A Town Called Fight

by Leo David Orionis

The river had wandered north for hundreds of miles, but here it slowed, and swung west. There was a wide spot where it turned, and in that spot was an island.

Kehanu gnawed on the end of his pen, and considered the line. Good, he thought. Was there a word in English for a place where a river slowed, and widened, and turned? If he found and used it, would enough of his readers know it? Worry about it later, he decided. For now, he underlined "wide spot" and put a tiny question mark under it.

It was a warm day in late autumn. Many miles to the east, travellers would be worrying about snow closing the Cascade mountain passes. Even more miles south, rain or snow might trouble anyone coming over the Siskiyous on foot or ahorse. Here in the Valley, patches of sunlight alternated with patches of light rain, and the locals took no note of either one, but went about their business unfussed.

In the general store on Main Street, Kehanu sat on a stool behind the main counter, waiting for customers to come by, and working on a story for the next issue of the local newsletter. In the old days before the Fall, he might've had an agent sending his stories to magazines and book publishers, if he understood aright what he read about such things. He might've done his work on a "word processor" or a "computer", too. In the modern world, with no experience of "electronic devices", he couldn't miss them. He wrote what he wrote, on paper with a quill pen and ink, and Sam Ley printed it in his newsletter, which circulated through the town and the farms and ranches outside it. There must've been 500 people reading Kehanu's stuff, and they seemed to like it. He was content.

The babble of voices outside didn't disturb him, but the stomping of heavy feet on the board walk made him look up, frowning. Suddenly the door slammed open, making the bells there, which should have jingled pleasantly, go CLANG-K! with alarm. Kehanu scowled, and slid off the stool, to stand with his feet planted on the floor.

The stranger was a white man, with light-colored beard, mustache, and bushy eyebrows, wearing a fur cap, a heavy woolen scarf around his neck, a heavy coat, and gloves, as if it were the dead of winter. He stomped up to the counter without closing the door behind him, pulling off his gloves and stuffing them in the pockets of his coat, and put on that phony smile so many white men used, as if they never felt friendly or cheerful, but had learned to show their teeth in pretense.

"HOWDY!" he shouted. "LOOKING FOR ORIEL!"

Kehanu winced at the man shouting in his face. "Look, mister," he started to say. But he was too slow for the other.


The white slur was the final straw. Kehanu grabbed the shotgun he kept behind the counter, cocking both barrels and pointing it at the mannerless outsider with a single motion. The stranger's eyes went wide, and his face went more pale. He raised both hands above his head and shouted, "DON'T SHOOT!"

The sheriff, who also served as the town marshall, came in through the still-open door, a gun on each hip, and the shiny star the town council had given him gleaming on his vest. "Please don't shoot him, Kehanu, at least while I'm in the line of fire." Ted Cliff was a mixed breed, mostly white in appearance, with grey hair; he shaved his face every other day or so, which was as often as he needed. He was wearing a grey shirt under a black leather vest, blue jeans, and boots for the mud in the streets between the boardwalks lining them.

Kehanu grimaced at his friend, half in apology, half in annoyance, and put the shotgun down on the counter. "Make him stop shouting at me, Ted, for God's sake!" he grumbled.

The loud stranger started to lower his hands. "Keep 'em up!" the sheriff said sharply, and frisked him. He collected a big knife from one coat pocket, and a pistol from the other, then stepped back

"Better," he said. "Put your hands down, if you want. I'm Ted Cliff, the sheriff. Who're you, mister, and where're you from?"

The stranger turned to face the sheriff, now ignoring Kehanu. Kehanu watched them both, gathering material in his head for some future story.

"MY NAME IS—" the loud stranger began, and the sheriff slapped him. Not hard enough to leave a mark, but hard enough to get his attention, without shouting himself. The overdressed stranger stopped in shock, holding one hand to his cheek.

"Stop shouting!" the sheriff said, raising his voice just a little. "I'm standing right here. If you can't talk like a normal person, we'll go outside and talk from either end of Main Street."

"Sorry," said the other. "Sorry. I ONLY WANTED TO—" And the sheriff slapped him again.

Enraged, the stranger shoved a hand in one coat pocket, and remembered that the sheriff had taken his gun. He charged forward, growling, and began trying to punch Ted.

Kehanu stepped out from behind the counter, grabbed a wooden axe handle from a pile of them, and let the loud, and now belligerent stranger have a taste of it. He sighed, and fell to the floor.

