Buzzards circled over Leadfield. Their forms silhouetted by the rising sun. The scent of death was heavy and ripe on our nostrils but we didn’t pay it much mind. We had already been hardened to the smell. The road to Leadfield was littered with the cold corpses of honest, hardworking folk. Only men. The bandit gang under Bill Duffy that had taken the town as their sanctuary only killed men. The women they took as hostages back to their lawless sanctuary. It had gone on long enough. A posse of more than fifty men gathered from all over Clearwater County to ride on Leadfield. Many of the group had lost wives and daughters. Myself included.
It was frigid morning like this one when Bill Duffy and his band of outlaws happened upon my ranch. They surprised me and my wife in bed. Made me watch with a gun to my head while they flogged her bloody and took turns with her in the shed. Her last words to me were cries for help as they shoved her into a cramped white Ford pickup. They shot me in the gut and left me for dead. Billy Duffy himself shot me a wink before they rode out over the horizon.
But I didn’t die. And I had nothing but the thought of revenge on my mind. The cops were no help. A string of biological terrorist attacks in Austin diverted all of their attention. The major cities were on the brink of revolution and because of that the land in between devolved into a lawless wasteland. It’s times like these that the people have to take the law into their own hands.
The horses fidgeted and whinnied softly as we took them off the dirt path toward a bluff overlooking the town. We dismounted and continued on foot through the frost coated sagebrush. We couldn’t risk giving away the element of surprise. A commanding voice broke the quiet tension.
“Alright men, form up on me.”
It was Thompson Yates. My little brother. The man who had helped me put this posse together. He came back from the war a changed man. I knew him as timid, outspoken. Now he was one to take charge of situations and speak his mind. He crouched down in a clearing and drew figures in the dirt with his finger. A few seconds later he had sketched out an overhead view of the buildings below. He brushed the dust out of his bushy red beard before continuing.
“Casey’s group will fan out and come in from the west. Butch and his boys’ll hold the ridge line here and shoot any of ’em out in the open.” He thrust a meaty finger into my face. “Cooper an’ me are going down to find where they’re keeping the women. Try to keep ’em off our backs. Once the hostages are out, we storm the place. Burn it all to the ground.”
I dropped the cigarette I had been smoking from my lips and crushed it under the heel of my boot. Then squinted up at the posse around me.
“Alright, you heard the man. Get into position. Keep your eyes open and heads down.”
My brother and I slid down the hillside and snuck through the maze of sagebrush. When the first building was within a few hundred feet we made a break for the door. I slammed into the wall and grunted audibly. Some concerned voices rose up inside.
I drew my colt revolver. It’s six cylindrical barrels glistened in the morning light. Tommy unsheathed a tarnished silver buck knife from his left boot. His prized souvenir from his time at war that he preferred to keep away from prying eyes. Putting his finger to his lips, he reminded me that we needed to keep quiet for the time being.
When the door flung open a stocky Mexican man with a great bushy mustache stepped out. He waved a beretta out at the sagebrush as he cautiously scanned his surroundings.
“Come on out amigo! I have something for you!”
He took another step out onto the dirt and kicked the door shut behind him. Big mistake. I sprung into action, grabbing the man by the scruff of his neck and kicking the gun out of his shaking arms. Tommy walked toward him calmly, wiping his knife on his shirt.
“Where are the women, amigo?” He scraped the glistening knife up the man’s adam’s apple.
The strangest thing happened next. The man cracked a yellow gap toothed grin and taunted us.
“When they catch you,” He paused for a moment to stare us down. “They’ll make you squeal like a pig”
One clean horizontal motion and the man’s neck lit up in a burst of bright red. I shot Tommy a nervous glance. What the hell was that? He shrugged and swung the door open slowly. It creaked loudly, opening up to a candlelit room. A television in the corner played saturday morning cartoons in technicolor and intermittent static. Staying behind the doorway, I peeked my head in for a better view.
The wooden frame splintered in a hot crackling pop. I recoiled at the quickness of it all. In the tense silence my ears perked up at a distinct metallic chk-chk followed by the sound of a hollow shell casing hitting the floor.
The universal sign for “Stay the fuck away”.
Tommy drew his pearl handled colt 1911 and gave me a reassuring nod. He signaled for me to his the deck. I looked back up to the ridge to see Butch and his four sons ready to fire. I dropped to my stomach.
The whole wall lit up in a fury of wooden shards flying every which way. Inside the terrified screams of the bandits went quiet. For a few seconds it stayed that way until a bloodcurdling rebel yell sounded off on the other side of town. More joined in like a call to arms and like wolves they gathered in a frenzied pack at the town square. A shot rang out from the ridge followed by a satisfying thupp and soon enough the cacophony of exchanging gunfire muffled the triumphant rebel yell and screams of agony.
“Now’s our chance, let’s go!” Tommy said.
I followed him through the rest of the building, looking in awe at the sheer destruction we had caused. Blood was strewn across the walls and pooled on the floors, but no sign of the women. The exchange of fire was dying down outside. I doubted that it was Butch that had prevailed.
A swift kick bust the door open. Tommy and I turned to find ourselves staring down the barrels of at least 10 rifles. I nervously chuckled and tossed my piece on the ground. The group cleared a path as a short scruffy man made his way through. Bill Duffy. He stared at us intently before speaking.
“Put them with the others” Duffy smirked. “I think it’s time that we put our weapon to the test.”
