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April 30, 2013 by jamesessj

He came from out of the west. Of course a person from back east could circle the entire globe and come from out of the west. So, you never know.

He said his name was Spyglass. But those were the days when mothers gave their sons names like Buford, and Rufus, and Zebulon, so it wasn’t uncommon for a man to take a name other than the one he was born with. I myself knew a Footlong and two Horsehungs. And an Injun called Walks With Three Legs.

He drew a gun faster than any man I ever met — and not a sketch, either, but a full-on composition, with shading and cross-hatching and oodles of perspective. His likeness of a Remington would take your breath away, until his study of a Peacemaker gave it back. He was the fastest pencil in the West — until one day…one dark day…

Maybe it was night. I can’t remember. Just that it was dark.

*   *   *

Spyglass was working on a piece for Judge Haggard, a delicate portrait of him with his three daughters, each of ’em cradling their rifle of choice. Sally had a Sharps Model 1867, Lucy had a Winchester Model 1873, and Rosy had a Henry repeating rifle. Judge Haggard had taught them how to shoot as soon as their fingers could exert enough pressure on the trigger to make a gun fire, and every one of those girls could wing the eyelash off a gnat at two thousand yards. Or they said they could, anyway. How do you even begin to check something like that?

As I say, the rifles in the portrait were the most gorgeous things you ever saw, long and lovely and nuanced like an Englishman’s accent. But the sisters themselves? They were rendered with a distinct lack of…well, let’s just say if you drew three circles and put two dots in each of ’em for eyes, you’d have a more accurate representation of Judge Haggard’s daughters than how they looked on Spyglass’ canvas. The man couldn’t draw a human face to save his life — which in this case was what he was gonna have to do, because if Judge Haggard got one look at the deformed abominations that were passing for his daughters in that portrait, he’d have put a bounty on Spyglass’ head the size of Wyatt Earp’s ego.

I told Spyglass this, but he said, “Wilbur” — which was my real name, though I went by “Stilt” — “Wilbur,” he said, “Judge Haggard views the world through gunsights. On his horizon there sits a permanent metal rectangle. He won’t see anything in this portrait but the weaponry, you mark my words.”

Danged if Spyglass wasn’t right. The judge was so overcome with emotion when Spyglass unveiled the portrait that they had to lay down emergency sandbags around the courthouse, lest the judge’s tears cause serious damage. “It’s the most beautiful thing I ever saw!” he bawled.

What Spyglass hadn’t counted on, though, was that, fond as they were of their munitions, and taken as they were with the manner in which those munitions were depicted in Spyglass’ portrait, Sally, Lucy, and Rosy did not view the world as their father did, down the barrel of a gun…and when they saw the mangled wreckage that was meant to pass for their faces, they turned as one to Mr. Samuel Spyglass, fire — a forest fire, raging like a locomotive’s boiler — in their eyes. I felt for the man, I surely did — having three young ladies turn their indignant gaze upon you can’t be a pleasant occurrence, nor can, as shortly thereafter followed, being chased by those three young ladies from their home and pursued by them (and their rifles, which they paused to retrieve) toward and beyond the outskirts of town. They only stopped when Rosy broke a heel. But they swore they’d get Samuel Spyglass, if it was the last thing they did.

Judge Haggard couldn’t comprehend why they were so put out; he still couldn’t see anything in the portrait but the subtlety of Sally’s Sharps and the winsomeness of Lucy’s Winchester. His tear ducts had emptied out like a church house after the pastor says “Amen,” and now they were calling on his sweat glands for reinforcement. He looked like he’d just been pulled out of the river, and he smelled like maybe that river had been used by the townsfolk for more than just drinking.

“Daddy,” said the sisters — they had a bad habit of speaking in unison — “we’re gonna hunt down that varmint, and we’re gonna make him pay.”

“He owe you girls money or somethin’?” asked the judge.

“Pay for what he done to us,” they explained. “Just look at that picture!”

“I have been! Can’t take my eyes off it! Oughta be in a museum, it’s so purdy!”

“Daddy, that picture’s going into the trash pile and it’s gonna get incinerated. And then we’re gonna take the ashes and shoot them into space so there’s no chance they’ll ever reconstitute here on earth.”

“Shoot ’em into space? How you aim to ‘complish that?”

“Don’t know yet,” said the girls. “We may just throw ’em in the air and pretend they didn’t come down.”

“Well, I hate to be a naysayer, but I’m sayin’ nay. Ain’t no way in tarnation you girls are gonna destroy that picture. That there’s the loveliest thing I ever saw — and ain’t this world too short o’ lovely? So you ain’t destroyin’ it, and that’s that.”

