Samson’s Crossing

Old man Poppy potters and comes back across the room with a coffee pot and a pair of mismatched cups.

“Still don’t know why anyone would care about them old days, Mr White.”

“The readers care, Mr Poppy. With men like John Dillinger running around there’s been a real resurgence of interest in the outlaw life.”

Poppy snorts and sets down the cups.

“But Samson’s Crossing…nothing special happened that day, nothing no one would pay red two cents to read.”

White looks up from his notepad.

“Mind telling me anyway?”

“S’pose not. Nothing else to do on a day like this. Wouldn’t have a snifter with you, would you?”

White takes out a quart-bottle filled with amber. A good slug goes into each coffee. Poppy drinks a swallow slowly, then speaks.

“Weren’t nothin’, was coming down off a two-week drunk. We’d jumped a mule train from a silver mine over the border and been living it up in the saloons and bordellos hoping no damned big hats came a-looking.”

“Who was we?”

“Me, Tennessee Dave Shaw, Three-finger Charlie, Cole Stanton, Bob Earle – him folks called Lincoln Bob on account of that damned beard he wore.”

“Still hear from them?”

“All in the ground now – Charlie only passed over a year back, Dave a little less.”

Scribbles in the notebook.

“So you all rode into Samson’s Crossing…”

“Bob Earle’s sister had been engaged to this fella – William Berg – but he’d run off with a Spanish chippy ‘stead of doing the right thing. Left old Bob’s sister with a fat belly and no ring on her finger. Anyway, we get into the cantina, served the best chilli that side of Pecos, and before we’ve even sat down a shot rang out. Missed all of us. Fella has seen us and thinks we’ve come to do him in.”

“But you hadn’t?”

“All I wanted was a plate of chilli and a beer. Course if we had known he was there…”

Poppy laughs and White laughs too.

“He missed?”

“So did we! So drunk the five of us were fumbling our guns and the bastard fired again – another miss! He had a friend with him who threw down at this point, that kind of focussed our minds. So we threw a volley back. Dropped his friend but old Will Berg got down behind the table. This time he didn’t miss – drilled a shot right through Cole’s leg. Then our hangovers fell away real quick, turned into a killing time. Emptied our pistols through his table and then reloaded, did the same again. Shot the shit out of that fucking place.”

“But only Berg and his friend were put down?”

“Hell no, couple of greasers got sent over, barman too. The lead sure did fly that day. Then we lit out – put another rain of bullets all around to discourage any pursuit. Pissed I never got my chilli.”

“I’ve read that a couple of other people died that day.”

“Yeah?”

“Man and woman named Weiss, just moved to the town from up North, immigrants.”

Poppy shrugs and downs the last of his coffee.

“I gotta piss.”

He gets up and heads into a large cupboard in the hallway.”

“Still can’t get used to pissing inside.”

White’s smile has fallen away. He reaches into his bag and takes out a cut-down .38. He stands and moves into the hallway until he is outside of the water-closet. He raises the pistol.

“Lot of people died because of that day, Mr Poppy, you’re just the last.”

He raises the pistol to the door. The bang that he hears is louder than any pistol report and he slams back against the wall, torn apart by the heavy load of the shotgun that Jack Poppy is holding on the other side of the door.

“Were they kin of yours, son? Must’ve been. Well, I am truly sorry for any suffering caused to you – all I wanted that day was a bowl of chilli.”

Poppy cocks the second barrel – if a man will try to kill you once like as well he will try again and that just won’t do.


The City of Waiting

They lounge at bus stops beneath palm trees – waiting. They stand in the doorways of shops that contain no goods and wait for banks to open to receive money from other places. They sit on benches, linger on street corners and while their time away walking all the time waiting, waiting for their lives to begin.

The slap of rain drops summons the earthy smell of damp from the buildings, buildings that are waiting – waiting to be repaired, to have new life breathed into them, Lazarus’ of stone and marble.

The weight of waiting hangs on me and I take a pull on my cigar, a Romeo y Juliet no 3, it numbs my tongue and tingles my cheeks. The cigar waits while I top up my Cuba Libre. I take another pull and make the embers glow in the half-light of my room. I wait. For a woman, the reason why I am back in a room I should have vacated months ago. I step onto the balcony and hear the cars below me roar like the waves against the malacon. I stare out across the city towards the sea and see her face before me once again.

Twenty five years younger than me but she seemed to hang on my every word as I talked about my home over the sea. We talked of the pine trees, the snow in winter, fishing, food in the shops and freedom. A smile of pure white cut across her pecan skin. She touched my hand and gave a little sigh. That was the first time we met. After that my life was filled with sweaty afternoons, furtive ‘phone calls and snatched moments – the heat of love suddenly in my life. She had given me her heart.

She wanted a life that didn’t involve waiting, to that end Estefania had married a government official, he worked up in the mountains. That was four years before she met me and although she told me the marriage was cold and loveless she could not easily escape from him. So we planned and we waited.

The waiting, as it does, took time; time to arrange a fast boat from the Florida Keys, time to speak with a friend in the State Department to smooth Estefania’s papers, time to find an isolated beach. I down the Cuba Libre and set about making myself another.

Estefania has waited long enough, waited for a man like me. I take a glance at myself in the mirror on the wall taking in the grey hair and rapidly creasing skin. I run a hand over my face and pull the flesh back until I stretch ten years off myself. Might have to think about a little nip and tuck when we get home.

I check my watch for the hundredth time. She should’ve been here ten minutes ago. The car is waiting in a side street nearby, outside a paladar, fast enough to get us clear of Havana and out to the beach within two hours. Where is she?

A knock at the door makes me jump. I open it. A package lies on the floor outside the door. The box is small, white cardboard. I lift up and take it to the table. I open it and stare at the severed ear and fingers within, an ear and fingers that I had kissed. They have been removed with a surgeons care.

After I have stared for minutes I close the box, open the cupboard and put the box with the others. There are six now; ears, fingers, toes, a nose, an eyeball. I know if I wait that he will send me bigger pieces of my love. She is up in the mountains with her husband now. He keeps the peace in the lonely places out in the hills with his own brand of justice.

And so I wait. I wait for her limbs, her head, her body but most of all I wait for my love’s heart.


A Merry Christmas in Hell

We rode back to the site of the Harrison massacre and I picked up the trail that led into the thick woods. It was easy to follow and whoever it was we were following had made no move to cover their tracks. In places the snow was almost touching the belly of my pony as she stepped through. I wondered what kind of man had managed to drag a girl through the drifts of snow. Why hadn’t he done what he wanted and then fled on his own?

“Isn’t Old Curly Taylor’s cabin down this way?”

Curly Taylor had passed over more than five years back and I had to think to remember where the old bastard’s cabin had been.

“Could be.”

