A Six Gun and the Queen of Light

Part 13

A Six Gun and the Queen of Light

By Mark Slade

Story Break Barbed

Sheriff Wilkes sat at his desk drinking coffee, watching the little black ball levitate in the air. Slowly it spun several times, stopped, spun a few more times. Wilkes closed his eyes and listened to the vibrations the black ball made. A low, soft voice sang to him, a message from home – a home no one in Bedlam knew Wilkes was from. The soft voice was from Lorna, his wife he had become separated from. And there was a boy, Kenada, who had been only six when Wilkes left.

Where Wilkes came from there was a civil war. He was a centurion, and his Hyborian name was Caliek. The black ball was his weapon. Its magic was very powerful. Loyalists to the former regime, Queen Genevieve, attacked a safe house where he had been protecting the golden-eyed ones – twins. The twins were being trained to take over the legion of Swoons, twelve Magi who controlled the city of Hyboria. Wilkes and ten other chosen centurions had fought off as many of the loyalists as they could. One loyalist had miscast a spell, which happens a lot from soldiers as they are all casting spells at the same time during battle. The spell from Wilkes caused the loyalist’s heart to explode. The spell the loyalist cast sent Wilkes from Hyboria and landed him out in the badlands.

He walked thirty miles to Bedlam where Doc Abrams nursed his tired, ragged body back to health. Abrams found him passed out on a grave, George Wilkes. Wilkes told him he was a relative visiting the grave when his body gave out on him. Wilkes eventually settled into town, sleeping wherever he could find shelter.

The Town Mayor, Gibbons Hayes, offered Wilkes the job of Sheriff after the last one moved on to the next town. In the payment arrangements, besides twenty-five dollars a month, was a shack behind the hotel that the Mayor owned.

There was the occasional flare-up, but mostly Bedlam was a peaceful town – nothing like the civil war-torn streets of Hyboria that Wilkes had once been used to. Lorna’s voice was soft, sweet.

“I miss you,” she said. “Kenada misses you.”

“I know.” Wilkes sent the message via his mind. He was lost in a trance, the little black ball twisting and turning – helping to carry the message to Lorna’s black ball, passing it to her mind. “How are things in the city?”

“Terrible,” Lorna said. “Martial law has been announced. The loyalists are invading people’s houses – stealing, killing farmers because of a bill passed to grant farmers extra money to keep their farms going. I’m scared. I don’t think I can go back to the way things were when the Queen was ruler. I need you here.”

“If there was a way… I’m searching for the doorway back home, Lorna. When I find it I’ll come back to you and Kenada.”

Wilkes heard silence in his mind. The connection was lost. In Hyboria the connection would have been stronger. Here, in Bedlam, even the magic from the little black ball was uncertain.

The jail was empty, which for a Saturday night was unusual. It had been quiet around town this past week. The cowhands from the local ranches had been behaving, for once. Just as Wilkes was thinking that, the door to his office flew open.

Doc Abrams appeared in the doorway with Chance Holt. Holt owned a ranch ten miles north of Bedlam. They walked in, eyes coolly focused on Wilkes.

“Where have you been?” Abrams growled.

“I’ve been here, Doc.”

“No, Sheriff. We looked for you.” Holt tipped his hat nervously.

“Look.” Wilkes stood. He snatched the floating black ball and placed it in his breast pocket. “I’m telling you two I was sitting right here – ” He then remembered that whenever he was in conversation with Lorna using the black ball his presence would disappear into a void – so as no one could disturb him.

Maybe I need to fix that part of the spell a little.

“Okay, okay. What’s the trouble, boys?”

“Tell him, Doc.” Holt began to pace.

Abrams licked his lips. “She’s back.”

Wilkes looked bewildered. “What do you mean, “She’s back”?

“That thing. That woman who walks Bedlam at night and screams – taking any man’s life.” Abrams wiped spittle from his chin. “You gotta do something. She takes on any girl’s looks, walks home with a man. In the street or in a room, she drains the life from him. You can hear her scream from miles away.”

“Ben Dooley was her latest victim… a few hours ago,” Holt said. “Ben was a damn good foreman, Sheriff. He’s the third man from my ranch this month. I can’t run a ranch that way – if all my men are dead!”

“Calm down, Holt. We’ll get to the bottom of this.” Wilkes touched Holt’s arm.

