Friday, July 5, 2013

The Lone Ranger's Black Veil

[Update: The story has been published in the Spring 2014 issue of The Yellow Medicine Review.]

The following is a short-short story I wrote awhile back but which has not found a publishing home.  But with the release of The Lone Ranger, I thought I would go ahead and give it a home here.  Honestly, it was written before I had heard Johnny Depp was working on the movie.  It was inspired after re-reading Nathaniel Hawthorne's short story "The Minister's Black Veil."  I have not posted anything recently on Depp's portrayal of Tonto because others have posted plenty, and I already made some comments on the issue after pictures from the set were first leaked: "Tonto Shops at J. Crow."  An interesting difference between my story and the film is Tonto's tribal affiliation.  The film has made Tonto a Comanche, but in the radio and TV series, Tonto was either Apache or Kiowa (sources differ on that).  The Apache and the Comanche were bitter enemies through much of the history of the Southwest, and my story hinges upon that.

The Lone Ranger’s Black Veil

LR is serious about the mask.  No one can touch it.  No one can ask about it.  I am the only other person who knows its story.  My name is Tonto – that’s not my real name, not my Apache name, just some stupid name he made up because he thought it sounded more heroic.  He is such a drama queen. 

And now he is lying on his deathbed – shot in the back – and still wearing his mask.  He has his gun out, keeping the doctor away because the doc wanted to remove the mask.  He’d rather die than be revealed.  Geesh.

His mask is not what everyone imagines, the one that makes him look like some stupid raccoon.  Don’t you think you could recognize someone if he was wearing that mask?  No one looks at a raccoon and wonders, “What is that?  Is that a dog?”

No, his mask is a piece of black gauze hanging over his face.  He can see through it, but you can’t clearly see his face beneath it.  And he never takes it off in front of anyone.  Not even me.  But I know its story.

The Texas Rangers were created to kill Indians, and they were good at it.  They were ordered West, to fight Comanches, and that is when I came looking for them.  But first they ran to East Texas and killed a bunch of Cherokees and the like who were farming, minding their own business, living in wood houses, wearing shirts and pants and dresses, going to church, not causing anyone any trouble.  Other than being Indian. 

When he saw the innocent people he had killed, he came to his senses and went crazy at the same time.  LR put on the black mask and killed the men in his unit.  That story of him being the only survivor of his unit after an ambush?  Just part of the myth.  That mask was a sign of his sinful nature.

“We all see the world through a veil of our own sins,” he told me many times.  He had the habit of sounding like a preacher.  “And I am here to remind people that we cannot escape that fact.  Nor can we escape the Lord’s justice.  That is why I have dedicated myself to hunting down bad men, bad men like myself.  For who knows their ways better than I?” 

“That’s great,” I told him just as often.  “There are plenty of bad men out in West Texas.  They’re called Comanches.”

But the only bad men who caught his eye looked like him.

On his deathbed now, with a gang of white folks trying to talk their way past his pistol and into his room, he keeps muttering, “Expiation.” 

I spent a lifetime wasting my energy, trying to get that old fool to do what he was originally so good at.  But I could never cajole, coax, or coyote him to West Texas.  What did I care about his redemption?  I wanted my revenge.  They killed my brother.  They kidnapped my young cousin.  Probably married her off to one of their own or sold her to some Mexicans.  They even took my dog.   They probably ate it.  I wanted him to come out West and kill some goddamned Comanches. 

Stupid white men.  You can’t count on them for nothing.

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