The Slam Bang Chronicles of Buckshot, chapter One: “Moon Wolf”

Go Ask The Hills

Go ask the hills, in their ancient fastness
slumbering under mantle of ancient stone
go ask the hills slumbering restless
in the darkness of autumn as wind blows cold.

Go ask the hills to sift through the memories
stretching back eons to foggy days
when the dawn of creation still stood shimmering
and the grace of the Lord had not fallen away

Go ask the hills, in the blazing splendor
before the darkness and cold of winter
go ask the hills what lies beneath them
hear the stories they tell–and tremble.

 
The beast stood taller than a man when it reared up on its hind legs to bring the curved and hooklike claws to bear. Scales ranging from dark green to black covered it, and these served to conceal it well as it moved through the inky bottoms of the Ozark hills. The head was larger than that of a horse, oval-shaped with huge black eyes and a ridge of spines across the top. The mouth was large, designed for swallowing prey whole and taking huge chunks of flesh from larger animals. Though it was as smart as any animal domesticated by man, it knew no fealty to the sons of Adam. Its only motive was to kill and to eat. The winter months caused it to lie dormant, usually in caves or sometimes in an abandoned well. And it was the only thing of its kind, and it was very old. Long before the white men came to the hills the Indians had given it a name: Willipus Wallopus.
For a week straight the monster had been on a rampage. Livestock had been slaughtered and a half dozen men had gone into the woods hunting for the predator. One had returned, hair gone white, and unable to speak of what he had seen. The word had spread across the hills and got to Buckshot, and he loaded up his guns and went in. The creature had made no effort to conceal its movements, and Buck had no difficulties in tracking it. It had long since grown accustomed to killing and eating men and thus had no fear of them. When Buck snuck up on it and got within rifle range, he found it lapping water up out of a creek, completely unaware of its hunter. Best to put the slug through the eye, Buck thought. The report of the shot echoed for miles along with a strange and inhuman scream, and all the hill folk knew Buckshot would be bringing in the hide. And that was one less monster in the world, but the world was full of them.
Judge Parker peered into the mirror adjusting his powdered wig. He had an enormous docket and oversaw cases that would shock even the most jaded reprobate. He looked down on men from his bench that could be described as monsters. And for such, the worst and most foul, he kept the unfashionable wig. He believed his power derived from Almighty God, whose justice and fury he was to mete out in his court. And thus the wig, worn in imitation of the blazing-visaged and snowy-haired Christ of the Apocalypse.
Despite the length of the day, as evening approached he kept his court in session. There was a man on the end of the docket that had caught his attention. According to his Marshalls, this one man had left a trail of wanton cruelty and destruction like none other. He had read the reports, all written and sworn to by men he knew to be sober and sound character, and he still found himself in a state of disbelief. The defendant himself had written a full confession in the form of an open letter to Parker in which he had openly admitted to deeds which would earn him the gallows a hundred times over.
If he was seeking death at the hands of the court there was enough to suffice. He tried to clear his face of emotion. He did not want to scandalize his office by an undignified show of emotion as he entered the courtroom. As he exited his chambers and walked the short hallway to his court he heard the overflowing mob in his courtroom go from a low steady murmur to an excited roar. He involuntarily thought of ancient Rome, of gladiators stepping onto the bloodied sand for the amusement of the rabble. His last case of the day was undoubtedly being led into the court.
Patrick Lynch. That was the name on the docket, and the name signed with a huge Hancockian flourish at the bottom of the disquieting confession that had landed on Parker’s desk. As he stepped in, he looked for his man. Could this be the terrible beast? This man looked like a grocer or a bookkeeper. Just barely five feet, perhaps a hundred pounds in his suit clothes. The kind of drab brown suit that men bought to blend in rather than stand out, good enough for church and business, but not the sort of thing that would mark him as a dandy. The crimes that his Marshalls accused him of and that he readily admitted to required a brute strength and ferocity that he almost certainly could not possess.
And yet, there he was, clad in his sunday best and wearing manacle and chain enough for a circus bear. His bailiffs were visibly discomforted by his presence. The story was that in the last fortnight he had single-handedly killed half a dozen of Parker’s men. Not until a week later, with skilled Choctaw trackers leading the way, did the Marshalls corner the little man in his camp. He had smiled pleasantly, offered coffee, confessed to everything, and come away without a word of complaint. The Judge’s gut instinct was excellent and rarely pointed him wrong. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end as he regarded him even as his eyes sent the message: this cannot be.
Down came the gavel. “Order.” Such was the reputation of the Judge that the crowd went silent almost immediately. Lynch took his seat with an audible clanking of chains and a smile. He seemed to be enjoying himself. The Judge stared down his defendant and he returned the gaze with an air almost of boredom. He sighed. “Mr. Lynch.” Lynch rose with a clatter of metal as the judge addressed him. “I rather suspect, Mr. Lynch, that you have supplied the court with a name different than the one your parents christened you with.” A shrug of the shoulders. “I borrowed it from a fellow I met up north. He was nice enough.” His voice had a hint of an accent, but it was faint, and not easily discerned. Enough for Parker to know that the man was from somewhere else.
“I’m glad it suits you. That is the name you will die with, sir, if this trial goes the way I expect it to go.” Ordinarily, when Judge Parker invoked the gallows even the strongest men were sobered. He had seen hard men weep with terror, but this man remained unmoved. “You have also waived the right to an attorney, as you say you would prefer to act as your own counsel. There is a well-known proverb on that subject.” A murmur of laughter rippled through the room. Lynch clenched his teeth and his fists balled, but he remained smiling. “Well, then, counsel, how do you plead for your client?”
“Not guilty, your honor. By reason of natural law.” The courtroom erupted in a babel of outraged shouting, hoots of laughter, and curses. Bang, bang, bang went the gavel. Judge Parker stood. “It is on account of God’s natural law that your life is to be forefeit. Your crimes are too infamous to be recounted aloud without shaming the court. I have the sworn testimony of good men against you, as well as a confession written in your hand in front of a score of Christian witnesses. You do not dispute the crimes of which you are accused?”
“I do not, your honor.” He stood up with pride as he spoke. Parker sighed. He thought again of the gladiator pit, of nets flung at human prey so that the trident could be sent home into flesh. He thought of Christians devoured by beasts.
“And you understand entirely the charges that have been entered against you?”
“I understand things with a clarity you will never know. It is you, in your ridiculous wig and your self-righteous indignation that have failed in comprehension.” A barb made of pride and wrath. The Judge had dodged many such and was not moved.
