight ahead is the old mission church. The Jackal skirts the edge of the plaza, staying in the lengthening shadows as he angles toward the crumbling palacio. He weaves through narrow alleys and smaller paths formed by fallen stone. There have been no sounds for a long while from the hunter behind him. Has he given up the pursuit, frightened off by the prospect of being caught at night in the ruins? Or could he possibly have suspected the Jackal's agenda in leading him here? There is no use in worrying; the hunter will follow or he won't.

The street turns, he disappears and I stop. It's better to wait. When I reach the corner, I see him crossing the bed of the dry river. I have to wait, once more, but I can't risk losing him. These damn ruins are full of hiding places and he could disappear in them.

I'm sweating, even though evening is getting cool. And my cock is hard.

Now, time to go. As he disappears behind the corner of an old stone house, on the opposite shore of the river, I move quickly.

I reach the Spanish town. Here a man can be killed easily: no witnesses. I walk quickly and I see him skirting the ruins of an old palace. In a corner, concealed from him by some ruins, I wait until he reaches the square. Suddenly he turns and he disappears through a large stone front gate.

I approach. The palace collapsed some time ago and through some windows I can see the darkening sky. I take out both my pistols and I enter: if he sees me following him here, he'll understand why. And the Jackal is a very dangerous man.

I stretch out my head and I look at the entrance-hall. I can see the courtyard, full of stones from the fallen palace, but I don't see him. I move quickly and I reach the courtyard. It was once very large, but now it's much narrower because two wings of the building collapsed and the ruins take up much of the space.

I don't see him. Shit! Where is he? I'm sure he entered here. I look around cautiously, then I enter the courtyard and begin to explore it. I'm on edge. I'm sweating. But my cock tent-poles my trousers.

The courtyard seems to be empty. Where is he?

I see an open door in a far corner. That wing of the old house seems to be unsafe, but the falling stones are not a big worry to me. Neither are the ghosts. The Jackal is.

He reaches the weathered front gate of the palacio and steps inside. The courtyard, once a green and shady refuge, is now a jumble of collapsed rock and dust, barely visible in the rapidly fading light. He picks his way swiftly but carefully across the courtyard toward a doorway at the far side and slips into the darkness.

He waits just inside the door, hidden from view by darkness and the angle of the wall. The hunter will come. And then it will be time for the blood to flow... but not from tools so crude and impersonal as guns. The Jackal has something much more intimate in mind. He thinks about the various implements he has stashed away in this darkened chamber and the uses to which they might be put. He smiles as he kneads the swelling bulge below his waist.

He went in here. He can't be anywhere else. But it's dark and I can't see. What if he's waiting for me? I'm a dead man.

He didn't seem to be suspicious, but he is very cunning, he's the most dangerous outlaw I've known. And the best prey.

$20,000 is a lot of cash and I'm not going to stop now, with the prey within my reach.

I pass my hand over my forehead to wipe the sweat off. There is also sweat between my palm and the pistol grip, but I don't dare put down the gun to wipe it away.

I go through the door, but as soon as I do I feel the barrel of a pistol pressing against my back.

The wait is not long; the pursuer must have been close behind him. The hunter pokes his head inside, takes a step into the darkened hallway and, silent as a shadow, the Jackal moves behind him and prods his pistol into the man's spine. He breathes, barely more than a whisper, but it sounds like a shout in this place. "Drop yer pistols and hands up, man, or I shoot."

He tries to make the words sound convincing, even though he knows he would never pull the trigger. Killing the bounty hunter would mean the pointless end to weeks of effort. Still, it is essential that the hunter believe him capable of shooting, and so he must believe it himself. Great acting is not acting at all, but believing, becoming the role.

I'm trapped. No way to escape. I can't turn and shoot him. If I move, he'll kill me. He'll kill me even if I obey. But perhaps I'll get my chance later.

I let my pistols drop. I raise my arms.

"That's a good boy."

He laughs.

Apparently he is convincing enough - the hunter drops his weapons and lifts his hands slowly to shoulder height. The Jackal smiles, lifting his own hand up around the hunter's left side. He presses his against the quivering man's chest, embracing him from behind like a lover, pulling him into the barrel of the gun. His stubble-covered cheek rasps against the skin behind the hunter's ear and he inhales the scent of sweaty male skin, awash in adrenalin and tinged with the crisp tang of fear.

He whispers again, twisting the barrel of the gun as a gentle reminder to its target that it is still there. "That's a good boy." He nuzzles his lips against the hunter's ear as he speaks, not quite nibbling the tender lobe, and allows a small chuckle out. He presses his crotch against the man's hip, wondering if his captive will notice the erection or if the poking of the pistol has captured all of his attention.

It's risky to get this close with his prisoner still unrestrained - surely the hunter will try to turn the tables on him, and so the Jackal grinds one final time and lets go. "Now, walk. Slowly," he says. He keeps the gun pressed firmly into the hunter's back, propelling him toward the room where he sleeps when he's here in Boca Caliente. It's not a bedroom; in fact it was the palacio's dining hall back in the Spaniards' heyday. He sleeps in it now because it is one of the few rooms in the building that has an intact roof.

We march slowly and we enter a large room. There is a table, a cupboard, a chair, a bed. A towel on the back of the chair, a dish on the table. The palace is empty, but this room is used by someone, by the Jackal, probably.

"Now take off yer shirt. And don't get smart."

I obey and I stand bare-chested.

The smell of musky sweat grows stronger. The Jackal breathes it in, nearly swept away by the intoxicating aroma, then snaps himself back to alertness - surely the hunter will make his move soon. He must.

The Jackal speaks.

"Put yer hands behind your back."

Now, now or never. If he ties my hands, I'm dead. Better to die fighting.

I pretend to comply and as I feel him putting a handcuff around my right wrist, I turn suddenly and lunge for him.

And here it is. The hunter lowers his arms and moves them behind his body, but then suddenly lunges toward the Jackal's gun hand. Quicker than lightning, the Jackal whips the pistol upward and smashes it into the bridge of the bounty hunter's nose. The hunter's head snaps upward and back, bringing his waist forward where it meets the Jackal's rising knee. He grunts, crumples, and falls to the floor.

But he has anticipated my reaction and he's too quick for me. He doesn't shoot, but he uses his pistol to hit me on my head. The blow is so violent, I almost fall. I can feel the blood running from my nose. He kicks my balls with his knees and I grunt. I double over and he knocks me down.

Before I can react, my hands are cuffed.

I am a dead man.

The Jackal quickly cuffs the hunter's hands behind his back, then flips him face-up with his chained hands under his body. Though the hunter's actions are exactly what the Jackal expected, he still has to play his role convincingly. "Stupid man," he hisses. He kicks the hunter in the balls again. "Stupid, stupid man. I thought you were smarter than that."

He bends over me and he unbuckles my belt. He grabs my boots, then my pants and soon I am naked on the floor. It's dark now; I can't see his face well. He is just a shadow.

Why did he strip me? What does he want?

He's going to kill me, this is the only thing I know.

My nuts ache. My cock is not as hard now as it was.

He tosses the hunter's clothing, rank from days on the trail, out into the hall. The hunter now lies chained and naked in the darkened room. The Jackal is pleased to see the hunter's only-slightly-flagging erection in the dim light.

"Sooner or later, someone's gonna git you, Jackal." The words sound faint and weak, like a small boy trying to bravely confront the monster underneath his bed. The Jackal laughs. If the hunter only knew.

But for now, he has to stay in character. "Later, man, later," he says. Later tonight, perhaps? No, squelch the thought. "Fer you, though, mebbe it'll be sooner."

OK, it's the end. He's going to kill me. I don't understand why he didn't kill me right away: some bullets in my back and it's all over. But he chose to capture me instead. Just to see my face when he fills my belly with lead? He won't see anything, it's too dark.

Even as I think it, he lights a candle. He puts it in a space in the wall. Then a second one. Why? What is he doing? I try to understand. He's lighting more candles. It's like a funeral. Yes, a funeral in a church. This large room really seems like a church. And it's dark, even with seven or eight candles along the walls.

He approaches. He lifts me. OK, time to die.

The Jackal strides back to where the hunter lies and lifts him to his feet. "This way, my man."

He pushes him over to a large stone table. In its day, it was a fine piece of opulent splendor, a solid block of Italian marble, easily large enough for a man to lie on. It had been quarried in the Apuan Alps and shipped at enormous expense across the Atlantic Ocean and the Mexican deserts to grace the dining room of a small-town mayor. After the river dried up, the block of marble was too difficult to move, and so despite its value it was left to decay with the rest of the town.

Now it sits at the far end of the room, looking more like an altar than a dining table. The flickering firelight adds to the impression. The Jackal spins the hunter around and sits him down on the table, then pushes him down to lie with his hands bound beneath his back. He half-expects more resistance, but the hunter obeys meekly.

The Jackal sets to work with more chains. He spreads the hunter's legs apart, fixing the ankles to iron hooks that he had carefully laid in the feet of the table weeks before, one on each side. One more chain goes between the man's ankles, attaching one to the other. When he is finished, the hunter's ankles are resting on the edges of the table, pinned in place by the chains leading down either side and the central connecting chain. The chains are heavy, almost comically so, as if they were designed to hold a rampaging bear or dragon instead of a lone man.

The arms are next. The Jackal removes the cuff from one wrist, unlocking it with a tiny silver key, then works the hunter's arm around until it stretches up over his head. He attaches the free end of the cuff to a waiting chain, then repeats the process with the other wrist and a second set of cuffs.

Now he's using chains to secure me to the table. I could try to fight, but it would be useless: what could I gain? Just a kick in my nuts. He spreads my legs and goes on with his work.

While he's at it, I wonder, what is this for? It's pointless. He has nothing to gain from keeping me alive. I am a danger to him. If only I could free myself, he'd be a dead man. But of course I can't free myself.

I want to know and I ask him:

"What're ya gonna do ta me?"

The bastard smiles. He doesn't answer, he keeps working, freeing my hands. To open the cuffs, he uses a little key that he leaves on the table.

While he stretches my left arm to chain it as he did with my feet, I quickly take the little key with my right hand and I close my fingers. He doesn't see me. It's probably useless, but if I have a chance, I can use the key to free myself. I won't have a chance, I know. He's not stupid.

He takes my right arm. I keep my hand closed in a fist. I clench my left hand, too, but if he looks for the key, he'll understand that I took it and he can easily force me to open my hand. But he doesn't. Instead, he uses a second pair of handcuffs to fasten my right arm and he forgets all about the key.

