A Six Gun and the Queen of Light

Part 11

A Six Gun and the Queen of Light

By Mark Slade

Story Break Barbed

Abrams and Logan rode out to the oasis. It was desolate. Two barns and a house were off in the distance. No cattle, horses, people, or critters of any kind were present, just a well with several ditches for the springs to flow – east for Bedlam, west for two or three ranches, south for a community of Quakers and north for the valley and its residents.

The sun was rising, and it was too bright for Abrams. He shadowed his eyes from the sunlight. “Kinda strange, no one here,” he said.

Logan looked around, tapped his horse on the side. The horse jumped to a slow trot. Abrams followed. “Not sure what to make of it, Doc. Should be somebody around… or something stirring. Not even a buzzard here.”

“Hate to say this,” Abrams yawned. “I guess we should check the house.”

‘You know Wellerman?”

“A little. He keeps to himself. As long as the town makes its payment we got our water – same for the valley and the ranches in the west. I once doctored his daughter. She had the measles – almost died. He was thankful – paid twenty dollars.”

Logan smiled, shook his head. “I’d say he was real thankful.”

They came upon the house. From the way it looked, no-one had been taking too good care of things. High grass had started to cover the porch; tree limbs growing through the windows.

Slowly, cautiously, they dismounted from their horses. Abrams was no coward – but he was no fool either. He let Logan enter the house ahead of him via the front porch. Abrams was nervous. No two ways about it. He kept looking behind him, then turning to make sure things were fine in front of him.

“I don’t think anyone lives here,” Abrams whispered.

“Then there’s no reason to whisper is there,” Logan said.

“I don’t want to disturb someone. What if a woman was dressing?”

“That would definitely make my day.”

They heard a board creak. Logan turned, his gun already drawn. Abrams swallowed hard, stifled a scream.

It was crawling across the floor, slowly, this half-man, half-creature they call a horde. Its clothes were torn, ragged around its waist. The skin on the creature’s right side was human, pink, bare… with sores. The left side was hairy – wild, black curled hairs like barb wire. Its fingernails were long, like claws. Its face was a collage of a man, pig snout and tusk.

Abrams gasped. “It’s Wellerman!” Abrams took a step forward, thought better of it.

Wellerman gurgled, tried to speak. Finally, the words came, slowly.

“Help… me… please… ” He crawled closer, his hand stretched out to touch one of them.

Abrams backed away from him. Logan and he exchanged looks. Logan sighed. “Please… ” Wellerman begged. “Mesa… she can help… Mesa… ”

Logan cocked his gun, fired once. The bullet struck Wellerman through the forehead. Blood splattered the floor, leaving it to resemble a modern painting. Wellerman was dead. And Logan felt he had committed no crime, but helped a soul pass to Heaven.

Abrams sat down in a nearby chair feeling weary. He took his hat off, wiped his forehead with a handkerchief. “Godspeed, Wellerman. Godspeed. I wonder where the rest of his family is at?”

Logan holstered his ‘Colt’. “I imagine they are no longer with us. What did he mean, Mesa?”

“Mesa… I think it’s the witch in these parts. You’ve seen these people in towns?”

“Oh… yeah. Dealt with one in Kansas City. She local?”

Abrams nodded. “Yeah. In a hollow just a few miles away.”

“Doc… you a believer in magic?”

Abrams laughed. “That’s a joke, sure.”

“You sure are afraid of what you don’t believe. I watched you a few minutes ago.”

“I didn’t want to get – ”

“Diseased? Yeah. You didn’t try to help him too much friend. You were afraid.”

“If you didn’t have that gun, you would be too!” Abrams sputtered.

“Why would I be afraid of one of those things? I ate one – remember? Let’s go see this mesa.”

“You expecting what?”

“A cure. A cure for me… and this afflicted land.”

“If she don’t give a cure?”

Logan smiled. “I guess there will be one dead witch.”

They rode by the well. Logan stopped, got off his horse. He looked inside the well. “Just as I thought,” he said.

“What’s that?” Abrams rode up to it.

“One of Wellerman’s family is floating in here, not fully changed.”

Abrams sighed. “Let’s go. It’s a good thing I don’t drink nothing but beer and whiskey.”

They rode five miles west of the oasis, through a clamor of dying trees and swampland. They stopped at a hollow where a shack made of various wood and stone was halfway buried under the muddy ground. A slight mist rose as the sun set.

Abrams looked at Logan. “I’m not so sure we should be here.”

“Don’t let your heroic side shine too much, Doc. You people in Bedlam sure are a cowardly group.”

“I don’t think you understand things in Bedlam, Logan. This part of the country is not what folks would call normal – by any means. Nat and me tried to keep you from seeing such things – the abnormal goings on. We thought you would take care of business and ride out of town.”

“No,” Logan said. “You wanted me out of town in case I turned into a horde and killed one of you. Well, now I’m offering you a chance to remedy the problem, Doc. We’re here. Might as well deal with the problem.”