“If that is the case, Mr. Lynch, then you are guilty of all charges.”
“According to whom, Judge? You? When you sat down to your dinner, were you guilty of murdering the cow that supplied your meat?”
“Men are above the animals, sir. They were given to us for meat.”
“Men are meat. Meat with lofty bleatings, meat with grunts of grandeur. Pigs and sheep, playing at foolish games. I have committed no crime, for there is no crime. It is all a charade you have made up. And while I have found your game amusing, the time that I have deigned to play it draws very short.” The Judge absorbed this stoically. He was indeed mad, and that accounted for the ferocity and inhuman strength. He had heard of men in lunatic asylums capable of such feats. Pitiable perhaps, but the court possessed no cure.
“A bit much to have chiseled onto the small stone the territory will provide your resting place. Your name will have to suffice. This court, with the authority vested in it by the President of the United States and the Lord God Almighty, finds you guilty of all charges. You will be hanged by the neck, sir, hanged until you are dead, dead, dead!!” He rapped the gavel in time with the declaration.
“Death will visit this place, I assure you.” His voice remained steady, but his eyes were like lanterns and he foamed at the mouth as he spoke.
“Sentence will be carried out at dawn.” He pointed. “Bailiffs.”
Patrick Lynch was led out, trailing his chains along. He spun to face the Judge, who had already half-turned to return to his chambers. “Tonight! My sentence on you all will be carried out tonight!”
The rest was bedlam, and as the bailiffs took their unresisting charge down to the jail cells beneath the courthouse, the sun began creeping down over the western edge of the horizon, sending long shadows and red-orange sillouhettes through the streets of Fort Smith. And the moon, waiting for the first night of her fullness, adjusted her vestments and made ready for her evening.
Natosha Noba was old, mostly toothless, grey, and bent, but he was considered a great warrior and elder of the Choctaw and commanded the respect of the small community of Indians that lived in and around Fort Smith. It was old Natosha they went to speak to when they needed advice or to interpret an omen. So when he came looking for his own and told them they had to get out of Fort Smith before the rising of the moon, they did not laugh at him and they did not question. They got out, a long file of men and women going back to the nations. Few people noticed the comings and goings of the Indians, anyway, and the few who did see the exodus out of town were curious for a brief moment and shrugged. Indians. No understanding them, not for the white man. The Choctaw and the Cherokee and the other tribes represented understood full well. The horror that had been loose in the nations was a Moon Wolf, and now that it had come down to the white man’s home, all they could do was run. This would be the white man’s problem now.
Down in the jail under the courthouse, behind a huge and windowless iron door, the man who called himself Patrick Lynch sat cross-legged and content, eyes half closed, rocking gently back and forth. Lynch was not his real name, of course, nor were the dozens he had worn down through the generations of time he had walked the earth. He had simply liked the sound of the name. It had a solid feel to it, like a fine pair of boots, and the man he had stolen if from was a good fellow with a solid reputation who had not imagined the small and smiling man whom he had let a room out to for the evening was a monster. The name was a lie. Everything about him was a lie. There was no man of any sort, merely a cage that concealed the truth, and that truth was set to come out and play. He hummed a tuneless song to himself and felt the sun going down through the walls.
Out in the jail, Deputy Willard leaned against the door of the cell and rolled a cigarette. He had his hat brim pulled down over his forehead to hide his eyes from the prisoners. He believed it made him look mysterious and charismatic.There was nothing mysterious or charismatic about the Fort Smith jail, however. It stank of urine and sweat, of mildew and sewer and stagnation. The tobacco smoke helped keep the flies and stench at bay. The Fort Smith jail was notorious everywhere for its inhumane and primal character, and it was hated and feared by the men for whom it was intended. This suited Willard fine. If it hadn’t been so, he would have felt more like a butler than a jailer, and he was poorly suited for butlering.
Notosha Noba looked back at Fort Smith. He could remember how the land lay before the city grew, before he and his family had been forced out to scratch out an existence in their new home in the nations. He had hated it as a young man, had grown used to it as a grown man, and had called it home for a while as an old one. Now he understood the will of the Great Spirit in this matter. Had this settlement not been built, the creature that did so much damage passing through the Choctaw nation might have stayed and hunted them to extinction. As it was, the white man had built for the Moon Wolf a great feeding ground. He looked forward up the trail, and saw the moon had just begun to rise.
Deputy Willard struck a match off the bottom of his boot. It was a gesture that made him feel good. If there were ladies present to witness it, he was sure they would have been impressed with his skill. He worked on his lean, practicing looking both nonchalant and dapper. He pictured himself on the cover of a dime novel, leaning against the door of a bank, hat pulled down over his brow, defying a horde of badmen to challenge him as beautiful maidens gazed in awe. It was a very good image, and it made him feel warm inside. He liked it and went further inside himself to bring into clearer focus. He did not hear the low, rumbling growl starting to emanate from the door that he leaned against.
He was just getting around to stepping over the bodies of a score of outlaws, gunned down to the last man while trying to rob the Fort Smith National Bank. A young lady clad in a white bodice with a matching hoop skirt and hair the color of fire stood awaiting him. He was taking her into his arms, and she was trembling, lips parted to speak her confessions of love to him and only him. “Rarrgghahhaaaaooooooow!!!!!” She said. Willard jumped upright, and turned at looked at the cell door behind. “Ain’t no use in bellerin’, Lynch.” He thought a moment. He had several lines saved up for just such an occasion, and had practiced them to perfection in his shaving mirror. He was always cheered up some when he had a chance to use them.
He puffed his chest out and pointed at the door. “You brought this on yourself, Lynch, with your evil deeds and your wicked ways.” That was a fairly new one, and it sounded better in practice than he had imagined. He resolved that he would use it again, if the chance presented itself. “You’d best be quiet, now. You’d be better off makin’ right with God than throwin’ a tantrum like a spoilt little child.” Silence. Sometimes, Willard thought, all you needed was to show them that you meant business, and they just hushed right up. A massive boom came from the door. It was as if a battering ram had been deployed on the inside of the cell. Grains of mortar from the bricks around the door pattered against the floor.
The normal noise of the jail ceased. Faces peered from bars, nervous eyes looking to see what had just happened. The only light came from a few low-trimmed lanterns hung from the ceiling. The Deputy backed away from the door and drew his pistol. Another huge blow struck the cell door, loud enough to make ears ring and men wince with pain. Willard stood gaping. That huge iron door, as sound as the door on a bank vault, had been dented. From the inside. He pulled the hammer back and got into a shooting stance. This could not be. No one was strong enough to do what he had just seen. What manner of stunt this was, he didn’t know, but he did know that a Colt Army revolver could stop most men and beasts.