The hunter lies spread out like an X, chained and utterly helpless on the stone table. The Jackal pauses to admire his prize. The hunter is perhaps forty years old, body once lean and hard but now tending a bit to fat. He's hairy, with salt-and-pepper fur covering not just his head, but his arms, legs, chest, and belly, as well. His muscles flex and strain against the chains holding him in place as he tests the limits of his mobility. There is not much. His sweat-sheened skin glistens in the flickering candlelight. His hairy belly, which had protruded a little when he was standing, is stretched so taut as to be almost flat between his ribs and his pelvis.

Now I lie on the table, my legs and my arms wide apart. The key is completely useless, I couldn't open the handcuffs, now. But I keep it.

I try to move my legs and my arms, but it is impossible. I think I am about to discover what he has in his mind, which way he wants to kill me.

I know there's no hope. But I knew from the beginning that the Jackal was very dangerous. $20,000 can change your life, but my life is not going to change, it's going to end. Soon.

He is looking at me, smiling, then he says:

"Damn, don'chew look fine. Ah think Ah need me a li'l more light in here so Ah kin git a better look atcha."

Yes, the light of the candle is feeble. Only one side of his face is lit up.

He goes to a large hearth that I didn't notice before. He lights the fire. I'm already sweating and now it'll be worse, but this is not my biggest worry.

He approaches again.

"Aw, now that's better. Now Ah kin see ya nice and clear."

And I can see him, too. He takes a knife and I shudder. I begin to understand why he chained me. He wants to amuse himself, to take his revenge because I tried to capture him.

"All laid out like one a them Aztec sacrifices, that's what you look like, y'know? Like one a them sacrifice rituals the Mexicans used to do up afore they got all Christianized. Shame Ah ain't got one a them obsidian blades they used to use, but Ah reckon this here piece a steel would do a right fine job a cuttin' yer still-beatin' heart clean out a yer chest."

He wants to kill me, opening my chest and tearing out my heart! At least it's no worse than being shot in the belly or hanged. It'll be quick. The Jackal's little game will be a short one. It's better that way... for me, at least.

The point of the knife is pressing against my chest. He's smiling. It's only a prick, a little pain, some blood oozing.

"What say? Yew wanna give that a try?"

That's not where my heart is, what does he want? He's just teasing me.

"If yer gonna kill me, jes' do it. Ain't no call fer teasin'," I say.

He pulls the knife away. His face and his tone change: he doesn't smile and he is speaking in a different way, no Texan accent anymore. Now he sounds like a man from back East, a gentleman, even.

"Oh, no," he says. "No, I've spent too much time preparing this to kill you right away."

What does he mean? "Preparing this"? What did he prepare? It doesn't make sense.

He puts a finger on the little wound and then he looks at the blood.

"Do you ever think about pain, Mr. Rendman?"

I look at him, speechless. How can he know my name? He knew I was pursuing him, but who could have told him my name? Who could know?

"Yes, I know who you are, Silas Lloyd Rendman. You've been stalking me, but all this time, I've been stalking you as well. You're a very smart man and a very capable hunter, but you may have underestimated your quarry this time."

The room is warm, even hot, but I feel a chill in my spine. He's right, I certainly underestimated him. But what does he want? Why did he stalk me? Why didn't he kill me immediately?

"I'll say it again: if yer fixin' to kill me, quit wastin' time and do it." I reply. "You know this ain't nothing personal, Jackal. The only reason Ah'm huntin' you is for the $20,000 reward. Ah got no axe ta grind with you, Ah'm only in the game for the money. Looks like you win. Ah lose. Ain't no call to draw it out jes' so's you can gloat. You do what you gotta do."

He shakes his head, smiling, as I were a little child who doesn't understand. He tells me: "I'm afraid it's not quite that simple. I know you studied me, so you know what I did to earn that bounty on my head. But I'm not sure if you understand why I did it. In all your study of me, didn't you ever ask yourself what could possibly cause a man to kill another man - a sheriff, at that - in such a way that it took him four days to die? Especially when the killer seems so otherwise sane and normal."

I shudder. I begin to understand why he chained me. I hope I'm wrong, but I know I'm not. I don't want to think about it, I don't want to hear his voice anymore, I don't want....

I'm scared, I know I'm scared. I'm not afraid of dying, but I am afraid of this man. I tell him, almost shouting: "Ain't got no need to know that. Ah don't care a damn 'bout the why. All Ah needed to know was how to find you and how to get the jump on you. Which Ah failed to do, so Ah ask you agin - hurry it up. Quit wastin' yer breath."

But he doesn't stop. He goes on, speaking and speaking, no rage in his voice. He is almost courteous, as if we were two gentlemen sitting in a drawing room, smoking our cigars.

"I'm sorry, but you'll have to indulge me, Mr. Rendman," the Jackal says. "After all, it's not like you have much of a choice. Why are you in such a hurry to leave this life, anyway? Could it possibly be that you learned exactly what it was I did to that sheriff? Not the sanitized story that made it into the newspapers, but the full, true details? Could it be that you are afraid that I might have something similar in mind for you?

"Ah, I can see it in your eyes. That's exactly what you're afraid of. As I said before, you're a very smart man. It's why I chose you. It's why I chose the sheriff, as well, only he didn't prove himself to be quite smart enough."

He gestures to the chains holding Silas in place. "I'll leave it to you to decide whether you think you've been smart enough."

The Jackal walks over to a trunk along one wall and lifts out a thick, sturdy lash of tanned leather. He swings it around as he walks, testing its weight and getting its feel. The hunter closes his eyes, trying to shut out the intimidating image, the Jackal thinks. No matter - he can't close his ears.

"It all comes down to pain, Silas. May I call you Silas? We're only meeting just now, but I feel as if I've known you a long time." Crack! The whip barks out a sharp noise and Silas's body twitches on the table. A cloud of dust wafts down from the wall where the whip struck.

"I've known a lot of pain in my life," the Jackal muses. "Taken a lot, and dished a lot out. And you know what I've learned about pain in all that time?"

Crack! This time the hunter does not jump. "What's that?" he answers.

"Pain is what makes me feel alive. In fact, pain is the only thing that makes this life worth living."

This makes no sense. What does he mean? There are a lot of things that make life worth living. A good fuck. A good cigar. A good horse. A good whiskey. The pleasure, first of all, not the pain. Why the pain? He strikes the wall again, twice. I can't stand it. I almost would prefer to feel the lash on my body. But I'll feel it, I know, soon.

Crack! Crack! More dust spills down, clouding the orange-lit air.

"How old do you think I am, Silas?"

"How old...? Hell, I dunno. What's it matter?"

"Just tell me. Take your best guess."

I open my eyes and look at him. It's better that way: I want to see the whip, I don't want him to take me unawares when he hits me with it.

How old is this man? Not very old, younger than me, certainly.

"Thirty. Thirty-five. Whatever."

"Hmm," says the Jackal. The whip swishes through the air. "Thirty-five. You flatter me, but I gotta tell you, you're way off."

He takes careful aim. Crack! This time the flame of one of the candles is snuffed out, but the candle itself doesn't even twitch. The Jackal peers over at the bound hunter to make sure he has noticed.

OK, man, you know how to use a whip. And now?

"I'm a bit older than that. Actually, considerably older. I look pretty good for my age, wouldn't you agree? But I have got a lot of years under my belt, and I'm finding that as more and more of those years pass by, I'm feeling emptier and emptier inside. I'm becoming increasingly numb the older I get."

Crack! This time the whip makes contact.

I see the lash moving just a second before feeling the burning on my chest. I manage not to scream, but I almost jump.

"It used to be that I could be satisfied with the normal pleasures in life. The company of a woman. A mug of beer or a bottle of whiskey. Raising Cain with the boys. Even something as stupidly simple as watching a sunset used to be able to move me."

I see his arm moving, just a flash, and the pain on my right thigh. Crack!

"But not any more. It's like I'm living all wrapped up in fuzz, like I'm dead inside. I can see things, I can hear things, I can touch things, but there's no emotion left in anything I do."

Crack! A red line appears just above Silas's waist.

I'm yanking hard on the chains now, but there is no give to them at all.

"The only thing, the only thing at all that gives me any kind of feeling is pain. Like the pain you're feeling now. If I were you, chained to that table there..."

It would be far better for me, I can tell you, goddamn bastard!

"...and you were slashing this whip down on my bare skin, it would hurt, sure, but it would reach" - crack! - "me, it would touch" - crack! - "me, I would actually feel" - crack! - "some goddamn emotion for a change!" Red welts appear in three new places on Silas's body.

I'll die on this table. This son of bitch is completely insane. Whipping me gives him pleasure.

Three slashes and I almost scream, the pain is too strong. I close my eyes again.

Three more, I grunt with each.

Crack! Crack! Crack! The Jackal pauses, the lash poised but unmoving while Silas recovers. When Silas opens his eyes and looks up at him, he leans down and whispers in his ear.

"That's what you're here for, boy. You're here to make me feel alive again."

And now the blows fall down like rain. They land all over the bound hunter's body, each one leaving a line of fire in its wake.

I shudder as the storm begins. One blow and a second one, and more, more. My chest, my belly, my arms, my legs. I can't stand it anymore. I scream and I scream, until I have no more voice. I am drowning in a ocean of pain. I...

... falling and falling, over and over until the Jackal finally has to take a break because his arm is so tired he can't lift it any more.

"Come on back. Come back, Silas. Come on, boy. Wake up. Waaaaake up. Wakey, wakey, wakey," the Jackal sings.

My brother is calling me, but I can't move. I think I fell off my horse, I can't move. And he keeps calling me...

I wake up. I'm not... The Jackal!

At last Silas's eyes flutter open. He takes a moment to take in his surroundings, and then it all comes crashing visibly back to him.

"I didn't want you to miss the best part," the Jackal says. "You've had an hour to sleep it off, now it's time to get back to work."

"Please," Silas whispers, "Ah cain't take no more. Please stop."

"They always say that," the Jackal muses. He moves to the hearth and busies himself there, his back to the table. The fire has burned down to a bed of red-hot coals, blue flames licking upward from them. "'Ah cain't take no more.' And yet obviously, you can, because you're going to. Unless you can stop your heart from beating from sheer force of will, then you've got no choice but to lie there and take whatever I dish out to you. You can't take it? Bullshit. Of course you can!"