Abrams nodded. “You’re right… no turning back now.”

Logan quietly got off his horse. Abrams reluctantly did the same. Logan drew his ‘Colt’ – checked the chambers.

“What are you doing?” Abrams said. He was spooked, that much could be seen. But there was a dour light above his head he might have thought was a halo.

“I’m making sure I have enough bullets.”

“You’re going to kill the witch?”

“If she don’t do what I want.” Logan walked past Abrams. He went to the door, looked up. High above them in the sky, a blood-red moon sat amongst the black.

“I can’t let you murder somebody – ”

“This is for all of us. One way or another, it’s getting resolved. You wanna wait out here, that’s up to you.”

Abrams pointed his finger, ready to make his point, when he heard a prairie dog howl. He wiped his chin with his right back hand, thought a moment. He walked briskly to Logan. Abrams nodded. “Alright,” he said.

The door opened by itself. Slowly, the creaking sound made Abrams cringe. Logan walked inside the shack – no fear, or just plain dumb. Abrams couldn’t figure that out. Inside were dead animals and their hides hanging. A stench reared its ugly head, made Logan and Abrams gag. A large black cauldron was boiling over. An old woman was stirring it with a gnarly stick. Her hands were fleshless, bone barely gripping that stick. Her elongated face was covered in hard crevices etched under her sunken black eyes. Patches of white straw-like hair pointed upward along her badly-receding hairline. A patchwork, brown woolen blanket sewn together from old mail bags was draped over a frail body.

“I knew you would come one day,” the witch said, continuing to stir her pot.

“Whom do you mean, madam?” Abrams said faintly.

Logan poked Abrams with his elbow. “I’ll do the talking,” he whispered. Abrams winced from the jab.

“Witch,” Logan said. “Listen good. You are to remove whatever curse you have placed on the town of Bedlam, or – ”

“I die.” She finished Logan’s sentence for him. “I have had dreams of you two. The dreams always end the same way: you kill me, no matter what.”

“Dreams are funny that way,” Abrams perked up. “Not everything you see in them is relative – ”

“This is not my doing… the horde. It is not so much of a curse… ”

“You’re not making any sense, witch.” Logan cocked his ‘Colt’.

The witch laughed. “He came to me, Wellermen. He wanted to be rich and did not care how it came to be. The oasis was given to him by the old ones. There was no water in that ground, you understand? He was a very stupid man. He cared not of the consequences of his request. He gave his first born… wife… if you remember, Doctor Abrams. That’s when the horde first appeared.”

Logan turned to Abrams. “She knows you, huh?”

“When I cared for Wellermen’s daughter she was there.”

“It is she who carries the strand… the sickness,” the witch said. “Destroy the sickness… the town will be safe again.”

“She’s dead,” Logan said. He moved toward the witch, pointed his ‘Colt’ at her. “We saw her floating in the well with her Mother.”

“Tell him, Doctor. The little girl is still alive.”

Logan cut his eyes at Abrams. “Tell me, Doc.” He was condescending with a touch of venom.

“I-I don’t know what she’s talking about.” Abrams barely got the words out.

“You BETTER tell me the truth, Doc. Or I will do something we both will regret.”

Abrams closed his eyes. “You don’t understand, Logan.”

“Try me.”

“Yes.” Abrams opened his eyes and tears streamed down his cheeks. “She’s alive. I have her in a room above the saloon – wait!”

Logan was already out of the shack and on his horse.

“Logan,” Abrams called after him. Logan was off in the distance, the moon lit the path his horse sped down. “Logan! You can’t kill a little girl!”

Abrams stumbled to the witch, fell to his knees. He wept like a baby, keeping his head bowed. He heard a voice inside his head. It was the witch.

“I can make this go away. The pain… guilt.” The witch’s voice was strong, loud in his mind. “You just have to help Mesa enter her Lord’s kingdom, bring him presents… souls.”

Abrams heard two gunshots. The voice was gone… out of his head. He heard a loud splash and looked up. Mesa the witch was lying face down in her scalding cauldron. Abrams saw Logan standing where the witch had been. He held his ‘Colt’ high, smoke trailing from the barrel.

“I think the curse is gone,” Logan said. He holstered his gun, gave Abrams a hard stare.

Abrams steadied himself to his feet. He wiped his eyes with a handkerchief from his breast pocket of his coat. “I thought I saw you get on your horse and leave,” Abrams said coughing.

“I never left this shack, Doc. While she was talking to you her eyes were glowing. I avoided that demon stare. As the two of you were busy I came up behind her.” Logan helped Abrams out of the shack and to his horse.

“What about that little girl..?”

“Doc, that was all a witch-lie. She got you so twisted you don’t know what’s real and what’s not right now. There is no little girl. Remember? We saw Wellermen’s wife and child in the well… dead!”

Abrams mounted his horse. He closed his eyes, tried to get himself together. “I failed you,” he said.