There was a moment where it was totally still save for the sound of water dripping from the ceiling from somewhere within the jail. “You got to let us out of here, Deputy.” A sunburned face with a weeks growth of beard stared out. “I’m locked up in here for drunk and disorderly and stealin’. I ain’t been sentenced to die in here.”
“Hush up now. Ain’t none of ya’al dyin’ till tomorrow, and only then if you been sentenced to hang. Ain’t nothing comin’ outta that cell.” He hoped he sounded surer than he felt. The truth was, he wasn’t going to lower his weapon and turn his back on that door for love or money. Even with Samuel Colt firmly on his side, he was scared. A few years before, a circus had come through and they had a lion on display, all the way from Africa. He had paid his nickel to see it and was gawking like everybody else when it roared. That had been the most frightening sound he had ever heard, but whatever was in that cell was worse. There was a grinding of stone and iron, fearfully loud, as the door began to loosen itself. Rivets popped loose in showers of sparks and the door buckled from the top down.
The men in their cells began to panic, rattling the bars of their cells and screaming for help. As they did, an impossibly loud howl erupted, louder than a locomotive whistle, and the door was wrenched out of its frame and flung across the jail. The door passed Willard by so fast he didn’t flinch until it went by, missing him by a fraction of an inch, and caving in a section of the wall in the back of the cell block where it hit. Thick dust from the broken masonry filled the air. Something was crouched down in the entrance to the cell. It was larger even than a grizzly bear, the beast would be at least eight feet in height standing up.
Willard had time to fire a single shot, and that shot was perfect. The ball from the Colt hit the wolfish face right between the eyes, and it should have been lethal. The beast smiled and moved with a speed that was almost a blur. The Deputy perished before he even had time to realize it was coming. The prisoners were trapped. Some of them had cells with tiny windows that looked out at the grade of the street. These men tried screaming for help, although they knew that none were likely to hear since only the saloons were open for business. Some curled up on the floor like terrified children. One poor soul, as big as a house, tried to hide under the tiny metal bunk suspended from the stone wall. A few of the hardest and bravest tried to pry something loose to use as a weapon. They had lived fighting and thats how they would die. In the end none of it made any difference.
The moon hung huge and silver over Fort Smith. The majority of the solid citizens had wrapped up the business of the day and were extinguishing the candles and lamps. The saloons did a brisk business, overflowing past capacity and full of noise and violence. And so it was that the screams of the dying in the cells of the Fort Smith jail, and even the single forlorn report of a Colt revolver, went unremarked. If anyone had been walking past to see, they would have seen wide-set and leering yellow eyes peering out from the bars of a cell under the courthouse. They would have seen a pair of enormous and hairy hands grip the bars and pull them out bricks, mortar, and all. And they would have seen the beast, fur matted with fresh blood, pulling itself out into the street. It sniffed the air and drooled, licking its chops as its stomach growled.
Light. And music. And laughter. And meat, lots and lots of delicious meat. Just a few blocks down the street the light was ablaze and an out of tune piano could be heard banging out a tune as the drunken crowd sang along. A wooden sign with a Rubenesque woman spilling out of her top welcomed all: The Shady Lady. The beast stood upright, squaring its enormous shoulders and walked right down the middle of the steet. A lone cowboy, clad in enormous hat and frilled chaps, poured himself out of the bar and onto the street and shambled headlong toward his demise.
The wolf, given its naturally vicious temperment, was in a pretty good mood. He was hungry, but he had just enjoyed a good meal and was feeling on top of the world. He had plans. They involved going in through the top of the saloon yonder and eating as many people as he could before the evening got so late he had to hightail it out of civilization. But first, he would make an appeitizer out of the cowpoke that shambled a wobbling left-to-right course toward him. The wolf stopped dead in the middle of the street, under a hissing gas streetlight. He wanted the prey to see him.
The drunk was an out-of-towner and he didn’t really know anyone. He was in a bit of trouble in a few places, always because of the drinking, so he didn’t give his right name to anybody while in Fort Smith. He was just in town for a bender, anyhow, and it didn’t seem to matter, and so the relatively few people that inquired knew him as Buford James VanDerHugh. Of the Massuchusetts VanDerHughs. He found that amusing, and chuckled at the thought of it, and through his hundred proof condition had a moment to think, Lord! What is that stink? And then he bumped headlong into a werewolf. At first he was certain that he had finally pickled his brain and was seeing things.
He stared up at the smiling abomination in front him. Long streamers of drool hung from the lower jaw, spilling past enormous fangs like a waterfall. The eyes were narrowed and it held its arms spread out in a Christ pose. His mother had warned him as a young man his sins would catch up with him and the Devil would come to get him. He had never given a nickel for such nonsense. Now things were exactly as his mother had told him they would turn out, but he had chosen not to listen. He turned to run. Not because he thought he would get away, he just didn’t want to see it coming. He took two staggering awkward steps back toward the saloon, and it came. He didn’t see it.
Ulysses Alfred Jackson the third sat a silver dollar down on the top of the dresser and studied himself in the mirror as he straightened his tie. He felt nearly as grand as his name. Miss Sally always made him feel that way, and the dollar was her recompense for her time. He was a very comfortable man and he had gotten wealth in the grand old tradition–he had stolen it. He had excelled in fraud and deceit, and this had made him both modestly wealthy and well respected. Money tended to silence discussion over how one had gotten it, once there was enough of it. He served as a deacon of the Fort Smith Methodist Church, and President of the Fort Smith Temperance Union. So though he found Sally quite affordable he could ill afford to be discovered in the company of a lady who charged by the hour for what his Christian wife did out of plain duty.
Miss Sally’s chambers were on the back side of the upper floor of the Shady Lady,and allowed guests with more sensitivity to prying eyes to exit to a landing above the alley. The Gentleman’s Entrance, they called it. Still, discretion was always merited, lest some scoundrel recognize him coming or going and make an adulterer of him. He very carefully opened the curtains in order to look out and make sure nobody was loitering down in the back alley where he intended to slip away. Big yellow eyes and sharp teeth. He closed the curtains and something growled. Sally lay on the bed dozing. She was a busy woman and she caught naps where she could. He was not certain what manner of beast that was outside or by what means it was clinging to the wall of the building, but whatever it was it was dreadful.