The deeper into the forest we went the darker it became; the sun was dipping further in the sky and the branches above us had knitted together to form a roof of pine needles. I had dismounted to look for sign and was leading my pony when we sighted the cabin, a wagon outside. Light showed around the frames of the door and shuttered windows. Dan dropped down into the snow and drew his long rifle. He tied the lead rope of his pony to a bush and fanned off to the right of the cabin. Captain Grieg pulled one of the long pistols from his belt and cut away to the left remaining in the saddle. That left me in the centre. I tied up my horse and took both rifles with me as I moved towards the cabin. I stayed low and moved forward fast, expecting a rifle shot to sound with each pace.

The cabin had changed some since it had been Curly Taylor’s; the log walls had been battered by the weather, the roof needed fixing and when I got closer I saw that strange symbols and letters had been hacked and scored into the walls. Dan moved to cover the rear of the cabin and I kept my Hawken trained on the front door. Captain Grieg had dismounted and appeared at my side, his sword now drawn. I nodded to him and then kicked at the front door. It burst inwards and we rushed into the cabin. A fire burned in a pit in the centre of the room, a five pointed star had been scratched in the dirt around the burning logs. Three young women huddled in the corner, naked and smeared in blood, covered in dozens of cuts, they were linked together by a length of cord tied around their necks. The man turned as we entered and grabbed for a rifle which lay across a filthy cot. I shot him in the thigh. Captain Grieg stepped past me and stood on Elkin’s throat, the tip of his sword blade less than an inch from the man’s eyeball.

“Mr Elkin. I’d advise you stay as still as possible else you’ll have one less eye to read those books of yours.”

I looked around the cabin and saw books and papers piled on almost every surface. I picked one of the heavy leather-bound books up and stared at the letters on the page. Dan had now come into the cabin and looked over my shoulder as he approached the women.

“Anything there, Val?”

“Reckon it’d make about as much sense to you as it does to me, Dan.”

“Hell, you know I can’t read.”

“Exactly. This ain’t no language I can read either.”

The man on the floor giggled and the Captain pressed his foot down until the sound died in Elkin’s throat. Dan whispered in Shoshone to the two maidens and held his hands out to show he meant no harm. The women retreated from him and pressed themselves against the rough wood of the walls.

“Get those women covered up, Dan” I looked down at Elkin “got some folks who are looking forward to meeting you.”

“And I have a friend you’ll meet very soon!”

A sick light shone out from the man’s eyes.

“He got anyone else with him?”

“No, there was just him.”

“Then get his hands tied, Captain.”

The woman managed to get some clothes on, those that weren’t cut to shreds, and we handed them our blankets to use as cloaks. I looked out the door and saw that night had fallen.

***

The two Shoshone girls shared Dan’s pony and the Harrison girl took mine. We tied Elkin to the saddle of Grieg’s pony much to the protestations of the Captain.

“We should make him walk barefoot back to the camp!”

Dan grunted.

“That’d take too long,” I replied “besides I think I broke his leg when I shot ‘im.”

We pushed on into the woods.

“Not long to wait now, my lads!” Elkin’s eyes seemed to shine in the darkness at me.

“Anymore and we’ll gag you.”

Captain Grieg had brought a lantern and he walked ahead leading my pony. Dan was in the middle of the group close by his own pony and I stayed with Elkin in case he gave us any trouble. I caught a glimpse of movement in the trees off to the left and turned towards it. In the dark of the shadows I could make nothing out but I was sure something or someone had swiftly moved through the trees. I let out the lead rope of the Captain’s horse and moved towards Dan.

“Terrapin?”

“What, Val?”

“Might be we need to keep one eye on those trees to the left.”

The big man grunted and cocked his rifle. I did likewise with the Hawken and then dropped back. Elkin began to giggle. I sidestepped and cuffed him once around the ear, not taking my eyes off the trees for an instant.

“Next time it’ll be the stock of my rifle.”

When it came it was so fast that my brain could hardly follow my eyes; there was a sound like that of a bird when you’re real close to it and it begins to beat its wings, then something exploded from the dark kicking up snow so that the body of it was obscured in a white haze.

“Hold your shot!” screamed Dan and then he triggered his own rifle at whatever it was that rushed towards us. His shot seemed to have no effect and the thing continued towards Captain Grieg who turned, drew one of his pistols and fired. He dropped the pistol drew the second and fired. It was almost upon when he drew his sword. The light from his lantern gave me a glimpse of it; something old, tight drawn skin, black holes for eyes, terrible wings like those from some huge rotted crow. I brought the Hawken up to my shoulder, blocked out the gibberings of Elkin and fired at the things head. Grieg’s lantern had been knocked away into the darkness but he drew back his sword and stabbed out at the creature.  The beast shrieked before hurling the Captain down into the snow. It leapt from the snowbound ground and hurled itself up into the dark with its dreadful wings. The women were sobbing quietly and Elkin continued to giggle and chatter.

Dan had reloaded and sent another shot after the creature as it flitted across the moon. I watched as the creature swooped down amongst the treetops and out of sight. I drew my Bowie knife and held it against the flesh of Elkin’s throat.

“What does it want?”

He stopped laughing.

“Want? Why it wants to see us all dead. I thought I could hold it but it slipped away into the wilderness. I was trying to bring it back when you brutes arrived! You’ve killed us all. All it wants is to watch the world burn.”

We pulled the horses together and checked on the women. They looked as before, locked inside worlds of their own. Dan picked up Captain Grieg. The Captain’s topcoat was torn open and the flesh of his chest was ripped by three clean cuts, as though they had been made by blades as sharp as my Bowie.

“You hit it, Val?”

“Think I got it through the head but I can’t be sure.”

The Captain began nodding.

“Your shot struck it in the temple. There was no blood, just dust.”

He shook himself free of Dan’s hands and bent to retrieve his hat.

“Seems to me that we need to push on, gentlemen. There are ten more men with rifles back at my wagon and if that…fiend returns I would like to have those guns with me.”

“You can’t stop it!” cackled Elkin. I turned and rapped him over the side of the head with the butt of my Hawken.

“Captain it might be best if you rode up on my pony.”

The Captain had retrieved his weapons from the snow and was reloading his pistols while Dan tried to relight the lantern.

“I’ll remain on foot, Mr Pettigrew.”

“As you wish,” I replied.

I retrieved the old Baker rifle from my pony and passed it to the Captain with a powder horn and bag of shot.

“Might be that’ll do more than your pistols.”

“You reckon it’ll come again?” asked Dan.

“If I could take a Hawken fifty in the head and still be moving I’d come back.”

***

We made slow progress after that. It seemed that the creature lurked in every pool of shadow and shaft of darkness, of which there were many as we threaded back through the trees. The screams carried up the mountain and musket fire sounded like the start of rain on the roof of a cabin.

“My God, the women!” shouted Grieg. He dropped the lead rope to my pony and tried to push himself on through the snow. He fell, climbed to his feet and ran pumping his knees high and clear of the snow. He fell again and cried out in frustration. Dan and I plodded along. Easing ourselves and the ponies forward – we’d been around snow too long to try and run anywhere.

“It’s maybe fifteen minutes away, Captain. No way you can make it any faster than that.”

