Bride’s Road (published in The Dark Frontier 2020)

The Bride’s Road

By Hawk and Young

Report and inquiry from Terran Custodian:

Subjects moving to fiftieth generation of inbreeding.

Feudal hierarchy-based ability to breed shows no signs of improving. Requesting permission to cure medical condition among males to enhance diversity, and guarantee crop survival.

Response of inquiry:

Records show Terrans have survived with 20 females and two males through past crop purges. 

Standards and regulations have clear parameters regarding interference.

436:1 reads – No medical treatment can be given to a subject if even one member of the crop possesses that standard of medicine (knowledge). Therefore, since one group of Terran subjects possesses a solution to the breeding problem, Custodians are not allowed to administer treatment.

A bald-faced renegade steer nearly made it to the safety of the underbrush when Billy Jack’s old lasso drew tight around its neck. Billy’s mare squatted her hind end, and the girth and saddle leather were put to the test as the steer flipped backwards. Before the steer could regain his hooves, Billy Jack’s old mare was dragging him back to the herd.

“Good toss, hoss! I thought he’s gone get away.” A lazy-eyed Cowey they called Whiskey Dan whooped.

Billy shook off the compliment, tucked his billowing afro back in his hat, and drug the steer.

An egg-shaped robot as large as a barrel of whiskey, called a Custodian, flew up next to the cowboy, not even spooking his horse, and quickly scanned the roper. It found no injury and flew off. The Coweys were so used to the Custodians that nobody ever paid them any mind. They had been there all Billy Jack’s life. The Preacher said they were Watchers sent by God after the great ‘pocolips. They would render medical aid and sometimes enforce the Great Law. The Great Law was that no man could harm another man by using an object on him. Coweys and the city gang, the Macys could fist fight, but if one of them used a weapon, the Custodians would make sky sparks that burned the attacker like a sausage on a campfire. They’d be dead as winter grass. He’d only seen it happen once, with an old Big Macy and his own Pa. Preacher said it had to happen every so often so’s the youngen’s could bear witness to the Lord’s power.

A third Cowey, a mid-thirties man named Culky Bainbridge said, “Let’s get these beeves in that arroyo a’fore supper. I ain’t et since lunch yusterdee.”

Billy knew why Culky hadn’t eaten. It showed in his weathered, sunburnt face, and in the way he kept looking to the Bride’s Road for Sheila Jean to come riding through. Billy reckoned she would look a mess with her long hair something like a rat’s nest and her makeup smeared six ways to summer. She’d walk like she just broke a spring colt, and there wouldn’t be enough of her dress left to cover her love-bit teats. Unlike the New Moon Brides, Sheila wasn’t trying to pay a debt for the Big Macy’s seed; she already had three kids by him. Culky had once said in a crying fit that took him, “She ain’t no bad woman, she just got needs. She ‘ill hold long as she can, then it just takes her. She really is a good woman.”

Billy had to spit the taste of bile out of his mouth, as his stomach heaved with the thought of his own sweet Lucinda on her eventual trip down the Bride’s Road come next New Moon. His chest burned like a heart-a-stop and his stomach threatened to bounce up his cracklin’ pork breakfast as his mind made an image of her naked, sun-kissed skin lying under the huge, muscled frame of the Big Macy. He had seen studs breed mares, and he knew some were gentle as a baby. He also knew some studs were as abusive as they were stout. The Big Macy was the rough kind. The brides who came back after their first breed were as likely to have a black eye and a busted cheek as they were to have a littlen in the oven.

The angry scar on Billy Jack’s cheekbone was a firsthand witness to the Big Macy’s power. The rangy cowhand knew there must have been a secret to the Big Macy’s magic. Granted, the only thing he or anyone that lived in Tumbledown Town knew about breeding they learned from the livestock, or Sheila Jean. She was the only woman who would talk about what happened at the end of the Bride’s Road, and talk she did. He remembered when he was just a little kid with his first pony helping his ma carry washing clothes to the creek, and Sheila had come back from her first breeding. She was going on and on to the other girls about how her body felt like it was being stretched apart, but she never wanted it to stop. She hoped she didn’t take so she could go back. If she didn’t turn up pregnant, she could go back next new moon. Culky’s face was as red as a ‘Gittle’ bird ‘cause she was saying all this just in his earshot. He just loaded up the wash with his head down. His ma finally put a stop to it, telling her to hush up ‘cause she was scaring the little ‘uns.

The Big Macy who bred Billy Jack’s mother wasn’t the current leader of the Macy Rex gang. The gang was made of its leader, the Big Macy, and about ten to fifteen thugs that were all waiting their chance to become the head honcho. They did very little besides patrol the area around the building they lived in. It was a fortified old block structure at the edge of a burned out metropolis. An old sign with some letters missing read -Macy RX above it.

