The epic saga of shooting stuff continues.
P.S. If someone knows how to stretch a 24 hour day into 30 or more, I could get significantly more writing done. And maybe even have enough daylight to put the outside Christmas decorations up.
Anyways – onward we go!
The local doctor was an old man with a thick southern accent and steady hands. He had me strip my shirt off, and there was a long, quiet moment as he took in the decades old scar tissue. Most doctors in the west were used to all sorts of scars and disfigurements, but I knew mine were… an oddity. Thankfully, he didn’t ask how I got them and that suited me fine. One of the best things out west is that people tend to mind their own damn business.
The old man gingerly applied a foul-smelling medicinal oil to the small burned areas of my skin, then put a few neat little stitches back in my chest. He poked and prodded my nose. I thought it was broken, but it was just bent a little and tender to the touch. Luckily for me, the whiskey was kicking in and numbing a little of the pain as he went over my various wounds.
With my collection of fresh bruises, cuts, and burns, it probably looked like I tried to cremate a mountain lion alive. But he didn’t care enough to ask about that either.
After paying the Doc for doing his best to extend my life, I wandered to the general store and bought some cartridges for the Sharps and a few more sticks of dynamite. Just in case I needed to blow something up again.
Reverend Williams sought me out after hearing about the shooting and caught me leaving the store.
“Jedidiah,” he said in greeting. That was one of his ways, he always used a man’s formal name, never the shortened version. “Heard you were in a bar fight and a man was killed,” he clasped his hands before him, the old bible clutched tight. “Would you like to talk?”
I shrugged. “I’m fine, Reverend. The man deserved it and people dying around me is nothing new.”
“I know,” he half-turned away, and watched a carriage roll down the street behind a team of horses. “There’s nothing wrong with killing bad people who are trying to do harm. But I know how difficult it is for a man to escape their past. Trust me, I wasn’t always a man of faith,” he looked at my face, his eyes searching mine. “I just wanted to make sure yours hadn’t followed you here.”
I nodded, understanding his concern after the things I’d told him. You never knew when your past might catch up to you. That’d be an awful day of reckoning. But so far, I was free and clear of it. “He was just an angry, foolish drunk with an itchy trigger finger.”
“Good,” he patted my shoulder. “Let me know if you need anything. Thanks to you and your gambler friend, I’ve a funeral to prepare for.”
“Will do,” I called after him as he walked away, his boots thumping on the boardwalk.
It was well past noon by the time the Sheriff wrapped up his errands, kicked the drunk out of his cell, and was ready to head out.
I was still jumpy. But with the Sheriff traveling with me, I had some peace of mind in our combined firepower. Worst-case scenario, I only had to outrun Dan’s horse drawn wagon. That’s what he gets for choosing slow comfort over a fast saddle.
On the way, I kept the storytelling brief and simple.
He shook his head in disbelief when I described the beast and our fight to the death in the burning hellfire of my barn. He had a lot of questions, but I had few answers.
Then he filled me in on the latest news around town. The biggest news was that the town Mayor died a few days ago, which explained the padlock on his office door. His heart gave out and he dropped dead in the middle of the street in front of a wagon hauling manure. It rolled right over him before the driver could stop the horses. There was irony in that somewhere, I knew it. So far, no new candidates had come out for the job yet.
We broke free of the forest around my ranch, and the creatures body lay in plain sight by the pile of burnt timbers and ash. Broken, charred bits and pieces of debris still lay strewn across the yard from the explosion. I had some cleaning up to do.
Dan pulled back on the reins to stop the wagon and stared at the body. It took him a long moment to gather his thoughts enough to ask, “Just what in the hell is that thing?”
“Something big and mean. I was worried you wouldn’t believe me. That’s why I brought the claws.”
“I certainly wouldn’t have,” Dan cut his eyes at me sideways. “You know, by all rights, that thing should have ate you.”
“It almost did.”
“Still…” His voice drifted off as I tapped boot heels to the flanks of my horse and led us into the green field surrounding the house.
