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Dead Man's Hand, Act I

A lipstick-red, six-cylinder bullet streaks through the Nevada desert. Wind rips through the driver’s hair as she dances in her seat, oblivious to the baleful sun. Her left hand beats the wheel like a drum; her gloved right hand sits lifelessly at her side. A needle on the dashboard climbs slowly into the red as steam begins to seep from the convertible’s hood.


A few miles down the road, she coasts into to the desiccated remains of a gas station. A pair of grease-coated apes are hassling a teenaged girl out front. She dodges their lecherous paws with little success. When the car pulls up, the girl stops to look and one of the brutes grabs her roughly around the waist.

The driver’s right hand clenches around the wheel. She slaps it with her left and mutters, “Settle down.” Then, to the apes, “The sign says ‘Full Service.’ Can one of you take a look at my engine?”

"Hell, I’ll take a look at whatever you got." The shorter of the two saunters over and pops the hood while the other one forces an oily kiss on the girl. "Yeah, that looks reeeeal expensive," the short one lies. "I hope you got somethin' worth tradin’."

She slips out of the driver's seat and walks around the car, keeping one eye on each of them. "I've got cash."

"Hmm... that's a problem, 'cuz we don't really take cash 'round here. Why don't you come inside and we'll work something out." His eyes slide up and down her, while his partner's hand slides up the girl's...

BANG!!! The driver's right hand slams the hood down with enough force to leave a five-fingered dent in the metal. The ape's eyes flash from lust to wrath. "Or maybe we'll just take you inside an' keep the car. You're way off the beaten path, sweetheart. You best mind yer manners."

Tension drains from the driver's body; a smile stretches across her face. "Don't call me 'sweetheart,’ asshole. Your boyfriend looks like the jealous..." He takes a swing at her, but her right hand blocks and backfists him in the temple. He staggers back. The letch leaps to his feet, drops the girl on the floor. "Guys, I'd just walk away if I were you. Violence against women really gets under his skin."

They grab a lug wrench and a claw hammer, respectively. She closes her eyes. The big one gestures I'll go high and swings at her head. The short one goes for her knees, but she blocks with a quick kick to the lug wrench and ducks under the hammer. Then, she kicks shorty in the nose and ducks again as the hammer comes back for another pass. She steps in and grabs the big guy's wrist with her left, then hooks her right around his neck and slams his head into the car. He bounces off the hood and falls to ground beside his boyfriend.

She opens her eyes to admire her handiwork. "Man, I am never getting tired of that."

The girl gasps in horror. "My god, your hand!" She looks down and sees her glove clutched in the big guy's fist, then her eyes focus on her hand. Shrunken, leathery flesh clings to it in tatters. Bits of bone show through at the knuckles, stark white against the brown scraps of skin. She turns to block the girl's view and hastily recovers the glove.

"Hey, is there anyone else around here who can fix my car?"

"Sure," the girl replies, her wits already about her. "I can. I'll just need a few parts from these undersexed wrench monkeys." She starts pulls items off the shelves and handing them to... "My name's Monica. What's yours?"



Her father is tall, especially for an Asian, and powerfully built. He looms over her like a mountain. "If you want me dead, you could just stab me through the heart!" He throws a pile of photographs on the bed beside her. Her face is splashed across every black and white sheet, talking and laughing with a young man at a bar.

"You had me followed?" She tries to sound shocked.

"Of course I did! Your harlotry is going to start a war!"

Ling gets to her feet and raises her voice. "Why? Because you'll loose face in front of the other thieves and murders? This family doesn't have any honor to..."

He strikes her across the mouth so hard that, for a moment, she thinks her neck has snapped. Blood drips onto her satin bed sheets. "I will not allow you to disgrace this family any longer. Pack a bag and get out! NOW!!!!"

He turns to leave like a passing storm. "And if I ever see you again, I will kill you myself."

Minutes later, Ling blows through a lavish sitting room. She stops suddenly and turns towards the far wall, to where an antique sword sits on a shelf. She walks towards it slowly, cautiously, as a look of grim resolution settles around her eyes. The blade slides out easily, almost as if it wants to be drawn. She puts the scabbard back on the shelf, turns towards the door, and...

Screams. Pain rips through her hand; flesh rots before her eyes. She panics, drops the sword. It hits the floor and explodes into dust.


The sitting room floor fades into the hard wood of a dusty motel room. Monica stands a few feet away, her limbs rigid and her eyes like dinner plates. “I… I didn’t know you were asleep.”

Ling looks down at her right hand. “How do you know I’m awake?”

Monica turns back towards the table behind her and discreetly closes the clasp on Ling’s backpack. “I like your name,” she offers. “What does it mean?”

“Hell if I know,” Ling replies, just a bit angrily. “What does yours mean?”

“I was named after the patron saint of disappointing children.”


An awkward silence engulfs the room. “Anyway…” the girl continues. “Gus is gonna give you the room for free.”

Ling expresses her disbelief first by lifting an inquisitive eyebrow, then by asking, “And why is he ‘gonna’ do that?”

“The same reason I’m ‘gonna’ fix your car.”