If only I could stop my heart, I would do it. My heart doesn't stop, but it jumps, because the Jackal turns and he's holding a branding iron, glowing red-hot at the end.

I scream, I can't stop myself. I scream again and again. "No! No! Don't do that! Oh, my god, no!"

Silas's body explodes, trying in vain to break free of the chains, but he is trapped. His eyes are white with fear as the Jackal lifts the iron over his exposed chest and begins to slowly lower it down. He thrashes and flails, heels scrabbling uselessly at the edges of the stone table.

"Now, this might sting a bit," the Jackal says. He watches the hair on Silas's chest begin to curl and singe as the blazing iron nears. Lower and lower, until contact is made halfway between the nipple and the neck on the right side. He ignores Silas's screams, making sure to apply even pressure across the entire surface. Smoke and the smell of burned flesh pour out into the air.

I can feel the heat of the iron on my chest. I scream, a long, animal noise. I can't take the pain. My flesh is burning, I can't see anymore, tears in my eyes, the stink of burning flesh and the pain, the overwhelming pain.

He lifts the iron, but the pain doesn't subside: it's pulsing in my chest, too strong to endure.

He looks down at his victim, inspecting the brand he has just seared into his chest. It looks good, a triangular shape with a few extra lines here and there: a stylized canine face. It's an angry blur of blisters now, surrounded by red, burned skin, but he can tell that, given time, the brand would heal cleanly.

"You wear the mark of the Jackal now," he says. "You'll carry that mark for the rest of your life."

The rest of my life! A few minutes, a few hours, perhaps. If I'm unlucky, a few days.

As if he is reading my thoughts, he tells me:

"However long that might be..."

He turns back toward the hearth and says "Now let's just wait a few more minutes here until that iron heats back up. I want you to have a matching set, one on each side."

A wave of terror swallows me and I scream again. But there is no way to escape.
And it is a second branding, the flesh burning, the overwhelming pain. I am completely defeated. My only hope is for death to come soon.

It doesn't. The branding ends. He frees my feet and then my right hand. He chains it down again in a different way, forcing me to turn. I try to struggle, but I am trembling from shock and exhaustion. Soon I have my feet on the floor and my arms stretched out on the table. He had to take a second key from the bag to open the handcuffs and I realize that the little key is still in my closed hand. Useless. Completely useless. I fainted, I slept, but I kept it.

My chest presses against the surface of the table and the cuts from the lash ache.

The Jackal greases up his cock, long and hard and achingly stiff, and prepares to drive it home.

Silas is now facing downward, bent over at the waist with his feet spread wide apart on the floor and his arms pulled across the table to the far end. He looks so delightfully appetizing like that, chained and helpless, his ass practically begging to have a thick cock rammed into it.

There was a brief problem when the Jackal was turning him over, when he could not find the key to the handcuffs and had to dig out a second one from his bag... no, don't think about that now, focus on the pain he is about to deliver.

I don't know what he's planning, but then I turn my head and I see he is greasing his hard cock.

He's going to fuck me! When I was a boy, I was fucked sometimes: there aren't a whole lot of women out West, and men often fuck younger men when there are no whores or the men can't afford them. And I've fucked my share of boys. But since I became a man, nobody has fucked me!

This can't be happening! And yet it is, and something else is happening, too, something worse: my own cock is growing and stiffening. I am blazing with rage, against him and against my body.

He approaches. His cockhead touches my asshole. I say:

"Yew goddamn faggot!"

I am furious at what he is going to do. But his hand touches my hard cock and he simply says:

"Takes one ta know one, Ah guess." I hate him more than ever.

The fire has died down, and only three candles are still guttering in their niches. The room is dark and stuffy; though the desert night outside is cool, the stone walls of the palacio have soaked up the sun's rays all day long and are now radiating that heat into the interior. Both men are sheened with sweat.

The Jackal pushes and pokes, testing and probing. He meets with resistance, but rather than forcing himself in with one brutal stoke, he instead teases his way a little further in each time. A little further, a little harder, until at last he stretches the tight hole enough to thrust himself completely in. He slides forward until his long shaft is buried to the hilt.

"Ohhhhh, yeahhhh, that's gooooood..." he moans when he has pushed himself in as far as he can go. He holds himself there, pressed close up against the hunter's hot skin, enjoying not only the sensations coursing up from the nerves of his dick, but also the knowledge that he is taking this pleasure by force. He bends himself down over Silas's back until their bodies are pressed so tightly together that their combined sweat is squeezed out the sides, locked as intimately together as it is possible for two men to be.

I want to resist, but he tries again and again and I can feel that the time will come when my body will betray me. I will yield. And finally it happens, my asshole accepts this rod and it enters, invading my innards. His cock fills my ass.

His body bends over mine: he is leaning with all his weight on me. I can feel his sweaty skin against my skin and his warm flesh against mine.

I hate him, I hate him.

But my cock is stiff.

He bites my shoulder and he teases it until I grunt. Then he begins.

He moves slowly and I feel his large cock almost leaving my ass and then coming back in, filling it. Each stroke gives me pain and pleasure, too, a pain that makes me grit my teeth, a pleasure that fills my body. I can endure the pain, but not this pleasure.

"You picked the wrong man to fuck with, bounty hunter," he growls.

No, I chose the right man, because no other man could fuck me and make me hard.

The pain is fierce: my ass, ravaged by his large cock; the burns and the wounds of the lash, rubbing against the stone table.

It's hell.

But my cock is stiff.

The pain increases at each thrust and I begin to grunt.

Each thrust drives the length of his shaft from nearly pulled out to completely buried, sending electric sensations tingling throughout his body. He knows that at the same time, each thrust is rubbing the tender skin inside the hunter's ass and grinding his branded, whip-marked chest against the stone of the table. The sound of Silas's grunting is music to the Jackal's ears.

"That's right, hunter boy, sing for me. Take that hard dick up your tight ass. Swallow it down. You fucking pussy-boy, not feeling so smart now, are you?"

I don't stop grunting. I can't. Or maybe I could, but I don't.

I realize I'm doing it for him, because he is really the winner. When he captured me, when he tortured me, I was his victim, but I was a man. But now he is fucking me, my body aches and yet my cock is hard. And I don't want him to stop.

What is happening? Am I going to say "More, more!"?

I'm already saying it: that's the meaning of my grunts. But I don't stop, I go on grunting.

Something is breaking inside me. I'm not a man anymore. I want this. I want his cock ravaging my ass.

The thrusts gradually build in intensity, though the process is a long, slow one. Ten, fifteen, twenty minutes pass by while the Jackal gradually picks up the pace. At last he is pistoning in and out at full speed, lost in sensation, shouting and clawing his nails into Silas's back.

He grabs the hunter by the hair and yanks his head backward. "You fucking piece of meat! Take that dick up your fucking ass! Not such a big man now, are you, you flat-headed ape!"

He goes on and on. His thrusts become stronger and I feel hell in my ass. Hell in my ass and my cock is hard. I can feel his nails scratching the skin of my ass, my back.
He grabs my hair and he shouts. The words are hard to understand.

I can't stand it anymore, the pain is too strong. I begin to shout, too.

"Give it to me. Harder, Jackal, harder!"

I can't believe the words coming out of my mouth. I'm lost.

The Jackal is too far gone to hear what Silas is saying. He is lost in his own private world, a world of simple, primal lusts and sensations, where language is irrelevant and only power and domination matter.

He is far, far away even as he continues to power-fuck Silas's ass. The words coming out of his mouth become more and more garbled until they are no longer entirely English, but some guttural-sounding language punctuated with occasional English words.

"... teach you now ... die, die, die ... beetle-browed monkey ... fuck you ... whole clan ... dead and rotted ..."

At last he can feel the end approaching. He tries to force himself to slow down and draw the moment out, but then he looks down at the hunter's inert body, sees the stretched muscles, the blood, the torn and broken skin. A volcano wells up inside his belly and he erupts in an explosion of white-hot light, the seed of his body pouring forth in jet after jet of violent heat. His body quivers, electrically frozen in place while the orgasm courses through his system, muscles spasming, fists clenching, head thrown back in ecstatic rapture.

He's saying something, but I don't understand. There are some English words, there are words I don't know.

And then, I feel he is about to cum. He moans and his cum fills my innards. And the pain and pleasure becomes one and I cum too, on the table.

The moment lasts forever, and when it ends, the Jackal takes no notice of his captive. He pulls himself out, stumbles over to the table where he downs half the canteen of water that sits there, and collapses into the bed. Seconds later, he is asleep.

He leaves me and I almost sigh when I feel his cock pulling out of my aching ass. He goes to the bed. He falls asleep.

I remain here, on the table, with my shame. The room is getting very dark: the fire in the hearth has gone out and there are only two candles left. But from the window I can see that the night is clear. The moon is shining.

I calmly register every detail. I'm completely spent, but still alive. Why didn't he kill me immediately after fucking me?

I look at my hands, closed. I open them. From the right one the little key falls to the table. I look at it. Half an hour ago I would have tried to free myself immediately, but now?

Some of his cum is dripping from my ass. His cum and my blood. And against my belly I can feel my own cum.

Slowly, very slowly, I take the key with my right hand and open the left handcuff. Then I free my right hand and I can stand, my feet still chained to the table. I look at the Jackal, sleeping in the bed, just a darker shadow. I look at the table. I touch my fingers to the wet spot where my shame lies.

I sit on the floor and I try the key on the cuffs that bind my ankles. It fits. I open them.

I'm free.

I should take the Jackal's pistol and kill him, now. It would be easy. But I stand here, in this silent room.

Then I walk to a side door that opens on a small court. The open space is brightly moonlit.

There is a dead tree and a well. I realize I am thirsty.

There was some water in the room, I saw a canteen. I come back. The Jackal is asleep, I can hear him breathing.

I take the canteen and I drink. All the water.

And then I go out again. I sit on a rock and I look at the moon. It's large and almost yellow. Beyond the wall of the courtyard I can see an ancient stone church, whose ruined bell tower gleams spectrally in the moonlight.

I tell myself I'm crazy: if the Jackal wakes, he'll take his pistol and he'll look for me, to kill me. Death doesn't frighten me. But he'll go on torturing me and that I know I can't take.

I remain in the courtyard. The night is silent. Very silent. Far away the howling of a jackal. A warning? A funeral lament? For whom?

I shrug.

