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Scratches, Page 2

Christopher Davis
was one much for taking the easy way out,” he said reaching for a gun.

  Bardwell drew one of the saddle guns that hung over his shoulder, fanning the hammer as his opponents fell like a needed rain.

  No one stirred in the tine cantina as the lawman retrieved his hat and drug the outlaw to the door. There was no one left, other than whores and old men.

  With Frances tied over the spare horse, Bardwell continued two hours into the twilight as a blood red moon rose over the ancient mountain range the elders had called the Sierra’s. The mountains were ten rods across the dry valley. He continued south from the cantina, expecting to be followed as soon as a band of outlaws could be gathered. The lawman would give the forgotten place a wide berth in turning for Sacramento, but that would all be on the morrow. Once the sun had climbed into a nuclear morning sky, he and the dead man would travel north for the city and some needed rest.

  The horses were unsaddled and hobbled for the night. The dead man was left atop the sand as Bardwell gathered sticks for a small fire that would boil coffee in a dented tin can. He’d sleep with one eye open and he knew it. The lawman wasn’t superstitious, but he didn’t care much for camping with the dead either.

  Coyotes yipped and howled closer to the range of low mountains that separated the dry valley from the nearby ocean. A black-tailed rabbit made the mistake of scurrying for cover in the moonlight. One shot was fired and the coyotes quieted for the time.

  As the red moon rose higher into the nighttime sky, Bardwell sipped coffee with his back against a low rock outcropping. The desert winds had settled some. The lawman figured he’d be getting his rest seated against the rock like he was.

  It was said to be a bad omen to sleep near the dead.

  The fire burned down to orange coals as Bardwell wrapped in a canvas slicker for the night. If the temperatures dropped too much, he’d unroll a tattered wool blanket that he carried behind his saddle. Out here in the desert it could drop down to two or three degrees, but he didn’t expect it to get that cold.

  If he could get by until three or four, he’d saddle up and be well on his way before the renegade Mexicans from the cantina would be on the road.

  An hour passed with the lawman sleeping against the rock, another and another. At just after midnight, the incessant hum became too much to sleep through. It was as if the earth vibrated to its very core.

  Bardwell stoked the small fire to life. It was too early to think about riding north with the dead man, even with the light from the red moon high overhead.

  The desert was deadly silent as stars crossed the heavens above. Other than the low hum, there was nothing. Even the sand shivered on the rocks where he sat.

  A dry stick—dead for a century—broke as if stepped on. The lawman drew one of his Colts, listening for the uninvited guest.

  Downwind and just paces from the light cast by the fire stood three of the ruined, the undead some called them. Bardwell fired into the dark forms with no soul in their eyes. The bodies twitched in the sand but remained where they had fallen.

  Turning to toss more wood onto the fire, he fired again as two worked at dragging the—very—dead, Duane Frances off behind the rocks.

  It had been some time since the lawman had seen their kind, maybe five hundred years or better. At one time in his history, he had been known as the zombie assassin as plagues and illness struck down both the affluent and those not so on another continent.

  Black powder smoke wafted on unseen currents of desert wind. Flames licked the dry sticks in the fire. The lawman fired his Colt pistols empty, reloaded and had another go of it. Bodies of the ruined lie about the desert sand where a bullet found them.

  They came in disorganized groups of three or four of five. Nothing the Sacramento lawman couldn’t handle, although he wished for his partner Franklin Curtis. Curtis was as good as any man with a Winchester in his young hands, but the boy didn’t have a horse in this race.

  Two o’clock, it was too early to try to ride out alone. Hell, it would be difficult at best to locate the horses and get them saddled in the dark with the undead swarming like they were.

  The witching hour came with a blur of soulless wanderers stalking closer and closer to the lawman and his little fire.

  An hour before daybreak and the bullets ran out. The lawman clubbed his Winchester in an effort to beat back the never-ending progression of zombie wanderers. If he could last another hour, the sun would be up over the mountain range to the north.

  He didn’t remember saddling the mare or riding south toward the mission. There was little left of the outlaw—Duane Frances. That much he could remember.

  “It is time for you to sleep, Dan Bardwell,” the old Indian said from across the fire. “If the great Father wills it, you will live to see the sun rise again.”

  Bardwell was tired. He couldn’t remember ever being this tired in his life. The lawman rested his head against his saddle and closed his eyes.

  The Indian and the fire were no more. There was only sand and wind and heat.


  The lawman stood before the iron gates of the mission. Rusting hinges protested as he pushed his way in. There was little need to hobble the horses. It was three days to the nearest settlement. The horses wouldn’t stray.

  Inside of the compound where the faithful once gathered, shade from the adobe walls and tiled roof was welcomed. Now most of those faithful lie in the church yard with sand swirling around their headstones, the only reminder they were ever there.