Every so often, Tumbledown Town had to send five girls to them. Once they were worn out and worked to near death they would send them back for fresh ones. The gang kept about eight women who cooked, slaughtered livestock, and tended to the Macy’s beck and call. The Little Macys congregated at a building called the Gold G. Sheila said they mostly exercised by lifting heavy steel discs. The smallest Little Macy was still very muscled but nowhere near the leader’s size.

When Billy was about six, the old Big Macy, Macy Red, rode into town with two near-worked-to-death girls and demanded replacements. When nobody stepped forward, he grabbed Billy’s mother, who was a real beauty in her day with her ebony skin and green eyes, and snatched her up across his saddle. He turned to ride out with a handful of Little Macys behind him, but Billy’s dad blocked the road.

“Put her down. She ain’t ever gonna be yours again.”

The man was a skinny little gnat compared to the giant they called Macy Red. No one knew exactly how the Macy magic worked, but once a Little Macy was promoted, in about six months time they would put on around a hundred pounds of muscle. Sheila said the magic was something called “Anna ball licks.” He wasn’t sure who Anna was, but her life sounded far worse than a Cowey’s.

“I’m gonna count to three and if’n you ain’t out my way, I’m gonna beat you to death in front of your family. One!” Macy Red threatened.

He never got to two. The skinny, hook-nosed man’s leather cattle whip sailed through the air and split the brute’s neck like a razor. He dropped Billy’s blood soaked mom and grabbed at his gushing throat like he was trying to button up a shirt. He was dead in seconds. Almost as fast, the Custodians, who were always hovering, watching just at the edge, shot sky sparks that disintegrated Billy’s dad. 

Billy was brought back out of his recollections by a new voice.

“You ought not be so rough to that steer, neither one of ya’ll’s pecker works. Ya’ll are almost like brothers,” called a thug named Ike, who had rode up on them unnoticed in the commotion.

“Easy Macy, we’re just Coweys trying to get our herd in. We ain’t looking for trouble,” Culky said.

Whiskey Dan caught Billy’s eye and shot him a raised eyebrow that said a fight wasn’t all bad.

Billy flipped the rope off the steer to let him run back into the herd, spit a black wad of chew out of his mouth towards the bully, and said, “Don’t pay him no mind, Culky. He don’t want no trouble either. One Macy and three Coweys. He’s as scared as these cows.”

“Who said I was alone?” The bullying Macy they called Ike, waved a hand and two more toughs came out from behind a stand of scrub brush.

Ike rode a mighty steel gray stallion that Billy remembered having to send as part of the gang’s yearly tribute a few summers back. He sure hated sending such a fine horse to hands that couldn’t hardly ride, at least by any Cowey’s standard. Any kid from Tumbledown Town could have told Ike his feet were too far back, his weight was too far forward, and he had too much slack in his reins.

Billy goaded him, “Culky, they always want to point out there ain’t a working pecker in Tumbledown Town, but there it’n but one working pecker at the Rex, and it ain’t Ike’s.”

“This pecker ‘ill be hard as that head of yours when I become the big cat in our outfit.”

Billy let out a laugh so hard that it spooked Ike’s stallion a little. The Cowey thought, The colt’s still skittish, that’s why we used to call him ‘Fraidy Cat.

“You’ll never be the big man. ‘Afore that happens, Sheila will become the preacher, Dan here will start liking women, and my prick will get so hard a Custodian will kill me for usin’ a weapon.”

Whiskey Dan didn’t take offense, instead let out a laugh ‘cause the big-bearded, lazy-eyed Cowey was known for his peculiar fondness for men.

With eyes narrowed and teeth gritted, Ike said, “Ya’ll won’t be here to see it.”

The two muscled toughs behind him dismounted for the fight, but before Ike could dismount, Billy slung his arm out, unfurling the deadly twelve-foot leather whip. Every muscle in the Cowey’s dark-skinned arm was tight as a saddle girth.

Two Custodians flew to the edge of the action.

“You’d never hit me with that. You ain’t as dumb as your pa was.”

“I ain’t gotta hit you. Sorry, ‘Fraidy Cat.”

With that he swung the big whip just inches from the fractious stallion’s face, and cracked it louder than a sky spark. The big horse reared straight up, and a second crack sent the terrified creature over backwards and running for his life. 

When the dust cleared, Ike was squalling like a hill cat. One of his legs was bent completely backwards, and a bone was poking through his jeans.

“See Ike, that whip never touched anything, it was just like you, making noise.”

The two Custodians flew over and went to work resetting and casting the ruined leg.

Ike yelled to the toughs who were already mounting up, “Where are ya’ll going? Get ‘em!”

Billy coolly replied, “When the big man dies and ya’ll fight to see who’s next, remember bigmouth’s bum leg. It won’t hold up in a hard scrap.”

