Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Story of Bat Canyon, part 2

The sheriff and preacher both mounted up, wearing their rain dusters and with their weapons loaded.  The preacher tucked his heavy brass cross into an inner pocket and they set off.  They rode side by side, neither man talking.  The sheriff's eyes were hard as they rode.  The preacher guessed he was having the same misgivings: facing an unnatural creature of ability unknown to them.

The clouds overhead continued to race, but growing thicker and heavier.  The sun had passed the peak of noon and the sky grew darker.  The steady drumming of horse hooves was the only sound for a while.

"If Smith is one of these things," the sheriff said, "how do we kill him?"

The preacher looked up.  "Easiest way is out," he said.  "The other common ways are to put a wood stake through the heart or taking his head off.  I don't know if anything else will work.". He thought for a moment.  "Some stories say the heart thing doesn't have to be a wood stake, but then it won't kill him that case either."

The sheriff twitched his moustache for a moment.  "Reckon we go with the most likely, then.  Take the head off.  That kills most things pretty dead.  Question is, what will do it.". He took a deep breath.  "Maybe he's got an axe for splitting wood."

"You think that he has something around that will be so good at killing him?"

"We own guns, don't we?"

The preacher stopped and smiled briefly.  “I take your point.”

As they rode away from town towards the ridge where Bat Canyon lay, the sheriff started turning north.  The preacher turned to match pace, but turned and looked at the older man.

“It’s been dry, so we don’t want to go straight in.  Dust cloud will be easy to see from miles out.”  The sheriff patted his eight gauge.  “We don’t have the kind of range that we might in that case.  I’m no good shot with a rifle no way.”  They rode on quietly.  “I figure we can come from the edge, where the canyon cuts back into the hills.  It’s surrounded by cliffs and there are spots where we can hide out and watch.”  He paused, rubbing at his chin in thought.  “What about the symbol of faith?  Is that something that seems to work on all of them?”

“So far as I know, yes,” the preacher replied.  “But if I understand right, it’s not just the symbol.  You have to have faith in it.”  He reached inside his coat.  “You want one of the crosses?”

“I figure that’s your job,” the sheriff replied.  “If you can keep him back, I can put some shot in him.  Whether or not it kills him, doesn’t matter, it’s going to hurt.  Buy us some time.”

As they rode on, high winds began to whip around them.  The men’s long coats flapped hard, snapping with each gust.  The sheriff pulled the bandana around his neck up over his mouth and nose almost unconsciously.  The preacher pulled his hat lower and tucked his chin.  Tumbleweed blew by, just barely touching the ground until it caught on one of the scattered cacti.  The wind blew hard enough to howl, making dust rise all around them.  The preacher looked around, his eyes squinted against the grit in the air.  Waves of dust blew by.  He thought he almost even saw a cloud of more concentrated dust in the distance, but it disappeared quickly.

The sheriff reached over and tapped his arm, then gestured ahead to the rising rocks ahead.  They spurred the horses forward into a cleft, finally finding shelter against the wind.  The sheriff pulled down his bandana and dismounted.  The preacher followed suit and the horses whickered nervously, edging into the cleft, away from the driving wind.

“This is where I figured we’d leave the horses,” the older man said.  “We can reach the entrance to Bat Canyon on foot pretty quick from here, and there’s a sharp outcrop on this side.  Get ready, we’ll be heading in.”  He followed his own advice, slipping a round into the empty slot in his Colt and then loading shells into the double barrels of his shotgun.  The preacher nodded, then slipped his .44 from its holster.  He popped the cylinder out and filled into the empty spot.  After thinking for a moment, he holstered his pistol, then pulled off his hat and slipped his cross off from around his neck.  He looped the leather cord around his right wrist and pulled it tight, so his cross would dangle from his wrist.  He then pulled the large, bronze cross from his coat and hefted it in his left hand.  The sheriff nodded, pulled up his bandana and they walked back out into the wind.  

The crept forward, keeping close to the jutting stone of the cliffs.  The preacher felt his hands sweating, felt perspiration on his brow and nerves clenching his stomach.  The sound of their footsteps crunching on rocky dirt was lost to the howling wind, their tracks being blown away behind them.  Each and every turn the rocks took had the preacher holding his breath in anticipation, until the sheriff finally held up a hand and then slipped around the next turn.  The preacher tried taking a calming breath, and instead, uttered the Lord’s Prayer to himself before following.  