  With the approach of the lawman, a mutant coyote skittered across the compound, its tail between its legs. Bardwell drew one of the blued Colt pistols at the unexpected movement. The lawman smiled seeing the animal and holstered the weapon. This was a sanctuary for God’s sake.

  Bardwell continued to the decaying door of rotting timbers. The only semblance of the building’s past was the wooden cross and rusting iron bell high above. Bardwell made the sign of the cross and stepped inside, allowing his eyes to adjust to the dim light. The place smelled of booze and piss and sex. Graffiti had been hastily sprayed across the walls for three generations. A wooden crucifix sat askew in a far corner.

  Bardwell continued between simple wood benches where the congregation had once sat quietly during mass. Discarded Styrofoam food containers, dirty magazines and foil condom wrappers littered the dusty floor. No one had been here in ages.

  A small wooden door with wicker windows invited the weary traveler. The lawman smiled, brushing away a century’s worth of dust from the narrow bench inside.

  “Welcome, my son,” a somewhat familiar voice said from the other side of the thin paneled wall separating the confessional.

  Bardwell fumbled with a string of beads given by King Phillip of Spain in a time long forgotten. “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned…”

  “Yes, yes,” the feeble voice replied. “And haven’t we all?”

  “I have traveled far, Father.”

  “And killed many?”


  “You are the hand of God, Daniel,” the priest continued, “The dealer of fate. There are no longer any like you, my son.”

  A smile touched the corner of the Sacramento lawman’s mouth. “Yes, I am aware of this, Father and I am tired.”

  “As I expect a man of your nature should be,” the priest replied. “How long has it been, my son?”

  “Five hundred, seven hundred years, it could be a thousand for all I know,” Bardwell said in a low voice. “I seem to have lost track of time?”

  The black robbed clergyman chuckled. “Time stands still for no man, Daniel, as we both know well.”


  Other than sand blowing against the crumbling adobe walls, there was no sound in the dark sanctuary.

  “You came for the undead?”

  “Not originally,” Bardwell replied from his side of the partition. He fumbled with a scrap of folded paper taken from his pocket. “I was sent here in search of
two outlaws that had killed a man in the city.”

  “Shot him in the street for a pair of shoes?”


  “And in turn, they each paid for their sins?”

  “Yes, Father, they did.”

  “Ah, yes,” the priest said. “You have your orders. Dead or alive, I believe?”

  “Surely you remember, London, thirteen, forty-eight?”

  “Yes, I remember it too well.”

  “The black death, they called it. It was a terrible time in our history, Daniel.”

  “It was.”

  “Nazi Germany in the thirties,” the priest added. “Where you there, when…”

  “No, Father,” Bardwell replied. “The Russians got there first.”

  “And so they did,” the robbed priest chuckled again, breaking into a terrible coughing fit.

  Silence settled over the sanctuary as the lawman and the priest pondered what had been said.

  “SARS, HIV, Ebola?”

  “Yes, Father,” the lawman continued. “And then…”

  “And so it was?”

  “And so it was,” Bardwell agreed.

  “What of the men you killed along the highway?”

  “Hector Sanchez,” Bardwell started. “I left for his people to bury. Duane Francis rode with me until…”

  “Until your meeting with the unholy?”

  “Yes,” the lawman said. “I tried, Father. I tried, but there were too many at one time?”

  “It will spread from the settlements along the border.”

  “I’m afraid that it will.”

  “You do His work, my son.”

  “I am no more than a zombie assassin, Father.”

  “Yes, Daniel, you are,” the priest said. “But it is honest work, am I not right?”

  The lawman nodded, but said nothing. For centuries, he had traveled, searching out the infected, the ruined and the undead. He was there at the battle of Verdun, Passchendaele and Luxembourg.

  “You will rest here, my son,” the priest said, getting to his feet and shuffling from the sanctuary.

  “But, I…”

  “Yes, yes, Daniel,” the priest replied. “Idle hands are the tools of the devil and all that.”

  “I believe that I’ve heard something like that?”

  “You are tired and you will rest here. On the morrow or the next, you will be returned to us as you have always been.” The clergyman chanted his prayer as he closed the door behind. “O, our heavenly Father…”

  Bardwell didn’t bother to reply to the fading voice of the man who had listened for an hour or more. Broken glass and spent brass from cartridges fired an eon ago littered the dust covered sanctuary floor.

  Outside a towering dust cloud kicked up to the west. A lone buzzard circled down to land atop the forgotten mission where the faithful had once gathered to pray. Was it a sign of what was yet to come?

  The End

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  Other Stories by Christopher Davis

  Ain’t No Law in California

  Walking to Babylon

  Meet Me in Tulsa

  Going Back to Dallas

  Cinnamon Girl


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