A man promptly grabbed me by my shoulders and dragged me out of the shack. They shoved Tommy by the end of a gun to make sure he followed suit. The mob of men jeered at us from behind. As they pushed us through the town square I spied that white ford pickup that was burned into my memory parked in a shady alleyway. The women were here for sure.
We walked further and further through the town until we came to an old, run down sheriff’s office. The windows had been hastily barred and the walls were reinforced by whatever scrap that must have been lying around. The cast iron door with a lock from the outside screamed death. The man escorting me started chuckling wildly.
“Shouldn’t have come here man.”
He slid the heavy deadbolt on the door and swung it wide open. With a grunt Tommy and I were cast into the darkness. The man tossed in our guns before the door slammed behind us. Bill Duffy’s voice crackled on an intercom system above us.
“You boys best use your guns on yourselves. He doesn’t eat the women ‘less he has to, and it’s been a while since he’s had competition. Good luck.”
The intercom clicked and silence resumed. My eyes adjusted to the darkness. The polka-dotted wallpaper was stained and peeling. The antique furnishings of the room were smashed to bits and strewn along the wooden floor. There was a stench that filled the stale air. It sent bitter shivers down my neck. I grabbed my revolver from its place on the ground.
“Hey Tommy, the women must be somewhere in this house. Let’s go room by room.”
“Sure thing bro.”
We got to our feet and slowly stepped toward the door to the next room. The floorboards creaked at the slightest application of pressure. I heard a feverish mumble from the next room and signaled Tommy to watch my back.
I squeezed the brass doorknob and pulled open the door. A beam of sunlight leaking in illuminated a deathly pale woman wearing nothing but an oversized tshirt sitting against the wall. She was terrifying to watch and wonderful to behold. I had found my wife. I ran over to her and held her head in my arms.
“Darling. What happened? Are you okay?”
“Coop?” She sounded delirious. “He bit me Coop, he bit me because he likes me.”
The sentence seemed to sap away what strength she had been saving as she went limp against the wall. Tommy peeked through the doorway.
“Jesus.” He shook his head in disbelief. “Look at her arm.”
A recently scabbed bite mark covered half her forearm. Two times larger than that of a normal mouth. What the fuck is going on?
An ear piercing squeal made me cringe. The sharp clopping of hooves down a narrow hallway stole my attention. A creature turned the corner. A.. A supernatural thing standing crooked like a malnourished man, covered head to toe in black hair. Two ivory tusks protruded from it’s face and a big fleshy snout sat between its two beady black eyes. It snorted at us before breaking into a sprint.
I instinctually threw myself against the wall to shield my wife from the beast. He flew past me and crashed into Tommy. A thick tusk gored him through the ribs and pinned him between the beast and the wall. The creature squealed and grunted, pushing deeper and deeper into the wall. Tommy wailed in an agony I cannot comprehend. I grabbed my revolver and pulled back the hammer.
My heart sank. I frantically checked the cylinders. Empty, those fuckers sent us in here without a fighting chance. Tommy screamed again amidst another round of heavy snorts. My mind raced for a way out.
“Hold on Tom!”
I dove against the wall, dodging a mad flurry of hooves from the creature. I stuck my hand into Tommy’s left boot and drew his knife. Without hesitation I thrust it up into the belly of the beast. It let out a gut wrenching squeal. I kept stabbing. The thing pushed it’s arms against the wall, trying desperately to dislodge itself from the wall. I sent another powerful thrust upward. The beast was struggling but it seemed to be slowing down. It grabbed at my face with its hairy palms, but I slashed them away. Again and again, I kept going. Between labored breaths it’s legs began to give out. I dropped the blade in a mess of blood and organs. Tommy was limp against the wall, still impaled through the side.
“Tommy!” I slapped his cheek “Hey! Wake up man! Wake up!”
No response. His limp, clammy body swung slowly, still suspended above the ground.
A hot feeling from my forehead made me stumble backwards. Tears streamed down my bloodied face. Get ahold of yourself Coop!
I glanced down at my wife. Tommy was gone, at least I could save her. No time for the other women and no chance of getting them all out of here. I threw her over my shoulder and made my way back to the reinforced steel door. There a laughing on the other side.
“I heard the swine wreakin’ shit in there. NO WAY they’re still breathing. Our buddy’s feeding in there by now.”
“Duffy wants to be sure before we go charging in there. You wanna be pig chow?”
“I just want that pearl handled 1911 that one uptight bastard that dropped Ramirez was waving around. Just a peek man, it won’t hurt.”
I perched myself behind the door. When it cracked open I pried it from the man’s grasp. The heavy door flung open and I charged the confused guards. One slice along the jugular and another at the base of the neck. The guards fell, they tried to scream only muffled gurgles came out as it filtered its way through the blood filling their throats.
I made a break through the dusty town square. Running awkwardly with my wife bouncing on my shoulder. I made it about halfway across before they started shooting. The air cracked and ground exploding around me spat dry dirt into my eyes. I kept running. The truck was parked in the alley, it was my only option at this point. A whooping rebel yell from one of the buildings behind me gave me chills.
The rest was a blur. The gunshots stopped entirely. Replaced by a collective rebel yell. I ran into that alley, hopped in that white ford pickup, and threw my wife in the passengers seat. The key was still in the ignition so I drove out of there. Weaving through alleyways and buildings of Leadfield till I got to the road. I drove for what seemed like hours to the only hospital in Clearwater county.
I remember sitting with my wife in that crowded ER. She was conscious enough to sit on her own. She turned to kiss me but I callously turned away. A coat of thick black hair slowly moved up her arm.