Inside the entrance to the canyon, the wind abated, cut off by the step rocks all around them.  The canyon was a box canyon that didn’t go very far back in.  The dim light from the sky was just enough to make out a farmhouse ahead.  Flickering light glowed inside one of the windows, and the preacher believed he saw slight movement.  

A strong hand grabbed him and hauled him aside, pulling him into a split in the rock . The sheriff glared at him.  “Standing in the open defeats the point,” he said in a harsh whisper.  “Now, settle in, we’re going to wait a bit.”

“What are we waiting for?” the preacher asked quietly.

“Not sure,” the sheriff replied.  “I’m thinking he’ll have to come out at some point.  I’ll let you know.”

The two men leaned against the rocks, trying to keep their breathing even.  The preacher felt something tap against his fingers and looked down to see the cross hanging from his wrist where it tapped against his trembling hand.  He swallowed a bitter taste out of his mouth took a deep breath.  The sheriff carefully opened the breach of the shotgun, checked the shells and quietly snapped it closed.  Thunder crashed overhead, making the two of them duck their heads.  

The door to the house swung open just after the thunderclap, and the man known as Mr. Smith in town stepped onto his porch.  The overhead sky was dark, the sun blocked by angry storm clouds.  Smith wasn’t fully dressed, only a pair of denim pants and boots, leaving his upper body bare.  He was wiping at his arms and hands with a white towel, but with streaks of red in the fabric.  He was tall and broad shouldered and walked with an air of strength about him.  However, his body was not heavy; it looked almost emaciated and thin, as if everything that wasn’t muscle or sinew had wasted away.  His skin had a sickly pale color to it.  His dark, stringy hair clung to his head and his eyes gazed out towards the mouth of the canyon from sunken depths.  

“I know you’re there,” he called out in a heavily accented voice.  “I guess the day finally came.  Let us finish this.”

The two men looked at each other, startled.  They were certain they hadn’t been seen.  The preacher swallowed again, even though his mouth had gone dry.  The sheriff looked at him and nodded.  They both shifted to step out and meet this creature.

Lightning crashed at the top of the cliffs overhead and thunder slammed down around them.  When they lifted their heads, they saw a figure walking to the mouth of the canyon from the winds and now-driving rains.  Night Sky emerged from the cacophony, his dark eyes glaring hate at Smith.  “Very well,” he said.  His voice seemed to carry like Smith’s, audible despite the storm.  

Night Sky took long, springing steps, moving forward.  The sheriff and preacher watched, their eyes wide.  Night Sky had come to face Smith?  And Smith knew?  That’s when things changed again, and more questions arose.  Night Sky’s steps ended in a leap and his form shifted, flowing smoothly.  His dark hair lengthened and his body elongated, growing longer and heavier.  His hands turned into almost large claws and fur covered his body, almost like it was meant to be there.  His face lengthened and white teeth flashed.  A large creature of canine overtones landed, slashing its clawed hands at Smith.

Smith had moved to meet the rush, and as Night Sky landed, Smith had lunged, shoving his shoulder into the other man’s gut and wrapped his arms around the body.  With a heave, he lifted and turned in a throw that rotated them both all the way around and slammed the hairy creature to the ground with a shout.  They landed hard, Smith on his knees and Night Sky on his back, yelping at the impact.  The indian didn’t waste time, lashing out with teeth and claws.  His right hand scored a slash across Smith’s collarbone, causing deep gashes.  Smith leapt back, a snarl contorting his sunken face.  The gashes didn’t bleed, and he paid no attention to them.

Night Sky had already rolled to his feet and dashed forward again.  Smith met this charge, too, going low and thrusting his hands at the indian’s body and upward.  The hairy creature went up with his own momentum and Smith’s strength, being slung over Smith’s head and thrown away, again crashing to the ground.  Smith followed and raised a boot to stomp, but Night Sky rolled away again and came to his feet.  

Smith snarled and spat in the dirt.  “You think to drive me out?  We are coming, and the likes of you will not stop us.”

“Come,” Night Sky replied, barely understandable through the long jaws.  “Come, and be prepared to die by the score.”

Again, they clashed.  This time, Night Sky had come in low.  He had his left hand on the ground, his right extended and caught Smith across the body.  Then, with a savage snarl, his jaws snapped, catching Smith’s right arm, just above the wrist.  Smith cried in pain, then gripped the back of the shaggy head with his other hand, pivoted smoothly and slammed Night Sky into the ground, head-first with the rest of his weight falling on top of his head.  There was a distinctly canine yelp of pain and Night Sky crumpled on the ground.

