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!
He was an old man with a thick southern accent and relatively 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… unusual. Thankfully, he didn’t ask how I got them or the fresh wounds and that suited me fine. One of the best things out west is that people tend to mind their own business.
A foul-smelling medicinal oil was gingerly applied to small burned areas of my skin, then a few neat little stitches were put in my chest. He poked and prodded my nose painfully. I thought it was broken, but it was just bent a little. Luckily for me, the whiskey was kicking in and numbing some 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.
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.
The Reverend sought 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 had some trouble and a man was killed,” he clasped his hands before him, the old bible clutched tightly between them, as he took in my bruised and battered face. “Would you like to talk?”
I shrugged. “Not particularly 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 to you or others. But I know how difficult it is for a man to escape a troubled 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 your past 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. “No, sir. He was just an angry, foolish drunk with an itchy trigger finger.”
“Good,” he patted my shoulder. “Let me know if you need anything. In the meantime, I’ve a funeral to prepare for.”
“Will do,” I called after him as he walked away, 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 barn. He had a lot of questions, but I had few answers.
After he tired of my lack of information to give, he filled me in on the latest news around town. The biggest news was that the town Mayor died, which explained the padlock on his office. A large man, his heart gave out and he dropped dead in the middle of the street in front of a wagon hauling manure. The wheels rolled right over him before the driver could stop the horses. There was irony in that somewhere, I knew it.
Following the trail, 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 is that thing?”
“Something big and mean.”
“Looks like it,” Dan cut his eyes at me sideways. “You know, by all rights, that thing should have ate you.”
“It almost did.” I tapped boot heels to the flanks of my horse and led us into the green field surrounding the house.
When we reached the remains of my barn, Dan pulled the brake on the wagon while I dismounted and tied Carbine to the few posts still standing for the corral.
We walked to the dead beast. The body was fresh enough to not smell yet. Its mouth lay open, exposing jagged blood-stained teeth. Other than the mangled rear legs and tail, and the arm I chopped off, 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 thud. “I doubt there’s just one of these. But folks will need to know about it. I barely killed this one and the next man won’t be so lucky.”
“You’re right. We’ve got to figure on there being more of them. But, it’s going to be hard to convince them that a creature like this exists, even with the claw.”
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.”
Dan shrugged. “Works for me,” he 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. After walking back to the head, 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 from the ground, I tossed the ruined tool towards the remains of the barns where it landed with a soft thud amongst the wet ash.
“I’ve seen something like this before,” the Sheriff called out as he cut a plug of tobacco with a pocket 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 or something. 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 ridiculous.”
I looked at him in surprise, “Seems it ain’t so ridiculous. You know who wrote the article?”
“Not a clue, I used the paper in the outhouse. But the Smithsonian Institute was mentioned, I recall that. They could probably tell us what we are dealing with,” he spat a stream of tobacco juice. “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?”
The Sheriff squatted on his haunches beside the corpse and gently touched its blood-stained teeth with his fingertips. “I will. But I got a feeling we ought to be mighty concerned if there are more of them.”
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 teasing, right?”
“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.
It took a couple hours to get the head loaded onto the wagon and dinner finished before the Sheriff departed.
The next morning, I woke 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 for any little treasures that may have survived.
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 and with the open fields around the ranch, I’d be able to see any strange beasts well before they reached me.
Pulling the door open, I stepped out into the bright morning sun and arched my back as I stretched.
It was going to be a nice day.
A spear whistled by me and slammed into the log wall next to the rocking chair. It stuck, driven deep, the thick 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 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 jungle apes from my childhood picture books. But instead of carrying bananas, they held weapons and didn’t have any tails.
The smallest of the four knelt beside the dead monster, a bow in hand and quiver of arrows at his waist. Two others stood by the pasture fence, watching Carbine run away again. Meanwhile, the biggest one who’d thrown the spear was sprinting towards me in large strides, a 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, it felt like this was a dream. This couldn’t be real. It was laughable. First a monster and now giant monkey-men.
It was loco.
The recoil from the 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.
Behind him, the others began to react. The small ape notched an arrow and drew the bow back.
Ducking, I snapped a quick shot at him as he released. I caught a glimpse of him firing, then spinning away, grasping his side, as I dove into the house. The arrow zipped through the open doorway, narrowly missing me, before thunking 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.
It 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, thick cased shells rolling in every direction.
The giant ape’s painted bulk filled the doorway, a stone club held low. Pounding a clenched fist against his broad chest, he roared, revealing large yellowed canines.
I let the shotgun roar back.
The twin large bore 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 hairy 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, before grabbing 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.
The big stone on the end of the club hit the floor as I dodged aside. Splinters stung my face as it smashed through the floor boards.
I struggled to maneuver the shortened shotgun for a shot and managed to thumb one of the 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 into the ceiling. A spray of wood debris rained down on us. Roaring, he dropped the club and clutched his ear as he flung the shotgun across the room.