Some night bird is flying: I can see its outline against the sky. It isn't a bird: it's a bat. The jackal howls again.

It's cold here.

I enter the room. There is only one candle, now. I approach the bed. The Jackal is sleeping, face down. I look at his body, at his ass.

And suddenly I am raging. I don't try to reason, I act on impulse: no caution, no deliberation. I just grab him by the hair and throw him on the floor. Then I'm on him, I take his head, I slam it against the floor, once, twice, three times. I can hear the sound of his nose breaking. He moans.

The Jackal is dragged from sleep by the feeling of his nose breaking against the floor. White pain explodes in his head and he is too stunned to fight back coherently. He puts up his arms to fend off a series of blows, but they come too quickly, landing on his face, his chest, his neck. He reels under the onslaught, then the blows strike him lower down, expelling the air from his lungs and, finally, doubling him over as a foot slams itself against his balls.

I turn him, there is a lot of blood on his face. I beat his face and his chest with my fists, until they ache, then I rise. I begin kicking his stomach and his crotch with my feet. Then I grab him again, I drag him to the table, I slam his face against the edge. He moans. I take his handcuffs and I lock his hands against his back. I put a chain around his ankles.

I lift him. He is standing against the table, leaning on it for support. I kick his nuts. He bends and I kick again and again.

We don't say a word. No lack of noises, but not a word. He twists and spins under my attack. Eventually he falls chest-down on the table. I fasten his ankle chain to the hooks at the base of the table.

The onslaught continues. Blow after blow pummels his body, pounding him into dazed submission.

A tiny part of his brain rejoices, almost drowned out by the adrenalin-induced fighting rage of the rest of his system.

At last there is a break in the beating, allowing him to catch his breath and his wits. There is blood all over the table from his broken nose, and his nuts feel like they have swollen to the size of watermelons. He hears the wet, squishy sound of flesh pumping flesh and realizes that the bounty hunter is trying to stroke himself to an erection.

I want to fuck him, to show him who is the man here. I stroke my cock, I look at his ass, at his hairy asshole and I tell myself that I'm going to fuck him. I stroke my cock, but it remains flabby.


I try again. No result.

Despite the pain, the Jackal chuckles softly.

"The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, huh?"

The words have the desired effect.

I grab his head and I slam it against the table. He moans.

I try for the third time. Useless.

The fury subsides. No, it doesn't. It becomes a cold rage.

I leave him on the table. I go to the hearth. No flames, only the embers. I add some small branches and they begin to burn. Then I add some wood. Soon the flames are blazing again. I smile.

I take the fireplace poker and put it in the flames.

When the stars clear from his vision, the Jackal looks around to see where his tormentor has gone, spotting him over by the fireplace. He tries to run over to bash Silas' brains in, but his legs don't move. Why not...?

Oh, they've somehow become chained to the table. He realizes he is well and truly fucked; even with his abnormal strength, he cannot break the heavy chains around his ankles, though reflexes beyond his control force him to try, over and over. With each unsuccessful lunge, the tiny part of his brain grows bolder and bolder in its gloating and brings a smile to his face.

I turn and I look at the Jackal. I can see him better now. He's looking at me, grinning, even though his face is covered with blood.

I wait a few minutes, then I take a rag, I wrap it round the end of the iron rod, to hold it without burning my hand.

"Ready, Jackal? This hot cock is for you."

He braces himself when the bounty hunter starts to move, knowing the pain is about to become much worse.

He has some clue from the hunter's remark where the iron is going to strike. Even so, when the skin of his ass begins to register heat, he barely has time to flinch before the burning brand plunges into his ass. Fire lances up to engulf his entire body, and he screams in agony. His legs tremble and twitch as he strains to flee, but there is no escape from the sizzling, searing, interminable pain. Eventually, he runs out of air and blackness covers him.

The stink of burning flesh and the scream of the Jackal give me such pleasure! I push and I push, forcing the rod inside his ass. He doesn't scream any more. He has passed out.

I leave the rod in his ass and I lift him onto the table. I free his hands and I chain him exactly as he chained me, arms over his head. Then I climb on top of the table and I stand there, my feet on either side of his head. I begin to gently kick his head.

"Wake up, Jackal."

He moans and he looks at me. I smile, I put a foot on his neck, pressing. Then I begin to piss on his face. He closes his eyes.

The Jackal barely has time to take a breath before his throat is closed off and he is cut off from the air. A stream of warm piss rains down on his face. He shuts his eyes, but the liquid still spatters into his nose and mouth, running down his cheeks and into his ears.

"Now, we're gonna have us a little fun. Pain, you said, pain is... aw, what'd you say? 'The only emotion...' All that shit about pain. Ah s'pose the hot rod in your ass ain't enough, so Ah'll git you some more pain."

I laugh. I walk on the table. I press my right foot on his nuts, I play with them, gently. Then I play less gently, I kick them.

Then I jump with both feet onto his belly. I hear the crack of his ribs and his scream. Great!

He tries to take a breath to scream and realizes that the boulder that has fallen onto his chest... no, it's Silas... has cracked his ribs. The scream comes out like a faint whistle. The pain is unbelievable, and yet, as bad as it is, at least it's not that relentless emptiness. Anything, any sensation, is better than that endless, yawning blank. He dares to hope that the end might finally, finally be near.

"Yer right, Mr. Pain. Inflicting pain is good. Yer a damn fine teacher, Jackal. Yer last lesson was a valuable one."

I climb down. I extract the rod from his ass. He screams again. I put it on the fire and I see there is a shadow moving in a corner. I'm startled, but it's only a large rat that disappears in the courtyard.

The Jackal strains to breathe with his damaged chest. Already, it seems, the pain is lessening, but that could just be his imagination. His nose definitely feels better, though it remains clogged shut so that he can only breathe through his mouth.

Then I look for the lash. I find it and I pick it up.

I approach. The Jackal is going to feel it.

I whip his chest, his belly. Slowly, so he can savor each one.

"What'd you say... 'If I was you... some goddamn emotion for a change!' You feelin' any goddamn emotion yet, you sumbitch?"

And I go on lashing him, speeding up and putting more force into it.

Now there are red marks all over his chest and the tender flesh of his belly is bleeding. But I don't stop and the marks become wounds, growing larger and deeper. I see his body jerking and I like it. But I don't know if he's enjoying it.

Oh, it hurts, it hurts. Each stroke by itself is not so bad, but very soon they begin to blend together into one huge wound across his entire body. He flails and thrashes under the blows, held fast by the chains no matter how hard he struggles. The rain of lashes continues and the Jackal shouts and screams in torment.

A final few land between his legs and he practically erupts off the table, nearly wrenching his shoulders out of his sockets as he strains to pull free.

Perhaps now he has had enough pain to satisfy him. I let the lash fall to the floor.

I take his cock and I begin to stroke it. I can see the red scars of the lash.
He lifts his face, a mask of blood, and he smiles.

"Who's the faggot, here?" the Jackal goads.

Oh, yes, he has chosen well, indeed. Despite the pain, despite the blood and piss soaking his eyes, despite the burns and the bruises and the fractured bones, the Jackal feels his cock slowly, slowly begin to stiffen until it is as hard as it was when it was buried in Silas's guts. Then the gentle massage stops and he looks up to see what has happened. He catches sight of Silas returning from the hearth with the glowing branding iron in his hand and he knows what is coming next.

His dick has no time to soften and thus is still swollen rock solid when the red iron meets its purple head. The Jackal's entire body lights up like a thunderhead. The iron sears its way through the skin and into the meat beneath, every nerve ending singing in a chorus of fiery pain. The blackness creeps in at the corners of his vision again and he welcomes the brief relief that it offers.

He was right. Giving pain is good.

"Yew wear the mark a Silas Rendman, now," I tell him. He doesn't hear me.

I put the rod on the fire again.

While he's unconscious, I free him and I turn him back onto his belly. I chain him. Then I press his face in the pool of my piss.

I look at his strong body, his ass and the burned asshole. I can see the burn, but I thought it would be worse. Ah, well. His nuts are pressed against the table.

Then I take the hot rod and press it against his nuts. He wakes up screaming.

"Hey, Jackal, ya shouldn't sleep during the show! It ain't polite. Ah'm doin' all this fer you, y'know. Least you c'd do's try ta stay awake!"

He twitches and jerks in the chains. The fire in his nuts blazes hot as the whip begins to fall again, this time striking his bare back and shoulders and ass. The Jackal's whole body is one lump of tortured flesh, and he begins to wonder when Silas will notice that any normal man would have long since gone into a coma or even died from the shock of such massive trauma.

Silas is too absorbed in his revenge to catch on, though.

At last I stop. His back is a patchwork of bleeding wounds.

I am satisfied.

"Know what Ah'm fixin' to do, Jackal?" I tell him. "Ah'm fixin' to cut your cock and your nuts off and make a nice li'l cunt in your belly. Think that'll give you pain enough?"

I laugh.

He leaves then and returns with the Jackal's knife. It's large and heavy and wickedly sharp. The Jackal feels its point teasing his seared, charred ass, then feels it slide straight in. He screams, noticing as he does that his ribs don't hurt nearly as much as they did. His nose feels much better, too. Even the whip marks on his chest don't feel quite so raw rubbing against the stone table.

But the cost of all this rapid healing is steep - the Jackal is exhausted. He needs water and food or he is going to lose consciousness. Not just yet, though. Silas has yet to clue in, but surely he'll notice soon. The Jackal grimly hangs on, fighting the sleep that threatens to claim him.

That scream... what music to my ears!

Satisfied, Jackal?

I take the knife out. A stream of blood runs from his asshole, but it stops soon.

I free his hands and his feet and I turn him. He is too feeble to react. I chain him again, his back on the table.

I look at his body and I'm stunned. There were a lot of wounds and red marks, but now all I can see are some bruises. All the cuts have closed up. It's not possible. How can the Jackal's body heal so quickly? I look at his cock: even the brand I did on the dickhead is fading.

I look at him and I see he is smiling. A tired smile, but he is smiling.

I don't understand.

"Fuck! What's..."

The Jackal answers. "Silas," he croaks, "if you'd be so kind as to refill that canteen from the well outside and bring it over, I'd be much obliged. And some of those biscuits and jerky? And the sugar? You don't have to, of course, but if I don't get some food in me, I'm liable to pass out and I have a feeling you might like some answers before I do that."