“Now,” said the sheriff.  They stepped out from their hiding spot together, as they had discussed.  The preacher stood in the front, holding the large cross and holding the pistol at his side.  The sheriff stood slightly behind him, to one side, with the barrel of the shotgun pointed forward.  The sound of their footsteps were lost to their own ears, but Smith lifted his head to look towards them.  He looked confused at first, then snarled.

“What do you want?” Smith said.  He turned to face them, his hands curled but not closed to fists.  He was leaned forward, bent slightly at the waist.  “You have ensured your death, coming here.”

“We do not fear you, undead!” the preacher shouted, walking forward at a steady pace.  “The Lord has sent a reckoning!”

“Brave words,” Smith said, moving in a circular motion.  “Yet, neither of you are close enough for the sheriff’s shotgun to reach me.”

“Watch it,” the sheriff muttered.  He’s circling, trying to keep you between him and me.”

“Isn’t that good for you?” the preacher muttered back.

“I can’t shoot him that way.”

The preacher stopped his movement, then headed back towards the mouth of the canyon, blocking the way out.  The vampire tilted his head slightly at the action, then moved laterally, trying to create another arc.  The preacher moved laterally to match him, but instead moved forward, drawing closer to Smith.  The preacher felt his nerves fade away.  The Lord was with him.  This creature would not harm them.

Smith took steps back, slowly, assessing the situation.  Then, in one fluid movement, he reached back to the pile of split wood he’d moved towards and flung one of the pieces at the preacher.  The sheriff hauled the other man down and the wood shattered loudly against the canyon wall.  Smith moved towards them in an instant, closing the distance since the preacher had dropped the big brass cross in his fall.  So instead, the preacher raised his pistol.  Smith smiled, then stopped, his eyes widening.

Beneath the preacher’s hand hung the other cross, dangling below the butt of the pistol.  Smith’s head turned, realizing how close he had gotten.  That’s when two barrels of 8 gauge buckshot hit him squarely in the chest.

Smith flew backwards and landed, tumbling over his shoulder to lay facedown on the ground.  The preacher and sheriff, both still seated on the ground let out low sighs of relief.  That is, until Smith pushed himself upright.  His chest was a mass of ruined flesh that still didn’t bleed.  The muscles were torn to shreds and Smith’s arms didn’t seem to hang quite right, but he still raised them and came forward.  The sheriff scrambled, trying to get two new shells into his shotgun.  

But Night Sky had recovered and dove on Smith’s back.  His long, canine jaws clamped down on Smith’s neck and his talon hands wrapped over the vampire’s shoulders.  Smith’s eyes grew wide just before Night Sky began to thrash his head back and forth.  Smith stumbled, staggered and turned, trying to slam his back, and Night Sky, into the canyon walls.  He slammed once, twice, three times, but grimly, the indian held on.

The preacher hadn’t wasted his time.  While the sheriff was finally sliding fresh shells into his shotgun, the preacher had grabbed one of the long shards from the wood at the canyon wall.  As Smith slammed Night Sky into the wall again, the preacher stepped forward, raised the wood and drove it through Smith’s ruined chest.  The sheriff’s shotgun hadn’t just shredded muscle, it had shattered ribs as well, and the improvised stake dug home easily.  

Smith went suddenly still, then began to pitch forward.  Night Sky hopped back, away from the vampire.  Even as he did, his body began to change again, turning back into the lean indian.  Smith’s body withered quickly, fading to grey dust.  Soon, a pile of pale ash lay on the canyon floor.  The preacher sighed, then lifted his eyes from the deceased Smith.  Night Sky met his gaze steadily.

“So,” the preacher said.  “It seems there’s more going on.”

“Yes,” Night Sky said.  

“I’ve heard of that before, being able to turn into a wolf.  Some call it a curse.”

Night Sky shrugged.  “Curse or not, it is who I am.”

“Have you fought one of these before?” the preacher asked.

“Yes,” came the simple reply.  After a moment, he continued: “I watch over this land against things like this.  Smith was stronger than any of these creatures than I have ever heard of, and a skilled fighter.”

“You could have told us,” the preacher said quietly.

“Could I?”  Night Sky’s eyes were hard.  “No matter.  You and the sheriff... I’m glad you were here.”

The sheriff walked up to them, shotgun still in his hand.  “He said there would be more coming.”

“He did,” Night Sky replied.  “That is why I’m glad you were here.  Not only for helping me, but now you know what is coming.”

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