Dan pulled the brake on the wagon while I dismounted and tied Carbine to the remains of my corral.
We walked to the dead beast. The body was still fresh enough to not smell yet. Its mouth lay partially open, exposing jagged blood-stained teeth. Other than the mangled rear legs and tail, and the missing arm, the rest of its body was in reasonably good condition except for all the bullet holes.
I kicked its head with the toe of my boot for good measure and was rewarded with a meaty thud. “I doubt there’s just one of these. But folks need to know about it. I barely killed this one and the next guy won’t be so lucky.”
“It’s going to be hard to convince them that a creature like this exists, even with the claw. No one has ever seen anything like it before.”
That had occurred to me as well, but I already had an idea. “We won’t be able to fit the entire body in your wagon, but the head will. If that doesn’t convince folks, nothing will.”
“Works for me,” Dan pointed towards my ash heap of a barn. “You got any tools left?”
“Not really,” I said, thinking of the small kindling axe and Bowie on my hip. “This is going to be messy.”
“Yes…It is,” he seemed distracted as he tugged on his beard thoughtfully and walked around the corpse. Once he reached the remains of the tail, he stared at it in silence.
I walked over to the pitchfork that almost impaled me. The handle was burnt away, leaving only a charred end sticking out of the twisted metal fork. Pulling it loose, I tossed the ruined tool towards the remains of the barns where it landed with a small poof of ash.
“I’ve seen something like this before,” the Sheriff called out as he cut a plug of tobacco with his knife and began chewing.
That got my attention. “What? Where?”
“Old newspaper. It had something about digging up giant bones in Montana and Colorado. Said they were from dinosaurs. Big extinct animals that have been dead so long their bones turned to rock. There was a sketch of what they looked like when they were alive. One of them was like this one. Except it had a bigger head, small worthless-looking arms, and walked on its back two legs. Yours is similar, but smaller and with longer front legs. Anyways, I remember thinking it was a load of garbage and used the paper in the outhouse.”
I looked at him in surprise, “Seems they ain’t all dead. You know who wrote the article?”
“Not a clue. But it was written by someone from the Smithsonian Institute. They could probably tell us what we are dealing with,” he spat a wad of tobacco juice out the side of his mouth. “I bet they’d be real interested to know they’re wrong about them all being dead.”
“Can you wire them? Ask them how worried we ought to be?”
Walking back to me, the Sheriff squatted on his haunches beside the corpse and gently touched its blood-stained teeth. “I’ll certainly try. But I got a feeling we ought to be mighty concerned.”
“Me too, Dan.”
Dan ran his hands over the pebbled hide and peered into the beast’s empty eye socket. I stared at the burnt remains of my barn, alone in my thoughts. Until one struck me.
“After we cut this thing’s head off… you want to stick around for some steaks?” I asked.
I nodded, grinning. “Big ones.”
He looked puzzled, until the realization of what I implied sunk in. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Nope. What better way to celebrate my defeat of this horrifying beast than to feast on its roasted flesh?”
He sighed and looked back at the dead monster before spitting again “Okay.”
It tasted like chicken.
I woke the next morning stiff and sore. Today’s plan was to take it easy and try to salvage anything of value from the ruins of my barn. I wasn’t looking forward to digging through the knee-deep ash and debris though.
I slung the gun belt around my waist and glanced at the Spencer Carbine above the door. It tempted me, but I had my pistol, and I’d keep a careful watch as I worked. I decided to leave it. My new shotgun was freshly cleaned and oiled, laying on a small table between the door and bed with a box of shells. I left that gun as well. It was daylight, I’d be able to see any strange dangerous beasts well before they reached me.
Jerking the door open, I stepped out into the bright morning sun.
It was going to be a nice day.
A large spear whistled by me and slammed into the log wall next to the rocking chair. It stuck, driven deep, wood shaft quivering.
Instinctively, I drew my pistol and spun to face whoever just tried to kill me.