Silas slowly brings the food and water over to where the Jackal lies chained like a sacrifice. He trickles the water into his mouth and feeds him the jerky and biscuits, each bite covered with a heaping mound of sugar. The Jackal eats and drinks and regains his strength, and when he is nourished, he begins to tell a tale.

Once there was a little boy (the Jackal says). Maybe seven or eight years old. He lived with his tribe, twenty or so people who lived off the land, hunting and fishing and gathering what they needed. It was a good land but a cold one, with brief summers and long, frigid winters. Still, there was plenty of game to hunt and the tribe was content. The little boy was even happy, in his small way.

But his people were not the only ones who lived in the area. There were others as well, others who looked like men but weren't. Their heads were sloped, their bodies were large and stocky, and their eyes were shaded by huge ridges of bone. They could not speak as men spoke, but instead grunted and growled like animals. Yet they were as smart as men, and that made them dangerous.

The boy had never seen one of these not-men, but he had heard stories of them. The men of the tribe occasionally met with not-men on their hunting trips, and usually clashed with them when they did.

One spring morning, the boy was out exploring along a stream when he heard a horrible commotion. He ran back to his tribe's campsite but stopped before he got there, peering out from the bushes at the sight of his world turning upside down.

A pack of not-men was attacking his tribe. There were many of them, at least two for every one of his family. The men tried to put up a defense, but the not-men were stronger and there were more of them. The boy watched as his parents, uncles, aunts, cousins were butchered without mercy and left to rot in the warm sun.

The boy was terrified, but there was nothing he could do. He stayed hidden in the bushes until long after the not-men had left. Only when he was sure they were gone did he venture out to face the devastation of his world. He sat and cried for a long time, hoping that someone else might have escaped the destruction and would return to care for him. No one did.

As night neared, the frightened boy was confronted by yet another stranger. He stood to flee, but this stranger turned out be a woman who looked like a radiant goddess and spoke to him kindly in the language of his people. She led him away from the ruins of his former life and spun a wondrous story for him. In this story, the boy learned more about the two kinds of men, which the goddess called humans and Neanderthals, and of how they were locked in a struggle for control of the land, a struggle which the Neanderthals were winning.

"But how?" the boy asked. "They can't even speak."

True, the Neanderthals could not speak, she told him, but they were as intelligent as humans, and they were stronger and tougher and better adapted to the land. If things continued as they were, the Neanderthals would win control of this continent, then expand to other lands until the true humans were driven into extinction. And that, she stressed, would be a terrible thing.

This the boy could understand. He had just lost everyone in the world he had ever known; to contemplate the death of everyone in the whole world was not a great leap. In the way of children, he immediately reached the conclusion that he was already the last human on earth and burst into fresh tears. The goddess consoled him and assured him that others still lived, though in the long run they were ultimately doomed... except for one hope: him.

"Me? You're joking," he sniffled.

But no, she was serious. She told him of how, if he agreed to help, she would use her powers to make him even stronger than the strongest Neanderthal, and smarter and faster and tougher as well. More importantly, she would change his body so that he could never be killed, no matter how badly he was injured. He would become the champion of the true humans. It would be his duty to make the land safe for his people by eliminating the Neanderthal threat, and in return for his labors, he would receive eternal life in an indestructible body. But only if he agreed to help her. If not... she turned to look back down the path toward the devastated camp site.

Of course the boy agreed.

And so the boy was brought to a place like a cave, but with all straight lines and flat surfaces, gleaming with white and silver. There he met the goddess's helpers, all of whom took the form of humans though obviously they were spirits in disguise. The goddess herself departed, only dropping in on very rare occasions to check on his progress. The very infrequency of her visits only made him adore her all the more and strive to please her with his dedication.

The process of his transformation was a long one. Over and over, the spirits would cast him into a deep sleep while they made a change to his body, then let him wake and heal and adapt to the change, then repeat the process all over again. There was discomfort, even pain, but that didn't matter; he had a purpose.

At last, five winters later, the changes were finished. The boy was perhaps thirteen years old. They spent the next two years training him to be a one-man Neanderthal-killing machine, teaching him to fight barehanded and with weapons, to hunt and gather and cook his food, to hide and spy and learn, to evaluate the best way to inflict maximum damage on the enemy while taking minimal damage to himself. For while he was assured that his body could never be destroyed, it could still feel pain and be injured and even become temporarily incapacitated until it had a chance to heal itself, and so he was taught to avoid pain and injury.

With the changes they had made, he was unstoppable. He had the strength of three ordinary men, unbelievably keen vision and hearing, inconceivable stamina, inhuman speed. They had given him an enormous memory and the ability to rapidly learn new languages, concepts, and ideas, the better to be able to fit in to the human societies he would encounter.

Bright-eyed idealist that he was, he was eager to get started on his mission and repay the goddess who had saved his life. In his adolescent way, he even harbored fantasies that if he performed his task well enough, one day she would return for him and take him for her own, saying "you have done well, my true and loyal servant".

She did come on his graduation day to wish him well and reiterate that all of humanity was counting on him. She kissed him, a chaste kiss on his forehead and he beamed under her admiration. Then they turned him loose to begin his mission.

He never saw the goddess or any of the others again.

Those first few decades, life was a glorious succession of victories. With every Neanderthal he injured or killed, he found he got a furious rush of pleasure through his modified brain, more intense than any orgasm. And the rush was nearly constant, because all around him was a seemingly endless supply of prey. Every double-handspan of days he was able to track down another tribe of not-men and put them to slaughter. He quickly found that the rush of pleasure was even more intense the longer he drew out a victim's death; this allowed him to float for days on a never-ending endorphin high if he found a suitably large pack.

There were setbacks. Once a pack of not-men came upon him while he was sleeping. He was awakened by the thrust of a flint blade straight through his throat. He sat up, choking and gagging on blood, terrified that it had all been a dream and that death had snuck up on him. He sat, disoriented and helpless, while the not-men slashed at him with their stone knives until he lost so much blood that he passed out, his last thought the fear that he would never awaken. But awaken he did, some unknown time later, his body miraculously restored to health. Within a few days, even the lingering ache in his throat had faded and it was as if the incident had never happened.

Another time one of the beasts managed to catch him by surprise and hacked his arm off just below the shoulder before he could get away. He fled and waited, and before the moon had completed its cycle, a new arm had grown in its place, itching and burning as it grew until it was identical to the old. When the new arm was as strong as the original, he tracked down the not-man who had done it to him. He pinned the creature by putting its own arm under an enormous boulder, then left its knife within reach. When he checked back a few days later, it was clear that the not-man had not succeeded in freeing itself before the arrival of the wolves.

He roved from place to place, settling himself with a human clan for a time while he cleared the surrounding area of enemies, then moving on to another hunting ground when the supply of prey ran thin. He never stayed in one place long enough for his ageless body to become an issue.

Inevitably, though, the pickings became fewer and farther between. Some four or five hundred years after beginning his mission, he found he was only tracking down groups of his enemy once or twice a year, and instead of packs of fifty or sixty, they were groups of five or eight or ten. After another few centuries, there were almost none left. He had to range all across the great icy continent to find isolated packs of survivors clinging to life in marginal territories.

He spent more and more time in human villages, sometimes staying long enough that people began to wonder at his lack of wrinkles and his thick head of hair. Each time it happened he would be forced to move on, roaming the land in search of his increasingly elusive Neanderthal prey.

At last there came a time when no matter how hard he searched, he could find no trace of his quarry Some two thousand years from his birth (though his knowledge of the passage of time was only an estimate), he reached the conclusion that he had at last accomplished his goal. There were no more Neanderthals to be hunted, because they were all extinct. And with that conclusion, thoughts that had been churning around in his head for many hundreds of years finally crystallized and he was able to articulate them.

He had been duped. The great prize that he had been offered in exchange for his tireless service - eternal life - was actually a curse.

He was an immortal in a world of mortals. He could no more form lasting relationships with any of the humans whose place in the world he had secured than he could bond with a sparrow or a damselfly. Their brief lives simply blinked by too quickly. By the time he had settled himself comfortably in with a group, the young adults had suddenly turned grey and feeble, the infants were grown into men and women with babies of their own, and inevitably the questions would come: Why do you look so young? Why is your hair still thick, with no trace of grey? Why is your skin so smooth and unlined? And off he would have to go to start over again.

The worst of it, though, was the complete lack of acknowledgement from the goddess (though of course he had long since ceased to think of her as such) and her minions. They had formed him and shaped him to be a tool they could use for their purpose and sent him off full of their righteous zeal. Now that the task was accomplished, he was of no further use to them, and they clearly wasted none of their time thinking about him.

And so he was left to drift through the centuries, growing ever more bitter at his continuing existence and yet utterly unable to end it. For he found that among the changes they had made to his brain to ensure his continuing effectiveness as their tool was this: he could not even think about suicide, much less act on such an impulse. There were some thoughts that were simply unthinkable with his modified brain. It was only after many years that he was able to come around to the subject obliquely, by thinking about it in a hypothetical, abstract way: "What if there were an immortal who wanted to die? How might he go about it?"

As the great glaciers receded and agriculture began to flourish in Europe, he tested the limits of what he was allowed to do and what was forbidden him. He found that, for example, he could not cut himself deliberately with a knife, though clearly he could be cut by accident or by someone else's action. He was able to climb to the top of a high cliff to admire the view, but not with the intention of throwing himself off of it. He could, however, fall by accident, if he were able to distract himself enough so that his brain didn't notice the danger he was in.

Achieving the right level of distraction was a difficult task, as anyone who has ever tried to not think of something can attest to. But every once in a while, he was able to succeed in doing himself harm, and the results were as dissatisfying as ever.

He fell off of cliffs; his body throbbed with pain for days while he lay broken and bloody at the bottom, but he healed. He contrived "accidents" that resulted in the loss of arms or legs or both; they grew back, painfully, over the course of several weeks. He rowed out to sea in a flimsy boat, which fell apart during a storm; his body sank to the bottom and water filled his lungs. The whole time he stayed conscious, constantly living the experience of drowning, his lungs burning in constant agony but still able to filter sufficient oxygen from the water to keep him alive enough that he could crawl inch by inch across the sea floor until he reached the shore again.

Once he even managed to hurl himself into the crater of a volcano. His entire body vaporized when it hit the lava. There was a brief moment of the most intense agony he had ever known and then at last there was only blessed darkness.