As the Custodians were spraying the plasteel cast on Ike’s leg, he spat, “The Macy is gonna take that little lady of yours for his own.”

“He can’t do that. The rules say he can’t take a bride for his own.”

“No, but he can have any widow he wants. He said he’s going to beat your skull in on your wedding day. He’s tired of playing with you.”

Off in the distance a spotted night stalker let out a bone chilling squall, and Billy smiled, “You better get moving. That sounds like a big cat. You got a long way to limp ‘fore dark.”

“You can’t just leave me here to die.”

“Oh, I can. You came here to kill me.”

“We weren’t gonna kill you. We were just funning.”

“How funny is it gonna be when that spotted cat comes down and tears your arms off real slow. She ain’t gonna try to kill you straight off. This time of year she’s got young ones. She’s gonna hurt you real bad and let them kittens practice on killing ya. Might take em’ all night.”

“Please don’t.”

“I tell you what, you tell me how the big man’s magic works. How does he get so big, and how does he get the lead in his pencil? Ya’ll live in the same damn building, you gotta know. Tell me that and I’ll put you up on my horse and lead you to the Rex.”

The Cowey thought he had him good and scared, close to cracking, but Ike wouldn’t say another word. He just awkwardly got to his feet, tested the cast, and limped down the Bride’s Road.

The Coweys finished herding the cows into the arroyo and Billy Jack, who had been in deep thought through the whole drive, pulled off his boots and tucked them in his saddle bags.

“I’m gonna run back to Tumbledown. If what Ike says is true, I’m gonna need to be lean and fast. The bride’s moon will be here in three days.”

Billy unsaddled his horse, slung the saddle over his back, adding thirty pounds to his lanky frame.

“Ya’ll go on without me; I ain’t leaving the herd alone with that big cat out there.” Culky called out. They knew Culky was staying to watch for Sheila riding home down the Bride’s Road.

Transmission to Terran Custodians:

Interplanetary mainframe calculates a high probability of crop loss. The crop is highly likely to create a disruption that will upset the delicate balance between the ‘Macy’ and ‘Cowey’ factions, ending in sectarian violence.

Response from Terran Custodian:

Do we have permission to intercede, facilitating prevention of crop loss?

Transmission to Terran Custodian:

You have been warned previously for interference. Although central oversight could locate no evidence of rule violation, central mainframe calculates a 99.978 percentage of likelihood of Custodial tampering. Any other infractions will result in a complete data wipe, and replacement of Terran Custodians.

Billy Jack loved to run. The feeling of pushing his body to the limits took his mind away from the consuming problems in his life. He worked his tail to the bone and owned the finest herd in Tumbledown. He went to church every Jeday, and could read and do sums. Where was the Preacher’s God when he needed him? Obviously, the Watchers were seeing everything.

There was one time that really made him wonder about the Custodians. 

The only books in Tumbledown Town belonged to the church. There were only four, and they all dealt with religion, but his ma’s ma had told him there was a place just past the Rex in the metropolis called Jack’s Son, that was filled with more books than a man could read durn near his whole life.

Ma called it the Lil’ Berry. She said there were a woman’s name out front and Billy memorized it for when he got big. Her name was Eudora, and the Lil’ Berry was dedicated to her.

He was sixteen years old when he asked Lucinda’s pa if he could court her. It had been a long three years.

Thinking of their first courting made him laugh because it reminded him of a conversation he had with Whiskey Dan.

“If’n you kill the Big Macy and become the hard dick round here, you reckon you could teach me the magic?”

“Why would you need it? You ain’t looked twice at no woman. Ya ain’t haven’ no kids.”

The lazy-eyed bearded cowboy blew raspberries at Billy and said, “Just ‘cause I ain’t havin’ no youngens don’t mean I on’t want to be with somebody for real, like a man and a woman. Sex ain’t just to make babies, look at Sheila.”

Billy laughed and told him he weren’t right.

“Hell, there is bound to be one of those muscled up Little Macys what would love to have a big, hairy Cowey to treat em right.” Dan said wistfully.

“Dan, I on’t reckon I seen none of those boys that looked like they had sweet feet.”

Dan smiled and said, “I wouldn’t be sure, that good looking Ike looks like he might have a little sugar in his shoes.”

“Oh Lord, anybody but him.”

“I on’t know, I got a thing for the cocky ones.”

“You’re terrible Dan.”

“I try my best.”

A spotted nightstalker let out a cry in the distance and the runner’s hair stood up.

Whiskey Dan, following behind on a horse and leading Billy’s mount at a brisk trot, said, “Seems like they are moving closer every year. Wasn’t but a few years back nobody had ever seen one.”

First time Billy had ever seen one, was also the first time he had ever been to the dead city of Jack’s Son.