He had not long to act. He carried a small derringer with him but had never had to use it. He doubted whether he could consider himself armed at all against whatever that was. He knew that a gentleman would rouse Sally and make his stand like a man. This he did not care to do. He had to sneak out without waking up Miss Sally, and then make a dead run straight out the door and down the stairs into the saloon. No sooner had he settled on his course than a long, hairy, clawed arm burst through the glass, right through the curtains and made a grab for him. Jackson was not slow to react. The werewolf got nothing but pants, which ripped free as he ran out the door and down the stairs.
Miss Sally sprang upright. She heard something snarling and saw Ulysses run out of her room through the front door. She saw a nightmare forcing itself in through her window, its huge shoulders pulling the window jambs out of place. Pure instinct saved her life. She rolled out of bed and onto the floor, tumbling as fast as she could as it sprang through the window and over her. The creature landed on her bed and collapsed it, bumping its head on the wall. She jumped upright, snatching the silver dollar she knew would be there. She had no plan save to jump from the window and hope for the best. She felt a wordless alarm and turned around as the wolf spun to go for her exposed back. She was afraid and angry at the prospect of her short and dismal life being ended in this way.
She drove the silver dollar into the beasts right eye as it lunged at her. There was a hissing noise like meat hitting a hot skillet and the wolf recoiled, seeking to remove the thing that was causing it such agony. Sally ran to the window and leaped. She landed and felt her ankle give, and she still was able to shut out the pain and run down the alley and into the street, screaming with pain as she went. She turned her head about to see if the monster had come out to give chase and she saw nothing. Marshall Hord. She had to rouse the Marshall. He may not believe what she had seen, but of all the marshalls in Fort Smith, he would at least be gentleman enough to come and see.
Ulysses Alfred Jackson, in full fear for his life and wearing no pants, came at a gallop down the grand staircase of the Shady Lady. The piano player belted out a fast melody with one hand and smoothed his handlebar mustache with the other. The crowd was loving it, raising beer glasses and downing shots. As used to spectacle as they were, the sight of a leading Christian running down the stair in an indelicate state caused an immediate sensation. The piano ceased as the player pointed and began laughing. The crowd went silent and Jackson ran with a speed that was cause for amazement, vaulting onto and over tables in his haste. He overturned a table where a group of expensive ladies sat waiting for clients and bolted through the swinging doors without apology.
“Ya’al must have some ugly gals up there,” somebody said, and that was about the funniest thing anybody there had ever heard. The piano commenced again. A fine time was being had. No one wondered what it meant as Jackson ran for his life down the street. Ulysses wasn’t sure if the wolf was coming after him but he decided it was for the best to assume it was. He had prayed often in his life, nearly always out loud and for the benefit of spectators. For the first time, he prayed quietly, with no intended audience but God. Get me out of this, Lord, and I won’t cheat on my wife anymore. Get me out of this, Lord, and I’ll stop pocketing money out of the Missionary Fund. Get me out of this, Lord, and I’ll serve You in truth all the rest of days. He fled down the street hoping God didn’t realize that he was lying, and ran straight to his church. He had to sound an alarm.
Hord Lowry was having the same nightmare he had most nights. The young man was kneeling in front of him and he, Hord, had the pistol to the back of his head. The air was still but for the sound of hammers being pulled back and the low, soft prayers of Union soldiers who knew they were about to die. A woman’s voice came from somewhere. “Oh Jesus. Oh Jesus.” Hord was drunk on whiskey that had burned his throat and thrown a wool blanket over his brain. They had been drinking out of a boot. The soldier he had his weapon trained on was scarcely more than a boy. An Irish, straight off the boat from the sound of him. “Please. For my mother’s sake, please. She hasn’t got no one else to look after her. She’ll starve if I can’t send her my pay. Please, for the love of God, don’t.”
A year of riding with Anderson had seared his conscience like a hot iron, but he felt a sense of dread. This would be the act that damned him. “Git on with it, now!” Captain Anderson yelled out the command and discharged his pistol. A soldier fell dead at his feet. “Oh God. At least give me time to make right with God. You can’t just kill me without last rites, at least send for a priest!” More shots rang out and the smell of powder burned his nostrils. He made no answer except to cock his pistol. The boy began to pray softly. “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name.” The shots continued pop-pop-pop and smoke filled the air. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Bill Anderson, drunk and full of bloodlust, walked down the line. “Kill em’. Kill that Yankee scum. You were big dogs down in Atlanta, wasn’t ya? Now look at ya!” Hord stood frozen. Shooting while the Lord’s Prayer was being recited was an act of sacrilege he recoiled from out of instinct.
With the fluid logic of dreams, he knew that he would pull the trigger out of fear of Captain Anderson, even as in the moment he begged himself not to do it. He was there as both participant and observer. He would kill the boy. He always killed the boy. They would burn the train and send it down the line to Sturgeon, at full throttle and on fire. They always would. He would feel the wrath of God upon him and the terrible fear of Hell lying heavy on his soul. He would wake up, praying once again that it would be the morning they rode for Centralia and that he could do it all differently, and he would slip on his clothes, pin his badge on, strap on his gun, and look for another chance at redemption. Marshall Hord Lowry was known as a hard man, a tenacious lawman who had no mercy at all for the outlaw. The truth was, he hated nothing more in the world than a man that reminded him of himself.
When the pounding on his door started, he bolted out of bed before he was even truly awake. He was accustomed to being called to duty at all hours of the day and night, and wasn’t so fond of his dreams that he resented being woke up. He was often out of town and had few possessions beyond his most basic needs, and so he rented a small room on the backside of a large house. Most folks knew a Marshall lived there, and so it had been made by popular acclaim an informal office for people who felt they had a complaint to lodge. He had long ago given up trying to dissuade them of the thought. When he opened the door, he had to compose himself. What he saw made him immediately angry. He didn’t know Miss Sally personally, she was barely a nodding acquaintance. She looked awful, plainly injured and in a state of near-undress that suggested she had been attacked by one of her many clients.
“You’d better come inside. I’ll heat this coffee up and fetch a doctor, if you need one.” He left it at that, and she came in, but not before she looked back down the street both ways. Something had her in a state of fear. Hord picked his gunbelt up off the small table that served both for meals and bedside and strapped it on. As he added wood to the small stove she began to cry, huge childlike sobs that wracked her entire body. The emotion passed through her with the power of a thunderstorm, and when it was done she was calm enough to talk. He poured the coffee into a blue metal cup and sat it down, reaching for a dusty whiskey bottle off of a low shelf. He blew dust off the neck in a cloud, pulled the cork with a soft pop, and added a mild slug to the cup. “This will settle your nerves some. Take your time and let me know what happened, be sure to give me all the details. Don’t matter how minor or silly it sounds, I want everything.” She was just about to open her mouth to speak when the night was split open by the pealing of bells.
