I have a little writer's block. This month has kept me going so hard I am having trouble concentrating. My remedy for writer's block is to write something else. Another scene, another time, a bit of fluff, whatever it takes to kick myself out of the rut. Because Halloween is not the weekend to be leaving anyone without their treat.
So here's a stand alone "prequel" I hope you will enjoy.
Have a fun weekend, stay safe, and don't TP my house.
“Pshh. Why you got to bring that up again, Jesse?” Luis frowned, leaning back against the wall beside his bunk, his feet dangling over the side into space. “Why you wanna know about that, eh? Since it’s just a lie and I’m crazy and seeing things, I mean.” He reached over in the greasy light of an oil lamp with a missing chimney and picked up the terra-cotta devil that sat on the cross beam beside his head, rubbing it absently and gazing sullenly into the fire that sputtered in the fireplace across the bunkhouse.
It was a cold night, and the wind wailed around the sturdy walls of the bunkhouse, seemingly angry at being kept out. Saint eased his rangy frame against the wall near the fireplace, his chair tottering back on two legs. He familiarly hooked a bootheel over a burl in the rough hewn timber that supported the roof, like he rested here often and the burl was waiting for him. Looking up from his dogeared paperback, he scowled. “Jesse, why’r you getting him started on this again? Can we not just have a quiet night for once?”
“Jesse’s got the next run out there.” Storm pulled his striped wool coat more snugly around his shoulders and smirked. “He wants to know how big a gun to bring along.” He sat down on the stone hearth, his shoulders shivering as the warmth from the fire made it’s way through his clothing. “He was all big talk until he started thinking about it. Now he’s having second thoughts.”
Wash snorted with amusement. “Don’t tell me you’re worried now, laddie.”
“I ain’t worried.” Jesse snapped, hands on his hips. “I just wanna make sure I got the story straight. He came in saying he’s seen something that spooked his horse on the trail, I want to know what happened.”
“Oh.” Storm leaned into the heat and gave a self-satisfied smile. “Now he wants to know what happened.”
Luis had come in last week several terrifying hours after his horse did. Mercury had been in a lather, crazy eyed and wild. Bender had actually been so worried he spent the night in the barn with him. And they all were sure that something awful had happened to Luis. In fact, they were up all night and were all set to ride out looking for him when he’d come loping into the station yard on foot, mochilla slung over his shoulder. He had been stumbling with fatigue and nigh incoherent. He’d been in such an agitated state he came down with a fever later that night. Later, he managed to spit out that something scary had spooked his horse on the stretch between Ham's Fork and Green River. He didn’t elaborate much.
It was either a lie or the biggest understatement Saint had ever heard.
Jesse had made light of the idea that he’d run into any sort of major trouble. In fact, his bravado had annoyed the hell out of Saint. And now, here Jesse was, trying to figure out what he might be riding into later.
“Probably fell asleep in the saddle and fell off.” Jesse said, his casual tone failing to disguise his nerves. “Wouldn’t be the first time one of us did.”
“Horseshit.” Saint spat. “You’re spooked an’ you know it, you lying stronza...”
“Fine.” Luis glared at Jesse reproachfully. “Everybody is thinking, Luis, he’s full of horseshit, he’s making up stories again. Well. Tha’s allright by me. ‘Sgonna be a big laugh when somebody else gets knocked on their ass.” He set the devil back onto it’s perch with a dull thump of clay striking wood. “Ha! An I didn’t even lose the mailbags, either.” His lips curled into a defiant smirk that dimpled his brown cheek, and the fire reflected in his dark eyes. “Well, I ain’t making it up, and I don’t give any damn who believes me or not.”
He dropped lightly to the floor, scrounging a pouch and a paper out of the pocket in his worn trousers and deftly producing a well-rolled quirley. He lit it in the lamp flame with a practiced hand and stuck it between his lips, taking a deep drag. “Do me a favor an’ don’ tell Miz Lily I’m smokin’. She don’ like it. The thing I saw. Allright. I was coming back from Salt Lake City at night. I keep hearing this...I dunno, some kinda sound. I thought at first maybe it was an owl...they can make some weird whistle sounds, you know. Or maybe an elk. Didn't sound like either, but I didn't know what else it could be. ”
Saint watched Storm’s eye narrow. He said nothing, listening. Storm had been pretty irritated at the reception Luis got when he finally came in, Saint remembered. Nobody had really believed Luis. But Storm did. He wasn’t sure if the chill he felt was from the cold or from the creepy feeling that was crawling over his skin.