We pushed on and came back out of the trees near the Harrison wagon. The girl grabbed the Captain’s shoulder and twisted the fabric of his coat for a moment. He patted her hand and we pushed on. As we grew closer to where Grieg’s wagon lay Dan began to speak to the two Shoshone girls in their own language. Dan pulled the pony to a stop by a small copse of trees.

“Gonna need your pistols, Captain.”

“For them?”

“Yep and Miss Harrison can look after my shotgun for me. We leave the ponies here.”

The Captain gave up his pistols and the girls looked eagerly at the semi-concious Elkin. Dan spoke again his Shoshone better than mine. As we left the women to hide amongst the trees I asked him what he had said.

“Just told ‘em it was best to skin that bastard in front of the men who would be their husbands.”

I laughed at that and then we moved towards where the Captain’s wagon lay. It was chaos. Bodies lay here and there, torn and bloodied. A man ran to the Captain, blood running from a deep gash above his eye.

“Cap’n! We thought surely you were dead. A thing came, a damned monster from the very pits of Hell. It…” the man seemed to lose his words and he held out his hand at the devastation that lay around him.

“My wife?”

The man was silent.

“The child?”

Again there was no response and the Captain sat down in the snow.

“We tried, Cap’n but there was nothing we could do! Lars swears he shot the thing through the heart but it kept coming.”

Grieg dismissed the man with a wave of his hand.

Altogether eight of the settlers were dead and a half-dozen were injured. The men loaded up what weapons they could and built walls from the snow around the Captain’s wagon. We brought the Harrison girl in and then Dan and I set off down the trail towards the Shoshone.

***

Pocatello and the old man met us.

“You are true to your word,” said Pocatello as he took charge of the two young women “that is the one who took them?” he gestured at Elkin.

“He did that and worse and he is yours.”

The old man eyed me from beneath the bear robe.

“Old man, you know me or something?”

He grinned at me again.

“Just good to see you still alive. I would never wish harm to one who is my brother in the bear.”

“You know anything about what that is that’s loose up on the mountain?”

The old man shrugged.

“White man’s magic, evil.”

“But can you help me?”

He spoke to Pocatello and the chief nodded before raising his rifle to the braves below. Three warriors split from the rest and rode up the track.

“Val?”

“It’ll be fine, Dan just stand firm.”

The big man grunted and I saw his thumb cock his long rifle. The old man saw it to but he didn’t say a word. The braves leapt from their ponies and cut the bonds that held Elkin. The old man spoke quickly and Pocatello turned away taking the two maidens back down the trail. The braves pinned Elkin down in the churned up snow of the trail and cut away his clothes – one held each of his arms while the third knelt on his legs. The old man slipped out of his bearskin and stood before us in a vest of bones and a loin cloth.

“Your knife, brother of the bear.”

I drew my Bowie and handed it to him, handle first. The old man straddled Elkin and slapped him awake. Elkin came to spitting like a rattler.

“Maker of evil, bringer of death to the mountains from which springs life.”

The old man held my knife up the rising sun and caught its first rays on the blade. Elkin made to speak but the knife bit into his chest and the old man cut through his breast. The old shaman reached inside until his hand closed around the white man’s heart. He tore the heart out and held it up to the sun. Then he passed it to me. The old man spun himself around and cut at Elkin’s leg until he retrieved the bullet I had fired into the man earlier.

“Bait and one shot.”

I took the proffered bullet, gore and all.

“Thank you.”

“I need no thanks. But know this – one day the bear will call and you must answer.”

I nodded, uncomprehending.

***

Elkin’s heart lay on the stump of a rotten tree, an offering. I waited. I lay in the snow atop my buffalo robe the Hawken next to me. I thought about the things the old man had said to me and how much the bear had seemed a part of me since I had entered the mountains so many years ago. That terrible flapping of huge wings pulled me out of my thoughts. I cocked the rifle and waited.

The thing descended from the sky and it crunched down in the snow on bony feet. It looked like the shrunken body of a man with tattered wings erupting from its back – like a dreadful angel that had slept for a long time in a dark, dry place. It picked up the heart and dropped it as a whole into its mouth. The thing swallowed once and I saw the lump of the heart outlined in the creature’s throat. I aimed where the heart should have been and fired. The shot was true and the thing fell back into the snow. Dan stood from his position twenty feet to my right and fired his long rifle at the prone creature. Dust burst from the wound. We recharged our rifles and approached together.

“Like my bullet didn’t do a thing,” Dan muttered pointing to the small tear in the creatures withered hide.

I pointed to where my shot had hit and we saw the black blood draining out of the creature.

“Jesus!” muttered Dan “Merry Christmas, Val.”

“Merry Christmas, Dan.”


A Merry Christmas in Hell

Christmas time always sets me to thinking about Boston and the house I had grew up in. I stood in the doorway of my cabin and looked out at the snow that had already lain on the mountain. It reflected the sun and made for a bright morning. The pine trees made me think of the one my mother would have on display. She was a German and had brought the custom with her. My father, if he was home from the sea, smiled indulgently at her as Christmas approached and then went out with an axe and came back with the biggest tree he could fit in the room. My mother would clap her hands and get us to help her decorate the tree. I looked back into the cabin at the small specimen I had in the corner decorated with beads and other gee-gaws I sometimes used in trading. It made me think that it had been a long time since I written to my family – that was something I would have to rectify. I looked back out through the trees and caught sight of a lone horseman amongst the pines. I stepped back inside, loaded my Hawken and stood it up next to the door. My knife was scabbarded at my hip and tomahawk tucked in my belt. There hadn’t been any trouble recently now that the snows had halted the seemingly endless trains of wagons from the East but I wasn’t intending to lose my hair for want of a loaded gun.

The figure drew closer and halted about fifty yards from the cabin.

“Hullo the camp!” roared the rider’s voice.

I laughed.

“Hullo, yourself! That you Terrapin?”

“Yup.”

The man rode closer and dismounted in front of the cabin. I slapped my thigh and smiled.

“You come a visiting?”

“In a manner, Val.”

Dan “Terrapin” Meek dropped his large frame from the saddle and damn me if it didn’t do my heart good to see his bearded face. I’d known Dan Meeks for nigh on fifteen years, not long after folks started calling him Terrapin – on account of him acquiring a taste for dog flesh and swearing it was as good as Buffalo if you cooked it right.

“There’s coffee if you’ll have it, Dan.”

“Mighty welcome. Wouldn’t mind a little Taos Lightning if you have any.”

“Of course. Get your beast in shelter then come on in.”

Dan put his horse in with mine, came into the cabin and shrugged out of his buffalo robe. I handed him a cup of coffee and left the whiskey jug on the table. He finished the coffee in one deep bite, uncorked the whiskey and took a healthy swig.

“Now, Val why in hell is there a tree in your house?”

“Custom of my mother’s people.”

He nodded

“Heard of stranger,” then he took another taste before passing the jug over.

“Ain’t just here for a visit, although it’s damn good to see you.”

“No?”

“Nope. Could be we got some trouble a brewin’ on the mountain.”

I would have offered Dan a seat but he had already taken one by the fire. I took the jug and sat opposite him.

“Well?”