Those were the judge’s final words, as all three girls shot him at the same time.

“Sorry, Daddy,” they said. “But that portrait is not bein’ seen in public. Over our dead bodies!”

“You mean…over mine…” said the judge, who hadn’t died quite yet. I was wrong about his previous final words, my mistake.

“No, we don’t mean over yours,” said the girls. “In order for that to be true, you’d have to have been arguing to keep it out of the public eye, and we’d have had to have shot you in order to make it public.”

“I’m…confused…” said the judge. “I’m the one who’s got the dead body…” He coughed up some blood. “Well,” he laughed, “dying, anyhow. Not dead just yet!”

The girls shot him again.

And then again, just to be sure.

And then again, because it was kind of fun.

Then they ran out of bullets.

*   *   *

Spyglass, meantime, had run until his feet wore out. Then he got on a horse and rode it till the horse’s feet wore out. Then he boarded a train and rode that till the track ran out. Then he got on a ship and…well, anyhow, by the time he’d stopped running, riding, sailing, and for a brief while flying, when the stagecoach he was on threw a wheel, he found himself on the shores of Madagascar.

“What the hell,” he said to himself, “am I doin’ in Madagascar?”

“You were tryin’ to escape from us,” said Sally, Lucy, and Rosy, stepping out from behind a rock.

“Oh, that’s right,” said Spyglass. “So what’s it gonna be, then? Pull out my fingernails? Scalp me? Tie me to four stakes with leather cords and wait till the sun dries ’em out and they tighten up and pull my limbs from my trunk?”

“Say, those are some pretty decent ideas,” said the girls. “But, no, what we got in mind is this. You think you’re such a hotshot drawer? Well, you’re gonna get the chance to prove it. We brung with us” — here they stepped aside, to reveal a short gentleman behind them, done up in ropes and padlocked for good measure — “a certain Mr. Benedictus Poltroon, whom you may or may not have heard of.”

“Oh, I heard of him,” said Spyglass. “’Fact I even saw him once, from a distance. Best penciler in the West, or so the rumor goes.”

Benedictus Poltroon — who hadn’t changed his name, but absolutely should have — said something, but it got lost, what with the bandana stuffed in his mouth.

“He says you’re the best penciler in the West,” said the girls, who had grown pretty skilled at translating Poltroon’s mutterings.

Spyglass spat out of a wad of tobacco juice. It landed on his own boot. “Dammit,” he said. “See here, trio, what’s this all about? You brung Poltroon here to engage me in some sort o’ competitional contest? Me versus him, a draw to the death?”

“You’re smarter than you look,” said the sisters. “But how could you not be?”

“And what if I choose to forego your twisted little game?”

“Then,” said the girls, “we start with your fingernails.”

“You speak a persuasive tongue,” said Spyglass. “What form will this competition take?”

“You both get twenty-four hours to draw we three girls — and our rifles — and our dear departed Daddy — on one eight-by-twelve canvas. That is to say, Mr. Spyglass, that you get to finish the job you shoulda done right the first time.”

“If I coulda finished it right, I woulda,” said Spyglass. “But I can’t draw a human face to save my — oh. I get it. I do have to draw a human face to save my life. Or at least my fingernails’ lives.”

“You’re catchin’ on,” smiled the sisters. “Your twenty-four hours starts now.”

They threw two canvases on the ground, and two sets of draftsman’s tools.

“Eight-by-twelve, you say? Hard to complete a canvas a tenth that size in twenty-four hours,” said Spyglass.

The girls were cutting Poltroon loose. “That’d matter,” they said, “if your opinion about anything mattered.”

Poltroon scrambled for the tools and immediately began holding up his thumb in front of the girls and closing his left eye and looking at them through his right.

“What are we, a landscape?” said the girls.

Poltroon shook his head quickly and took to drawing on the canvas.

“If this ain’t the stupidest thing that’s ever happened to me,” Spyglass said. “I gotta draw you three to keep myself from bein’ disenfingernailed?”

“You got it, genius,” said the sisters.

“Well, shit,” said Spyglass. “Never did like always havin’ to cut the damn things anyhow.”

He started away. The three girls took aim and blew the fingernail off his most useless finger, that being the left pinkie. Which I guess means they weren’t kidding about that gnat’s eyelash.

“Changed my mind,” said Spyglass, turning about and heading for the second set of tools. “You gals prefer face-front, or profile?”

*   *   *

Poltroon worked like the dickens over the next twenty-four hours. Oh, that’s why the day was dark — it was a day and a night. See? A story goes on long enough, it all comes clear.

