Marcie Tentchoff brings us our first full-length poem, previously published in The Sword Review, July 2006 — ed, N.E. Lilly
The Ballad of Stagg’rin’ Bill
by Marcie Tentchoff ©2006
In the tawdry port-side tavern
ether lights were burning down,
weary patrons dozed amidst their empty mugs,
such a dim and murky cavern
that the owner barely frowned
as a barmaid swept the space dust ’neath the rugs.
But, just then the silence wavered
as the force doors opened wide
with the sound of ungreased servos squeaking shrill --
in a stench cloud monkey-flavored
two-gunned trouble came inside,
whooping, “Hey there, folks, they call me Stagg’rin’ Bill!”
He was dressed in aging armor
marked with ray gun burns and tar,
and a day old growth of stubble framed his face.
Lurching like a seasick farmer
he slapped money on the bar,
saying, “mister, give me coffee, black as space.”
For a short time he stood drinking,
wreathed in caffeine-scented steam,
then he turned to face the people in the room
as though he could hear them thinking,
or at least could guess the theme,
and his smile shone through the hazy tavern gloom.
“Now then, folks, I know you’re wond’rin,
what the saturn cat dragged in,
who I am, and why I’m here, and what’s my tale,
well, I’ve done my share of blund’rin,
sometimes scarcely saved my skin,
but I’ve worked these spaceways decades without fail.
“I’ve pressed past the edge of star charts,
with my loyal monkey hordes
seen some places no one else has ever seen,
I’ve brought down the reigns of upstarts,
rescued princesses and lords,
even won the heart and honor of a queen.
“I’ve fought battles without number,
I’ve run races through the stars,
using gadgets filched from peoples eons dead,
I’ve known worlds that never slumber,
shut down far too many bars,
painted far too many space-port cities red.
“But these days the ships are changing,
filled with diplomatic bunk...s,
and technology is just for engineers,
battles now are more far-ranging,
fought by politics, not hunks,
and the future’s somehow less of hopes than fears.
“For myself, I love the old days,
ray guns, aliens galore,
pure adventure like a weapon to my hand,
so I try to keep the old ways,
bring past futures to the fore,
travel outwards, find my ground and make my stand.”
Old Bill paused in quiet sipping,
nodded round at all about,
then he thrust his now cold coffee at the host,
and, his smile still left unslipping,
grabbed his change and wandered out,
leaving patrons wondering if they’d seen a ghost.
Marcie Tentchoff is an Aurora Award winning poet/writer from the west coast of Canada, where she lives surrounded by trees, animals, and family. Her work has appeared in such magazines as Weird Tales, On Spec, Mythic Delirium, and Talebones, as well as in various anthologies and online publications.