He took the Bride’s Road south making a wide berth around the Macy Rex, and it took him most of the night to reach the once bustling necropolis. He couldn’t ride his horse inside the city because the ghost town’s only inhabitants were the descendants of the former attractions of the state zoo.

The only thing he knew about the place was what he had learned from Sheila. She had never been there, but the Big Macy had sent his cronies there many times. She said they were looking for buildings that said Rex on the outside.

According to the Macys there were two types of big cats that roamed the city. The sheep-necks were the most common, and they had a strong smell of cat urine that acted like a warning when a group of them was near. They were huge cats half the size of a horse, with razor-sharp claws.

The other cat was the spotted nightstalker. One had killed a Macy with one swipe, and they never saw it coming. It was a solitary killer that hunted alone. The only warning was from the tree monks who lived in the canopies of the massive trees weaving in and around the myriad of dilapidated structures. The monks were everywhere; the place was lousy with them.

Billy spent what was left of the first night sleeping inside a locked closet of what he figured must have been a boarding house. He knew there were dangerous predators, but he felt confident that he could scare anything that came after him with his twelve foot whip, if he saw them first.

This was a dangerous trip, but he had a dangerous plan. He was going to marry Lucinda, but he was not going to let her carry the Big Macy’s child. Even though all the males in the world were impotent except for the leader of the gang, he was going to find a way. He was going to fight the leader for his magic.

The Big Macy was around three hands taller, and pure muscle. Yet he had seen banty roosters kill big cocks three times their size, ‘cause they knew how to fight.

He was going to learn how to fight, and for that to happen, he was going to the Lil’ Berry. There had to be a book like the Preacher’s ‘cept ‘bout fighting. The Preacher said before the ‘pocolips that wicked people used to put people in cages and make them fight. They would gamble on it. There must have been a book about it.

Out of the corner of his eye he caught the first glimpse of a Custodian he had seen since passing the Rex. He knew that sometimes they would fly so high that they weren’t visible, but this one was definitely observing him.

He remembered his ma telling him that the Lil’ Berry was on a place called North Street. It had taken all morning but he had found a concrete building that had North Street carved into both sides, so he must have been on the right road. Several times he had smelled the cat piss scent of a sheep-neck and held his whip at the ready, but there had been no other signs.

As the day drug on he sipped from his canteen and started feeling nauseous and fatigued. He finally got a little dizzy and when he went to one knee, blood poured from his nose. That was when the Custodian who scanned him and sprayed a solution in his nose did something peculiar. It blocked his path. He tried to go around and it kept blocking his path. He had seen this exact floating robot before, because one of its rivets had rusted making a stain on its carapace.

“Look here, Rusty, you need to get the hell out of my way. I’m going to find Eudora’s Lil’ Berry if I have to die doing it.”

Then the robot did something he had never even heard of: it answered him.

“You are in a highly radioactive area. You have less than two hours before exposure will be deadly.”

“I don’t care; I’m finding that Lil’ Berry.”

Then it spoke again, “The Eudora Welty Public Library is not in this direction.”

“Then where is it?”

The floating robot did not respond immediately, instead it paused like it was having a private conversation before answering, “I am not allowed to render you aid for anything that is not life threatening.”

Before he could walk away, a telescoping arm extended like a finger and beckoned him to follow as it floated back down North Street. He followed briskly on weak legs trying not to vomit till the radiation weakened. At the point of his near exhaustion the robot stopped, and Billy fell to his knees and puked. When the gagging subsided, he raised his head and saw through tear-filled eyes: Eudora Welty Public Library.

“Damnit, Rusty we made it!” 

The building was tall, four or five stories, and ringed by trees whose canopies brushed against and even out-distanced the roof. The tallest story had massive windows inset into each side.

Billy walked into the library and barely closed himself into a closet before darkness took him.

He awoke twenty hours later with a raw throat, bloodshot eyes, and aches in places he didn’t know he had. He pulled himself from the closet and drank from one of his canteens. He had to be careful with his water, because the water near Jack’s Son was filled with huge trap-jaws. They were murderous creatures that would eat man and horse both. If they didn’t get you, the river cows would. They were three times the size of a horse and had four massive tusks the size of a man’s arm.

He started in on the barrage of books in the Lil’ Berry, but the problem was that he hardly knew what any of the words meant. If there had only been a book that said what words meant, his path would have been easier. Alas, no book existed so he had to do it the hard way.

On the third night, dangerously low on water and almost out of the jerky in his backpack, he ventured to the fifth floor of the Lil’Berry. He had been hoping to find a fighting book on the first four floors because he had heard noises upstairs that made him uneasy. He tried to convince himself that there were just big rats up there, but deep down inside he feared something more sinister.

He had always approached every problem like his pa had taught him: task, condition, and standard. The task was to find a book on fighting. The condition was given a dead city filled with predators and one rusty semi-helpful Custodian. The standard was to return home with a book that would help him defeat the Big Macy. Well, sometimes luck will save a man if his heart holds. 