“Shoshone ain’t happy.”

“With us?”

Dan shrugged.

“Might be they’ll be looking to raise the hair on any white man they can find.”

“Now why would they be fitting to do that?”

“Two of their maidens got took and a buck saw from the distance. Swore it was a white fella who took ‘em.”

“Ain’t no white men but me and you on this mountain since the snow came down are there, Dan?”

“There are.”

“Who?”

“Bunch of pork-eating green hands who got caught by the snows.”

“Where?”

“ Down aways – they’ve forted up for the winter in little groups. I been taking ‘em the odd bit of meat – don’t want ‘em ending up like that bunch of fools in the Sierra Nevadas in ’46.”

I nodded, we’d all heard the stories about the wagon train that got cut off and took to eating their dead and then worse.

“And the Shoshone look like they’re gonna dig up the tomahawk on this bunch?”

Dan filled his pipe and nodded.

“Reckon we should try and help ‘em?”

Dan shrugged leaving it up to me but I knew why he had come.

“Best get my gear together.”

Dan looked up at me and smiled.

“Waaaargggh!” That greeting and show of appreciation amongst us men of the mountains that made my heart soar like a hawk above the snow topped pines.

***

Our ponies picked their way through the snow and the trees. We both wore buffalo robes, Dan had on a wide brimmed planter’s hat and I wore my fur cap with the eagle feathers. We were loaded for bear; in addition to my Hawken I had two pistols holstered on the horse and an old Baker Rifle I had traded from an Atsugewi brave on my way back from California the previous year. Dan was likewise heavily armed with a double barrelled shotgun in addition to his usual his long Pennsylvania rifle and Bowie knife.

The snow crunched beneath the hooves of my pony as I manouvered her down a steep decline. Dan held up a hand and I halted my mount. He turned in the saddle and then pointed to a lean to shack that lay some little distance from us; the wagon bed lay in the snow with a canvas shelter added to the front of it.

“This is the Harrisons – good peoples.”

I nodded and we rode towards the temporary home.

“Hullo, the house!” called Dan.

Nothing stirred in the canvas dwelling and we nudged our ponies closer. I slid the Hawken from beneath my warm robe and cocked back the hammer. As we drew nearer I noticed signs painted on the canvas of the shelter. Dan had seen them too and I stayed quiet as he slid out of his saddle. He took his shotgun and moved quickly across the snow, surprisingly quiet for a man of his size. I threw a quick glance at the trees around us and then climbed down to kneel in the snow with the Hawken watching for any sign of movement in the dwelling. Dan vanished inside and I could hear my breathing as well as see it in the cold December air. A few moments later Dan reappeared; his face told me a story better than if he had spoken it to me across a campfire – whatever was inside was bad.

I kept the Hawken at the ready and moved to where he stood.

“Shoshone?”

Dan shook his head.

“Even the Crow ain’t got the stomach for what’s been done in there; four of ‘em killed in the worst way and the daughter’s been taken.”

I looked at the signs that had been smeared on the canvas; five pointed stars, a terrible eye, a crude goats head. I realised that they had been painted in blood. For a moment I considered seeing the atrocity that had been committed inside but in the end I did not have the heart for it. Instead I slapped my hand on Dan’s shoulder and began to check the ground for sign. It didn’t take long; there were blood drops and drag marks showing clearly, a green hand could have followed the tracks. I stepped into the shadows cast by the trees and looked down the mountain – nothing stirred nearby.

“Tracks head off down the mountain, where the woods are deeper. You want to head off after them now?”

“Think we best check in on the other families first.”

I nodded and followed Dan’s lead. We remounted and continued down the mountain – all the time eyeing the thicker copses of trees that lay to our right.

By the time we reached the next encampment it had begun to snow lightly and the flakes fell lazily like leaves blown from a tree. A figure appeared from the flap of a canvas tent; he was a tall man with dark whiskers, a top coat of rich blue and he held a long pistol in each hand.

“Who goes there?”

“Dan Meeks!”

“And the fellow with you, Mr Meeks?”

“’Nother ol’ coon like myself – Tomahawk Val Pettigrew.”

The man strode over, a smile splitting his face. He tucked his pistols into the sash around his waist and offered me his hand.

“Captain Cornelius Grieg, late of Fort Brooke, Florida.”

“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Captain.”

“How goes it, Dan?” he shouted.

“Not so well, Captain. Just come from the Harrison place.”

The Captain’s face clouded.

“Nothing wrong I hope?”

Dan dismounted and stood in close to the Captain.

“I’m sorry to have to say it but the whole family done went under.”

The Captain looked at Dan as though failing to understand.

“What Dan is saying, Captain, is that someone killed them all. Less’n the girl and she’s been dragged into the woods.”

“We must follow!”

“Now hold up” Dan raised his hands to Captain Grieg “there’s other troubles coming your way.”

The Captain shook his head.

“What could be worse than this?”

“The Shoshone are on the warpath. Think some of your folks had something to do with taking a couple of their women.”

“How many?”

“Maybe thirty braves” Dan looked to me for confirmation.

“Could be, somewhere between twenty and forty.”

“I fought the Seminoles in the swamps. I can raise ten or twelve fighting men. Will you stand with us?”

“That’s a big ask, Captain” Dan looked away and I knew he sorely wished to help the settlers.

“Might be it won’t come to that” I found myself saying “assume the worst and get the families together where you can best defend them – Dan’ll advise you on that.”

“And what of you Mr Pettigrew?”

I looked at Dan.

“Pocatello leading them, Dan?”

Dan nodded back to me.

“Best be I go palaver with the man then.”

“Might be he’ll try and raise your hair, Val.”

I shrugged.

“Ain’t like they haven’t tried before.”

I saluted Dan and the Captain with the Hawken in my clenched fist.

“I swear you got the hair of the bear, Val!”

“I best hope that old bear’s looking down on me today, I need her to be watching!”

Touching my heels to the pony I lit out towards where I knew the Shoshone would be making their way towards us. As I moved away I saw a woman stood in the doorway of the Captain’s tent with a baby in her arms.

***

A brave with a tattooed face rode up close to me, so that our ponies were almost touching. I stared him in the eye. A pogamoggan dangled from his fist, two foot of pine wood as a handle with a heavy stone head lashed to the top. He threw a whoop at me and I threw one straight back.

I spoke Shoshone, as much as I knew. Enough to send him back down the trail to the party of thirty or so riders who were gathered below. He rode down to the man who led the party and spoke to him. They stopped and waited. I held the pony in check as I descended keeping the pace nice and slow. The leader rode out to meet me accompanied by an old man. We looked each other over; Pocatello was maybe thirty or thirty five, well built with a strong face, he rode a painted pony and carried a rifle with an intricately carved stock. He was wrapped in furs, discs of beaten silver hung from his ears shining amongst his black hair. The old man was wizened and hid beneath a huge bear skin robe, complete with head.

“You are the great chief Pocatello?”

“You flatter me. I am simply the leader of a few families.”

“The mountains already ring with your name.”

“But I do not know your name, white man.”

