Sunday 31 October 2010

This Pale Stranger

“I will shoot you, Jed, don’t think I won’t.”

Nate felt the wall against his back. His deputy, Jed, was 4 paces away from him, in the doorway. Jed was a faster draw but he didn’t look so good: his skin was greying; his eyes were shot and blood dripped from his face and chest, blood that wasn’t his own.

Five minutes previous, Nate had raced from his office to the sound of screaming outside. In the bright moonlight he could see Jed leaning over a woman in the street but the lawman didn’t seem to be helping her. Her writhing had stopped as her screams had turned into a bubbling choke and then she just lay under Jed, twitching. Other townsfolk had started to appear at their doors and windows. When he’d called Jed’s name his deputy had raised his head and turned, gore and blood dripping from his mouth. Nate had been able to see the woman, Mary Wholebright, more fully then, her stomach torn open, her blood gushing into the dust.

Like a mountain lion seeing its prey cornered, Jed roared at Nate across the office. The sound was guttural, inhuman, vile. Jed raised his arms and lunged straight across the room for the sheriff.

Nate drew.

Palms to ivory. The sound of iron past leather. The twin kick and thunder.

The shots staggered his deputy, but didn’t put him down. There was pure murder in his reddened eyes. He leapt for Nate again.

Twice more thunder pealed.

Nate had to jump to the side behind his desk to avoid Jed’s body as momentum carried the dead weight crashing into the wall.

“Goddamn, Jed, you sorry son o’ a bitch. What d’you make me do that for?”

He settled his iron and leaned forward, hands in fists, knuckles against the wood of his desk.


He punched the desk. Hard.

Someone stepped into the doorway, blocking some of the light from the moonlit night. Nate remembered Mary, he remembered he would have to talk to the townsfolk, have to figure out what happened. He would have to talk to Jed’s mother.

There was a guttural moan from behind him; something full of pain and hate and hunger, of regret and slow rage. It was the kind of complicated noise only a human can make, but nothing human ever made a sound quite like it. Nate’s head turned in disbelief, in time to see Jed reaching for him. Close enough that he could see the flickering oil lamp reflected in his deputy’s dead eyes. It could have been the fires of hell itself.

There was a loud, explosive crack from the doorway and Jed’s head jerked; matter and gore painted the wall behind him.

“You got to shoot them in the brains, only way to be sure.”

Nate looked away from Jed’s corpse; it was nobody’s business to be shooting the boy but his. There were always strangers in Bewick, plenty of folk passed through, not too many stopped; this fellow though, he was stranger than most. Nate couldn’t be sure by the moonlight, but he seemed to be dressed entirely in black: boots, duster, Stetson and all. This set up a mighty strange contrast with his pale face and hands, making them seem paler still. Unnaturally pale for cowboy country.

The stranger ratcheted his Winchester rifle. “You bit, Sheriff?”

“No, I ain’t.” Nate looked him up and down. “You know exactly what just happened here?”

Some folk were mistrustful of strangers; particularly small town folk. But Nate didn’t hold with those kind of prejudices, he was mistrustful of everyone equally. It made him a good sheriff.

“I seen it before, long time ago.”

“And you just happened to be passing. Why you in Bewick, cowboy?”

The stranger grinned, but it weren’t like any grin Nate had seen before. The stranger was bucktoothed, but those two front teeth were pointed and sharp as needles. It didn’t make him look dumb, like little Bucktooth Jimmy Carlson, it made him look dangerous. Some primal instinct sent a cold wash through Nate’s veins.

“Just looking out for the herd, sheriff.”

(author's commentary)


  1. I really enjoyed this story! The wild west setting is a refreshing change from what we typically see today in stories and the final line is pure gold. Love it!

  2. Thanks, Zaiure. =)

    You don't often see Cowboy Vampires* and I just loved twisting the 'pale stranger' archetype.

    *although I have since read Stephen King's American Vampire... damn him for having good ideas and acting on them. ;)