The first book he opened on that dead quiet fifth floor was a fighting book about Kenpo Karate. Every book on that shelf was about fighting. He had so many books in minutes he had to leave some behind. On his way out the door he passed by a broken window and saw the most beautiful moon. Even though this was the highest point he had ever stood at, Billy Jack wasn’t scared of heights. He leaned out the window to get a better look at the rising blood moon when a spotted cat rose out of the darkness and leapt at him. The blow wasn’t true, but it wasn’t gentle either. The window, whose glass had long since been lost, was only a metal grate on a large hinge. The big cat cut through his clothing, leaving four long, bone-deep slashes in his ribs. The blow tumbled him out the window and he fell ten feet smashing on a ledge one story below. His body gave momentum to the window and it slammed back shut. The big cat showed razor-sharp teeth from above through the impassable grate, hissing at the broken book borrower. Tree monks in the canopies of the massive trees were going crazy with alarms, and Rusty the robot just hovered next to the ledge uselessly scanning him.

“Thanks for the warning, you rusty cookpot.”

His body was banged up but nothing felt broken, and the bag full of books was still intact. As he started to get to his feet, still unnerved by the nightstalker’s threats from above, something touched his elbow and he almost fell off the narrow ledge on the fourth floor. There in the darkness, huddled on the ledge were three nearly-hairless kittens. They were skint up and as bad off as he was. They tried to huddle against him in the dark, whining for their mother above. He noticed one was missing a toe on his front pad, and another was missing an ear. It was hard to imagine that those sweet little things would become the death machine just ten feet above him. He deduced that they must have fallen from overhead and the mother couldn’t get to them.

“Well toeless, one-ear, and you, pretty-girl, are just gonna have to come down with me. No help from you, Rusty.”

He took off his jacket, making a bundle and slung all three crying kittens over his back. The mother was calling for his murder. He walked around the entire building on the narrow ledge and there was no way back in, not that he would go that way anyway, and no way down. He didn’t know if he was more annoyed by the tree monks howling, the killer cries from the nightstalker, or the damn Custodian just hovering there. He was out of options. He couldn’t climb back up. He couldn’t just sit on the ledge and die, and most of all he couldn’t jump four stories down to the rubble below. He had no other choice.

With a sweep of his arms, he jumped off the ledge onto the Custodian like he was mounting a wild bronc. The startled sentinel bucked and swooped with everything it had, but couldn’t shake the cunning Cowey. Rusty finally stopped and simply hovered in the air, and Billy figured he was about to be fried with sky sparks. The tamed tin can lowered him to the ground.

He opened his bundle to check on the kittens and fear paralyzed him as he raised his head and stared into the eyes of the angry nightstalker only a few feet away hissing from the darkness. The kittennapper’s hands trembled as he slowly placed his purring partners before their murderous mother. She snarled at him making his blood run cold, but instead of attacking she curled up and began nursing, while he slowly limped away.

Instead of following behind him, Rusty led the way through the necropolis, back to the field where Billy had left his horse. It took him awhile and a lot of whistling, but eventually it came trotting up.

That had been three years back, but it felt like a lifetime to the relentless runner. He had studied boxing, kenpo, and Taekwondo from his horde of books. He trained every night using a padded up Whiskey Dan as his sparring partner. Dan wasn’t as muscled as a Macy, but he was as big as a grizzly. The gang had tried to recruit him, but the allure of being a ladies’ man held no sway over Dan. Finally, Billy’s skills at martial arts had progressed to where he felt he could defeat the big Cowey almost at will, and he decided to act. One year into his training, he travelled the Bride’s Road and called out the Big Macy.

Billy Jack had oiled up his dark skin, to keep the monster from grabbing hold of him and shorn his wooly afro down to the scalp. The big man came out wearing nothing but his small clothes. Sheila, who had been a runaway for three days at the time, came out behind him, wearing nothing but a small shirt that came to her navel.

“I don’t appreciate, a wormy runt like you interrupting my humping.”

“I’m here to challenge you for your magic.”

The Macy’s laughter made Billy’s heart drop. Muscles that would have made full grown bulls jealous rippled.

“I accept your challenge for my authority. If he kills me boys, give him the stuff.”

Before the Macy could continue, Billy flew through the gap between them and landed a roundhouse kick on the side of the monster’s head that would have knocked down Whiskey Dan. However, he wasn’t fighting Whiskey Dan. The muscle-bound mauler caught Billy’s foot before it found the ground. He used the foot like the handle of an ax chopping wood. Billy flew through the air three times, each time crashing on the ground. He was broke and barely holding onto sight when his opponent stood over him.

“Come back when you need another beating.”

As if being swung like a child’s toy wasn’t enough, the victor stood over Billy and pulled out the first erect penis he had ever seen.