But it was not to last. He later deduced that his skull, his indestructible skull, had remained intact in the fiery cauldron. It floated to the top of the lava, bobbing like a cork until at last it was ejected out with a molten stream. Away from the heat, the lava cooled and hardened with the skull floating on top of it. Slowly, over years, the magic that kept him alive scavenged bits of blown leaves and rock and water and sunlight to rebuild his body. He awoke some indeterminate time later, lying naked on the rock, ravenously hungry, with every cell in his reconstructed body singing in agony. The sensation took years to fade.

After that, he gave up trying to kill himself, drifting instead from place to place, settling in for a decade or two and then moving on, to India, China, the Pacific islands, Africa, eventually the New World. No matter where he went, he found nothing that could ever bring him the joy he had known when he had a purpose to fulfill. He was left with no reason to live and no way to die.

I listen while he talks. His story is a long one, very long. It sounds like it has to be a fairy tale, but I can see his body healing with my own eyes.

I look at his cock. The burn mark is just a purple scar, the flesh only a little swollen, and while he is going on telling me things that make no sense, the dickhead is regaining its usual look. It's slow, but I can see it changing.

I look at my two brands and I can see the flesh still red and inflamed. On my body, some of the wounds from the lash are bleeding, probably because I reopened the cuts when I was moving around, beating and whipping him. His wounds are all closed up. They're more recent, but they look much older.

I look again at him and I see his cockhead is even better than it was a few minutes ago. How does he do it?

It's getting dark in the room again: the fire has burned down and only one candle is burning. I light a second candle and I put some more wood on the fire.

I try to listen to his fairy tale. If it is a fairy tale, we're in it. No, he's in it, I'm not. My body still aches. I try to make sense out of his words.

I understand that he wants to die. He found the right man: I'll kill him, that's for sure. There's no way I'm going to let him live, not after what he did to me. This was business at first, but now it's personal. I hate him. I want to see him dying. Not a quick death, either. A long, painful, humiliating agony.

"Quite a tale, wouldn't you say, Silas?" The Texas accent is back. "Might Ah have a few more drops out a that canteen? My throat's feelin' mighty parched."

Silas feeds him several swallows, then the Jackal continues speaking. His body feels strong again. The pain is still there, especially in his balls and his ass, but he can breathe through his nose again, and his ribs are merely stiff and sore.

"Now, Ah cain't rightly say as Ah'd blame you fer not swallerin' a blamed word of it. It sure don't sound like nothin' any man could believe. And yet Ah would ask you to think very carefully 'bout what you might be fixin' ta do next.

"Let's s'pose, just idle speculation here, that you might be aimin' ta take the body of a certain wanted man with you ta Santa Fe so's you kin claim that reward."

You can bet! That's exactly what I'll do. I've earned that reward, that's for damn sure. The Jackal humiliated me, wounded me, branded me. That twenty grand is mine!

Now, ordinarily, it wouldn't be no business a mine how you might want to go 'bout that. But since Ah'm currently usin' the body in question, Ah reckon that gives me some say in the matter. And my suggestion to you would be that you might want ta make abso-damn-sure that the body yer transportin' ain't liable ta wake up mid-journey and knock you clean off yer horse.

I shrug my shoulders: how hard can it be? When he has ten bullets in his guts, he won't wake up... will he? There are almost no traces of the whipping and the burning...

No problem. I can kill him and then tie him up, so even if he wakes up, he can't free himself. I'll give him to the sheriff, dead or alive, what's the difference? This bag of shit is worth $20,000 either way.

"No, what you need ta do is..." the Jackal chokes on the words, his lips trying to move but no sound emerging.

"Let's talk about something else," he says, the Texas twang gone again. "Let's say that, hypothetically speaking, this boy I've been telling you about, now grown into a young-looking but actually very old man, has learned a thing or two since his dive into the volcano.

For instance, he suspects that the magic that keeps him alive is probably not magic at all. Times have changed since he was born to a primitive tribe in Ice-Age Europe. We don't live in a world of gods and angels and spirits any more, do we? No, we live in an age of science and machines. That woman was no goddess, she was something else. He's not sure what, maybe an alien from another world with a soft spot for our kind of human, or maybe a time traveler from the distant future trying to make sure that history happened the way it was supposed to. Or something stranger that he'll never understand.

"Anyway, this boy has figured out that what she did to him was probably something of a mechanical nature, and this has given him a new angle to approach his problem with. He knows that the machines are too small to see, and far beyond anything any man could build today, but at their heart, they're just machines. Not spirits, not demons, not magic: machines.

"He's also figured out that he's been thinking about the situation the wrong way. All this time, he's been asking himself 'how can I end my life?', and that's the wrong question. The right question, the question he should be asking, is 'how can I end my consciousness?'. He knows from his volcano adventure that if enough of his body is destroyed, if he has no brain left to think with, then his consciousness goes away until his body is rebuilt. So what he has to figure out is how to put himself to sleep and then dis... disable the machines."

He seems to be having trouble speaking. Why? It can't be his injuries, they're almost gone.

It doesn't matter. It's not my problem. It's the Jackal's problem. What, he'll wake up and climb out of his grave? Great - I'll capture him a second time and get another $20,000! But once I get the first $20,000, I won't need to hunt for outlaws anymore: I'll have enough money to live worry-free. So, who gives a damn about the Jackal, dead, alive, free, hanged, rotting?

He asks for some more water and I give it to him.

"After long, careful thought," the Jackal continues, "here's what he thinks the key is: machines need fuel to run, right? No fuel, no function. They shut down. If the machines can't rebuild his body and bring him back to consciousness, then that's just as good as dying, wouldn't you think? Hypothetically speaking, of course, since this guy isn't allowed to actually think about such things really happening, much less tell anyone else how to help him do it.

"So what this guy needs to do is figure out how to convince someone to... to..." he chokes and gags, trying to get the words out.

"... to de... de... desssssssstroy his body as completely as possible, especially his brain, then lock his skull awa..." here he breaks off and can't continue.

There is a long pause while the Jackal gets himself under control. Finally, he continues.

"It seems like the things these machines need to rebuild a body are sunlight and any natural material, like bits of plants or animals. Even dirt and air and water would do, though it takes much longer that way. Metal, though, doesn't work; they couldn't build a new body out of iron or steel. So the thing he absolutely would NOT want to have happen would be for his... his... brain to be dessssssssssstroyed. In a fire, for his indestructible s... s... sk... skull to get l... l... locked in a... a fucking airtight iron box, ah SHIT! And... and... and thrown OH, FUCK! down a goddamn mine shaft!"

He is breathing heavily, exhausted at the effort of forcing the words out. When he is calmer he speaks again.

"That would be terrible for him, if that were to happen." The Jackal looks imploringly into the bounty hunter's eyes. "Terrible for all humanity, for it would mean the end of his mission to defeat the Neanderthal menace."

He holds the hunter's gaze for a long moment, then drops his head to the table and stares blankly at the ceiling. He twists his arms and legs, savoring the pain of limbs gone numb from long restraint in one position.

"He's had to look long and hard, our guy, hunting for a certain kind of man with the strength of will to carry out the job. He thought he had found the right one a few years back, a certain sheriff in Santa Fe. But it turns out the sheriff didn't have the stomach for the task, and didn't do it the way it needed to be done. Maybe he didn't believe that such a crazy, preposterous story could be true.

"He found out, though. The job he left unfinished came back and finished him instead."

I realize. Immediately. This is no longer about the reward. If I don't kill him, he'll kill me. I mean, if I'm not able to kill him completely, he'll wake up and...

Shit! I feel trapped. He's the one chained to the table, and yet I'm the one who's trapped! He goes on and I listen.

"Now you listen close, Silas Rendman. If you do your job right, there won't be any body for you to bring back to Santa Fe, which means you're out the $20,000 you're looking for. So I want to make it up to you. In that airtight iron box" - he looks meaningfully into Silas's eyes with the words - "over by the table, you'll find my notebook. In it there are directions to an abandoned mine about thirty miles north of here. That mine shaft would be the perfect place to... finishhhh y... your task, and you'll find something there that should make your effort worth your while. Something to reward you for your hard work, something a little more tangible than the pleasure which, if you're the kind of man I think you are, you'll take in doing your duty.

It makes no sense. Bullshit, it has be all bullshit. What if he's stringing me on and I don't find anything? Then I've got nothing, nothing from the Jackal and no body to bring to Santa Fe. No, it's better to bring him to the US and...

"One last thing... I'm not so naive as to think I'll never wake up again. But if I can get ten or fifty or a hundred thousand years out of this, then I'll be content. You may be in this for the money, but for me, getting to sleep for so long... that's the kind of reward I'm hoping for. Maybe after that much time the world will have changed enough that I'll find something in it to pique my interest again. Maybe I'll even find a once-and-for-all solution to my problem."

"But Silas, mark my words: if you fail me, and you're still alive when I wake up, I will hunt you down and make what I did to that sheriff seem like a Sunday picnic."

He drops his head to the hard stone again. "Now. Make it hurt."

I'm trapped, alright. I don't know if he's telling me the truth or playing me for some kind of fool, but I have no choice. There are no bruises, no marks at all on his body. After everything I did to him, his skin is fresh and unlined. He could be covered in someone else's blood instead of his own.

Shit! Shit! Shit!

'Make it hurt,' he said. Well, that much, Jackal, I can promise you!

But not now. I'm spent, drained of all energy. I sit on the chair. I look at him, resting on the table. He has no way of escape. But neither do I. Even if I throw him, chained, into the pit, sooner or later he'll come out and he'll look for me. I don't want to live with that nightmare!

I could bring him to the sheriff, take the reward and then tip the gravedigger to have his corpse back, but... what if something goes wrong? No, better to try with the mine. He's in my hands, but I'm in his, as well. Shit! He'll pay for this, I'll make him pay.

I'm exhausted. I need sleep. Well, it's almost morning, and I've got plenty of time. But before I go to sleep, I'll give him something to keep him busy while he's waiting for the next round.

I go back out to the well and fill the canteens again. In the growing light of the coming dawn, I get a better look at the water, the same water he drank last night. It's foul, muddy stuff. I wouldn't drink it, but it's fine for what I have in mind.

On the other side of the courtyard I see the remains of old wooden door. Long nails are hanging from one hinge. I look at them. They are rusty. I manage to pull them out. Then I pick up a stone.

On my way back in, I see another rat in the corridor, but he runs away. I watch him go, an idea forming in my brain.

I go back in. The Jackal is lying on the table, his eyes closed. He opens them when he hears me.