“Funny, I don’t remember saving his ass, among other body parts, from a couple of grab-happy hicks.”

The girl does not return Ling’s mischievous smirk. Instead, she fixes Ling with a gaze of such gravity that the moon wobbles in its orbit.

“We want you to kill someone.”

Ling’s right hand gropes for the pen on the nightstand while her left tries to wave the girls’ words away. “Whoa there, kid. You already owe me a favor and, besides, the going rate for a hitman is five G’s. I know it’s the only place in town, but there’s no way this room is worth five G’s. Plus, I don’t need the law on my ass, too.”

Undeterred, Monica approaches the bed like a rising tide. “He’s an evil man, way worse than Adam and Steve, and you kicked their asses with your eyes closed! This town has been under his thumb since before I was born. He hurts people, tortures them for fun. You helped me when I needed you, now the whole town needs you. Please?”

Unable to meet those eyes, Ling looks down at her hand and notices its scrawling for the first time. Beautiful, Chinese calligraphy now adorns the motel notepad next to the phone. RESCUE THEM. She snatches the pen away with her other hand and hurls it across the room.

“I didn’t save you back there, little girl. If those idiots had just agreed to fix my damn car, I’d have left them to their business and been long gone by now, but they attacked me. You understand? I don’t care what happens to you or this dirt hole town! Hell, I'd torture someone myself, if it would get my car fixed!"

The girl backs away as her will recedes. “Forget it. I’m sorry.” She turns towards the door. “I’ll go fix your car. Adam and Steve will come looking for the stuff I took. It’s a real small town, you know. Word spreads fast. In fact,” she reaches for the door,” the sheriff probably already knows where you…”

Monica is sent sprawling as two armed men burst through the door! The first turns left, using the door as a shield, while the other covers the center of the room. They move into flanking positions on either side of the bed and train their firearms on Ling.

“Good work, boys. Very professional.” A living cliché strides in, spurs jangling at the ends of his snake skin boots, eyes shadowed by the brim of his cowboy hat. The antiquated silver star on his chest removes all ambiguity: this is the Sheriff. Capital “S.”

“You must be the little lady who’s causin’ all the trouble.” He pulls the desk chair in front of the door and makes himself comfortable. “I’ve got two citizens sufferin’ through the doc’s ministrations right now, stitchin’ up injuries they say were caused by an out-of-towner. Unless we’ve had a two-hundred percent increase in tourism since this mornin’, I guess that’d be you.”

“Listen, I’m not looking for any…”

“Darlin'! You’ll know when I’m askin’ you a question, ‘cuz I’ll raise my inflection at the end of the sentence, ‘like this?’ It’s subtle, but listen close. I think you can get it. Just now, I was not askin' you a question; I was makin’ a statement of fact: You messed up two of my citizens and now I’ve got some law that needs enforcement. Got anything to say in your defense?

"See now, that one was a question.”

"Thanks” Ling replies mirthlessly. “When I pulled up to that garage, your 'citizens' were about to sexually assault this girl." She points to Monica, whose expression clearly indicates that she would rather remain overlooked. "Then, they attacked me and I was forced to defend myself.”

“See now, that ain’t the way I heard it. What I heard is you and the girl ambushed those boys and robbed their garage. Who am I supposed to believe? A girl like you, drivin’ a car like that this far off the interstate, with only a single bag in tow? Looks to me like you’re a runaway or a criminal, probably both. In either case, you’re not exactly a credible witness.”

He gestures to one of his goons, who produces a pair of handcuffs. The other tells her to face him and put her hands behind her head. She does. “Hell, I bet no one ever comes lookin’ for you at all,” continues the sheriff, “even if we keep you here forever.” They laugh and grin hungrily at each other.

Ling closes her eyes.

Just as the deputy reaches for her hand, Ling rolls backwards and catches his head between her ankles. His partner starts to squeeze his trigger, but Ling pulls the deputy forward and down, right into his sights. She flips the deputy over her and the bed; he crashes into his partner and they hit the floor together. Ling rolls to her feet and kicks their guns away before either can fire a shot.

The sheriff’s already in motion. He swings his chair towards Ling’s back, but she’s just too fast. Leaping sideways off the wall, she clears the incoming chair and plants a spin kick in his jaw. His hat flutters to the floor. The man roars like a beast and comes at her with wild hooks and haymaker swings. Ling’s body moves on its own, blocking some and dodging others, until he's driven her back into Monica's corner.

He feints towards the girl. Ling moves to defend her, but it creates just the opening the sheriff needs. He grabs Ling’s left wrist and twists her into an excruciating arm lock. “Come on, boys! Get your asses off the floor!” His henchmen lurch to their feet and move in for the kill. Squeezing her eyes shut against the pain, Ling doesn't even have to see them approach. As soon as the first one's within reach, she kicks her way up his chest, then rolls to the side and cracks her heel across the other's jaw!

