Illustrative image


I arrive at the central square of the village. Around my hips, I feel the loose and deceptively reassuring grip of the belt that carries my colt [..]

Short Story

Seth Messenger

It's a beautiful summer day.

The sun is already high in this sky of the American West. The few well-to-do who could afford to own a watch could read that it was almost eleven o'clock. A usually lively hour on the central street of this small settler village built by valiant hands barely ten years ago. Usually, but not this morning. The street is deserted. The shutters are closed. The heat wave, which has already been pronounced, dries up this perfectly silent atmosphere that has requisitioned this place. The air, mixed with dust, is so dry that even moderate physical activity requires an effort from my lungs.


Accompanied by the timid tinkling of my spurs, my steps lead me cautiously along the wide street. The smell of urine and droppings fills the morning air, both animal and human. The sewer system has not yet been invented here and men are busy with their natural needs in the alleys fleeing towards the outskirts of the central street. Horses don't have that delicacy. Their copious droppings line the street, which is constantly invaded by an army of scavenging insects.

I pass the saloon where I see a few figures drowning in the darkness. The oil lamps, indispensable to illuminate this den of humanity, have not yet been lit, signifying the reduced activity of the drinking establishment. Precious things like good bottles were placed under the thick workbench of the bar. Safe from a possible stray bullet. In these remote lands, good alcohol is more important to many than a man's life. For the same reasons, the girls of the school remained sheltered in their rooms upstairs. In these places, they are an even more precious source of intoxication than good alcohol. Their absence contributes to emptying the place of life as much as the event that is about to take place.

Lurking in the shadows, a sharp grey gaze floats above a half-empty glass. I can read an obvious message into it. He doesn't want to miss the show.


A little further on, I reach the troughs where a doubtful, brackish water is usually used as a refreshment for the horses. However, no equine is using it this morning. Like the girls in the saloon and the good spirits, the mounts were sheltered in the alleys. And for the same reasons.

More generally, behind the thick wooden planks that act as closed shutters, small noises can sometimes be heard. Probably accidental, perhaps due to the clumsiness of the few young children who live behind the walls. Probably yes, because at that moment, no one wants to draw attention to his home.


Far from the clichés that would be conveyed a hundred years later in western films, this era was not only made by drunks or trigger-happy brutes. A majority of settlers here are trying to build a life, a future. It's a hard life where drought can lead to starvation or death, sanitary conditions decimate a city in a matter of weeks as a result of infections or an epidemic. A life where violence is omnipresent, lying in ambush at every second, as in any nascent civilization. There is no police force here, and the only rights you can assert are those you can defend, either alone or with your allies. Order hangs by a thread. And in the end, this thread has only the thickness of the respect or fear that you inspire in those you meet.

This is the reason that guides my steps at the end of this morning.


I arrive at the central square of the village.

Around my hips, I feel the loose and deceptively reassuring grip of the belt that carries my colt. On the left, a small church made of roughly hewn planks, like all the other buildings in the town. At the top of it is a mechanical clock that a pious and charitable soul winds up twice a day so that passers-by who are interested in the passage of time can know the exact time assigned to a moment in their lives. The hands indicate eleven o'clock.


In front of me, the man is there.

At this appointed hour.

The anger oiled by the alcohol of the previous day left his gaze, now sober and clear. We both slowly unhooked our jackets, hands ready to grasp each other's weapons. In his eyes I can read as surely as in myself that he regrets this idiotic quarrel and its consequences. He wasn't a bully, just a lonely man who had had too much to drink and got carried away by his pride. But regrets are no match in this day and age when your honor is your only wealth, the pillar of your survival. There will be no turning back. Every one of us knows this. And one of our precious lives will soon have to give way to the other.


I look into hers.

There's respect between us now, there's fear. But also courage. We are ready to sell off our most precious asset, our life, in the name of an abstract concept. That's what makes us human. This ability to erect conceptual madness into tangible, inescapable and inevitable reality. No other animal on earth would go so far as to kill for a sideways glance exchanged for a few seconds.


I'm more than a bad shooter. And the man in front of me has a reputation for aiming right when hunting.

Un peu plus loin, j’atteins les abreuvoirs où une eau douteuse, saumâtre, sert habituellement de rafraîchissement aux chevaux. Cependant, aucun équidé n’en fait usage ce matin. Comme les filles du saloon et les bons alcools, les montures ont été mises à l’abri dans les ruelles. Et pour les mêmes raisons.

In the last few seconds of this life, I analyze the stale air that my lungs can still breathe with difficulty. In my memory, I compare it to that artificially purified air that I will breathe one day, in another life I have not yet lived, a few centuries away, in the air-conditioned room of a spaceship taking me to another planet. I also feel nostalgic for that other life, millions of years ago, when my paws guided me through lush, flamboyant vegetation, in the shade of titanic creatures. In every second, I see and relive the infinity of lives that have been, are, and will be mine from the dawn of the universe until its collapse.


The bullet left my opponent's revolver.

I didn't even have time to point the barrel of mine at him. It's better that way. I have never taken pleasure in taking life. In this last second that will seal the fate and the last chapter of this existence, I am serene, because I know that time is an illusion. That it is possible to remember the future as well as the past, but not to change the present. The history of the universe is already written and will never end. How could she? Since it never started...

You don't understand? I don't care. Just know this. Even if you live in the illusion of the passage of time and your consciousness, life transcends them. And that's where I exist. Sheltered from time and space.

Like an on-board passenger.

Drunk on an infinite spectacle.


Seth Messenger, finished at Poissy on the tenth of October, two thousand and twenty at noon.