I make my preparations. I pour the water into a metal basin and put it on the fire. Then I take the stone and two needles and I look at the Jackal. He smiles. Does he know what is waiting for him? Perhaps.

"OK, Jackal. Ah'm goin' ta catch a few winks, but Ah don't want ta leave you here all alone, without some token of my friendship..."

I look at his large nuts. "We'll start right here." I grab the right nut and I squeeze it, gently. "Ready?"

I don't wait for his answer. I put the point of one nail against his right nut and I press, until I cut the skin and some drops of blood fall. Then I hold the nail in my left hand and with the right one I take the stone. I show it to the Jackal. He understands.

With all my strength I hit the nail with the stone: the nail goes through his nut and he screams, he screams, he screams. Fuck! This is great.

I can't nail him to the table: this white stone is too hard. But the point of the nail appears on the other side of his nut.

"A little pain for you, my friend!"

I laugh and I add: "And some more!"

I take his left nut. I can see his body tensing. Then I hit and again I can hear his scream, but it's a shorter one.

Ahhhhh, the pain! His balls had just started to feel normal again after the pounding they had taken earlier, and now they're skewered like shish-kabobs on rusty nails. The Jackal lifts his head to try to see what Silas has done to him. He catches a glimpse of two meaty orbs impaled on brown shafts, blood seeping out around the entry points, then has to let his head fall back again.

"Let's jes' see how quickly you can heal up with them nails still stuck inside you. Oh, and there's something else Ah want to leave you with..."

I take an empty bottle and break the bottom against the table. Then I untie his legs and I lift them over his head, bending his body. I chain his left ankle to his left hand and do the same with the right ones. It's not a comfortable position, but that's not my problem. It won't be his biggest problem, either.

I take the bottle. I go to the hearth and check the water. It's boiling. I come back. I gently caress his asshole with one of the glass points of the broken bottle: the point scratches his skin and I can see the blood running.

"Ready fer some more pain?"

"The fuck's wrong with you, boy?" the Jackal says. "You got a dick, you got a fuckable hole right in front a you, and yer messin' around with a beer bottle? What' you waitin' fer an engraved invitation or somethin'? Or maybe yer dick only works when yer the one gittin' yer fudge packed?"

His taunting words make my blood boil, but I stay in control. I push the neck of the bottle into his asshole.

Trying to ignore the pain in his balls, the Jackal shifts his voice to a higher pitch. "Ooh," he teases. "Do it to me, you big burly... bottle! Nothing keeps a lady warm on a cold night like the company of a strong, handsome... bottle! Oh, Silas, you're my hero, my knight in shining... glass!"

I don't answer. When the neck of the bottle is completely down his ass, I go to the hearth. I use some rags to lift the pot with the boiling water. I go to the table, I smile to the Jackal, who suddenly understands what is going to happen, and I begin to pour the hot water through the neck of the bottle.

The teasing stops, replaced by a scream, while the boiling water fills his innards. I like this scream. I love him. He doesn't faint. He goes on grunting and moaning, sighing and wailing. It's beautiful music.

I take the bottle out and I shove a stone in, sealing his asshole. I wrap some rope around his waist, crossing between his legs and over his hole to stop him from forcing the stone out. I look at him, at his distorted face, at his trembling body. Good, very good. I am satisfied.

I lie down on the bed and fall asleep immediately.

I wake up. It's morning still, but much later, closer to midday. I look at the Jackal. He's still bent on the table, in that awkward, absurd position. He certainly couldn't escape. He's looking at me.

I smile.

"Hope you slept well," I tell him.

I need to piss, so I go over to the table. I look at his nuts, hanging almost over his head. The nails are still in place. There is some blood on the skin, but the nuts are not too badly swollen.

I smile, I climb on the table and I piss on his ass. Then I bend and I take the nails out of his nuts. He jerks, but he doesn't say a word. Some blood drips from the wounds.

I untie the waist rope and take out the stone plugging his asshole. Dirty water begins to gush from his ass, flowing down both front and back, over his dick and splashing onto his face.

I take the rope and I make a noose. I put it around his neck and I tie it. He gulps and he looks at me.

"Not yet, Jackal, not yet, but we're gittin' close. Ah need a li'l somethin' fer the last part a the show, so Ah'll jes' head down t' town, now. Yew wait here, but since waitin' fer me could be boring, Ah'll help you ta pass the time."

I tie the rope to a leg of the table. If he tries to move while I'm untying his legs or his arms, he'll strangle himself.

Then I free his legs, but I quickly chain them together. Now he can lie flat on the table. I give a sharp jerk to the rope and quickly, very quickly, I free his hands, I turn him and I cuff his hands again, behind his back. He tries to react, but the rope strangles him and he is forced to lie still.

Now he's lying on the table, his face down on the pool formed by my piss and the filthy water that has seeped out of his ass.

I bend his legs and I tie his ankles to the rope around his neck. I pull the rope tight enough that it lifts his knees up off the table, so tight that he is bent into the shape of a C.

"You know, Jackal, outlaws like you're s'pose ta get hanged. Now, Ah reckon this won't do you in, but Ah still think you oughta get a taste a the rope. Right now, you kin hold yer legs up and not get choked, but sooner or later, yer gonna git tired. You won't be able ta keep your legs bent and then the fun'll begin. Ah'll be back... well, whenever. Don' go nowhere, now."

I look at him, stuck in that impossible position. I slap his ass, twice, grinning. He grits his teeth.

I have a lot of things to do. I get dressed.

"See you later, Jackal. Lemme know how you enjoy this."

Silas's footsteps grow fainter as he proceeds down the hall and into the courtyard. For the moment, the position is not too uncomfortable. It is awkward to lift his legs up because the motion goes against the natural tendency of his muscles, but it's not impossible. He knows, though, that it's only a matter of time before he tires.

He is torn. On the one hand, his body has been put through hell. Even though he has largely healed from the worst abuses, his nerves still echo the sensations. He feels the lingering pain of the branding iron shoved up his ass, the brutal flogging, the seared mark on the tip of his dick. The fresher pain of the nails through his balls is still raw. He wishes he could look at his nuts, see how they are recovering now that the spikes have been withdrawn, but the angle is impossible.

On the other hand, he is ecstatic. He has not felt so alive in years, since... well, since that unfortunate incident with the sheriff from Santa Fe. He has sometimes tried to communicate to normal humans how awfully isolated he constantly feels. They never seem to understand. After so many thousands of years, there is no experience that is new to him, nothing he hasn't done countless times before. After so much repetition, it seems like the world is not really real, it's like a vision lost in fog.

The only things that can break through the gauzy veil that separates him from reality are the extremes: pleasure and pain. It's hard to magnify pleasure to the degree necessary to reach him, but cranking up the pain is much more easily done. The only problem is finding someone to do it for him, since he is not allowed to hurt himself.

His legs are starting to grow tired. He finds he needs to relax his muscles. This means that the pull on his neck increases, tightening the noose and threatening to choke off his air. His head swells from the blood that becomes trapped in it by the constricting rope. He rests his legs for as long as he can stand it, then strains them again, providing welcome slack in the rope.

His thoughts drift back to the Santa Fe sheriff. It had started out well - much like this time, the Jackal had captured the sheriff, tortured him to give him the motivation for revenge, then made sure he had the means to escape, distracting himself from that "lapse" by focusing on the pain he was inflicting on his "Neanderthal" victim.

Sheriff Palmer, though, wasn't man enough to see it through. In hindsight, the Jackal realized there just wasn't enough injury done to his too-quickly-healing body for the sheriff to take his story seriously. Palmer wasn't as much of a sadist as Silas; he was more interested in the fucking part. When he was through, he sliced the Jackal's throat and as the blood drained from his body, the Jackal welcomed the coming of the blackness.

But it didn't last. Mere moments later, it seemed, though it must have been a day or two, he awoke in suffocating darkness. He clawed his way, over the course of several painful hours, up through layers of sandy soil, tearing his fingers to shreds until he reached the moonlit scrubland above. He waited for his hands to heal, then made his way back to town and surprised Palmer in his bed.

Even then, the Jackal could tell, the man had not fully believed him. Even with the evidence of a dead man come back from the grave and standing by his bedside, he still was not convinced. Perhaps he just didn't have the imagination to deal with something so far outside his expectations. Over the next four days, very unpleasant days for the sheriff, the Jackal kept questioning him as he worked. "Now do you believe me? Now are you convinced?"

Long before the fourth day, the sheriff had changed his tune. Near the end, when the Jackal was in the process of slowly peeling the skin from Palmer's face, leaving a mask of bloody bone and muscle, Palmer freely, even enthusiastically admitted that the Jackal's story must be true and that he had made a terrible, horrible mistake by not believing him the first time.

Of course, he also admitted to being Satan's catamite, a voodoo priestess, and the crown prince of Russia.

The Jackal's legs are completely spent now, and it has only been a handful of minutes since Silas left. How much worse will it get before he comes back? The choking sensation is constant; he doesn't have the strength to lift his legs and ease the pressure. Air rasps painfully through his throat, in and out in effort-filled, straining breaths. His head is stuffed and swollen from the trapped blood. His vision is clouded and limited to a narrow tunnel straight in front of his eyes.

He tries rolling onto his side to see if that position is easier, but it is merely different. The pressure on his throat is no less. He flails and thrashes, straining to break free of the cuffs. Nothing helps. All he can do is lie there and not die.

I reach the town. My horse is still there. A miracle in this place. He needs to be tended, it wasn't good for him to be left here during the night, but I didn't expect to be gone so long.

I take my time caring for the horse and lingering over a meal myself. Then I go looking for what I need. Here in Boca Caliente you can find anything: a killer, a whore, a weapon, a gem. Everything is for sale if you can meet the price. I find what I'm looking for.

When I am ready, I go back to the Spanish town with my horse. I tend him and I leave him near the palace.

When I get to the courtyard, I set down my bag and take my pistol out. What if the Jackal freed himself? The corridor is not so dark now, it's still bright afternoon: he's not hiding there. Everything is still.

I approach the door to the Jackal's chamber. I can hear a hiss.

I go in. He's right where I left him. He's not dead. Any other man would be. But he's still breathing.

The hissing sound is coming from him, from his throat where the air squeezes past the rope. His face has turned purple and is covered with sweat. He's drooling and a pool of spit and sweat lies under his head. A larger pool has soaked his belly: he's pissed himself. Not unusual when a man is hanged. His fists clench and unclench. He stinks.