Holt shook his hand free.

“You told me that the last time. Now if you can’t fix this, Wilkes, I’ll get with the Mayor and we’ll find somebody who can.” Holt put his finger in Wilkes face.

Wilkes calmly pushed Holt’s finger away. “Don’t threaten me, Holt. You know you don’t have any pull around here. Hell, your ranch is a part of the cattlemen association in Longley county.”

Holt blew heavy air out of his nose and walked out.

“You have to do something,” Abrams told Wilkes.

“We will, Doc.”

“What’s this we?” Abrams eyes bulged out of his head.

“You were the only man not to die from her touch… We might need you as bait. We need to know how or why she spared you. What was it you did that kept her from taking your life source?” Wilkes walked around the desk, thought a few seconds.

“Can you remember, Doc? Even a smidgen?”

Abrams shook his head. “No. I’m blank on that night.”

“Let’s get Fagan.”

“Fagan? I don’t know why – ”

Wilkes put his hand on Abrams shoulder. “Doc, he can dream himself into anyone’s mind, right?”

Abrams nodded.

“Then we’ll have him dream himself up in hers.” Wilkes seemed proud of the plan he’d hatched. He smiled at Doc Abrams.

“I suppose the dream is from me, too? That’s why I’m bait?” Abrams screwed his eyes up, snarled.

“Yep,” Wilkes answered boldly.

“You are a righteous son of a bitch, Sheriff Wilkes,” Abrams said as he walked out of the Sheriff’s office.

Story Break Barbed

Fagan felt a boot swiftly nudge his leg. He was asleep, lying face down in the mud. He stirred slightly, raised his head to see who had intervened in his peaceful slumber. Blurry-eyed, he saw Wilkes and Abrams standing over him. Wilkes was smiling, Abrams scowling. Fagan sat up, mud dripping from his face.

“I’m glad you woke me,” he said, spitting out rainwater. “It was rather a disgusting dream of Mrs. Salinger and old man Boyd doing it in her parlor. Didn’t know she liked prunes.”

“Come on, Fagan. We have something for you to do,” Wilkes offered a hand. Fagan took it – was barely able to stand.

“I don’t want to dream anymore tonight, fellas. Please… let me find a way to stay up.” Fagan leaned against the wall of the Chinese laundry.

“We need you, Jim,” Abrams said. He sighed, patted Fagan on the shoulder. “If you do this, I can find some medicine that might help you stay awake for a few hours more.”

Fagan nodded. “Whose mind do I have to invade?”

“We need to find the screaming woman,” Wilkes said.

“Oh, no way, fellas.” Fagan began to walk away.

Wilkes caught him by the arm. “What are you whining about? All you have to do is dream yourself up in her mind. Doc here is the bait.”

“Maybe he’s right,” Abrams said.

“Not you too, Doc? I can understand a drunk being a coward… you?” Wilkes’s face showed disappointment, but he knew the right words to get Abrams to do what he wanted.

“Okay! Just shut up, Wilkes!” Abrams cried out.

“The last time you had me get in that thing’s mind I couldn’t talk straight for hours. No way!” Fagan said.

“Then I guess I will have to arrest you for murder, and when Judge Havers comes to town he will hang you.”

Abrams gasped. “Wilkes… You said you – ”

“I said! He said! You said! Enough talking! Are you helping, or am I throwing you in a cell?” Wilkes stared hard at Fagan until he looked away.

Fagan swallowed hard. “Yeah… I’ll help.”

Story Break Barbed

They knew where they had to be – out on North Main Street. That was always where the mysterious woman appeared or manifested. What had happened to Doc Abrams was he had left Smiley’s with Jeanette. He had too much to drink that night. He and Jeanette staggered down North Main Street when Jeanette was no longer Jeanette.

As Abrams bent down to kiss Jeanette, her eyes became swirling, black voids – her mouth hung open to release the loudest, shrillest scream Abrams had ever heard. Even drunk, Doc Abrams tried his best to tear away from the woman, who now had become a faint, ghostly vision in a black dress with a veil covering her bone-white face.

She had her fingernails dug deep in Abrams’s arms. She held tight, lowering her face to his as she widened her mouth even more, still screaming just as she was about to drain Doc Abrams’s life from him.