“I am called Tomahawk Val.”

“He who rode with the Blackfeet as a brother?”

“That is my honour.”

“And why now do you bar our path? Our fight is not with you.”

I switched to English.

“Seems to me your fight isn’t with those folks up on the mountain either.”

He seemed to understand.

“That is not for you to say. You are known throughout the mountains but I have many braves with me eager to count coup on those who stole away our two maidens.”

“You are many and I am one, that is true but know this – you’ll have to cut me down and take my hair before I let you pass. You have many braves, Pocatello, again that is true. But how many will follow you after I stain the snow with the blood of as many of your warriors as I can? You will kill me, I know this, but I have sung my death song and the great bear waits to greet me. That is my truth.”

I patted my hand across my rifles, pistols, knife and tomahawk.

“But it does not have to be like this, great chief. Give me till the sun once again colours the sky and I will bring you the ones responsible.”

Pocatello looked me over. He had thirty warriors behind him but I could see he wanted to be a bigger leader than he was. If he even lost five warriors getting past me it could take his reputation years to recover. The old man spoke from beneath his bearskin. The Shoshone was too fast for me to keep up. The chief listened without replying to the old man. When the old man finished speaking Pocatello looked to the sky.

“You have until the sky is lit once more and then we will come.”

I waited until Pocatello rode back to his braves. The old man remained.

“Bad thing on the mountain.”

“What happened is bad but it can be fixed.”

The old man smiled, showing me a mouthful of yellow tombstones.

“Don’t die up there, mountain man,” he threw me a wink and then turned his pony.

I stared at the old man as he rode away and then I turned and made my way back up the mountain. It was slow going up the snowbound trail and I was conscious of the sun slowly moving down the sky.

***

When I arrived back at Captain Grieg’s wagon a small knot of men had gathered; they were haggard and a couple looked half starved. They held a collection of old muskets and shotguns. Dan walked over to me.

“Well?”

“We got till morning else they’re gonna come on.”

Dan grunted and went to retrieve his pony. Captain Grieg strode out of his tent wearing a heavy topcoat, a sword belted at his waist and the pair of long barrelled single-shot pistols tucked into his sash.

“You have bought us some time?”

“Till day break.”

“When do we start out?”

“Who is it that’s out there, Captain Grieg?”

He looked away for a moment before answering.

“Told us his name was John Elkin joined the company late on. He said he had spent some time in Albany and was eager to make his way west. Didn’t take us long to work out he was a bad apple. Something just wasn’t right with him, always locked away in his wagon with a trunk of books. When we got caught by the snows he took his wagon off away from the others, kind of glad he did if I am honest.”

“And you think it’s him?”

The Captain nodded.

“Is he armed?”

“I insisted every wagon carry a rifle or shotgun at least. I believe he had an old Brunswick rifle.”

Dan rode up.

“Don’t sound like he’ll be hard to take does it?”

“He killed a whole family, Dan. I won’t be happy till he’s trussed up across the back of a horse.”

The Captain’s horse looked as starved as some of his men.

“You’re sure those red devils won’t attack before we return?”

I exchanged a look with Dan.

“Pocatello’s a lot things but he ain’t no liar. We have until dawn.”

We looked to the sky.

“Reckon we got two hours of light,” said Dan.

Captain Grieg barked an order about posting sentinels and then turned his horse to join us. The people of the wagon train looked sad and small as we rode away.


The Arroyo of the WormPart Two

When consciousness returned to Gatlin he found the skin of his face tight from the harsh sun beating down on him. He was tied to a thick wooden post that had been driven into the sun baked dirt outside of the monastery wall while the other prisoners sat around his feet in chains. The older monk, Francisco, approached with a sly grin playing on his creased face.

“Awake at last, gringo.”

Gatlin held the man’s glare and then looked down to see the Beaumont-Adams tucked into the belt of the monk’s cassock.

“I am that.”

“You are just in time to bear witness!”

Chains clanked as the prisoners drew back away from a hooded monk as he approached. The monk held a short pike that looked as though it had belonged to a sergeant in an army fifty years forgotten. He jabbed the dagger like point of the pike at the faces of the younger women among the prisoners, giggling as he did so. Two other monks followed the pike wielder grabbing up several of the prisoners. Bill Endsleigh was among those taken.

“Sarah!”  He shouted to his sister who still sat in the dust “You look to Gatlin now! You hear me?”

She nodded, tears streaking her cheeks and Francisco laughed.

“What can he do for you know?”

The prisoners were dragged through the dust in front of Francisco who stared at each and then dismissed them with a flick of his hand. Gatlin watched as they were pushed down the track towards the arroyo at the point of the pike.

“Mister?”

Gatlin heard a whisper from behind him and adjusted his position of the stake.  Little Jimmy-Lee crouched at the base of the post.

“Got my knife, boy?”

The boy nodded.

“Got one of them big pistols from your saddle too.”

Gatlin’s mouth turned up into a half-smile.

“The cut away, boy. Cut away.”

Gatlin turned to his front and watched the descent of the prisoners down the track as Jimmy-Lee worked at his bonds.

Bill Endsleigh led the prisoners down. The chains he wore forced him to take on the shambling gait of a prisoner jigging towards his final dance on the hangman’s noose. The others followed him in the shuffling two-step to stay one dance step ahead of the rusty pike tip. The monks stopped at the end of the track and pushed the prisoners out onto the loose, churned up dirt beyond. The prisoners moved out further into the arroyo. Gatlin watched as Bill Endsleigh’s head turned from side to side as though he could hear something that Gatlin could not. The earth around the prisoners seemed to shift; subtly at first and then more violently as the dirt began to ripple and finally erupted in a geyser of soil and sand. A woman screamed as the earth was thrown into the air and something burst forth from the ground. Gatlin saw the huge worm, the length of six horses and the thickness of a Conestoga wagon; drag the woman beneath the earth in a mouth that was rimmed by teeth that resembled long shards of bone. Bill Endsleigh grabbed up a rock as silence descended over the arroyo.

The dirt around Endsleigh spun into the air and enveloped him like a shroud and the worm leapt like a salmon heading upstream. Endsleigh pitched the rock but it bounced from the creatures hide. The worm took Endsleigh’s left leg up to the hip before vanishing back beneath the surface. The remaining prisoners hopped back towards the safety of the pathway. The first to reach the path fell as the hooded monks pig sticker dipped in and out of her throat. In the screams and confusion the worm took another of them.

Gatlin felt his bonds give at the same moment.

“Put that pistol in my hand, Jimmy-Lee.”

The weight of the Colt Dragoon in his right hand comforted Gatlin.

“Knife in the other.”

The monks had begun to chant and cavort in the dirt.

“El gusano! El gusano! Gloria de el gusano!”

“Abbot Francisco!” Called Gatlin and the old monk turned.