“This is as close to a hard prick that you’ll ever get.”

Oddly enough what Billy thought after seeing the angry blood engorged member was, Why are his balls so small? Those look like little kid balls.

That was the last thing Billy thought before he was kicked in the face and the big man split his cheek like it was an old shirt.

Big Macy grabbed Sheila and finished with her in three mighty strokes from behind. She squealed like a pig as he hefted her, both hands crushing her ribs as she rode out his success.

“Get outta here, you washed up heffer! I’m done with you.” He sent her back down the road clad only in her small shirt. Whiskey Dan tried to give her his shirt to cover with, but she just held up her head and walked.

The worst part of his first defeat came three days later on Jeday. The Preacher sentenced the Cowey to the punch post. That was a harsh punishment where the convicted was tied to a post and every person leaving the church was required to punch him. The Macys were part of the way the world was designed. He would be punished for going against the will of the Almighty Creator. He held on through about fifty people till it was Dan’s turn.

“Sorry BJ, but if I go soft on you, Preach will make me hit you again.”

Dan’s mighty right knocked him unconscious and the Preacher declared the punishment paid in full.

The jogger came out of his recollections and looked up at his bearded buddy with a great appreciation for their friendship.

“Bad news BJ; ain’t gone be no training tonight.”

Billy saw what had changed their plans. On the porch of the Cowey’s farm house was the lovely bride-to-be setting out pies to cool.

Billy’s heart sank, but Dan reassured him, “You been training for three years, if you can’t do it now, three more days ain’t gone make a bit difference. Please, she made pies!”

Lucinda stood on the porch in her sundress and bonnet. She was such a contrast to her young beau.

Where he was without an ounce of fat on his lanky frame, she was as plump as a harvest calf. Her skin was a whiter shade than a fish hook moon, and Billy’s was a moonless midnight. 

He ran up on the porch and had to bend over to brush back the corn silk hair of his betrothed. Caught up in his embrace she wrapped her thick stubby fingers around his sweaty back.

She pulled back and said, “Oh my! Gee, you are filthy. You better get to the crick and bathe before you sit at my table.”

In confusion he asked, “Your table?”

“Billy Jack Hawkins, you spend too much time with them cows. The next three days is our briden’ days.”

He still looked confused until Dan said, “Hoss, it’s where ya’ll live together afore her trip up the road. Her family prolly moved all her stuff in ‘bout daylight.”

“Thank you Dan for educatin’ this heathen for me. Please, let me pay you back with the supper I been cookin’ all day. Of course your gone have to hit the crick too. Ain’t muddying up the house I spent all day cleaning.”

Dan rinsed the stinging lye soap out of his beard, and asked his friend, “B.J. you sure this is what you’s lookin’ fur?”

With a smile that made his bright white teeth glow, Billy answered, “More than anything else in the world.”

“Well just in case it on’t work out like we’s praying, there’s other ways a man can please his wife.”

“Now Dan, you old hugger,” (hugger was slang for homosexual), “what you know about pleasin’ women?”

“Now first off, ain’t no man ever called me no hugger to my face without gettin’ an ass whoopin’, but since it’s your briden’ days, I’m a let you make it. Second, I know that I on’t like whisker fish, cause I once et whisker fish. I mean that both as an example and the fact. So’s I’m saying if you on’t win this last fight. It on’t mean ya can’t still have a damn fine life with that plump pie cooker.”

“You know as damn well as I do that if Jeday don’t end with my dick as stiff as a corpse, I’ll be a stiff corpse. I fought him twice, but it wernt at nothing like what it’s gone to be. No Dan, it’s all or nothing,” Billy lamented.

Before Dan could finish his last attempt to dissuade him, Lucinda showed up at the creek with washed and pressed clothes for her betrothed and his dinner guest.

“Dan, I found these in the guest room. I reckoned they must have been yours, so I washed ‘em.”

The Coweys dressed and had the finest meal they had ever eaten before Dan went home.

The only naked woman Billy had ever seen besides his ma was Sheila. Sheila wasn’t a bad looking woman, but there wasn’t anything about her that made Billy’s heart skip a beat like the first sight of Lucinda standing in that doorway wearing what she came into the world in. Unlike most girls who had some extra weight, Lucinda had small, undeveloped breasts. Her dewy white skin muffin-topped over her hips, but her legs set him on fire. The curves of her thighs and legs did something to his innards that made him want to eat the flesh off of her bones. She lay back on his moss-stuffed mattress and was lost in caresses that rosied her milk-white cheeks. When he lowered his head down to her tiny vee of corn silk curls, her hands held his curly afro like a Cowey gripping a saddle horn. He felt in her final twitches and bucks of release, that she was willing to forgo any torment at the end of the Bride’s Road for her man.