From the ground, I drew my pistol, but lost it, as the ape grabbed me by the shirt and leg with an iron grip and hurled me across the room. Slamming into a pair of bookshelves near the wood stove, I let out a cry of pain and fell amongst a shower of books.
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.
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 blow, and the heavy pan flew from my grip.
Screaming in anger, 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. Fighting for air, I pounded at his hand and arm, kicking futilely, struggling to draw breath.
The monkey watched me twist and fail, a thin trickle of red dribbling from his ruptured ear drum. His face twisted in a snarl, and his intelligent brown eyes glared.
As my vision began to fade, I realized I still had a weapon. Drawing the large Bowie knife from the sheath on my belt, I began stabbing whatever I could reach. Which was mainly the soft belly below his rib cage. The knife drove deep, slicing through muscle and fat and into organs.
The ape screamed, dropping me before toppling onto his back, clutching the gaping wounds. The heavy knife fell and stuck point first in the floor as I crawled to my hands and knees, gasping.
My attacker said something in a rough, guttural language through clenched teeth as he writhed back and forth painfully. 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 his wide nostrils. That was for trashing my house.
The ape may have been dying, but it wasn’t fast enough to please me. 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. That was for him and his buddies trying to kill me for no reason.
Breathing hard from the exertion, I stared at the mangled bloodied mess I had made. Then I suddenly recalled there’d been four apes and the small one was unaccounted for. Diving across the floor, I grabbed the dropped pistol. Sliding against the doorway, 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 and didn’t look to be breathing. He’d made it several steps before collapsing. I’d gotten lucky with that snapped shot and hit something vital.
They were all dead.
Doc had done a proper job on my stitches. Only one tore loose during the brawl and it looked like I’d survive without it. But I desperately needed a week or two without violence to heal up. Satisfied that I would survive this assault, I inspected my latest kill.
The dead ape in my house lay gashed open from painted chest to throat. I pulled the knife out of him, wiped it off on his fur, and slid it back into its sheath while looking the corpse over.
Simply put, he was large, hairy, and ugly.
His face was a bald patch of wrinkled black skin covering his mouth, 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.
His chest was thick with muscle and 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 what might have been smashed bugs.
What gave me the greatest concern was the skins he wore. I picked up an edge of the hides and ran the leather between my fingers. 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, what looked like flint and pyrite for making fires, and several bright purple fern leaves tightly roiled. I tossed the pouch aside.
The corpse 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 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 to help the bearer keep a 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 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 gut 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. Once again, I found myself confused and trying to wrap my head around the notion that not only had I killed a creature that should have been extinct, but also several giant monkey-men.
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. Buzzards noticed my new lawn decorations and circled lazily overhead. A sure signal for miles around that something was dead. 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 came from. Wherever that was, based on the hides they wore, there were more of these dinosaurs. Going without help didn’t appeal to me. But neither did spending most of a day fetching 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 along.
I tracked the apes easily enough. 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. Regretfully, the dinosaur’s tracks did like most wild things, they meandered all over the place instead of in a convenient straight line. Eventually the markings broke free of the forest, and out into the open rolling hills of 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 by teeth, 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 tall prairie grass ended abruptly against the base of cliffs jutting up from the plains and merging into the mountains behind it. Before me, the cliff face rose fifty or sixty feet into the air, complete with tumbled rocks and debris at the bottom and a few scraggly pines striving to survive tucked into small cracks and crevices.
Both the ape and beast tracks led right through a massive tunnel that stretched almost forty feet wide at the bottom and at its highest point, arched twenty feet above me.
But, somehow, impossibly, the tunnel was only eight feet long, and defied everything I knew was possible.
In a daze, I dismounted and squatted on my heels, staring at it, trying to understand how such a thing could exist.
Not only should the mountain range have been miles and miles long, 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.
There was a clear line of division inside near the center of the tunnel. A line that showed 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 green and red tinged 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 suddenly became limestone. Cracks that began in one side or the other, ended abruptly when they reached the line.
I couldn’t explain it. There should have been a solid mountain right there. But it wasn’t.
The only thing I knew for sure was that apes and the beast came from the other side. The dinosaur appeared to have walked right through it, and wandered off to find a rancher to terrorize. Then the apes, their tracks were muddled together as they crossed through and wandered around the area, apparently as baffled as I was.
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 and disgusted, I stood and kicked a fist sized rock into the tunnel. As the rock bounced across the unseen line and into the other side, for a brief moment, the air shimmered and tiny ripples spread in every direction.
At that moment, I said a lot of things my mother wouldn’t have wanted me to say. But, in my defense, I was really getting sick of all this strangeness.
Unsure of what I was dealing with, I did what everyone does when confronted with something so strange and bizarre that it challenges your belief in what is real.
I walked over and poked it with a finger.