"Jesus, grandfather! You could've killed him," Ted said, crouching over the body. "Grandfather" was a mark of respect; Kehanu and Ted weren't related. "Not this time, though."

"I know how hard to hit a man and not kill him," Kehanu said. "Let's get him outside; I'm tired of him yelling in my store."

"All right," Ted agreed. "You get his legs, and I'll get his shoulders."

"Piffle," Kehanu said. Stooping, he put the loud stranger over one shoulder, like a pair of saddlebags. "Bring his weapons, sheriff," he said as he walked out the front door.

Outside, they found a couple of men, three boys, and a couple of women. One of the men and one of the women were in tribal clothes, similar to white clothing but a little different, mostly in the round-topped hat the man wore, and the scarf over the head of the woman. They also found the stranger's mount, a big horse with a shiny black coat, carrying way too much on his back. Tied to the hitching bar with a short rein, he was straining for the watering trough, which was just beyond his reach.

As Kehanu deposited his load on the sidewalk, the sheriff frowned. "What's the matter with you people?" he asked. He pointed at the oldest boy. "You, Thumas. Unhitch that thirsty animal and let him drink. Are you blind?"

While the stranger's horse slobbered gratefully in the trough, Kehanu brought water to the beast's owner. He hadn't put on a hat to come outside, so he plucked the fur cap from the loudmouth's head. The hair beneath was dirty and greasy, he saw. He filled the cap with water at the trough, then stepped back upon the boardwalk and flung it into the unconscious man's face. As he began to come to, Kehanu jammed the wet cap back onto its owner's head, and wiped his wet hands on his jeans with a grimace.

The stranger groaned, and sat up, then groaned again. He put a hand to the back of his head, then jerked it away sharply. Kehanu had taken care to strike him where the thick fur cap padded his head, but he had a lump there just the same, the size of a goose egg. He glared. "BY GOD, IF I HAD A GUN—" he shouted, in what was meant for a mutter. All the locals leaned away a little bit.

"I'll give you your gun, if you want it," the sheriff said. "But if you point it at anyone, I'll kill you."

The loudmouth looked at the sheriff, decided he was serious, and changed the subject. "ALL I WANTED WAS DIRECTIONS TO ORIEL," he protested.

"And if you'd acted like a real person, instead of the worst kind of white man, you could've had them," Kehanu said. "Instead, you slammed open the door of my store, stomped up to the counter, and kept on shouting in my face. Where are you from, where they have manners so bad? Or is it just you, boy?"

The white man flushed red at being called "boy", and at the shocked and disapproving noises from the small crowd. "MY NAME IS JOHN RICKETT," he shouted, "AND I'M LOOKING FOR A TOWN CALLED ORIEL. KNOW WHERE THAT IS, CHIEF?"

At that, Kehanu deliberately turned his back on the stranger, and went back in his store and closed the door. The crowd also turned its back, and drifted away. Angrier than ever, his face and neck beet red, the out-of-towner opened his mouth to shout. The sheriff stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Come with me," he said.

They walked out into the middle of Main Street, which ran north and south. The sheriff pointed north. "See that mountain that looks like a girl sitting and reading a book? Hereabouts we call that the Girl of Oriel."


The sheriff held up one finger, then pointed east. "See that black mountain, with the steam rising from it? That's Mount Oriel. Draw a big circle from the Girl to the Mount and all the way around to the Girl again. Everything in the circle is Oriel, we reckon."


"There is no town called Oriel," the sheriff said. "This town is called Fight."


"Everything you got here, you earned with your rudeness," the sheriff said. "This town is called Fight because this is where the people around here stood up for their rights after the Fall, and drove off or killed those who would've made them slaves or serfs. There's a place called Battle, where we buried all the plastics and fossil fuels, all the pesticides and deadly poison we didn't want fouling our world, and all the electronics and heavy metals, too."

Rickett's face was full of contempt. "YOU CAN'T STAND AGAINST PROGRESS FOREVER," he said.

"If you call it 'progress' to try to hang onto things from before the Fall, you're welcome to it," Cliff said. "We have clean water, clean air, good crops, and healthy people who live long lives. There are some people around here who remember the Fall!"

Rickett's sneer said "BULL SHIT!" as clearly as if he'd spoken the words out loud; but he didn't speak.

"Why are you even here?" the sheriff demanded. "Are you done here, now that you know there is no town called Oriel?"