When that heel comes down, it drives deep into the sheriff's foot, then hacks savagely at his shin. Instead of loosening his grip, he twists Ling's arm harder. She can hear her ligaments stretch, her joints pop. Her right hand snaps up and Eagle Claws his face. Bony fingertips dig into his eyes. Finally, Ling slips from his grasp. She sweeps his legs out from beneath him and sends him reeling into a full-length mirror.

One of the deputies crawls towards his gun. Ling rushes over and sweeps his load-bearing arm; he face-plants into the hardwood floor. The other one tramples the bed en route to _his_ firearm, but Ling segues into a spin kick that folds him over at the waist. He bounces off the mattress and flips off the bed for the second time. “Gah! Just stay down!”

“No piece of ass is worth this,” the sheriff mutters to himself, wiping streams of blood from his eyes. He draws and fires his revolver in a single, fluid motion. The bullet flies towards Ling, sighted right between her eyes. She flinches in anticipation, but a sword blade materializes right in the bullet's path! It ricochets off the delicate metal and crashes through the window, raining glass on the street below.

A stunned silence descends on the room as Ling cautiously opens one eye. The deputies trade witless stares. The sheriff looks down at his gun, then back to the sword in Ling’s right hand, then back down at the gun. “The fuck?” This time, the gun follows his gaze back up. The spaces between moments stretch into yawning chasms as the sheriff unloads his other five chambers. His goons scramble for their weapons while Ling's blade dances from one trajectory to the next. Bullets slam into the walls, floor and ceiling until the telltale click-click of ballistic impotence fills the room.

Time snaps back like a spring as Ling's sword twirls toward the henchmen. It slices through the first one's throat with spectral grace. His gun wobbles feebly and falls to the side. She pulls the sword in close as she pirouettes and ducks under the second deputy's first shot. The blade snaps out on the other side of the turn, runs parallel to his gun arm, and slides effortlessly between his ribs. Ling pauses at full extension, feels his last heartbeat echo through the steel. She opens her eyes and fixes the sheriff with a withering glare.

He runs for the door.

She's on him in an instant, yanking him back like a dog on a leash. Her foot presses into his knee and he sinks to the floor. His eyes climb up and see Ling's sword hovering high above, poised to separate his head from his shoulders...

"Wait!!! If you kill me, you're a dead woman."

"That's not how it looks from up here."

"You don't understand. I'm protected, um... protected by a brujo. A witch doctor. He'll send things after you, things far worse than you. He's got a wendigo that lives in the woods. It guards his cabin and he sends it after his enemies. It won't wait until your dead before it starts to eat you. No place will be safe; it can smell the blood in your veins. It'll gnaw on your bones and suck out the marrow!"

Ling lets him catch his breath. "A witch doctor, huh? Is he lying, Monica."

It takes the girl a minute to tear her eyes away from the deputies' twitching corpses. "Uh, no. I mean, he's not lying. It's all true."

"Is that who you want me to kill?"


"Lead the way."


You might want to be more specific. Okinawan or Vietnamese?
You don't go straight to Stereotypesville, but it's a danger with
the pulp territory.

Of course, this is coming from someone who has an Native American/
Indian character hanging from a fence in one of his stories,
so if you want to tell me to eff-off, I'd totally understand.

every wall collapses, given enough time.


He's Chinese, in point of fact. Would ..."for the Chinese..." sound better? I think his height would set him apart in any case.


Thanks, everybody :)

Good feedback all around. I should get another Chimera Mythos bit done before I do more Dead Man's Hand, but I think I'll jump right into Act II and leave the revisions for later, as no one thought it was dreadful ;)

Thanks, --Dan

kelson.philo's picture

Yes, this is quite fun! In

Yes, this is quite fun! In response to your questions, the only fuzzy bit i can see is at the garage scene, the slamming of the car hood seems a little foggy. Past that, i would say keep exclamation points for dialog and lose them in the narration. Your descriptions is good enough to convey the urgency without needing an extra point saying, "look! this is exciting!". That's a pretty minor detail, though, and it'll be a treat seeing what kind of scariness Ling has gotten herself into.


I think that the fight scene in the motel room was clearer than the one by the car. If you extended the action around the car into two paragraphs it would be easier to visualize. Also, if it was a little longer it would give Monica more reason to ask for Ling's help since she would have had more time to be impressed with her fighting skills.

I really liked the motel room scene, I could really visualize all the moves in my head, then again I love action movies!

Feedback requests...

I think the pacing needs to be padded a lot, probably through more Ling/Monica dialogue or a scene outside of Ling’s presence. Not sure. Anyway, the pacing seems too quick, but that’s neither here nor there.

What I’m really interested in is 1) whether or not the fight sequences are clearly described, and 2) if the supernatural elements grab your interest. (We can leave typographical errors and matters of style for a later draft.)

Thanks, --Dan


The pacing does seem kind of quick...However, it gives it a "pulp" action-western feel (which I like...quick and dirty action oriented entertainment), which could be cool for your 'digmNovel idea. Honestly, I've never been a fan of the ass-kicking heroine, but with the added mystery of the hand, I did take an interest in the character. Thats just personal preferences. It does have the feel of a screenplay treatment, alot of description, etc..which I think is what you were going for? Keep it up!