In the tower of the Methodist church, Ulysses Alfred Jackson pulled the rope and sounded the bells. Not the rolling and melodic call to Sunday services, but the harsh and insistent clangor of alarm. Every churchgoing soul in Fort Smith and most who weren’t knew what the bells meant. They meant fire and flood, murder and mayhem. In moments, the Baptists added their bells, and then the Presbyterians and the Catholics, the Unitarians and the Adventists. The tolling of bells filled the ear and shook every window, and every man that wore the badge climbed from his bed and strapped on his guns. Hord Lowry went to his window. He could see men beginning to gather in the streets. “Ma’am, I think you ought to stay here until we sort whatever this is out. There’s a spare pistol I keep under the mattress, if you wind up needing it. I keep her loaded, and she kicks pretty hard. Hopefully it won’t come to that.” He pulled his stetson off the hook on the wall, put it on, and then turned to Miss Sally and tipped it. He stepped out the door and into the street, and as he did she had a terrible feeling that whatever that thing was, it would be coming back for her soon enough.
The pain was staggering, and the werewolf had been robbed of an eye. This had not happened in so long he had forgotten it even could happen, and at the hands of such weak prey. He clutched at his wound in agony, attempting to dislodge the burning splinter in its ruined eye. The rational part of it, the part that called itself Patrick Lynch, knew that the wound would repair itself when the change happened. Short of killing it outright, no wound dealt to the beast was truly permanant. Still, it was angry, and it wanted to chase her. It could smell her as she fell and it delighted in the smell of pain when she hit the street. It knew what direction she was running in. Her taste was in his mouth and there could be no escape when it chose to pursue. And it would as soon as it finished up here. There was a pen full of meat beneath it, a feast the likes it had not indulged in for a very long time. With a great deal of effort, the wolf contained its rage and hunger long enough to coax the remains of the smoldering silver dollar out of its eye. The loss of the eye hurt it, and made it vengeful. The payment would be blood and suffering.
He moved stealthily, out into the hallway, slinking down in the shadows. The revelers in the saloon below weren’t mindful enough of anything to register what was going on above, and even if the wolf had been as loud as a bull on the landing he would not have been heard in the general din. He could smell the tender flesh and hear the individual heartbeats of the crowd. It had been so long since he had indulged himself this way. He would have to be well away from pursuit before he changed into his weaker and more vulnerable form. For now, though, his belly rumbled and demanded satisfaction. He crouched down at the top of the stairs and stood upright. A few saw him and gaped. A woman screamed but she was drowned out by the music and babel of voices. And then the wolf let out a howl.
The howl of the beast immediately silenced every other sound. There was a moment where everyone stared without comprehending, and then dozens of weapons were drawn and began firing. The creature simply crouched down for a jump and grinned as the bullets bounced off its hide. It sprang through the air and seized the piano player by the throat with his teeth. He shook him like a dog with a ragbone and flung the corpse against the full length mirror behind the bar, sending a hailstorm of jagged glass through the air. The crowd surged to the front door in a panic and barred it in a mass. A lantern was upset in the rush and flames leaped up in the front of the saloon by the door. He dove into the crowd and began to eat, relishing the screams of pain and terror as much as the meat itself. Outside, the tolling of bells began.
Hord saddled his horse. Devil was stupid, there was no getting around it. He was mean, too, just as likely to stomp your foot or bite you when you weren’t looking as anything. It paid to watch him close. The one good point he had was that he was too stupid and mean to be afraid of much of anything. You could charge Devil straight into gunfire and that idiot horse would be happy to do it just so he could trample the shooter. He had also been extremely cheap. Hord had gotten him in a swap with a gunsmith for a box full of junk pistols. A little fat man, a grocer named Pollard, stuck his head in through the stable door. “Marshall, you coming? I heard there’s been some goings-on at the jail, and I think there’s a fire down to the Shady.” Hord nodded, leading his horse out onto the steet by the reins. Pollard followed, clutching his rifle like a child with a blanket. Lord help us, he thought, what on earth is going on here tonight?
Whatever it was, he wanted to be mounted when he found out. Hord did his best shooting from horseback. Anybody that rode with Anderson got to be very skilled at it. He rode out into the steet and took a survey. He could see a glow coming from the west side of town and the darkness against the sky told him there was smoke. So the bells meant fire. Hord frowned. Sally had stank of her business and very heavily of perfume, but not of smoke. Full time deputies, volunteers, armed citizens and a handful of Marshalls were gathering in the street. Hord counted heads–about twenty five men. He didn’t see anyone around that he could consider to be in charge. There wasn’t a clear cut chain of command anyway, since they all answered to Judge Parker. There was a certain pecking order of Marshalls based on longevity and reputation, and Hord was high on that list. He would have to take charge.
He spotted a part-time Deputy, a red-haired and barrel-chested man named Chester. Hord was fairly certain that he was supposed to be working the jail as Willard’s relief. He was being tended to by a few others. He looked shaken and ill. One of them saw Hord and waved him over. Hord looked down and saw that he had thrown up on the ground and looked to have an awful bad case of the dry heaves in progress. “Looks like he’s havin’ a rough night,” Hord said. Chester nodded and swallowed. His face was red with strain and his eyes were streaming water. “I just come from the jail, Marshall.” He stomach rebelled again but nothing came of it: Chester was plum empty. “They’re all dead.” Hord felt a chill go up his spine. “Better start over and make it plain, Chester. Tell me who’s dead.” The Deputy was shaking like he was bitterly cold and his eyes appeared far away. “Everybody. Prisoners, Willard, everybody. I found them. All of them but that little Patrick Lynch fella.” Hord had been in court that day and the cold thing that had him by the spine gripped hard and twisted. “What did you find in there, Chester?” Chester looked Hord in the eye, and he could see the man wouldn’t ever be right in the head again. “God have mercy on what I found.”
Inside the Shady Lady, the flames had engulfed the whole front wall and begun to climb across the ceiling. Smoke was filling the air and the few people inside left alive were blinded and choking. The wolf gorged itself, stopping only to lunge forward and grab another screaming morsel. The beast could easily have stayed until the whole structure burned and collapsed. There would have been pain and discomfort, but no injury. He remembered the little woman with the hateful silver weapon. Yes, his business here was finished. He would find her scent and dine on her while time still permitted. He knew he needed to be far from any hope of pursuit when the sun rose and reduced him to his puny human condition. He left the few choking survivors of his play to succumb to the fire, and leaped through the flames and into the street. He snuffled the air, found the scent he wanted, and ran.