There were four of them scattered before me. Big hairy things, wrapped in hides around their bodies and waists, easily a foot taller than me, with long arms and hands big enough to beat a horse to death. Their broad, ugly faces and muscular chests were hairless, the exposed black skin marked with colorful swirls and strange patterns.
They reminded me of the big monkeys from my childhood picture books. But instead of carrying bananas, they held weapons.
The smallest of the four knelt beside the dead monster, with a bow in hand and quiver of arrows at his waist. Two others stood by the pasture fence, watching Carbine run away again. The biggest one was sprinting towards me in large strides, stone axe held high overhead. He let out a ferocious roar as he quickly closed the distance.
Even as the iron sights of the Peacemaker lined up on his broad forehead and I squeezed the trigger, I felt like this was a dream. This couldn’t be real. It was laughable. First a monster and now giant monkey-men.
It was ridiculous.
The recoil and gun blast shocked me out of my stupor, as the bullet punched through his skull and he dropped at my feet as though his strings were cut.
The small ape notched an arrow and drew his bow back.
Ducking, I snapped a quick shot at him as he released the string. I caught a glimpse of him spinning, grasping his side, as I dove into the house. The arrow zipped through the open doorway, narrowly missing be, before it thunked into the far wall.
Slamming the door shut, I shoved my pistol into its holster. As heavy feet stomped across the porch, I grabbed the shotgun off the table. Gripping it tightly with both hands, I thumbed the double hammers back, just in time for the door to be kicked open violently.
The slab of wood bashed into me, knocking me backward onto the floor, and sending the box of shotgun shells flying off the small table. The cardboard box burst on impact and the thick cased shells rolled in every direction.
The giant ape’s painted bulk filled the doorway, his stone club held low. Pounding a clenched fist against his broad chest, he roared loudly, revealing yellowed canines.
In return, I let the shotgun roar back with both barrels.
The large twin barrels spewed a cloud of white smoke, and double rounds of buckshot punched through the ape’s painted lower chest and out his upper back. At this range, the mass of packed lead balls didn’t spread, they simply blew a hole in the big monkey large enough to put my fist through. The big bastard flew backward in a spray of blood and pulverized flesh. The stench of burning hair filled the air.
Breaking the shotgun open, I plucked out the empty shells as fast as I could, and grabbed a pair off the floor. I dropped them in and snapped the gun shut, just in time for another ape to come through the door and swing its club at me.
The big stone on the end of the club hit the floor as I dodged aside. Splinters and stone fragments stung my face as it smashed through the wooden floor boards.
I struggled to maneuver the shortened shotgun for a shot and thumbed one of them hammers back.
The ape grasped the barrels and ripped the gun away, inadvertently making me pull the trigger and discharging a round of buckshot past his head and into the ceiling. A spray of wooden debris rained down on us. Roaring in painful rage, he dropped his club and clutched his ear as he flung the shotgun across the room with a snarl.
From the ground, I drew my pistol, but lost it, as the ape grasped me by the shirt and leg with an iron grip and threw me across the room. Slamming into a pair of bookshelves near the wood stove, I let out a cry of pain as I fell amongst a shower of books. Falling to the floor, I gasped and swore at the ape’s mother.
A colorfully painted Wyatt Earp glared at me from the cover of a fallen dime novel, his face stern under his tilted hat. Below in large blue words, it said, “CAN HE SURVIVE?”
Thanks for the vote of confidence, Wyatt.
The floorboards creaked in protest as the great ape lunged across the room after me. Neither gun was within reach, but a cast iron frying pan was. I grabbed it and swung hard at the ape’s knee. He easily dodged the swing, and the heavy pan slipped from my grasp and thumped across the floor.
Screaming in half anger and half fear, I kicked at him in desperation.
He smacked my boot aside effortlessly and grabbed me by the throat. Single handed, the ape lifted me off the floor. Frantic for air, I pounded at his hand and arm, kicking, struggling to draw breath.
He watched me twist and fail, a thin trickle of red dribbling from his ruptured ear drum. His face was twisted into a snarl, and black eyes showed not an ounce of mercy.