Report and inquiry from Terran Custodian:

Tension between feudal factions of the current crop are becoming increasingly volatile. The events of the custodial enforcement of the weapons ban may lead to total crop loss. Requesting permission to intervene.

Response to Custodian:

Galactic Mainframe predicts that it is a 70% likelihood the current crop is at an evolutionary junction. They will either elevate the basis of their society to a greater societal norm, or fail.

There will be no intervention.

Billy was up before daylight with his horse fed and saddled when Dan rode up.

“So how was your first night of briden’?”

Billy sashayed over to the Cowey like he was walking on cotton, and said in a quiet voice, “Lemme just say, I knew before yesterday that I’d eat a mess of whisker fish, but I know now, I like the yella ones best.”

Dan pantomimed vomiting and then slapped him on the back with a guffaw.

They laughed and teased each other without a care in the world till they saw the buzzards. They cleared a ridge and saw their herds spread as far as they could see. There was no telling how many would be lost and scattered, but they spurred their horses into a dead run to investigate what the feathered undertakers were feasting on. The Coweys dismounted and ran into the high grass scattering the red-headed Gittle birds. Billy had seen Macy Red and his own pa die before his very eyes, but nothing could have prepared him for the sight of Sheila’s mangled, half eaten body. Her entrails were spread around the ground and her head was almost completely gone. Billy ran a dozen yards away and uncontrollably vomited up two helpings of biscuits with bacon and fried eggs.

Dan was an expert tracker who could read the spore surrounding the carnage like a bellicose bible.

“Was a pack of cats all over this place.”

Still hunched over with his eyes watering, Billy answered, “Must have been a bachelor pack of sheep-necks.”

Dan said, “Sorry buddy, but these twernt no sheep necks. They were nightstalkers.”

“Nightstalkers don’t travel in packs. How you know it ain’t young males?”

“I know cause I seen this three-toed track before. It’s the cats you saved, the ones that et my horse.”

He was referring to the second time the Cowey had challenged the Macy. Billy had studied Muay Thai and Capoeira, believing the loose style would give him the advantage of speed. The fight ended rather quickly, but that time Billy had broke the Big Macy’s nose and blacked an eye. The Big Macy almost crushed the Cowey’s ribcage. It took Billy two months to heal up enough to go to the punch post. When Dan helped the bloodied Billy back to where the horses were tied, three nightstalkers were eating Dan’s best horse. One of the adolescent cats charged and Dan fell on his back with Billy. The nightstalker showed its teeth, then took a leisurely swipe with a pad that was missing its front toe. Billy didn’t flinch as the paw made a small slit on his shoulder. Instead of attacking, it just went back to eating. Billy’s horse, tied nearby untouched, was out of its mind with fear.

Dan would never forget that missing-toed nightstalker if he lived to be a thousand.

 Billy, who had finally stopped dry heaving from the remains of Sheila, saw something just a few hands in front of him and said, “It wasn’t no cat that killed Sheila.”

“I’ll be damned if it weren’t no cat! I see the claw marks where they ate her.”

“They might have ate her, but Culky killed her. Come look.”

In the grass was the body of Culky, burned to a crisp by sky sparks clutching a bloody rock.

“I didn’t see any remnants of clothes in that mess. The Big Macy prolly made her walk back buck nekked, and Culky had finally had enough.”

The day of the ceremony was an overcast mess where the clouds wouldn’t make up their mind if they wanted to rain or just make the whole world depressed. The Preacher had pulled the grooms aside and explained to them how they shouldn’t be ashamed of handing their girls over to the Big Macy. It was how God had wanted things, or he would have had his Watchers stop it. Billy kept his right hand in a fist the whole time, spinning it in a counterclockwise motion. That little spin was the secret behind all of his dreams. He had been bested twice after training for over two years, but each time he had landed at least one blow. The only way for him to end it all was to win it in a single blow.

The last two books in his collection were Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do, and Dim Mak, the Art of the Chinese Death Touch. He had combined the powerful one-inch strike with the five finger death punch of Dim Mak. His prowess with the technique was amazing; he could punch through boards like paper. He could even split bricks and flat sandstones. He knew that was how it had to happen. The Preacher said that the Custodians were watching, but wasn’t it a Custodian who brought him to the Lil’ Berry? He knew it had to be the will of God.

After the ceremony, the grooms were the first to travel down the Bride’s Road to deliver the tithe; eight cows, three horses per bride. 

The brides traveled a couple miles back on their best tithe horses. According to tradition, they walked home. The husband was not permitted to come get them; they had to wait at home for their brides to return.

“You still reckoning on going through with this?” Dan pleaded, while the Macys were looking over the groom’s tithe.

Billy knew they would be impressed by his tithe because he had the finest herd in Tumbledown Town.