Miss Sally reached under the mattress and felt metal. She drew the pistol out, a gleaming black Schofield Colt. In her hands it seemed ridiculously large, but it made her feel a little better. She took stock of her surroundings. There was one door that communicated with the main body of the house, she assumed it was locked. Hord had one window that looked out at the door of a stables, she had watched him go and saddle his horse. He had another small diamond shaped window mounted next to the door that emptied out into the alley. she assumed that there was another room of some sort over her head, as the house was two stories tall, but she heard nothing from there or any other place inside. She supposed the noise outside would preclude that, anyway. She backed into the corner opposite the front door. She could see both windows clearly, and she could see the streets were full of armed men. None of it made her feel better. She cocked the pistol and waited, not even daring to blink.
Hord was deeply troubled. Lynch was a bad one, even if he looked weak. He wondered if he wasn’t a part of some gang and this was a jailbreak turned massacre. He wished he’d had the time to get Sally’s story, since he was certain that she had seen something useful. Hord decided that he would prepare as well as he could for a large force of armed men. He reached down and grabbed a young boy, no more than fourteen years old, by the shoulder. “You know old Delbert that works down at the depot?” A nod. “You run and fetch him. Tell him to grab Howard and get over here now. Tell them Hord says he wants the Liberty Cannon, and he wants it with a ball in and live powder. Now git!” The boy got, and he was a good fast runner. He looked toward the glow on the opposite end of town. He could see flames going high up over the buildings and he knew that whatever was coming was coming from that direction. “All right, men,” Hord shouted, “let’s go. I want the rifles up front, and I want you on your bellies. Pistols to the rear, and get in a stance. Anything comes down that street, draw down on it but do not fire until I say.”
The wolf was ecstatic. Her smell was so rich, so powerful that he could actually taste it. He could also smell Hord and his men, and the unmistakable aroma of guns and confusion. The Shady Lady had burned like kindling once it got started, flames leaped into the air to a height of a hundred feet, and inside a few wailing silouhettes stumbled through their last horrible moments of life. Orange sparks rained down. He slunk down low to the ground and began to slither along, slow for him but still faster than a man could sprint. She was down there, hiding near the men who were setting up in the street meet him. A leap took him to the rooftops and he ran full tilt, jumping the chasms between effortlessly. Let them watch the streets, for all the good it would do them. He would make sport of them and have his revenge on the woman.
Sally was running completely on instinct. She sensed rather than saw the wolf coming for her. She was drenched in sweat and her hair clung to her scalp, but she felt chilled. Her heart was pounding. It can smell me, she thought, and looked around. A can of cayenne pepper, improbably large, caught her eye. She picked it up. Nearly full. She quietly thanked God. Her plan was not complex, but she felt it was better than no plan at all. She looked at the ceiling. It would come for her from up there, she thought, and opened up the door so she could stand in the frame and wait.
Hord was watching the glow of the fire across town when he saw it. Something the size of a horse made a leap from up on the roofline, headed toward them. He had a second to wonder if he’d really seen it, and then he saw it again, much closer. No one else had noticed anything. The size of a horse, easily, and moving with a speed that was nearly equal to a horse at full gallop. He was only sure of one thing, that whatever it was it was not a man. He felt that his preparations might have been made in a deadly error, and the beast that was headed their way across the rooftops wasn’t going to give him time to make much of an adjustment. He scanned the roofline again, hoping for another glimpse, but saw nothing. The churchbells were still ringing like mad, but Hord felt it was entirely too quiet.
From the opposite side of the rooftop, the wolf could smell everything. The woman, the men in the street, the smell of the horse one of them was riding. Sweat, and fear, and confusion. When one of them moved, he could smell what direction. The girl was in the doorframe, down below. He needed only to cross over the roof and drop down behind her, and she was his. But that wasn’t how he wanted it to be, quick and unaware and relatively painless. No, he wanted her to see him coming and to taste the fear in her sweat as he dined. After that, he would have to go. He ripped the shingles off in a swath and cast them aside. He tore through the wood of the roof and let himself into the attic. Right down through the house and in through the ceiling he would go, so that they could see each other face to face before he took her.
Sally felt like time had nearly stopped. She was aware of everything. A clock on the wall ticked the second, and an eternity passed, and it ticked again. Bells rang outside, slowed down to a continuous metallic drone. The men outside seemed like a gallery of statues. She felt a tremor, no sound but a trembling in the house and she knew it was near. She knelt down and set the pepper on the floor, popping off the tin lid with one hand and making the sign of the cross afterward. She stood up with the can in one hand and the gun in the other. She looked at the ceiling just in time to see the wolf clawing through. It poked its head through and smiled, a wolf smile full of gigantic teeth. Sally hurled the cayenne and opened fire, hitting him right on the snout with the pepper and driving a peppery slug into one nostril. The wolf howled with rage as the intense odor and stinging powder watered his one good eye and ruined his sense of smell. Sally ducked out into the street backward, emptying the Colt. “Its here!”
Hord heard Sally and cursed. He was a block away and his men were positioned wrong. When the girl backed into the street and began capping off shots from the pistol, the men turned around, but now the riflemen were behind his pistols and whatever strategic advantage he might have had was lost. He saw Sally toss her pistol in at something and then she ran toward him, right through the astonished ranks of Hord’s men, and something from a Dore portrait of Hell burst through the door behind. It stood upright like a man, but was far larger. The head was like a wolf’s head, with a cruel snout and long pointed ears. It had hands, not paws, and these ended with long claws. It shook its head and sneezed, a sight that might have been comical under less horrific circumstances.
As Sally sprinted past Hord’s jumble of a posse, the men began opening fire, and miraculously no one shot anybody they weren’t supposed to. The bullets bounced off the creature, shattering windows and splintering wood. The wolf cocked its head and looked at the men of Fort Smith as if to ask “really?” and then it laid in among them, leaving widows and orphans clad in funeral black behind it. Hord was stunned. The creature was not only bulletproof, it had killed ten of his men in less than six seconds. Given more than a moment, it would kill them all. No wonder poor Chester was so rattled by what he had seen in the jail. And no wonder that Patrick Lynch was capable of such feats of murder and strength as the ones the Judge had sentenced him to die over.
