A Six Gun and the Queen of Light

Part 5

A Six Gun and the Queen of Light

By Mark Slade

Story Break Barbed

They hung him from a dead branch of an oak tree on Miller’s ranch. There were seven of them – all dust-ridden cowboys from across the valley. They believed in God and the Devil and that they were carrying out appropriate justice to a horse thief. It really wasn’t the thief’s fault. Out on the range, anything was bound to happen. The range told you who you were by the hardships you had and how you dealt with them.

Miller was the boss to mostly mindless bodies that worked for him on the ranch. He stood watching the lifeless body drifting between the breezes of a blood-red canvas sky. Ten minutes later it would be just about dark. His wife would be home from visiting friends. She wouldn’t care to see another body swinging from that tree. Already she had seen three this year (the fifth month of 1874).

The other three men Miller hung were rustlers. Oh yeah, they claimed no knowledge that his cattle were out roaming free, or six head were stolen a few months before. It was time for action. Those three kept talking and talking. They pleaded with Miller, prayed to God, and confessed many sins. They were placed on their horses, hands bound behind their backs and nooses carefully tied around their necks. When gunshots were fired, the horses rode off in a blaze. The ropes caught their necks. That’s when the dance with the rope and the oak tree branch began its torrid affair with them.

“You want us to cut him down?” Miller’s foreman stepped closer to the oak tree. In the distance, a shrill cry came from the dark. Most assuredly a prairie dog.

“No,” Miller grunted. He kept staring out towards the dark flatland, as if he were waiting for someone to appear. “You take the men back to the ranch. Call it a night.”

“Won’t Mrs. Miller be back?” the foreman said. “She ain’t going to like seeing this dead man – ”

“It’s none of your concern what anybody likes or dislikes,” Miller bellowed, “least of all what my wife likes. It’s your job to do as I say, or you can collect your pay in the morning and get the hell off my ranch. Your choice, mister.”

The foreman batted his eyes, thought a few seconds. He nodded and motioned for the other men to follow him. One by one the work-hands mounted their horses and rode into the dark. Miller was left watching the hanged man swoon with the gentle breeze the country had to offer.

The sound of wheels on dirt could be heard. Miller turned quickly. His wife was back from visiting friends in town. The path leading to his ranch ran right by the hill where he stood. As soon as the wagon pulled next to it, he heard Anna’s cry. Miller sighed. Wearily, he went to the wagon.

“Evening, Mr. Miller.” The driver tipped his hat.

“Evening, Gus.” Miller climbed up on the wagon.

He saw Anna curled up in her shawl, trying to hide her face. She was sobbing softly. Miller touched her honey-brown hair. She flinched.

“How could you?” She spoke from behind her hand. “You promised you wouldn’t do this again.”

“Anna,” Miller whispered. “You don’t understand.”

She turned to him quickly. Her pale blue eyes were red from the tears and from anger.

“I understand that my husband has no respect for my wishes – that he loves to destroy everything around him!”

“Now hold on there!” Miller pointed a finger. “This man was caught stealing a horse from our stable, and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let anybody steal from me!”

Anna spoke calmly, softly, through flared nostrils. “You are right about the damned part.”

They exchanged looks. Miller withdrew his finger, bit his lower lip. He had more to say. He thought it better to keep his peace for the time being. “Take me back to the house, Gus.” Anna wiped her tear-stained cheeks with the back of her right hand. “I don’t think I can stand the sight of him another second.”

Miller knew she wasn’t talking about the hanged man. Miller nodded to Gus.

“Yes ma’am.” Gus jumped the reins and the horses had a spurt of high energy.

Miller turned to the hanged man. The man’s face looked as if he was smirking at Miller. Miller grabbed at the butt of his gun. He thought of replacing that smirk with a couple of bullet holes. Then he thought better. He eased his nervous fingers from his gun and mumbled a few curse words.

“Something so beautiful about death,” a voice said from the dark.

“Why don’t you just fade away,” Miller said.

It drifted out from the darkness, as if it hadn’t used its legs to walk at all. The creature glided, feet never touching the ground. It was a Drago: a low-level demon that fed off the recently deceased. This type of demon collected the leftover energy from dead souls for its own life-source and existence. But this particular Drago had moved up in the levels of Hell. It was able to barter with humans, promise things, and even present to its human contact their desires as illusions – in regards to being able to grant them a better life. This Drago was there to collect a soul.

Underneath the Drago’s bare feet, a path of dead grass and crop lay on an otherwise fertile land. The Drago looked human but had only a shell of a body that moved very stiffly – as if rigor mortis had set in. Its skin was gray and flaky. Its eyes were two deep, black hollow holes with tiny yellow pupils. The Drago was dressed in dead man’s clothing, this time from a preacher – a white collar and a weather-beaten, tattered coat.

“Always on time, eh Drago?” Miller said, stone-faced.

The Drago half-shrugged. “Punctuality is a virtue, I’ve always found.”

“Yeah,” Miller snarled. “Patience be damned.”

“I detect cynicism, my friend,” the Drago said.

“I’m not your friend.”

“Oh… but you are – since our turbulent war between the states.” The Drago smiled, and a horrible stench filled the air around them.

It was true the demon and Miller met ten years ago on the battlefield in Appomattox. Miller was laying there with a gunshot wound in his leg when he noticed something or someone was feeding on a Union soldier he had killed. Miller had used his last bullet to shoot the demon. There was no blood, but a large hole between the demon’s eyes which had healed itself in mere seconds.

“We have done business since then,” the Drago reminded him. “You provide the human flesh with their weary souls attached… I provide the wealth, the rich lands… the good times.”

“Look, demon. I think… this is my last for you,” Miller said.

The Drago was examining the hanged man. “Oh,” it said, walking around sniffing the air. “As you wish… human.”

“Well…” Miller took his knife from his belt. “Let’s get this over with.”

“Don’t want this one.” The Drago shook his head slowly, grinning. “Oh, no. Oh, no.”

“What do you mean?” The anger rose up inside Miller. “This one is just as good as the others.”

“I heard no confession of sin or guilt from this human. Remember, no confession, no Drago.”

“Then what the hell are you here for?” Miller held the knife to the demon’s chest. The demon gently pushed the knife point away.

In the distance, a single gunshot echoed throughout the land.

Miller turned toward the ranch. “Anna…” he whispered. Then he screamed as he straddled his horse.

It was calm inside the main house. No sounds at all. The men that worked for Miller hadn’t stirred at all. That was odd. Anything that rummaged through the house – a pot hitting the floor – his men were there to check it out.

Miller called for Anna. No sign of anyone. The servant was nowhere to be found – not in the kitchen or in her room. But in the bedroom, Anna lay in a pool of blood beside the bed. Her eyes were wide open, lips pursed, and her face was blood-splattered. There was a wound to the side of her left ear. She still held the ‘Colt’ firmly in her hands.

Before a tear could fall from Miller’s eyes the Drago was there, with Anna in his arms – feeding off of her.

Miller drew his gun and fired. The Drago screeched like an injured animal. There was a flash of white and Miller was drawn toward the demon. The Drago held an open palm to Miller’s forehead.

“I CAME,” the demon said in a gravelly voice, “for her.” Miller was enveloped by the white nothing – swallowed up completely. “And for YOU!”

Story Break Barbed

He was hanging from a dead branch of an old oak tree. Miller swung gently with the soft breeze the country had to offer. His men stood on that hill and watched from their horses. Somehow, none of them were that surprised by this. They’d always known Miller would be damned – eventually.