The .44 calibre bullet caught Francisco in his right eye and punched out the back of his skull. Gatlin wheeled the gun and shot a second monk in the gut. The prisoners shuffled away in the dirt and a monk leapt at Gatlin with a machete. Two bullets sent him sprawling into the dust. A fourth shot rang out and the knee of a fleeing monk was destroyed in a spray of red. Gatlin’s fifth round took a monk in the head. Gatlin held the pistol ready knowing only one round remained. The remaining monks, about half a dozen, massed and then rushed at Gatlin as one. The Colt barked it’s last war cry and then Gatlin rushed to meet the charge reversing the pistol as a club and stabbing out with the Arkansas toothpick. The slash of blades, the clash of bodies, dust kicked up, the thrust of steel and bodies in the dirt. The monks spirit broke and as they tried to flee from the death and pain dealt by the tall Southerner they were pulled to ground by the prisoners and beaten with the heavy chains until they were still.

Gatlin stood, bloodied, and watched the monks on the trail below.

“Bring me my pistols and my horse.”

The hooded monk with the halberd was moving quickly up the track. The two remaining monks followed more slowly. When he had ascended to the top of the trail he flipped back the hood of his robe to reveal a fire ravaged face. He gestured at Gatlin to come forward. Gatlin nodded but as he stepped towards the pike-wielder he ducked to the body of Francisco and came up with the Beaumont-Adams. The pistol roared four times in quick succession; two through the chest of the scarred monk and one through the head of each of his fellows. The monk dropped his pike and slumped to his knees. Gatlin stepped forward and looked the man in the eye. The fifth chamber of the Beaumont-Adams hit the man between the eyes and he fell back. Gatlin picked up the pike and leaned on it as he looked down – the arroyo below was now empty but for a few blood-stained patches of earth.

“How are you fixed for powder and shot?” Gatlin asked one of the remaining men.

“Fixed pretty well. Brought the whole stock with us. Powder and shot seemed more important than bringing the furniture.”

***

The Southerners now free of their chains sat in their wagons looking to the north. Gatlin sat on the Palomino, the rusty pike held like a standard by his side and his unloaded pack horse trailed behind him. Two small sacks were tied to the pommel of the Palomino’s saddle.

“After I ride down you wait and then you follow. Keep the wagons tight over to the left of the arroyo.”

“What are you going to do, Mister Gatlin?” Asked Sarah Endsleigh.

“Why, Miss, I intend to get you back to the pines of Tennessee.”

And with that Gatlin touched his heels to the flanks of his horse and moved off down the trail leading the packhorse behind him.

Gatlin rode across the disturbed earth of the arroyo and let loose the pack horse’s bridle. He then wheeled the Palomino to the right and rode to the edge of the arroyo where he stabbed the pike into the dirt, put the Palomino’s reins between his teeth and unsheathed the pair of Colt Dragoons. He did not have to wait long. Soon the dust began to tremble and shift in the centre of the arroyo. The pack horse stopped stock still and let out a terrible bray. The earth shifted and the worm took the packhorse in the side. Gatlin let out a whooping war cry and spurred the Palomino forward. Four shots punched into the thick flesh of the worm and white fluid leaked forth from the wounds.

The Palomino stood and Gatlin’s pistols roared again and again until they were empty. The worm slid back into the earth taking the packhorse with it. Gatlin rode back to where he had stabbed the pike into the dirt and slid the Colts back into their holsters. That done he waved up to the wagons and watched them begin to roll down the trail. Gatlin drew the carbine that he had taken from a Union trooper at Little Blue River and waited.

The worm burst from the ground to the right of Gatlin and completely left the ground like a whale leaping clear of the ocean. Gatlin had the carbine to his shoulder in an instant and the heavy bullet slammed through the worm’s flesh. He discarded the carbine and grabbed up the pike. The worm had gone back into the ground but Gatlin could see it close to the surface tearing across the arroyo towards the wagons which moved tight to the left hand side near the rocky slope. Women screamed and men lashed the horses as they saw the worm churning a path towards them. Gatlin rode in fast and lanced the pike down through the earth into the flesh of the great worm. He stabbed down again and again until the worm began to the change direction and follow him. Gatlin wheeled the horse and raced back towards the trail.

benedictjjonesBenedict J Jones is a writer from South East London who mainly works in the horror and crime veins. He has been influenced by the work of HP Lovecraft, Clive Barker, Graham Greene, Arthur Conan Doyle, Chester Himes, Stephen King, Joel Lane, Paul Meloy, Robert Harris, Erich Maria Remarque and John Christopher. A lot of his fiction deals with London and the oddities that are found in this ancient urban sprawl.

The worm leapt and the terrible shard like teeth sliced through the flesh in the flank of the Palomino. Gatlin grabbed the sacks from the pommel and threw himself clear as the Palomino crashed into the dirt. The horse regained its feet in a moment and, free of Gatlin’s weight, outpaced the worm back to the safety of the trail. Gatlin grabbed up the pike which had spilled from his grasp when he had jumped clear. He watched the ground and waited. A grain of dirt shifted and before Gatlin even had time to turn the worm was upon him. Teeth sliced into flesh and the weight of the worm knocked Gatlin to his knees. He jabbed up with the pike until it was deeply imbedded in the flesh of the worm. Gatlin levered the shaft of the pike until a wound was torn in the creature. Quickly Gatlin snatched the sacks from the dirt and stuffed them into the wound as the worm began to drag itself back beneath the earth. Gatlin ran towards the trail, drawing the Beaumont-Adams as he went. He felt more than saw the worm and threw himself sideways spinning in the air. Gatlin could see the sacks he had stuffed inside the body of the worm. In a single motion Gatlin brought the pistol up and fired all five shots into the area containing the sacks. The gunpowder stuffed inside the sacks ignited and blew the worms was blown into pieces. Gatlin lay in the dirt covered in gore and looked around him at the little that remained of the creature that had almost killed him.

***

Gatlin rode with the wagons until they sighted the Rio Grande. The wagons rolled down towards a crossing and Gatlin remained in the saddle of the Palomino.

“Come home with us, Mister Gatlin.”

“Miss Endsleigh, that’s not my country anymore much less my home.”

Without another word Gatlin turned his horse and rode away to the south east.


The Arroyo of the WormPart One

The rider was tall and sat, high in the saddle on his Palomino; he was tanned by the southern sun but his eyes were light, he wore a planters hat with a white shirt and tan riding breeches, a pistol was belted at his waist and a pair sat in scabbards ahead of the saddle. A pack horse trailed behind him at the end of a long bridle. The few residents of the pueblo, old men along with some young children and a few women, stared as he rode in. The rider drew the Palomino to a halt. An old man with a shock of white hair and a thick beard stood and walked over to the stranger.

“Hola, senor.”

The rider nodded.

“You have ridden from the south?”

“Down near Veracruz.”

“Guns and death I suppose.”

“A whole heap of that.”

“Senor, if you want money Maximilliano’s men took it, if you want animals the Juaristas took them and if you want women the bandits took them. But we can offer you tortillas, beans and perhaps a little pulque.”

The tall rider held down his fist and the old man reached to shake it only to find himself with a handful of silver coins.

“I’m William Gatlin, late of the army of the Confederate states and before that Front Royal, Virginia.”