Spyglass, on the other hand, worked like a sheepdog who’s facing retirement. He put pencil to canvas here and there, now and then, but he didn’t move it much, and when it came away what was left behind on the canvas didn’t resemble anything but a blind man’s signature. Poltroon’s canvas was filling up rapidly, and looking more and more like the Sistine Chapel — if the Lord was three sisters holding rifles — but Spyglass didn’t seem worried none. He just puttered and fussed at his canvas, like a big-city chef gettin’ the recipe just right.

As the day (and night) wore on, Sally, Lucy, and Rosy started glancing at him funny, as if to say, You know your fingernails are on the line here, don’t ya? And that’s just for a start…we’ll move up your arms bit by bit and then we’ll move down your torso and then things’ll really get interesting.

But Spyglass paid them no mind.

By the twenty-third hour, his canvas had taken on an amazing similarity to another canvas the girls had recently laid eyes on — namely, the canvas he’d prepared for their father, the one they’d so objected to, the reason they were all here in Madagascar in the first place.

Except this canvas didn’t have the three sisters’ faces. Just blank spaces atop their bodies.

Poltroon came over and took one look at it and broke down into giggling glee. “You serious, Spyglass? You ain’t even started on their faces! No way you’ll get that done in…” He checked his pocket watch. “Fourteen minutes!”

Spyglass shrugged. “Whatever,” he said.

Poltroon clapped his hands together, sure of victory. He didn’t even resume work on his canvas. All he had left were the finishing touches, and why bother with those, when Spyglass had three whole faces to complete in…let me check my pocket watch…thirteen minutes?

Sally, Lucy, Rosy, and Poltroon watched Spyglass all through those thirteen ticks of the minute hand, each one of them, to their minds, counting down to his ultimate doom and demise. Spyglass, though, behaved as if he was sipping a sarsaparilla on the front porch and enjoying the afternoon breeze. Not a care, not a worry, not a moment’s concern for his fingernails or any other part of his body.

“Time’s up!” the girls declared.

“Yay!” said Poltroon, clapping his hands together again. “I win!”

“Mr. Spyglass,” said the girls, examining his canvas, “you do not appear to have taken this competition as seriously as you ought to have, considering the stakes involved.”

“That so?” said Spyglass. He spat out another wad of chew. It hit his other boot. “Dammit,” he said. “When will I learn?”

“Oh, well,” said the sisters, “let’s break out the pliers.”

“Hang on a sec,” said Spyglass. “I didn’t quite finish the portrait.”

“You had twenty-four hours,” said the girls.

Spyglass ignored them. He bent over the canvas and his hand moved with alarming speed over the three blank spaces where the sisters’ heads were meant to be. He stood back. The three girls leaned in. Their faces were there, all right, but they looked exactly like they had in Spyglass’ first portrait — disfigured monstrosities that Ripley wouldn’t have displayed for fear of distressing his customers.

“What the f—?” cursed the girls.

“Way I figure it,” Spyglass said, “I did get it right the first time.”

He pulled out his pistol and shot Sally, Lucy, and Rosy Haggard each right in the forehead. The sisters fell as one to the ground, dead as doornails. Which aren’t any deader than any other inanimate object, but, it’s a saying.

Also, this might be the place to state that Spyglass was not only good with a pencil — he was also a fair hand with a gun. Possibly I should have told you that earlier. By way of further example, he spun his pistol around on one finger and dropped it back into its holster.

Poltroon screeched and fell to the ground himself, rolling up into a ball and begging Spyglass to spare his life.

“I got no truck with you,” Spyglass said to him. “You’re free to go.” He gave Poltroon’s canvas a once-over. “You are good,” he said. “Probably better than me. I doff my cap.” He doffed his hat.

Poltroon gradually un-balled himself and opened his eyes. Spyglass was nowhere to be seen. He’d disappeared. Poltroon was so overjoyed that he jumped to his feet and, in doing so, tripped and fell onto his drawing tools and was instantly killed.

Told ya he should have changed his name.

*   *   *

There’s lots of other stories about Spyglass. Some of ’em are even dumber than this one. And most of ’em are just about as long, which doesn’t help.

He came from out of the west. Good with a pencil, good with a gun. When someone said, “Draw!”, he’d get this confused look on his face. Which one did they mean, the pencil or the gun?

Some folks say he died in Tombstone. Others say he died in Deadwood. Still others say he never died at all, but lives on as a very, very old man in a nursing home somewheres. My personal opinion is, he did die, but came back as a vengeful spirit who steals the souls of the evil by drawing their portraits with a ghostly Ticonderoga #2.

I got no evidence for this whatsoever, mind.

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the author, if he lives that long

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