“Better get out of the street, Hord.” Hord looked down at on old, white haired man with a huge bulbous nose and a pockmarked face. Delbert and Howard had brought the Liberty Cannon. Hord rode Devil over to the curb and out of the way. “Kill it. Whatever it is.” The Liberty Cannon was a relic of the War of 1812, an old cast bronze fieldpiece kept for the Independence Day celebration, but it could still do business. Delbert pushed the barrel down and found his range, nodding at Howard who lowered a torch to the fuse at the rear of the barrel. “Fire in the hole!” The fuse went down and then the cannon rocked backwards and spit out a clap of thunder and six feet of fire.
The ball hit the wolf dead square in the chest, lifting him up off his feet and knocking him through the air and down the steet for a distance of a quarter mile. He hit the ground with meteoric impact and lay still. Smoke filled the air in a thick, pungent fog. The men stared, wondering what they had just fought and whether it were still alive. The ball rolled away from on top of it, slowly and still smoking, into the street. And then it began to stand, clearly unharmed. A direct hit from a cannon and at least a hundred high caliber rounds of lead had merely slowed it down. Hord spurred Devil and took him to a full gallop. He drew his pistol and ducked low in the saddle. He opened fire on the beast, striking the beast in his good eye and on the end of his nose repeatedly. As he rode past, he hurled the emptied weapon, bouncing it off the wolf’s head, and spat on it. And the wolf gave chase, following Hord out of Fort Smith.
Natosha Noba did not hear the gunshots. He did not see the flames. He did not hear the screams of the maimed and the dying, and he could not see the faces of the wives and children of the lawmen left dead in the street. In his conscience, however, he sensed all these things and as he walked the moonlit trail with his kinsmen he hung his head. He was old, and a caretaker of much knowledge that was on the way to being forgotten when he was a young man. He could sense many things that even the wisest among his own would miss. He could hear the mockery of the coyotes as they yipped in the darkness.
“Look! Old Walking Wolf has lost his courage as well as his teeth!”
He could hear the scorn in the hoot of the night owl.
“Who? Who? Who is a coward? Who?”
The peeper frogs chanted in mockery:
“Should have fought, should have fought, should have fought.”
He tried to reason with himself. What could he have done? He was over one hundred years old. He could no longer throw the spear or draw the bow, his eyes no longer saw well enough for the gun. His strength was a memory, so long gone that it seemed a story told about someone that lived in ancient times. How was he to stand against the Moon Wolf? He had done what he could, as a warrior and medicine man of the Choctaw, and that was to get his people out. He had delivered his brothers. His mind told him he had won this argument with himself, but his heart refused to let him puff out his chest.
He thought of the white men he had known down through the years. Some had started as bitter enemies, and ended as friends he had loved like a brother. He missed them still. He thought of distant trails and fires beside which there had been no Indians or white men, only fellow travelers happy for a bit of fellowship in the lonely night. Even the most evil of them were still men, more noble than the horror that stalked unchecked through Fort Smith. What could he have done? More thanslip away without so much of a word of warning. Even if they had not heeded him, he could have armed them with enough knowledge to put up a fight when the monster burst forth from the man. An old cabin, long abandoned and forgot about stood silouhetted in the moonlight away off the trail. He gave directions to his band. Here they would stop, and here they would prepare the cabin as a sweat lodge. He had to speak with the spirits.
Hord had a good lead on it, but he knew that it wasn’t going to last. Devil was fast and he could run a good race, that bought him time. He was sure that he had drawn it off of Fort Smith and that it would not return, and he thanked God. He was also sure that it was going to run him down soon and that there was nothing to be done for it. He slowed Devil down to a walk and stopped him. He could hear the wolf off in the distance baying like an angry hound. Hord undid the saddle and dropped it to the ground. No sense in getting the horse killed, too. He slapped Devil on the rear. “Git on, now.” Devil whinnied and was gone. The wolf was closer now, and he could see it running on all fours in the moonlight. He drew his last remaining pistol. He thought of the young man he had murdered in Centralia. He was moments away from meeting God and doing it with a gun in his hand seemed the wrong way of going about things. He cast the gun away, and knelt. Death was upon him. Hord bowed his head. He thought of his sins and was overwhelmed. He didn’t know how to explain his remorse, so instead he began: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name.”
They were still trying to put out the fire and collect all the dead in Fort Smith when they heard the howl of triumph off in the distance. Sally hung her head. She didn’t care what came of it, she was not going back to the life she had led. She would do something else. But first, she would retrieve the Colt that Hord had given her. Perhaps it would be useful. In the streets, men removed their hats and added the name Hord Lowry to the list of the fallen. Delbert and Howard hitched the cannon back up to the mule they hauled it across town with and got ready to put it back to bed until the 4th of July rolled around again. Judge Parker walked the streets of his town, surveying the damage and consoling wives and children. Of Patrick Lynch, no trace could be found, and he offered up a prayer to the mightiest Judge that His justice be meted out to the monster that had slipped his noose.
In the cabin, the heat and the smoke from the burning sage were overwhelming and the last of the men inside were choking out and leaving. All save Natosha, who sat quietly on the floor offering up his silent prayers. A lot of bother, thought Natosha. A lot of trouble in order to be able to see what was always there to begin with. The tiny space of the cabin seemed to expand. The walls vanished. The smoke remained, but no longer stung the eyes or filled the lungs, it became a cool and pleasant fog. Natosha had opened the door to the spirit. He opened his eyes and looked out across an unspoiled expanse of praire, bathed in silver moonlight. A coyote sat across from him, grinning. Natosha frowned at the sight. Coyote. He had been hoping for straight answers.
“Why do you scowl so, Natosha? Is this how you greet an old friend not seen since your youth?” Natosha did not smile.
“The last time you spoke, you told me who should be my bride. For fifty years I suffered.”
The coyote began licking the place between the toes of his right rear paw. “True. I did, and you did. Time has abraded your memory away. Handsome Natosha came to the spirit, and what was his concern? What troubled his heart? That no matter how beautiful his bride, there might be one more beautiful that he had missed. Prideful Natosha, whom God decreed must be humbled in order that he might do good upon the earth. So it was, that you were sent forth to find the most beautiful bride in the world.”
Natosha felt stung. He had forgotten the pride of his youth. All that the coyote spoke was truth. “And for a lifetime I lay next to a soul as cold as a granite stone.”
The coyote nodded. “And now you have learned to ask the right questions. Your heart seeks to know, who is your brother. All men are your brothers.”
Natosha hung his head in shame. “I have failed. I should have faced the beast.”
The coyote looked at him in the eye. “You would have died, and nothing but that would have been different. Even in your youth and might the Moon Wolf would have been a challenge.”