I stand in front of him a long time before he notices me. I can see his hate and I laugh.

I go back to the courtyard to fetch my bag.

The world is a pain-soaked blur. There is no sound but the whistling of his breath through his throat. Nothing to see but the red fog that fills his vision.

All the thousands of years he has existed, and the Jackal can remember none of it. There is only the now, this current moment that has lasted forever and will last forever more. Like a dog, he has no past, no future, only this moment. This moment of impossible suffering. He keeps hoping he will lose consciousness, but it doesn't happen - his body has enough reserves to keep him uselessly alert.

From out of the red haze, a face swims into view. Fragments of memory come back. It's a face he knows... ah, the bounty hunter. Why is he here now? Isn't it too soon? Has something gone wrong with the plan he has so carefully laid? The Jackal stares at him with loathing through his nearly-swollen-shut eyes. He feels a stirring in his loins. Oh, how he wants to fuck that arrogant face into submission...

The face disappears and he is alone with his pain again. Perhaps it never was there at all.

When I come back, I take the knife and I cut the rope. His head falls to the table with a loud thump.

He lies on his right side, recovering, looking at me. I can see his large cock, as hard as a stone. It was the rope. He didn't shoot his load like hanged men sometimes do, but his cock is stiff. He's well hung.

Very well hung.

I can't stop looking at it. My throat is dry.

OK, it's not a problem. He's going to die soon, anyway. I grab his feet, I free them, then I chain them, spreading his legs. He is forced to turn, his back on the table, his hands behind his back. I tie the rope of the noose to one leg of the table, so he can't move his head.

I look at his cock again. I begin to undress, my eyes fixed on it. When I am naked, I take my knife and I put it on the table, then I bend over him. I take his cock into my mouth and I begin to suck it. I can hear his hoarse voice, abusing me. Let him call me whatever names he wants, no one but me will ever hear it, so what does it matter?

Slowly, slowly, the red haze recedes and the world returns. His head throbs with pain, but he is able to focus again. He is lying on his back. He tries to sit up, but is stopped by a pressure on his neck, a pressure so familiar that he immediately lies back down again. Memories return as he looks around the room.

Silas is back. He is bending over the table. The Jackal feels warm lips enveloping his cock and braces for a bite, but instead feels only smooth suction. The sensation is wholly unexpected and he moans in pleasure.

But he can't allow Silas to be distracted from his ultimate task. He begins to goad him again, striving to make his voice sound jaunty even though he is weak from exhaustion.

"Still cain't git yer pud pumped, kin ya?" he taunts. "Would it help if I baaa like a sheep? Baaa! Baaa! That help git you in the mood?"

Then I climb on the table, I sit on his belly, I raise my ass, I grab his cock and slowly, very slowly, I impale myself on it.

I begin to move up and down. He abuses me some more, but I don't hear him. I simply enjoy the feeling of his cock in my ass, the pain and the pleasure. I grunt and go on moving.

My cock is stiff, now. I can see he is smiling. He won't be smiling for much longer.

I grab my knife, I raise my ass, just a little, and I put the blade under his nuts.

The Jackal's stream of verbal abuse ceases abruptly as he feels the blade dig into his skin. He grimaces at the touch of the steel, then opens his mouth wide as it works its way deeper into his body.

He feels the knife slicing upward from the base of his balls, digging toward his dick, which is buried in the ass of the man wielding the knife. He wonders if there'll be time for one last orgasm before it's too late.

There isn't. The sharp edge reaches the meat of his cock and works its way through until it comes out the other side. He has been neutered, and though he knows he could readily grow a new set of masculine equipment, he suspects there won't be time for that to happen. He will die a eunuch.

I keep his cock in my ass. Now I have two cocks and four balls. I laugh.

"OK, time fer the last round, Jackal. Ah want ta leave fer the mine afore it gets too late in the day."

Once again I change his position, chaining him face down, his legs spread wide. The blood is running from the wound where his dick once was.

I caress his asshole, I put a finger inside.

"But we still got time ta play a little..."

I take the knife. I use the blade to widen his asshole. He shudders. More blood runs down.

Then I take the cage from my bag. I show it to the Jackal.

"Three little mice for my friend..."

He doesn't get it. I cautiously open the cage and I grab one of the rats.

"These poor little bastards are hungry. We gotta feed the little beasts. No, you gotta feed them!"

I force the rat into the Jackal's ass, then I plug it up with a stone.

I see the Jackal's bewildered look. The little creature is hungry and starts feeding on the Jackal's innards.

Later I insert the second rat, then the third.

The Jackal is nearing the end of his endurance. The strain of repairing all his injuries has taken its toll on his body. He knows he is in pain, but the pain is becoming more distant. The gauze is dropping back down over the world.

"Claharr di bakk tik shumahe?" No, try again. English. "Sure you wouldn't rather eat my ass yerself?" Was that English? He's not sure. Silas doesn't answer.

The world fades away for a time, then comes back. Silas is putting a cage down next to his head. He looks at it and sees two rats inside. They are eating something.

Why is this important?

He looks again. The rats are eating what looks like a man's dick and balls. He realizes suddenly that that's exactly what they are - his dick and balls. Somehow the thought does not have much as much of an impact on him as it seems it should.

"Ah hope yer enjoyin' my efforts ta satisfy you..."

He mutters something. I don't understand, but it doesn't matter.

I leave him there for a while, then I free his feet and I turn him on his back, without chaining him. There's no need, now. He can barely move.

I take my knife.

"Human sacrifice, Ah think Ah remember you sayin'. Speakin' a which..."

I lift my knife and I stab him in his upper belly.

The blackness is overtaking him now. There is no way to hold it back.

One more lightning bolt of pain breaks through the encroaching darkness. His body is being torn apart. Part of his mind is still frantic with frustrated purpose. The other part, much larger now, gratefully looks forward to the darkness's coming victory.

He feels his body trembling as it nears the end of its endurance. Should he try to croak out some pithy final words? He has no idea what to say to this man who has hurt him so badly and yet has done him the greatest favor he could ask.

Yes, he does.

In the end, though, he can't speak. His lungs have stopped working; he cannot squeeze air out of his mouth. He can only move his lips. He has to just hope that Silas is watching.

"Thank you..."

I open his belly, completely, until the blade reaches the wound of the castration. A lot of blood pouring, his innards coming out, his body shaking.

I sit on his chest. His eyes are facing mine, but I can't tell if there is life in them or not. Then I begin to cut his throat. I go on, until I have severed his head from his body. I lift it and I look into his vacant eyes. Vacant? I'm not so sure.

My cock is hard and I know I'm going to cum. I lower his head and I put my cock into his open mouth. I cum into it. My jism pours into his mouth and out through his neck. I close my eyes and hold still, his corpse under my ass, his mouth around my cock.

Then it's time to clean up. I stoke the fire until it's blazing again, then toss the Jackal's head into the hearth. The hair begins to burn, the skin sags and melts.

I take the iron box he told me about. I open it and take out the notebook. I read the directions. They're plain, easy to read. It won't be difficult to find the mine.

I drag the rest of the corpse to the courtyard and come back in. I wash myself, then I sit in a corner, near the window, and I look out. The vultures don't take long. There are a lot of them. One lands and begins to feed on the carcass. Then a second one. And a lot more. They feast on his body. By the time they're done, there will be only scattered bones left.

An airtight box. I look at the Jackal's head. The skin and flesh have burned completely away. What is left surprises me. Instead of a skull of bone, his is some sort of metal.

I pull it from the coals with a rag and examine it. The metal is hard and impossibly shiny, like nothing I have ever seen before. I poke at it, then bang it against the stone table. Nothing I do leaves any mark.

It doesn't make sense. But nothing that has happened has made any sense.

I take the Jackal's skull, I look one last time at the place where his eyes once were. I spit into his mouth and I put the head into the box.

"Here we go, buddy!"

Then I carefully close the box, locking it.

I saddle up my horse, take the box, and leave town, heading towards the mine.

I stop only when I reach the mountains. I find a place where nobody can see me, I eat something and I sleep.

During the night I have a nightmare: I see the Jackal's metal head coming out of the box and moving towards me, using its jaw to drag itself across the ground. I can't run away and I scream and suddenly, I wake up. The box is in the saddlebag, where I left it. Closed. Locked.

I can't sleep anymore.

I reach the mine the following day.

I explore it a bit. The Jackal left a torch for me to use. There's a long passage and at the end, buried under rocks that look like they fell naturally, I find a large bag. Inside there's a pile of gold coins, more than I can count. Certainly worth more than $20,000.

I take the bag with the gold out to my horse. It's heavy, but I manage. I carry the locked box back to the rock pile and bury it among them. On the way back out, I follow the directions in the Jackal's notebook. He has left a pile of dynamite halfway back along the passage. I light the fuse and run like hell toward the entrance.

It's good be out of the mine, back in the sun again. I wait behind a rock shelf for the explosion. When it comes, it brings the whole tunnel down. No one will be going in that way ever again.

I am happy to get back on my horse and leave this nightmare behind me.

Riding towards the border, I think of how nice it is to be a rich man. Perhaps it's time to retire...

And yet, killing the Jackal was so good, such a rush. Perhaps I could go on being a bounty hunter, just for the fun of it...


  1. Dunno what you did with this one but it isn't loaded correctly. A big blank black space at top and grey lines at either left or right hand sides. Obviously something wrong in the coding would be my guess!

  2. To Anonymous, and any others who have trouble reading this story.

    You're right - the formatting is weird. It's a problem with trying to post my HTML into the blogspot system. On my browser (Safari on a Mac), it shows up as a lot of empty space at the top, then the story finally starts after all that blankness. It's legible, but ugly. Your browser may render it differently.

    If you can't read the story at all, please write to me. I'll send you the original HTML, which, as a stand-alone file, should render correctly in any modern browser. I know privacy is important to many people who are interested in this sort of material (or so I can guess from all the comments by "anonymous") - I assure you I will treat your address with discretion, but if you want absolute certainly, you can make up a one-time Yahoo, Gmail, or hotmail address to use.

    Thanks for writing.

  3. Wow! This is an incredible story. Hot as hell!!! Intricate. Detailed. Engrossing. i kinda was hoping that Silias and the Jackel would fall in love... maybe Silias would have walked back into that room, naked and crawled into bed with the Jackel, surrendering to him. Thank you both for writing and posting this story. Whew!!!