“They call me, Paco.”

“Paco, from the wagons tracks running along that road yonder I’m reckoning that a party came down that road a few days back. Would I be right?”

“Si, four wagons and a few horses came from the south like you. Americans who said they were from Carlota.”

Gatlin nodded and slid down from the saddle.

“How many days?”

“Three.”

“My horse needs water and I could go for a jug of that pulque myself.”

Paco clapped Gatlin on the shoulder and led him to a table beneath a canopy which hung from an adobe building that had seen better days. Flies buzzed around the table.

“No tables inside?”

A look of worry slid over Paco’s features.

“Senor Gatlin there are two men inside, they are not good men. It is best you stay out here I think.”

Two scabby horses, a flea bitten grey and a worn down dun were tied to post outside, and Gatlin looked at them while Paco patted the chair.

“Paco, I never did like flies in my tortillas.”

He pushed open the door and stepped into the dark.

The cantina was dirt floored and the only light came a few candles scattered around on the tables. Two men sat at a table with clay cups of milky pulque in front of them. They looked over their shoulders as Gatlin stepped inside. The two men wore straw sombreros with wide brims; one was pock marked with a wall eye, the other rat featured with a thin moustache – both wore large horse pistols on their waists.

“Hola.” Offered Gatlin.

The men turned in their seats and sneered.

Gatlin took a seat at an empty table across the room from the two men. A girl appeared, she was young but Gatlin could see the swellings of womanhood beneath her cheap dress. The shoulder of her dress was torn and the two men laughed as she stayed as far away from them as the tables would allow. She placed a clay cup before Gatlin. Her eyes showed fear. Gatlin took a mouthful from the cup and then put it back on the table. The man with the pockmarked face rose and walked across the rooms, spurs jangling with each step.

“You didn’t finish it, senor.”

“I know the custom.”

“So why didn’t you finish it, gringo?”

“Perhaps I didn’t consider the company worthy of the custom.”

The man’s hand jerked towards the Colt Dragoon at his waist. Gatlin raised his hand.

“Could be I spoke a little hastily allow me a chance to finish it.”

Gatlin upended the clay cup into his mouth watching all the time as the man closed his hand around the grip of his pistol. The first bullet took the man through his wall eye the second through his chest. Gatlin stood up with the cup still pressed to his lips his Beaumont-Adams revolver aimed straight, and shot the second man through his mouth. Placing the cup on the table he crossed the dirt floor and fired a shot through the man’s heart.

“I’ll take those tortillas and beans now.”

***

When he was finished Gatlin remounted the Palomino and rode out following the deep ruts in the road from the wagons that had passed by the pueblo. As the sun began to wane Gatlin found that the tracks cut away from the road.

“Now why would they do that, horse?”

Gatlin touched his heels to the horse and rode further down the road where he soon found the reason for the wagons turning off; tracks from two dozen horses crossed the trail half a mile from where the wagons had cut off. He stared at the hoof prints for a moment and then wheeled the Palomino around to follow the wagons.

The track led down into a deep arroyo, the river long dried up, the dust that lined the depression was loose and kicked up with each step of the horse. The wagon tracks were fainter in the thin dirt. Nothing grew inside the arroyo and even the ridge line around it was devoid of a bush of mesquite or a bark-stripped tree. Gatlin rode slowly through the arroyo, his hand close to the butt of the Beaumont-Adams, and the Palomino felt nervous beneath him.

The trail finally took the horse and rider up a track out of the arroyo and up to a low mesa. At the top of the track sat a monastery with thick walls of sand coloured stone and high windows. Gatlin rode slowly up to the imposing wooden gates that were studded with heads of heavy nails. He stayed in the saddle and tugged on the thick rope that hung down next to the gate. Somewhere inside he heard the toll of a bell. Minutes passed and a Judas hole opened in the gate and Gatlin found himself surveyed by hidden eyes. A small door set within the main gate opened and a short man in a brown monk’s habit emerged; his hair was iron grey and tonsured, his face lined like the cracked bed of a dried out river. When he spoke his voice was a low whisper.

“Senor, I am Francisco the abbot of this place.”

Gatlin nodded to the abbot and removed his planter’s hat.

“I’m in need of shelter for the night, willing to pay.”

“We have no need of your money, my son. You may share what little we have willingly.”

Francisco clapped his hands three times and the monastery gates were opened. Gatlin guided the Palomino through and into the courtyard beyond. A pair of monk stood by the open gates and began to push them shut once Gatlin was inside; one was tall and completely bald, the other had his features hidden in the cowl of his habit. Gatlin looked around the courtyard and although it was mostly empty the ground was criss-crossed with wagon tracks.

“You’ve had other visitors recently?”

“They stayed a few hours and then continued on their way.”

Gatlin wiped his face and neck with a handkerchief.

“That so.”

“You can put your animals in there.” Francisco gestured towards a lean to in one corner of the courtyard.

“Thank you.”

“My brothers and I must now attend to our evening prayers. I trust that you will rest easy”

“And I thank you for the hospitality.”

The monks filed away through one of the many doors that dotted the walls around the courtyard. Gatlin watered his horses and then set himself down under a blanket in a bed of straw. He left his boots on.

***

Something moved in the darkness and Gatlin was instantly awake. He made no sign of movement and stayed beneath his blanket. A shape moved as silently as a spectre as it crossed the hard dirt of the courtyard. Gatlin waited until shadowy figure reared over him before he rolled to the side. A club thudded against the straw where Gatlin’s head had lain a moment before. A kick to the mid-section threw the figure out into the moonlight. Gatlin circled with his fists at the ready. The tall bald monk pulled himself out of the dust and hissed a few words in Spanish before moving forward, swinging his stave in a wide arc. Gatlin stepped inside the swing, caught the monks arm and crashed a fist into his gut. The monk dropped to his knees and Gatlin rapped the butt of the Beaumont-Adams on his bald head twice in quick succession. Once the monk laid motionless in the dirt Gatlin hog tied him with his own cord belt and gagged him with a piece of rough cloth torn from his cassock. With his nocturnal visitor secured Gatlin moved off towards the door through which the monks had headed to prayer.

The corridor beyond the door was dark and unlit. Gatlin worked his way along the wall by fingertip touch – one hand of the rough stonework while the other held his pistol loose by his side. Gradually as he moved through the dark Gatlin heard the whisper of a multitude voices locked together in unison. A flicker of light touched the walls the further that Gatlin crept forward. Crouching lower Gatlin stayed tight to the wall and moved around the corners towards the source of both the light and the voices.

Peeking around the edge of a doorway Gatlin blinked his eyes against the light from the two dozen candles and took in the scene; half a score of monks were knelt around a roughly hewn wooden altar, half covered by a piece of stained cloth. In the centre of the filthy coverlet stood a statue carved from a wet looking stone, the icon showed a naked woman in the embrace of a thick worm with a maw filled with shard like teeth, the coil of the worms body laid obscenely between the woman’s legs. The monks prostrated themselves before the terrible icon and whispered unspeakable litanies to it.

