Ring of Bullets

I tightly gripped the barrel of my rifle as I settled down in the dirt and gazed over the ridge at the red desert sprawling before me. The landscape was a red and orange scene of mesas and plateaus, as if a god had taken a carving knife to the ground. The sunlight beat down relentlessly, hot and heavy on my back. A dusty road ran through the red cliffs, with intervals of shade where the rock walls blocked the sun.

I would have given my best gun to be in the shade, but Castro had ordered the crew to lay prone on the ridge atop the Mesa. It was the best ambush spot in the Drylands, he said. And if the stories about their quarry were true, they would need every advantage.

The Red Sun Sons were the best bounty hunters in the Drylands. It had been Castro’s idea—the gang and the name. The gang was an excellent idea, we were all rich and dangerous—everything a man could hope to be out in this waste. The name…well, an infant could have come up with a better one. Castro thought that the double meaning of son and sun was magnificently clever. It wasn’t.

Normally we took bounties alone and returned with the gold. If the target was especially dangerous, sometimes we would go tandem. Never before had any more than three of us been on one hunt together, but five of us lay atop the dusty mesas, our rifles trained on the road below us. Castro hadn’t even wanted the job, but Ray had forced the issue.

“We didn’t become the most feared hunters in the Drylands by shying away from the tough jobs,” he had argued, and he had been right. The Red Sun Sons had taken down some of the most notorious bandits and some of the most powerful lawmakers. As long as the gold was good, no prey was off limits for us.

If that was the case though, why did five of the most dangerous men in the Drylands demand a king’s ransom before taking this job? Why were our palms so slick with sweat, making it difficult to keep our rifles from slipping? It wasn’t greed, and it wasn’t the sun.

We had been in place for over an hour when he approached on his white horse, his wide-brimmed hat pulled low over his face and a short beige poncho draped over his shoulders. As he grew nearer, I could see a pistol on either hip, a rifle slung over his shoulder, and a long sword hanging from his saddle. His skin was deeply tanned, and he sported a scruffy black beard, and he was entirely underwhelming.

This was the man that had required five of our best to hunt?  The legendary Whiteshot, who was seven feet tall and impervious to bullets? The bandit who had single-handedly created ghost towns?  I glanced towards Ray, who lay 20 meters to my left, and raised my arms questioningly. He nodded once before settling the stock of his rifle into his shoulder and returning his attention to the rider.  I took a deep breath and aimed my own rifle. My breath came easier, and my palms felt drier. This I could do. The man before me was no god, just a bandit the like of whom I had dealt with before, on my own, without the luxury of an ambush.

We allowed him to enter the pass. That was the plan: fire from the top of the cliffs on either side, from all angles. I pulled at the brim of my hat to shade my eyes squinted down the sight of my gun.  Whiteshot entered the pass at a slow canter, and I began to count. Three seconds from when he entered, Castro had said.

Three…

I lined up the rider in my sights.

Two…

I cocked back the hammer.

One…

Five men fired in unison, an earsplitting crack running through the air as the shots discharged.  Our quarry didn’t even have time to duck.  It was a perfect ambush.

As it turns out, Whiteshot didn’t need time to duck.  He didn’t even have to lift a finger.  The five bullets, one moment speeding towards him, suddenly stopped, hovering in the air a meter from his body, sunlight glinting off the bright steel.  He was surrounded by a ring of bullets, completely unharmed.  They started to rotate around him, still suspended in the air.

My original fear was nothing compared to what I felt now.  I was facing a man who could stop bullets midair.  It was worse than the rumors, because I knew it to be true.

Ray was a braver man than I, because he fired a second shot before I even thought to raise my gun again.  His bullet joined the others, but the shot gave away his location.  Two of the bullets left their orbit and sped towards him, faster than a shot from any gun.  They tore through his head and he collapsed dead to the dust.

As I fumbled with my gun, my other companions fired again.  Castro, Tom, Mick—all met the same end as Ray.  I watched as they were killed by their own bullets, held immobile by the sickening realization that the hunters had become the hunted.