As my vision faded to black, I forced myself to stop fighting his fearfully strong grip as I realized I still had a weapon. Drawing the large Bowie knife from the sheath at my belt, I began stabbing him in the belly and groin.
The ape roared, dropping me as it toppled onto his back, clutching the gaping wounds. The heavy knife fell and stuck point first in the floor as I fell to my hands and knees, gasping for air.
He said something painfully in a rough language through clenched teeth as he writhed back and forth. Bright red blood poured through his clasped hands and pooled underneath him.
I didn’t understand what he said, and I didn’t bother asking him to repeat it. Instead, I added insult to injury by punching him in the face. It was like punching a hair covered rock, but I was rewarded with a small spray of blood from one of his wide nostrils. That was for trashing my house.
I jerked the Bowie knife from the floorboards. Wrapping both hands around the handle, I brought it down repeatedly with all the force and violence as I could muster. Blood sprayed on me and splashed across the floor as his body shuddered and went limp.
Breathing hard from exertion, I stared at the mangled bloodied mess I had made. That was for almost killing me.
I suddenly recalled there had been four apes and one was still outside. Diving across the floor, I grabbed the dropped pistol. Sliding against the doorways edge, I peeked cautiously, waiting for the fourth one to pop around the corner to plug me.
Instead, the small one with the bow lay motionless in the yard in a growing red pool. He’d made it several steps before collapsing. I’d gotten lucky with that snapped shot and hit something vital.
They were all dead. Looks like I won again.
Doc had done a proper job on my stitches. Only one tore loose during the brawl and it looked like I would survive without it. But I desperately needed a week or two without violence to heal up. Satisfied with my own health, I looked at my latest kill.
The dead ape in my house lay gashed open from painted chest to throat. I pulled my knife out of him, wiped it off on his fur, and looked the corpse over.
Simply put, he was large, hairy, and ugly.
His face was a bald patch of wrinkled black skin covering his mouth and lips, and wide flat nose. The rest of his head was covered with the same thick, dark brown hair as his body, leaving only his chest, palms, and bottoms of his feet hair-free.
The monkey’s big chest was painted with red, green, and white swirls and strange patterns. I scraped off a little of the green paint with my fingers and rubbed it between them. It was clotted with small bits of plant fiber and what looked like pieces of smashed bugs.
What gave me the greatest concern was the skins he wore. I picked up an edge of the hides and ran my fingers over the smooth leather. The pebbled hide was like nothing I had ever seen before. Except on the monster I killed last night. That was foreboding.
A small leather pouch was stitched into the hides he wore. I opened it. Inside were thin strips of leather, a sharp chipped stone knife with leather-bound handle, and several bright purple fern leaves tightly roiled. I tossed the pouch into a corner.
The ape left a long smear of blood across the floor as I dragged him out of the house and rolled him off the side of the porch and into a heap with his dead buddies.
I knew the ape was strong. He’d lifted my entire hundred and eighty-five-pound body with a single hand and almost choked me to death. But as I picked up the club and struggled to swing it, I realized just how strong he really was. The handle was smooth dark wood with a reddish tint and small grooves cut for grip. The large gray stone at the end had been chipped into shape and bound tightly in place with strips of leather. And it weighed probably forty pounds. Getting hit with one of these would end a man’s life real quick, or leave him permanently crippled.
I tugged the arrow out of the wall. It was almost a foot longer than an Indian arrow and twice as thick. The fletching was made of strange greenish-yellow feathers, and the point was of crafted obsidian. The bow that the small ape carried was six feet tall and made from what seemed like a type of carved horn and finely braided string. I tried to draw the bow back and gave up after moving the string only a few inches.
The spear was sunk deep into the outside log wall, but with effort, I wiggled it free. Like the club, it was much larger than anything a human could easily wield. The shaft was almost nine feet long and several inches in diameter. Big enough that I could jab with it two handed, but impossible for me to throw. The tip was the same glossy black volcanic rock as used on the arrow.