Gatlin backed away from the door and padded silently back down the corridor the way he had come. He checked another door of the courtyard and found it locked. Gatlin rapped his fist against and was surprised when a muffled knock came back in response. Tapping twice Gatlin received two knocks back from the other side of the door. Three hard kicks put the door through and in the moonlight Gatlin could make out the figures of more than a dozen people hunkered down on the floor with chains linked through their legs. The room in which the prisoners sat was little better than a dungeon. Even in the moonlight a familiar face caught Gatlin’s eye.

“Bill? Bill Endsleigh? What the hell happened to you?”

“William Gatlin! I’ll be… Hell’s about right for what we’ve been through. After we ran the gauntlet out of Carlota we got up here. Saw maybe fifty riders and figured them for bandits or Juarsitas. Thought we’d get shelter in this here monastery but I guess they drugged the food.”

“Where’re the rest of you?”

Bill Endsleigh turned his bearded face away for a moment and then spoke.

“There were another eight of us when we started out from New Virginia. After they took us they’ve been picking us out like one or two at a time.”

“What they doing with the ones they take?”

Endsleigh shrugged and looked away.

“Don’t rightly know, heard the screams though.”

Gatlin looked at the chains that held the prisoners to thick rungs which hung from the stone walls and could see no way to turn them loose.

Bill Endsleigh jerked his head to the side.

“Young Jimmy-Lee’s only held by a piece of rope.”

Gatlin turned and looked around at a boy who looked to be around eleven. Gatlin slid an Arkansas toothpick from the top of his boot and let the razor sharp steel kiss the ropes that held the boys wrists.

“Thank you, mister.” The boy rubbed is wrists.

“Go and get the pistols from my saddle, carbine as well.”

Fear showed in the boy’s eyes. Gatlin grinned at the boy reversed the Arkansas toothpick handing it to the boy handle first.

benedictjjonesBenedict J Jones is a writer from South East London who mainly works in the horror and crime veins. He has been influenced by the work of HP Lovecraft, Clive Barker, Graham Greene, Arthur Conan Doyle, Chester Himes, Stephen King, Joel Lane, Paul Meloy, Robert Harris, Erich Maria Remarque and John Christopher. A lot of his fiction deals with London and the oddities that are found in this ancient urban sprawl.

“Take that, boy and if you see any of those snakes in dresses you just stick that in ‘em and holler.”

The boy crept out of the door. Gatlin turned to Bill Endsleigh.

“Bill, I’m going to have to shoot those there chains off of you. On the first shot they’re going to come running. So we’ll wait for the boy and then once you’re free you take up one of my horse pistols and you hold the door. Three pistols and a carbine ought to be enough to deal with a bunch of monks.”

A young woman in chains with hair as dark as a crows wing leant forward. Gatlin turned and could not help but stare at the angle of her features and was enamoured by the way the shadows played across her face.

“That’s my sister Sarah.” Stated Bill Endsleigh.

“Miss Endsleigh.” Gatlin tipped his hat.

“How come Jimmy-Lee hasn’t come back yet?”

“Let me see.” Replied Gatlin.

The courtyard was pitch black, moon behind clouds, and Gatlin stepped out to catch a better look for the boy. A club cracked against his temple and the night turned to a flood of stars before it faded to black.


Lock In

Danny the fence sat a corner table with a treble Bushmills and an untouched pint of Guinness.  His dark suit jacket hung on the back of his chair and his black tie was half undone like the noose of a lazy hangman.  Danny downed the Bushmills and signalled to Ken behind the bar.  Ken brought a recharged glass and took away the empty.  The music switched from Sinatra’s My Way to S-Club Seven’s Reach.  Danny looked at Ken.

“Sorry, mate.”

Ken hurried behind the bar and replaced the CD with one of the Rat pack’s greatest hits, couldn’t go wrong with that, he thought.

The pub doors swung open and Connor Richards walked in with a heavily stuffed carrier bag dangling from his fist.  He looked around the empty pub and then threw a grin at Danny and Ken.

“Hello, lads, want to buy some meat?”

When no one spoke he took it as an acquiescence for him to continue with his pitch.

“Nice bit of rump steak for dinner, Danny.  Or some Ostrich mebbe?”

Danny held up his pint of Guinness.

“Got my dinner here, boy.”  He took a sip and replaced the pint on its beer mat.  “So fuck off.”

Connor looked over at Ken, his grin starting to falter.

“Top stuff, mate.  Straight out the coolers at Waitrose today like.  Got a couple of Guinea fowl if you fancy ‘em…”

“Not tonight eh, Connor.”  Ken inclined his head towards Danny and went back to polishing the bar top.  Connor disappeared out the door.

“Fucking prick.”  Muttered Danny.

“Ah, Danny, he’s just trying to get through.”

Danny eyed Ken.

“Alright, Dan, you’re right – he’s a prick.”

Danny nodded and downed his whiskey.

Ken had gone down to the cellar for another bottle of Bushmills when Jay Dixon walked in.  Jay swaggered across the worn carpet; dark grey hooded tracksuit, hair cut close to the skull and the dead look in his eye said he was well past an ASBO.

“What’s happening, Dan?”

“Fuck off, Jay.”

“Don’t be like that – I got something for ya.”

Jay sat himself down on a stool and Danny stared him, wishing him gone.

“Come on, just have a look.”

Danny took a bite out of his Guinness and then necked his Bushmills.  He looked behind the bar for Ken but he was still down in the cellar.  Danny sighed.

“Go on then, son.  Entertain me, what you got this time?”

Jay’s face split into a grin like a melon hit with a machete.

“Yeah, yeah.”  He looked over his should and then pulled a small bag from the front pocket of his hoodie.  He passed a watch across the table to Danny.  Danny felt the weight of it in his palm and then turned it over between his fingers.

“Nice.”

“It’s a Rolex init?”

“Yeah.  An old one.  Not many people wearing these today.”

“Gotta be worth a bit like, I was thinking a oner?”

“Would’ve have thought you thought.  I’ll give you a score for it, Jay.”

Jay shrugged, knowing it was the best offer he’d get.

“What else you got?

A gold cigarette lighter, money clip and signet ring passed quickly across the table. Danny rolled each through his fingers and then dropped them into his pockets.

“How does another fifty sound?”

“Like you’re mugging me off but I’ll take it.”  Said Jay.

Danny took out his roll and peeled off four score notes.

“We’ll call it eighty then, goodwill like.”

Jay smiled.

“You wanna drink, Jay?”

“Cheers, Dan, I’ll have a JD and coke.”

For the first time in two hours Danny the fence got out of his seat.  Ken was back behind the bar.

“’Nother Bushmills for me, Ken, and a JD and coke for the kid.”  Danny was smiling.

Ken made the drinks and watched as Danny slipped the Rolex onto his wrist and the signet ring onto his pinkie.

“Ain’t they your Granddad’s?”  Asked Ken.

“Yeah.  They are.  Lock the door, Ken.”

Ken turned away but not before he saw Danny take the switchblade out of his pocket or before he heard Mack the Knife roll out of the speakers.