Thursday, February 27, 2014

‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’ by Seth MacFarlane (Book Excerpt)

by Seth MacFarlane)

Albert stiffened and regarded his opponent. Charlie Blanche and Albert Stark could not have been more contrasting in their deportment: Blanche was a grizzled, weathered-looking mass of aggression, who looked as though he hadn’t smiled since the days of Lewis and Clark. He glared at Albert with an expression that seemed to say, I want to shoot you in the — with a bullet made of cancer.

Albert cleared his throat. “So . . . I guess high noon to you means 12:15?”

Read: Seth MacFarlane, ‘Family Guy’ Creator, Tries a Novel

Charlie stared blankly for a beat. “What?”

“Well,” said Albert, genuinely annoyed in spite of his fear, “I mean, you said high noon, and I was here, and . . . I’ve sort of just been waiting.”

Blanche narrowed his eyes darkly. “I’m here now.”

“Yeah, I know, but it’s just— it’s like sort of inconsiderate, because it’s like you’re saying that your time is more valuable than everyone else’s, and . . . well, I know everybody here has like a full day, and they all took time off to be here, and—I mean, right, everyone?”

No one answered. Albert looked around furtively in search of a supportive face but found none. His gaze landed on a toothless old man who did not look like he had a full day at all. The man stared emptily, his tongue sliding along the perimeter of his solitary tooth, like a sentry dutifully patrolling the last remaining outpost of an all-but-defeated army.

“Draw,” said Charlie Blanche.

A wave of renewed alertness swept over the onlookers as they shared a collective inhalation. Now the show would begin!

Albert took a deep breath of his own. “Um . . . no.”

A perplexed buzzing from the townsfolk. The pretty blond woman regarded Albert with a look of confused dismay.

“What do you mean, no?” Blanche narrowed his eyes further, nearly squinting them out of existence.

Albert took another deep breath. “I . . . I don’t wanna do this. You’re a way better shot than me, and so before this gets outta hand and we both get all crazy and dead here, I . . . I don’t wanna have a shoot-out.”

“You yellow, Stark?” The corner of Blanche’s mouth twisted into a perversion of a half smile— no doubt the warmest expression his long-rotted disposition would accommodate.

“Well, look, yellow is kind of a”—Albert paused uneasily—“I mean, that’s kind of racist to our hardworking friends from the Far East, right, guys?”

He turned to a small cluster of Chinese railroad workers watching from off to the side. Surely now he’d get a small boost of support. The shortest Chinaman gave him the finger.

“O-okay,” Albert stuttered. “Welcome.”

Blanche barked out a gravelly laugh. “Even the damn Chinese know you’re yellow!”

Albert turned back to face his adversary. “Look, I—I just wanna resolve things more reasonably, okay? I mean, we’re both intelligent adults, right? So . . . I’m just gonna pay you for the damages.”

Blanche’s expression did not change. “Suits me fine. That’s fifty dollars.”

“Right, okay,” said Albert, fidgeting slightly. “Now, here’s the thing . . . I don’t have fifty dollars in cash—”

Charlie’s hand moved toward the butt of his gun.

“—but . . . I will give you twenty-five sheep.”

Charlie’s index finger was almost touching the trigger. “I don’t want sheep, Stark.”

Heat sweat was suddenly interfused with panic sweat as Albert realized he was in trouble. “Well,
this—this is a lotta sheep. This is like twenty- five sheep. Like a whole . . . gaggle. A pack? Is it a pack?” He laughed anxiously as his floundering brain let loose a diarrhetic stream of nonsense. “Oh, my God, can you believe this?! I’m a sheep farmer, and I’m totally blanking on the plural — is it a school of sheep? I don’t know! Ha! Hey, you know what a group of ferrets is called? A business. A business of ferrets. English is fun, ’cause there’s all kinds of secret treasures— ”

The crack of a bullet split the air as Charlie Blanche fired a shot at Albert’s feet. Albert jumped back with a distinctly feminine shriek.

“Your goddamn sheep grazed up half my ranch, Stark! That grass ain’t never gonna grow back.”

There was a deep-rooted hatred for sheepmen among the cattle ranchers of the West, largely because the sheep themselves grazed in such a deep-rooted fashion. They would devour the grass so close to the ground that, if left unchecked, they could effectively strip a pasture bare to the point that the grass had to be resown. No cow can graze where a sheep has been, the cattlemen would declare. As a result, range wars often broke out between cattle and sheep farmers, with terribly bloody consequences. It also didn’t help that sheepmen were generally considered huge pussies.

Albert swallowed what little saliva he had left as Charlie raised his gun and took aim.

“Okay, okay!” Albert threw up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “I’ll sell off the sheep myself, all right? I’ll get you the money! O-okay? You’ll have it tomorrow.”

There was a terrifying moment during which Albert was certain that, even though he had truckled to his opponent’s demands, Blanche would pull the trigger. But, instead, the other man slowly lowered the pistol. “If I don’t have that cash, I’m comin’ after you. And I’ll shoot you three times: forehead, nose, and chin, so your head splits clean in half like a fairground watermelon.”

“Oh, and I would deserve it,” Albert blurted obsequiously. “In that scenario? Oh, my God, what a jerk I would be. But I—that’s not the kind of guy I am, so I—I’ll get you your money.”

Charlie Blanche carefully holstered his weapon. Albert let loose a quivering exhale as Blanche moved back toward his horse. I’m so glad I didn’t pee, thought Albert, feeling an aftershock of panic over how truly close he’d come to death. He turned and walked back up the street, his legs feeling like they were made of jam—


The townsfolk gasped. Albert collapsed to the ground as an unimaginably cutting pain blasted through his ankle. “—!” he screamed as he turned in shock.

Charlie had shot him.

“Just a little taste,” said Blanche in a soft, deadly tone. He reholstered his pistol, mounted his horse, and loped off without another word.

Excerpted from Seth MacFarlane‘s A Million Ways to Die in the West by Seth MacFarlane; Based on a screenplay written by Seth MacFarlane & Alec Sulkin & Wellesley Wild. Copyright © 2014 by Seth MacFarlane. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.