“What is my duty now? I am too old for fighting. I am of little use to anyone.”
The coyote stood up. “You have one last duty in this matter. Turn from this trail and go to the Ozark Mountains. Find the man they call Buckshot, and tell him to meet the beast in Little Rock at the next full moon.”
Buckshot strained at the rope, muscles straining to pull the bundle tighter. The Willapus-Wallopus had yielded a huge pelt of snakish skin suitable for boots and handbags, and he was pleased with the trophy. He was sure it would sell well in Joplin once he had the hide tanned and cut into reasonable sizes. Getting the the prize up the cliff to his cabin was another matter. He was strong beyond most men alive or who had ever lived, he knew. Hossing the load up wouldn’t be a problem, but the bulk was an obstacle, so he pulled the rope tighter and tighter to compress the burden down. The climb was a hundred feet up a nearly vertical rock slope. He had discovered the place as a kid, a large flat outcrop just big enough for a cabin halfway up a tall rocky bluff. The way up was almost like climbing a ladder, if you were a climber and had the right kind of eye to see the path up. Not many did, and that’s the reason Buckshot chose the spot. He tied the knots off and was satisfied. Once he sold a bit of the skin, he’d buy himself a tin of pipe tobacco. Truth be told, he wished that he had a bit waiting for him in his cabin, but if wishes were horses, every beggar would ride.
The head mounted on the wall of the cabin was terrifying. The skin was a deep scarlet, with a mouth that hung open in a lunatic scream. The teeth were all sharp and incurving, with serrated edges. The chin had a dense growth of sharp black quills that might have been mistaken for a beard. The eyes were huge and yellow, with nictating pupils. Three large, misshapen and pointed horns sprung from the crown of the brow. Natosha Noba contemplated the trophy, sitting cross-legged on the floor upon a bearskin that would have come from a beast a dozen feet in height when upright. Two enormous, snarling heads crowned the rug. The coyote had not lied. This was the lodge of a mighty hunter, strong and fearless. Natosha withdrew his pipe and began to pour tobacco from a pouch into the bowl. The aroma was faint in the cabin, but present, and this told him that the offer would not be unwelcome. Natosha smiled. Another man would have been scared to death of the prospect of the owner of this cabin returning, but not he. Here dwelt a man after his own heart.
Even bearing a heavy load, Buckshot climbed the bluff with a speed borne of skill and long practice. The creek bed below was lined with jagged and knifelike stones, and if a man fell there would be enough time to panic, followed by a sting like a razor strop as his back hit the water followed by the painful stabbing and pummeling of the rocks. While Buck didn’t dislike people so much that he would wish that on a visitor, he did like the solitude that came with his chosen abode. As he pulled himself and his load over the top and onto the rocky space where his front porch began, he paused. He almost swore that his nose detected the aroma of a pipe. He sat the huge bundle down on the porch, and as he opened the door he smiled. An ancient man, an Indian in full war dress and paint sat cross-legged on the floor. So he did have a guest, and he appeared to have come from the past. Buck accepted the offered pipe and sat down across from him. Soon they were discussing the business of the Moon Wolf and the hunt that he would undertake in Little Rock, laughing together and as completely at ease as if they were father and son.
As much as Natosha enjoyed his stay, after a few days he took his leave. He gave Buck his blessing, imploring the Great Spirit to bless him and make his hunt a success. Buck, for his part, promised to bring him a pair of moccasins made from werewolf hide after he was done. Buck took stock of the situation. The moon would be full again in another couple of weeks. The guns and ammo would be no problem. Knowledge he did not have. He knew that the Choctaw called it a Moon Wolf, and that it was nigh-on indestructible in wolf shape. As much as it vexed him to do it, he was going to have climb Vulture Mountain and pay a visit to Old Granny Stevens.
Granny Stevens was not Buck’s grandmother. She was a witch, hated and feared in equal measure all over the hills. Buck’s grandma had told him about her, and she had learned of her on her own grandma’s knee. How old Granny was a thing that no man knew. But sometimes the crazy or the desperate would climb the craggy way up to her crumbling cabin in search of their heart’s desires. The price was always high. Buck needed to know how to kill something that couldn’t be kilt. He hoped he wouldn’t have to pay too high a price for the knowledge.
Vulture Mountain was no uglier or more full of carrion birds than any other. The hill people just felt safer saying “vulture” rather than “witch”. When Buck reached the summit, he saw her cabin. Old, crooked, and gray with age. The windows were so filthy with years of dirt they were opaque, and the chimney leaned over at such an angle it seemed like it was falling. Buck would have thought it abandoned, were it not for the stream of white smoke slithering from the chimney. The door stood ajar, and the wind opened and shut it with a banging sound. “You get on in here, Buckshot. Ol’ Granny’s been waiting a month of sundays for you to come around.”
Buck pushed the door open and went in. The floor was covered with the dusty rubbish of long ages. The floorboards were warped and uneven and walking on them made Buck feel drunk. Granny sat in front of the crumbling stone fireplace, staring at him with eyes gone white with cataracts. She was bald and toothless, covered with wrinkles and age spots. She wore a silver crucifix around her neck, and Buck observed that she was wearing it upside down. The Christian custom when receiving a guest everywhere in the hills was to offer food and drink, and Buck observed that she did not do it. Just as well. Down to business.
“Reckon you know why I’m here.”
Granny smiled. “I’ve knowed for ages. I saw it. You and that wolf, a-fightin and a-rasslin’.” She frowned. “You can’t whip it. Not without me and what I knows. And not without you pay my price.”
Buck felt chilled. He was bound for the hunt, and could not turn away. And now he seemed bound to whatever witchery she cared to lay on him. Buck turned away. He knew that many people would die the next full moon if he did not act. Whatever would become of him wasn’t important compared to that.
“Name the price, woman.”
“Look at me, boy. How old do you reckon me to be? I stood bridesmaid at your great-granny’s wedding, when I was young and pretty.”
Buck felt his hair stand on end.
“You owe me this, you come when I call. And you do as I bid you do. If the thing be evil and will put a sin on your soul, you ain’t a-bound to do it. But you come when I call you, thrice and when I choose.”
And Buck nodded, and Granny Stevens told Buck what she saw in the fumes of her cauldron, when she had the vision of Buck fighting the wolf. Buck went back down the mountain. There were guns to be cleaned and oiled and loaded, ammunition to be gotten, powder to be packed and inspected.
Bucklin Uriah Shott was going to war.

End Part One

Copyright 2017 Kevin Birge, all rights reserved

 

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