“I’m thinkin’ I swear I hear something along the trail, in the brushy sections, you know. Mercury was real bad nervous the whole time. I’m moving pretty fast, so I started gettin’ scared I had a cougar on my tail.”
“Happened to me.” Tommy breathed. “One started stalking me just out of Needle Rock. I was on War Bonnet. Thank goodness that horse can run.”
“It wasn’t no cougar.” Luis whispered unsteadily. “I come ‘round this stand of cottonwoods and here’s this man standin’ in the road in the moonlight, lookin’ at me. ‘Cept….” He took in another drag on his smoke and held it before releasing it slowly. His slender hand had begun to shake almost imperceptibly. “ ‘Cept the son of a bitch was ‘bout as tall as the top of the barn door and had shoulders like an ox yoke.” He took a shaking breath. “An’ this thing smells like death and brimstone, and the worst part? You want to know the worst part?”
Saint really didn’t want to know the worst part. He shifted in his seat, realizing he was gripping his book so hard a damp spot had started to form under his thumb. The bunkhouse had gone silent.
“It was completely covered with hair, and had a man’s face.”
Saint felt irresistible prickling creeping over his arms. He shivered. “Luis...” he said quietly, not knowing if he wanted Luis to shut up to spare him telling it or to spare himself from hearing it. On the other hand, Jesse was hearing it, too. Good. Serves him right, bringing this shit back up.
The wind screamed around the side of the cabin, causing the fire to sway violently in the fireplace and the shutters to rattle. They all jumped, and Jesse's face had gone pale.
Saint started tapping a line of tobacco into a square of paper, fumbled it into a roll, and stuck it between his lips. His hand was shaking. There’s no way that kid is lying...he’s gone white in the face and is sweating like a racehorse. He lit the quirly in the lamp and took in a deep pull of smoke, holding it for a moment before letting it out through his nose in steady blue streams. So, maybe he is lyin’... mean, it sure as hell wouldn’t be the first time...and maybe he ain’t…. but hell. As much as he might deserve it I sure don’t believe the boogieman came for the little bastard,…but he’s seen something.
“So my horse spooks and rears up, and I’m so spooked, too, I fell off and landed on my ass, draggin’ the mochila with me. Damn horse runs off and there I am sitting in the road with this…this thing…lookin’ down on me. Oh, did I say that was the worst part? That wasn’t the worst part. This is the worst part: the damn thing screams at me.”
He closed his eyes and took a desperate pull on his quirley, gooseflesh standing on his arms like coarse sandpaper. His voice cracked. “So I start in with Hail Mary full of grace, you know, an’ the thing goes crashin’ away towards the river. I ran all the way back to here. With the mochila, too. I didn’t stop once.” He pinched out the stub of his smoke and stuck it into his pocket, then crossed himself, muttering in Spanish. “An if you think I made this up, then I guess you won’t be worried about it next time you’re out around Ham's place.”
“You saw the Elder Brother?” Storm’s eyes were wide, staring at Luis.
“You..you got a name for the sunovabitch?” Saint blurted, incredulous.
“Yeah.” Storm nodded. “If that’s what he saw. Hey, Jesse...”
Hearing his name snapped Jesse out of his stunned, open mouthed stupor. He’d gone pale and Saint could tell he was thoroughly unnerved. “W..What?”
“I think it’s your turn to go outside and get some more firewood.” He tossed the canvas carrying sling at Jesse, smiling smugly. “Make sure you close the door behind you good and tight. Wouldn’t want ...anything...to get in.”
Jesse caught the sling and stood frozen in place, his mouth hanging open.
Storm's eyes were wicked, his voice a low, forboding whisper. "Watch out for the rugaru."
© 2010 Regina Shelley