"If you're very careful," the sheriff said, and motioned him to lead the way to his horse.

Ricketts opened a saddle bag on the black horse, cuffing the big animal on the nose when it tried to nuzzle him. Carefully, so the frowning sheriff could see that he wasn't getting another gun from the bag, he produced a smaller leather envelope. From that, he produced a blue plastic envelope, 9 inches wide by 12 inches tall, probably dating from before the Fall. Out of that relic of the past, he produced several sheets of heavy paper, and handed them to Ted Cliff.

Cliff read the papers, written by hand on one side only of the thick paper. It was written in cursive rather than block letters, with many fancy fluorishes and decorative curlicues. The language was as difficult as the writing, a formal style intended to sound legal and important, produced by someone who wasn't a lawyer, he judged, but wanted the document to sound official. It was signed at the end by six people with white names. The first signer styled himself "Governor of the State of Oregon", and the others were senators and representatives of the same extinct state. It was dated a couple of months ago, and signed in Grants Pass, a town to the south of Fight.

Cliff looked up. "This seems to be a land grant," he said to the smirking Ricketts, "giving you the town of Oriel as your personal property, and all the land for fifty miles around it in all directions."


"No, that's wrong," the sheriff said. "First of all, there is no town called Oriel, and as far as I know, there never was, even before the Fall. So this document gives you a town that doesn't exist, plus land around it."


"Come with me down the street to the jail," Cliff said, "so I can get my horse. I want you out of my town. Once we're past the town limits, I'll return your paper."

"LEAD ON," the man from Grants Pass said. He seemed incapable of speaking in a normal voice, Ted reflected, but he wasn't making a fuss about his document, anyway. Gathering the reins of the black horse, he walked beside the sheriff to the jail, sweating badly in his heavy clothes. The sheriff, dressed for the weather, was comfortable.

In front of the jail, he unhitched his own horse, a roan cayuse, slighter than Ricketts' big black, but fast and suited for the terrain. The two animals whickered at each other as the men mounted.

"Which way?" the sheriff asked. "Back to Grants Pass, or up the valley?"

"BACK TO THE CAPITAL," the stranger bellowed, and turned his horse's head south. The animal flattened his ears every time its rider spoke, Cliff noted.

"That's the other thing wrong with this paper," he said. "Not only is there no town called Oriel, there's no country called the United States any more, and no State called Oregon. Even when there was, the capital was Salem, north of here, not Grants Pass."


"Fat chance," Cliff said. "Well, this is far enough for me. Here's your papers back, mister."

Ricketts stuffed them in his saddle bag. "AND MY KNIFE AND GUN," he said.

In reply, the sheriff threw both past the trouble maker from the south, where he could get them without Cliff having to approach him, or hand them to him. Ricketts looked at them, but made no move to dismount.


The sheriff shrugged. "What's to like?" he said. "You're loud, you're rude, and you're all kinds of trouble. You and the others in Grants Pass are going to get people killed all over this country, with your old-fashioned notions."


"If you try that, you'll be dead," Cliff said. "I'm the sheriff of Fight and the Oriel country. I inherited it from my father, and the people of the area, whites and otherwise, are happy with the way I run things."

"I THOUGHT YOU WERE THE LAW IN FIGHT," Ricketts said, waving his left hand at the star on the sheriff's vest. His right hand was down by his side, concealed by his leg.

"The town council offered me the job of town marshall," Cliff said, "and I took it. But 'sheriff' isn't a job, but a title. As the sheriff, it's my town and my country, and you can't have it."

"I SEE," said the outsider. In one smooth motion, he raised his right hand, holding the gun he'd taken from the saddle bag when he put the papers away. Pointing the gun at the sheriff, he pulled the trigger.

Ted Cliff drew his own pistol and fired as soon as Ricketts' hand began to come up. At the same instant, the boom of a heavier shot rang out. Ricketts' shot went into the air, and he slithered bonelessly from his saddle. Kehanu stood up from his shooting position behind a bush, his heavy rifle smoking.

"Thanks for backing me up, grandfather," Cliff said.

"Can't let the sheriff be killed," Kehanu said. "Although I think you got him in the heart at the same time I put a bullet in his head."

"S'pose I should gather up his horse, his weapons, bury the body, and call a meeting about these folks down south," the sheriff said. "You want to help with that?"

"For a little while," Kehanu said peaceably. "Then I have to get back to my store, and the story I was working on."

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