Finally, the Macys had taken his herd and there were six grooms left in line, with the brides just appearing over a ridge two miles back. There were ten Little Macys making demeaning comments, but they all quieted and parted when the statuesque shirtless Big Macy appeared. He walked straight to Billy Jack and said, “So, you finally gave up? It’ll all be over soon. Ya’ll go on home.”

The grooms turned to ride off; Billy didn’t budge.

The Macy added, “’Cept you Billy, you’ll walk on home. You walk home like a bride, leave that horse here.”

When Lucinda, in the distance, saw her lover step down she bolted her horse to a dead run, but she had too much ground to cover to stop anything.

The groom stepped back into the fluid stance of the Jeet Kune Do fighter. 

“I was hoping you’d choose this route,” the big man goaded.

The Big Macy charged in with a flurry of blows, but Billy’s sidekick to his hip bone jarred the brute and stood him up. That was the only chance he was ever gonna have. Like a cobra, the cunning Cowey slid inside, and with the prowess of a Shaolin master, with every fluid muscle of his body working in concert, he delivered the Chinese death strike. He felt the ribs crack as his fist turned counter-clockwise. For a split second, the Macy’s face was a mask of fear, but the second passed. The giant didn’t die. He hit the Cowey with a horrendous haymaker, and as Billy spun he spit out two front teeth. The monster was on him with his arm around his neck choking the life out of the bridegroom. The Little Macys were all screaming and cheering in the background, which was slowly fading into nothing. The little man fought with elbows and fingernails, but the iron grip of the Big Macy was unbreakable. The screams around him had grown to a fevered frenzy as his life and energy faded. He remembered thinking that he had wasted his entire life only to die here, when the choking arm of his attacker just fell away. He had no time to judge the reason, as they both fell over backwards. Billy spun around and started beating the Macy with all the power his fists could manage. It only took a few seconds for air to rush into the Cowey’s lungs and his wits to return enough to survey the surroundings.

The Macy’s arm had fallen away because it had been severed at his shoulder. The cries of the Little Macys weren’t cheers for their leader, they were screams of horror. Three adult spotted nightstalkers had leapt into the crowd and were laying waste to the Macys. The scene looked like a slaughter house with body parts everywhere and the big cats still mauling Macys. He saw all the cats turn toward Lucinda as she rode up with Whiskey Dan jumping in between her and the cats.

Billy yelled at the top of his lungs and all three cats, covered in gore, snarling and vicious, turned towards him.

Well I won. I killed the Big Macy. Now I’ll die at the claws of the cats I saved. He thought to himself. 

The biggest of the three was the one-eared male and he jumped with full claws right onto Billy. His paws connected with the Cowey’s shoulder and he was prepared to die, but the cat just licked his bruised face. In the next few moments, all three killers were around his feet purring like housecats.

There were two Macys left alive, despite the Custodians who were trying to render aid. Ike had used the cast on his leg as a shield and fought off the majority of the attacks, but he was still in no shape to challenge Billy Jack. The other Macy was sobbing like a child deep in shock, crying for his mother.

The last words the Big Macy said were, “He did it. Give him the pills.”

“What are pills?” Billy asked.

Ike limped inside and Billy motioned Dan to follow him.

When they came back out Ike spilled all the gang’s secrets. He brought three big bottles of little blue pills. He told them that they were the secret to the Macy’s magic. The building they lived in was really called a Pharmacy Rx, but the other letters had fallen off long ago. The Macy sent them out looking for other buildings all over the land with the same writing. They believed that they had raided every single one within a ten day’s ride. The pills he handed over were the last. There were a couple hundred, but when they were gone that would be the end of the human race. He also handed over another bottle that said ‘anabolic steroids’ on the side, and explained this was how the Macy grew so big.

On the ride back to Tumbledown Town, Billy threw the anabolics in the river, believing no man needed that type of power. He poured a handful of blue pills in his pocket and gave some to Whiskey Dan. 

“Bring the rest to the Preacher and let him decide what to do with them.”

Dan raised an eyebrow and asked, “And what if he decided to become the Big Macy?”

“I’ll kill him, too.”

“Well, that’s easy. Where’re you going?”

“If the world is going to end at the end of that bottle, I’m planning on catching a whole mess of whisker fish first.”

Dan chortled, then turned to Ike, who had been riding silently behind them.“Where’re you going?”

“I figured y’all might need a Macy’s word to back up yer story?”

“And then after that?” Dan asked.

“I ain’t give it much thought.”

“Well I got room at my place.”

“You sure?”

Dan winked at Billy who smiled and they rode their separate ways.

A hovering Custodian with a long rust stripe down its torso sent a message.

Report from Terran Custodian:

Supply of reproductive aid has been distributed amongst the lower faction. Estimated time of depletion is one week.

Response to Terran report:

When last pill has been consumed, take medical action to correct reproductive problem. Current crop has exceeded expectations.

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