I dumped the weapons in a pile and stood on the porch with rifle in hand, looking around in bewilderment at my ranch. Once again, I found myself confused and trying to wrap my head around the notion that I had killed not only a possibly extinct dinosaur, but also several giant monkey-men. And they wore hides from what had to be other beasts like the one I killed.
Just what in the hell was going on?
The breeze ruffled the hair of the apes in the yard and sent small dust devils spinning by. Buzzards noticed my new lawn decorations and circled lazily overhead. A sure signal for miles around that something was dead or dying below. I’d provided quite the feast for them lately.
I looked at the forest edge and wondered what else was out there. There was no telling anymore.
As I watched Carbine trot back towards the ranch, I knew one thing for certain, I needed to know where these apes had come from. Going without help didn’t appeal to me. But neither did spending half a day to fetch the Sheriff while the trail went cold.
I’d go alone and cautiously. If things went south, I’d ride like hell for town. I glanced at my saddle bags that rested beside the table. Just in case, I’d bring the dynamite.
I tracked the apes into the Granite mountains. The hairy men had followed the dinosaur, which explained how they ended up in my front yard. And that big creature left an easy trail to follow as it stomped through everything, leaving deep clawed tracks, broken branches, and crushed foliage in its wake. The dinosaur’s tracks meandered all over the forest and out onto the plains.
I had no idea why the apes would follow the beast. If they were hunting it, then they were more badass than I originally thought and that much more dangerous. But it appeared I was attacked by the apes simply because I had the bad luck of the beast ending up dead at my place.
After a couple hours, I came across the bloody, grisly carcass of one of my steers. All that remained was broken horns attached to a shattered skull, punctured with bite marks, and some crunched-up bones amongst shredded scraps of meat and hide. The area was painted with blood and gore for a good ten feet.
Eventually, the beast’s tracks led me to an area of the Granite mountain range further than I’d ever wandered before. The rolling grass hills ended abruptly against the base of cliffs jutting up from the plains and merging into the mountains behind it. The cliff rose a couple hundred feet into the air, complete with tumbled rocks and debris at the bottom with a few scraggly pines striving to survive tucked into small crevices on the cliff face.
Both the ape and beast tracks led right through a massive tunnel that stretched almost sixty feet wide at the bottom and at its highest point, arched twenty feet above me.
Somehow, the tunnel was only eight feet long and defied everything I knew was possible. I dismounted and squatted on my heels, staring at it, trying to wrap my head around what was before me.
Each end of the tunnel was… different.
My side was normal, the other side… not.
What I saw wasn’t possible. It didn’t just break the laws of nature, it shattered them. What should have been a cave going inside a mountain – wasn’t. It went somewhere else.
There was a clear line of division inside the center of the tunnel, where my side ended and the other began. Nothing in nature is perfectly straight, but this was. The grass on my side, small and thin, ended abruptly where large thick blades of grass and big ferns suddenly began and continued down a small rise where my view ended, showing only a blue sky with several puffy white clouds.
The unseen line continued up edges of the tunnel and along the ceiling, splitting two different types of rock. On my side, it was gray and marbled granite, then it hit the line and suddenly became limestone. Cracks that began in one side or the other, ended abruptly where it joined the other.
I couldn’t explain it. There should have been a solid mountain right there. But it wasn’t. Instead, the opening was only a brief eight feet away from me.
The only thing I knew for sure was that apes and the beast came from the other side. Their tracks were muddled together as the apes crossed through and wandered around the area, apparently as baffled as I was. The dinosaur appeared to have walked right through it, and wandered off to find a rancher to terrorize.
I gave up trying to figure it out. To hell with it. I was starting to get a headache. It was simpler just to accept it.
Frustrated, I stood and kicked one of the fallen rocks into the tunnel. As the rock bounced across the unseen line and into the other side, the air shimmered and tiny ripples spread out briefly in every direction.
At that moment, I said a lot of things my mother wouldn’t have wanted me to say. In my defense, I was really getting sick of all this weirdness.
Unsure of what I was seeing, I did what everyone does when confronted with something so strange and bizarre that it challenges your understanding of reality.
I poked it with my finger.