If it wasn’t for Wilkes doing his nightly walk through the streets, Abrams would have dwindled away to skeletal remains in a suit. She saw Wilkes and vanished when he called Abrams’s name.

The next time they had Fagan sleep in the trough on North Main Street. Wilkes was caught up in a brawl out in front of Smokey’s and was too late to help catch the mysterious, screaming woman. The remains of a cowhand, just a skeleton, lay in the middle of the street. A skull grinning in anguish.

It was true that Fagan could barely speak after his entry into the screaming woman’s mind. Abrams and Wilkes had to carry him into Smokey’s and pour drinks into him. Abrams pointed out that there had been a white streak through Fagan’s usually dark, curly hair.

Midnight was her hour.

This time, Wilkes was right there, waiting for her, with Fagan in deep sleep, ready to enter the screaming woman’s mind. Abrams was out in the street pacing nervously. Every shadow was alive and malicious. Abrams jumped, swallowed hard. Wilkes was clinging to the side of the livery stable, making sure he wasn’t seen.

Then she appeared.

There was a whisper, or a breath that resembled a breeze. Abrams felt his body go cold, almost limp. Her black eyes swirled, and he felt her hypnotic presence come over him. The woman leaned in towards Abrams. She opened her mouth to scream but couldn’t. The swirling darkness in her eyes disappeared. A frantic look replaced it. She opened and closed her mouth. No words came until Fagan walked up to them, lost in a trance.

The woman looked at Abrams. She and Fagan spoke slowly in unison.

“You know him,” they said. “He was my lover… He was to be my only one.”

Abrams regained his senses. What he saw took him by surprise. “What the hell?”

He backed away from Fagan and the woman. He turned to run, bumped into Wilkes.

“Damn it, Doc,” Wilkes said through clenched teeth. “Don’t run away! We want to hear what she has to say!” Wilkes pushed Abrams back toward Fagan and the woman. “Go back and talk to her.”

“No! I won’t, are you crazy?” Abrams fumbled with his hands.

“Come on!” Wilkes grabbed him by his coat’s lapels and dragged him back to where the woman and Fagan were frozen like statues, waiting to be addressed again. “Ask her who it is.”

Abrams closed his eyes, reopened them quickly. “Who…” he began, his voice cracking a bit. He swallowed, started over. “Who is this man I know?”

“Chance Holt,” Fagan and the woman said, bursting into tears. “He was an old friend of my Father’s. He sent for me from San Francisco. My Father’s money was dwindling, and he wanted me taken care of.” The woman sobbed along with Fagan.

Abrams kept glancing back and forth at Fagan and the woman. “This… this is too weird,” Abrams said.

Fagan and the woman moaned loudly before continuing the story. “I loved him so… He kept me locked away, and would go into jealous tantrums when his workers so much as spoke to me. When I asked him about his carousing, he beat me. He threw me in the wagon and drove me to the outskirts of the town, just on the border of the badlands. I awake every night here, looking for him.” Fagan and the woman spoke in an angry voice. “I need to speak to him. Can you take me to Chance Holt?”

“Doc… that was her. The body we found right here on North Main Street last year.”

Abrams looked over at Wilkes.

“Tell her yes, Doc. Go on, do it.” Wilkes slapped Abrams on the arm.

“All right already. I’m doing it.” Abrams cleared his throat. “We – I can take you to Chance Holt. Will you be at rest afterward?”

Fagan and the woman reared their heads and let out the most horrible, ear-piercing scream anyone had ever heard.

Wilkes and Abrams touched their ears.

“I guess I got my answer,” Abrams said.

Story Break Barbed

They took Abrams’ wagon to Holt’s ranch. The three of them waited in the wagon while the screaming woman entered Holt’s house without using a door. They’d caught him at the right time. He was alone. Since it was Saturday, all of his cowhands were in town having a good time. Holt was in his office, counting his money, enjoying a cigar.

The woman appeared, her cold hands upon Holt’s shoulders.

They heard Holt scream.

Fagan screeched along with the echo of her scream.

Wilkes and Abrams rushed inside the house. There on the floor next to the table lay Holt – nothing but bones in a suit. The screaming woman was nowhere to be found.

“Do you think we did the right thing?” Abrams asked.

Wilkes answered after a brief thought. “We had to protect the townspeople, Doc. It’s what I was hired to do.”