I never fired a second shot.  I lay silently as he continued through the pass, my one bullet still circling him.  It wasn’t until nightfall that I found the courage to move, but I haven’t stopped moving since.  I lay in the grip of terror, but I will never again let it control me.

I still hunt him, because I made a deal.  In the Drylands, two things are sacred—your gun and your word.  I gave my word, and now my gun will see it through.  I am a Red Sun Son, and we always finish the job.

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13 thoughts on “Ring of Bullets

  1. Well written and interesting . . . but got to wondering about the end; having seen the effects he had on bullets, how was he planning to take him down? He says his gun will see it through, but we already know that would not work.

    One other minor quibble . . . Whiteshot would have known the direction of the bullets on the first volley. In fact, that’s what I thought would happen when the bullets stopped. I understand the premise is for one to survive, but you could have had him not fire; a reserve sniper, as it was, in case things went South. Which they did, bigtime.

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    • Those are good quibbles.
      The idea with the second shots was twofold. One, the fact that all five men fired in unison and from all directions didn’t allow him to pinpoint the gunmen well enough to retaliate. Also, I liked the image of him riding off with one bullet still circling him.
      The part about his gun seeing it through is more of a promise to himself than an actual plan. The character only know how to rely on his gun, and he wants to atone for his shame of not dying with his comrades.

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      • This is where knowledge of weapons can be a detriment for the reader.

        I originally assumed it might have been an acoustic issue, but then dismissed it for two reasons. Let’s say they were using Sharps rifles . . . those bullets are supersonic for the first 150-200 yards of flight. Those were not the only rifles that shot supersonic – it depends on the load. Some loads from the era would remain supersonic for up to 400 yards. Whiteshot would never hear those coming unless they shot from a long way off.

        But, beyond that, the accuracy of the return shot is what suspended my belief (funny that . . . I can believe in the physics-defying magic, but not aiming by sound alone). Whiteshot is in a canyon and the shooters are on the top of the canyon. Sounds would echo and give false originating points as they bounce around the vertical walls, yet he managed a head-shot by hearing alone.

        Anyway, not a big deal. It was an enjoyable read, and only pedantic jerks are going to find any quibbles with it. Pedantic jerks and people who are familiar with ammunition and guns.

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  2. That was great. Nice take on the Ring of Bullets.
    I can see where some of the quibbles above are coming from, but the execution of the story still stands.
    Though I would like to know more about the hunt. If guns are out, there are a number of ways a bounty hunter might still try to collect. There is so much potential for follow-up here, great stuff.

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  3. Nice writing. And so true about the name Sun sons being horrible. The first time I read it I was like, What??? this is a tongue twister for my brain. Brain hurt, brain need coffee. It was so bad that it kept throwing me out of the story. Then I kept reading and was glad to see the MC pick it to shreds. (I think it would have worked better if the MC used an abbreviation after his first reference to the name. Which I think would be realistic because if you hate a name then you tend to replace it with something that works better for you.)

    The name also made me question the leaders intelligence and ability to lead. Then when I read that he was pushed into taking on a job he completely lost his credibility as leader to me.

    Maybe they followed him because he was a massively strong cyborg, or because of he had a bunch of brothers who where dumber than him but very tough? What ever the reason, I think the story would benefit from having it in there.

    I think the ending fell flat for me because I couldn’t understand why the MC would be so invested in this group, with the weak leader and the horrible name? I felt that he was more likely to thank himself lucky that he survived, cut his losses and run. Or perhaps vow to take this guy down for his own personal reasons, like maybe one of the guys that got shot was his brother or his boyfriend, or maybe there was a female shooter too, and he loved her. The last few lines came across as a pledge of devotion that I just couldn’t buy.

    I tend to think of rouges as only looking out for themselves and not being loyal to anyone unless they have deep motives like the person saved their life or something. It just didn’t work for me plot wise but the writing itself was of a high standard. Keep up the good work.

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    • Thanks for the feedback! Those are all great points. I got all caught up in the ambush and paid less attention to character than I should. For me, Castro being pushed into the job was supposed to highlight the danger of it; I didn’t think stop to think that that might undermine him as a leader.

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